Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Your Priesthood

On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.”

So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.” On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.

Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.” And Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.’” And the Lord said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest he break out against them.” So Moses went down to the people and told them.  (Exodus 19)

Now that Israel is near Mt. Sinai, Yahweh has them travel around to the base of the mountain where Moses will go up and receive Yahweh’s law, which will be the terms of His covenant with them and what constitutes them as a nation under Him. But they must agree to this and consecrate themselves, make themselves ready by washing their garments, a symbol of clean hearts, and abstain from sex (nothing is more important than this day). He gives careful instructions to Moses to restrain the people from trying to come up to Him. Only Moses may come up, and Aaron. This clearly shows who is tapped to be Israel’s leaders.

The experience is intense. The mountain is wrapped in smoke, a terrifying sight, and the mountain is gripped in tremors and a sound like trumpets gets louder and louder, and finally, when Moses speaks out loud to God, He answers with thunder. Then Moses goes up. God is ready to make Israel a kingdom of priests and a set-apart nation. Their job will be to represent Yahweh to all the nations as their priest, and to reflect the character of Yahweh to all peoples.

This is still the job of the church (Revelation 1:5,6). Each day we represent something of the terrifying yet wholly satisfying God of the universe to those who have deliberately sought to forget Him. We are to be a holy people so that the world sees the character of this loving God and desires Him.  It is possible of course that the world may despise us for this as it despises Him.  But priests minister no matter how they are viewed because our ministry is to Yahweh, not to men.


Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Light Shines in the Darkness

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived. Then Pharaoh called Moses and said, “Go, serve the LORD; your little ones also may go with you; only let your flocks and your herds remain behind.” But Moses said, “You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God. Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must take of them to serve the LORD our God, and we do not know with what we must serve the LORD until we arrive there.” But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me; take care never to see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” Moses said, “As you say! I will not see your face again.”  (Exodus 10:21-29 ESV)

Can you imagine living in absolute darkness, darkness so thick that you cannot see the others around you, cannot find your way to the bathroom, can only stumble towards whatever food stores you have in your home to find a bite to eat?  Can you imagine everyone in your community staying in one place for three days, frozen by the darkness?  Ra, the sun god of Egypt, was at a loss as was Pharaoh and all his people, and undoubtedly many were cursing Pharaoh’s name for not sending the Israelites away.  Pharaoh still wanted to impose conditions on how Israel was to obey God but Moses would not, could not, bend.

More startling than the physical darkness was the spiritual darkness in Pharaoh’s heart.  This was something the restoration of light to his nation could not undo.  There is a spiritual blindness that afflicts those who do not know God.  Paul says we have all sought to repress the truth we know about Him rather than have to submit to Him (Romans 1:18ff).  It takes the power of God to open blind eyes, but He also chooses to use emissaries of light, you and me, to shine truth into the lives of those around us.  They may further harden their hearts, like Pharaoh did, or they may see the light and come to the knowledge of the truth.  Lord, help us to shine the light in this darkness.

Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople in the 4th century. said that Jesus “did not hide his teaching in mist and darkness, as they did who threw obscurity of speech, like a kind of veil, around the mischiefs laid up within. But this man’s doctrines are clearer than the sunbeams, wherefore they have been unfolded to all men throughout the world. For he did not teach as Pythagoras did, commanding those who came to him to be silent for five years, or to sit like senseless stones; neither did he invent fables defining the universe to consist of numbers; but casting away all this devilish trash and mischief, he diffused such simplicity through his words, that all he said was plain, not only to wise men, but also to women and youths. For he was persuaded that the words were true and profitable to all that should hearken to them. And all time after him is his witness; since he has drawn to him all the world, and has freed our life when we have listened to these words from all monstrous display of wisdom; wherefore we who hear them would prefer rather to give up our lives, than the doctrines by him delivered to us.”

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: What Really Makes God Mad

But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.”  (Exodus 4:10-17 ESV)

God is not passive toward our disobedience and our wounded self-image is not an excuse for disobeying.

