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They did it all
Numbers 1: The People of Israel did everything that God commanded Moses. They did it all.
The story of the Israelites seems to be either “hot” or “cold.” They either march forward in victorious obedience or shrink back in the sin of unbelief. I think that’s rather unfair. For one thing, by its very nature the Bible is a book of spectacular success or spectacular failure. At times decades of ordinary events are skipped to jump to the next big event. The first chapter of Numbers sets up the census and the coming description of other everyday duties of various servants. The mountain top of the Ten Commands is history and the failure to enter Canaan lies ahead. For now, they are learning the ropes of living day by day as God’s people. As we read the Bible it appears that the day to day part is minor, just a way to mark time between the big stuff. In reality it’s the opposite. Most sentences used to describe life end with periods. Only a few earn exclamation marks. At this point, Moses’ congregation earns high marks. “They did it all.”
Take Away: The real measure of our Christianity is how we handle the day-to-day, ordinary part of our lives.
Please, no more money
Exodus 36: The people were ordered to stop bringing offerings!
The Tent of Meeting is being constructed and it’s no simple circus big top! The best of everything is going into the mobile worship center and the people are bringing items needed for its construction. In their excitement they bring gold, silver, bronze, and fine fabrics. And they just keep on bringing these items. Finally, the craftsmen go to Moses with a problem. They have too much stuff! Moses’ solution is to tell them to stop. I can’t help but smile as I read this story because such an order is rare or maybe even non-existent in the Church today. However, there are a couple of things to consider. First, the goal of the Church is not to rake in all that it can. Bigger, more expensive, more impressive isn’t necessarily a worthy goal. Second, God’s people are wonderfully generous when they know God is behind something. In my years of ministry I have seen this many times. God is good – and so are his people.
Take Away: God’s people are generous people.
Sons and daughters of Bezael and Oholiab
Exodus 31: I’ve personally chosen Bezael son of Uri…I’ve filled him with the Spirit of God.
Here we are at the familiar commissioning of Bezael and his assistant Oholiab. We know all about them, right? I’m kidding, these two men are lost deep in the pages of our Old Testaments and only the finest of Sunday School scholars knows who they are. Really, that’s too bad because today pastors of small and medium sized churches owe a lot to modern day Bazael’s and Oholiab’s. You see, Moses is receiving lots of complicated construction projects from the Lord, but, as far as I can tell, there’s not a blueprint in sight. The Lord tells Moses to just take note of what he’s being told but not to worry about the actual construction because there are two men down at the foot of the mountain that have been filled with the Spirit. The result of that filling is not that they’ll be preachers or prophets or singers. They are Spirit-filled craftsmen. All Moses has to do is give them the instructions he’s receiving from the Lord and they’ll take it from there. I firmly believe that the Spirit still empowers craftsmen (and women) for the hands-on needs of the church. For instance, when we have a church dinner, I’ve learned to stay out of the way as several women in the congregation are gifted at planning and executing church dinners. A while back someone came up with the idea of removing all the concrete sidewalks of our church building and replacing them with beautiful paving bricks. You can take all I know about stuff like that and put it in a thimble but they took that project on. I helped where I could, mainly as a “brick carrier.” Both men and women went to work on that big project and it came as no surprise to me that some of those folks knew how to do it. They handled everything from preparing the ground to knowing how to create a pleasing pattern in the bricks. In the church we tend to lift great speakers and singers but, I fear, fail to recognize the Spirit powered hands-on people. Thank God for sons and daughters of Bezael and Oholiab.
Take Away: There are many gifts for service, all of value to God and his people.
God will go before you
Exodus 23: I won’t get rid of them all at once lest the land grow up in weeds and the wild animals take over.
