Daily Thoughts from Exodus: The Glory of God in Us

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting…Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy…Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest.

This Moses did; according to all that the LORD commanded him, so he did. In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected…Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys. (Exodus 40, ESV)

Can you imagine getting up in the middle of the night in your encampment in the wilderness, walking outside your tent and seeing a burning fire in and around the Tabernacle, or during the day seeing a cloud emanating from it?  From the first day that the glory of Yahweh filled the Tabernacle there was powerful evidence that God was with His people in demonstrative form.  If the cloud was lifted off of the Tabernacle it was the signal that it was time to move and you packed up all your belongings and your tent, while the Levites attended to dismantling the Tabernacle and preparing it for transport.  Perhaps you hoped you could stay longer rather than shorter.

God showed in the way He displayed His glory in the Tabernacle that He really did want to dwell with His people and that His dwelling with them was not going to be a passive one.  He is always about pursuing the purpose of restoring His kingdom in this fallen world.  He went after a nation that He would use to be a witness to all nations of His greatness.  He is leading this nation through the wilderness after having judged Egypt for its wickedness and with a judgment for the nations of Canaan who have filled up their iniquity to the fullest (Genesis 15:16).

We are to pray daily for His kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10).  We are to move when He moves and stay when He stays as we look for opportunities to redeem the time because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16).  We are the Tabernacle of God on earth today, His temple, His people, from whom He wants to demonstrate His glory.  People ought to see an evidence of His glory permeating our lives, fire and cloud.  The most obvious evidence of that glory, according to Jesus, will be our love for one another and for our neighbors (John 13:35).

How are we doing?

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Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Your Promised Land

“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.

“But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.

“When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces. You shall serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” (Exodus 23:20-33, ESV)

The word “angel” means “messenger” and Yahweh says here that this messenger who is going to accompany Israel and guard them on the way has His name, Yahweh, in him. The nation must be careful to obey this messenger and if they do they will have complete victory over all enemies. It is quite likely that this messenger is the Son, the pre-incarnate Jesus (before he took on human nature), the second person of the Trinity.

Yahweh promises that in Canaan, if Israel worships Him alone and makes no covenants with any in the land, that He will remove all their enemies and make them supernaturally prosperous, with no miscarriages, abundant supply of food, and eventually a homeland that stretches from the Red Sea that He miraculously enabled them to cross, to the Euphrates River in the north. Though Israel’s record of obedience will be quite spotty, in the day of Solomon Yahweh will nevertheless give Israel a time of prosperity much like this and land dimensions like this.

Yahweh also acknowledges the mutual dependence of the ecosystems He created and explains that He will not immediately drive out the current inhabitants lest the land get overrun with wild beasts.  God is the ultimate ecologist.

There is so much God wants to do for us and so little we trust Him for. In our covenant with Him He has not promised perfect prosperity, despite the teachings of prosperity gospel preachers, but He has promised to use us to spread the kingdom message to the whole world and see the powers of the kingdom irrupting into this present age.  He is not immediately bringing the kingdom but using us to “conquer” territory from the devil little by little.  And there is always the need to maintain the conquered land.  Where do you see idolatry rampant in your sphere of influence?  What is your plan under God for taking it in His name?  May we trust Him for our Canaan victories, our promised land.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Dealing with Discouragement

But the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”

God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’” Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.

So the LORD said to Moses, “Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people of Israel go out of his land.” But Moses said to the LORD, “Behold, the people of Israel have not listened to me. How then shall Pharaoh listen to me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?” But the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron and gave them a charge about the people of Israel and about Pharaoh king of Egypt: to bring the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt.  (Exodus 6:1-13 ESV)

Moses had asked Yahweh why He had not delivered Israel at Moses’ first request of Pharaoh, who made Israel’s slavery all the harder for the request.  Yahweh explains that He has a plan to show Pharaoh His power, bringing misery to Pharaoh to the point where Pharaoh expels Israel.  He rehearses the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to give them Canaan as their property.  And it is not that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not know His name, Yahweh, but He had not revealed Himself as fully as He had to Moses, tying His name into the fulfilling of the covenant.

God’s promises are amazing: I will bring you out, I will deliver you, I will redeem you, I will take you as my people, I will be your God, and you will know that I am Yahweh Elohenu, Yahweh your God, as I bring you into the promised land.

Despite the affirmation, however, when Moses repeats this to Israel they refuse to listen.  They fear being disappointed again.  Even Moses has to be pushed by God to go back to Pharaoh with God’s message.  He doesn’t really believe it either.  This is the perpetual struggle of God’s people.  Knowing Him excites us and that initial feeling carries us until the first or subsequent seeming failures of God to come through for us.  We feel like fools for trusting Him and hesitate to lean on Him again.  But God is teaching us to trust Him for the long haul.  Will we?

On New Year’s Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played the University of California in the Rose Bowl.  In the first half, Roy Reigels recovered a fumble for California, but he became confused about direction and ran the wrong way.  One of his teammates tackled him just yards before he scored for the opposing team.  When California tried to punt, Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety, which became the winning margin.  During halftime, the Cal players sat quietly, waiting to hear what the coach had to say. He was uncharacteristically quiet.  Riegals put his blanket around his shoulders, stayed in a corner, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby.  Three minutes before playing time, Coach Price looked at the team and said simply, “Men, the same team that played the first half will start the second.”  The players filed onto the field, but Riegels did not budge.  “Roy didn’t you hear me?” the coach asked?  Riegals responded, “I couldn’t face that crowd in the stadium to save my life.”  Coach Price put his hand on Roy’s shoulder and said, “Roy get up and go on back; the game is only half over.” Tech men to this day will tell you they have never seen a man play football as Roy Riegels played that second half.

May we likewise not give in to discouragement when it seems God is not coming through for us but play with all the more enthusiasm knowing that the game is only half over.  No matter what the outcome of this day, tomorrow holds the promise of God’s kingdom pervading all and changing everything.  That day is coming.

A Biblical Theology of Work – Part 1

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

oil on wood panel
oil on wood panel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been referred to as the Cultural Mandate.  It is a requirement from God of all human beings that we reproduce ourselves in order to fill the earth and subdue it.  God built a planet we call Earth capable of sustaining many billions of people and He wants us, commands us, to rule over it in a way that in fact does sustain us.  This requires work, effort on our part, to successfully accomplish the utilization of Earth’s resources in a way that pleases God and brings life to Earth’s population — us.

Before Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3) God gave them work to do (Genesis 2) that included taking care of the Garden of Eden (2:15) and understanding and overseeing the animals of this area (2:19,20).  This responsibility did not cease after man’s rebellion, but became fraught with frustration as the ground began to work against man’s best efforts to grow food.  In the process human beings developed systems for raising livestock, growing food, producing music and forging tools (Genesis 4), all of which were necessary for our health and development as divine-image replicators.

In contrast to the pagan notions of man’s responsibilities, God did not create us to be His slaves and do all His dirty work.  He made us to be presidents to His chief executive role, vice-regents to His kingly rule, and managers for His owner-operated business.  There are at least three implications to this Cultural Mandate:

  • We are workers under divine appointment

We are not independent contractors.  The work we are called to do is or should be determined by God.  We are responsible for knowing what kind of work would be acceptable to Him in faithfully caring for His world and each other.  We may say that providing prostitution, or drugs, or control over other people is providing a service, but it is not the kind of service God says helps His world thrive.  And of course, He knows best what will make us thrive.  Our work must be of the kind that furthers the honor of God and the welfare of mankind.  This is His world and we are asked to share in making it livable.

  • We are stewards of God’s green earth

A steward is someone who takes care of someone else’s property.  His or her responsibility is not to own it but to develop it for the sake of the owner.  It just so happens in this case that the owner, God, has made us partners in the ownership, but nevertheless, He is the principle owner.  So our work must serve to develop and utilize, not exploit for ourselves, the world He has given us.  This means we must use arts and technology wisely and lovingly to reflect the character of God and benefit our race (see Lessons from the Old Testament: Arts and Technology).  It must certainly mean that we do not so exploit our world that we make it less habitable or reduce its quality of livability.

  • The more of us there are, the more work that needs to be done

We were made to care for each other the way God cares for us.  So as we multiply we need to create better systems for caring for each others’ needs for food, shelter, beauty, clothing and protection.  Our goal cannot be personal wealth but public weal, the prosperity and well-being that we can secure for all people.  And though it might be argued that capitalism is the best system in a fallen world for such public weal, sinners always find a way to take personal advantage of even the best systems to the detriment of others, and those who submit to God look for ways no matter the system to help others thrive.

Are you a plumber?  You are helping me and our whole culture thrive.  Do you grow food, deliver and sell food, make clothes, sell insurance, pave roads, build buildings, serve in government, paint pictures, make music, heal, administer funds, advocate for lawbreakers, develop community laws, cut hair, raise livestock, put out fires or any number of other “professions”?  You are working as God’s appointees to tend His world and people in ways that make it possible for us to fill the earth.  You are so cool, because the part that you play combined with the part that I play and all of us play makes possible a relatively peaceful and prosperous life.  We are caring for each other under God’s wise direction, and that’s what makes the world go round.

For further reading:

What is the Cultural Mandate?

The Cultural Mandate

What the Cultural Mandate Means for Your Work

Video and Resources from Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City

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.

Ephesians 1:7-10 — Conversations with God

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ…In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

A third blessing You have blessed me with, Father, is redemption through the blood of Your Son, Jesus.  You purchased me to Yourself by covering my debt that I owed You with Your own sacrifice.  This sacrifice freed You to forgive my sins and is yet another evidence of the richness of Your grace. 

It seems there is no end to how much You love us, for You lavished on us this forgiveness, covering even the most vile of our transgressions.  There are some of us who were convinced that our crimes were too great, too heinous, to be forgiven.  But Your grace has known no bounds.

Indeed, to a population of trespassers who could hold their collective wisdom in a thimble, You gave an additional blessing of all wisdom and insight by making known to us the mystery of Your will.  How else could we have known the extent of Your love and that it was really ours to receive?

Jesus is the embodiment of this kind intention of Yours to fill us in.  He came to tell us about You and about the rescue available to castaways drowning in an ocean of sin and rebellion.  He began a new administration of Your grace that is suitable to the finalization of Your plan to redeem the human race.  Jesus is the sum of all things and His administration of Your grace is the summing up of all things in heaven and earth.  We are looking to this finalization of Your plan when He establishes His kingdom here.  I can’t wait, Lord!

Father, there has been much reflection on why You deemed it the right time to send Jesus, why that was the fullness of time.  it seems a history of rebellion and exile and restoration had prepared Israel for the Messiah.  The success of world super-powers like Greece and Rome in creating a need for and ability for speaking one universal language by most people on earth made preaching this fullness of times easier.  it does not seem that the world was any darker nor more enlightened than any other time.

But in Your infinite wisdom You considered what we now call 5 B.C. (or B.C.E.) the right time for the Son of God to take on a human nature and be born as a human child.  The uneasy relationship between Israel and her Roman conquerors set the stage for Jesus’ crucifixion.  And the rest is history.

It is still the fullness of times and the administration of the gospel is still in full force, but it seems we continually need a kick in the pants to keep our energies up.  I need constant motivating and I thank You for helping me along.  My daughter asked, or should I say remarked in disgust, yesterday, “Are Christians now considered extremists?”  I suppose we are.  May we ride that wave to glory, Lord!  May we be identified with Your Son, the extremist.

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.