The Opposite of God

Obadiah and Psalm 82 & 83

Obadiah 15 NIV sgl

In yesterday’s devotion, one of four bullet points focused on making God the judge. In today’s reading, there are calls from Obadiah and the Psalmist(s) for justice to come from on high.  To be clear, we are not appointing God to a position He doesn’t already command, and we aren’t necessarily persuading Him to intervene.  When we implore God to judge, we are inviting Him to rule in our favor by having a life-contrast or dichotomy that would allow Him to easily see we are for Him.  We are the wheat. We are the sheep. Whether he intervenes today or not, ultimately, “Come” will be the words of invitation we will hear from our King inviting us to dwell with God in love and in eternity.  Conversely, we are all declared guilty for the first death, but we can be condemned to a second and permanent death if we are not found covered by the innocent blood of Jesus Christ.  Those who remain are against Him. The chaff. The goats. “Depart” will be the words of condemnation to those who made themselves a stranger.  There is no invitation.  There is no love.  There is no eternity. God’s ruling is truly sovereign. There is no room for shades of gray.

 

Although the following isn’t a joy-filling thought to charge the beginning of your day, we need to be reminded there is a place opposite of God.  Sometimes those who dwell there actively and openly oppose Him (Obadiah 1:3). In fact, there are people in this world who would love nothing more than to imprison Christians, outlaw prayer, burn down churches, and try to expunge the name of Jesus Christ from existence.  Sadly, this happens quite a bit across the world today, and I dare say, at an ever-increasing pace in the United States. However, we must also remember, open defiance and apathetic faith are equally punishable in the eyes of God: women and men who prioritize their lives by accumulating wealth, try to make a name for themselves, acquire dizzying intellects, repeatedly give into vices, forget to take care of those who are hungry, thirsty, or imprisoned, or many other acts not listed here that do not center solely around God (Psalm 82:3,34, Matt 25:44,45). Apathy, complaisance, half-heartedness, and postponement can place us in imminent condemnation of God as plainly as open defiance.

 

To not share the name of Jesus Christ is to annul his message. To not lift up the church is to tear it down.  To not empower the weak is to place them in the hands of those who would do them harm.  Where is the contrast in your life?  Are you living for the finite or existing for the eternal? Are you with Him or against Him?  Yes, there is a place opposite of God, but let us pray that God uses these words we read today to convict us, bringing us closer to His calling as good and faithful servants.

Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Obadiah+1%2C+Psalm+82%2C83&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 2 Kings 1-4 as we continue our journey through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Heal Our Land

2 Chronicles 6-7 & Psalm 136

2 Chronicles 7 14 NIV sgl

Solomon addresses the people of Israel, reminding them of how they got to where they are in regards to the building of God’s temple.  Then he offers a prayer of dedication of the temple.

In his prayer, Solomon knows that as great as the temple is, it isn’t great enough for God.  Yet he asks God to hear what is brought before Him in this house.

40 “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.

41 “Now arise, Lord God, and come to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
May your priests, Lord God, be clothed with salvation,
may your faithful people rejoice in your goodness.
42 Lord God, do not reject your anointed one.
Remember the great love promised to David your servant.”

 

God doesn’t have to hear us.  He doesn’t have to love us.  Yet he established a covenant with David that continued through the generations, that when it came to Jesus, was opened to everyone.  We should be so thankful to God for that!

God responded to Solomon’s prayer with fire and His glory filling the house.  And later, He appeared to Solomon.  One of my favorite verses is in this next section –

14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

I know this was directed to the people of Israel, but I’d like to think it can apply to us too.  Our land is so broken today.  I live in Minnesota.  These past few weeks we have been dealing with a huge mess of brokenness.  A police officer killed a man during an arrest.  Peaceful protests gave opportunists the chance to start violent riots with buildings being burned down, stores looted, people being sexually assaulted, kids going without food because the services that normally provide them with food are unable to operate amidst this, and much more.  And all I can think is how much our land needs to be healed.  And that is just in my little state.  I know there are problems all across our country, and our world.  If all of God’s people turned to Him and prayed, could our land be healed?

My comfort in this time is knowing that our land will be ultimately healed.  Jesus will return and the earth will be made new.  But until then, I do believe it is the job of God’s people to pray and to turn to Him and away from wickedness.

We’ll end today and this week with Psalm 136.