The Lord promises his people that he’ll not only be with them but will also go before them. Before they ever arrive in Canaan the Lord will already be at work there, preparing the way for them. The inhabitants of that land will be visited by “Terror” and “Despair.” Just the thought of the coming Israelites will cause them to withdraw, yielding the land to them without a fight. However, the Lord also tells them that the withdrawal of these heathen people won’t happen all at once. If all human beings desert the land then the weeds and wild animals will take over and Canaan land won’t be as wonderful as the Lord wants it to be for his people. While I know it didn’t work out, I can’t help but imagine a very different picture from both the books of Joshua and Judges. As I consider this passage I find myself thinking of God’s work in my life. As one of God’s people I have some precious promises. He’s with me and he’ll make a way even when there is no way. However, that doesn’t mean all the battles are already won. Like the people of Israel, I’m to trust in the Lord and to move forward, believing that, by his grace, I can face whatever obstacles might arise. It would be nice if all the signal lights in my life were permanently on green even as I sit in the driveway, but it doesn’t work that way. I have to move out in trust and allow the Lord to help me through the rough areas one step at a time.
Take Away: God’s work in my life is that of unfolding grace, him making the way for me, one day at a time.
Muddling my way through, holding fast
Revelation 16: Keep watch! I come unannounced, like a thief. You’re blessed if, awake and dressed, you’re ready for me.
The seven bowls of God’s wrath bring untold misery to the earth. Some of the miseries remind us of what happened in the limited region of Egypt during the ten plagues. In this case, though, the suffering is worldwide. When God’s attention specifically turns to the Beast and his unholy trinity they rally the nations of the earth to fight back. Armageddon is at hand. There’s so much here that I don’t understand that I’m ashamed of myself. Here I am in the book called “Revelation” and I’m constantly reminded that I’m missing whatever it is I’m supposed to grasp. Still, once in a while I’m graciously given something to which I can cling. Even if I don’t get it, I’m advised to “Keep watch!” and to be “ready.” Jesus said the same thing during his earthly ministry and now he repeats it. Even as I muddle through these pictures of judgment filled with symbolism that I’m missing more than understanding, I’m encouraged to simply hang in there. I may not understand Armageddon but I understand what it means to stand fast in my relationship with the Lord. Ultimately, it’s that that matters much more than my poor grasp on the precise meaning of passages like this.
Take Away: Even when you don’t understand what’s going on stand fast in the faith. Ultimately, that’s what matters the most anyway.
The way to die
Revelation 14: Blessed are those who die in the Master from now on; how blessed to die that way!
In this passage the harvest of the world is about to be described but prior to that there’s another description of God’s people standing “passionately patient, keeping God’s commands, staying faithful to Jesus.” Then John is told specifically to write about those who finish their lives while being “passionately patient.” They serve God through their lives, looking for Jesus to return, overcoming the hardships and trials of their journey. In the specific case of this passage there’s considerable pressure on them to follow the general population in worship of the Beast. These saints resist and at personal cost persist in being “faithful to Jesus.” Now, for them, the battle ends. Their “hard, hard work” is over and “God blesses them for it all in the end.” I’ve known people such as these described in this passage. They loved the Lord and served him through their lives. When hard times came, they wished for a way out, but way out or not, they continued to trust God. Physically, they were ultimately defeated. Spiritually though, they were victorious. John is told to remind God’s people that those who “die in the Master” are blessed. Unless Jesus comes back first, my turn’s coming. I want the same kind of passionate patience, the same faithfulness to God’s commands, to be the hallmark of my life. As this passage says: “how blessed to die that way!”
Take Away: Live the right way so you can die the right way.
God’s people doing what God’s people do
Revelation 13: Meanwhile, God’s holy people passionately and faithfully stand their ground.
As I struggle my way through symbolism that has challenged Bible scholars across the centuries it’s nice to find some firm footing, if for just a moment. I can’t identify the Beast or the Beast’s puppet or solve the 666 riddle. Since John writes to specific congregations in a specific place and time I don’t buy into any interpretation that can only be grasped 2000 years in the future, so the 666 reference, in particular has to make sense historically, but again, I’m not the go to guy for this kind of stuff. What I do like is the momentary firm footing of “Meanwhile, God’s holy people passionately and faithfully stand their ground.” Their situation doesn’t sound very good. There’s some kind of leopard-bear-lion Beast dominating the whole world. This Beast hates the Church and intends to destroy it. Life is hard under this persecution (is it Rome or some future event or both?) and it appears that the Church will be crushed. God’s people, though, stand firm. In spite of prison and the sword their passion for Christ empowers them. In the face of this crisis of (literally) Biblical proportions they “stand their ground.” That’s exactly what God’s people do. It’s not that we travel easy roads, smelling roses all the way. Sometimes we take some hits that are anything but easy. We don’t like it and we do all we can to avoid it, but in the end, whatever comes we passionately and faithfully stand for God. Even as I have a hard time getting the rest of this passage into focus, my view of this truth is 20/20.
Take Away: The Lord’s people have staying power even in impossible situations.
Revelation 11: Get up and measure God’s Temple and Altar and everyone worshiping in it.
This chapter of John’s Revelation might be considered to be the first conclusion of the book. We’re now at the sounding of the final trumpet and once it sounds Judgment Day has arrived as time comes to an end. However, John has much more to see as the description of specific events will be expanded. Before that final trumpet sounds John’s given the same task Daniel was given many years earlier. He’s to measure the “Temple and Altar and everyone worshiping” there. One understanding of this that works for me is that this is a measurement of God’s Church in preparation for judgment. Everything’s about to wrap up and the time Jesus referred to as a dividing of sheep and goats is about to begin. Now John’s given the task of seeing how the Church, represented by the Temple and Altar in the vision, measures up. As John prepares to go to work he’s told to ignore those in the outside court. They may be hanging around the Temple and appear to belong. However, they aren’t part of the worshiping body. I’m not claiming to have figured things out here but there’s a lot of truth in that interpretation. At some point the Church will be measured and people will give an account of themselves to the Judge of the world. Just hanging around the fringes won’t cut it. Those who are faithful, serving the Lord, worshiping him in both good days and bad, though, have nothing to fear even in the fearful days described in this passage.
Take Away: Oh I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in.
The blood of the martyrs
Revelation 6: I saw the souls of those killed because they had held firm in their witness to the Word of God.
The seals unveil future events, although readers though the centuries have been all over the place in their understanding of just what it is John is seeing. Perhaps the broad view is the best one. History is marching to a climax and as that climax draws near the world’s going to experience powerful and disturbing events. As the fifth seal is removed we see those martyred for their faithfulness to the Lord. In John’s day people are already suffering for their faith. John, himself, in fact, is exiled from the church. However, things are going to get worse. Many will die on the floor of the Coliseum in Rome. History, in fact, will see many faithful Christians die as martyrs. Sad to say, it continues to this day. John hears their voices as they cry out for justice. They’re told that the day of justice is coming. As I think about these who’ve followed Jesus even into death I feel small and insignificant. I confess that I’m hardly worthy to share the name “Christian” with them. I don’t want to forget that my heritage of faith has been a costly one. I don’t want to forget those who, even as I write these words, are paying a dear price for standing firm in their faith. At the same time, the promise of this passage speaks to my heart today. These have already been given “white robes” – honored in heaven. The day will come when the books will be balanced and justice will prevail. It doesn’t take my feeling any sense of vengeance at all for me to say, if God is just, then he’ll “avenge their murders.”
Take Away: The justice of the Lord demands that things be set right, and that day is, indeed, coming.
Revelation 2: I see what you’ve done…I see where you live…I see everything you’re doing for me.
In his Revelation John has a message for seven churches. Each message follows a similar format: a description of Jesus as conqueror followed by a declaration that he sees what’s happening in the churches. Then there’s a word of encouragement followed by a word of correction followed by a call to response. Finally, there’s a command to hear these words and respond by taking action. These churches are operating in some extreme circumstances with lots of opposition both inside and outside their number. There are enemies of Christ dressed up as apostles and there are those who are trying to blend Christianity with the local religion. As the church stands firm in the faith and stands up to these deceivers the Lord is pleased. If the church fails here it places itself in danger of being something other than Christian. The thing that stands out to me today is that the Lord sees all this. He wants the believers to know that they aren’t operating out in the darkness apart from him. He also wants those who are dabbling in some of these beliefs and practices to know that he knows what they’re doing. It’s good to remember that our labor for the Lord doesn’t go unnoticed. As I faithfully serve him he takes note and wants to encourage me. It’s nice when people tell me I’m doing a good job. It makes me feel good, even appreciated. However, whether that happens or not there’s One who sees what I’ve done, where I live, and appreciates what I do in his name. Ultimately, that’s the only thing that really matters.
Take Away: Even if no one else sees the Lord sees. In the long run, that what matters.