Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Getting Our Attention

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  (Exodus 3:1-6 ESV)

When God wants to get our attention He does something unusual in our lives.  For Moses, now a shepherd of sheep in charge of another’s flock, the sight of bushes catching fire in the wilderness might not have been that uncommon, but when this bush would not stop burning, was not consumed by the flames, his curiosity was aroused and he altered his normal path.

It says that the Angel or Messenger of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame and then says God called to Moses out of the bush.  And so the Messenger of Yahweh and Yahweh are identical, leading us to realize that this is the pre-incarnate (before he took on human nature or flesh) Son of God serving at the Father’s behest to communicate to Moses.  His holy presence demands special honor from Moses.  It has made the very ground on which Moses is standing, holy.  Removing his shoes is a powerful symbol of respect.

Moses believes, as have so many to whom God appeared, that if he sees God he will die, so he averts his eyes. There is truth to this in that God’s unmitigated or veiled appearance would kill us simply because our bodies cannot take that kind of stimulation without shutting down.  But God would not purposely appear to us in a way we couldn’t handle, and here, appearing as a flame, He is veiled enough to not hurt Moses.

How is God seeking to get your attention?  Is He waking you earlier than you need to get up so you’ll spend some time with Him?  Is there conflict in your life that He wants you to come to Him about?  Has He sent someone to you to alter your normal way of life?  And in that situation are you acknowledging His holiness and “taking off your shoes?”

Russian Proverb;  “It is the same with men as with donkeys; whoever would hold them fast must get a very good grip on their ears!”

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.

Ephesians 4:12-16 – Conversations with God

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Some people can be very protective of their place and position, making it difficult, if not impossible, for someone else to gain their knowledge or experience.  But not You, Lord Jesus.  You have purposely given Your church gifted individuals for the express goal of equipping us to be replicas of You.  Whereas some might see this as just another form of pride, we, Your followers, know it is the expression of Your deepest love for us.

Your heart is to build us up, to help us attain to the full stature of Your character because you know this is what makes us the most happy and fulfilled.  When we are loving like You love, when we we are making a powerful contribution to the welfare of another like You do, we are operating at our “factory” best.

I want to be everything You are, Lord.  You want me to be everything You are.  There is nothing better to be.  So equip me, equip me, equip me.  Let me never tire of gaining more knowledge and skill to minister to my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.  Help me maintain absolute unity in the faith with them.  Make me worthy of Your gifts.

Ephesians 4:7-10 — Conversations with God

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?  He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for giving each of us a unique measure of Your gift.  You are the conquering King who has ascended to Your throne.  You are worthy to bestow these gifts because You first humbled Yourself to make that sacrifice, to finish that battle that secured our redemption.  And now we follow You, the exalted One, who is far above all the heavens.

You fill all things.  And You fill us, You fill me.  What will I do with Your gifts?  How will I make the most of what You have privileged me to receive?  May I be a faithful servant and a joyful catalyst of Your grace in the lives of others.

Ephesians 1:22-23 — Conversations with God

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Jesus You are the Head of all things.  You are head of the universe, You are head of our world.  Nothing happens that You do not plan for.  And You are present in every part of Your creation.  Most specially, You are Head of Your church.  We exist to do Your will.

How do we know Your will?  We have Your words recorded in Scripture and Your apostles’ and prophets’ words.  And we have Your own voice still speaking to us today.  There probably is no excuse for not knowing what You want us to do, but somehow it seems we often miss the mark.  Sometimes we assume we know what You would have us do because it’s what we’ve “always” done.  Sometimes we are too scared to do what we know or think we should do.  Sometimes we are just too lazy to find out.

This does not leave us feeling as if we are Your body, Your fullness.  We feel empty and powerless.  We need our hearts enlightened to know the hope of our calling and the riches of Your inheritance in us and the exceeding greatness of Your power toward us.  Help us, Lord Jesus.

Setting Aside the Counterfeits (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.  For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 17-21)

One of Paul’s responsibilities, and a responsibility of all spiritual leaders, is to identify counterfeits to the true gospel.  Given the rebellious nature of human beings and the very active influence of Satan, there should be a high expectation of distortions to the message of life.  Paul leverages his own example of orthodox living and orthodox doctrine, then he begins to describe those in particular, the Judaizers, who are threatening all of Paul’s church plants.

Not everyone is agreed that these are “the enemies of the cross” to whom Paul is referring.  To some it looks like Paul is describing a group who seeks to push the limits of godly morality.  “Their god is their stomach” sounds to them like those who eat greedily. “Their glory is in their shame” sounds like taking pride in their willingness to push the boundaries ethically.

But in the context Paul has only identified one group of false teachers.  These appear to be people who teach the Jewish law as the standard of holiness and focus on the requirements of circumcision for males and kosher food laws for all.  With that in mind, “their god is their stomach” means their focus on keeping kosher has become their idol; “their glory is in their shame” means they rest confidence in circumcision as their badge of honor.  In all this “their mind is set on earthly things.”  What God designed as a picture of ultimate spiritual truths to be revealed when the new dispensation arrives, these false teachers are still clinging to and giving saving power to instead of looking at faith as the basis for salvation.

By way of contrast, Christianity, God’s new revelation in Christ contained in “new wine skins” (Matthew 9:17), is focused on heaven.  Though the Philippians might take pride in their Roman citizenship, the real reason to boast is their heavenly citizenship.  As citizens of heaven we need no longer be enslaved to earthly elements.  We are people of the last age, the age of the resurrection.  When Jesus comes He is going to resurrect us, make our bodies like His, with all the attributes of a body made suitable for the kingdom.

Focusing on the coming resurrection when Jesus returns to rule on earth helps us stay moored to the true gospel.  We are not trying to muster our own law obedience in order to earn God’s love.  We are operating in God’s already abundantly outpoured love.  We are depending on what Jesus can work in us (the willing and the doing of His good will, 2:13), something He is able to do as the resurrected one.  We are free from the earthly elements that so many have clung to as a means of earning God’s love.  We are in training to recognize the false so we may more readily embrace the true.

Fellowship With Jesus (Theology for Living from Philippians)

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 10,11)

When Jesus spoke those burning words to two disciples walking to Emmaus, “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:26), He laid out forever the path all His followers will have to walk if they want to have fellowship with him.  Do we want to know the power of His resurrection?  Then we must first know the pain of his sufferings and become like him in His death.  First comes suffering and then comes glory.

I have yet to experience the fullness of what Peter and John experienced when they were beaten at the command of the Sanhedrin and the “apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).  I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, but I am hesitant to get excited and rejoice over suffering disgrace for His Name.

And yet, this is Paul’s desire.  He is wanting to know Christ in this way.  He is currently in jail as he writes because of his willingness to suffer with and for Christ.  He is ready to die, if need be, in order to bring glory to his Savior.  Though he doesn’t say it directly here, we know that his motive is gratitude for the rescue Jesus has done in his life, saving him from trying to face God with a righteousness of his own instead of that which comes from God by faith in Christ.  Another motive he states plainly here is so that he might attain to the resurrection from the dead.

This raises questions for those of us who believe the Scriptures teach that one can never earn nor lose one’s salvation.  Does Paul believe he has to suffer with Christ in order to attain to the resurrection?  Does he doubt that if he does not pursue this course he will be refused resurrection?  Yes and no.

Paul believed all who were true believers would be willing to suffer persecution with Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12).  He didn’t presume that no believer would struggle with the fear of such a decision.  That is why in the beginning of this letter he was counting on help from the Philippians’ prayer and the supply of the Holy Spirit (1:19).   He didn’t believe that after all this time serving Jesus he would quit now, but he knew and taught that true believers are enabled both to will and to do God’s good pleasure and would persevere in their faith (2:13).

Do you want fellowship with Jesus?  Of course you do.  Do you want to suffer?  Of course you don’t.  But if it comes to a choice of sharing in the life of Jesus or avoiding suffering, I believe we both will choose Jesus.