Making Space for God’s Leading

Exodus 39-40

Exodus 39 43 NIV

Throughout history God has lead his people many ways. To a few he spoke audibly, others in dreams but he used the tabernacle to lead the Israelites. They set up the tabernacle to the very detail as God requested. After it was complete, 40:34 says

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 

God made his presence known and clearly began to lead the people on their travels. Whenever the cloud left the people knew it was time to get up and go. Whenever the cloud would stop the people would also stop.

Sometimes I wish that God led us today in such an obvious manner. I need fool proof directions just to get across town let alone the race we are called to run as followers of Christ.

Although it is not as obvious, God still leads his people. He still tells us when and where to go and also when and where to stay.

The tabernacle was a dedicated place for God in the lives of the Israelites. They gave of their time, energy and resources to have a spot for God in their lives. Many often claim that they want direction from God but have not made space for his leading in their lives. They have not made time or space for God.

After the ascension of Christ, the believers were blessed with God’s presence in an even better way than the tabernacle. God’s power, his presence, his spirit can dwell in YOU!

Will you make time and space in your life – for the glory of God to lead you where he would have you go? And further, are you willing to follow that lead?

John Wincapaw

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+39-40&version=NIV

Tomorrow we begin the book of Leviticus – chapters 1-4 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

More Than Enough

Exodus 36-38

Exodus 36 3b NIV

We see the builders start working on the sanctuary. They are getting the resources to build from gift offerings from the Israelites. They run into a problem. Although a good problem, still a problem. They have been given too much – and the workers cannot keep up. So Moses has to make an announcement.

After 15 years of preaching – this is an announcement that I have yet to make but would absolutely love making.

Moses tells the Israelites:  We have too much from the offering – we cannot outwork the generosity – stop giving so the work can catch up.

The whole nation of Israel is working together – everyone is doing their part. When the whole body works together there is more than enough.

Unfortunately, in the modern church, not everyone is pulling their weight. I know it sounds harsh and I may be preaching to the choir. But the statistics show that 20% percent of the church is carrying 80% of the workload. It roughly translates to participation, work and giving.

It follows along with the Pareto principle – which simply defined is: roughly 80% of the effects come from roughly 20% of the causes.

So if the church is functioning with only 20% of the people active and giving, think what it could do if everyone did their part? If everyone carried their weight, could the workers not keep up with generosity of the church again?

My challenge to you: get involved, help out, give generously and recruit others to do the same.

 

John Wincapaw

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+36-38&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 39-40 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Who Have You Been With?

Exodus 33-35

Exodus 34 29b NIV

After Moses destroys the idol he gets another opportunity to be in the presence of God. He actually was able to see the glory of God pass by.

And we see God’s description by his own account.

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

But what stuck out to me is how Moses changed after being in the presence of God. His face was so radiant it scared the others.

It’s easier than we might think for people to know where we’ve been or what we’ve been doing.

Many can tell you of my interest in chocolate. It started at a young age. My parents tell me of a story of when I was little and I snuck a piece of cake. My face was full of chocolate icing. I was approached about if I took a piece of cake and I straight faced lied – “I did not take the cake”. Despite my insistence, my parents knew where I had been and what I was up to.

Maybe it’s the icing on your face, the ticket-stub that falls out of your pocket, maybe it’s your extensive knowledge of a certain sport, or your church name printed on your shirt, but there are clues that tell others where you have been, who you were with, or what you’ve been up to.

Over time people notice deeper things as well. Because the truth is, whether we are aware of it or not, what and who we spend our time with changes us. Whatever you spend your time looking at, meditating on, and thinking about is what you will slowly, but surely, become. And people pick up on it.

So let me ask the question, “What have you been doing?”

“Who or what has left a mark on you?”

“What do you reflect in your character?”

And more specifically, if it is easier than we might think for people to tell where we’ve been, would anyone think you’ve been with God?

Do you show signs of having been in contact with him and his Word?
John Wincapaw
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+33-35&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 36-38 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan (1) (1)

