In Ezekiel 40 God casts the prophet into a trance and shows him a vision of a new temple with its courts buildings. You can see the symmetry from diagrams of the floor plan. Knowing that every verse of the Bible is there for a reason we have to ask ourselves what this means. What does it say about God? Why did He make it symmetrical?
The unity and diversity in symmetry struck me. It was right there in front of me and I never realized it. The reason why I think this is so important is because it gets to the essence of who, and what, God is.
Philosophers have tried to find the right balance between unity and diversity for thousands of years. They tried to reduce the world down to one essence from which everything emanates but they could only get to four: earth, air, fire, water. What was the fifth essence that unified these? What was the quintessential essence?
University is a combination of the words unity and diversity. There are a diversity of disciplines, sciences, but what is the one truth that permeates them all. This is probably a foreign concept for most college students who simply pick classes like they order off the menu at a restaurant.
The unofficial motto of the U.S., e. pluribus unum, is Latin for “out of many, one.” Unity in diversity.
We see unity and diversity everywhere in creation but only in the biblical worldview do we see unity and diversity in the creator. We see in the godhead unity and diversity within the community of the trinity. We worship a triune God, one in essence and three in person.
When I think about the symmetry of the temple that Ezekiel saw I now think of how it reflects God’s unity and diversity. When I think of the three sides of the temple I think of the three divine persons. I also see that God brings order out of chaos.
Now we are the temple of the Holy Spirit and God brings His holiness into us. He has brought peace and order to our chaos. Wherever we go we dwell in the holy sanctuary of the Most High.
Psalm 88 is a psalm of suffering. It depicts the suffering of the people of Israel in exile. Christians can see the suffering of Christ depicted in it. Its language is universal and its applications are limitless which makes its relevance timeless.
I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength,
Forsaken among the dead, Like the slain who lie in the grave, Whom You remember no more, And they are cut off from Your hand.
You have put me in the lowest pit, In dark places, in the depths…
You have removed my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an object of loathing to them; I am shut up and cannot go out.
My eye has wasted away because of affliction; I have called upon You every day, O Lord; I have spread out my hands to You.
Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah.
The psalmist is in a dilemma because the same God who is faithful, just, righteous, merciful, generous, and mighty to save leads him through trials that cause him to despair even of his life (remember Paul and his despair?). But he makes an important point about the dead that we see in other scriptures too including Ps. 6:5; 30:9; Is. 50:10; Hab. 3:17,18.
Dead men are silent and they can’t praise God. He appeals to God for the sake of His own glory if for no other reason. The psalmist’s picture of death is a gloomy one indeed.
As Christians we need to complete the picture by adding a gospel perspective. This Christian view of death is found in 2 Ti. 1:10; Heb. 2:14; 1 Cor. 15: 17,18, 51-57. It is one full of light and hope.
As Jesus said in Matthew 22, the Lord is the God of the living, not the dead. We who were dead are now alive in Christ. The psalmist’s problem goes away because there will always be people alive to praise God and give Him the glory and honor that is due Him.
And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.
Joshua 24:16, 19
The people of Israel have arrived. God brought them to the promised land and they have conquered their enemies. In their irrational exuberance they say that they will never betray God. Little did they know that they would soon have to eat those words.
But Joshua correctly discerned their confidence as pride. He knew how serious this obligation was and how ill-equipped the people were for the task. The people were sunshine Jews. They followed God when it was pleasurable but when hard times came they folded up like lawn chairs.
Jesus had to deal with the same problem during His earthly ministry. After He fed the 5,000 and walked on water in John 6 He admonished the crowd because they only followed Him to feed their bellies. They wanted to make Him king but they were not interested in the kingdom which He inaugurated.
We should therefore be careful about thinking that it is easy to serve God, especially when we are in a season of peace. It is impossible to please God without the power of the Holy Spirit helping us. Had Israel paid closer attention they would have learned this lesson from their teacher, the Law.
