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Archive for January, 2010

2 Chronicles 32:7-8 (NIV)

7 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. 8 with him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said.

Legions of trained Assyrian warriors are about to descend upon Hezekiah and the occupants of the city of Jerusalem. Having done his best in preparation for defense before the mighty army arrived, the King still knew his small forces would falter when the enormous well-trained fighting machine of the Assyrians came into view. And why shouldn’t they fear? Some estimates place the advancing army well over 185,000 strong (That was the amount of Assyrian warriors recorded to have perished on the battlefield).

Hezekiah was trapped like a caged bird (these are the words of the foe, Sennacherib, written on the Taylor Prism) and he was out of options. When confronted with the most difficult of situations, Hezekiah stood strong and fearless in the face of adversity. The Israeli army would look to him for leadership and guidance. And what would they see? The troops saw a man believing God and trusting the sovereign for God’s help. Hezekiah spoke these powerful words, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.” These are words that, no doubt, the king had encouraged himself with.

This is the mark of a leader. A leader does not quit and go home. A leader does not stay silent in self-pity. A leader does not allow despair to swallow him up emotionally. He must stand and lead the charge. What bolstered Hezekiah? This leader had friends that supported him. Read Isaiah the prophet who stood and encouraged the king to continue. God was with Hezekiah and would help him in his hour of need. Knowing this alone was enough to help the king carry the Marks of a Leader.

J. Robert Hanson

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How big is a congregation supposed to be before it is considered a healthy growing church? We’re aware that Matthew records the Lord’s words in light of church constitution as “…where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20 NIV) There’s an interesting discussion that goes on in Christendom about what is better, a big church or a little church. I’m not so sure that size matters. As I stated in a recent writing, lately I’ve discovered some interesting insights from reading 1 Corinthians 14 from different translations.

23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”(NIV)

The NIV reads, “So if the whole church come together.” The gathering of believers in Christ was not an assured thing. The man who wrote these words himself had experienced situations and conditions that made it dangerous and at times impossible to gather as Christians. The intimate setting of only 2 or 3 individuals coming together to celebrate the name of Jesus was not so uncommon through the empire of pagan Rome. The church in Corinth was in much better condition than this. While the church’s specific size is never given there are inferences that seem to indicate something greater in number than 2 or 3.

But even with these inferences there seems to be indications they were nowhere near meeting in the thousands either. Paul writes to them and says, “But if some unbelieving outsiders walk in on a service…” (1 Corinthians 14:24 Message Bible). The words “if some” imply that “unbelieving outsiders” were not a common occurrence in a service. Life as a Christian in the Roman Empire was not what it is here in the land of the free and home of the brave. To boldly believe in Jesus did not help you travel in the highest circles and secure a wonderful future in this life. So, it is very doubtful that visitors to the services were a regular occurrence and a clear barometer of church growth. Not to sound overly redundant, but the next verse I think gives a clearer picture of what a “growing church” looks like according to the Apostle Paul.

1 Corinthians 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (NIV)

Folks sharing and contributing when they come together seems to be the indicator of a good, healthy growing church. One may ask, Ok, but what if our small church is weak and we have very few that contribute, is God in that? It seems to me that a small weak church where great needs exist is of better capability to display the presence of Christ than a large congregation were all that is seen is the gift and personality of one man. Church growth, whether the gathering is large or small, may just get down to one key question we all can ask, “Who do You See?” The answer must be in hearing Jesus say, “…where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20 NIV) May we see Jesus in His church! Strong or weak, few or many ask the question, “Who Do You See?” and then share in the church the gift God gives you that best displays Him. That is true church growth!

J. Robert Hanson

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2 Chronicles 29:34, 36 Revised Standard

34 But the priests were too few and could not flay all the burnt offerings, so until other priests had sanctified themselves their brethren the Levites helped them, until the work was finished—for the Levites were more upright in heart than the priests in sanctifying themselves.

36 And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because of what God had done for the people; for the thing came about suddenly.

I must say, as I examined these verses this morning from the Revised Standard Bible I found them both intriguing and inspirational. It’s one of the few times in the Old Testament that we read of possible exceptions being made for the Law of Moses. The verses tell us that the Levites participated in the work of the Burnt Offerings. According to Leviticus there was a procedure for these tasks and until now the sons of Aaron performed them.

Leviticus 1:5-8 Revised Standard

5 Then he shall kill the bull before the LORD; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall present the blood, and throw the blood round about against the altar that is at the door of the tent of meeting. 6 And he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces; 7 and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar, and lay wood in order upon the fire; 8 and Aaron’s sons the priests shall lay the pieces, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire upon the altar.

There is no mention of any Levites working or contributing here! However, when we come to 2 Chronicles 29, it appears the sanctification of Levites if preferred over allowing unsanctified priests do these activities. This implies that allowing the unsanctified to perform the ceremony would have caused the greater risk of provoking God than letting the more upright in heart Levites help out.

There are a number of circumstances where God justly judges with immediate consequence the presumption and arrogance of man. The two sons of Aaron were struck dead immediately for their arrogance of offering strange fire before God. David witnessed the instantaneous death of Uzzah for his presumption that he could place the Ark upon some new cart of transportation he had constructed in ignorance. Both these circumstances had clear directions and prohibitions written before in the Law of Moses. Both the arrogance and ignorance of men was quickly judge by God. But why is there no judgment for this questionable disregard of the Law of Moses in 2 Chronicles 29? One could conclude from verse 34 that God is unjust in His values and uses different standards in different situations.

But, as I read Leviticus again I realize one thing. Though it is designated as the sons of Aaron’s task the Levites help is not specifically prohibited either. In fact, the Levites helping the priests is very scriptural. Just read Numbers 18:1-3 from the Revised Standard. I have truncated the passage for easier reading.

1 So the LORD said to Aaron… 2…bring your brethren also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may join you, and minister to you while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony. 3 They shall attend you and attend to all duties of the tent; but shall not come near to the vessels of the sanctuary or to the altar, lest they, and you, die.

Well, isn’t that just fascinating? Call it an escape clause or whatever you want, the Levites could help any of the priests in their duties with the exception doing things specific to the vessels of the sanctuary or the altar. God allows and deems as service all else they are asked to do. They could flay the Burnt Offerings all day long; they just hadn’t been used in that capacity up to this point (or at least we never read of it). The sanctification of the Levites with their upright hearts was of greater value than using unsanctified men with plenty of gift and calling.

What I learn from this is to be a little slower to judge how things ought to be and quicker to let God use what and whom He deems sanctified for His use! It is easy for me to say no to the new just because it was never done a certain way before. That’s secure, safer and more comfortable. However, something is not less spiritual because it’s new and not been tried before. If someone has a gift to offer and there is not a prohibition, why not look to see what God can do with a person who is upright in heart? As Hezekiah, I may just end up rejoicing because of what God has done for the people! Evidently, when it comes to the Lord and His service, it’s the Upright in Heart that matters most!

J. Robert Hanson

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Sometimes reading a verse in a different translation or paraphrase version lends a completely new perspective to something read over and over for years. I’ve recently had that experience. While I understand and agree with the priesthood of all believers I have often wondered what the 1st century church would have looked like as they were practicing such freedoms. And then I read a verse from 1 Corinthian 14 as if I’d never seen it before. Here it is in the NIV translation.

1 Corinthians 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.  (NIV)

The point is everyone has something to do and if you’re bored think about a service and find something new to do. We imagine that our lack of personal contribution really does not mean that much. We think it only hurts one person if we neglect participating—that one person being ourselves. Interestingly, that thinking is wrong. The NIV adds all of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. Folks wonder why their church became weak and then look for a new church to find strength and fulfillment. However, if this weakness occurs, especially in smaller fellowships, it’s generally the result of inoperative members that have grown tired—and who can blame them. Now’s the time to reach down deep and sing for joy! Crazy enough, the Message Bible lends even greater insight to the verse.

1 Corinthians 14:26 So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. (Message Bible)

We find a little command buried in this verse. It says, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all. A cynical attitude is not useful for all. A judgmental spirit will strengthen nothing. But a hymn, lesson, story of faith, prayer and insight does. The 1st century church needed every advantage worked in its favor. If one grew tired of working there were not mega-churches to run to for encouragement. Every member needed to work together for the success of the whole and I’m sure Paul wrote these things to the Corinthians as life was seen getting longer and harder for all those involved. With this little encouragement I’ll bet folks recommitted themselves for service and things went forward! So, when you come together ask not what your church can do for you but what you can do for your church—each of you be prepared.

J. Robert Hanson

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2 Chronicles 28:19 The LORD had humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord. (NIV)

Evidently it is not a wise move for a nation to have a leader that promotes wickedness. The authorities in any country that disavow God will bring that nation to suffer the consequences of their behavior. We find from this passage a whole nation suffering as a result of the arrogance of one unchanged head of state. In fact, three verses later we are told the same potentate, though severely pressed, dug in his heals and refused to adjust any of his behavior toward God.

22 In his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord. (NIV)

Unjust judges and rulers will not go unpunished in abuses toward humanity. However, when a whole nation is brought to its knees something does not seem right. Maybe the hope for a nation in this situation is found in the little phrase “for he had promoted wickedness.” The King James Version translates that section as reading “he had made Judah naked.” We see the same usage in Exodus 32:25 where Aaron permitted the people to run loose and naked. In context, 2 Chronicles 28:19 can literally be read as meaning “he permitted Judah to break loose from all the restraints of religion.” That is what Aaron did to his people in allowing them to worship the golden calf. In fact even worse, as ruler of Israel, Ahaz promoted the nation to break loose of the restraints of religion.

The way to end the humbling would have been to make a course correction away from the promotions of the monarch. Fortunately for citizens of the United States, course corrections are made a whole lot easier. God sees such things and gives relief to those in such a state. Ahaz became more unfaithful, may this not be the trend in such a great nation with opportunity as ours. May our leaders recognize and listen to the citizens on which such liberties are invested.

The time for course correction is now! American leaders, are you listening?

J. Robert Hanson

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1 Kings 9:1-2 NIV

1 When Solomon had finished building the temple of the Lord and the royal palace, and had achieved all he had desired to do, 2 the Lord appeared to him a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon.

God was about to give Solomon a new purpose in life. The Lord was revealing to the king something that would define the second half of his reign and would carry him right through old age if he were obedient to God.

A close friend of mine is almost 50 years old! In the coarse of conversation we discussed what it means to turn 50. I turned the magical age almost two years ago. To me, something was different about crossing this threshold. The number 50 has me viewing things in another way. I can remember at 20 years of age thinking how old and far away 50 seemed. The age of 49 was the same as 32.

But 50 years old is over half a life span. Somehow it finally clicked that most likely I had seen more sunrises than those that are in my future. Anything I had made of my life has been set. How will I spend the next 25-30 years living my days? I didn’t ask these questions at 20-30, even 40 years of age. I was consciously still young and had enough time to accomplish anything I wanted. I had over half my life ahead of me.

However, in my thinking, jumping over the 50 years marker was a revelation. Phase One of life had somehow ended overnight and now what was I going to do in Phase Two? I suspect that is why some older folks my age never seem to grow up. The desire to stay forever young translates into reckless behaviors that the body physically can no longer endure. Not that everything is shutting down in my body; or I see some white light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I just notice I hurt a little more after doing physical things – ok, a lot more. The first part of my legacy has been written. What will the second part be like? What will I leave for my children and grandchildren to remember? And so I’ve closed some written chapters and opened some new ones for writing.

All I can say about this new stage (especially since I’m fairly young at it) is that God gives a new passion in life to serve Him. I can’t do the things I used to, but there is a whole new list of opportunities that I can build on; and that upon what was accomplished in Phase One. So, with reckless abandonment I want to achieve the new desires God has given me. The funny thing is, most of those desires are now somewhat depended upon others to help carry the weight, people I love!

Fortunately I have a Savior who says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message Bible) Solid advise for every 50+ man or woman.

J. Robert Hanson

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“Which of you is a wise and well-instructed man? Let him prove it by a right life with conduct guided by a wisely teachable spirit.” James 3:13 Weymouth Bible

According to James, the proof someone is a well-instructed wise man is a teachable spirit and right life. The Message Bible adds a practical dynamic when it translates this verse, “Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts.” The wise man realizes the teachable moment is for him and does not press it upon others. A well-instructed individual evaluates a situation and patiently weighs his response. Comment and judgment to the wise dictates patient consideration and assessment apart from impulse. If the moment demands quick judgment, the comportment of the wise is humble and slow to condemn. Well-instructed people look to values and rest opinions in measured responses.

The wise will not press the teachable moment upon others. Wisdom uses the teachable moment and focuses on self-evaluation. If the wise man fail, he admits his fault while refraining from defusing responsibility by sharing blame. Sadly, too often the pseudo-wise/well-instructed poses to be the wisest in the room, shamelessly shifting personal accountability while intimidating others to admit their failure. The pretender will say with confidence to self, “The teachable moment is for others and not for me. I am above its consequences.” “I was wrong” are words never heard from the pretender unless he discovers it works to his advantage. His attitude of superiority seeps through and deceives only self and others who indulge in platitudes and patronizing.

In conclusion, I like the way the Young’s Translation explains James 3:13, “Who [is] wise and intelligent among you? let him shew out of the good behaviour his works in meekness of wisdom.” “Intelligent” is more behavior than intellect. The teachable moment reveals just who the wise are! They talk less and do more. They chatter less and listen more. Cleverly crafted words are of less value to the teaching moment than excellent conduct. And the wise prove by good behavior of life that the teachable moment is theirs. Through understanding and meekness the well-instructed soul holds the key to success.

J. Robert Hanson

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