Friday, June 23, 2017

Generosity stems from Gratitude

Read Leviticus 1-3.

John Phillips, a teacher for Moody Bible Institute, wrote a wonderful introduction to this book:
"Leviticus is a legal document, and most of us shun it for that reason.  But we should not neglect a Bible book simply because its phrases are difficult and its concepts obscure.  Leviticus is also a book of worship.  The key is in the first verse: 'And God called unto Moses and spake unto him out of the tabernacle.'  No other book in the Bible contains so many actual words of God.  Eighty-three statements refer to the fact that God is speaking.  That alone should draw us to this book."

The instructions begin in chapters 1-3 with regulations for 5 different voluntary offerings.  These were offered by those who love God and out of gratitude, and according to one's ability, presented what they could.  Repeatedly, we are told that the aroma of such sacrificial gifts were pleasing to God.

Question of the day:  When was the last time you gave a gift of gratitude to God just because you love Him?  This is generosity giving, over and above the responsibility of tithing. 

The old hymn encourages us-
"Count your many blessings-name them one by one,
Count your many blessings-ev'ry doubt will fly,
Count your many blessings-money cannot buy,
Count your blessings-name them one by one;
Count your blessings-see what God has done."

After some quiet reflection of all God has done for you-spiritually, family, materially, etc., why not ask Him what He would like for you to give in return this week?

"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving."  (Colossians 2:7)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

God is in the Details

Read Exodus 37-40.

God is a God of detail and beauty.  He provided specific instructions concerning the furnishings of the Tabernacle, including the priestly robes.  These were not decided by a leader or a committee.  No less than 17 times in chapters 39 and 40 we read the same words, "as the LORD commanded Moses".

How beautiful the completed work must have been!  More importantly, God was pleased.  His pleasure was demonstrated visibly in 40:34, "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle."

His visible presence on the place of worship must have been the most incredible sight of all. 

A few insights-
1. If God was so concerned with the details of a portable tent, how much more concerned is He about the details of our lives.  So many live their lives without a thought of what God wants them to think, say, or do.  The fear of the LORD is beginning of wisdom and is shown in our constant awareness of His presence and His desire concerning our details.

2. When God moved the people moved.  Where God moved the people moved.  He provided clear direction and guidance for His people.  We who love the LORD should depend upon Him for guidance daily, moment by moment.

3. Worship has nothing to do with a music style or the organizational of a program.  If God is not the center of attention, if His Word is not the primary voice that is heard, if His glory is not the motivation, if His presence is not honored and sensed, then all else will only amount to an empty performance of one kind or another.

4. One of the primary take-aways from the book of Exodus is the great lengths God went to in order to rescue, preserve, teach and have personal fellowship with a people who would worship, love, and obey Him.  It was all a part of keeping His eternal promise.  And, this wonderful work continues today for all who will respond to Him in faith.  "For God so loved the world that He gave only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

3 fundamental keys to developing Generosity

Read Exodus 34-36.

Worship and giving are inseparable.  Twice in Exodus God said, "None shall appear before me empty-handed." (23:15, 34:20)  Both times it is in reference to celebrating a prescribed feast.  But now we come to building the Tabernacle, that portable tent that was used as the center of worship for the next 500 years.  Where will the financial and material resources come from?

Tithe money was not used.  Those funds took care of the on-going needs of ministry.  Every project in the Scripture was achieved by generosity giving, over and above the tithe, in what is called free will offerings.  We learn the principles of generosity here in this section of the Bible.

1. The people were informed.
The project was not Moses' idea, rather it was God's.  The word "commanded" is used at least three times in chapter 35 and twice in chapter 36.  Before leaders can inform the people about the project they must have confidence of what the LORD wants done.  People want to know the what, why, when, how much, and what are you asking me to do.  They knew that it would take everyone's participation and willingness.  Their giving to the project was not a requirement, but an opportunity to join God in what He was doing.

2. The people were inspired.
"And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD's contribution..." (35:20)  Literally their hearts were "moved."    Notice the recognition of true ownership.  It was not their money, but the LORD's contribution.  He is the Owner of all things.  Even the skill of craftsmen came from the LORD (36:2).  We are stewards of His stuff.  Hearts are moved when ears and minds are open to the Holy Spirit's prompting.

