The second crow

Read: Deuteronomy 23-25, Mark 14:51-72

On one of my missionary trips to Peru, there was a young man who preferred to sleep past dawn. Most people prefer it, really. But it was not to be. We were on a boat on a tributary of the Amazon River on our way to a pastoral conference. At that conference, we would be providing much of the food, including the meat. The best way to keep meat fresh on the Amazon is to keep it alive until you’re ready to eat it. So there was a rooster on the boat. Every morning, just as the sun began to peek over the horizon, that rooster would let us all know what time it was. The day we had chicken for dinner, the aforementioned young man celebrated. We would no longer be wakened by said rooster.

When the conference ended and we had all boarded the boat to return to the city, one last crate needed to be loaded. A thank you gift. A rooster. Even once we were back in the city, we had nature’s alarm clock. A reminder of dawn.

Back in the Gospel of Mark, another rooster served as a reminder. By the time it had crowed twice, Peter had denied Jesus three times.

Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Mark 14:72 (NIV)

Most people would hear this story and shake their heads at Peter’s betrayal. I look at it as a story of a new beginning.

Peter knew in the moment, that to associate himself with Jesus would likely put him in a similar position—imprisoned. So, in the presence of his enemies, Peter denied his teacher, his leader, his friend.

But it is in the presence of our enemies that God makes provision.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.

Psalm 23:5a (NIV)

Before Jesus had even been arrested, he knew exactly what Peter would do and say. He even told Peter so. Yet Jesus never cast Peter aside. He never scolded him or scorned him. He simply made the statement. Jesus knew that Peter would deny him, yet offered him the bread and the cup of covenant anyway.

Jesus didn’t accept the cross for the righteous, but for those like Peter, who in the moment would either, in faith, step out of the boat on to the waves or, in fear, deny he ever knew Jesus. Jesus went to the cross for those of us who struggle with our faith, going from the mountaintop to the valley and everything in between.

I think that Peter’s denial of Jesus only strengthened his resolve to follow. Imagine how he felt when that second rooster crowed and he realised what he had done. When he remembered what Jesus had told him. I suspect that, once the heat of shame subsided, he was filled with wonder and gratitude at the magnitude of Jesus’ actions.

In both stories here, the second rooster was a gift. For Peter, had he never heard that second crow, he would have stood by his denial. But instead, it was a reminder of the grace Jesus had extended to him, to the table already prepared for him in the presence of his enemies. Again, Peter found grace in the midst of a storm.

Grunt before glory

Read: Exodus 39-40, Matthew 24:1-22

Who doesn’t want to see God’s glory? You’d have to be crazy not to. For many in the church, it is (or maybe should be) our primary pursuit.

Exodus 40-34

We all want the cloud to descend so we can bask in the presence of God. But, for as many of us who pursue the glory, nearly as many never see the fullness of it. Why?

Moses did everything just as the Lord commanded him.

Exodus 40:16 (NIV)

This verse is followed by seven more that state, as the Lord commanded him. Seven. the number of completion and perfection.

And so Moses finished the work.

Exodus 40:33b (NIV)

He did everything the Lord commanded him. Then he finished the work. And only then did the glory of the Lord fill the tabernacle.

Well, I’m just waiting on the Lord. It is to our detriment that we use the word wait. To wait on the Lord has absolutely nothing to do with sitting in silence and everything to do with getting off our blessed assurance and working toward the high calling that God has set before us.

WAIT: To attend to; to perform. To be ready to serve; to obey.

Moses waited on the Lord by doing exactly as he had been commanded. Not only did God give a long list of very specific instructions, but He also sent His Spirit to empower the craftsman to do their work.

We all want the glory, but very few want to do the grunt work required to prepare ourselves and the place for the Lord’s presence. Christianity is not the easy way out, but the narrow road in. We are called to live a life set apart and that life requires work. Lots of work. Hard work.

We have a whole book of commands that we carry around to make us feel good about ourselves, but carrying the book is the most work many are willing to do. If we would only put into practice all the instruction we’ve been given, perhaps we’d see a lot more of that glory we’ve been looking for. A little grunt may go a long way toward the glory.

To boldly go

We, as new covenant believers, don’t know how good we have it. For those who came before us, the old covenant pretty much had one purpose—to make God’s people painfully aware of their sin. Regular sacrifice had to be made to atone for a multitude of sin (both known and unknown). Only the high priest was able to approach God and then only after a long process of cleansing and sacrifice. After that, I imagine his approach would have still been somewhat reserved. We need have no such reservations.

