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Can we build it? Yes we can. But Why?

Click here to read I Kings 6 on BibleGateway.com

I’ll be the first to admit that construction in any form is not my forte.  Most of my projects end up looking they were completed by a blind gibbon who used his favorite pages from four different sets of instructions rather than rely on the “suggested” directions of any one project.

So it probably comes as no surprise that sometimes when the Bible starts to talk about the specifics of constructing the tabernacle, or temple, or the exact dimensions of the gates of Jerusalem, my mind tends to wander a little.  However, if you are like me and prefer all your construction to be of the lego variety, all hope is not lost.  These chapters actually have some interesting points to make; we just have to look at them little harder.

SHHH…

So, in I Kings 6, we get some of the details of the construction of Solomon’s temple.  Notice first of all that it says in verse 7 that none of the shaping of stone was done at the building site itself.  All the stones were cut and dressed at the quarry, so that when they were actually brought to the building site, there was no sound of chipping the stone, or any of the mess.  There are obviously a lot of different proposed reasons for that, but it’s possible that this was done so that there was nothing to distract people from the worship of God.

Also, if you read the dimensions of the rooms in verse 6, you will notice that each floor is slightly larger than the one below it.  Again, there are some various guesses as to why, but most scholars believe this is so that the beams for each floor would not have to be cut into the wall.  They just rested on the ceiling of the floor below them, so there would again not be any noise of drilling, or damage done to the temple wall.

If we look at these two sections (and others) we can see that there was a sense of making the temple special not only in its use, but also its construction.  From Day One, people wanted to ensure that the worship of God was separate from every day living.  Special care was taken in every aspect of worship, so that they would never take it for granted. This is the same argument for the construction of beautiful cathedrals in the Middle Ages, or for caring for churches today.

NOT ONE STONE

Of course, being people that we are, we get things turned around.  The Israelites began to care more about the Temple itself than the God it was built for; they made elaborate rituals and rules that God never intended, and they began to trust that the Temple itself protected them.  It took the destruction of that Temple (multiple times) to remind them that it is God who is the focus, not the building.

Today, we sometimes forget that church buildings are simply the mechanism to worship God, not worship itself.  Or that our preferred style of music is essential to worship.  Or that a well-manicured lawn or matching carpet is necessary to enter into God’s presence.  These things are all fine if they are done to glorify God, but not if they are done to satisfy our sense of fashion or to impress others. We need to be careful that we don’t forget God and his people are the real focus, not building and protecting the tools we use to accomplish that mission.

If not one stone was left of your church building, would it impact your worship?

When the Crowds Come

Click here to read Deuteronomy 28 on BibleGateway.com
Click here to read Isaiah 55 on BibleGateway.com

“nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.” – Isaiah 55;5

Here at EverydayDevotions, we use the McCheyne Bible Reading plan, which suggests reading four chapters a day from different sections of the Bible.  One of the advantages to reading in this manner is that sometimes the passages work together in ways you might not notice if you read straight through the Word.  It’s kind of like when you mix a bunch of sauces at the Mongolian grill – you know they’re awesome individually, but together they can create something truly epilicious.

Take today, for example.  In Isaiah 55, God is talking about bringing all the nations to Israel as a blessing to Israel.  Basically, if they are faithful to God, they will be so blessed all the nations of the world will want to come there and see what’s what.  But in Deuteronomy 28, God says again he will bring all the nations to Israel, but in this case it’s a judgment to Israel.  The nations are coming to see how low Israel has fallen, and to take all the blessings of the land for themselves. The nations will come – either to share in the blessing, or to plunder the remains.

THE ARRIVALS

The same principle is true for our churches today – people will come, one way or another.  The reason they come is what’s up for grabs.  Do people get excited to meet Christians because they want to know more of Jesus, or because they want to see them fail?  Do they come to church to have changed hearts, or because they need more material for complaining on Facebook?  Our churches can be oases of glory, or they can be mausoleums ripe for scavenging.

Of course, there’s always going to be some of each; even Jesus had his Judas.  But God describes in our readings today that he will send the nations to Israel either way – they can either be an example of God’s blessing, or a warning of God’s judgment.  For us, people can come to experience God, or they can come to mock.  They are either drawn closer to God because of what we do, or they are driven from Him.

THAT HAS MADE ALL THE DIFFERNCE

What makes the difference?  In a word – Christ. If Jesus is lifted up, if we are dedicated to knowing Him and following His commands,  then everything else will be blessed as well.  If not, then those momentous edifices will be turned into museums or art galleries or businesses.  It sounds simple, yet it’s amazing how often we get distracted from Jesus by emphasizing outreaches, apologetics, compassion ministries, politics, and many other good-yet-not-Jesus-pursuits.

It’s so easy to get distracted with building a nice framework to do our ministry in, we forget that Jesus himself did not have a place to lay his head.  It’s not about the structure (by which I mean programs and policies as well as physical structure), but it’s about serving Christ in a personal, intimate relationship.  That’s when the nations will come for the right reasons. Our first goal must always be to know Christ, and Him crucified.  Otherwise, we become just another social club following our own wisdom, and that can never last.

They will come – why they come is up to you.

The UnSandaled Savior

Click here to read Deuteronomy 25 on BibleGateway.com

“His brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face…That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled” – Deuteronomy 25:9-10

When you think of the worst thing that could possibly happen to you, losing a sandal probably isn’t at the top of the list. Bran muffins kicking in during rush hour – sure. Tripping on the carpet on the way into that job interview – awesome. Losing a sweet flipflop – not so much.  But for the people of ancient Israel, losing a sandal was akin to discovering that secret ninja tryout video you sent in is trending on youtube.

Plus, you have the whole public perception thing that was so important in those times. It’s a little strange in our day to think of the emphasis on honor in those days, but we’re not that far removed from the days of duels. As recently as the last couple hundred years, even US presidents had dueling on their resume. Being barren had that kind of seriousness for a woman, and being publicly mocked was one of the worst disasters that could happen to a man.

SPIT SHINE

So here in Deuteronomy we have a story when both shames collide – the theoretical woman in the story is barren, and the man refuses to honor her, thereby bringing shame to himself as well. If a man’s brother died, it was the brother’s duty to marry his widow and carry on the family line. But what if the surviing brother doesn’t want to? According to this chapter, she gets to publicly spit in his face and, the ultimately insult, take his sandals. Even his last name shall be changed to “The Unsandaled.” It seems almost kind of silly to us, but it was serious business for people then.

THE SHAME

Ironically, this scenario happened not once, but twice in Jesus’ line of ancestors. Back in Genesis, Judah (whose descendants were all the kings of Judah, and ultimately Jesus himself) and his children refused to honor this custom with a woman named Tamar. One of his kids was even killed by God for his refusal. Tamar was in pretty dire straits until Judah inadvertently slept with her and continued the family line. In a slightly less soap-operatic scenario, Ruth was also barren after the death of her husband. She was reduced to abject poverty because her husband’s closest relative wouldn’t follow this guideline, until Boaz stepped up. Rather than being shamed as they thought, both of these women have a prominent place in Jesus’ family line.

That’s how Jesus works; He takes our greatest shame, or what we think is our greatest shame, and brings out the greatest glory and honor. Lose that job? Maybe God is moving you on to something better. Get left at the altar? Perhaps God has a greater marriage planned for you. It doesn’t always seem that, and certainly not at the time, but how many times can you look back on what you thought was a humiliating disaster, only to realize it was the very thing that made you who you are today. We never know what God is up to; all we know is that He works all of it together for good for His plan and His children.

Even the Unsandaled.