Moses has yet another reason why Yahweh shouldn’t send him to Egypt.  He is not eloquent, he says, but God says He is capable of using Moses’ slow tongue.  In fact, Yahweh takes all credit for making anyone deaf and mute or seeing or blind.  All our abilities or disabilities are from God, an obvious contradiction of the prosperity gospel.  In Moses’ case God promises to be with Moses’ mouth and teach him what to say.

Finally Moses just begs God not to send him and our patient God finds His anger catching fire.  Moses is on the edge with God and yet God makes one more concession to His reluctant servant.  Aaron can be Moses’ spokesman and in fact Aaron is on the way to visit Moses and is almost there.  He will be Moses’ prophet even as Moses is Yahweh’s prophet.  Moses must take Aaron and the staff God gave him and go.

Have you been hurt like Moses?  His first attempt at being a deliverer failed miserably and now he was gun shy.  He saw himself as inadequate, a feeling many of us can identify with.  Truth be told, we are inadequate to serve the Lord.  But He wants to make us adequate.  If we obey, He will equip.  If we follow, He will further.  If we try, He will bring success, His success, whatever He deems that to be.  But He won’t put up with our disobedience.  We won’t lose our relationship to Him, but we will be out of fellowship with Him and under His loving discipline.  And we will miss the joy of serving Him that He had in store for us.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: What You Were Meant to Do

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”  (Exodus 3:7-12 ESV)

Yahweh has a task for Moses.  He wants Moses to go to Pharaoh and somehow bring the children of Israel out of Egypt, bring them to this very mountain on which Yahweh has appeared to Moses, Mt. Horeb or Sinai as it is known.  God wants Israel to return to the land of the Canaanites, a place they left 400 years earlier under Jacob’s and Joseph’s leadership during famine, but that is now flowing with richness and abundance.

Moses, who was ready some 40 years ago to slay an Egyptian and mediate the conflict between Hebrews, no longer sees himself as leadership material.  “Who am I,” he asks.  God does not answer with how gifted Moses is or how special, or what a great leader he will be, though none of those things are wrong.  He answers with, “I will be with you.”  No matter how gifted we are or special, what is required for successfully serving Yahweh is Yahweh’s determination to make us successful and accomplish His purposes.

Yahweh has seen Israel’s suffering and is ready to respond.  It may bother us that He saw Israel’s suffering 40 or more years before and is only choosing now to act.  But He knows the right time and His response is genuinely motivated by His compassion for His people.  He hears our cries.  In His wisdom He responds when He responds, having laid out for Abraham 400 years earlier that this would be the timing for Abraham’s offspring to be enslaved in Egypt.  He sees the bigger picture so we must trust Him with the timing.

In one scene from the movie Superman, Clark Kent is upset after a football game in which he was reduced to being a manager. He possesses supernatural powers yet must hide them from peers who don’t accept him because he is not a star, only a team manager. Kent’s father slips an arm around the soon-to-be Superman and says, “Son, you are here for a special reason. I don’t know what that reason is, but I know one thing—it’s not to score touchdowns.”

Knowing what God has called you for is more than knowing your abilities and gifts.  It is listening to Him as He speaks into your soul what He wants you to do.  Maybe it is correcting something grossly amiss.  Maybe it is encouraging people who have no one in their corner.  Maybe it is providing leadership where there is none.  The point is, what He calls you to do He will equip you to do and be with you in the doing.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Using God’s Gifts

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.

Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.”  (Exodus 2:11-22 ESV)

When we have been called and gifted by God we can’t help but act in accord with that gifting.  God has equipped Moses to be a leader and a deliverer.  To everyone he is an Egyptian, but he knows he is a Hebrew and when he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew he acts to rescue the Hebrew, but not necessarily in the way God intended him to do.  And when he sees two Hebrews fighting he can’t help but challenge this, only to find out that his murder of the Egyptian is known and he must flee Egypt.  But the question, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us,” is answered by, “God.”  But Moses hasn’t asked God how to fulfill this role, acting on his own at the internal pressure he feels to lead his people.