Let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:22 (NLT)

We see in Hebrews 10:1 that the old system of the law of Moses was only a shadow of the things to come, not the reality of the good things Christ has done for us. The old covenant was merely preparation for the new. Where the old pointed out sin, the new obliterated it. Where the old stifled believers, the new frees us. The old made man feel dirty and sinful.

And what God wants is for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.

Hebrews 10:10 (NLT)

Unlike the priests of the old covenant, we don’t have to go through a long, drawn out process of cleansing each time we want to approach God. Instead, we can go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him.

Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf made perfect and perpetual atonement for our sin. We are washed with pure water and covered by the blood. Knowing and trusting in this, we can boldly go to our heavenly Father.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 4-6, Hebrews 10:1-23

Grab it by the horns

If you’ve read through the first two chapters of 1 Kings, perhaps you were as confounded as I at the talk of grabbing the horns of the altar. This is an odd occurrence—one I had not seen before now. There are several references to it, so it was time to dig into the commentaries.

It appears from this and some other instances, that it was now become a custom among the Israelites, though by no divine law, to flee to the altar of the Lord, as to an asylum.

Benson Commentary

Image result for child hiding behindThis is the picture in my head. When we were kids, behind Mom was the safest place to be when the rest of my siblings were after me. Yes, I’ve just likened my mother’s skirts to the horns on the altar of the Lord.

While this practice wasn’t law, it was highly symbolic and, in many cases, effective. Like a kid running to a parent, by clinging to the horns of the altar, salvation may be found.

As soon as Adonijah discovered David was after him, he rushed to the sacred tent. Likewise with Joab. Now, I understand than neither of these men were spared—their evil deeds had already sealed their fate, but what if we, like them, ran to the sacred place when we are being chased by our enemies? What would happen if we ran to God instead of whining or complaining to family, friends, or Facebook? If we would only cling to the altar, perhaps we, too, could find salvation.

Unlike Adonijah and Joab, when we grab the horns of the altar, we will find salvation. Over and over, God has proclaimed Himself to be faithful if only will we come near to Him. Run to Him. Rush to Him. Grab on to Him and don’t let go. As much of a shield of protection as your mother’s skirts could be, the presence of God is so much more.

The next time you hear the phrase, grab life by the horns, keep this in mind. Be reminded that to hold on to God is to hold on to your salvation.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Kings 1-2, Luke 22:54-71

The invitation

If you got an invitation directly from God to join Him at His table for a feast, would you go? Or would you make up an excuse to not have to attend? You’re probably thinking that the answer to this one is a no-brainer. No need to think about it. Of course I’m there!

Are you really?

In Luke 14, Jesus is teaching about humility. Instead of sitting at the head of the table and then embarrassing yourself when you’re asked to move down for a more honoured guest, sit at the foot and be honoured when you’re asked to move up. One man pipes up, “What a privilege it would be to have a share in the Kingdom of God!”

But Jesus goes on to share:

A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When all was ready, he sent his servant around to notify the guests that it was time for them to come. But they all began making excuses. One said he had just bought a field and wanted to inspect it, so he asked to be excused. Another said he had just bought five pair of oxen and wanted to try them out. Another had just been married, so he said he couldn’t come.

Luke 14:16-20 (NLT)

It turns out that, because the guests who were honoured with invitations wouldn’t come, the man went out and invited anyone he could find until every seat at his table was full.

But that would never be me! I’d never turn down an invitation!

I’m pretty sure we’ve all turned down an invitation or two—or even more. I’m inclined to believe that those who have been in the church for a long time turn down more invitations than those who are new to the faith.

What do I mean by invitation? I mean the opportunity to spend time with God. The chance to simply bask in His presence to do His work. When we’ve had many invitations, we tend to lose sight of the honour bestowed upon us because God wants us at His table. When we have the opportunity to serve, it is God allowing us the honour of furthering His Kingdom. When there is an invitation to worship, God is allowing us the honour of simply being in His presence.

How many times have you been too busy to attend that extra church service or too tired to put in an extra hour or two serving? I’ll be the first one to put my hand up and say that I’m guilty of doing just that.

Can you imagine how much more effective the Church would be if we would recall the honour in the invitation rather than offer excuses as to why we can’t go? God Himself has reached out His hand to you and asked you to work along side Him and to dine with Him. Why would anyone want to turn down that kind of invitation?

