Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The King's Domain

On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown in order to display her beauty to the people and the princes, for she was beautiful. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the eunuchs. Then the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him. (Esther 1:10-12)

Domestic disputes occur even in the houses of kings. Here we have the ultimate clashing of desires. The king desiring to put the beauty of the queen on display. And the queen desiring not to do what the king wants her to do. We don't know the reason for the queen's refusal…only that she did not come. She refused the king's command. Interestingly, we are given the king's motivation. I wonder how the writer of Esther knew this. The wise men interpreted that the queen's behavior will spark similar activities in households across the kingdom. Something must be done to act as a deterrent. Banishing the queen from the king's presence and selection of another queen is chosen as the best course of action. So much for equal rights. The reality is that the rule of the king is absolute. The queen does not share the authority. The queen serves at the pleasure of the king. At least that’s the king’s understanding, The king's edict is sent to all the kingdom. The message is that every man should be the master in his own house and the speaker for his people. Every man is to be the king in his castle, so to speak. The story of Esther is about the sovereign rule of Almighty God, the King of all kings. The hearts of kings are in the hand of the Almighty. So all events such as this one are under the sovereign authority of God. How God does what He does is a marvelous thing. He uses the obstinate attitude of Queen Vashti to create a selection process to place one of His people in a critical place at a crucial time. It is often said that the Lord will not overrule our will…that we have the ability to choose acceptance of His way or reject it. Maybe so…maybe not. But I see in this passage what the Lord will do with our will. He will use not only the subservient as well as the stubborn and rebellious will of men and women to accomplish His divine purpose. Our rebellion does not thwart the work of God. God is so great that He can use the rebellious will of humanity to accomplish His sovereign plan. And He is still in the process of daily arranging the affairs of kings, queens, people and peasants to fulfill His purpose. All of humanity and all of history rests within this King's domain. The Lord...He is God.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Serious Agent of Radical Change

Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. Thus I purified them from everything foreign and appointed duties for the priests and the Levites, each in his task, and I arranged for the supply of wood at appointed times and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good. (Nehemiah 13:29-31)

Nehemiah executed the eviction of the man named Tobiah without notice. Other actions concerning mixed marriages and Sabbath observance got his attention and he attended to the situations. To rebuild a wall without rebuilding lives was fruitless in the mind of the man of God. Nehemiah courageously saw the wrong and began to make it right. The man of God today can take a lesson here. Some things don't need committee action. Some things and some people are out of place. When that happens, something has to be evicted. But the empty place cannot remain vacant. Nehemiah restores the right things to the Levites. The commitments that God's people made were put to the test with a man who was determined to do what he said. Nehemiah may have encountered resistance to the exclusion of foreigners from the community experience. He may have been opposed by running off someone who was shown favoritism because of family relations. He may have been inclined to shrink back from enforcing the observance of the Sabbath with the merchants. But in his statement of being willing to use force, he was not intimidated by the economical price that obedience often brings. It is costly. People's lives and livelihood are disrupted. God always shakes us up before He irons us out. The marriage of foreigners had corrupted even the language of God's people. It was serious enough that Nehemiah was physically able to carry out spiritual admonitions. The last phrase for God to remember him for good should be our prayer when restoration is called for. We need God to help us because restoration of God's people is often dangerous and difficult. It takes people who care primarily about God's name and reputation to be effective agents of change.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Don't Know Or Won't Know?

They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. (Titus 1:16)

Ignorance and rebellion. Two hindrances to godliness are evident in humanity. Of the two I would much rather counsel with an ignorant man, one who desires to follow God, but may be lacking in instruction about the ways of the Lord. Rebellious men are a different breed. They will not be instructed into right doctrine because doctrine is not the issue. They have their own agendas. They want to be in authority, even though they oppose godly authority. Here Paul seems to be instilling battle plans into Titus. Some things you do not negotiate with and try to win over. Some things you oppose strongly, even attack preemptively wherever you find it. Like the ones who are teaching falsely about the Lord. They profess to know Him…they have said they follow Jesus. But what they do is practice rebellion. Titus is to reprove them strongly. Paul is talking about using the word of God…given to rebuke and reprove the rebel. Given to restore and reinforce the faithful. The goal is that the faith of those who follow God is strengthened. Paul’s counsel is to bring them all under authority. This is a word for us today. Do not tolerate opposition that tears down the work of the Lord. Refute the doctrine and reprove the false teacher. Do not tolerate and accommodate a different gospel. The fight of faith is to be fought. Spritual warriors are always at war. Rebellion is always to be engaged. And the ignorant, the one without knowledge is always to be educated. There is a huge distinction between the ones who don't know and the ones who won't know.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Sound of Joy

