I think it’s safe to say that we all have places we like to escape to in our minds, particularly during a very stressful day. For many people, my wife included, that escape might be the beach. Whether it’s watching an episode of “Beach Front Properties” or a little sign they might have, such as “life is better at the beach”, the allure of the waves and the sand is often a nice mental getaway. While I too enjoy the sights and smells of the ocean, I would rather check out a webcam of Mount Washington in NH or of a peaceful mountain valley in Colorado as a nice little mental escape.
Our passage today reminds us of a location that should be much more on our minds than our favorite vacation getaway. In 1 Thess. 4 Paul views with the Thessalonian believers the truth of the rapture and he ends the chapter by saying, “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words”. Did you catch that? “So shall ever be with the Lord” He echoes those same words again in chapter 5 saying, “Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.”
If we have trusted Christ as Savior, we have a promise from God Himself of an eternal home with Him forever. While I’m sure this is something we all already know and understand, how often do we find ourselves thinking about our eternal place of residence? Perhaps it’s because we struggle to get a grasp of exactly what heaven will look like, although the book of Revelations certainly gives us more than a glimpse of the grandeur of heaven. But I think more than the streets of gold and precious stones, the thought that should give us comfort, as Paul writes in 4:18, is the fact that we will be in the presence of God Himself forever. An omnipotent and holy God, yet one who desires an intimate relationship with each of us. May we allow our minds to wander, not just to our favorite vacation getaways, but also to our eternal destination.
[Note: I accidentally wrote a devotional for Proverbs 13 last week. If you would like to reference it for today’s reading, then click this link: http://anthonybaptistchurch.com/open-for-business/2018/07/20/]
She was at war. Although she was not clad in steel-plated armor, she was trying to take possession of a coveted hold for her young. Time after time, she stormed the gates of the formidable castle. Time after time, she scurried away with the simple bluster of rage from the irritated domestic.
Alright, it was not this serious, but a robin wanted to build a nest in my wife’s springtime wreath on our front door. Every time a collection of twigs and string wound up in the wreath, my wife would harumph with frustration and snatch the fledgling home tossing it aside. In the end, the robin lost. She was simply not welcome to build her home and dwell on our front porch in my wife’s wreath.
Then I read Psalm 84:1, “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!” The psalmist poetically describes how inviting God is by saying, “Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God” (Psalm 84:3). Everyone is welcome to approach God. In fact, a relationship with you is what he desires most. “And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).
All of us have social passcodes built into us which allow certain people to approach us. Some people are so shy, you really have to know them well to speak with them. Others are too important, you better be notable and distinguished. We could describe many other “social passcodes,” but God receives every person who comes to Him. “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” But isn’t there some criteria for approaching the most powerful being in all the universe? “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; Who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, Nor sworn deceitfully” (Psalm 24:3–4).
The lesson is two-fold. First, does your heart thrill to come into the presence of God, or have you forgotten the privilege and simply yawn at the opportunity? Second, Peter reminds us that since we have received such a precious gift of salvation we ought to “love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Peter 1:22). Do you bear the likeness of your amiable Father? If your rejection of others is rooted in your self-righteousness, then review what Christ taught about the Pharisee and the publican in the Temple (Luke 18:9-14). If your rejection of others is based on wrongs they have committed against you, then consider the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:22-35).
For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand.
I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God,
Than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield:
The Lord will give grace and glory:
No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
Blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.
— Psalm 84:10-12
Have you ever given thought to what is the most expensive piece of property in this world? Would you guess some tropical isle or remote alpine location? Certainly it would not be in a metropolitan area or in a desert. Having lived in remote desert areas, my wife and I found they possess a beauty of their own. One just has to look for it. Yes, just about everything around you has stickers or fangs, but cactus flowers are among the most stunning of all blossoms. And the reptiles are beautifully colored and patterned (best seen through binoculars). But aside from that, it is a vast nothingness at first glance.
But, it is a desert that has the highest value of any land on Earth and not for its oil or mineral rights. It would be the ultimate sale for any real estate agent (the state owns most of the land). I am sure you have guessed Jerusalem by now. This land is so valuable that tens of thousands have given their lives over it. It is the most contested ground on Earth. Most importantly God thinks so too and has established it as such. Scripture tells us, “His foundation is the holy mountains. The LORD loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God. Selah” (Ps. 87:1-3). God loves Jerusalem!
Now God loves the quiet, peaceful homes of those abiding in Him too, but the gates are another thing. Might we compare these gates to church doors? The reason for God’s love of the gates of Jerusalem is that it was where people flocked through to publicly worship Him. Likewise, church doors give Him pleasure as we walk through to worship Him. “That I may shew forth all thy praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion: I will rejoice in thy salvation” (Ps. 9:14).
In grade school we recited, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name” (Ps. 100:4). We do not have to buy land in Jerusalem (to go to the gates) or make a pilgrimage there; for if we profess the name of Jesus we will one day reside in this marvelous place. We, the redeemed in Christ, will not live in a place that looks run down from time and strife, but we should, “…look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pe. 3:13). Don’t buy land in Jerusalem, Jesus already has and says, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name” (Rev. 3:12).
If someone were to travel a great distance to see you because they had heard so much about you, how would you respond? If it was someone with lots of money, fame, or power, what “air” would you put on? In what would you glory?
Have you heard the response, “Same difference”? Growing up, this was a common response. The technical definition of this paradoxical statement is after you gave an answer you were then corrected. By saying, “same difference,” you are saying, “OK, there is a difference, but I still don’t care.” In other words, “Whatever!”
A good practice in Bible study is to keep an eye on patterns and repetition. This is such an enlightening method, almost like the lighthouse’s rhythmic strobe. Repetition systematically guides your study to help you avoid the rocks. A keyword suddenly and intensely appears in Leviticus 21-22. It is the word “profane” which is used sixteen times in Leviticus. The Hebrew word means “pollute, defile, desecrate.” The beauty of picturing this word though does come to us from the Latin. “Profane” is a latin word meaning “before the temple.” All the people, but especially the priests, were urged to live distinct in all areas of their lives so that they would not profane the name of the Lord. There was an imaginary line drawn around the Tabernacle and everything within that perimeter must be holy. Otherwise, sudden death would occur. Holy living within that Tabernacle would be service out of fear alone. The true test of one’s devotion to God is how one lives outside the perimeter of the sacred.
In other words, living holy outside of the Tabernacle meant your service to God was more than just duty. Your service had blossomed into devotion. There is a difference between the sacred sphere and the secular sphere only when one is bound by duty and never matures to devotion. The distinction only exists for those who are content to do their duty but desire personal space from God. They need a time-out from God.
Most worshipers would never dream of allowing the profane into their churches, but what about their personal lives? Why should there be a distinction between the sacred and secular? If our lives, our bodies, are the temple of the Holy Ghost, then no such distinction truly exists. It is a figment of our design in order to keep God out of our personal space. In Ezekiel, God takes the prophet on a tour of the Temple. What he sees is horrific! Within the Temple stand idols and the people are worshiping the sun and animals. The profane was no longer outside of the Temple. It was now within the Temple! All of a sudden, there was no distinction between the sacred and the secular.
Will your life’s response be, “Same difference”? Are you living with an imaginary distinction between what is sacred and what is secular? The command for holiness has no limitation or boundary.