They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

“This is the Day”

The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;

the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
— Psalm 118:22-24

Let’s take a look at an often quoted, old favorite scripture that is possibly one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible. Psalm 118:22-24 is almost always used to say, “This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it”, with the emphasis on the fact that God made this day and that we should be glad and rejoice in today. I’m sure that God wants us to be glad about each day but that is not the meaning of this verse.  Back up and read verse 22. The day that we are to be excited about is the day that God made Jesus the chief cornerstone or capstone. We are to be glad and rejoice in “Him”, not “It”. If you will read in the gospels (Matt 21:42, Mark 12:10-11, Luke 20:17), Jesus is speaking and he tells a parable about an owner and a vineyard. Through the telling of the parable, he tells the leaders of the Jews that since they have rejected His message, it is now being given to the Gentiles. Then Jesus quotes this verse in Psalms and basically says that He is that cornerstone that the builders rejected. Paul, in Ephesians 2:20, says that Jesus is the chief cornerstone talked about prophetically in Psalms. Peter, also, in 1 Peter 2:7, says the same thing, that Jesus is that “head of the corner”, the chief cornerstone that was foretold in scripture. Once you know this from scripture, then the passage in Psalms takes on a whole different meaning. The day that we are to rejoice in is the day that God made his son Jesus the head of the corner and the chief cornerstone! That was accomplished when Jesus completed his work on earth and rose to be at the right hand of the father. We are to rejoice in Him who has become the “Head of the Corner” everyday! We will rejoice and be glad in that fact!

Amen and Amen-which in Hebrew means, “May it be so”!

Manna Story and the Garden of Eden

Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions….
… That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat.
Genesis 2-3, Exodus 16

This is just an interesting observation that I heard on manna and how the Israelites would have looked at that provision that was given to them while they were in the wilderness. In the Garden of Eden, everything that man needed was there for him to freely use. He could have anything he wanted to eat and did not have to work or sweat to get it. It was just there for the taking. After the fall from the Garden, man had to work and only by the sweat of his brow could he get something to eat. To get bread he had to plant and cultivate, harvest, then grind, knead and bake just to get a meal.

In the Exodus story, God took them to one of the most remote, hottest places on earth and then told them to count on him for something to eat. God said,   “I’ll give you something to eat every day. All you have to do is go out and pick it up, no sweat or work needed”.  God didn’t leave big bags of wheat and tell them to turn it into bread, he just left it on the ground for them to pick up and eat. So, in a sense, God was giving them the Garden of Eden back. I’ll provide for you, just like I did before you messed it up in the Garden. He was starting over with the people that he so desperately wanted to have fellowship with. He gave them some of the Garden of Eden back while they were in a hot and dry place.

In the same way, God gives us Garden of Eden moments while we are in the middle of our desert experiences. While we are going through our hot and dry wilderness tests, there will be some incredibly wonderful moments along the way where God miraculously provides some manna, water and shade that we need to keep going. “Give us this day, our daily bread,” Jesus said when he taught the Lord’s Prayer. Give us enough of the Garden of Eden to get us through the trials and problems that we have today. Jesus also said that, “He was the bread come down from heaven”, in John 6:30-35. He is that manna; He is our daily nourishment and what we need to make it through each day.

When God Calls Your Name – Twice!

We are all familiar with and love the story found in 1 Samuel Chapter 3, of God calling the young man Samuel to be his chosen servant. While sleeping in the Holy Place in the Tabernacle, young Samuel heard the voice of God calling on two separate occasions. Finally, the Lord calls his name twice,”Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel answers, “Here I am Lord, Speak, for your servant is listening”. Could it be possible that Samuel knew the Torah and knew that something special was about to happen to him? Do you think he knew the story in Genesis 22:11 where Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, and God also called to him twice, saying, “Abraham! Abraham!” Abraham also answered, “Here I am Lord”! Perhaps did Samuel also think of the story in Genesis 46:2 when God called to Jacob, “Jacob! Jacob!” and Jacob replied, “Here I am!” God told Jacob not to be afraid to go down to Egypt and that God would make a great nation out of his offspring. And, I’m sure he knew the story in Exodus Chapter 3:3 when God called to Moses out of the burning bush-“Moses! Moses! Moses replied, “Here I am!” God then told Moses that he would be his feet and mouthpiece to free the enslaved Israelites from captivity. Don’t you know that Samuel’s heart raced when he realized that it was God that had called his name twice? He knew that God had something big in store for him and he knew how to answer, “Here I am, your servant is listening!”