Give thanks to the LORD for He is good, His love endures forever.

If I counted correctly, that phrase “His love endures forever” is repeated 26 times in this psalm.

Thanks Marcia for putting this reading plan together.  What a timely reminder.  Whatever is happening in the world today, God’s love endures forever.

Come lord Jesus come.

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

 

Today’s beautiful and timely Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Chronicles+6-7%2C+Psalm+136&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Psalm 134 and 146-150 as we continue seeking God, and growing our Christian faith while learning to love Him and others better and better on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.   Now is a great time to start following along. Print your own plan (red link above) and subscribe to the daily devotion emails at https://seekgrowlove.com/

 

Strike up the Band!

1 Chronicles 6

1 Chronicles 6 32a NIV

As our Bible reading today we have just one chapter in the book of 1st Chronicles (chapter 6) – still in the genealogies.  This chapter is devoted to the tribe of Levi.  Levi was one of the 12 sons of Jacob and his descendants would be the ones God chose to be the Levites for the nation of Israel.  They were set apart for service to God.  They would be the care takers of the tabernacle (where people sought God), and later the temple.  From their tribe would come the family line that would serve as priests and the most holy role of high priest, which later Jesus himself would take upon his shoulders.

But, that’s not all – some of the Levites (those listed in verses 33-47) – were given the responsibility of temple musicians.  They were to play, sing, and make music to the Lord – to lead the temple-goers in their worship of the Most High.

I love that God created us to enjoy music.  I love the power of music – just read any article on music and the brain or music therapy – or better yet – listen to the nurse as he plays his guitar in the hall of his covid-19 ward.  Or witness the miraculous turn-around of the struggling infant when his big sister sings to him the song that she always sang to the baby in her mommy’s belly.  Or hear the band play as the Titanic sinks.  Music grips us and moves us in many ways.  Let music be a source that moves you toward God as you come to worship.

As our church has gone online during this time of isolation, I miss the community lifting their voices and instruments together in worship.  But even now, music remains as a powerful means to move us closer to God.  Look up the words to an old hymn.  Pick up an instrument you have neglected too long.  Thank those who have used the gift of music to lead you into meaningful worship.  Share with your family a song that reminds you of God’s love, character and promises.  Search for Bible verses about music.  Play worship music as you go about your day.  Research how many instruments are listed in the Bible?  Post a song of Christian joy and hope on social media.  Write your own psalm of praise – maybe you will even set it to a tune.

Music was a powerful part of worship long ago, it is still today, regardless of our situation – and it will be in the future as well.  I love the verses in Revelation where the faithful will sing in worship to God and the Lamb Jesus Christ as the Kingdom of God is preparing to unfold.  Let’s get started practicing today to be a part of that choir!  God and His Son are worthy of our worship!  Sing it out!

 

Marcia Railton

 

Today’s reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Chronicles+6&version=NIV

Tomorrow we go back to the Psalms – 81, 88, & 92-93 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

I found it all oppressive, UNTIL…

Psalm 73, & 77-78

Psalm 73 17 NIV

Yesterday we read the short short story (2 verses) of Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:9, 10).  He prayed.  God granted his request.  Remember, we don’t know the timeline for the life of Jabez.  Since he had requested from God the expansion of his territory (amongst other things) I feel it is most likely that this answer didn’t come with a snap of the fingers  -though God can certainly work that way when He wants to. I wonder if this answer was achieved over a period of time, with some persistence and wisdom and work required from Jabez.  But still – it sounds so simple and sweet. A fairy-tale ending in just two verses. Jabez prayed.  God granted his request.

But, what about the times when the answer isn’t coming.  We may be praying hard – with a good measure of persistence, wisdom and work, too.  But, it’s just not coming together like we thought a good God would do.

I think of Job and the 41 long, difficult, trying chapters of his story – before the final 42nd chapter when we see God finally shower Job once again with double the blessings.  It would be great to read the book of Job today to remember Job’s anguish – and God’s answer.  Or, you can read Psalm 73 – it is like a mini book of Job boiled down into one powerful psalm.

The author of this psalm begins by acknowledging that he knows God is good.  And, yet, he personally had nearly lost his way and his faith because of his own serious struggles while simultaneously watching the wicked prosper.  He saw boastful, callous, violent, evil men succeeding and growing in popularity and wealth, all while denying and even mocking God.  Are we sure this wasn’t written in 2020, perhaps during a Covid-19 epidemic?  Haven’t we seen and heard the same thing this week and shook our heads and asked, “Where is God?  This isn’t right or just or fair?  The world is too messed up!”  And we sink down deeper in our despair.   As the psalmist said, “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me…” (Psalm 73:16)

UNTIL…

Yes – keep reading!  The good stuff is coming – just like it came for Jabez and Job and the psalmist,  it is coming for you and for me.  Though it does require a little bit of action on our part.  The psalmist reveals the secret.  He wrote, he was oppressed UNTIL he, “entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” (Psalm 73:17).  Look to God.  Put yourself smack dab in His presence.  Intentionally seek Him out.  Change your focus.  Consider the whole timeline, the big picture.  Look into the future.  Consider the consequences and coming judgement.  Rest in knowing God has got this.  And He has got me.  And if you let Him, He has got you.

The rest of this psalm has beautiful passages of God’s strength, guidance, comfort, plan, wisdom, & protection in any and every situation.  Don’t miss the chance to read it for yourself and soak it in.  Which verse is your favorite in Psalm 73?

 

Also, don’t miss out on the powerful truths in Psalm 77 & 78.  Psalm 77 begins much the same way Psalm 73 did – in agony and despair.  And maybe you have been there yourself sometime?  Perhaps you have asked yourself, “Has his unfailing love vanished forever?..Has God forgotten to be merciful?” (Psalm 77:8, 9).

And yet – here again we will see a great turn-around.  In a few short verses he will be writing, “Your ways, O God, are holy, What god is so great as our God?” (Psalm 77:13).  What makes the difference?  What happened in-between verse 9 and 13?  Did he win the lottery?  Did he get all his wishes granted in the sudden snap of his fingers?  It had looked so hopeless.  What changed?

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
    the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

His situation did NOT change.  His thinking did.

What he was focusing on changed.  He rewired his brain, his thought processes, his attitude, his words, his outlook.  He remembered the good God had done.  He meditated on God’s work.

The anguish and oppressive depression doesn’t have to win, even in a situation that appears so bleak.  You may find yourself in the dark, questioning God.  You are not alone.  But, don’t allow yourself to remain in the dark.  Keep stepping towards the light.  You don’t have to wait until your circumstances change.  Instead, change your view.  Enter His Sanctuary.  Search for the good things He has done – in the past and today.  Seek Him.  Read His Word. Remind yourself of His power, faithfulness and love.

Marcia Railton

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+73%2C+77-78&version=NIV

Tomorrow we will jump back to 1 Chronicles – for just one chapter (6) as we continue our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

God is No Magic Genie

1st Chronicles 3-5

1 Chronicles 4 10 b NIV

When we began 1st Chronicles two days ago we likened the beginning of this book to a family reunion.  It was written for the people of God who were returning to the Holy Land after years of captivity and living amongst foreign people who did not worship God (which had been their punishment for forsaking God).  Now, they were returning and receiving a history lesson on what it means to be God’s people.  If we listen in, I believe we can also benefit greatly from this lesson.

In today’s reading our list of genealogies is broken up in chapter 4 with a passage about Jabez.  In two short verses we learn: “he was more honorable than his brothers”, “his mother had named him” – PAIN (in Hebrew Jabez sounds like pain), he prayed to be blessed, “and God granted his request.” (1 Chronicles 4:9,10).  Makes you wonder why we don’t have any babies today named Epidural?

Seriously though, I hurt for this man Jabez.  It doesn’t seem very nice of his momma to pass along the brief pain she felt at childbirth (I know, in the midst of it, it doesn’t feel brief) to her son to bear the name PAIN the rest of his life.   Can you imagine the jokes he heard from the neighborhood boys?  We also know it can be very painful growing up with less than honorable brothers.

It could have been a rough life for poor PAIN/Jabez.  BUT – it wasn’t.  Even though he had a few strikes against him in his early years, he knew to cry out to God.  And, perhaps because of Jabez’s honor, and I am guessing his heart was in the right place, God was ready, willing and able to fulfill his request.

Just what was his request?  “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!  Let your hand be with me and keep me from harm so that I will be free from PAIN.”  It is a touching prayer knowing his background.  Other versions have slightly different interpretations – I especially love the NKJV, “Keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.” It sounds so much more noble.  But, either way, he cried out to God and God “granted his request”.