What’s worse is if we who have the Old Testament do not learn from its examples and repeat the same mistakes. As Paul warns us:
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
1 Corinthians 10:12
Don’t ever forget that you need the grace of God to serve Him just as much as you need it to breathe. That power is no less essential and every bit as available to you and me.
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue
2 Peter 1:2, 3
Grading on a curve always seemed like legalized cheating when I was a child. In school we were held to an absolute standard and you sank or swam with your grade. Every now and then we’d hear about this strange practice of curving your grade but it seemed like a strange custom from a primitive culture in some remote part of the world. Soon enough the practice would become as common as standing in line to buy coffee.
If curving the grade was a frequent occurrence in the past it has become an essential feature of the academic life. It’s no longer a matter of if the professor will curve but how. Often students will raise this question on the first day to find out the professor’s particular style of curving. It isn’t a corrective measure used sparingly but a routine part of massaging the numbers to make them look better.
You wonder why they haven’t already ditched grades and moved to a percentile scale where you’re just graded against other students in the class. That’s what curving really is. You’re being compared to everyone else rather than against a uniform standard. Most people seem to think this way when they judge themselves in spiritual terms.
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
James 2: 10-11
The gospel offends people so much because it directly challenges the universal belief that we are just fine the way we are, no need for improvement. If you measure up to your own standards then you’re simply lying to yourself and your standards are worthless. You are “curving” the moral grade far enough so that you can pass the test.
When you have an encounter with the living God in all His holiness all the excuses fall apart and you can’t help but realize that you are tainted and corrupt. Isaiah said as much when he saw the Lord sitting on His throne (Isaiah 6). Peter knew it when Jesus told him to cast the net on the other side of the boat (Luke 5). You cannot have such an experience and continue to believe the lie that you are righteous.
When you face God on His judgment seat you will either appeal to your righteousness or the righteousness of Christ. Only the latter will suffice to avert the wrath of God. No one will be able to claim ignorance because no one will have an excuse. And I can certainly guarantee you that no one will be asking God how He will curve the grade.
I noticed some interesting things about how people interacted with each other when I lived in South Carolina. In all kinds of social settings it was unremarkable to see blacks and whites together but come 11 AM on Sunday everyone went to their separate corners. It still is true that churches are can be some of the most segregated places in society. The funny thing is now I’m back in California and I’m a member of a predominantly black church.
I might be going out on a limb but it seems to me that most religions exist within a particular region, time, and people. What makes the gospel unique is that it is a universal message that is not bound by any culture, and yet we often fail to transcend our culture when it comes to our spiritual lives. Why are churches so segregated? Why so parochial?
As I was making my way through Jonah it dawned on me that this topic fits in with this story. The prophet resisted God’s calling to preach to the Ninevites because they were pagans. He knew (so he thought) that God was merciful and that if they repented then God would not destroy the city. He had the audacity to begrudge God of His compassion. Jonah’s people were God’s chosen (favored, in his opinion) people and, alone, deserving of His blessings. Peter had this same hang up and had to learn that God was no respecter of persons. As banal as that sounds to us that was quite the epiphany for the Jewish apostle.
The connection is that a parochial view of God leads us to think that we are the best and the greatest. We get puffed up as we confine ourselves to our insignificant corner of the world. Then we become indifferent or hostile to the outside world. This is when we must remember that God is the creator of all men and the respecter of none. His kingdom transcends every cultural and racial barrier.
Application time. How do we apply these lessons? Well, are you comfortable sharing the gospel with people from other cultural backgrounds? I’m not just talking about having enough confidence to be a witness but being able to converse with the person and show them the truth and relevance of the gospel. We’re not looking for people to just change the way they dress when they put their faith in Christ but we do expect to see a change in their heart.
It’s easy erase the distinction between gospel and culture but the Christian life properly lived comes in many forms. It’s easy to lump pagans and Christians together into the “foreigner” group but then we’d be judging by appearances. The real distinction is the fruit of their faith. We are looking for the qualities that the apostle described in 1 John to mark the true believer.