…And the singers sang, with Jezrahiah their leader, and on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar. (Nehemiah 12:42-43)

When worship is done rightly, it produces a spirit of joy. Because God is there. And joy is from God. The account says that the people sang and rejoiced because God had given them great joy. We cannot pretend that we are joyful. We cannot manufacture it. We can only respond to what God does because of our desire to see Him exalted. We are told that the singers sang. We may think that is not a significant thing. But there are many singers who don’t sing. They just go through the motions, mindlessly mouthing the words, trying to stay in tune. When a singer really sings, it makes a difference in worship. The joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar. That's what happens when singers really sing. It is attractive and the message goes far from the place where the song is sung. The joy is "heard" beyond the boundaries. Oh, how we can mute the sound of joy…the many songs that are stifled…muffled…muddled. But how the people of God can make a difference when they remember they have reason to rejoice. Joy remains an effective message in the heart long after the tune has faded away from the ears. For Nehemiah and his people, the wall they rebuilt was secondary in priorities. Worship was primary. The need for the wall symbolized their helpless vulnerability apart from the protection and providence of God. The strength of God and His plan of community was lived out in their worship experience. All our joy flows from a right worship relationship with God. Significant in a previous verse of this passage is a reference to the musical instruments of David, the man of God. Had these things survived the progression of time even through the exile? Who had them? Where were they? Had they been silent till now? It would be truly significant if these things had been preserved. But more significant is the preservation of the presence of joy in the people of God. This is a timeless aspect to true worship. Sometimes we think we can't worship if we don't use the same musical instruments that our forefathers used. The things that make the music are not as critical as the sound of the music. Does it sound like joy? The joy of the Lord, found in the worship of God, is a tune that never goes out of tune…and always living beyond its time.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tough Man...Tough Mission

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you… (Titus 1:5)

It takes a tough man for a tough mission field. This is why Paul left Titus in Crete. To put in order what remains…this can be a hard task, almost overwhelming at times. Sometimes to put something in order you have to dismantle what is out of order. In ministry, this can be a daunting task. Sometimes we have to face tough opposition that may have been entrenched in false teaching and family idolatry. In the contest of the text, Titus is warned that many others would resist the sound teaching. But Titus is also to make disciples, to train leaders, in the midst of this fight. This is the key to building churches. Learn how to refute and answer ungodly opposition while earning the respect and trust of those coming into the faith. For the false teacher will always siphon off the new lamb in the fold…seeking to build his flock. Titus is told in effect to man up and raise up godly men! This is the way of the Lord. We are always fighting to gain and hold ground, advancing the kingdom, until the King returns to reign. The war never goes away until Jesus brings peace to earth and in heaven. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Singing Servants

Now the overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi the son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Mica, from the sons of Asaph, who were the singers for the service of the house of God. (Nehemiah 11:22)

Security and songs were necessary parts of this worship experience. Often we think we are safe when we come worship together. And when we come to worship as a ho-hum humdrum experience, we probably are. The enemy is not too worried about a lethargic worship experience. But one that is vital and committed to pursue God is a threat to his disorder. So one of the ways that we attack the enemy stronghold is to become strong in our worship of God. We need to be as vigilant as the people of Nehemiah's day. Look out for opposition and have in place a first line of defense. Have someone watch the gates. Spiritually and physically. Some of these people were chosen to live in Jerusalem. They, in effect, were offered for service. The sons of Asaph were known as singers of psalms. The song is a driving point in worship, even in our day. More conflict will come over music in our churches, even to the point of division. It should not be so. In Nehemiah's day these things were regulated and put in order. There’s an old saying I’ve heard that when the devil fell from Heaven, he fell into the choir loft! Sadly, this seems to have legitimacy in some of our church experience, doesn’t it? More segregated services today seem to cater over music styles. Contemporary, traditional, and blended seem to be the catch phrases. Kind of like a smorgasbord of what we would like…wonder what kind of music the Lord likes? Freedom in worship music is often hard to find. And in America, the length of the song seems to be a guiding principle. It must fit the order of worship. But the Lord will not be boxed into our design. Am I too caught up in this mindset of management to be real when I worship? Do we sing long enough to hear God praised? Or do we sing so long as to be vainly repetitious? Don’t get so caught up with meaningless controversy that we miss the meaning of worship. The One we worship determines the method of worship. Selah…meditate on that for a while…True godly worship truly pleases God. So who are we really trying to please? Who are we serving when we are singing?