Now, let’s fast forward to the New Testament and the story of Saul of Tarsus, as he is heading to Damascus to arrest some followers of “The Way”.  You know the story; God knocks Saul down and blinds him, then calls his name out twice, “Saul, Saul”! Saul was a devout student of the text and he knew what was coming next. If God calls your name twice, He is going to have a big job waiting for you!

All these servants of God responded in the right way. They were willing to do whatever the God of Israel asked them to do. And they ended up being some of the greatest pillars of the Hebrew nation.  What will we (I) do if God calls our name twice for some big job in the Kingdom? Will we be willing to do whatever He says and go where He says go? Here am I Lord, Your servant is listening!!

Samson; Confronting Evil

“…the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth…The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson”
–Judges 13-16

Understanding the geography and culture of the land of Israel during the time of Samson makes a huge difference in the lessons that we take way from his bible story. Where he lived and the conflict between the two cultures he lived among, the Philistines and the Israelites, played a huge part in the Samson story.

Samson was born in between Zorah and Eshtaol, to a family in the tribe, or camps (Mahaneh) of Dan.  The low foothill where he was born, between the coastal plains and the mountains of Israel, was called the Shephelah. These low foothills were where the two opposing cultures met in battle and conflict. The coastal plain of the Mediterranean was home to the Philistines, also called the “Sea People”. They lived in five large city states along the coast, Gaza, Gath, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron. The Philistines were very advanced culturally and technologically and were superior to the Israelites in many areas. They worshipped the God Dagon and were the enemies of God’s people, the Hebrews. The Hebrews lived in the mountains to the east of the coastal plains. They did not have cities at this time, but lived in nomadic camps, in tents. The Hebrews were living under the thumb of the superior Philistines during this time period in history.

What happened to Samson? Where did he go wrong as the leader and Judge of God’s people? He was under the Nazrite vow, a vow that set him apart from the rest of the Israelites. . The purpose of the vow was to set you apart, to make you different from the rest of the people, so that the world would know and be attracted to your God. But, Samson began to go down to the coastal plain and dabble in the worldly lifestyle of the Philistines. He went down to Timnah and tried to take a Philistine woman for his wife, something the God of the Hebrews had expressly forbidden them to do (Deut 7:1-6). He then slept with a prostitute in Gaza, and fell in love with another Philistine woman, Delilah. He eventually broke all the vows that he had taken as a Nazrite. Although an imposing figure as far as physical stature and prowess, Samson proved very ineffective as a witness for the principles that his God and his vows were supposed to hold him to. He compromised all his values in order to get a taste of the enticing lifestyle of the coastal plain. Samson’s sin was not just sexual in nature; it was that he failed to be a true Nazrite, a person who was totally devoted to God in every part of his life. Because he got in bed with the coastal plain, he lost his witness. He was a compromiser.

As a metaphor, the coastal plain represents the people that don’t have God’s value system. The mountains represent God’s people and His values. The Shephelah, where Samson was born, is a metaphor for where God’s people meet the worldly lifestyle. This is where good and evil meet. So, how is your Shephelah? How are you doing when you come into contact with the coastal plain? When you go down to meet the coastal plain do you stand strong or do you give in a little? Are you influencing it or is it influencing you? Are you committed to the ways of the mountain or are you being influenced by the coastal plain? Are you dabbling in some of the coastal plain stuff or are you standing firm as a mountain person?

God’s people are called to live on the edge of the coastal plain and to be an impact on its pagan lifestyle. We are to live our lives separated to Christ, as a witness, so that the world may know about our God. As Christians, we are to be, in effect, Nazrites. We are to be different, to stand out as a witness to a world that needs to know about what He is like.

Samson, from a Jewish perspective, was a failure. He was put in a position of leadership and lived for forty years in a place where he could have a huge impact on his world. Instead, he was largely ineffective. His life story was one of compromise. He lost his witness because he couldn’t keep himself from being attracted to and influenced by the lifestyle of the coastal plain.

Here is the lesson we should take away from the Samson story.  To be an effective Shephelah person, you have to be a Nazrite! If you want to be a standing stone on the crossroads of life, you can’t be half committed to God. The coastal plain will suck you right in, just as quickly as it did Samson. We have to be one hundred per cent committed to God to survive against the enemy’s traps and snares. We can’t have a few pig bones in our closet and be an effective witness in the Shephelah.  This is our failure as a Christian community; we look and act just like the people we are trying to influence.  What compromises are you making that are keeping you from being an effective witness for God? What changes can you make to be a more effective standing stone for the world around you that so desperately needs God’s principles and lifestyle? Are you committed to being a Nazrite-a standing stone Christian in all that you do? Let’s learn a lesson from Sampson-NO COMPROMISING!! It takes a tremendous commitment, but we are called to be Shephelah people. Jesus said, “Come be like me! ” Can we offer him any less?