Your church may be homogenous and I don’t want to leave the impression that we need to set quotas as if this is a public university. Culture itself isn’t evil but we don’t want to be conformed to any given culture. Instead, we want the gospel to shape us and, in turn, influence our culture. We need to remember that the gospel is a universal message that transcends all boundaries. There is only one church with one Head, one faith, and one Holy Spirit who resides in all our hearts.
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
Stewardship is not about tithing or managing your money well. It is about the decisions you make regarding the resources God has entrusted to you. Those resources include time, talents, labor, knowledge, assets, spiritual gifts and people, as well as money. God has provided you with these blessings and you are supposed to use them in a way that pleases Him. When you have a biblical understanding of stewardship you will be able to surrender yourself to the will of God. You will see that stewardship is as much a spiritual exercise as it is a temporal one.
Stewardship ties in with economics because the latter is the study of how we allocate scarce resources. On the first day of Econ 101 you learn the fundamental problem that resources are scarce and our desires are insatiable. That means we have to set priorities and make budgets to gain the most satisfaction from the use of our time, money, and any other resource. This goes far beyond credit cards, retirement accounts, and how you save for a new home or car.
Christians need to understand economics then to be good stewards but they need to study it from a biblical worldview. There are a few principles we need to lay down as a foundation for a proper understanding of economics.
The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
Biblical stewardship is based on the principle that God owns everything. He has ownership rights over all creation and over us. An owner has the right to decide how to use his own property. He can use it however he pleases. The Lord created us for His good pleasure, to know Him and enjoy Him. All of creation is designed towards the ultimate goal of giving glory to God.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
God commanded Adam and Eve to populate the Earth and exercise dominion over it. He wanted us to use our abilities to harness and exploit the maximum value from creation. Since the fall of Adam and Eve God has worked to redeem creation. In these latter days He is working through His church.
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Stewardship is important because it comes with responsibility and accountability. God calls us to live according to His will. We also know that a day of reckoning will come wherein we must give an account to Him of what we did in this life. In the various parables that Jesus told the master or lord always came back and took account of what the servants had done. Jesus will come back and judge our works. We need to be prepared for that day and be ready.
This hymn has become one of my favorites over the last few years. Since I was studying Latin during that time I am partial to this song because of its Latin roots. This song was originally song in Latin masses and eventually made its way to a wider audience.
In its original form, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” was known as a song of the “Great Antiphons” or “Great O’s.” The initial Latin text, framed in the original seven different verses, represented the different biblical views of the Messiah. One verse per day was sung or chanted during the last seven days before Christmas.
For the people of the Dark Ages—few of whom read or had access to the Bible—the song was one of the few examples of the full story of how the New and Old Testament views of the Messiah came together in the birth and life of Jesus. Because it brought the story of Christ the Savior to life during hundreds of years of ignorance and darkness, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” ranks as one of the most important songs in the history of the Christian faith.
The song owes its worldwide acceptance to a man named John Mason Neale. Born on January 24, 1818, this Anglican priest was educated at Trinity College in Cambridge. Brilliant, a man who could write and speak more than twenty languages, he should have been destined for greatness. Yet many feared his intelligence and insight. At the time, church leaders thought he was too evangelical, too progressive, and too much a freethinker to be allowed to influence the masses. So rather than get a pastorate in London, Neale was sent by the church to the Madiera Islands off the northwest coast of Africa…
Neale was an avid reader of anything related to the scriptures and came across the song in a Latin songbook. He translated it into English with the lyrics beginning with “Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel.”
The tune that went with Neale’s translation had been used for some years in Latin text versions of the song. “Veni Emmanuel” was a fifteenth century processional that originated in a community of French Franciscan nuns living in Lisbon, Portugal. Neale’s translation of the lyrics coupled with “Veni Emmanuel” was first published in the 1850s in England. Within twenty-five years, Neale’s work, later cut to five verses and called “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” grew in popularity throughout Europe and America.
The first verse comes from Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23. Isaiah 11 is the inspiration for the verse describing Jesus as the rod of Jesse. Malachi 4:2 tells us that Jesus is the “sun of righteousness,” the Dayspring. The “Key of David” is found in Isaiah 22:22.
This hymn is a great musical source of biblical teaching. It condenses what the Old Testament tells us of the purpose of Jesus’ advent and ministry into seven verses. Just like how Jesus revealed to His disciples what the Law and the Prophets said about Him as they walked on the road to Emmaus so this hymn reveals Jesus’ manifold fulfillment of prophecy. He is truly Christ the Lord.
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
This teaching which Jesus lived by illustrates how different Jesus was from all men. No one can match the impeccable timing of His perfect words and actions. When growing up I thought that His behavior was so extraordinary that you couldn’t really know why He did what He did. I understand now that He was so different because He understood the scriptures and applied them, not because of some secret knowledge or powers.
This is quite a radical teaching when you think about it. It is so different from how we come to live our lives. Not only do we worry about our basic needs but we also add things to our list of concerns that we think are necessary when they really aren’t. Our nature is to serve mammon but you can’t serve mammon and God.
It is very easy to make our own plans and confuse them with God’s will. People often ask me where I see myself in five years but I can’t see myself in five months, or even five days from now. But how can anyone see that? Anyone who tries to speak with certainty about the future is fooling himself. You can say all you want about your five-year goals but they’re utterly meaningless because you have no power or knowledge regarding the future.
When you spend month after month looking for a job and watching your bank account dry up all you can think about is how you will survive. The stress makes you despair of life. Your mind is consumed with thoughts of what you don’t have and can’t do. You realize that you have no control over anything but you also feel powerless to overcome your circumstances. It’s like you’re playing a rigged game. This kind of worry is, in one sense, what Jesus meant by serving mammon.
We do not live simply for bread alone but for God’s pleasure, as Jesus told the devil during His temptations. Jesus teaches us that God already has a plan and a purpose for us and He has the power to make it reality. His plans are better than ours and provide a fulfillment we will never find on our own. They concern more than just what careers we have or what accomplishments we achieve. The big picture goes beyond our parochial hopes and stretch beyond our short lifetimes.
We must look to the Father as the source of our life and the provider of all our needs. Jesus said to seek the kingdom and righteousness and leave the concerns over our provision to the Father. Jesus is telling us to be carefree, not careless. Food and raiment aren’t trivial but if they become the focus of our attention then it will distract us from serving God. It’s either God or mammon. Whom will you choose?
What is the point of your life? Are you living for the kingdom or are you just living?
I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses.
The reason why Isaiah had to write this prophecy is because Israel did not agree with verse seven. They did not see in God the source of their blessing, prosperity, and protection so they wandered off the path He set for them. Christians can learn important lessons from this passage of prayer and praise.
Our prayers to God should always include mention of His love towards us and thanksgiving for what He has done for us. When we forget this it isn’t long before we are disappointed and frustrated with what God hasn’t done for us. Our focus becomes fixated on what we want, which happens to be what we don’t have, and we treat God like our butler.
I believe this view causes us to see God as impotent because we are only interested in what He will do for our agenda. We have made our life plans for education, career, and social status without consulting God at all and we expect Him to deliver it like it’s a pizza. We are certainly not interested in His purposes for us.
Remembering His lovingkindnesses to us in the past helps us build our trust in the Lord and lean not on our own understanding. It connects the scriptures with real-life consequences, showing us that we can trust in His power to sustain, deliver, and bless us. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this but I know now that when I look back that I see many times when the Lord has delivered me from my troubles. I get encouraged when I remember that God has a perfect record and always will.
Paul emulates this example well when he often mentions his thanks to God for various things. He is a thankful man to God for what He has done and the people He has put in Paul’s life and ministry.
Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers…
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
Philippians 1:3; 4:6
We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you…