Clearing the Temple 5

Psalm 10:4

Every time we leave on a trip we go through the ritual of packing the van with all of our luggage – clothes, pillows, books, food, and on and on. Everything has to go in a certain way, the suitcases and boxes all fitting in an intricate pattern so that there is room for it all. If we don’t pack the van right we end up with something that won’t fit, and we risk not having all we need for our trip.

The same is true with our relationship with God. Our hearts and our minds, the things we desire and focus on, even the activities that we involve ourselves in only have so much room. We must fill our lives and our spirits with essential things and not allow other matters to push out what is important.

Psalm 10 makes an observation about attitudes. What does the psalmist say about the wicked person? Why does the wicked person not seek God?

We can sit in judgment of any person with the label of “wicked.” Surely a wicked person is one who causes hurt to others and is selfish in all ways. The wicked are not like us at all.

Or are they?

The psalmist explains that the wicked person does not seek God. Why not? Because of pride. The wicked person is so caught up in his own interests that he has no room in his thoughts for God.

Do those words describe us in any way? Do we allow our own interests and desires to crowd out God? It is so easy to get caught up in the business of work, spending time with friends and family, or watching all your favorite programs that you don’t have any room left for God.

We need to learn how to pack our hearts and minds with the right things so that we can be in a deep and rewarding relationship with our God. But before we do that we may need to clean out all the clutter that we have allowed to gather in our lives. We may need to clear a space in our hearts so that there is room enough for God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you make more room for God in your life?

Clearing the Temple 4

Romans 12:2

I began my teaching career in a small, special school for pregnant teen-agers. It was a unique setting – six classrooms and sixty students. And one interesting feature to me was the peaceful nature of all those girls together. I suppose it was a variety of factors that caused it – all the students were girls, it was a small group, the students were from many different school districts, the administration’s attitude was very peaceful.

Even when a new student enrolled in the school, she might have started off mouthy and loud, but in a very short time she would settle in and be as calm and agreeable as all the others. For some reason the setting of that school caused all the students to conform to a more peaceful nature.

In that instance conforming was a good thing. But Paul has something to say about conforming. What should we NOT do? What should we do?

It can be too easy and too tempting sometimes to conform to the patterns of the world around us. We see other people living lives of sin and recklessness, and we may want to do the same. We see other people caught up in a life of selfish ambition, and we may be tempted to want more and more at any cost.

But as Christians we need to guard against allowing the patterns of the material, human world affect who we are. We need to resist becoming simply one more person in this ocean of lost souls.

How do we do that? We do it by renewing our minds, clearing away all the human and material influences which surround us and tug at us. We need to clear our own temple, the temple in our hearts. We must get rid of all those desires and temptations which distract us from doing what God would have us do.

We must renew our way of thinking, setting our minds and our thoughts and our hearts on those things above. We take on a new way of thinking – thinking in Godly terms, thinking on holy matters, and desiring to do the good and perfect will of God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you allow yourself to be transformed?

Clearing the Temple 3

Matthew 21:12-13

Most people have an image of Jesus that embodies peace and gentleness, but when he cleared the temple he became quite passionate. What does Jesus do? What does Jesus say to those in the temple?

The first question which might arise is why are there shops and money-changers (in essence, bankers) in the temple? If you examine the Old Testament instructions of offerings (Leviticus 1:1-7:21) you will see that those wishing to make a sacrifice at the temple were required to have specific grains and/or animals. Since it was not always practical to bring your own, people often bought what they needed when they arrived. Additionally, Jewish law prohibited graven images, so any Roman coins that had faces or animals on them (like our own currency) was forbidden and needed to be exchanged for acceptable coins.

So what was Jesus upset about? The implication has always been that the money-changers and those selling animals were cheating the people who were in attendance at the temple. This comes from his comment about being a den of robbers.

But if there were only fair trades and sales going on, would Jesus still have cleared the temple? I believe he would.

Jesus was likely upset, not that people were being cheated, but that buying and selling, money-changing, and all manner of other social activities were taking place in the temple. The temple was God’s house and it was meant to be a place of worship and prayer. God was supposed to be the center of attention there, and He was to be given reverent respect.

Instead people were being distracted by an almost festival air. At the very least the temple was more of a shopping mall than a church. And this aroused Jesus’ passion. He wanted God to be the focus, so he cleared away all the distractions.

Although our own places of worship may not be an open-air market like the temple had become, our faith may be weakened by all the distractions in our life. We may allow so many other things to become more important to us than our walk of faith. Like Jesus, we must drive away all of those distractions and focus our Lenten journey on the grace of God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you be certain the temple of your heart is the way it should be?

Clearing the Temple 2

Matthew 19:24-26

As a child my mother had an expression she used frequently whenever I or any of my friends misbehaved. She would warn us that if we didn’t straighten up she was “going to put our head between our ears.” Such a threat scared us so much we always stopped any rowdy activity. It took years and years for any of us to realize that what she threatened was really no threat at all.

Jesus, on the other hand, has a famous saying that most people are familiar with. What does he say about the rich in verse 24? What do the disciples ask? What assurance does Jesus give?

Over the years I have heard many sermons commenting on the famous pronouncement that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter heaven. Some have claimed that the “Eye of the Needle” is a small gate in the walls of Jerusalem. A camel and rider must lower themselves to squeeze through the narrow opening. Others have stated that Jesus is simply speaking symbolically, using a dramatic comparison to get the crowd’s attention.

The most recent commentary I have read, however, claimed that there is no such gate for the city of Jerusalem, and it is most probable that Jesus was being quite literal in what he was saying. A rich person will likely have some difficulty entering into heaven. The implication is that a person with wealth is apparently not being very generous to those in need all around them.

Although the comment upset the disciples and may worry us as well, Jesus does give us some hope. Nothing is impossible with God. If the rich can’t enter heaven because they haven’t been obedient to Christ, then the poor can worry just as much. There are few of us who truly live out what it means to be Christian.

The rich allow their money to get in the way of their obedience to God, but those who are not rich have their own faults. Each of us can allow other things in life to get in our way of doing the good work of Christ. We need to clear away all of those things that fill us up and replace obedience to the will of God. And when we feel overwhelmed by such a challenge, we can remember that all things are possible with God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you remove those things that will keep you from entering heaven?

Clearing the Temple 1

Luke 9:59-62

It can be discouraging to see how low attendance is in worship. And if you were able to ask each person who is not there why they are not there you will usually get some good answers. They forgot. They overslept. They were out late the night before. We have things to do.

The reason for not attending church is not important. What is important is that we demonstrate to God where are priorities are by what we do. We can talk a good game and give good reasons for not being able to serve the Lord, but God knows what our motivation is.

In this passage from Luke Jesus deals with some people who might want to be his followers. What does Jesus urge in verse 59? Why won’t the person follow? What does the next person say in verse 61? What is Jesus’ response?

Jesus summons one man to be a follower, but that man wants to delay the commitment until after his father’s funeral. Then Jesus tells him to let the dead bury the dead. What kind of unfeeling comment is that?

The next person volunteers to follow Jesus, but can’t come immediately because he wants to say his good-byes to his family. To that Jesus explains that anyone who puts his hand to the plow is not fit for serving the kingdom of God. At first glance Jesus seems a bit hard-hearted in this little segment of the gospels.

But from what we know of Jesus we can assume that there is good reason to what he is saying to all of those who claim to be willing to follow Jesus. It is very likely the man waiting to bury his father has a father who is still alive and well. It is very likely that the one who wants to say good-bye to his family will never have the courage to follow Jesus once he sees his loved ones again.

The point to these encounters is not that Jesus doesn’t care about the lives of people. The point is that Jesus can see through all the excuses people make for not becoming followers of Christ.

Every one of us can have plenty of reasons for not doing what we ought to do in our walk of faith. The reasons are not important. What is important is that we commit ourselves to serving God and that we not allow any excuses to get in our way.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you commit to becoming a follower of Christ?