In the land of Midian the same thing happens, with happier results.  He rescues the daughters of the priest of Midian and is rewarded with the man’s hospitality and eventually his daughter’s hand in marriage.  He begins a settled life away from any movement toward saving Israel.  But God is not through with him.

What has God gifted you to do?  Have you failed in your attempts?  Even so haven’t you seen what God has put in you, what drives you to make a difference in our world.  God is not through with you either.  Only when your gifts are used in His service will you be truly successful.

In his devotional book Daily Readings, W.E. Sangster relates the following story: Some years ago, in the midst of much toilsome work and not a few perplexities, I received a letter from a stranger. It was a lovely letter. It seemed to see right into my situation and, with almost uncanny discernment, to sense my need.  Though the letter required no answer (my correspondent explained that he did not wish to add to my work) I sent a word of the warmest gratitude, and some months later we met.  Let me tell you about this obscure disciple and something of his secret service for our Lord.  He is a shy man. It would be wrong to say that he has no gift in public speech, but he has a great gift in writing. Years ago he went to God for guidance, asking how best he could serve the coming of the Kingdom, and it was revealed to him that a ministry awaited him in correspondence. He accepted the commission.  For years he has been fulfilling it. He does it with prayer and (as he believes) under guidance. The number of people he has encouraged must, by now, be immense.  He writes to all kinds of folk, to friends, acquaintances, entire strangers, authors of books which have helped him, people in public life who are carrying great responsibilities, to the high and humble, known and unknown, rich and poor. He writes to sick people and speaks of his admiration for their courage. He lets the lonely know that he remembers them. He backs up those who are battling for social righteousness, especially when they are maligned. A letter of comfort from him has soothed a hundred broken hearts. He is a quietly happy man; happy with the happiness of those who found their work…and do it. He offers no advice in his letters and makes it plain that he expects no reply. He specializes in appreciation. There are enough critics, be believes, eager to tell a man where he is wrong.. So often has he been assured of the timeliness of his letters’ arrival that he cannot possibly doubt that he is working with Another.

One Way to Respond to the Jehovah’s Witness Who Comes to Your Door

I just had a Jehovah’s Witness come to the door.  She seemed like a nice lady.  She had a Jamaican accent (or at least that is as sophisticated as I am at judging Caribbean accents).  I could have listened a long time.  She was inviting me to a convention downtown that would take no offering and was free.  I said I wouldn’t be going and she asked if I was acquainted with Witnesses.  “Yes,” I said, “I had not too long ago met with some of your people and gone through the little book.”  She knew exactly what book I was talking about and said, “Yes, it is a very nice book.”  I immediately answered, “No, it is not a nice book.  It does not give Jesus the honor he deserves.”  “Oh, we believe in Jesus,” she said.  “But you don’t believe he is God,” I said.  Her instant reply was, “But Jesus never called himself God.”

I didn’t go further with her but I wish I had responded this way:

“Ma’am, if you have the slightest openness to hearing contradictory evidence to your claim, I would be happy to share it with you.  Are you open to receiving an opposite viewpoint?”  If she said yes I would have directed her to Revelation 22:12,13, which reads,

Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

The speaker is identified in verse 16 as Jesus.  And he calls himself the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.  So I would direct her attention then to Revelation 1:8,

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.

Do you see the dilemma for the Jehovah’s Witnesses here?  Jesus takes the same titles as the “Lord God.”  That is blasphemy unless Jesus is actually God.

I remember sitting across the table from the Witnesses with whom I went through the little book and I remember laying out this passage to them.  It was at this point that the woman (it was a couple I was meeting with) took a book out of her purse and began looking up the answer to this passage.  I never heard what that answer was, though I am sure they have one.  It must not have sounded convincing to her.

Now let me be clear about something.  Even if Jesus never did directly say, “I am God,” (though he has indeed by claiming these titles), the rest of the New Testament very clearly proclaims it (John 1:1, for example, which, by the way, cannot be translated the way Jehovah’s Witnesses translate it in their New World Translation, see John 1:1 translation).  And if the apostles and prophets of the New Testament teach it, it is true.

Reflections on India

A Report on Some of the Pastors Supported by

Light of Hope Mission

In my recent trip to India I once again worked with the Light of Hope mission in Madurai, Tamilnadu. S.J.P. Vijayakumar (Vijay), the director of the ministry there, has been training men in groups of 12 for the past eight years. These men are apprenticed to minister in the Hindu villages which some estimate make up to 80% of India’s population. The following four men are his veterans who have been successful in establishing churches and are at the vanguard of this outreach ministry.

Pastor Duraichamy

I first met Duraichamy four years ago on my first trip to India. I took an immediate liking to him despite being unable to communicate with him in English. Vijay took us to his village, which consisted of several mud brick huts with thatched roofs. Without a doubt his is one of the poorest of villages. The church building he served from was attached to his house, another mud hut with a thatched roof that Vijay had taken responsibility for replacing every couple of years because of insect damage.

Vijay took us across the road from Duraichamy’s village to an undeveloped plot of land that Duraichamy had donated from his family to further the gospel. Because of Duraichamy’s position in society no one outside his caste would come to his church. But this property, being outside the village, would permit many to overcome their social hesitations about attending.

To date there has not been enough money to build the proposed concrete structure, but Duraichamy has moved to this property nevertheless to attract more attendees.

When I saw Duraichamy this time he was in obvious emotional pain. June,06, 2012 was the one year anniversary of his youngest daughter’s death. She was 17 years old and had been of great help in leading outreach events for children. But a recurring brain condition that had previously only temporarily incapacitated her took her life. When Duraichamy and I set eyes on each other at the Bible conference we were attending his tears welled up and he couldn’t speak. But he was still praising the Lord and is still serving faithfully.

Pastor Gnanaselvam

Pictured here are Gnanaselvam with his son Johnson and wife Indira. In a picture next to them is their daughter Jansi who is living and working in Chennai. Gnanaselvam lives in a town called Kovilpatti a few hours south of Vijay’s home, Madurai. Across from Gnanaselvam’s rented house is the church building where he ministers every week.

This family hosted us and our Bible conference, attending to our every need and were responsible for inviting all those who attended. Their hospitality was amazing! Gnanaselvam tirelessly works with his own congregation, giving generously of his time and talents to encourage them in their walk with the Lord. He has been working in close association with Vijay for many years in furthering the gospel to some of the southern states of Tamilnadu, India.

Pastor Jothiraj

You see pastor Jothiraj pictured here on the roof of his home, which also doubles as the church building where his congregation meets. In the background is a Hindu temple. This plot of land was actually all owned by those who built the temple here and when the portion of plot his house is standing on was purchased by him, someone threatened that the Hindu god, who was said to roam this property, would kill him. Sometime later that person died, but the work of God has continued.

Besides pastoring this church pastor Jothiraj ministers in 18 Hindu villages in the area. Despite receiving a mere 8-10 rupees in congregational tithes (mere pennies a week) he also manages to house a woman and her two children whose husband/father is a drunkard and does not provide for the family. The son, Barnabas, has been through Vijay’s training and is called to the ministry, but his father is demanding that he go to work and support the family, something Indian culture says is his responsibility to do. Whether Barnabas is able to do both is still up in the air. In the meantime, pastor Jothiraj is supporting this impoverished family.

Pastor Jothiraj helped lead worship music at our conference in Kovilpatti and his son Paul helped, pictured here with his mother. Their other son David is a bright boy as well who also helps minister in their church meetings with music.

Pastor R. P. John

Pastor R.P. John prayed for a place to build a church building that would have public exposure and God answered by placing them in this property right on a main road outside Kovilpatti. One of his sons is pictured here. This young man had begun attending Vijay’s one-year training but due to epileptic seizures had to return home. This man faithfully preaches the Word of God from this pulpit. Though you can’t see it too well, the pulpit behind him is a c-shaped structure you enter from the back, and it puts the teaching of the Word of God front and center in the life of this congregation.

It has been my great privilege to meet these men of God who courageously stand for the gospel and serve our Lord Jesus Christ in a very difficult setting where they are by far the minority. May God continue to use men and women like them to spread His Word throughout the world.