Turning Away from God

Exodus 30-32

Exodus 32 8 a NIV
Since I was 14 years old (24 straight years, yikes!), I have scheduled a week of my summer to go to our annual youth camp – now known as FUEL. Most of my closest moments with God have come during those weeks. It started the first year and I knew I had to experience it again.
I would come home with a great passion and zeal because of that closeness I experienced with God. Sadly, when I went back to home/school/life, I was surrounded by a group that just wasn’t as close to God as I felt. They were often church folk that knew of and had experienced God before but just had lost that once held passion. Although I was just close with God, my passion was often quickly drained.
This is where we find Moses in Exodus 32. He has just spent an extended period of time in the presence of God on Mount Sinai. Outside of the Garden – it is an unprecedented closeness between God and mankind. We see how quickly things change as Moses comes down the mountain and reunites with the others.
Realize these same people: saw the 10 plagues, crossed the Red Sea (on dry ground), received manna from Heaven and drank from a rock. They were set free by God and had a unique dependance on him. In a moment of boredom, or impatience, we see them move on from their God.
Moses finds them dancing like pagans around a man made “god” – they gave out of their valuable possessions and made an idol.
God is so mad he considers destroying the nation and Moses is so mad he destroys the first tablets with the commandments on them.
Like Genesis chapter 3 (first sin by Adam and Eve), we see a favored group of people fail to trust and obey. Both times they rationalize their behavior (read: make excuses) and both times we see a loss of privileges and harsh punishments.
We may find it silly to worship a calf – but what do we worship?
We often only think of idols as the “big” sins – we know those and we would never do that, right? But an idol is anything we place between God and us.
So, I ask again: What do you worship? What do you show love, adoration and devotion?
The list will differ based on the individual. A few examples – is it the pursuit of money and stuff? Is it social media, Netflix/Disney plus or video games? Shopping, sports, comfort, food… etc?
Just like those who came before us, we have a habit of giving our worship to something other than the only one who deserves it. We are good at making excuses.
If you have made it this far, I challenge you to look at your life – remember the closest times you have had with God and strive for that closeness. Don’t let the things of this world put out your fire and steal that passion.

 

John Wincapaw

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+30-32&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Exodus 33-35 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Remember

Exodus 28-29

Exodus 29 42b NIV

I’ve been a pastor for 35 years.  I’ve pastored local congregations.  I’ve served on the mission field in a different country.  I’ve served as a hospice chaplain with people who have been diagnosed with life ending diseases and as a hospital chaplain with people who are very sick, or having surgery, or recovering from surgery or recovering from pneumonia, or have attempted suicide or are struggling with mental health issues and need extra support.  I preach each week to people in the nursing home and those who are suffering from Alzheimers and other forms of dementia.  I’ve stood at the bedside and prayed with families whose loved one is about to die or who has already died.  I’ve prayed blessings over newborn babies and people over 100 and everywhere in between.

The one common need I find over and over again is the need of the person going through crisis to know that God is with them.  Everyone goes through challenges and difficulties, losses and pains in life.  It’s not a question of, “Will bad things happen?”  or even, “Why do bad things happen?”, it’s more a case of, “When bad things happen what resources do you have to draw from to help you get through it?”

As God’s people, Israel was being transformed from slaves to the people of God who were to be a light to all nations, they were going to face many challenges on that journey of transformation.  They had a desert to cross.  They had numerous enemies to face who all wanted to prevent them from reaching the promised land, and once they arrived in the land, there were enemies who wanted to take the land away from them and turn their hearts away from undivided loyalty to God.

To get through these challenges Israel needed regular assurance that God knew them and that God was with them.  If you’ve been a Christian for most of your life, it is likely that you know these things already.  You know that God knows you by name, that before He formed you in your mother’s womb he knew you.  You know Jesus’ promise that he will be with you always, to the end of the age, right?  There’s no way you would ever forget that God knows you and that Jesus is with you, right?  (More about that in a minute).

The people of Israel were spiritual babies.  They were just starting to learn about who this God is and to get used to the idea that God would stay with them and not abandon them.  They needed a lot of reminders.  So, in addition to having a tent of meeting constructed in their midst (see yesterday’s devotion) they needed to know that they had representatives who would go before God regularly on their behalf.  So God set aside a group of men who would serve as priests.  They had a special calling and were set apart or consecrated to do the work of a priest.

Today’s reading describes the various pieces of clothing that the priests wore and the purpose of each item- ephod, breast piece, robe, tunic, turban, urim and thummin, gold plate, sashes etc…  of all of these descriptions in Exodus 28 one in particular stands out: “Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the Lord. (11-12).  So when the priest went before God, he went bearing the names of the sons or tribes of Israel.  This was a reminder that they were there on behalf of the entire people of God.  The message for the people was that the priests would bear on their bodies a constant reminder to God of His beloved people.

We might ask the question,” if God is perfect and all knowing, why would he need such a reminder? ” I would say that the reminder wasn’t for God as much as it was for the people to have the assurance that they were being constantly brought before God.  Prayer works the same way for us.  When someone prays to God  on our behalf, they aren’t exactly bringing new information to God’s attention.  God knows our needs before we ask.  One of the benefits of intercessory prayer is to remind us that we are not alone in the midst of our needs.  When I was first diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery and radiation lots of people were praying for me.  It brought me great comfort and encouragement to be reminded regularly that people were remembering me before God’s throne.

