Psalm 126

This Song of Ascents refers to the Exile and Restoration, but looks back upon it from a later date. Yet still fresh in memory was the giddy joy of the imperial announcement that the Judeans could go home and rebuild their city and temple. The terminology in the first refers to a restoration of something that was confiscated. But restoring the freedom to live in the place God granted their Father Abraham, and the ridge line where David built his royal capital, seemed almost too good to be true.

So even as they were preparing to depart, they were singing with irrepressible joy. The other nations crowded into the Babylonian ghettos around them were echoing the celebration in recognizing that Jehovah had finally called His people back home. Wasn’t it a wonderful thing to watch? Yes, say the Judeans, what a wonderful thing He has done for us and we can’t keep it to ourselves.

But everyone knows that when they did come home, it was anything like the dreams they had treasured for so long. There was trouble from every side and it seemed to take forever before they started rebuilding the city, and yet longer still to build the Second Temple. Frankly, there was precious little of the giddy joy left as the Returnees clustered around the city and the vast majority stayed behind in Babylon, never to return. Some Restoration!

Lord, can we go back and finish it? Can we even today, return to the purity of devotion that drove us back here, but keep our faith intact this time? It would be like that brief rainy season in the southern wastes of Judea. For most of the year the wadis were dry, but for just a week or so those watercourses were roaring torrents. We need a heavy rain of Your Spirit, O Lord.

Imagine the farmer who lives in troubled times. He faces great anxiety and serious hunger, but he must sow his grain on the ground when planting time comes. Once that harvest comes, though, the bad times are forgotten in the abundance of blessings.

Christian Culture

A covenant with God breeds a culture.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea of a Christian Culture, something that is uniquely representative of following Christ. Our problem here in America is that it’s more American than Christian.

The First Century churches did pursue a Christian Culture, a lifestyle based on the Covenant of Christ. Jesus warned that the existing Jewish culture of His day was wrong, having long departed from the Hebrew culture of ancient times. While His teaching didn’t exactly resurrect those ancient Hebrew ways, it did pull from them a significant cultural orientation, a way of looking at life which led to a unique expression of faith in His message and His redemption.

The apostolic leaders in Acts 15 made it plain that whatever this culture should be, it couldn’t be Talmudic-Jewish culture. It could be the more ancient Mosaic culture, but that was not appropriate for Gentiles. So they decided it could include a broader Noahic culture. There was no real conflict between Moses and Noah. These apostles essentially ordered the Jewish Christians to change the boundaries to include the rest of the world, pretty much on the same terms Israel would have included the Gentile nations as allies and fellow worshipers of Jehovah. By the same token, Gentile believers were required to make allowances for the stricter rules Jewish believers preferred.

Thus, the boundaries were made flexible, but they were still there. In the New Testament we see repeatedly a command to examine the written records of the two Law Covenants and understand how they can clarify what faith demands. Law demonstrates faith. Certainly not all the rituals of ancient times would fit into this new Christian culture. One major element was that Christ was the one and only sacrifice, so no more flames on the altar. Instead, the business of supporting the priestly ritual leadership and shared worship facilities, always a part of the Law in the past, became the focus of offerings. That’s because the fundamental issue of being God’s People, a living offering for His use, was still written into this lifestyle.

We know that it wasn’t long before the Judaizers corrupted the early churches, seducing Christians into making the same error as Israel — adopting legalism as the proper approach to religion. Thus, not long after the First Century closed, Christian religion began to lose the mystic fervor of faith and was reduced to empty formalism. By the 300s AD the churches were further seduced into surrendering to government control. And when the Germanic Tribes swept into Europe, the institutional church further compromised their doctrine to embrace the Germanic cultural viewpoint. Another few centuries and the formal church hierarchy was part of the government itself.

Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world. He reigns in the hearts of people who do not cling to this world. The institutional church in the West was wholly a creature of the world around them.

From that time forward, organized Christian religion in the West has always been some reflection of the ambient political and cultural orientation. Today we have no valid Christian Culture, though that term is used for something that is just another flavor of the culture outside the church. There are no uniquely Christian values at work any more, just legalistic misrepresentations of New Testament teaching. American Christian culture is just a New Testament Talmud.

We have a unique opportunity here. America as it once was is dead; even now the whole thing is passing away. Granted, most people aren’t going to notice, but it’s not hard to see. Something else is rising to take its place. While it’s impossible that we should somehow hijack this thing, we can certainly take advantage of the turmoil to pull back and start fresh. No, we cannot recreate everything we know about those First Century churches, but we can learn from how they abstracted the model of culture from the Law Covenants, and carry out that mission again.

Let’s allow this fake American Christian Culture to die, and leave it in the ashes of history where it belongs.

The Humble Shepherd King

It was a high and festive day when King David brought up the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. He set up a proper Tent of Meeting in the courtyard. Keep in mind that the city was still rather primitive at that time. The “palace” was still part fortress and not all that large. David had built it up somewhat from the old Jebusite fortress he had captured early in his reign, but it was still rather small. It was a walled enclosure standing on the lower extension of a much larger ridge, but this lower extension had the advantage of steeper sides and was relatively narrow, very easily defended. Even better was the presence of a fresh water spring just below the the crown of this ridge.

Still, his small fortified palace was sumptuous by the standards of his day. And here was the Ark of God’s Presence out in a tent in his courtyard. Surely he could honor his God with better accommodations? God sent a prophet to inform David that this was not the time for such things. At this point a significant portion of David’s kingdom still lived tents. Indeed, his little capital was growing fast, with tents clustered all around, the housing of choice until more permanent structures could be built. This was a nation born of nomads serving a God who owned all Creation. For now, the symbolism of God’s “house” as a tent was appropriate.

David was chosen to establish something more important than mere walls; it was his job to assert the authority and power of God on behalf of Israel. When every nation around them had been subdued and/or turned into supporting allies, it wouldn’t matter what your house was made of. God promised to deliver all of this into David’s hands, but it still required him going to war. That was his job. This divine presence in the form of shalom in its fullest meaning as the one place on earth where mankind could see and know God was far more important than what any mere man could build. There was time enough for the symbolism of a fancy city with a fancy temple later for David’s heir.

It was not lost on David that this meant God intended to establish a dynasty after his name and to favor the whole nation through this arrangement.

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord; and he said: “Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far? And yet this was a small thing in Your sight, O Lord God; and You have also spoken of Your servant’s house for a great while to come. Is this the manner of man, O Lord God? Now what more can David say to You? For You, Lord God, know Your servant. For Your word’s sake, and according to Your own heart, You have done all these great things, to make Your servant know them. Therefore You are great, O Lord God. For there is none like You, nor is there any God besides You, according to all that we have heard with our ears. And who is like Your people, like Israel, the one nation on the earth whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people, to make for Himself a name — and to do for Yourself great and awesome deeds for Your land — before Your people whom You redeemed for Yourself from Egypt, the nations, and their gods? For You have made Your people Israel Your very own people forever; and You, Lord, have become their God.

“Now, O Lord God, the word which You have spoken concerning Your servant and concerning his house, establish it forever and do as You have said. So let Your name be magnified forever, saying, ‘The Lord of hosts is the God over Israel.’ And let the house of Your servant David be established before You. For You, O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, have revealed this to Your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.’ Therefore Your servant has found it in his heart to pray this prayer to You.

“And now, O Lord God, You are God, and Your words are true, and You have promised this goodness to Your servant. Now therefore, let it please You to bless the house of Your servant, that it may continue before You forever; for You, O Lord God, have spoken it, and with Your blessing let the house of Your servant be blessed forever.” (2 Samuel 7:18-29)