Daily Thoughts from Exodus: The Hidden, Glorious God

And all the craftsmen among the workmen made the tabernacle…These are the records of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the testimony, as they were recorded at the commandment of Moses, the responsibility of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the LORD commanded Moses; and with him was Oholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver and designer and embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen.

All the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering, was twenty-nine talents and 730 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary.

From the blue and purple and scarlet yarns they made finely woven garments, for ministering in the Holy Place. They made the holy garments for Aaron, as the LORD had commanded Moses. (Exodus 36:8-39:1, ESV)

This lengthy step-by-step description of how the Tabernacle was made shows that it indeed followed the instructions given to Moses based on the model Moses saw on the Mountain, the heavenly version of what was being built on earth (Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5; 9:23-24). And God used these skilled craftsmen to accomplish the job. They must have felt very privileged to be included in this holy enterprise. No doubt craftsmen of cathedral projects have felt the same way. But are we supposed to be building such structures today?

It would seem in principle that it is not wrong to spend amazing amounts of the peoples’ money on such buildings as we long to honor God with everything we have and show Him to be glorious. But we have not been so instructed as Moses was to do such building. The church building we most frequently erect is decidedly not a temple or sanctuary, despite how much we use those terms. The people of God are the temple, not the building. We are the intersection of heaven and earth because the Holy Spirit indwells us. People meet God in us, not a building. The way into the Most Holy Place has been opened by Jesus and His sacrifice and we are living testimonies that the sacrifice availed for us.

We hope that in the building we erect for the purpose of meeting, if such a thing is deemed wise, people will meet the living God in us and the building itself will not be a deterrent to that.  If we can make it attractive or suggestive of the glory of God, and the Spirit so directs us to invest in that, we have freedom to do so.  But we must count the cost of such architecture and décor to make sure that it is not something that puts us in debt, prevents us from really ministering to the needs of our community, or even distracts from realizing that the people are the church, not the building.

If we think about how the Tabernacle functioned in ancient Israel, it did give a sense of how glorious the God of the universe is, though even in its beauty it could not approach that fully.  But it also created a mystery about God and how things functioned inside, hidden from all but the high priest.  It mostly communicated that you could not approach this holy God without following His precise instructions.  Humans are too intent on creating their own path to God, believing that we have that capability and that God is okay with that, even endorses it.  Just the opposite is true.

“If God had wished to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened, He would have done so by revealing himself to them so plainly that they could not doubt the truth of his essence, as he will appear on the last day with such thunder and lightening and such convulsions of nature that the dead will rise up and the blindest will see him. This is not the way he wished to appear when he came in mildness because so many had shown themselves unworthy of his clemency that he wished to deprive them of the good they did not desire.  It was therefore not right that he should appear in a manner manifestly divine and absolutely capable of convincing everyone, but neither was it right that his coming should be so hidden that he could not be recognized by those who sincerely sought him. He wished to make himself perfectly recognizable to them.  Thus wishing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart and hidden from those who shun him with all their heart, he has qualified our knowledge of him by giving signs which can be seen by those who seek him and not by those who do not.  There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.” [Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 79-80]

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Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Sixth Command

The sixth commandment is not properly translated, “You shall not kill.” Killing is not prohibited in every form by God, but only certain forms of killing are prohibited. For example, God commanded Israel in this same Law of Moses to kill the Canaanites in battle and take possession of their land (Deuteronomy 7:17-24).

Capital punishment is also commanded in the Mosaic Law for specific crimes. In Exodus 21 specific applications of the Ten Commandments are made and in verses 12-14 the death penalty is required for anyone who kills someone with premeditation. In verses 15-17 striking one’s parent and kidnapping are said to be capital offenses. These and other instances of invoking capital punishment are in accord with God’s decree to Noah in Genesis 9:5,6 and are obviously not considered “murder,” which is prohibited in this sixth command.

Murder refers primarily to premeditated and even unpremeditated slaying other than in war and civil justice (the Hebrew word is used of both premeditated and unpremeditated killing, Numbers 35:16-31 and Deuteronomy 4:42). The slaying of another, intentionally or unintentionally, other than for capital crimes or war, is prohibited by this commandment. Life is God’s gift and man is made in God’s image, a very precious gift indeed (Genesis 9:5,6). To steal that gift from another is a violation of God’s moral will. Every society on earth views it as such.