In Exodus 29 it provides a description of the rituals that were used to consecrate or set apart the priests for their duties of bringing the people before God.  Notice how the consecration involved sacrifices and blood.  In order for the priests to go before God on behalf of the people, their sin and guilt had to be covered over by blood.  In fact, every day, morning and night, a lamb was to be sacrificed to God. “For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made regularly at the entrance to the tent of meeting, before the Lord. There I will meet you and speak to you;  there also I will meet with the Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory.” (42-43)

This served as a constant reminder that God was holy and sinless, and that human beings are sinful and needed to be cleansed and forgiven of their guilt in order to come near to God’s presence.  As a result: “Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God.  They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” (45-46)  These daily sacrifices served as a constant assurance to God’s people that He was their God and that He was with them.

As Christians, we are not required to sacrifice a lamb day and night in order to be assured that God is with us.  Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  He, as the high priest and the sacrificial lamb, went into the most holy place with his own blood and offered a sacrifice that covers over all of our sins once and for all. (Once you read the book of Exodus, the book of Hebrews in the New Testament is much easier to understand… check it out).  When Jesus was first prophesied in Isaiah 7 it was said that he would be a sign that God is with us (Immanuel means God is with us).  In the name of Jesus we can be assured that God is with us – not because we are perfect or sinless, we are no more sinless than the nation of Israel was, but we have been made holy by the blood of Jesus.

Earlier I asked the question: “There’s no way you would ever forget that God knows you and that Jesus is with you, right?”  That fact is, we all have times when we forget that God knows us and that Jesus is with us.  This is a danger when everything is going well in our lives- when we are busy enjoying the blessings that God gives us and are on a roll, we can get so caught up in enjoying the gifts that we forget to worship the one who gives them to us, God.  It is also a danger when things are tough and we are hurting and feel all alone or worry that God isn’t answering our prayers.  When we go through spiritual depression or the dark night of the soul we can forget that the Lord promised never to leave us.  We need constant reminders, in the good times and the bad times.  That’s why we need to gather regularly with other believers to find encouragement and strength, so we don’t forget.  That’s why we need to regularly break bread and drink the cup at communion, to help us remember.  You and I need ongoing reminders that God is with us, that God remembers us.  We need to know others are bringing our names before God in difficult times, and we need to remember to bring others before God during their difficult times.  We may not have to wear ephods and robes and rub lamb’s blood on us, but as Christians we are all priests and we all need to go before God regularly on behalf of each other and behalf of people in the world, in the name of Jesus.  Don’t forget to remember, God is with us and God will never forget you.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+28-29&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Exodus 30-32 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan (1) (1)

In God’s Presence

Exodus 25-27

Exodus 25 8 NIV

                Places of worship come in all different shapes and sizes.  I have worshipped God in huge cathedrals with impressive pipe organs and altars overlaid with gold and stained glass windows.  I have also worshipped God in open-air tabernacles with sawdust floors.  I have worshipped God in a deer stand, at the beach, on a mountaintop and on a table undergoing radiation.  I have worshipped God in loud and energetic services with guitars, drums, and electronic keyboards and I have worshipped him in places with no sound at all except the flickering flame of a single candle.

                I believe God loves to be worshipped in lots of ways and in lots of places.  Even in the Biblical stories God was worshipped on simple stone altars, in burning bushes, on mountain tops and down in valleys.

                Israel was at a critical time in their formation and it was important for them to have a steady reminder of God’s presence.  God made his presence visible to them as they journeyed with both a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night.  As they continued their journey across the wilderness, God chose to make his visible presence known to them in a portable house of worship.  This place would provide structure in the midst of their community wherever they stopped to make camp.  The tent of meeting or tabernacle would be an ongoing visible sign that God’s glory was in their midst.  And God taught them how to be a holy nation. He used various symbols and rituals of sacrifice and worship as a way to drill home to them his holiness and the consequences of sin.

                How God chose to do this is quite interesting.  He could have simply built a temple Himself in the heavens and dropped it down fully formed on earth.  However, God chose instead to invite His people to become active participants in creating this place of worship.

                First, God began with their willing desire to give.  “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze;  blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair;  ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather acacia wood;  olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breast piece” (Exodus 25:2-7).   This was not a mandatory tithe that was required; this was an offering to be willingly given and received.

                Where did the people get all of these valuable commodities?  If you will recall, as they were leaving Egypt they were given many valuable items by the Egyptian peoples – one might say this was payment to help compensate for years of slavery.  They had these items in their possession already.  Those who were willing could give them to help create the tent of meeting and the prescribed worship items inside of the temple, which included the Ark of the Covenant, the table, the lampstand as well as the material for the tabernacle itself, and the altar, courtyard and the oil to keep the lamps burning.  All of the materials were freely donated.  The people of God used their own skill to build the items from these donated materials – carpenters, weavers, stonemasons, goldsmiths and others each made their own contributions to the creation of this place of worship.  In this way, everyone in the community that wished to participate had buy in to the tabernacle.  It truly was a communal place of worship.

