24 December, 2008

All Consuming Fire

2 Ch 5:13 & 14
It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers [were] as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up [their] voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, [saying], For [he is] good; for his mercy [endureth] for ever: that [then] the house was filled with a cloud, [even] the house of the LORD; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.

The Lord appeared as a pillar of fire and a column of smoke to the people of Israel. He covered all Mount Sinai with clouds and thunders and lightnings. He filled the tent of meeting, the tabernacle, with this cloud.

... And not again in the 300 years prior to this event!

300 years ago, in 1708, George Washington had still not been born. America was still a dark continent. Austria had still not annexed Hungary. The Great Alliance bested France in some war I've never heard of. 300 years is a long, long time. Most of us can barely read English written 300 years ago.

Generations had lived, loved the Lord, and walked away from Him repeatedly. Canaan had been occupied. The judges had come, ruled, died, and been replaced with new judges by God because His people could not curb their lusts without a judge over them. They'd grown tired of judges, and begged for and received a king in Saul. Then God provided better in David. Their government had completely changed several times, and been transferred untold times.

They'd been gathering 3 times a year (or failing to do so) for as long as anyone could remember. They'd been watching the annual sacrifices and hearing the readings of the law. They'd been tithing and resting on Saturdays for generations. Their religion was set in concrete.

And then Solomon started his building program. I don't know how long it took, but if you read the previous 5 chapters of 2 Chronicles, you'll see the immense scale of the temple. The "bath" at the front of the temple held 24,000 gallons of water. The Holy of Holies alone was overlaid with 45,000 pounds of pure gold. The place was a monster.

And the response of Israel was equal to the task. They poured out their hearts and pockets into building this place. Everything about Israel was utterly consumed in financing and enabling this house David had envisioned. Again, read the previous chapters to see what it looks like when God's people become excited about building God's house.

When the time came, the priests led the people in united praise. The band struck up a song, and everyone overflowed to the Lord.

And the Lord overflowed back.

The people were stunned.

They'd heard of such things happening, but they'd never remotely even felt a quiver of nervousness by imagining that such a thing might happen to them. God failed to warn them that He might actually dwell visibly in the house Solomon was dedicating.

Their unexpected Guest arrived.

2Ch 7:3 & 4
And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the LORD upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the LORD, [saying], For [he is] good; for his mercy [endureth] for ever. Then the king and all the people offered sacrifices before the LORD.

When God breaks in upon His world, everything changes. Problems fade and invisible things grow solid. Daily bread stales to mere distraction. The will of God grows savory. It's God. And He's here. And I'm seeing Him fill His house right in front of my eyes.

If a celebrity even just a cute girl gives me a second glance, I'm flattered. If God comes in response to my work of building and my praise, I'm flummoxed. Israel planted their faces on the pavement because the Spirit was moving in their hearts. They worshipped from love. They siezed the honor the Lord bestowed on them, and returned it with fiery love.

They were stunned.

Stunned the way a humble guy is stunned the first time he realizes "that" girl is looking at him with real love. It feels misplaced. Inappropriate. Impossible. For God to honor their sacrifices and inhabit the dwelling they'd made for Him with their weak hands loosened their knees miraculously.

2Ch 6:18
But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!

And Solomon was right. God could not dwell in that tiny little house. It constrained Him.

So He took it upon Himself to be born of a virgin.

God traded in that house on a single, not-so-beautiful, human body.

But the glory that filled the house and brought all Israel to her knees was exactly the glory that filled that Man. It was God Who inhabited the temple, and it was God Who inhabited the temple on Earth.

The people followed Him, even though the veil was firmly closed and the fire of Divinity was hidden deeply within Him. They sensed something, and they were stunned at the wisdom and authority that flowed from His mouth and heart. The dove's descent onto Jesus was about the best clue most of Israel ever had that the Shekinah Glory had filled the temple once again.

That, and Jesus' announcement He would destroy that temple and raise it again from nothing in 3 days.

The Man Jesus contained all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, but God wanted more. It was God who decided to tear down the temple of His own body, leaving not one stone atop another.

And it was God Who raised that temple again, but this time not a single body. The temple had once been a badger skin tent. Then it was gold overlaying cedar and stone. Then it was a single human body. And when Christ rose from the dead, the temple grew larger than David or Solomon might ever have have dreamt. The temple grew into the glorious spiritual gathering of bodies that is the church.

At Pentacost, the Lord descended again to take residence in this new temple. He filled it with the fire of His presence. Moses and Solomon presided when the Lord descended in a cloud of smoke into the first temples. The Spirit presided when He descended like tongues of fire and sat upon each of the people in that upper room, filling them with His life and word.

Strip away the glitter of the Christmas the world tries to sell you.

Strip away the family bonding and sweet traditions.

Strip away even the manger story with its wise men, angels, and Mary.

What remains is the reason God was ever wrapped in swaddling clothes. Before He could be Christ in us, the hope of glory, He needed to be Christ the Seed sown in death for us.

Every single object described in the temple corresponds to an equivalent office in the church, filled by someone who loves Jesus Christ. And when the people give their gold and jewels to the building of the body, and when they give their hearts to praising His glory, the Shekinah Glory fills the temple because the Lord is good, and His mercy extends forever.

May your Christmas be rich in the stunning power of the invisible.

22 December, 2008

Honest Abe

There are those who insult Lincoln as America's Julius Caesar, who overthrew the Republic of Rome to make himself emperor, and accuse him of railroading America for his own fiendish purposes. They powerfully inveigh against his deconstruction of the Constitution, and the bloody war fought to satisfy his need to dominate the honorable men of the South. And those people are not defined by the fact they were raised Southern. They're dedicated Christians from all over the country.

You can find some of them here: http://www.theamericanview.com/

Just search for "Lincoln."

The argument is essentially this. America was formed as a union of sovereign states held together by a Constitution. In fact, the essential sovereign unit of American government was the state until Lincoln's power grab. When the South looked up and saw that their right to sovereignly rule themselves was being imposed upon by a self-important North, they resisted. They would not see the union, as orginally conceived, torn apart by Northern self-righteousness and arrogance. And Lincoln merely used those Northern vices in imposing his own power lust on the nation, and in sending many thousands of good American boys to their deaths.

The argument is disingenuous.

It ignores a handful of key points in building its airtight case. Actually, most arguments truly are airtight when seen from one perspective. The question, of course, is what one's perspective is, but that's the actual subject of this post and we'll get to it a little later. The history on this topic is of interest to me, so I'm going to carry on with it a little longer.

I was raised to believe that at times the American government was my enemy. I married a woman who sometimes believed the American government was our enemy. I buy food from a guy who believes the American government is sometimes our enemy. And I had immediate sympathy to this Lincoln as Caesar argument from the very first time I heard it back in the late '80's.

It was interesting to read an impassioned defense of this argument against Lincoln.

Then read 14 of Lincoln's speeches.

His arguments against secession went like this:

OK. Secede if you must. Just do it the right way. Don't do it by force of arms, but by force of election. The ballot formed the country, and only the ballot can splinter it.

Furthermore, it is right to give the entire country a vote on the secession of any part of the country, and that for several very good reasons. First, is there any contract which once formed can be broken by any one party at any time? The states have severally entered into contract together, and have profitably enriched one another in many ways. For the seceding states to take the wealth gained from the other states without compensation is theft. For the seceding states to close off the possible benefits of the contract from the remaining states is painful. They must honor their contract, even as they seek to end it.

Furthermore, there is no way to divide the nation that doesn't result in the overall impoverishment of each part. No matter how the country might be split, the states will have to deal with each other and the fallout of any separation. The final, resulting nations will be poorer for the division. So why divide with blood? If there must be division, why not equitable, legal, ballot-driven division.

Lastly, it is unthinkable that all of the states should decide to evict just one, and yet what is the difference between every state seceding from the one and every state agreeing to kick that one state out? The mean, selfish kind of a freedom demanded by the Southern states was an unjust freedom. The selfish acts of one member of a family have a depressing effect on every member. Sovereignty is not the same as freedom from obligation. When one member secedes from a marriage, it is not a simple and detached act of personal freedom; divorce is a devastating blow dealt to every member of even the extended families involved. The states are obligated to deal with the honest effects of their attempted secession.

These are reasonable arguments. To compare Caesar, who made himself Rome's destroying savior by marching his army into Rome and conquering the capital, against Lincoln who worked with the Congress and left the power of legislation in Congress' hands throughout the rebellion, is too much.

Lincoln made mistakes, and did things that caused questions in his time and ours. His suspension of Habeus Corpus is still talked about among people who talk about such things, but even at that it was only for a time and then Congress was given the reins. Lincoln was a man and not a god, and it showed in his mistakes. He was given a hard road to walk, and he walked it as honestly as I believe any man could. He took brave steps over and over and he saw the job through to its final stages.

But there are those who are not content for him to be a man. They need him to be an American Satan.


I believe it's because of their own desires. They desire their states to be free today in way they never will be again. Fair enough, but if they get their way in this will they be done? Or will they then want sovereign counties, and cities, and homes? (I'll tell you one thing. They'll love quoting that question within their own contexts.)

These are big questions. Where to place the dividing line between personal sovereignty and community good is contentious.

What I find interesting is that in 1861 this line was drawn by men who wanted to hold other men as slaves. The cry is loud and long that slavery was never the issue, and I hear that cry, but I cannot respect it.

In the end, Lincoln did not fire the first shot of the Civil War. The secessionists fired first on Fort Sumter. Lincoln had promised that he would not march on the South, and he never broke that promise. He proposed compromise after compromise, but the South would have none of it. They wanted the right to do what they wanted to do, and it cannot escape me that what they wanted to do was inarguably evil.

The first intended use of the lofty freedom for which those men of the South died was the continuance of a great evil.

And I believe I find a pattern in that. We are most usually willing to "fire the first shot" when we are protecting our right to do some evil after which we lust.

Having read Lincoln and his detractors, I am more impressed with Lincoln's character, courage and ideals than ever before.

My point of view has moved a lot in the last several years.


I'm about to take a bit of leap, so be sure to come with me.

I believe this was my mistake in trying promote the home church. It was not enough for me to want to see the church done differently. I needed the steeple-churches to suffer demolition. Following Luther's example, I wanted to secede from all Christian organizations and I wanted their hierarchies blown to smithereens.

My point of view has moved a lot on the church, too.

I find myself wondering how many of the men manning pulpits under gaudy steeples are men for whom I'd have the utmost respect, if I only knew their story. Instead, I only know them by a single doctrinal stand they've taken somewhere along the line, and that as framed by their enemies.

May the Lord forgive my ignorance. And may He bless the men who stand for Him as well as they know how.