But this commandment should be viewed from a positive, more inclusive perspective. To state this command positively would be to say something like, “Preserve life.” It has application not only to personally refraining from violence but also to being one who doesn’t just stand by when life is in danger, but who gets involved to preserve the lives of others.

How might we be more that bystanders when an alcoholic neighbor gets in the car and drives away intoxicated? How do we help the pregnant girl who sees abortion as her only option? What application does this commandment have to preventing a depressed individual from committing suicide? How about when we know a parent is abusing children? Or when in war there are obvious atrocities, what do we do? All these situations and others are opportunities for us to live out the depth of this commandment and not remain bystanders.

There are difficult ethical questions bound up in this command. Is self-defense that results in the death of another considered murder? Is pulling the plug on a terminal patient wrong? Is careless driving that results in death worthy of severe punishment? Is there a justifiable war these days? Different parts of the body of Christ have given different answers to all these questions. Each must seek to honor this law of God.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Insufficient Magic

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water. Stand on the bank of the Nile to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that turned into a serpent. And you shall say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” But so far, you have not obeyed. Thus says the LORD, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. The fish in the Nile shall die, and the Nile will stink, and the Egyptians will grow weary of drinking water from the Nile.”’” And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water, so that they may become blood, and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’”

Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts. So Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart. And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the Nile.

Seven full days passed after the LORD had struck the Nile.  (Exodus 7:14-25 ESV)

The Egyptians believed that the god Osiris was drowned in the Nile and that his body annually caused the flooding of the Nile which brought fertilization of the land.  This annual flooding was needed for them to prosper and the regularity of this was known as Ma’at, the orderliness of the world.  The Pharaoh, a god in their view, was responsible for maintaining Ma’at and the flooding of the Nile.  So too was the god Hapi.  Everything depended on the Nile’s annual flooding and life giving properties.

For Yahweh to turn the Nile and all other waterways into blood was a powerful demonstration of His sovereignty over all nations and the impotence of Egypt’s Pharaoh and Egypt’s gods.  And even though the magicians’ ability to turn a small amount of water into blood was obviously insignificant compared to what Yahweh did through Moses, Pharaoh hardened his heart.  For seven days the Egyptians were forced to dig for pure water.  The danger could not be more obvious, the nation could not be more close to collapse.  Simple reason told them they should listen to Yahweh.

People have a knack for ignoring the obvious, and according to Paul (Romans 1:18-26) the most obvious fact we ignore is God’s existence and who He really is.  We repress the truth about God so that we don’t have to submit to Him as He requires.  We shape an image of the God we want to serve, one we can control.  That is at the root of all idolatry.  Egyptians had gods they could manipulate to fertilize their land.  We have a god who is supposed to take care of our every need and be most concerned about our happiness.  We need a Moses to show us how insignificant our magic is.

Romans 1:25, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Listening for a Miracle

And the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the LORD commanded them. Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh.

Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’” So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.  (Exodus 7:1-13 ESV)

Yahweh reiterates for Moses how the process of redeeming Israel is going to work.  Moses is to be like God to Pharaoh, commanding him in God’s name (Yahweh) to release His people, speaking through his prophet, Aaron.  But God will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that God will have opportunity to multiply the plagues He demonstrates against Egypt.  This Yahweh, whom Pharaoh did not know, he will come to know.  Moses was 40 years old when he fled Egypt.  Now 40 years later he is back to accomplish in God’s power what he could not do in his own.

Moses and Aaron use the first sign God gave them, but Pharaoh’s magicians seem to duplicate it until Moses’ staff turned snake eats theirs up.  Because Pharaoh can see his own magicians doing magical things he might tell himself that Moses is simply doing the same.  But his magicians and he are hardening their hearts against the truth.  God takes responsibility for hardening Pharaoh’s heart but also indicts him for hardening his own heart.  As Paul teaches in Romans 9:19, no one resists God’s will and yet God still holds accountable those who do evil.  This is fair and just and beyond our ability to understand.  Though sovereignty and responsibility seem to contradict, in God’s mind and universe they do not.  No one will ever be able to say in the judgment, “God, You made me do the evil I did, so You’re to blame.”  We will be held responsible for every decision we make.

In the course of our decision-making we may be called upon by God to trust Him for a miracle.  In Moses’ case God told him to do this.  God is always the one who determines if a miracle is appropriate or doable.  If you are listening to the Lord He will let you know that such a thing is needed and then you must trust Him to do it.  This is why it is important to listen in prayer for whether God wants to heal someone or not.  I remember during prayer in church one Sunday asking the woman who had come for prayer to listen to what God might be saying to her about her illness.  A certain illness had been dismissed as the cause of her problems by a doctor but she thought she heard God saying this was the problem.  She returned to the doctor and asked for this to be checked again and that was the problem.  God used the doctor to bring the healing.  Listen, listen, listen.

Ephesians 6:5-9 — Conversations with God

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.  Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

If I were a slave, Lord Jesus, owned by another person, owned by a Christian person, and your apostle told me to obey my earthly master as I would obey You, I could be very tempted to doubts and to giving up Christianity. I could argue that being a Christian has certainly not changed my situation as I hoped it would.  Why wouldn’t Your apostle command my Christian master to give me my freedom?  Where is the justice?  Where is the compassion?

But when Paul reminds me that I am a bondservant to You, Lord, I have no qualms about it.  I willingly serve You as your slave.  I owe everything to you.  You own my life and I willingly embrace that and want to serve you from a sincere heart.  And the fact that You will reward me for such service blows my mind.  I don’t deserve that!

And commanding masters to “do the same thing,” to live as Your bondservants and do Your will from the heart, this could certainly lead to real changes in the way I am treated and reminds me that the Christian life is not about righting all the wrongs that are here in this world before the kingdom comes.  It is about demonstrating the righteousness of the kingdom despite all that is wrong continuing to make it countercultural to live as Your followers.  How else will people see that You really do transform our lives?  You don’t just change our conditions, You change our hearts.

Reflections on India 3

I am just returned from a 12 day trip to India where I partnered with John Marley, a teacher from my church, to hold two 3-day Bible conferences.  The first was in Madurai, or more specifically, Light of Hope Gospel Mission just outside of Madurai.  The second was in Kovilpatti, a 3 hour trip south of Madurai.  All this is in the southern tip of India.  Our host was S. J. P. Vijayakumar, or Vijay.  He has been a missionary sponsored by Central Church since the mid 90′s.  His father-in-law, the founder of Light of Hope, has been supported by Central for many more years.  They are faithful servants of the kingdom.

I found myself drawn to several of the participants and their stories and would like to share some of those with the world (or at least whoever reads this blog).

Jesus Was More Powerful Than the Occult

Her father was a Hindu priest of the Brahman caste and she was assigned, among all his children, to be his assistant.  He created many potions and participated in sorcerer’s arts and she helped mix the potions.  I don’t recall how she became acquainted with the gospel, but she came to question whether her father’s magic arts were really his power or not.  So she devised a test.

I am not sure exactly how this test makes sense, but it made sense to her.  If in the alcohol her father used in many of his potions she were to mix some salt and the potion did not work, this meant that Jesus was lord and her father’s powers were not his own.  So she secretly added salt to the alcohol and the potions ceased to be effective.  As a result, she gave her life to Christ and had been serving him some time when she came to our conference.

In the newspaper today in Memphis is an article on science and religion and the evidentiary nature of scientific knowledge versus the more subjective nature of religious knowledge.  But on several occasions the people I encountered had clear power encounters with Christianity and Jesus and He demonstrated His superior power over their wrong views of life and persuaded them that Jesus was the truth.

Unity and the Glory of God (Theology for Living from Philippians)

To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.  Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings.  All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 20-23)

For Paul, everything revolved around the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so he was most excited to greet those who had embraced this gospel and send greetings from those whom Christ had found through the gospel.  Such were those who had received his witness while in prison in Rome (we believe).  Once again Paul has a chance to emphasize that nothing can thwart the gospel, not even the great apostle’s imprisonment.

It is this unity of believers in the gospel that then becomes his most powerful message.  For even though nothing can thwart the gospel, disunity among believers can hinder it.  Disunity is the single most dangerous enemy of the gospel.  Unity is the most powerful base of our witness to the truth of the gospel.  When we stand together as one our enemies get truly scared.  When we fight, they laugh us to scorn.

And though we say that, for Paul, everything revolved around the gospel of Jesus Christ, we might also say that an even higher level of importance for him was to give glory to God.  But it is this same devotion to the gospel that brings God such glory.  It is His gospel, it is His message to a lost and dying world, it is His means of restoring His creation to its original beauty.

Would you bring Him glory?  Devote yourself to His gospel.  Would you be devoted to the gospel?  Devote yourself to the unity you must have with your bothers and sisters in Christ.  “The grace of the Lord Jesus,” the love that moved him to sacrifice his rights and agendas, “be with your spirit.”