Daily Bible reading: 1 Samuel 13-14, Luke 14:1-4

Know

Sometimes I forget that even the demons know Jesus. His presence is such that, he doesn’t need to announce himself. They know. I wonder sometimes if the demons would know Jesus in me. Is his presence in me so strong that they would tremble and shriek?

Not only do the demons know Jesus, but they answer to him. So great is the power of the Christ, that in his presence, even the demons must obey his word.

“Send us into those pigs,” the spirits begged. “Let us enter them.”

So Jesus gave them permission.

Mark 5:12-13a (NLT)

The spirits did not leave the man they were possessing until Jesus gave them permission to do so. Even they knew that, at Jesus’ word, they would have to obey. Remember this: the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive in us. The same power that caused demons to flee is in us.

When we know whom we believe (2 Timothy 1:12), we can speak with authority and know that every power of darkness must obey. There is no maybe or if. God promised it, He will perform it. End of story.

Daily Bible reading: Numbers 8-10, Mark 5:1-20

The people brought

I often wonder where people assume the church gets funding from. I’ve heard unchurched people ignorantly say things like, “Why don’t all those churches take care of [insert issue here]?”

Churches are not magical entities loaded with goods and finances to clean up the messes of others on a whim. Sure, it would be fantastic if churches all over were able to stand up and be able to help with issues in the community. But the awful truth is that many churches struggle to make their own ends meet because even people in the church see it as the all-powerful organisation that doesn’t need help.

Our church, since we bought our building nearly five years ago, has learned a lot about ownership and stewardship. We get questions like, why aren’t we doing this? or why don’t we just pay someone to do that? My response is usually, who do you think is going to do it or who do you think is going to pay for it? And their response is usually one of confusion while they may or may not come to the realisation that the church’s finances are not infinite and that we must be good stewards of what we do have. While it would be great to be able to hire someone to do all the work, when funds are tight, if we can do it ourselves, we do.

Let’s go back and take a look at the first church building project.

Back in Exodus, Israel has escaped four centuries of slavery in Egypt only to find themselves adrift in the wilderness. But they’re okay. God is with them. In fact, He’s going to camp out with them. But He needs a tent. And He’s very specific about His tent. God gives Moses a seemingly impossible list of required items as well as how to make them and put them together. It’s a massive project.

I can relate to Israel here. We have a 35,000 square foot building constructed in bits and pieces between the 1940’s and 1970’s that has never been fully renovated. We have an average weekly attendance around 65. Big, impossible project.

Let’s take a look at some of the final tallies for Israel, shall we?

  • Gold: 2,200 pounds
  • Silver: 7,545 pounds
  • Bronze: 5,310 pounds

In addition to the staggering amounts of precious metals, also required was acacia wood—enough for the furniture and all support beams and poles, yards and yards fine spun and woven linen for the tent itself as well as the priest’s garments (I’m a spinner and a weaver—this is a HUGE project), leather enough for the entire roof, and the list goes on.

All but the silver—which came by way of a census tax—were gifts. Yup. Gifts. One of the pastors in our movement says, “If it’s not free, it’s not God.” It’s my understanding that his ministry has never had to pay for a building yet.

All of this is to ask a simple question: what do you bring? When the church has need, how do you fill it? Out of your overflow or out of your own need? Do you give just enough or, like Israel, give more than enough. How much would it take for your pastor to have to tell you to stop giving?

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 37-38, Matthew 23:23-39

Evidence

Can you see God? You haven’t seen Him? I’ve never seen the wind. I see the effects of the wind, but I’ve never seen the wind.

Billy Graham

Today, in my part of the world, it’s windy. I’m looking out my big windows and I see snow blowing across the yard. In the moments when the wind takes a break, big white flakes swirl down and add themselves to the drifts already covering the yard. Then the wind picks up again and snow both from the sky and the ground and every other surface blasts my view.

I can see that it’s windy. I see evidence of the wind in the snow coming down as well as the drifts on the ground. But I can’t actually see the wind. If I dare to go outside for a few minutes and come back in, the evidence of the wind will be on me. I’d likely have snow stuck to one side of me and not the other. My hair would be standing on end and I’m quite certain I’d be shivering. You’d see the effects of the wind in my appearance, but neither you or I could say we’d actually seen the wind.

The quote above from Billy Graham is well known. If you listened to Christian music in the 90’s, you’d have heard a clip of it on dcTalk’s Jesus Freak album. You may have heard it used many times over the years, but have you really thought about it? Have you gone to the Word for scripture to back it up?

In Exodus, Moses is sent up Mount Sinai once more (he’d come down with tablets from God once already, but ended up smashing them upon realising Israel, in the forty days he’d been gone had reverted to worshipping a golden calf). God needed a word with Moses. And so, for another forty days and nights, Moses fasted and spoke with God face to face. When he finally came back down the mountain, the people of Israel couldn’t bear to look at him, so strong was the glory of God that shone from his face.

Oh, it was just that once, you may say. It wasn’t. Read on in Exodus 34, Moses had to come up with a veil in order to hide his face when he came out from being in the presence of God. Israel didn’t see God, but they saw the effects of His presence.

What do you look like after you’ve been in the presence of God? It’s a personal, spiritual experience, I don’t like to let people know. Why would you want to hide that kind of experience from others?  It’s just for me, no one else. If it was just for Moses, he could have kept to himself and not had to bother with covering his face. When I meet with God, it’s not like that. If you’re not at all changed, are you really meeting with God?

There are many excuses we can give, but in the end, it all comes down to the evidence. If you’ve experienced the presence of God in any way, it should show. You don’t have to literally light up the room with your face, but shouldn’t your countenance show that you’ve experienced something good? Should your attitude not reflect time spent in the presence of the Great I Am?

We might not be able to see the presence of God, but we should surely be able to see the effects of it.

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 34-36, Matthew 23:1-22

From called to chosen

For a long time, the Church portrayed itself as an exclusive club. That only certain people were worthy of even an invitation to join. How this ever became a doctrine is beyond me because it is completely contrary to what Jesus taught.

If anything, the church should the be the most inclusive* gathering on the planet. There should be no one left without an invitation.

So what happens when everyone is invited? Jesus shared a story of a king who was putting on a wedding feast. He’d prepared and sent out invitations and all those invited declined. (Who passes up the opportunity for a free feast?) In fact (and this sounds a little too familiar), some of those who were invited responded in anger and violence. Finally, the king sent his servants out to invite anyone they could find since he deemed the original invitees unworthy.

The servants brought in anyone and everyone they could find who would accept the invitation. Good people. Bad people. All people.

But there was one man who accepted the late invitation, yet failed to properly prepare. The king had him bound and thrown out.

This may seem extreme, but the man was invited into the presence of the king! If you suddenly received an invitation to Buckingham Palace, I’m reasonably certain that you wouldn’t show up in sweatpants and a tank top. You’d more than likely immediately head out and find something appropriate to wear in the presence of royalty.

I’ve heard many in and outside of the church whine and complain about the church being an exclusive place where they don’t have a place. Here’s the thing: we’re all invited. God has done His part by sending out the invitation. It is up to us to RSVP. It is up to us to show up. And it is entirely up to us whether or not we show up prepared.

If you’re invited to try out for your favourite CFL team and show up without any of the proper equipment, you’ll be immediately struck off the list of candidates. You can’t very well then complain about not making the team because the team did their part in sending the invitation. The preparation is on you.

For may are called, but few are chosen.

Matthew 22:14 (NLT)

You are called. Whether or not you are chosen depends entirely on your level of preparation.

*I feel that, by using the word inclusive, I need to  offer further explanation. Today’s  culture would have the word mean that we must not only invite all, but accept all choices and preferences regardless of what the Bible teaches. I do not condone this use of the word. Jesus was welcoming of all as humans, but urged all those invited to leave their sin behind. The inclusive part is in the invitation, not the lifestyle.

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 29-30, Matthew 22:1-22

The secrets of the Kingdom

Do you ever feel as though, the more time you spend in the presence of God, the more you understand and want to experience the presence of God? But as soon as you stop taking the time, that feeling goes away and you forget what it’s like to truly experience God.

Jesus spoke to His disciples about this very thing.

Then he explained to them, “You have been permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others have not. To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But to those who are not listening, even what they have will be taken away from them…

Matthew 13:11-12 (NLT)

This is why continual study of the Word of God and regular church attendance is so important. The more you get, the more you will yet receive. But as soon as you close your fist, the gravy train ends and all that you had will be lost. Our faith, our relationship with God is a process, not a single event.

My dear friends, you have always obeyed God when I was with you. It is even more important that you obey now while I am away from you. Keep working to complete your salvation with fear and trembling because God is working in you to help you want to do and be able to do what pleases him.

Philippians 2:12-13 (NCV)

Daily Bible reading: Genesis 41, Matthew 13:1-32