Passing The Collection Plate

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Offerings didn’t originate with the preacher, but with God. Interestingly, God could have created all the resources a ministry would ever need to operate if he wanted to. He is God, the Creator, after all. Apparently, he didn’t want to. What he wanted was willing partners who would take steps of faith to sacrifice their own resources to invest in the things that mattered to him.

Offerings

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 35:4-5, 20-23, 29

This is what the Lord has commanded: From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering… Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence, and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to the Lord for the work on the tent of meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments. They all presented their gold as a wave offering to the Lord. …All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord freewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do.

Preachers get a bad rap for taking offerings—early and often. Surveys reveal that a high percentage of the un-churched believe there will be an over-emphasis on money if they attend a church service. Even believers—some of them, anyway—clinch their wallets a little tighter when it comes to offering time. Unfortunately, some preachers and televangelists have given folks good concern about getting fleeced.

Yet there is a place in the work of God for giving people the opportunity to give of their time, talent and treasure to support and advance the work of the Kingdom. In fact, the call to give didn’t originate with the preacher, but with God. Interestingly, God could have created all the resources a ministry would ever need to operate if he wanted to. He is God, the Creator, after all. Apparently, he didn’t want to. What he wanted was willing partners who would take steps of faith to sacrifice their own resources to invest in the things that mattered to him.

And when people—you and I—are willing to give and allow God to touch our hearts, as was the case with the Israelites in this story, opportunity and generosity meet to create a miraculous giving moment. Human willingness meets with Divine enablement and the Kingdom of God is advanced in defining ways that please the heart of God and delight the hearts of the giver. What happens in the catalytic moment is what Jesus said would happen: It is better to give than receive. (Acts 20:35)

Arguably there is no more impactful way to partner with the Almighty than by joyfully, willingly and sacrificially giving to his work. It is worship—it honors God with your trust at the most costly level. And it unties his hands to bless you, the giver, with divine abundance—the giver becomes a conduit: the more you give, the more God gives you to give. Generous, joyful Kingdom givers get caught in a cycle of Divine generosity—and there is nary a more beautiful things.

Yes, I know: I’m a preacher who just wants more money. Right? No, wrong! I just want to see God’s abundance unleashed in your life through the joy of generous giving. Just try it, and see if it doesn’t work.

Legend has it that a man was lost in the desert. He’d wandered for days and was near death from thirst. He stumbled on a dilapidated, deserted shack. An old pump was in the yard, likely useless, but he was dying, so he starting furiously pumping. All he got was squeaks and dust.

He was about to give up when he saw a jar nearby. A note was attached, and it still had a little water. It said, “Use the water in this jar to prime the pump.” He suddenly faced a decision: Drink the water in the jar and live a few more hours or put faith in the note and hope for a flow of life-giving water. Then he decided to hedge his bet, so he poured in some in, kept some back, and began to pump. All he got was just a dribble, but there was hope! So he poured in all the water and began pumping. And soon there was all the water he could want.

When he’d fully satisfied his thirst, he filled the jar back up and added to the note, “Believe me, it really works, but you’ve to give it all you’ve got!”

Going Deeper With God: Try it! Believe me, it really works. And if you don’t believe me, at least believe God. In his own words, he says to you, “Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (Malachi 3:10)

Pass

The Radiant Face of Your Pastor

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Moses was tasked with leading a people, some of whom didn’t want to follow, others who were jealous of him, and some who just didn’t like him or his style of leading. But God gave Moses a gift to fulfill his high call: the dramatic Presence of God himself. As a result, the glory of the Lord lit up Moses’ face whenever he returned to the people from the Lord’s presence. Most pastors don’t expect something that dramatic, but they do crave God’s approval as they stand before their people. Without that, they’ve got nothing.

Radiant Face of Moses

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 34:29-30,35

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him…they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.