Does anyone else get a vision of a genie, or is it just me?  Jabez cried out (with a list of 4-5 wishes) and his wishes were granted.  Poof.  Who wouldn’t take a God like that!  I can fill a whole book with my wishes and cry out to God and all my wishes will be met.  Never mind what God requires of His children.  Never mind the timeline and big picture that God is working with in His infinite wisdom.  Never mind the growth, compassion and character that develops in the midst of trials.  I want no pain.  I want it now.  Give it to me, God.

I would love to read the rest of Jabez’ story – the daily details, his life’s timeline.  I highly doubt that he never felt ANY more pain – never stubbed his toe, never lost a friend or family member, never needed to cry out to God again.  But, we know that God was faithful.  He blessed Jabez and He answered his prayer.

God wanted the returning Israelites to know the story of Jabez.  He wanted them to know of God’s faithfulness and the good gifts that He brings to His children who are honorable and cry out to Him.  Likewise, God wants you and me and the world today to know the story of Jabez.  God takes us in our pain and gives us blessings.  God is good.  God is powerful.  God is love.  God is faithful.

BUT don’t be fooled.  God is no magic genie.   In fact, He is so much more.

Our history lesson continues.  Keep reading, in chapter 5 (verses 23-26) we meet the half-tribe of Manasseh.  They were God’s people. God had already fought their battles and given them land.  They had prospered and become numerous.  Their leaders were “brave warriors, famous men, and heads of their families” (1 Chronicles 5:24).  It sounds so good.  It looks like they were leading a charmed life.  God’s goodness and power have provided for these people.  We see God’s blessings – but do they?  NO!  “But they were unfaithful to the God of their fathers and prostituted themselves to the gods of the peoples of the land” (1 Chronicles 5:25).  In their pampered state they turn from the One who has blessed them.  They leave their Provider and Protector to run after false gods.  They chase what the ungodly society calls good – rather than clinging to their Creator, the God of their fathers.

And, their foolishness comes with consequences.  They don’t get more wishes granted.  What they have is taken away.  God uses the Assyrians to remove them – to place them into exile in a foreign land.  They have earned themselves a Big Time-Out which will last several years, until God prepares the way for the exiles to return.

God wanted the returning Israelites to know the story of the half-tribe of Manasseh.  He wanted them to know of the serious consequences that He puts into action when His children flaunt their waywardness.  Likewise, God wants you and me and the world today to know the story of the half-tribe of Manasseh.  God has given blessings, how will we respond?  God is just.  God is powerful.  God is faithful.  His loving kindness requires our faithfulness, too.

Marcia Railton

Today’s reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Chronicles+3-5&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Psalm 73, & 77-78 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Blessings

Joshua 12-15

Joshua 14 8 NIV

Chapter 12 records all of the Kings the Israelites defeated in taking back the Promised Land to this point.  They did it with God’s help of course. Chapter 13 then describes the land that was still left to be taken.  But they would not need to fight for some of that remaining land.  God would do it for them.

 

A commentary on easyenglish.bible.com says, “This is like the Christian life. Jesus has defeated the enemy for us. He did this when he took the punishment for our sins on the cross. God still has other good things for us. He wants to give them to us. God promises all these things to us, my dear friends. So we must keep ourselves morally good. We must keep away from things that make our bodies or our thoughts morally bad.”

 

Thank goodness that Jesus removed the enemy of sin, so that we may be forgiven.  And he will ultimately defeat the enemy of death once and for all as well.  That will permit his followers to live forever with him.  But we need to be free of a lifestyle of sin in order to inherent that gift.

 

Verse 13 of Chapter 13 says, “But the Israelites did not send away the people from Geshur and Maacah. And so these people still live there among the Israelites.”  We know that God’s people had trouble down the road because they allowed traditions and religious symbols of other peoples to mix with their own.  They did not completely eradicate the things God had wanted them to, and paid the price later.  Similarly, we as Christians must defeat all of our enemies, namely sin in its many forms, in order to enjoy the full blessings of God.  Strive every day to do just that.

 

Encouraging verse of the day:

Isaiah 12:2

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.

 

 

Greg Landry

 

 

You can read or listen to today’s Bible passage at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joshua+12-15&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s passage will be Joshua 16-18 as we continue seeking God on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

His Law & Love

Numb 5-6 CainPicture1

Right at the beginning of chapter 5 we continue the theme of supreme holiness.  This helps me remember that chapter and verse separations are not part of the original scriptures. For me, sometimes using verse and chapter markings can hinder my Bible study because I can see them as walls dividing different ideas or topics instead of a continuation of an idea.  That being said, we see God’s holiness carry over from chapter 4 to chapter 5. He wants His people to be so holy that He doesn’t even want unclean people in the camp. Of course, this could have medical benefits as well, which I think is another reason God instructed His people to leave the camp if they are unclean (verses 1-4).

In verse 6 there is something that grabs my attention. The NASB translation says, “Speak to the sons of Israel, ‘When a man or woman commits any of the sins of mankind, acting unfaithfully against the LORD, and that person is guilty”. The word unfaithful is מַעַל (maal) in Hebrew. It is the same word that is used to talk about unfaithfulness in marriage. You will notice that the rest of the chapter deals with unfaithfulness in marriage. I think it is intriguing how God sees sin and idolatry as unfaithfulness in the same way that people see unfaithfulness within marriage. In fact, this is the premise of the entire book of Hosea. God uses the authentic metaphor of an adulteress wife to show how Israel acts towards Him. In God’s eyes, sin and marital unfaithfulness are one and the same.

Speaking of marital unfaithfulness, the majority of chapter 5 deals with an interesting situation that may arise in the lives of the Israelites. We are presented with a situation where there is a jealous man who thinks that his wife might have been unfaithful in their marriage, but there is no proof. No one saw her with another man; there is just suspicion. Now I think it is important to understand the world in which the Israelites live. Surrounding the time the law was given to the Israelites, there were other nations with other laws to deal with similar situations. Here is what the code of Hammurabi says about a woman accused of adultery, “If a man’s wife should have a finger pointed against her in accusation involving another male, although she has not been seized lying with another male, she shall submit to the divine River god for her husband.” This divine River god test pretty much consisted of her husband making her jump into a raging river and if she survived then the “god” ruled that she was innocent and if she died then she was guilty and her judgment was given to her. Keep this in mind as we go through Numbers 5.

If a Jewish man had suspicion that his wife was unfaithful, he didn’t throw her in a river to see what happened. Instead, he had to go to the tabernacle and see a priest. The couple would bring barley meal as a memorial offering and then the priest would set out the rules for the test that was to come. Essentially, the woman agreed to drink some water mixed with a little bit of dust and ink. A little bit of dust and ink isn’t going to have major adverse health effects unless there actually is some divine judgment involved in the situation. However, jumping in a raging river has been known to kill people even if they weren’t unfaithful in their marriage. This test takes the judgment out of man’s hands and squarely puts it in the hands of God to make the call. I know it doesn’t look like it at first, but this dust and ink water test is a major step forward for women in ancient history. No longer can a man choose to beat his wife or throw her in a river based on his suspicion. He must do the very public act of taking her to the tabernacle and allowing God to make a judgment. If you notice in verse 28, she is free if the judgment doesn’t come over her. This means the man can no longer bring this charge against her. Women weren’t treated this well in any other society on earth during this time in history. The Bible puts men and women on equal playing fields in value. God makes sure that His people cannot take advantage of women the same way other nations do.

Many people want to point a finger at the Bible and say that it’s misogynistic and oppressive to women. However, God’s law ensured that women were taken care of and given the same value as men. God doesn’t hate women; He made both men and women in His image. I think there are two major points we can pull out of Numbers 5. First, God sees sin as a spouse sees marital unfaithfulness and second, God values both men and women the same. God put into effect laws that protected both His holiness and the holiness of His people and He made sure the men of His people couldn’t abuse the women who are also made in His image. This is a true gift of the Bible. In every page, in every sentence, we see the heart of God coming alive to us. Even in obscure laws about obscure situations, we see God’s heart for His people.

Now let’s take a look at Chapter 6. The majority of this chapter is dedicated to explaining the Nazarite vow. A Nazarite vow is a special vow that a person can take to dedicate themselves to God. Notably, Samson partook in a Nazarite vow which is why he lost his strength after his hair was cut. A part of the promise to Samson was to keep his vow with God and once he broke that vow, his strength left him. If you wish to take a Nazarite vow, remember the wise words of Ecclesiastes 5:5, “It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.” The Nazarite vow is so intense it even bars contact with dead relatives which would make a person unclean. Yes, if you were in a Nazarite vow and a close relative died, you wouldn’t be allowed to attend their funeral without breaking your vow. This is how serious the Nazarite vow is.

The last few verses of chapter 6 are an interesting section usually referred to as the Aaronic blessing (Aaronic referring to Aaron, the brother of Moses). The words of the Aaronic blessing are beautiful and tender. God asks for Aaron to make known how much God cares for His people.  In these words we see God’s heart. Later, there is a great promise that proclaims “they shall invoke my name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them”. Ultimately, God wants us to call out to Him in all seasons. When we see Israel go off track in the Old Testament, God desires for them to return to Him so that He can return to blessing them. We see this in Matthew 7:11 as we are reminded that God is our Father.  “So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” Don’t these words resonate so well with what we see in Numbers 6?! Our God doesn’t change – He still loves us and wants to bless us. If God didn’t change in the 1,400 years between the writing of Numbers and the words of Jesus, then surely He hasn’t changed between the time of Jesus and our time now. If you are a child of God today, God wants to bless you and wants to take care of you. Take peace and find rest in this truth.

 

Josiah Cain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Numbers+5-6&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Numbers 7 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

Called – & Equipped & Planned – by God

Exodus 4-6

exodus 6 7

Anytime God asks a question, you should be thinking to yourself, “Why would God need to ask that question if he already knows the answer?” Here, Moses doubts that he has any ability to convince anyone that he had spoken with God. Then God asks him this leading question as if Moses should have known that he already had everything that he needed to fulfill the duty that God called him to. When you are given a task by God, you had better believe that he has already equipped you for the job. The staff is already in your hand.

 

The method that Moses is given of turning his staff into a snake is an interesting one. The Egyptians sorcerers already have tricks like this; they can perform a similar feat. God always has a plan and he knows the hearts of his audience. He knows that when Moses’ staff turns into a snake, no one will be surprised because they have already seen sorcerers perform the same feat. Then why would God use this method? This is simply the first of many signs to come that will change the hearts of the audience by degrees. This is the same method that Socrates extolls as the tool of a great rhetorician. The great rhetorician will not attempt to change a man’s mind by presenting him with facts. On the contrary, he will use his knowledge of the man’s heart and what is familiar to the man, even if it is false. In this way, you can slowly turn the man’s thinking towards your position by degrees, small increments. This is how I see the signs that Moses performs before Pharaoh and all of Egypt. In other times throughout the Bible, prophets perform different signs and these signs are more suited to the people of that time and region. If Elijah had performed the signs that Moses performed, he may not have been a successful prophet because the signs of Moses are too different compared to what his community was used to experiencing. If this is the case, what kind of signs might God use in our modern age?

 

Yesterday we saw some of the ignorance and incompetence of the Pharaoh, and again we see it today. When he takes the straw away from the Israelites and demands the same quota, he is acting as a bad leader. There are leaders like this who still exist today, be it our teachers or our bosses. The bad leader sees the failures of his subordinates and reprimands them by increasing their workload or taking away resources which he sees as a crutch. Doing this only makes their productivity decrease. The good leader sees the shortcomings of his subordinates and reinforces them in their areas of need so that they can be productive and produce good results. I don’t see Pharaoh’s action in this case to be cruel, merely foolish; he sincerely does not know how to lead people.

 

When God speaks to Moses again, he says that he has heard the groaning of the Israelites. What is incredible about that is that well before he heard their groaning, he had a plan in place to save them. He took the evil of the murder of all baby boys and turned it into good by allowing Moses to live. He allowed Moses to grow in knowledge by being raised as an Egyptian. Then He met with Moses to show him the way to deliver his people. This plan was set into motion before the Israelites even knew they needed saving. That is the power of a God who does not operate on our time. By the time we realize that we are in trouble, God has already been working to get us out of it.

 

Nathaniel Johnson

 

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+4-6&version=NIV

Can you believe we are about 1/12 of the way through the Bible already!  (Genesis and Job are big books!)  The Bible has 1,189 chapters in all – which means on average reading 99 chapters a month to complete the Bible in a year.  Well Done!  And, if you haven’t been reading every day – February is a great time to get started!

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Exodus 7-9 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan