On Our Shoulders, Over Our Hearts: Our Royal Priesthood

RockCitySkyBut you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. I Peter 2:9

Saying “Yes”

I think we sometimes forget our authority in Christ, we don’t fully grasp what it means to stand before the throne of a Holy God to advocate on behalf of someone else, maybe sometimes we offer up a prayer and don’t realize the weight that it holds. But I’d like to challenge you to begin to see prayer–your prayers–for the power that they possess, and realize, too who it is we are representing when we enter into the presence of our Creator God. I hope that by sharing a little of what I’ve learned about the Old Testament priesthood, I can show you what depth and power those prayers have.

This past week’s study brought us further into Leviticus (8-10), examining what it meant for a priest to advocate on behalf of the nation of Israel, this priesthood began with the person of Aaron.

Did Aaron know what he was stepping into? No, but I think this is probably one of the most beautiful parts of the whole story of the Isrealites’ journey. Aaron, from the beginning, was simply doing what God needed him to do. He began by speaking on behalf of a stuttering, uncertain man named Moses who was called in the middle of the desert while on sheep duty. It wasn’t glamorous and it wasn’t even conceivable that this man would one day lead an entire nation of people. But Aaron was available and he was willing to be a mouth piece, there had to be a great deal of trust in God that he heard from, initially, second-hand but couldn’t deny once He began to show his power in the signs they were to present before Pharaoh.

In following Aaron’s transition to priesthood, it is necessary to note exactly how human Aaron really was. It was he that built the golden calf while Moses was up on the mountain, it was he, along with Miriam who complained that God was speaking to him too, so, just like us, he gave into the calls of jealousy, judgment, and giving into peer pressure. But over time, God transformed Aaron, just as he is transforming us today, he loves us, and just as Aaron served as a high priest, we too are a royal priesthood. We don’t have to feel worthy, we just have to be willing. Say “yes, ” it’s ok if you cringe a little, or even if you’re a bit scared–it’s the best yes you’re ever going to say.

Preparing Ourselves

Clearly, Aaron was flawed, we are reminded of this when we see the requirement of him having to sacrifice for himself first, even before he could advocate for the people (Leviticus 29:1-3). But before we get to that, let’s take a step back and take a quick look at the priestly cleansing process in Leviticus 8:

1) v. 3-4: Gathering the entire assembly to the tent of meeting

2) v. 6 Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water

3) v. 7-9 He put the tunic on Aaron, tied the sash around him, clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him, fastening the ephod with a decorative waistband

4) v. 10-11 Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. He sprinkled some of the oil on the altar 7 times, anointing the altar and all its utensils and the basin and its stand to consecrate them

5) v. 12 He poured anointing oil on Aaron’s head to consecrate him

If we, as followers of Christ are a part of this royal priesthood, then like Aaron and his sons, we must be suited up: with the breastpiece, ephod, robe, woven tunic, turban, sash. To me, all bear a significant correlation to the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18: the breastplate (righteousness), the shoes (peace), the sword (God’s word), helmet (salvation), the shield (faith). We too, must be dressed.

Who Are We Representing?

Exodus 28: 12, “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel in the order of their birth–six names on one stone and the remaining six on the other. Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the Lord.

“There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.” (21) Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continual memorial before the Lord. Also put the Urim and the Thummin in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord. (29)

 What are the names of the people that are engraved on your shoulders and over your heart? Your sons, your daughters, your immediate family and friends? We shouldn’t be weighted down with this responsibility, but like Aaron, we must be aware who we are representing with we enter the presence of God, atoning first for our own sins, through the blood of Jesus Christ, then coming unwaveringly to present our requests.

The Lord, indeed, is our portion.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

 

 

 

Three Lessons In Leadership- Part II of II

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Yesterday we left off in Numbers 14, recounting Caleb’s leadership methods, join me as we continue today…

See, what Caleb remembered and what the 10 others selectively chose to forget was what God had promised, “I am giving you a land flowing with milk and honey.”

So, not only did these men contradict Caleb, they continued their frightful, “We can’t do this.” talk into that evening, they raised their voices, they wept aloud, they grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and count it, THREE times, they said they should have stayed in Egypt.

People, I’m not judging. I’ve done it myself, I’ve looked back, I’ve been Lot’s wife, I’ve been these Israelites, that rich young ruler…and Moses and Aaron did the only thing they had left to do, they fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there, Joshua and Caleb also tore their clothes and said to the whole Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.” He goes on to rally the people, reassuring them that THEY will devour these strangers and not the other way around, saying, “Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

The Lord’s anger burned against them and he wanted to strike them down, and yet again, Moses pleads on their behalf, saying that if the Egyptians see that Israel’s God has abandoned them, they will assume that their God was not able to bring them into the land he had promised. He asks, (14:19) “In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”

In response, the Lord relents, but there is a consequence and that is this: not one of those who saw the Lord’s glory and the signs he performed in Egypt, but who disobeyed and tested him ten times–not one of them will see the land that God had promised to their ancestors. I’m sure, upon hearing, this took a while to sink in for Moses. But God makes an exception for Caleb in verse 24, “But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.” Belief yields promise, unbelief yields wandering, confusion and unfulfillment, it is sickening to say the least. They are the most sobering verses I can think of in the Bible, Num. 14:34-35 “For forty years–one year for each of the forty days you explored the land–you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you. I the Lord, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.”

God tolerated their complaining, their sin, idolatry, shortsightedness. Over and over again, He proved that he was gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in great love for his people. Over and over, he gave them tangible signs of his faithfulness: manna, water from a rock, quail, his presence in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, but still, their unbelief ruled their hearts and God would not relent in this case. They would suffer the consequences.

Maybe you’re in the position of leadership right now, you can hear the complaints, the discontent, sense the duplicity of your follower’s hearts. Know that this is a season and it is the Lord who is the ultimate lawgiver and judge. If you know that you are following God’s lead, that’s all that you can do, just yesterday, I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me to do something, the results weren’t what I expected, and as I walked away, I could hear in my head, “You obeyed me, that’s the important part.” That’s all I had to fall back on.

Or maybe you are one of the followers who has found yourself complaining and as a result has become more a part of the problem instead of a solution. Take this time to repent before a holy God, who loves you and wants to fulfill His promises to you. Pick out at least 2-3 promises in the Word that have always been particularly significant to you, write them down and tape them to your bathroom mirror. Claim them because you can.

Three Lessons In Leadership-Part I of II

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This past week’s Bible study opened up on a scene of dissention. Here, in the beginning of Numbers 12, we find Miriam and Aaron complaining their little hearts out against Moses (seems like a recurring theme in the Israelite’s time in the desert, doesn’t it?) They start off scrutinizing Moses’ life choices: “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. Then they question his authority: “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” The Lord heard this, and was angry against the two of them. Verse 3 says, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” My commentary later explained that “humble” here meant “meek.” God came to Moses’ defense, because he does not hesitate to call all three of them out to the tent of meeting to have a talk, He tells them that typically, when there is a prophet among them, God would speak to them in dreams and visions, but this simply was not so in Moses’ case, Moses was an exception, “With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord.” He goes on to ask Miriam and Aaron, “Why weren’t you more ashamed to speak against my servant?” Leading me to my first point:

Lesson 1: Leaders Beware: People will complain, and when they do, watch the motivations of their hearts.

God calls whom He calls for a reason, for a time and a season and this is a GOD appointment, who were Miriam and Aaron–who are WE for that matter to question that authority? Yes, I realize that we need to hold everything, including people, against the light of scripture–just as the Bereans did with Paul (Acts 17:11). But we must also be very important to examine the motivations of our hearts when we do this, are we questioning authority because they have gone directly against the word of God, or are we questioning them because of jealousy, arrogance, selfish pride? My study shares this verse, Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Without a doubt, these leaders understand the weight of their leadership, even as a teacher and assistant in my church’s preschool for years, I understood the gravity with which I needed to undertake my role, as it says in James, “Don’t you know that we as teachers will be judged more strictly?”(James 3:1)

Lesson 2: The best leaders rise above the complaints and on top of all that show compassion to the naysayers.

After God had a talk with Miriam, Aaron and Moses, it says in verse 9, “The anger of the Lord burned against them and he left them. When the cloud lifted above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous…” It goes on to say that Aaron was horrified at this sight (probably fearing that he, too, would suffer the same fate) and turned to Moses to ask him for help–please?

This was his Moses’ chance.

He had Miriam and Aaron’s fate the palm of his hand, so to speak. Oh, there’s so many ways that this story could have gone, but what did Moses do? As the humble, meek man of God, he PRAYED. He pleaded to God to heal her. Ack, my heart dies a little here, because how many times have I been this same situation and chosen the wrong answer, “This is what they deserve, they are simply reaping what they’ve sown.” I reason to myself. But Moses, this God-appointed leader, puts aside any potential hurt and prays for his enemy before the throne of Almighty God. God does answer and he does heal, but not without consequence–verses 14-16.

Lesson 3: Leaders: Note that going against the tide will require you to dig your heals in and claim God’s promises. Here, I’d like to shift my focus from Moses to Caleb. As we move on to Chapter 13 of Numbers, we see that God asked Moses to appoint leaders from the 12 tribes of Israel to go explore the Land of Canaan, Moses instructed them exactly where to go and asked them to answer the following questions: What is the land like? Are the people there strong or weak? Few or many? What kind of cities do they live in–are they fortified? How is the soil–is it fertile? Are there trees there? Bring back some of the fruit from the land.

The report was a mixed bag: 10 said, no way, no how, these people are giants, and the cities are fortified and very large.

BUT, Verse 30, “Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

Come back tomorrow to see how Caleb’s faith transformed his fate…including some tips for both leader and follower…

 

Why It Helps to Talk About Stuff

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Leviticus 18:1-3: “The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.  You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees.”

Little A and I have had a few preliminary birds and bees talks, we’ve gone through 2 books together, there have been a few questions and some giggles, I’ve learned a 3rd grader’s terms for certain, ahem, parts, and, and being new to this education thing, I’m not quite sure if we’ve got to the right level of information for this stage, but at least we’re trying…This was a little more than I got as a kid.  Somewhere around junior high, I was handed Preparing for Adolescence and given the instructions, “Let me know if you have any questions!”

<Record scratches somewhere in the distance, music stops abruptly.>

Awkward with a capital A.

Contrast this to my mid-20’s niece who got married a few months ago. I can remember saying to her before she was engaged that she knew a gazillion more things than I ever did at her age about relationships–even after I got married.  Not shocking, tell-all stuff, just wise, discerning things that are helpful for every woman to know going in to a life-long relationship.  She surrounded herself with godly women, she learned, I know that she and my sister-in-law must have had discussions. She went into things wide-open, and she’s told me that she is learning even now.

I like to assume that my daughter has always known stuff like saying “thank you” when someone gives her something, or holds the door for her, but, no, she didn’t know it instinctively. She had to learn by instruction and she had to learn by yielding her heart to the process. Sometimes, more than other times, this is immensely hard. I don’t need instruction, I’ve got this. Easy as pie.  No worries.  <Splat> That’s the sound of me falling flat on my face in mud.

Saying “thank you” is a bigger piece of the pie, really.  It’s about manners, about doing the right thing at the right time and it’s about treating others how you would want to be treated.  Little steps.  And in the beginning of Leviticus, God started off with the “little” instructions, like how the Israelites were to assemble their camp in the dessert (centrally around the tabernacle) or what to do when something became moldy, or what to do when someone had a wasting skin disease, all seemingly tedious details, but they were all important.  God wanted them to live orderly, healthy lives.  And so, as we graduate from how we plant our crops in chapter 19, we move on to how we use our bodies.

Just as we see in the verses above, the Israelites needed an all-‘round rewiring. They needed someone to say, “What you grew up watching, witnessing all around you, that was wrong.  It was hurtful and will bring you nothing but trouble.”  If God was calling his people apart to be holy, just as he was holy (Lev. 20:7), well, then he had to show them how.  Laws like:

1) not having sexual relations with a relative: not your mother, stepmother, aunt, niece, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, or your neighbor’s wife…

2) no homosexuality

3) no bestiality (Lev. 20:10-21)

God uses strong language here: “Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out.” Lev. 20:22

These are all rules that God continues to want us live by. Over and over again, we see that God is a jealous God.  Why shouldn’t he be? He is our Maker, our Husband.  He wants all of our affections and attentions, and living in a fallen world, these affections are usually right in our face.  Even the things don’t look bright and happy and appealing and attractive, they are there too, Little A and I had a discussion about bad words in school yesterday…sometimes it feels overwhelming.

And so we pray, the Lord’s prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, for THINE is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Be assured, we are not doing this alone, it is God who strengthens us to stand, and so do other believers, by their testimonies and how they live their lives. For we are: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. ” I Peter 2:9-12.

Let us carry this with us, as we know little acts of obedience yield big results.

4 Ways to Trigger Jesus’ Faith

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My parents and I were trying to parse out some scripture this morning over the phone re: salt and light and for some reason my thoughts floated toward Jesus’s faith in God. I think it started when my dad mentioned Jesus’ holy attributes as well as his human ones. Jesus was the Word, but he still had to memorize it. Jesus, by nature, was all-powerful, yet had to subjugate himself to human authority: his parents, instructors, the government. He was the very source of all life and health, yet all around him people were sick and dying and calling on his ability to heal. He even got tired, became angry, was hungry and thirsty, all very, very human. But what stood out to me this morning was that faith factor. How else could he calm the waves with a word, call a dead girl, “just sleeping,” or deliver a man from a legion of demons? This took bravery. It took authority, and it took faith. How can we trigger this faith? By doing exactly what Jesus did:

1) Spending time alone with his father

2) By listening to what He says

3) By reading what He writes

4) By observing the things that bring Him joy

How do we practically do each one of these things? I believe items 1-3 are largely covered by reading scripture. That leaves #4: What brings God joy? We do. We humans do. I know it’s unbelievable when you factor in how terrible we can be at times. But He does. Case in point, He walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. He loved spending time with Moses, speaking with Him face to face, watching his face shine. I know he loved this (and us!) so much that he sent his own son so the He could speak with us face to face, so he could touch us tenderly on the shoulder as he offered us living water, he could break open pieces of bread and fish and divide them among a couple of thousand to make our tummies full. He could call our dead bodies out of a grave and he could offer us the very best wine at our own wedding. See, it wasn’t the super spiritual mountain-moments in Eden or at Sinai only, it was the mundane, the food and water, the touching and healing and the driving out of bad things to make room for the good.

One of my very favorite pictures is one of Jesus that I don’t see around much anymore, is a bearded man in a robe with a beautiful little lamb draped around his neck. Do you think that lamb could hear his heartbeat and vice versa? Most likely.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will carry the lambs in his arms and gently lead the ewes with young. (Isaiah 40:11)

Yes, Jesus is holy and just, and like him we are called to be holy. But do we have to be holy for God to start loving us? Absolutely not, in fact, I had this discussion with a little girl in our Sunday school class recently. She asked, “God love us when we do good things, right?”

Me: “Yeah, he certainly likes it when we do good things, but that’s not why he loves us. Think of your mommy and daddy. They love you without conditions. Even when you do bad things, they never stop loving you. Yes, they are happy when you help with the trash at home or clean up after your pet, or when you’re nice to your brother or sister, but no matter what, they always love you.

 Look! I have been standing at the door and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in and fellowship with him and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

 

 

 

Why Numbers Matter

FullSizeRenderHave you ever had one of those weeks when everything seems to come together? You’ve been waiting and praying so long, that when the answer finally does come, it’s mostly unbelievable.  It took me writing a letter of encouragement to a friend a few days ago for me to have my Aha! Moment (thanks, Oprah).  More on that later…

But I share that to say that the book of Numbers isn’t just some confusing text sandwiched between God’s Levitical law and Moses’ reinstatement that God must be #1 in the Israelite’s lives. It is an essential text for the preparation of God’s people.

At the start of this book, Moses was instructed to take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to count according to their division all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army. One man from each tribe, each of them the head of his family, is to help you. Num. 1:2-4. This census wasn’t a quick process,  I’m sure each male adult 20+ was standing there, scratching his head, thinking, Why the long lines, why all this precision?  Why the ordered encampment?  Why do the Levites get to be the ones closest to the sanctuary? Why?

Does this sound familiar?

Why am I having such a hard time finding a job? Why did my mother die so early? Why is my best friend no longer my best friend? Why does everyone else see to have it all mapped out and I don’t ?

Let me tell you a secret:

They don’t.

None of us do.

Because we aren’t the ones in charge, God is.

Isn’t the census taking and the tent arrangement and clan alignment so beautiful in light of that?

Because God saw the big picture. He knew what was waiting for Israel down the road.  He knew that Israel had battles ahead.  He knew that there needed be a way to communicate his rules and laws.

Yes, 40 years was a long time to wander in the desert, and time and again, just as the Israelites were tested, so are we. Will we stand firm?  Will we love him with all our heart, mind soul and strength?  Will we glorify and thank him, no matter what the circumstances?  Remember, James 1:13-15: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Consider this, we find that the total number of men eligible to fight in the army was 603,500, this was for an estimated 2M person population, this was over ¼ of their population, or a 1:4 ratio! To put that into perspective, our current armed forces vs. U.S. population is 1:318!  God was readying them, one person at a time, one heart at a time.  Now what was God doing arranging them by tribe?  These were slaves, they probably didn’t know how to read or write (I’m theorizing), what they did have was oral tradition, how else were they to quickly convey the laws of the Lord, but through speech?

Let me ask you something, if you feel like you’re in a spiritual/physical/life desert right now, wouldn’t you do everything you possibly could to find your way out? And even if that length of time isn’t up to you (which it isn’t).  Wouldn’t you do everything in you could to prepare yourself while you were there for the time that God does open up the floodgates, so that you won’t view money, relationships, success the same way again.  If you’re smart you’ll want God’s view on everything, because, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” 2 Chron. 16:9.  In light of this discussion on spiritual fervor, I want to introduce you to what the author, Bob Sorge, in “Secrets of the Secret Place” labels as spiritual violence: the intensity with which the last days’ generation will pursue God.  ‘they will seek God with their entire being, denying themselves, throwing off all entangling sins, in order to run the race with passion, purity and perseverance. ‘The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force’” (Matt. 11:12).

He goes on to say, “Jesus doesn’t respond to all believers alike. He responds differently to those who seek more diligently. We see this in the way He handled the Twelve.  Peter, James, and John were invited into some of Jesus’ most intimate and awesome moments, while the other disciples were not included.  The difference, I believe, is that the others held back somewhat in their hearts toward the Lord, while Peter, James, and John pursued Jesus harder.  Some of the disciples doubted Jesus, even after the resurrection (Matt. 28:17), and that reservation of spirit robbed them of the greatest levels of intimacy.  Those who had more were given more.”

No, we will never see the big picture, but we do know the artist who is painting it, and it should be our heart’s desire to trust Him, even in the most tedious details.

What small, tedious, repetitive task have you been assigned and have then seen how God used that for a greater purpose? I’d love to hear from you!

How We Prepare Ourselves for His Dwelling

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From Exodus 25-40

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Exodus 40: 34-35

 I begin with this verse because it has to be one of my favorites in all of the Old Testament. It is so pregnant with meaning, that, after 15 Chapters of precise instruction on how God’s chosen people needed to go about constructing a tabernacle for him to dwell in while they traversed the desert for 40 years.

God’s presence in this place, in very human terms, is like walking into a freshly prepared hotel room and just sitting, taking it all in: the meaning of resting, abiding, relaxing in a place that has been prepared just for you. And here, God is so happy, so delighted to be among his people, making his cloud as a sign to them, years before they will hear the words, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)  Here He is showing his people in no uncertain terms, a) how much He loves them b) how His own heart’s desire has always been, ever since the garden, yearning to be among us.

It’s just heart-stopping.

So what does that mean for us, I mean, what do instructions about a sacrificial altar, a bronze basin in which the priests washed their hands and an altar of incense have to do with us today? More than anything else, I believe that it shows our need for a Holy God and prepared hearts. It shows that without the sacrifice of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins. We must remember, that the tabernacle didn’t operate on bank hours, so to speak, the golden lampstand was always lit, there was always oil in it, there were always sacrifices being made. This was a 24/7 operation. A precise, detailed, careful day and night act.

How do we prepare our hearts for this dwelling of a holy God? What does it mean for a perfect Father to dwell among a people of unclean lips, hearts, hands? What does it mean to set up a sanctuary to our God?

1) We must recognize our sinfulness, our need for a sacrificial lamb and a way for us to cleanse our hands before entering into his Holy presence, it says in I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

2) The importance of presenting a holy vessel to God–What kinds of things are our hearts and minds fixed on? Well, I can tell you the things they should be fixed on: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:9

3) What we do is important to God–Please, do not mistake this last point as a statement that there is a way for us to earn our way to heaven. Scripture says that all our righteous works are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). But I see it more like this: God was very meticulous in how he presented his laws to Moses and therefore to his people (He is even more detailed about these laws in the book of Leviticus). These were not the 10 guidelines, but the 10 commandments and Jesus, before the Jewish teachers of the day, Jesus blew it all out of the water when he said this in response to the Pharisee’s question, “Teacher, which is the greatest command in all the Law?” Jesus replied, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus, we are sinners in need of a holy God, nothing we do or say will ever earn our way into your presence and yet, you are there, always waiting, knocking, always steady. Help us to accept your gift of grace so that you can dwell among us.

A Manna Prayer

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Taken from Exodus 16

And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. Exodus 16: 18

Lord Jesus, help me accept what you have given me in gratitude. The food that you lay out each morning, whether it be the same or different, let me view it as directly from your hand.

Lord, help me not to be greedy, to try and collect more than what is my fair share, because truly, whatever is not used is just wasted.

Lord, help me to honor the Sabbath, to stop from my labor on the 7th day and to know, to practice and to meditate on the thought that rest is worship.

Lord, continually remind me that you are my promise keeper, that if you told me that you will supply my food every morning, then help me to trust that you will continue to do it, that it is a gift, I have only to gather it…and just like you did for the Israelites you’ll provide it for 40 years–or more.

Lord, help me to preserve the manna, the memory of how you have always given me everything I have ever needed, just as Aaron did along with the tablets of the covenant law. Help me not only to keep these promises close, but to speak of these testimonies of how great and generous a God you really are.

Amen.

Of Dead Hamsters and Precious Lambs

Pine Lake, GA

From Exodus 11-12

“Because the Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the Lord for the generations to come.” Exodus 11:42

We came home Tuesday evening after an afternoon in the park with good friends, a short trip to a nearby lake and beautiful sunset and as we walked in the door she did what she always does: ran to the hamster cage. I heard her say, “Oh look, Robert’s laid out all flat and just sleeping…Mommy, I think Robert’s dead!” I rushed over to the cage and his little brown eyes were opening and closing slowly. It happened in the three to four hours we had been gone from the house. Some of the wood chips surrounding his body were bloody, so I feared the worst and the only one I could suspect was our other hamster, Lucy. They nipped at each other on a fairly consistent basis, but I don’t know how this last time went down, I only know that Little A was hysterical and I told her to take Lucy into her room for a few minutes.

I called my parents. Having raised about a million hamsters growing up, my dad is the resident expert on said rodent behavior. I couldn’t get them, so, just like every day of these past six years, this one came with its own challenge…I picked him up and turned him over, the bleeding was coming from his lower abdomen, and poor thing, he was heaving for breath. I stood there and prayed. I prayed for a miracle and thought, “Lord, don’t let this little guys suffer.” He took about 4 more big breaths and that was it. I wrapped him up in tissues and placed him in a shoe box and closed the lid.

Being true apartment dwellers for years now, we own no shovel and had gotten rid of our garden spade somewhere along the way, for at least a little while Robert would be under the bag of salmon in the freezer. Little A sobbed. My heart ached for her, she said, “We only had him for 5 months!”

Wring my heart out, Little One.

And so this week’s study on Pharaoh and Moses and these people who had been slaves for 430 years continued, this time with loss and preparation. This is the loss of the one and only homeland they had ever known. One ruled by an oppressor so fierce and stone-hearted, that he was ready let his own son die at the expense of his stubborness…it was here that God began to give instructions, as part of the Passover, the time commemorating that God would indeed spare his people of the last, most devastating plague of the death of all the first-born in all the land. But it required the shedding of blood. The blood of something perfect, spotless, whole.

It was specified (Exodus 12:5-6):

-the lamb was to be a year old

-without spot or defect

-they are to take it in on the 10th day of the month, but aren’t allowed to slaughter it until the 14th–why? My commentary says so that they could make sure it was genuinely without defect, but someone shared in our class that she read it was because in this time it would become precious. I certainly don’t know what kind of bond can be formed in a matter of four days, but I looked at one way that Webster defined this word: too valuable or important to be wasted or used carelessly.

The selection, care and preparation of this animal were some of the first instructions that God gave to the Israelites. It must have been seen so foreign, but if this was the same God that had brought all these plagues that the Hebrews had not only experienced and by His very hand spared, then they knew it was in their best interest to obey. They were told to cook this lamb thoroughly, share with other families if the portions were too big, prepare with bitter herbs, and burn up whatever was left. They were to eat it with sandals on their feet and cloaks on in preparation for a journey that would take much, much longer than any of them anticipated.

When I think of “precious,” I think of first-borns and I think of the relatively small amount of pain that I had to see my daughter experience this week in the loss of something dear to her and I think of the magnitude of the Father’s love for us to give His precious son.

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He would give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross
My guilt upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no powr’s, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

©1995 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music
Words and Music by Stuart Townend

When It Feels Like the Whole Free World Is Against You

Sunset

From Exodus 5-7

Chapter 5 of Exodus begins with tough times for Moses: after his initial request to Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to go out to the desert to worship their God and his blatant refusal, the Israelites are ordered to make bricks without straw and retain their daily quota. The task proves to be impossible.  Fingers are pointed, who’s to blame here?  Moses gets it on every side, the foremen come to him, as do the Israelites, everyone is either discouraged, angry or overworked, some, all three. The chapter closes with Moses asking God, “Why?”  What then, enabled Moses to stand firm and keep going–what fortified him to obey God and charge through these proverbial bricks walls?  Nothing was working out as planned, in fact, things had gotten way worse, so what then, helped Moses to stand firm throughout this process to free God’s chosen people?

1) A Constant Reassurance from God that He Would Do What He Said:

Exodus 6:1 “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country…I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and Jacob as God Almighty…I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.” And here, in the following verses are the words that this thirsty soul, for one, longs to hear. Because it is here that the Great I AM also becomes the great I WILL:

I will bring you out from the yoke of the Egyptians

I will free you from being slaves to them

I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and mighty acts of judgement

I will take you as my own people

I will be your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians

I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob

I will give it to you as a possession

I am the Lord

2) Supportive Friends and Family–You see, Aaron would be a constant companion to Moses throughout his lifetime, this wasn’t just a man who would do the public speaking for Moses. Yes, this public speaking thing was a plus and this was why Moses originally asked for help, but Aaron would become a rock for Moses. We see in 5:20, that the foremen found Moses and Aaron, again, in Chapter 7:1, God compares Moses to himself (imagine!) and Aaron as his prophet, that Aaron would listen and do just as Moses commanded him. Who’s in your corner? Listen to them, love them, respect them and above all else value them as someone God has placed in your life to help you accomplish His purposes.

3) Knowledge that It Doesn’t Take a Perfect Pedigree, Just a Willing Heart: It’s interesting to see that there is a lengthy side note going on in Exodus 6: 13-25, what may seem like a bunch of names and numbers is extremely important. We’ve seen throughout the book of Genesis how significant birth order was in a family, being the firstborn in a family meant being the recipient of so many rights and privileges: a father’s birthright, blessing and inheritance. We’ve also seen the devastating consequences when that order is upset by sin as in the story of Jacob of Esau, however, these verses point out that Moses’ family was no where cut and dry privileged, in fact, not a single person in his close bloodline was a firstborn, and yet here he was, hand-picked by God to save his chosen people.

4) A God that Helped Him Take Baby Steps: What were these baby steps? Notice that when Moses initially went to Pharaoh, he did not immediately ask for his people’s release, he began with a more reasonable request: 5:1b: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness. Of course Pharaoh says “no.” He reasons, “I do not know this God, nor will I let these people go.”   But this wasn’t Moses’ first step of faith…

Leave the life you knew for 40 years, travel with your family to a place where you know you will find trouble and all kinds of heartache, all because God was asking you to? Check.

Prepare for your meeting with a mighty, godless leader by witnessing God turn a staff into a snake, your own hand leprous and then healthy again and watch water turn to blood before your very eyes? Knowing that you will have to perform these same signs in front of said godless leader? Check.

Stand up to the leader of the most powerful nation in the world? Check.

None.Of.These.Steps.Were.Easy. But they were necessary. Friends, God didn’t place us on this earth to do the easy stuff. He didn’t. He placed us here to reflect his glory and to do his work, sometimes it’s as “easy” as living a life of integrity, however, other times it’s going to mean a huge leap of faith. Just know that the Great I WILL will never leave.