Most of the direct interaction pastors have with the people of their church is quite positive and appreciative. Those who are upset and who do not appreciate their pastor’s leadership style or his ministerial abilities don’t usually speak to the pastor directly—which is certainly the Biblical approach to handling differences—they tell other people. Pastors usually hear of it either second or third hand, or after the fact when those who are disgruntled have landed in another church.

This is, undoubtedly, the most disheartening thing that the pastor faces. Don’t let your pastor kid you: he takes it personally. (I realize your spiritual leader may be a woman, but just for the sake of discussion, let me use the masculine pronoun to refer to your pastor.) It gnaws at his insecurities, shakes his confidence in his abilities, discourages his spirit, frustrates his vision, and if all that weren’t enough, it hurts his feelings. Yes, pastors have feelings just like you. I know all of this because I am a pastor, and because I interact with enough of them to know this is true.

Is the challenge the pastor faces any different than the one Moses faced? He was tasked with leading a people, some of whom didn’t want to follow, others who were jealous of him, and some who just didn’t like him or his style of leading. But God gave Moses some special gifts to fulfill his high call: miracles, Divine interventions, the dramatic Presence of God himself, and in this case, the glory of the Lord that lit up Moses’ face whenever he would return to the people from the Lord’s presence.

Most pastors I know don’t expect something that dramatic—neither do I. But we do crave some sort of Divine aide that will indicate the Lord’s approval as we stand before our people. Our only qualification to lead is God’s anointing upon our life and ministry. Without that, we’ve got nothing.

What is interesting to note is that even though Moses had these Divine displays of affirmation on his résumé, there were still those who resisted and rejected his leadership. I guess it happens to the best of them—and I guess I, and every other spiritual leader, have to steel ourselves against the insecurities, oppositions and rejections that will assault our leadership at one time or another.

But at the end of the day, for most of the pastors I know, including me, the privilege of representing God to the people and the people to God is more than enough to make up for any slight, oversight, or personal inconvenience we may experience.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Going Deeper With God: Here is a prayer you might consider lifting up to God on behalf of your spiritual leader: “Dear Father, I am not asking for you to make my pastor’s face to glow like Moses. But Lord, it is true that my leader cannot fulfill his Divine calling to lead me and my fellow believers to the victories you have destined our church to achieve without your visible anointing and favor upon his life. So I ask that you would put your hand on him in a special way. Cleanse him that he might contain your holy favor and purify his motives that he might handle your blessing and anointing as a sacred trust. And fill him with the Moses-like enabling Presence that your people will be inspired to follow. Cause your Presence to go before him…let your hand be with him…expand his territory…bless him indeed…and cause his life to expended for your glory and honor.”

Knowing The God Who Wants To Be Known

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

To ask God that you might know him is a request that pleases his heart! After all, that is the reason he created you; that is why you exist. God himself says in Hosea 6:6, “For I desire…the knowledge of God [from you] more than burnt offerings.” That should be your chief aim in life. To know God who wants to be known is truly the sweetest nectar of life.

Know God

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 33:11

The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.

If I could choose an epitaph that described my life, it would be this: “The Lord would speak to Ray Noah face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” But is that really possible for a human being?

It was for Moses! If anyone ever really knew God, if a human being ever experienced an extraordinarily intimate revelation of God, if a man ever truly had a close personal friendship with God, it was Moses.

But Moses didn’t always have this kind of relationship with God. If you were to review Moses’ life, you would be reminded that in his first forty years, Moses knew a lot about God. He was born to Hebrew parents, but raised in the lap of luxury in the Egyptian palace as one of Pharaoh’s sons—he was a prince of Egypt. Moses knew about God through his heritage, but there is no indication of a walk with God characterized by love and obedience. In fact, it appears Moses was somewhat indifferent to God.

But then Moses tried to play God and killed an Egyptian, and he had to flee the palace to the backside of the Sinai Desert, where he lived as a fugitive for the next forty years until he met God at the burning bush. And during these four decades, Moses unlearned everything he knew about God in the first forty years. It was a desert experience—literally and spiritually—where Moses knew nothing but the silence of God. God had enrolled Moses in the University of the Desert—the Graduate School of Sinai—where he trained Moses in the curricula of solitude, monotony and failure.

But then came the burning bush, which marked the beginning of the final forty years of Moses’ life. And in this period, he came to know and experience God the way we want to know and experience him: In his power and glory. Moses, unlike any other man, experienced first hand every attribute of God a human being could possibly experience: God’s omnipotence—that he is all-powerful; his omniscience—that he is all-wise and knowing; his omnipresence—that he is everywhere at all times; his Divine nature—that is, his justice, righteousness, holiness, and incomparable greatness.

What more could a human being want? Yet that wasn’t enough. Moses didn’t just want to know about God, he wasn’t satisfied with seeing the evidence of God’s activity. He wanted more:

If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so that I may know you and continue to find favor with you…Now show me your glory. (Exodus 33:13,18)

You’ve got to admire Moses’ boldness, audacity and greediness for God! Here is what he’s really asking: “God, I want to know you…your character…your nature…what makes you tick. I want to enter into the deepest dimension of intimacy with the Almighty that’s possible for one human being.”

Amazingly, God obliged this big, audacious request—he revealed himself fully to Moses. (Exodus 33:14-23) Now this doesn’t simply tell us something about Moses, it mostly reveals something vitally important about God: God wants us to know how much he wants to be known.

He has made himself knowable. He is not some unapproachable deity way out there in a galaxy far, far away. He is the God who is there, the God who is near, the God who will reveal himself to those who long to know him.

What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him. (Deuteronomy 4:7)

God wants us to know that he’s near and that he is knowable: “I will cause my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.” (Exodus 33:19) In other words, I will let you know me.

To ask to know him is a request that pleases the heart of God! You see, that’s what we were made for: To know God. That’s what he desires from us. God himself says in Hosea 6:6, “For I desire…the knowledge of God [from you] more than burnt offerings.” And that should be our chief aim in life—to know God—because that is truly the sweetest nectar of life. Jeremiah 9:23-24 says,

This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man gloat in his wisdom, or the mighty man in his might, or the rich man in his riches. Let them boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the LORD who is just and righteous, whose love is unfailing, and that I delight in these things. I, the LORD, have spoken!

Knowing God is the best thing in life. In fact, it is eternal life. Jesus said in John 17:3, “This is eternal life: That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

God has offered to let you know him—really know him. It’s the best offer you’ll ever get! I would take him up on it if I were you.

Going Deeper With God: Not only does God want to be known, God has made himself available. He doesn’t want you just to know about him, he wants you to intimately know his person. God is knowable and personable. Exodus 33:11 tells us that Moses knew God as a friend, and that he “would speak to Moses face-to-face.” Exodus 33:14 God tells Moses, “My presence will go with you…” Exodus 33:19 says that God “caused his goodness to pass in front of him and proclaimed his name in Moses’ presence.” God said he would let Moses see the after-effects of his glory in Exodus 33:22. What is God saying? “I want you to know me, and I will make myself available to you. And now you will not only know about me, you will see and experience my very nature and personhood.” That’s quite an invitation! Have you taken God up on his offer?

Not “How Could They?” but “How Could We?”

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

If even in the subtlest of ways we replace our devotion to and dependence upon God with doubts about God’s love, with dependencies on the arm of flesh and with doctrines about God that are not squared with the loving, generous, sovereign God of the Bible, we are flirting with worship of the golden calf.

No Other Gods

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 32:1-4

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.” So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.” All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

A golden calf! Really! After all that God had just done for them! Are you kidding me? How could they?

After 400 years of slavery, God delivered His people from the thoroughly idolatrous nation of Egypt. The Egyptians had hundreds of gods, and as slaves, the Israelites had been forced to build temples for many of those idols.

The influence of Egyptian for idolatry surfaced when the Israelites insisted that Aaron build a golden calf as an object of worship while Moses was on the mountain receiving God’s commandments. Keep in mind that God had just delivered them with miracle after miracle that no other god could come close to replicating, not by thousands of miles. The God of Israel had shown himself to be the one, true, covenantly faithful God. Yet Israel abandoned him in a flash.

God was so angry with their abrupt, blatant backsliding that He wanted to wipe out the whole nation and start over with Moses. But in one of the outstanding acts of priestly intercession, Moses stood between God’s judgment and the people’s guilt to save the day. Yet Moses ordered the slaughter of those who had led the way and for those who openly participated in this gross spiritual fornication.

That is when the tribe of Levi rose up and executed 3,000 idolaters that day with the sword. God’s subsequent choice of the Levites to serve as priests may have been rooted in their response to help Moses destroy idolatry among the people. And that became one of the priest’s duties in perpetuity—then and now in the pastoral priesthood: to keep the people out of idolatry while keeping them locked into the exclusive worship of Yahweh.

Tragically, over time, after Israel became a strong nation, they again became infested with idolatry, and at times, even the Levitical priests joined the people in the worship of idols. There came the day when idolatry was even practiced in the very Temple of God.

And the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray, who strayed away from Me after their idols, shall bear their iniquity. Because they ministered to them before their idols and caused the house of Israel to fall into iniquity, therefore I have raised My hand in an oath against them that they shall bear their iniquity. (Ezekiel 44:10, 12)

Now if you are like me, the question I have, in light of all that God had just orchestrated on behalf of his people—miracle after miracle—is “how could they?” Yet don’t we, too, quickly desert the worship of God to rely on other sources for our safety, provision and happiness? Think of false god after false god Israel fell for—and in a less obvious way, we fall for as well. Here are some of the gods back then, and how we subtly worship them today:

There was Dagon, who was viewed as the god of vegetation. The Philistines worshiped him as a god of provision. His help was sought to ensure a bountiful harvest. We must realize that we do not worship God primarily for the purpose of receiving his blessings. If our loyalty to him is mostly so that we can get something from him, then we are in real danger of trading our revelation of God for a concept of Dagon.

Then there was Baal, who was considered to be the son of Dagon. Baal was a chief god of the Philistines and he was considered to be unpredictable and unreliable. Most famously, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest to see who was the true God;, and the sign of the true God would be the one who answered by fire. Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal as they beseeched their reluctant god to answer and prove himself. The prophet mocked Baal’s unpredictability and unreliability for doing only what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it—which was never. Sometimes we drift into that opinion of God, too, when he doesn’t’ answer when we want and in the way we want. That is flirting with idolatry. God is sovereign and he does as he pleases, but he also mercifully invites us to petition him through expectant, persistent prayer in trust that he is reliable and always acts on the promise of his Word in response to our asking.

There was Ashtoreth, the lone goddess of the four Philistine gods who was considered to be the spouse of Baal. She was the goddess of sex and fertility. She was identified with the Egyptian deity Isis and also with the Greco- Roman sex-deities of Aphrodite and Venus. Need I make application to our cultures infatuation with the goddess of elicit sex. Unlike Israel, we must be careful as believers not to allow our minds to become polluted with a preoccupation with sexual lust and salacious behavior.

Finally, Beelzebub was known, interestingly, as the god who creates and sustains wounds. Jesus called him the prince of demons, clearly identifying him with Satan. Beelzebub means, “the lord of the flies,” an appropriate title for the work of demons. This is a disturbing picture in the natural realm of what the disgusting devil likes to do in the spiritual realm. Just as flies are drawn to open wounds and cuts, so demons are drawn to the open wounds in our hearts. When we allow the hurts of our hearts to fester and go unhealed, we are prime targets for the demonic to work through the idolatrous attitudes of bitterness, un-forgiveness and victimization.