                Once the nation finished their journey through the wilderness and took possession of the Promised Land, they would eventually transition from a portable tent of meeting to a permanent temple under the leadership of King Solomon.  However, this tent of meeting served them well for 40 years in the wilderness and many more during the times of the judges, and king’s Saul and David.

                For Christians, we do not worship God in a tabernacle or physical temple and we do not bring sacrifices of sheep or goats or bulls for an offering to God.  For us, the Church itself is the temple of God.  I am not talking about the building where the Church gathers to worship, I am talking about the actual people who gather to worship, and we are the Church.  Jesus said whenever 2-3 gather in his name that he is there in their midst.  There is no one single right way or place to worship God.  It is wherever God’s people come together.  Christian Worship does not have to follow follow a strict pattern.  Worship is where we gather to read the word of God, pray, worship, encourage each other and exhort one another to good works, break bread and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.  Blood sacrifices are not necessary because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and he entered into the holy of holies once and for all and gave his own body as the final sacrifice for all of our sins.

                One thing remains unchanged from the time of Israel in the wilderness tent of meeting and the Church today.  God still welcomes us to bring our offerings from the heart as a way to say thank you.  We can still bring tangible offerings, and we can still offer our gifts and talents as ways of showing God our deep gratitude for all of his blessings to us.  It is not all that important how we worship or where we worship, but it is very important that we worship and we bring our offerings freely to worship God.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+25-27&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 28-29 on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Transformation

Exodus 22-24

Exodus 22 31 a NIV

                Social transformation is often a long and painful process.  Think about efforts at equality within the United States.  The founders’ vision was for a society where everyone had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The Declaration of Independence expressed this in 1776.  Yet it took nearly a century and a Civil War to bring an end to slavery.  It took nearly 150 years for women to be able to vote and it nearly 200 years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make significant strides toward racial equality.

                How does one take a community that has been enslaved for over 400 years and transform them into a nation that shines a beacon of light to all other nations in the world pointing them to the true God.  How does an entire nation become holy, set apart for God’s service and God’s glory?

                This is the challenge that was before God, Moses and the nation of Israel.  They were leaving behind one type of structure, slavery, to enter into a new way of living.  They needed a new structure to help them know how to live.  They had to be taught how to live in community.  They had to be taught how to work, and how to rest, how to care for their neighbors, and how to punish wrongdoing that threatened to destroy their community.

                In today’s reading we see how God begins to organize and structure the transforming community of Israel.  He teaches them how they are to live and become a holy nation and a royal priesthood.  This transformation would not come quickly or easily.

                They had to be taught how to show respect for personal property: “Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” (22:1)  Those who steal must give restitution.

                They had to be taught to respect the family structure and to place their sexuality within proper boundaries: “If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.” (22:16-17)

                They had to be taught that there were severe consequences for failing to follow appropriate sexual boundaries: “Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal is to be put to death.” (22:19).

                They had to be taught to have empathy and to show kindness to strangers and people who were different: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (22:21).

                They had to be taught to have compassion for people in the community who had suffered major losses: “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. (22:22).

                They had to be taught to show respect both to God and to their earthly leaders: “ Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.” (22:28)

                They had to be taught how to live as a just community by not giving false testimony, and by neither showing favoritism toward the poor nor withholding justice from the poor (23:1-6).

                They had to be taught to care for their bodies and minds by getting appropriate rest. (23:12).

                It was also important that everyone be taught these and other guidelines for how to live in community as God’s people and that they verbally acknowledge that they understand and intend to follow “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” (24:3)

                Israel’s transformation from slavery to covenant people of God living a set apart life as the community of God’s people was a slow and challenging process.  It was painfully difficult, but necessary.  In the end, people failed more often than they succeeded to carrying out their assignments.  And yet, somehow, despite tremendous opposition from aggressive and hate filled neighbors, the Nation of Israel survived.

                As Christians, we can learn much from studying how God worked with His people Israel to bring about their transformation.  It is important to note that they were God’s people first, and then they were given this particular set of laws.  In the same way, as Christians, we become God’s people first, through faith in Jesus Christ, and then we commit to following Jesus and obeying Jesus’ commands.  We do not become God’s people by following laws, but by following Jesus Christ.  However, when we follow Jesus Christ, we do not descend into lawlessness.  Structure is still required.  So Jesus spends three years teaching his disciples how to live as the people of God who are called to be holy, set apart to be a light to all nations.  We complete the mission that the nation of Israel began, and we do so following the yoke or community guidelines as laid down by Jesus Christ.  The foundational teaching of Jesus is to Love God and Love our Neighbors.  That is a good place for each of us to start each day.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+22-24&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Exodus 25-27 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan