The Best Part of Me

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The tithe—the first fruits, the first part, the firstborn, your first love—is what God wants from us. Not just in the legalistic sense, that is, as prescribed in Biblical law, but as the loving and organic response of our lives. That is the worship God not only demands as our Creator and Ruler, but deserves as our loving Heavenly Father.

Best Part

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 3:40-41

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now count all the firstborn sons in Israel who are one month old or older, and make a list of their names. The Levites must be reserved for me as substitutes for the firstborn sons of Israel; I am the Lord. And the Levites’ livestock must be reserved for me as substitutes for the firstborn livestock of the whole nation of Israel.”

The tithe—the first fruits, the first part, the firstborn, your first love—is what God wants from you and me. Not just in the legalistic sense, that is, as prescribed in Biblical law, but as the loving and organic response of our life. That is our worship. God wants us to recognize him, honor him and obey him through the enthusiastic offering of our tithe—and I am not talking just about money, but the first and best part of us, whatever that is. God not only demands it—and why shouldn’t he, he created us, chose us and has called us into mission for him—but God deserves it for those very same reasons.

To help us remember that we owe him the best part, and to give us a sacred process for acknowledging as much, God established the dedication of the firstborn as that tithe at the time of the proto-Passover in Exodus 13:2-3, 11-12, 14,

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Dedicate to me every firstborn among the Israelites. The first offspring to be born, of both humans and animals, belongs to me.” So Moses said to the people, “This is a day to remember forever—the day you left Egypt, the place of your slavery. Today the Lord has brought you out by the power of his mighty hand. …This is what you must do when the Lord fulfills the promise he swore to you and to your ancestors. When he gives you the land where the Canaanites now live, you must present all firstborn sons and firstborn male animals to the Lord, for they belong to him. …And in the future, your children will ask you, ‘What does all this mean?’ Then you will tell them, ‘With the power of his mighty hand, the Lord brought us out of Egypt, the place of our slavery.’”

The firstborn of the families of the Exodus belonged to the Lord to remind the entire nation that God had miraculously saved them from slavery. He brought them out of Egypt not only as a demonstration of his mighty power, which they were to never forget, but he had displayed that power to save them because he loved them and had sovereignly chose them to be he very own people, a nation set apart as his own. And they were to never forget that as well.

The firstborn of the Israelites’ animals were to be offered as a sacrifice to the Lord, but the firstborn sons of the Israelites were not to be killed, they were to be redeemed by the dedication of the Levites to the Lord’s service in tabernacle worship as a sacred substitute. Here in Numbers 3, two years into their journey from Egypt to Canaan, this substitution was worshipfully and ceremonially made: the Levites for the firstborn of the other eleven tribes.

So what does that mean for you today? Most importantly, reading this account is to remind you of the greatest substitution of all: the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son, Jesus, who was offered up as a sacrifice to God for your sins. You deserved death because of your sins—we all did; but Jesus died on the cross in our place. He was our substitute. Furthermore, the substitution of the Levites for the firstborn of the Israelites not only foreshadowed God’s mighty power displayed at the cross, it foreshadowed the reason he redeemed you from your enslavement to sin: because he loved you immeasurably and had sovereignly chose you to be his very own, part of a nation set apart as his own holy people.

That is why God still calls us to make an offering of the best of us—the first fruits, the first part, our first love—as a way to recognize that he substituted Jesus as an offering for us. That’s called the tithe, which is to be paid not just in a legal sense, although there are perfectly good reasons to observe that through a formal process, but as the loving and organic response of our life. God wants us to recognize him, honor him and obey him through the enthusiastic offering of the first and best part of you and me, whatever that is.

God not only demands the best part—and why shouldn’t he, he created you, chose you and has called you into mission for him—but God deserves it for those very same reasons.

Going Deeper With God: Find a creative way to offer your tithe this week—the first part of your income, the best part of something you have produced, the first tenth of your time, talent and energy.

Beware of the God

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God is anything but tame, and following him is anything but safe! It is a risky adventure, this journey of faith. Of course, total surrender to God will lead to incomparable success, significance and satisfaction, both in this life and in the one to come, yet there is a dimension to God that the Israelites came to understand through their wilderness experience that we don’t fully understand in our day: God’s faithful love cannot be separated from his fierce holiness.

Beware of God

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 1:53

The Levites will camp around the Tabernacle of the Covenant to protect the community of Israel from the Lord’s anger. The Levites are responsible to stand guard around the Tabernacle.

God is anything but tame, and following him is anything but safe! Of course, following him in ruthless faith and loving obedience brings incomparable success, significance and satisfaction, both in this life and in the one to come. Total surrender to God will lead us to the pearl of great price—no doubt about it. Yet there is a dimension to God that the Israelites came to understand through their wilderness experience that we don’t fully understand in our experience: God’s faithful love cannot be separated from his fierce holiness.

Dorothy Sayers, a brilliant writer and Christian thinker, mournfully remarked of our dangerous tendency to downgrade the fierceness of God:

The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore—on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand. True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites. He referred to King Herod as “that fox”; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a “gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners”; he assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the temple; he drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; he cured diseases by any means that came handy with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; he showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb.”

Neither God the Father nor God the Son nor God the Holy Spirit can be de-clawed, tamed or even contained! No matter how people may try, he is still fierce in holiness, he is still the Lion of Judah, he is still the Spirit who convicts of judgment and calls to repentance.

As the Israelites broke camp in the wilderness to follow their leader Moses to the land of promise, what God had been instructing them about at the foot of Mt. Sinai now needed to be lived out in their daily journey of faith. They needed to be reminded that God’s fierce holiness was not just a theology; it was a reality. That is why the tents of the Levites, the keepers of the Presence of the Lord, were to be arranged in a way that encircled the tabernacle, the house of his holy presence, as a protective hedge.

But protection from what? The fierce holiness of the Lord is what. They had been sternly warned that treating the holy as common would lead to an outbreak of God’s wrath in the camp, so this camping arrangement was actually a measure of God’s preserving grace. The enduring lesson here is that the presence of God is both blessing and cursing in the camp of God’s people. It is a blessing for those who treat his holiness with a sense of awe; it is a cursing for those who do not cultivate respect for his glorious presence.

The last verse of this opening chapter, Numbers 1:54, says that in light of the gracious reminder provided in this camping arrangement, “the Israelites did everything just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” They obeyed—at least from the start. But in the later chapters, their initial respect for the Lord’s fierce presence turned to apathy, and they failed to maintain a sense of the utter holiness of God. And in Old Testament story after Old Testament story, we are reminded that the blessing of his presence can turn to a curse when his people disregard his fierce holiness.

Is there any positive take-away from this sobering devotional? Yes! God wants us to live in holy fear—fear that comes from a mature knowledge of God’s fierce holiness and a healthy respect for his right to lovingly rule our lives. This fear of the Lord is healthy, whether conscious or subconscious, because it promotes an attitude of belief in, love for and complete trust of God. It is that kind of fear that is the best motive for living in awareness of his fierce holiness, and it is the surest path to the blessings God longs to shower upon us.

So beware of the God, it will lead to unimaginable favor on the risky adventure of following after him!

Going Deeper With God: Do you reverence God in holy fear, or have you tried to “declaw” your Lion of Judah? If you are guilty of trying to tame the Lord, then bow before him now and offer him a repentant heart.

Your Other Gods

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Do we worship other gods today? Could we be unknowingly guilty of idolatry? You bet! As Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God, your functional savior.”

no other gods

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 17:7

The people must no longer be unfaithful to the Lord by offering sacrifices to the goat idols. This is a permanent law for them, to be observed from generation to generation.

Goat demons—weird, huh! The translation I have used calls them “goat idols”, but in some versions you will see a footnote that says an alternative reading is “demons.” There is a possibility that this refers to the satyrs—an creepy mythical creature found in several ancient cultures that was half goat and half human. Every time I see a photo of a satyr I sense something demonic about it. You probably do, too.

It is more likely that what God had in mind here, and I say that reverently, because who can truly know the mind of the Lord, was an idol in the shape of a goat. The surrounding nations likely had such man-made idols, much like the bull and calf idols that the Egyptians famously worshiped. We are told that later on in the Israelite’s history, when the nation spit between Judah and Israel, the split-off king Jeroboam, “appointed his own priests to serve at the pagan shrines, where they worshiped the goat and calf idols he had made.”

You might be thinking, who would ever abandon their worship of the Lord to worship goat idols? Apparently, God’s people did! Notice the first part of that verse: The people must no longer be unfaithful to the Lord by offering sacrifices to goat idols.” (Italics mine) It is quite likely that when the Israelites were in Egypt, living in the land of Goshen, they adopted some of the worship practices of their neighbors who sacrificed to goat, bull, calf or satyr idols. The New King James version renders it in an even more serious, accusatory way:

“They shall no more offer their sacrifices to demons, after whom they have played the harlot.”

Unfaithfulness in any form is a sin, repugnant to God. Adultery is a serious sin, a blow to the marriage covenant between God, husband and wife, and destructive to the human family. Spiritual adultery, pardon my French—whoring around—is certain to invite the wrath of God. That is why, in no uncertain terms, he is laying down the prohibition to offer sacrifices only in the central location that he chooses in the land they will soon possess—first in the tabernacle; later in the permanent temple that was built in Jerusalem.

Spiritual harlotry was a deadly serious sin. So a statute forever instituted here is not merely a regulation about slaughtering animals for sacrifice, it was a built-in guard rail that would keep them from being lured to idolatry. You see, once they arrive in Canaan, they would be scattered through the land, some living a hundred miles or more away from the central place of worship. Rather than making the arduous trip to the tabernacle/temple, they might be tempted to slaughter their animal and offer it to God in their own backyard. But the temptation would always become to offer that sacrifice to a local idol, since that is usual the drift. To keep their worship pure and monotheistic, God therefore built in a prohibition against offering sacrifices anywhere other than in the central place of worship and only offering it through the mediation of the priests.

Now what does that have to do with you? A lot! You drift, too. So do I. That is the gravitational pull of our sinful nature. Yes, we have been redeemed, but we are also in the process of being redeemed. That means our sin nature, while being diminished by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, won’t be completely annihilated until we are finally and fully in the Lord’s presence. So that sin nature will find ways to cooperate with the devil in order to distract us from our unadulterated worship of the one true God—perhaps not with goal idols and satyrs, but with attractions, dependencies and loyalties to things that complete with God for throne space in our lives.

Have you allowed that in your past? Of course you have. And that is why you will drift in the present, if you are not careful (“you must no longer be unfaithful to the Lord”). And that is why you must realize that God alone must call the shots as to how we are to worship him (“a statute permanent law”). Maybe that is why, in spite of the current trend otherwise, the New Testament church was committed to coming together for regular worship in a central place (Hebrews 10:24-25) and following certain procedures in their corporate worship (see various teachings in the New Testament—1 Corinthians 12, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, etc.) Divine rules, contrary to popular belief, are not restrictive, they are protective.

“Playing the harlot” in our worship is a clear and harsh accusation, and perhaps it is even offensive that I would suggest that of you (which I am not, by the way. I’m simply calling for self-evaluation). But I think playing the harlot is more often than not a very subtle slide into worship that is more about our convenience and preferences than it is about maintaining a deliberate and faithful effort to offer worship to God in the way he has prescribed.

Who, or what, is your functional savior? Listen, there is only one God, and he has demanded that we have no other gods before him. All I am saying is, let’s make sure we don’t!

Going Deeper With God: Has your worship in any way become more about what you want than what God desires? The drift to self-centered worship is subtle in our world, so ask the Holy Spirit to give you a Divine check-up. Then make the necessary adjustments in your worship practices. God will not share your loyalty with another.

Was God’s Law Unfair To Women?

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Some Old Testament rules and regulations seem especially unfair to womenI, although men might push back by bringing up the joys of circumcision. Why did God require what he did? I don’t know; he is God and he had his reasons. But the ceremonial system for purification was actually a revelation of grace: a holy God was making a way for both men AND women to be close to him. Today, the ultimate outcome for what he asks us to do is the same: fellowship with him. God wants us to be with him that much! That’s grace!

Bible Fairness & Women

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 12:1-5

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.’”

I suppose many women would read today’s passage in Leviticus 12 on ceremonial cleansing and childbirth (among other women’s health issues that are mentioned) with a, “wow, that sure seems unfair to women!” And since we are talking about fairness, to be fair, I would agree that it sure seems women paid a heavier price than men in what God required of them—although men might push back by bringing up the joys of circumcision!

But again—and if you are following this blog through Leviticus, I might sound like at broken record as this point—God was teaching his people, Israel, what it meant to walk in holiness before him. Why? Because he had chosen them, sovereignly, out of all the people on the planet, to be set apart as his very own people. They were to be a nation of priests, representing a holy God to an unholy world. And the Israelites, fresh off 400 years of literal and cultural enslavement in godless Egypt, had to be taught what it meant to be holy.

Now as I pointed out in the reading for Leviticus 11, “while God’s restrictions may seem oppressive to us in our modern, sophisticated world, there is no indication that the Israelites felt cheated out of their freedom. They simply understood that they were God’s holy people, set apart from all others, as belonging to God. And that was a great honor to them.”

I don’t know why God chose certain laws and procedures for his people, and in particular, these rules and regulations for women, but he is God and he has his reasons. That is not a cop-out, it is just true. We can deduce some practical reasons and applications for these ceremonial laws, but at the end of the day, only God knows. Furthermore, these laws for ceremonial cleanliness were for Israel at that time, not for us today. Now before you call me a heretic, I would add that there are spiritual benefits that we must discern from the principles of the law. That requires the hard work of disciplined hermeneutics, but these arcane Old Testmament laws have amazing application for us today, which is the whole effort of this blog.

So let me bring this particular effort to do just that to a point of practical application, and one of the best ways I know to do that is to offer this insight from the Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible,

To us, the instructions seem complex; it almost looks as though God went out of His way to make it difficult for His people to get to Him. But the whole sacrificial system—fulfilled and culminated in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross—actually pictures God’s grace, since through it He provided a way for His people to get to Him. God designed this system to allow sinful men and women to carry on a relationship with their sinless Creator. God, of course, was under no obligation to provide such a system. Yet He had such a strong desire for fellowship that He willingly went to great lengths to make such fellowship possible.

Female or male, God wants you to be in close fellowship. His wants to bless you, use you and pour out his love upon you—both now and for all eternity. In order to have that, God calls you not to blend in with your surrounding godless culture. It may no longer be through a waiting period of thirty-three days or through circumcision, but the call to be holy is still in effect.

God desires you to be distinctly his? I believe that if you will honestly ask him, he will be faithful to show you what being separate and distinct from your culture will look like for you.

Going Deeper With God: In the light of this reminder that God has given such effort to make it possible for you to be in fellowship with him through the cleansing work of the cross of Christ, offer up a heartfelt prayer of gratitude.

The Glory of the Lord

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

As New Testament believers, do you realize that we have an even greater, more awe-inspiring revelation of the glory of the Lord than what we ever see in the Old Testament consuming fire of God? How so? In no greater, more dramatic, life-changing, ever-present form, God has revealed his glory in the incarnation—the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. Yes, we have beheld God’s glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Holy Fire

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 9:22-24

After presenting the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offering, Aaron stepped down from the altar. Then Moses and Aaron went into the Tabernacle, and when they came back out, they blessed the people again, and the glory of the Lord appeared to the whole community. Fire blazed forth from the Lord’s presence and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When the people saw this, they shouted with joy and fell face down on the ground.

I long for the glory of the Lord to be revealed! The physical manifestation of the sum of all that he is—the beauty of his love, righteousness, kindness, perfection, power, grace, mercy, goodness, and justice. I long for that in my personal times with God, and I long for that every time the spiritual community I lead gathers to worship our great and glorious God. My sense is that you do too!

After the dedication of Aaron as high priest and his sons as priests over Israel, after the sacrifices for the ordination were made, after the newly minted high priest had lifted his hands and blessed the people, the glory of the Lord showed up. And boy, did it show up! Fire blazed from his presence and the sacrificial offerings were vaporized in a dramatic blast of holy fire from the Eternal Presence. And the people did what you and I would have done—what others throughout Scripture did in the manifest presence of God: they fell flat on their faces in awestruck wonder and holy fear of the Lord. There are no words in the library of human language that would adequately describe the human emotions experienced in this moment, except perhaps, WOW!

The glory of God’s presence—that is what I long for.

At various times throughout the Bible, God appeared in similar fashion to his people. He appeared in holy fire to Moses in a burning bush in the desert of Midian. (Exodus 3:1-6) He appeared in a pillar of fire before the Israelites to guide their journey to the Promised Land. (Exodus 40:35-38) He appeared to Moses similarly as he gave the law on Mt. Sinai and when he revealed himself while hiding Moses in the cleft of the rock. (Exodus 24:15-17, 33:18-23) God’s glory also filled the tabernacle when it was dedicated. (Exodus 40:34) And later, the glory of God filled the temple in Jerusalem as King Solomon dedicated it. (1 Kings 8:10-11) The glory always appeared when the prophet Elijah called down fire from heaven on the false prophets. (1Kings 18:38-39)

That’s what I’m talking about—that is the glory I long to see. But wait, there’s more. Did you realize that we have an even greater, more awe-inspiring revelation of the glory of God as New Testament believers? How so? In no greater, more dramatic, life-changing form has God’s glory been revealed than in the incarnation—the birth, life, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. The Apostle John tells us,

The Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

In Jesus Christ, your personal Lord and Savior, the One who lives in you, is with you always, has inhabited you through the very Spirit of God, is preparing a place for you and will come again to receive you unto himself with great brilliance, power and justice, you have,

The visible image of the invisible God.
who existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
and through whom God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.
So he is first in everything.
For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)

Congratulations! By his grace, you have beheld the glory of God—the sum and substance of all he is: his righteousness, his holiness, truth, his love, his wisdom and his grace!

Going Deeper With God: Rejoice this day, for God has revealed his glory to you. How blessed you truly are!

Why Leviticus?

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Holiness paves the way to walking in God’s favor. Holiness opens the door to living in harmony with God’s people. Holiness creates the space to celebrate the wonder of God who fashions human beings into his very own people. When we get holiness right, we ourselves become a sacred offering—a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

Leviticus

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 1:3, 9, 10, 13, 14, 17

When you present an animal as an offering to the Lord… It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

For years in my annual journey through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, coming to the book of Leviticus was like my semiannual trip to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned. It was a necessity, but not one I took pleasure in. When it came to Leviticus, I endured it; I didn’t enjoy it—until I began to understand God’s loving intent in laying out in detail the role of the Levites and priests along with the offerings and feast in the national life of his newly formed community, Israel.

This fledgling nation is now camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai. They will be here for about two years for teaching and training and learning when, where and how to meet with God. Moses was their leader, their representative before God and God’s spokesman to them. He is the essential author of the first five books of the Bible, including this one, Leviticus. The title is actually derived from a Latin word that simply means, pertaining to the Levites.

Now understand that the book doesn’t specifically pertain to the Levites, although in a general sense, the tribe of Levi was entrusted with the ceremonial worship of God and the physical care of the Tabernacle. But in a particular sense, Leviticus deals with a certain segment of the Levites, the Priests, and how they were to guide the people into communion with God through a system of offerings, and to a lesser extent, through several religious feasts they were to observe throughout the year.

The key verse has to be Leviticus 19:2, a verse that really captures the heart of Leviticus: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

Obviously, from the verse, we see that holiness is the real theme of Leviticus. In fact, the word holiness appears more in Leviticus than in any other book, to the tune of 152 times. Now holiness may be defined in different ways, depending on who you ask, but from this book, what does holiness really mean, and what is the purpose of a book about holiness?

Here is the answer, as I see it: we were created in God’s image (which includes holiness), and were made for close relationship with him (which requires holiness). When that image was shattered and fellowship broken by sin, we were rendered unholy, left incomplete and in need of restoration. Levitcus is about that restoration to fellowship and spiritual wholeness and relationship through holiness.

How can that happen; how can an unholy people have fellowship and relationship with a holy God? Leviticus shows us the way. There are three interconnected requirements laid out in Leviticus that we need to observe to be restored to holiness:

  1. First, we are restored to God by taking care of the sin that separates a holy God from an unholy people, which is accomplished through a system of sacrificial offerings, described for us in Leviticus 1-10. (Vertical worship) Of course, as New Testament believers, the Old Testament system of sacrifice has been replaced by the once-for-all sacrificial death of Jesus.
  2. Second, we are restored to fellowship by worshipping God with our daily lives. We take care of sin, then we walk with God. Communion with the living God is the essence of worship; worship is the offering of everyday life to God. That’s why we read of purity laws and rules for living in community with one another in Leviticus 11-22. (Horizontal worship)
  3. We are restored to relationship with God through celebration. The last few chapters, Leviticus 23-27, give us instructions for the celebratory feasts these people were to observe. You see, an essential part of relationship with God is partying—celebrating God by remembering what he has done, thanking him for his goodness, and rededicating our lives for his purpose. That is what the feasts were for. (Vertical and horizontal worship)

The bottom line to Leviticus, and to all the Bible’s teaching on holiness, is that it paves the way to walking in God’s favor. Holiness opens the door to living in a way that produces harmony among God’s people. And holiness creates the space to celebrate the wonder of this God who is fashioning human beings into his very own people.

When we get holiness right, we ourselves have become a sacred offering—a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

Going Deeper With God: Think of holiness in terms of your worship—your vertical relationship with God, your horizontal relationship with God’s people, and your vertical/horizontal celebration of God’s goodness in the community of the saints. Now, does one of these areas need some attention?

And The Glory Of The Lord Filled The House

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Do you long for your church to be defined not by the style of music or the powerful preaching or the incredible programs or the cool café in the lobby, but by the presence of Almighty God? What would it take to set the right conditions for such a Divine intersection of our lives with his presence? Certainly, God’s sovereignty is a critical factor—he will show up where he chooses, in the way he chooses, when he wants to. But perhaps a key phrase that appears no less than 18 times in Exodus 39-40 is the secret: “And they did as the Lord had commanded.”

Glory of God

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 40:35-35

Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.

After all of the detailed construction of the tabernacle was complete—from the structure itself, to the garments of the priest, to the pots and pans used in ritual worship, the glory of the Lord fill the house.

Feast on that phrase for a moment: “And the glory of the Lord filled the house!”

That is the hope and prayer I have for every corporate gathering in the church where I serve—that every time we come into God’s house to worship him, call upon his name, and hear from his Word, that the glory of his presence would fill his house in an undeniable way.

I bet you long for that, too! Whatever church you belong to, wherever you worship, no matter what the style that defines your spiritual community, my sense is that you and others you gather with desperately long for the manifest presence of Almighty God as you come together. If you are like me, deep down, you don’t want the excellent music, or the great preaching or the beautiful architecture of your building to be what attracts people, you want it to be the glorious presence of God himself. After all, that is what we need most: to encounter the living God.

What would it take on our part to set the right conditions for such a Divine intersection of our lives with his presence? Certainly, God’s sovereignty is at play in this matter—he will show up where he chooses, in the way he chooses, when he wants to. And he does: he reveals his presence in gatherings under trees in Africa, in boardroom Bible studies in Hong Kong, in underground house churches in China, in prayer sessions in dormitories on college campuses. But I want that in my church the next time we gather!

But perhaps a key phrase that appears no less than ten times in Exodus 39 and another eight times in Exodus 40 is the secret: “And they did as the Lord had commanded.” I have a feeling that our slip-shod, overly-casual, low-expectations, anything goes, cheap grace approach to the presence of God these days keeps us from experiencing those deeper dimensions with God that we long for.

Perhaps it is time that we rethink how we plan our worship services. In all honesty, don’t we give more thought to how the people will respond to the music and the message than how God will respond? Of course, worship blesses us, since we were created to worship God and to fully enjoy him forever. But worship is first and foremost for God. He designed it and gave careful instructions for how his people were to approach his glorious presence in worship down to the smallest details. Graham Kendrick offered this insight, “Worship is first and foremost for His benefit, not ours, though it is marvelous to discover that in giving Him pleasure, we ourselves enter into what can become our richest and most wholesome experience in life.”

What if we began to list “for the glory of God alone” at the top of our weekly worship planner?

May doing “everything the Lord has commanded” become our first and highest priority! And may the glory of the Lord fill your house of worship this next Lord’s Day!

Going Deeper With God: Pray this prayer for a visitation of the glory of God in your church: “Father I long for your presence to fill your house where I worship. I pray that you would work in lives of me and my fellow worshippers as you see fit so that the conditions are set for your glory to sweep over us as you did in the Tabernacle of old. God, we long for you, we desire your glory, we need your holy presence. Come among us, I pray, and declare your greatness. We live for you; we are yours, so come and touch your people that we might never be the same.