1 Kings

Tuesday Devotional: 1 Kings 6

 

bibleRead 1 Kings 6

7In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.”

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

A Christian’s purpose is not for independent growth and prosperity.  We are by nature designed for fellowship and to be incorporated into a design of life that replaces our attention on ourselves with attention on our relationship to others.  It is in the design of God’s body that we see our purpose in the the greater complexity of the design and structure that we are a part of.  A temple is built to evoke awe and admiration from those that look upon it.  Likewise, the strength of the body of Christ correlates with our understanding of the whole as opposed to the self.  If we claim Christ as our savior we will naturally be drawn to fellowship not merely for our personal satisfaction but because we can see the Father’s glory represented by our lives as the Church, just as the temple’s strength reflected Him.

7In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.” 

[F]or all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:27 )

The blocks of the temple arrived at the site of the temple dressed, carved, measured and ready to fit into the temple’s design.  Once at the temple, nothing was left to be done to the stones in order to make them fit in the structure.  The stones were prepared and so fit perfectly.   While Christians differ in appearance, background, nationality, age, and countless other characteristics, one uniting factor miraculously allows all of the blocks to fit together perfectly.  The unity of the body of Christ comes by the saving works of Jesus Christ.  If the unity of the body of Christ is anything other than Christ, only sections of the temple will fit, leaving the rest with no place or purpose in the overall structure.  In other words, a Christian is clothed in Christ and then is able to fit perfectly into the temple, revealing the strength of the stones in their unity, and the brilliance of the structure in its size and splendor.

7In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.” 

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3)

Living in Christian community is not easy and it never will be.  The process of individuals breaking their addiction to themselves alongside others taking on the same challenge will always reveal pain and obstacles.  However, the hope in Christ is that although the challenge is real, with the power of the Holy Spirit, the process can be smooth and does not have to be violent.  Hammers, chisels and iron tools are powerful and can inflict enormous damage on a stone.  However, being made in the image of Christ, while painful to our sinful nature, is a process of peace, joy and love.  Being made in the image of Jesus Christ is a threat to Satan and the work of sin but in the name of Jesus Christ we can find peace, joy and love amidst and throughout the rebuilding process.

7In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.”

 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)

The awareness that we are made to be built into a structure with others, the foundational presence of Christ in us, and the Spirit of Christ guiding us through the building is an ongoing procedure the same way that the building of Solomon’s Temple was ongoing.  The Temple of Solomon was eventually finished, just as we will come to completion.  But our completion is not yet.  The building process is ongoing, and while we know that the end will come, we do not know when.  Until then, we build and we are being built, and the glory of an earthly building such as Solomon’s Temple will pale in comparison to the glory in the Temple of Christ in His Church, revealed in a world that has forgotten its Creator, its Designer, its Architect, its God.

 

Born Again: Things (1 Kings 18)

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Being “Born Again,” in the broad spectrum of Christian lingo, loses power in our catchphrase culture, with “Jesus is my Homeboy,” bumper sticker Christianity. (For the record: yes, Jesus is your “homeboy,” but of course to leave his identity at that does injustice to the man, his life and his Gospel.)

To most people, being born again means getting a fresh start at something. It means experiencing some moment of revelation and clarity that redirects life from old mistakes to new opportunities. Being reborn in a world of cheap grace is a nice way to sound deeply spiritual while stating that, essentially, something didn’t quite work out and now it’s about time to push the all too convenient “reset” button. However, although the idea of being born again does involve the restarting of a plan gone wrong, the process of spiritual rebirth, according to the scripture, is much more complex.

This reflection series will take us through the Bible to discover that being reborn requires five separate things from us in order to reveal the fruits of rebirth. Each Thursday, we’ll examine what, in order to be reborn, we cannot center our lives around:

  • Things (1 Kings 18)
  • Trouble (Psalm 102)
  • People (Isaiah 20)
  • Our Success (John 3)
  • Blind Faith (1 Corinthians 15)

Things (1 Kings 18)

In the story of 1 Kings 18 we find the showdown of showdowns, worthy of a schoolyard or reality TV show. The prophet Elijah courageously opposes Queen Jezebel, King Ahab and their systematic annihilation of God’s prophets. At this time Israel is completely consumed by Baal worship. 450 Baal prophets on one side and Elijah alone on the other, but with the power of the living God behind him. All throughout the generations of Israel’s walk with God, we see them easily distracted and destroyed by numerous false gods, in a tradition that we continue today.  Why?

Why, when for so many years and in so many different ways they clearly experienced the living God come in power to rescue and provide for them, would they ever seek anything aside from Yahweh?  For ourselves today, why do we need or depend upon anything more than the power of God in our lives?

In the worship of these lesser gods, we can retain ultimate control over our lives in a way that is impossible when serving the God of Israel. While God said to love him alone, without reservation, these other gods fit nicely into a system of “religion” where works and blessings could be quantified. The more you did for them, whether it be Baal or Molech, the more you could feel like you had freedom to do what you wanted. In Yahweh, it was a free will that chose to do his will without question, because of the understanding that he had already done enough to begin with. Following “Yahweh” was living a life that existed for and because of him.

1 Kings 18 culminates in a showdown where Elijah proposes a contest. Each side, Baal’s prophets and Elijah, would call upon their respective gods. The god who responded to the pleas of the believers would be the true and only God of Israel. After hours worshiping Baal, which involved slashing and cutting themselves to garner a response, the priests of Baal heard nothing but the silence of a god that was simply not there.

Elijah then prepared his petition to God. Two important things preceded his prayer, things that speak to us about being born again. First, he built a new altar, entirely separate from the Baal worshipers. Secondly, he used twelve stones to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel’s forefathers on which to build the altar.

The Altar

The new altar is significant because rebirth in the Spirit can be founded on nothing except God the Father who, through grace and love, has provided for the rebirth in the first place. Being reborn means starting new, set apart from any old life or way of living, rooted in the God who never changes.  In being reborn, everything about our new life is different from the old; however, absolutely nothing is different about the God providing said rebirth. New life means new results and new outcomes, and for the reborn believer, the result of rebirth is demonstrated by the fruit of the Spirit Paul describes in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

This new, fruitful life, which fosters continued growth throughout a lifetime, must submit to the regeneration of the spirit of Jesus Christ reborn in us. Trying to produce these fruits while using the strengths and desires of the “old life” is like two people pulling on opposing sides of a wishbone on Thanksgiving Day. At some point, the bone breaks. Trying to offer sacrifice to God on an old altar is starting from a corrupt foundation.

The Stones

Elijah’s choice to use twelve stones for the altar is striking because Elijah acknowledges the original path from which so many of these prophets and people have strayed so far.

How can we relate this step to our process of being reborn? What we can connect to is the motivation behind Elijah’s decision to use these stones as symbols. He does this to bring the hearts of those around him back to the God who was, is and will always be. Elijah is pointing the assembled people of Israel to their God, who never left them and never forsook them. In our lives, we tend to say things like, “Where are you now God?” However, through the process of being reborn, we discover that God actually never left. God was always there.

We turn our backs. We refuse to acknowledge him. We seek and serve other gods who will give us our own way. In being reborn we might learn new things about God and his presence in our lives, however, it is important to acknowledge that the God we are learning new things about is far from “new.” He has always been.

Thursday Reflection: Carnival Kings and Dizzying Dynasties

pen-and-paper_400x295_39No matter how many times I read certain portions of the Bible, I tend to react the same way, with the feeling I’m taking a seat on one of those ever-popular “spinning” carnival rides where the entire structure spins in circles while each individual car spins independently, on its own orbit of pure nauseating insanity. While getting buckled in by the ride attendees, my gut and my mind voice hesitation, fear and confused excitement. An inner dialogue can be faintly heard: “Are we really about to do this?” As the loud, punctuated whistle of the ride-operator initiates the craziness, all that I can do is hold and keep holding on. In a weird way, these same sensations arise the moment I proceed deeper into certain books of the Old Testament, especially the books of the Kings. Reading the name, “Jeroboam” is like me getting buckled into my seat. Reading “Rehoboam,” I know that the ride has begun and disorientation will soon meet me head on.

For me, this feeling is triggered by the knowledge that in the books of 1 and 2 Kings, the names come fast, they change even faster, the stories intertwine and bypass each other, and there seems to be an overwhelming sensation of confusion.

My approach to these books of the Bible resembles my notoriously bad approach to the books I used to read in high school where my eyes would finish pages before my brain could comprehend anything I’d read and, before I knew it, the pages indicated that I was done. The time passed aligned with the amount needed to read a passage of that particular size, but my brain seemed more empty than before I started reading in the first place. One thing that a Bible reader should constantly be asking is, “What is the point?” Or perhaps, “What did I just read?”

There are several areas of the Bible evoke this inquiry more often than others. In my experience that 1 and 2 Kings finds me checking for my own understanding frequently. With the storyline transitioning back and forth between some Kings doing good, followed quickly by an overwhelming list of Kings acting like heathens, repeated with the rhythm of a pendulum, it is justifiable to ask, “What is the point?”

 

I sense two things happening to me as I read the Kings. The scripture gets denser due to the fact that there are more names, more countries and more individual “power-players” to keep track of and understand. And my mind, trying to keep track of this Biblical “carnival ride,” starts to work harder and harder to keep up and focus. Interestingly, my feeling of confusion toward the text is mirrored in the relationships I read about within the text. More specifically, my feelings are mirrored in the cycle of the relationship of God to his people and their commitment to Him as shown in the text. The more names that come into view, the less clear the view became for them and for me. The more stories I am called to follow, the less I seem able to follow the one most important story. I become disoriented just like the Kings of Israel. I become distracted, just like the Kings of Israel.

What we find, beginning with King David and leading into the divided Kingdom, is that the further Israel wandered away from God the more complicated it was to be God’s chosen people. The more Israel divided their attention and gave God company in their hearts with the temptations of sin and the outward attitude of idolatry and apostasy, the more complicated their lives, both as individuals and as a people, became.

There is a clear progression from David to his grandson Rehoboam: from a point of near total commitment to God and the fruits of a “one on one” relationship in David, to a juggling act of idolatry with David’s son. The result is that the proverbial balls drop and the carnival act suffers. The more the Kings tried, and the more we try, to juggle God amongst other things, the less focus and commitment we are able to devote to God completely.

For example, on a day-to-day basis, our time, energy, thoughts and actions are constantly pulled in different, often opposing directions. However, living a life for God means that there is only room enough for one God on the throne, only one voice to be listened to. This reality is at the heart of a Christian. To try to balance the two contradicts God, contradicts Jesus Christ and contradicts the claim that one is a Christian at all.

This idea of one King and one voice in total control of our lives is often offensive to people, and this idea of one God that demands our full attention seems selfish and unreasonable. However, these negative responses to God’s claims on himself are only understandable if there is a misunderstanding of the God making such “offensive demands.” What kind of “God” is demanding this totally radical restructuring of the soul? If God is just a demanding and judgmental deity then, of course, one might hesitate to put him uncontested on the throne, and rightfully protest such a demand. However, if this God who demands the entire life of a believer is a provider, a healer and a father, one might second-guess their initially visceral response to his rights as God.

The original intention of God for his relationship to his people was that human or worldly Kingship would never be needed in the first place. In the beginning, there was supposed to be pure trust and dependence on the one true God concerning every aspect of our worldly lives, so that the need for a human King would be unnecessary and illogical. However, as we know, the story took a different turn. Israel demanded and got a human king, and the years of “Israel’s Kings” began.

Throughout the period of Kingship and Dynasty, we notice that the more Israel as a people disintegrated from within, the more disintegrated their relationship with God became. The more they divided their mind and heart between God and everything else, the more things became uncertain and unstable. This can be seen in our approach to God as well.

When our hearts are divided between job, family, friends, dreams, hobbies, and then there’s God, it’s no surprise that the attempt to juggle everything at once is doomed to fail. Imagine trying to speak with 10 different people all at once. The chance of fully understanding each person equally, giving each person the focus and concentration that their conversation requires of you, is literally impossible. The case is the same with God. The more he takes hold of the entirety of our hearts, the more we are able to see him completely, and the more clearly we can hear his uncontested voice.

While the analogy of the conversation offers an audio example in understanding the nature of distraction, let’s use binoculars for a more visual analogy. Imagine you find yourself at a sporting event. You know your seats are directly across the stadium from some friends of yours, and in an attempt to spot your friends, you pull out your binoculars. However, before putting the set to your eyes you must first glance with your naked eye at the area of the stadium which you think most likely contains your friends. From where you sit, using just the naked eye, it is impossible to see any one person clearly. All you see is a collage of colors and shapes. This is like trying to view our lives in one moment without the clarity that God provides us. We try to see everything all at once, and ultimately cannot see anything clearly at all. The view in front of us is overwhelming, intimidating, and impossible to comprehend or decipher. Such is the experience of a life lived without the focus on God, of God and by God.

At this point in our fictional stadium scenario you remember your binoculars. As you put the set to your eyes and aim at the area you think hosts your friends, you find that the view is blurred and nothing is clearly visible. However, adjusting the dial slowly brings the view into focus. To your surprise and delight, you find your friends, distant and small, but with every detail accentuated and clearly visible. This is the effect that the Holy Spirit has on us when we no longer try to take in the view in front of us unassisted, but allow our sight to be purely on God the Father, enhanced by his vision. By centering our sight on God alone, and through the focusing power of the Holy Spirit, we can finally see a life that is not only clearly visible but also completely manageable and possible. What we now have is a confidence in a God we can trust, that not only understands the difficulties of this world, but has also overcome everything in it, and offers us the power to overcome it with him. One of the reasons why the saga of the Kings in Israel’s history is so confusing and disorienting is that God’s authority was not the focus of their Kingly positions. God’s authority was not used to focus their lives, although their Kingship was intended to glorify God and accentuate His primary Kingship over creation and in turn bless them according to his will and design. The result was a blurred and nauseating period in Israel’s history that takes even readers today on a dizzying ride through this tumultuous period of man’s relationship with God.

The Kingship era in Israel’s history is an approach to life that focuses on idols while still claiming to have a place in our heart for God. The result is not clarity. The result is chaos and we create trouble that God never designed for us to experience. One must return to the moment before boarding the carnival ride. The pre-Kingship design of God to man had at its center a relationship. As in a marriage, time, energy and effort were to be divided between two mutually adoring and selfless parties with no need or desire for anything else. It is in this relationship that each party enjoys clarity and purpose. It is in this relationship that God desires to be united with us and it is in this relationship that Jesus Christ has provided the door through which we may seek entrance. We know he promises to open that door. The question is, are we knocking?

The lesson learned from reading the Kings is that life has the potential of becoming complicated and disorienting. However, the choice to allow such disorientation rests with each of us. We have authority over the door to our hearts. We control how hospitable we are toward temptations and distraction. We have control to realize our place as the created under the authority and care of the Creator. We can also convince ourselves that we are not held accountable to any higher power. In confronting the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ ,we must ask two important questions. First, do we desire to be defined by a greater and more powerful King, and accept his will and his authority? Or second, do we desire to define our own path with the hopes of becoming a great and powerful King, and are we willing to accept the risks and dangers of doing so? My advice would be to learn from Israel’s Kings and be redefined, led and protected by the “King of Kings” in Jesus Christ, and be thankful that God has given us a warning view of the dangers of that carnival ride, and provides us the opportunity to choose to never get on in the first place.

Tuesday Devotional: 1 Kings 3

bible1 Kings 3:1-15

Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of theLord, and the wall around Jerusalem. The people, however, were still sacrificing at the high places, because a temple had not yet been built for the Name of the Lord. Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguishbetween right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.

If given the choice, most people would be quicker to choose one million dollars over an education.  In fact, in this day and age, a college education is often viewed as a “waste of money” to some people.  Why is this?  One possible explanation is that we place the highest value on the things that can ultimately serve us in return.  We see one million dollars as a better home to live in, a better car to drive, nicer clothes to wear or more vacations to broaden our experience.  We have been deeply scarred by the memories of educational burdens, boredom, and debt.  When we were in school we wanted to have other things and we wanted to be somewhere else.  The irony is that far too often we hear of lottery winners wasting their money, and not actually changing their lives much in the long run.  Or we hear story after story of celebrities that strove for riches and fame only to be disappointed by them just as they would have been by a 9-to-5 job.  The reality is that no matter how many possessions we own or how much money we have in our bank account, nothing has more life-changing power than knowledge. But the value of knowledge can be measured only by how effectively it redirects you to wisdom.  Wisdom allows us to discover the value of less and the dangers of more.  Wisdom allows us to discover the value of suffering and the dangers of ease. Wisdom often contradicts our reason, but it has the power to outlast any object that we strive to attain.  God does not desire that we obtain knowledge and possessions only to lose both without wisdom.  His desire is that we allow our eyes to be opened by His spirit so that His wisdom can become our own.