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December 2020 Member Letter

December 10, 2020

Dear Brethren,

Back in the 1980s I discovered that as an ordained minister living in the area of Boston, Massachusetts, I had free access to the theological library at Harvard University. You may not know this, but when Harvard University was founded in 1636, it was for the stated purpose of training clergy for the new world. There was a great concern over the religious education of those who were arriving in the colonies, and Harvard University was founded to address that concern.

In the original charter for Harvard, the purpose for the school was laid out. Here is a summary from the New World Encyclopedia:

“Harvard was established under church sponsorship, with the intention of training clergy so that the Puritan colony would not have to rely on immigrant pastors, but it was not formally affiliated with any denomination.”

In order to fulfill the purpose of training clergy for the colonies, the original 1636 charter stated that any ordained minister who lived within 40 miles of Boston would be given free library privileges at Harvard. While researching at Harvard in 1981, I discovered a copy of the charter in an old book and took it to the theological library at the Harvard Divinity School. When I presented myself to the lady at the information desk, she informed me that the charter was indeed still in effect, and she inquired as to where I lived and whether it was within 40 miles of the city. I was happy to tell her that I lived in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, which was 39 miles from the city. She gladly gave me a card that provided me with access to the library, which I used frequently until being transferred to Texas in 1987.

One of my greatest finds at the theological library was a book written in the 1800s that contained amazing color drawings of the tabernacle in the wilderness. Because these were no longer covered by copyright, I was able to make copies of the pictures and turn them into slides that I then used for Bible studies. This inspired another research project—using the biblical record and the various books that were available at Harvard—into the construction of the temple. I developed another Bible study on the temple using slides prepared from drawings in some of the old books from the 18th and 19th centuries. The books from that period contained numerous drawings that were very helpful in understanding what Solomon’s temple may have looked like. 

This background leads me to the point of my letter. It is found in 1 Chronicles 29, which describes one of the most dramatic moments in the history of Israel. King David was not allowed to build the temple because he shed so much blood while he was king (1 Chronicles 22:7-8). But he collected the building materials so his son Solomon could actually build the house dedicated to God. The temple represented the presence of God in the nation of Israel and was a symbol of hope and safety. As long as the temple stood, they knew that God would be with them. Of course Israel drifted away from God on numerous occasions, even while the temple was still standing. So, it was no guarantee or barometer as to their spiritual health, but it was a symbol that gave hope to a nation.

Chapter 29 of 1 Chronicles recounts all the items the Israelites willingly gave for the construction of the temple. The chapter begins with a most significant statement: “Furthermore King David said to all the assembly: ‘My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced; and the work is great, because the temple is not for man but for the Lord God. Now for the house of my God I have prepared with all my might: gold for things to be made of gold, silver for things of silver, bronze for things of bronze, iron for things of iron, wood for things of wood, onyx stones, stones to be set, glistening stones of various colors, all kinds of precious stones, and marble slabs in abundance’” (1 Chronicles 29:1-2).

If you add up all the precious metals in the temple, it was no doubt the most fabulous building ever constructed, worth billions of dollars by modern valuation. Obviously, God doesn’t need a physical house to live in, but we are told that when Solomon dedicated the temple, the glory of God filled the house (1 Kings 8:11-13). During His physical lifetime, Christ referred to the temple (the second temple) as “My Father’s house” (John 2:16) and “a house of prayer” (Luke 19:46). The temple was an important symbol that gave hope to the Jews even while under the domination of the Roman armies.

David gave a remarkable prayer in 1 Chronicles 29 about the importance of the temple. He said: “Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head over all” (verses 10-11). David then praised God as the owner of all things, acknowledging that everything they gave to God already belonged to God. “Now therefore, our God, we thank You and praise Your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You” (verses 13-14).

Then David states: “For we are aliens and pilgrims before You, as were all our fathers; our days on earth are as a shadow, and without hope” (verse15). As a human being without God, what do we really have? The temple was a symbol of hope, identifying Israel as the people of God. No other nation has ever been given such an honor, and David recognized it. His statement about life is so true. Life is short and ends so quickly, like a shadow that passes. The key quality in every life is the presence of God, for without that we have no hope. Life begins at a specific point and passes by as a shadow, but then what? Understanding the purpose in life and the future beyond this life is a gift from God.

During the building of the temple, God spoke to Solomon: “Concerning this temple which you are building, if you walk in My statutes, execute My judgments, keep all My commandments, and walk in them, then I will perform My word with you, which I spoke to your father David. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people Israel” (1 Kings 6:12-13).

When the Romans destroyed the second temple in A.D. 70, the Jews lost their symbol of hope and safety. For the next 1,900 years they wandered the world without a nation of their own. It wasn’t until 1948 that a nation called Israel once again came into existence, but without a temple. To this day, there are those in the modern nation of Israel who desperately want to see that temple restored.

The apostles, in their ministry, used the physical symbol to refer to a spiritual temple. Paul compared the Church to the temple of God (Ephesians 2:21), and he declared that each individual Christian was also a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). The point should not be lost that the presence of God in our lives is where our true hope lies.

The world is at a crossroads, and choices are being made that are leading to more and more corruption and human suffering. The pandemic may be over soon, but the aftereffects will be felt for years to come. If we focus on the problems and lose sight of God’s promises for each of us personally, we can become like what David proclaimed when he said, “Our days on earth are as a shadow, and without hope.” Of all people on earth, we should be the most hopeful and positive. Rather than falling prey to the fears and worries of the world, we must focus on the true hope—the presence of God in our lives and His coming Kingdom. We preach the “good news” of the Kingdom of God, not the darkness of this modern world. We warn the world of the need to repent to avoid the end result of sin—suffering and death. And we are especially instructed to warn the nations who have been the recipients of the blessings promised to Abraham almost four millennia ago. Just as blessings have come to those nations, so will the curses (Deuteronomy 28). Why? They have rejected the true God, His laws and the way of life that has been revealed to His spiritual temple, the Church.

We have the greatest hope that has ever existed—to become that spiritual temple. With God the Father and our Savior Jesus Christ living in each of us through the Holy Spirit, we have a down payment on salvation and a place in the Kingdom. I pray that we don’t become discouraged or overwhelmed by the trials of this life and take our eyes off our real hope. Our focus must be on repenting of our sins, overcoming and changing our lives. A future life in the Kingdom of God will be given to those who overcome (Revelation 21:7). Life is too short to let even a day pass us by without concentrating on this hope. Our lives are indeed shadows, but we are not as others, “without hope.”

Sincerely, your brother in Christ,

Jim Franks

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