Maybe you think I am stretching the application of Old Testament idolatry a little too far here, but just think about it. Whenever we replace our devotion to and dependence on God, even in the most subtle or self-justifiable ways, with doubts about God’s love, with dependencies on the arm of flesh, with doctrines about God that are not squared with the loving, faithful, sovereign God of the Bible, we are flirting with worship of the golden calf. As Becky Manley Pippert said,

Whatever controls us is our lord. The person who seeks power is controlled by power. The person who seeks acceptance is controlled by acceptance. We do not control ourselves. We are controlled by the lord of our lives.

Who or what is god of your life? Make sure it is the only one and true God!

Going Deeper With God: Whenever you find yourself in response to your Bible reading saying, “how could they?”, that is a sure sign that you also need to say, “how do I?” The New Testament says, “these things happened to them as warnings to us upon who the ends of the age have fallen.” (1 Corinthians 10:6-11) In what ways might you be flirting with idolatry?

New Testament Christians and Keeping The Sabbath

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Are New Testament believers required to keep the Old Testament law—in part or in full? Christian maturity requires us to master the distinction between specific adherence to the law versus application of the general principles we can deduce from it. We must learn to distinguish between practice (the letter of the law) and principle (the spirit of the law)—and at all times, fulfill the highest law, the law of love.

Law Keeping

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 31:12-14, 16-17

The Lord then gave these instructions to Moses: “Tell the people of Israel: ‘Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. You must keep the Sabbath day, for it is a holy day for you. … The people of Israel must keep the Sabbath day by observing it from generation to generation. This is a covenant obligation for all time. It is a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and was refreshed.’”

Any sincere follower of Christ will eventually face the issue of what place the Old Testament law has in the life of a New Testament believer. And there are no easy answers. Those who legalistic apply the law in their faith, like Sabbath keeping or strictly observing Jewish feasts, have embraced an “easy answer” solution to this complex issue. I say that because obviously, they only apply certain aspects of that law, but not others. For instance, regarding Sabbath keeping, if you have read on in Exodus 31 you noted in verse 15 that anyone who “desecrates it must be put to death; anyone who works on that day will be cut off from the community.” Methinks there is some selective obedience to the law in the strict legalist camp!

Yet to completely ignore the commands God gave his people or limit them as only applicable to a small group of Hebrews for a limited time in history is to miss and diminish God’s heart that his law was to be as a perpetual sign of his covenant.

I think the most theologically healthy and honest approach would be simple to acknowledge the difficulty of this issue. Any easy explanation of the role of the law in a Christian’s life is probably incomplete at best; flat out misleading at worst. We also must admit that the Scriptures nowhere divide the Law into Moral, Judicial, and Sacrificial categories—which enables us to set aside most of them while electively embracing a few others. The truth is, they are one unit, and any divisions are extra-biblical. That doesn’t mean our divisions are necessarily wrong; they are simply man made ways of understanding the role of the law.

So when the apostle Paul says we are freed from the law, it speaks not to one part of the law but to all of it. Paul had no distinction of categories of law. Using the gold standard law of the Sabbath as an example, what the apostle set aside was “the strict observance” of it:

“So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. (Colossians 2:16-17)

In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. (Romans 14:5)

Interestingly, in Galatians 5:22-25, Paul specifically says that if you are led by the Holy Spirit, law keeping and law breaking is a non-issue.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

This is the heart of the matter for the New Testament believer’s posture toward the Old Testament law. In our example of the Sabbath, should we abide by it? I think Paul would say “no”, unless the Holy Spirit leads you to the observance of one specific day. Yet is there a Sabbath principle we must come to grips with? Absolutely. Here are some thoughts offered by Professor David Seemuth:

One does not violate a Sabbath principle and not be affected. Why? Not because there is a penalty associated with Sabbath breaking (that would be Old Covenant) but because built into the Sabbath principle is the preservation and nourishment of the believer. In fact, I think that is the primary issue. Any penalties for “law breaking” have been dealt with in Christ. But there are still principles of importance and preservation and nourishment for the believer contained in the Old Covenant. We don’t follow these because we “must” (as in “do this and live”) but because under the power of the Holy Spirit we are convinced of the Word given to us in Scripture.

So what do we do with the law? Again, there are no easy answers to this complex question. But Christian maturity requires us to master the distinction between specific adherence to the law versus application of the general principles we can deduce from it. Again, using our example, we must distinguish between the Sabbath day and the Sabbath principle.

We do not violate a Sabbath principle because there is a penalty associated with Sabbath day breaking—excommunication or execution—but because built into the Sabbath principle is the preservation and nourishment of the believer. As Professor Seemuth pointed out, penalties for “law breaking” have been dealt with in Christ. But there are still promises in the principle of the law for the believer contained in the Old Covenant that God intended perpetually for the good of our relationship with him as well as for the good of our physical, emotional, relational lives.

We don’t follow these because we “must” but because under the power of the Holy Spirit we are convinced that they are essential to the fulfillment of a law higher than the law of Moses, and that is the law of Christ, which is the law of love.

And when we fulfill that law of love, against such, there is no other law!

Going Deeper With God: I admit that this is a complex subject, and one that I am sure will evoke disagreement, but I simply ask you to think about the thrust of my thoughts: strict adherence to the law versus the application of the principle of the law. And here is my question for you: are there any areas where you are ignoring the spirit or the intent of the law that as a result, is restraining God’s benevolent intent in you life, such as in the regular observance of the principle of a Sabbath?

Keeping Straight the Holy and the Common

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Has God’s holiness changed since the time of the Exodus? Obviously not! We must discern in our time how to keep the holy things holy—a difficult task given that we have very few required rituals and regular practices that taught the people of old the lessons of holiness. Jesus taught us that holiness had more to do with the attitude of the heart than outward acts of religious observance. Yet God’s holiness still demands and deserves a people who distinguish between the holy and the common.

Holiness

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 30:36-37

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Gather fragrant spices, [grind it] into a very fine powder and put it in front of the Ark of the Covenant, where I will meet with you in the Tabernacle. You must treat this incense as most holy. Never use this formula to make this incense for yourselves. It is reserved for the Lord, and you must treat it as holy.

We live in a generation that does not distinguish between the holy and the common. We mostly treat them as one and the same. In an attempt to make our weekly worship of God comfortable and our daily walk with God casual, we have lost sight of his holiness and the fear of the Lord that grows out of his holiness.

Yet God was very clear with his people that in their worship, certain things must be kept holy and not turned into common objects or everyday practices. In the case of the incense, God wanted it reserved for sacred use because his holiness both demanded and deserved it. And in keeping the holy from becoming common, it reminded the people of the holiness of God, inspiring among them a proper and healthy fear of the Lord.

Has God’s holiness changed since the time of the Exodus? Obviously not! We must discern in our time how to keep the holy things holy—a difficult task given that we have very few required rituals and regular practices that taught the people of old the lessons of holiness. Jesus taught us that holiness had more to do with the attitude of the heart than outward acts of religious observance. Yet God’s holiness still demands and deserves a people who distinguish between the holy and the common.

Perhaps one of the ways we can honor God’s holiness and teach our children the same is to keep the day of worship holy. This seems consistent with God’s instructions in Exodus and apostolic injunctions in the New Testament teachings. We have “forsaken the assembling of ourselves together” by filling our schedules with a host of good things—soccer for the kids, golf for dad, shopping sprees for mom, brunch, football games, and on the list of compelling activities and invitations goes. But have these good things crowded out the best thing—to worship God in the assembly of his people?

Maybe keeping that time, whether Sunday morning or Saturday evening, or whenever your faith community gathers for corporate worship is one of those ways to keep the sacred from become casual.

Perhaps you can come up with some other ways—and as long as spirit of your efforts isn’t replaced with legalistic application of the law, your efforts will be well worth your while.

Going Deeper With God: Give careful thought to the holiness of God, and ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you may be treating the holy as common. Likewise, ask the Lord to help you to set reminders in your daily life to keep you ever in tune that you belong to a holy God who requires and desires you to be holy too.

Thank God For The Once-And-For-All Sacrifice

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

In Exodus, what we are seeing is the great lengths to which God will go to have a people set apart in holiness so that he can live among them and be their God at the most personal level. The sacrifice of animals became the intermediary of that holiness. But while that sacrificial system was meaningful to the Israelites, in the wider context of the entire Bible, it was just a foreshadow of a better reality that God had in mind: the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus.

Perfect

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 29:43-46

I will meet the people of Israel there, in the place made holy by my glorious presence. Yes, I will consecrate the Tabernacle and the altar, and I will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. Then I will live among the people of Israel and be their God, and they will know that I am the Lord their God. I am the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt so that I could live among them. I am the Lord their God.

To the modern educated and sophisticated mind, this bloody chapter describing the ordination of Aaron as the high priest of Israel, and his sons as priests, is strange at best, and abhorrent at worst. It doesn’t make sense, it is hard to read and it is next to impossible to draw any uplifting devotional from.

Since we don’t live in an ancient, pastoral setting, the slaughtering of animals even for food is something we don’t want to think about. I travel regularly to rural Africa to train leaders and engage in humanitarian activities, and it is traditional that on our last night in a village, a lamb will be slaughtered for a celebratory meal. Sometimes the lamb is tied up the day of the event right in the area where we are coming and going. We pass the lamb throughout the day knowing that he will be our meal later that evening. It is the hardest meal for me to swallow, literally, and one that on so many levels, I really don’t enjoy. I don’t want to know my meal before I eat it. Give me a steak at Ruth’s Chris, but don’t tell me how it got to my table.

We just don’t get it. And we just don’t live in that kind of a setting anymore. When I was ordained as a pastor many years ago, there was meaningful ceremony surrounding the event, but thankfully, it did not involve the slaughtering of a bull.

So having acknowledged the difficulty of Old Testament passages like this, here is just one thought that I do believe we can pull from this chapter for devotional use—and when you think about it in this light, it is totally uplifting and definitely a cause for gratitude. Furthermore, this application is truly the point of the whole Bible:

In this portion of Exodus, what we are seeing is the great lengths to which God will go to have a people set apart in holiness so that he can live among them and be their God at the most personal level. And he needed priests as intermediaries of that holiness. Therefore, to be those priests, Aaron and his sons themselves had to be made holy, that is set apart for God’s purpose, by the sacrifice of a bull. That was an act, by the way, that was to be repeated in the generations of priests to come. But while that act was very meaningful to the Israelites, in the wider context of the entire Bible, it was just a foreshadowing of a better reality that God had in mind.

You see, at just the right time in history, Jesus became our once-and-for-all sacrifice when he shed his blood on the cross. Our sins were laid on him in that exchange, and his righteousness was imputed to us. His blood became the perpetual intermediary in the exchange of holiness that is necessary for God to walk among us and for us to be his set apart people. By the way, not only was Jesus our once-for-all-sacrifice, he also became our perfect, fully empathetic, High Priest forever.

I would encourage you, after you have read this chapter, to re-read Hebrews 10 with a grateful heart as it so beautifully contrasts the Old Testament system of sacrifice with Jesus’ once-and-for-all sacrifice. Hebrews 10:14 tells us,

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

While Aaron and his sons had to lay their hands on the bull as an act of transferring their sin to the animal, and while that animal’s blood was sprinkled on them, thank God he went to the greatest length to offer his very own Son, Jesus, who

Once for all time, has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice. …For where there is forgiveness of these [through the sprinkling of Christ’s blood], there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 9:26, 10:18)

Thank God that he goes to such great lengths to make us holy.

Going Deeper With God: Read Exodus 27 and Hebrews 10 consecutively. Here is what I think will happen as you do: You will let out a shout of thanksgiving for Jesus!