Church

Throwback Thursday ~ Cleaning House

Originally published May 5, 2010

Hezekiah became king when he was twenty-five years old;…

He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done.

In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them.

He brought in the priests and the Levites and gathered them into the square on the east.

Then he said to them, “Listen to me, O Levites. Consecrate yourselves now, and consecrate the house of the LORD, the God of your fathers, and carry the uncleanness out from the holy place.

“For our fathers have been unfaithful and have done evil in the sight of the LORD our God, and have forsaken Him and turned their faces away from the dwelling place of the LORD, and have turned their backs.

“They have also shut the doors of the porch and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel.

“Therefore the wrath of the LORD was against Judah and Jerusalem, and He has made them an object of terror, of horror, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes.

“For behold, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this.

“Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the LORD God of Israel, that His burning anger may turn away from us.

“My sons, do not be negligent now, for the LORD has chosen you to stand before Him, to minister to Him, and to be His ministers and burn incense.”

Then the Levites arose…
They assembled their brothers, consecrated themselves, and went in to cleanse the house of the LORD, according to the commandment of the king by the words of the LORD.

So the priests went in to the inner part of the house of the LORD to cleanse it, and every unclean thing which they found in the temple of the LORD they brought out to the court of the house of the LORD. Then the Levites received it to carry out to the Kidron valley…

Then they went in to King Hezekiah and said, “We have cleansed the whole house of the LORD, the altar of burnt offering with all of its utensils, and the table of showbread with all of its utensils.

“Moreover, all the utensils which King Ahaz had discarded during his reign in his unfaithfulness, we have prepared and consecrated; and behold, they are before the altar of the LORD.”

Then King Hezekiah arose early and assembled the princes of the city and went up to the house of the LORD.

They brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs and seven male goats for a sin offering for the kingdom, the sanctuary, and Judah. And he ordered the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of the LORD…
The priests slaughtered them and purged the altar with their blood to atone for all Israel, for the king ordered the burnt offering and the sin offering for all Israel.

He then stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with harps and with lyres,…

The Levites stood with the musical instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.

Then Hezekiah gave the order to offer the burnt offering on the altar. When the burnt offering began, the song to the LORD also began with the trumpets, accompanied by the instruments of David, king of Israel.

While the whole assembly worshiped, the singers also sang and the trumpets sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.

Now at the completion of the burnt offerings, the king and all who were present with him bowed down and worshiped.

Moreover, King Hezekiah and the officials ordered the Levites to sing praises to the LORD with the words of David and Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with joy, and bowed down and worshiped.

Then Hezekiah said, “Now that you have consecrated yourselves to the LORD, come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the LORD ” And the assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings, and all those who were willing brought burnt offerings…

But the priests were too few, so that they were unable to skin all the burnt offerings;

There were also many burnt offerings with the fat of the peace offerings and with the libations for the burnt offerings. Thus the service of the house of the LORD was established again.

Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced over what God had prepared for the people…

Excerpted from 2 Chronicles 29

You know the history of Israel: bad king, good king, bad king, good king (actually, there were a lot more bad kings than good kings). The bad kings would come in and establish idol worship. They set up altars and made sacrifices to false gods, introduced cult prostitution, and even desecrated God’s house with idol worship and paraphernalia.

Ahaz was one of those bad kings. Second Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28 tell us he not only burned incense and made sacrifices to his gods, he “even made his sons pass through the fire” in worship of these idols. He took the gold and silver from God’s house and used it to try to bribe another king to come help him fight against an enemy. He desecrated God’s altar and tore down parts of the temple. He cut to pieces all of the temple utensils used for making sacrifices to the Lord. He had altars to his own gods placed in the temple, “in every corner of Jerusalem”, and “in every city in Judah”.

Ahaz was one bad dude. In fact, he was such a pustule of a human being that when he died they didn’t even bury him with all the other kings of Israel. That’s pretty bad.

And Hezekiah, Ahaz’s son, became king in his place.

Hezekiah was one of the most godly kings in Israel’s history. He had seen with his own eyes the evil perpetrated by his father, which had infested God’s holy house and spread throughout the land, and God put it in his heart to turn things around and lead his people back to God.

See any similarities between God’s house then and God’s house now? Between God’s people then and God’s people now? Is it time for us to grieve over the holy things that have been destroyed or taken out of God’s house, and the filth that has been brought into His house?

We’ve got to sweep around our own front door.

Notice that Hezekiah didn’t just go out and get a bunch of guys together and say, “All right, boys, we need to clean house. Let’s get to work.” He went specifically to the priests and Levites – the church leadership, if you will – and said, “consecrate yourselves”.

Consecration was a process of ritual cleansing. As the priests and Levites went through each step of the outward, physical cleansing, they were also setting themselves apart from worldliness and seeking God’s hand of purification in their hearts.

Notice also that the priests and Levites had to consecrate themselves before they would be able to consecrate the temple. Just as Ahaz’s own personal evildoing had trickled down and infected the people, so the temple leadership would have to cleanse themselves personally before God in order for a pursuit of holiness to pervade God’s house and His people.

Those who study revival have noted that the majority of churches which experience revival do so under the leadership of a pastor who has experienced personal revival. If a pastor senses it’s time to clean house at his church, step one is to make sure he has consecrated himself and is walking blamelessly before God. Step two is to get his leadership together for times of cleansing and much prayer, that they may consecrate themselves before leading the people.

Once their personal cleansing was complete, the priests and Levites began to “carry the uncleanness out from the holy place”. The evil done in the temple in Ahaz’s day had harmed families, stirred God to anger, and made His people “an object of terror, of horror, and of hissing” in the eyes of the world around them. Likewise, the worldliness and sin – from gossip and jealousy all the way up to pedophile clergy – we have allowed into the church has brought tremendous harm to countless families and has made the body of Christ an object of ridicule and hatred in the eyes of many of the people we seek to reach for Him. Can we expect that His anger towards us would be any less than his anger towards the Israelites?

When the priests and Levites began to cleanse the temple, they did so completely and permanently. In the same spirit of Jesus’ own remarks that if your very hand or eye causes you to sin, you should remove it from your body, the priests and Levites removed everything – no matter how small, no matter how valuable it may have seemed, or how much its removal might have offended someone – that didn’t belong in God’s house.

Verse 16 tells us they carried all these unclean things out to the Kidron valley. The Kidron valley (or brook, as it was sometimes called when water was running through the valley due to heavy rains) was an area outside Jerusalem where, under Kings Asa, Josiah, and Hezekiah, all manner of unclean items used in idol worship were disposed of, usually by burning. That’s permanent. They weren’t taking any chances that someone might come across these items and bring them back into the temple.

Not only did the priests and Levites take all the unclean items out of God’s house, they purified and brought back all of the sacred items used for worshiping God that never should have been removed.

Is it time to carry the unclean things out of your church and down to the Kidron valley? Maybe it’s an unbiblical doctrinal tenet of your denomination. A program that brings glory only to the church members involved and not to God. A person in a position of church leadership who intentionally lives in sin and rebellion. An attitude of your own heart.

What about the holy items of worship that have been taken out of your church? Have sound, Biblical sermons been replaced by ear tickling pep talks and skits? Have Scriptural and doctrinal worship songs been replaced by the vain repetition of fluffy, feel-good jingles? Has prayer become simply a way to bookend your worship services or even disappeared altogether?

Our churches are in captivity to worldliness due to our disobedience. God has chosen our pastors to minister before Him; to lead His people to be consecrated to Him and worship Him. Dear pastor, please do not be negligent about cleansing His house. For the sake of us, the sheep God has entrusted to you, won’t you go into the innermost part of the house of God – your heart, your family, your staff – and through humility, prayer, study of the Word, and sound biblical action, remove every unclean thing, and bring back the sacred things with the help of your church leadership?

Only when God’s house is clean will we be able to offer Him the sacrifices He truly desires:

Thus the service of the house of the Lord will established again, and the people will rejoice over what God has prepared for them.

Holidays (Other)

40 Things to Give Up for Lent

Originally published March 3, 2017

Although, as a Louisiana girl, I’ve had a decades long love affair with king cake, and I totally support the increased availability of fish entrées at local restaurants and getting a few days off school or work, I’m not a big fan of Mardi Gras and Lent.

The intrinsic philosophy behind Mardi Gras – a day of revelry, indulgence, and debauchery to get it all out of your system before you have to start “being good” for Lent – is patently unbiblical.

The practice of Lent often is, as well. Lent is the forty day period, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Easter Sunday, observed by Catholics and some Protestants. Originally, it was simply a time of fasting, prayer, and worship in anticipation of Easter, and for Christians who continue to observe it this way, it can be a valuable and meaningful time of respite and renewal with the Lord.

For many, however, Lent – particularly the aspect of giving something up for Lent in an act of self-denial – is nothing more than an empty religious ritual, or worse, works righteousness. Giving something up for Lent because, “I’m Catholic and that’s what good Catholics do,” or to atone for your sins, or to curry favor with God, or to flaunt your self-righteousness flies in the face of grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone biblical Christianity.

If you give something up for Lent, why do you do so? If it’s for one of the aforementioned unbiblical reasons (or others), or even if you don’t observe Lent at all, I’d like to challenge us all to give up the things below for Lent:

1. Give up Lent for Lent.

2. Give up attending any church that requires the observance of Lent in a sacramental way and find a doctrinally sound one.

3. Give up thinking your good behavior earns you right standing with God.

4. Give up the idea that there’s any such thing as truly good behavior.

5. Give up thinking your good deeds could ever outweigh your sins.

6. Give up willfully indulging in sin as long as you “make up for it” later.

7. Give up the notion that penance or self-denial can pay for your sins.

8. Give up thinking that penance or self-denial curries favor with God.

9. Give up the idea that repentance and obedience belong to a certain season on the calendar. We are to walk in repentance every day.

10. Give up the concept that Christmas and Easter are Christian “high holy days.” We celebrate Christ’s incarnation and resurrection every Sunday, and should prepare ourselves all during the week. Every Sunday is a high holy day for the Christian.

11. Give up rote participation in church rituals. Search the Scriptures and see if they’re biblical first.

12. Give up thinking God concerns Himself strictly with your external behavior rather than the condition of your heart.

13. Give up “sounding a trumpet before you” with humblebrags on social media and in real life about giving things up for Lent, fasting, giving offerings, or any other good works you might do. You just lost your reward, baby.

14. Give up approaching church attendance as punching the time clock for God. The Christian’s entire life, our very beings, belong to Christ, not just a couple of hours on Sunday.

15. Give up the delusion that you’re basically a good person. You’re not.

16. Give up biblical ignorance and become a good student of God’s word.

17. Give up forsaking the assembly and become a faithful, serving member of your local church.

18. Give up thinking that everyone and everything that calls itself “Christian” actually is.

19. Give up the desire to have your itching ears scratched and long for the truth of God’s word. Even when it’s hard to hear.

20. Give up neglecting the daily study of God’s word.

21. Give up rejecting parts of the Bible you don’t agree with. We don’t sit in judgment over Scripture. Scripture sits in judgment over us.

22. Give up neglecting your prayer life.

23. Give up making excuses for failing to memorize Scripture. You can do it!

24. Give up being a non-serving member of your church.

25. Give up being a non-giving member of your church.

26. Give up thinking you’re hearing God speak to you. If you want to hear God speak to you, open your Bible and study it. God has spoken in His word and many are largely ignoring what He has already said.

27. Give up following false teachers and be a good Berean.

28. Give up being afraid to share the gospel and just do it.

29. Give up thinking you can please God apart from faith in Christ.

30. Give up basing your doctrine and beliefs on your own (or anyone else’s) opinions, experiences, and feelings, and base them on correctly handled Scripture instead.

31. Give up following your wicked and deceitful heart, take up your cross daily, and follow Christ.

32. Give up thinking you have to do big things for God in order for Him to be pleased with you and “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.”

33. Give up worrying and trust God.

34. Give up neglecting to fear God’s wrath if you don’t know Christ.

35. Give up fearing God’s wrath if you do know Christ.

36. Give up the idea that “God is love” means God is a pushover who won’t judge you.

37. Give up thinking you’ve been so bad that God could never forgive you.

38. Give up thinking you’re so good that you don’t need God to forgive you.

39. Give up refusing to forgive others when Christ has forgiven you so much.

40. Give up everything and be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and walk in His ways, all the days of your life, to the glory of God alone.

Christian women, Church

The 5 Church Ladies You Don’t Want to Be

Originally published September 21, 2018

It’s just as easy to fall into a ditch on the right side of the road as it is to fall into a ditch on the left side of the road.

The longer I walk with the Lord, the more I see how true this is in the Christian life. We can be legalistic or antinomian. Crushed by guilt over our sin, or hard-hearted about our sin. Extending too much grace to unrepentant sinners, or not extending enough grace to repentant sinners.

Abandoning the church altogether, or taking ownership of the church and using it for our own purposes.

The purpose of the local church is to glorify God through worship and discipling the saints. Proper, biblical church membership is not optional for Christians. It is not to be treated as unnecessary by “Lone Ranger” Christians, nor is it to be used as a means toward our own ends. We are to be faithful, invested church members, but we’re to do so in a humble, loving, serving, “others first” way.

I’ve talked about the “left ditch” of abandoning the church:

Basic Training: 7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians

Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly

You Don’t Need the Internet, You Need a Pastor

Today, let’s talk about avoiding the “right ditch” of doing church the wrong way. Here are five church ladies who use the church for their own purposes- to build their own little empires, to impress others, or to make themselves feel better. Church ladies you don’t want to be, and the Scriptures they need to embrace and obey:

Part-time Paula– Paula is involved in lots of different pursuits: travel, hobbies, volunteer work, her kids’ sports/activities/clubs, social events, political events, family gatherings, civic projects…and church is just one more activity on the list. And it’s not even at the top of the list. Paula comes to church when she has time, when she feels like it, and when church doesn’t conflict with one of her other activities, but she doesn’t have any leftover time, energy, or desire to get plugged in, commit to a place of service, or fellowship with her brothers and sisters in Christ. Paula keeps just enough of a foot in the door at church to assuage any guilt she would feel for quitting altogether, or to be able to keep it on her “resume” of activities to impress others.

Paula’s Scripture: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

Screechy Sheila– Sheila knows how this church ought to be run: her way. And if you step out of line – not with Scripture, but with her personal preferences and methods – she’ll let you know. Sometimes she’s loud and vehement. Sometimes she’s quiet and threatening. Sometimes she’s nicey-nice and just educates you on the “right” way to handle things. But you’d better get with the program – her program – or else. Sheila uses the church as a platform for being bossy and exercising control.

Sheila’s Scripture: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4

Cotton Candy– Forget the meat and potatoes of church – sound doctrine and theology, studying the Bible, serving others, and giving sacrificially – Candy is only there for the fluff. She’ll be there for every fellowship, day trip, and fun-filled women’s ministry event, but she wants her “sermons” chock-full of jokes and stories, and her “Bible” studies to be positive, encouraging, self-esteem builders. Candy uses the church as entertainment or to make herself feel good.

Candy’s Scripture: But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3a

Que Será Katie– Katie is a founding member of this church, doggone it, and she’s not going anywhere. Some Katies have been known to say to their less-favorite pastors, “I’ve been here for fifty years, and I’ll be here long after you’re gone.”. Others are more placid, unfazed by unbiblical pastors, faulty doctrine, or spiritually unhealthy practices in the church. They just go with the flow. There’s a lot to be said for a faithful church member who doesn’t cut and run at the least little problem and works hard to help the church become healthier. But that’s not why Katie sticks around. There are biblical reasons Katie should have left this church in the past, but her friends are here, her memories are here, she’s comfortable in these surroundings, and those things are more important to her than whether or not the church is operating biblically. So she stays, loving the church for sentimental reasons.

Katie’s Scripture: Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25b-27

Ulterior-Motive Ursula– Ursula has an agenda and the church seems like a convenient gathering of good-hearted people to use for reaching her goal. Maybe she needs volunteers for a community project. Or she’s trying to get out the vote for the candidate she’s campaigning for. Or she needs a client base for multi-level marketing. Or she’s trying to become the next American Idol and needs a pre-fab audience. Whatever the end game, coming to church where a crowd of people is already assembled is easier than staging a rally or phone-blitzing or setting up a free concert. Maybe Ursula is a faithful member of the church. Maybe she isn’t. But she’s using the church to further her own goals.

Ursula’s Scripture: And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” Matthew 21:12-13

 

The purpose of the local church is not to salve our emotional wounds, or to fill a void in our lives, or to further our own agenda. The purpose of the church is to focus our attention on Christ – how He gave His life for us, forgave us, and made us His disciples. It’s where we come together to praise Him, honor Him, worship Him, serve Him, serve our brothers and sisters, and get equipped in His Word. We’ve probably all been guilty of being Paula, Sheila, Candy, Katie, or Ursula at times. I know I have. But let’s strive to be the godly women at church – and everywhere else – Christ commands us to be.

1&2 Peter Bible Study

Living Stones: A Study of 1 & 2 Peter ~ Lesson 7

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Read 1 Peter 5

Questions to Consider

1. Verse 1 begins with another pivot (transitional) word. (Review lesson 2 if necessary – link above). What is that word? How does the word “so” act as a hinge between what we studied in chapter 4 (and the preceding chapters – links above if you’d like to review) and what Peter says in chapter 5?

2. Peter gave minimal credentials at the beginning of his letter, choosing instead to save the details of his authority until his closing. What credentials does he list supporting his authority to instruct pastors and the church? (1)

3. Who is Peter instructing in verses 1-3? (1) Chart Peter’s instructions to pastors and elders in verses 2-3:

Do this:                                 Not this:                           But this:

Verse 2:

 

Verse 3:

 

Explain how each of these instructions speaks to a pastor’s character and how having a pastor who obeys these instructions is beneficial to a local church. What is a pastor’s reward for obeying these instructions? (4) What is the congregation’s responsibility? (5) Describe the dynamics of a church whose pastors/elders are obeying the instructions in 1-3, and whose members are obeying the instructions in 5. How does the pastor’s obedience make for better church members and vice versa?

4. What topic does verses 6-7 address? Verses 8-10? In each of these verses, Peter gives an instruction to obey and a reason for/explanation of that instruction. Chart these:

Instruction:                                       Reason/Explanation:

Verse 6:

Verse 7:

Verse 8:

Verse 9:

Verse 10:

How are each of these instructions practical in the life of a Believer? How do the reasons/explanations bring comfort and assurance to Believers? How would  these instructions and reassurances have been a perfect fit for the dispersed, persecuted church of Peter’s day?

5. How does God receive dominion and glory (11) from pastors and church members obeying His instructions in verses 1-10? How does a healthy church glorify God?

6. Read verses 12-14. Using your cross-references and footnotes, who are Silvanus and Mark? What task was Silvanus performing for Peter? (12) Was Mark Peter’s biological son or his “son in the faith”? (13). Who is “she who is at Babylon”? (13) (Hint: See 1 Peter 1:1, and review lesson 1, link above) Why would Peter have been careful to speak in “code” like this? Is 14a a literal command to all churches for all time, or was it merely an instruction to the church to greet each other warmly in a culturally acceptable way? How might Peter have instructed Believers today to greet one another?


Homework

Review the instructions to pastors/elders in 2-3. Which of these instructions is your pastor really good at carrying out? Send him a brief note or e-mail thanking him for obeying God and benefiting your church in this regard.


Suggested Memory Verse

1&2 Peter Bible Study

Living Stones: A Study of 1 & 2 Peter ~ Lesson 6

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Read 1 Peter 4

Questions to Consider

1. Review lessons 4 and 5 (links above) (1 Peter 2:19-25 and 3:8-22) and read all of 1 Peter 4. What theme do these passages have in common? Compare the ideas and instructions about suffering in these three passages. What are some ideas or instructions that Peter repeats for emphasis? How does Peter placard Jesus as our perfect example of suffering well in these passages?

2. Read verses 1-6 in light of these passages. Do verses 1-2 mean that anyone who has ever been ill or wounded (“suffered in the flesh”) will never sin again? What do these verses actually mean on a spiritual, rather than tangible, level? How do 1-6 describe the transformation of the behavior of someone who has become a new creature in Christ, who has put off the old self and put on the new self? What do all of these passages indicate about the spiritual state of someone who lives in the flesh and makes a practice of sinning versus someone who lives in the spirit and makes a practice of obeying God’s Word from the heart? Take some time to honestly, objectively, and prayerfully evaluate your heart against what these passages teach.

3. How do verses 7-11 describe living in the spirit? Peter gives something of a “bullet point” list in these verses. What are the instructions in each verse? Verses 7,8,11 give an instruction and a reason for the instruction (do this, because…). What are those reasons? How does living out these instructions benefit the individual Christian and the church? How does living out each of these instructions fit with the theme of this epistle: “living lives of holiness under persecution, and before a watching world”?

7-

8-

9-

10-11-

4. Examine verses 12-19.

Compare 12 to 2 Timothy 3:12. What does this teach us about the ubiquity of suffering and persecution for the Christian?

Find the words and phrases in 13, 14, 16, that describe the positive perspective on suffering Christians are to have. Why are we to have a joyful outlook on suffering?

Look at verses 1 and 13 together. What does it mean to share in Christ’s sufferings? How did He suffer? Why did He suffer? At whose hands did He suffer?

What’s the difference between sharing in Christ’s sufferings/suffering for the sake of Christ/suffering as a Christian and suffering as verse 15 describes? Why is the former to be gloried in and rejoiced over and the latter is to be avoided? What does God’s judgment (17-18) have to do with each kind of suffering? Why does God’s judgment begin with Christians ? (17-18)

Tie verse 19 (“while doing good”) back to 7-11. Does suffering give us an excuse to sin or walk away from the church? Why not, according to 19, 7-11?


Homework

Compare and contrast four different types of suffering:

a) Suffering as a result of someone else’s sin (ex: a drunk driver crashes into your car and kills your child)

b) Suffering as a result of living in a fallen world (ex: disease, disability, natural disaster)

c) Suffering as a result of your own sin (ex: you cheat on your husband and he leaves you)

d) Suffering for the sake of Christ (persecution)

Which of these types of suffering is today’s passage mainly dealing with? What are the similarities and differences among these types of suffering? What are some good things God can bring out of each of these types of suffering?

You may wish to read some of my articles on suffering:

True or False: Is Your Theology of Suffering Biblical?

God’s Good Purposes in Suffering

Christ, the Suffering Servant

Six Reasons to Rejoice that Christ is Enough in Our Suffering


Suggested Memory Verse