3. The people were involved.
Support nearly always comes from those who are involved.  The call to join in the work was for those with skill (35:10) and willingness (35:22) and finances (35:29). 

The result is found in 36:5, "The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the LORD has commanded us to do."  As Joe Sangl says, "If it is God's will, it is God's bill."  He will provide what is needed to accomplish what He wants done.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Where a leader's influence Begins

Read Exodus 33.

I am so indebted to my friend Dr. Crawford Loritts for his incredible sermon on this chapter.  This is one of the most powerful and personal recorded encounters between a man and God.  Though we may never come close to such a dramatic experience, all the elements of a maintaining an intimate relationship with the LORD is present here.

How can we enjoy such fellowship with the Living God of Heaven?  What can we learn from Moses that we can put into practice right now?

1. Meeting with God was a habitual.  Twice (vv.7 and 11) we are told that he "used to" do this.  It was a spiritual discipline.
2. Meeting with God was private.  Moses would take a tent and go "far off from the camp" to spend time alone with God, yet it was not hidden.  Notice how everyone else knew about it.
3. Meeting with God was available to everyone.  Though Moses obviously enjoyed a special relationship with God, "everyone who sought the LORD would go out." 
4. Meeting with God was influential.  The leader's model of this spiritual discipline resulted in everyone around him worshipping God.  "All the people would rise up and worship."

Once alone, what are we to say?  This is not necessarily prescriptive for all our prayers, but it is descriptive of this prayer from Moses.

The Petition of Prayer.  "Show me your ways." (v.13)
First and foremost Moses wanted to align his ways with God's.  This is the prayer of one who humbly comes before the LORD expressing his true need.  His request was not for God to conform to his desires, but to conform his desires to God's.

The Purpose of Prayer.  "That I may know you in order to find favor in your sight." (v.14)
He did not ask how to lead, nor for a game plan or a map, nor for resources for the journey.  The purpose of this habit in his life was to deepen his relationship with God so that his life could be pleasing to God.

The Perspective of Prayer.  "This nation is your people." (v.13)
Israel did not belong to Moses.  God is the Owner of all things, including Moses' assignments.  Moses wanted to make sure he was a good and faithful steward with what God had entrusted to him.

The Priority in Prayer.  "If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here." (v.15)  "Please show me your glory." (v.16)

More than anything else Moses wanted the assurance of God's presence and to see how awesome God is.

Monday, June 19, 2017

4 Leadership Lessons Learned the Hard Way

 Read Exodus 32.

People do not like to wait.  Loss of patience, if not controlled, will lead to wrong desires.  Good leaders understand how to lead their people when plans are delayed.  Aaron proved to be a weak leader.  When the people became restless and impatient, instead of leading them to what was right he yielded to public pressure.
Leadership Lesson #1: Never mistake action for progress.

The people complained and blamed Moses for taking them to this spot and then abandoning them.  In their frustration they expressed only a human perspective.  It seems that they totally forgot that it was the LORD who had brought them here and that He promised never to leave them.  This was a teachable moment, an opportunity for Aaron to remind them of God's goodness and that Moses was only God's servant doing what God had instructed.
Leadership Lesson #2: Never miss an opportunity to teach and maintain the focus on God and His Word.

Once a weak leader gives in to wrong desires of public pressure they will succumb quickly to false theology.  Aaron became compelled to do something religious to appease the people.  So, he hurriedly made up a corrupt system of worship, reverting back to the defeated gods of Egypt.  How could one who saw the plagues of Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, ate and drank the daily provisions God supplied, enjoyed the pillar of fire at night and the cloud over them every day, declare to a man-made statue, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!"?

God did not mince words concerning those who invented their own religion.  He called them corrupt (v.7), stiff-necked (v.9) and wanted Moses to step aside "that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them (v.10).  When Moses heard this, he began to intercede on behalf of the people.  What a picture of one man standing in the gap between an angry God and a disobedient people!  He pleaded with God based upon His own promises.  James 5:16-"The prayer of a righteous person has great power..." 
Leadership Lesson #3: Never underestimate the role of intercessor in pleading for the needs of the people.

Moses was willing to restore order and mete out the punishment God demanded.  This was a tough leadership decision.  He could not do it alone.  First, he had to find out whom he could trust.  Note: it was not a call to personal loyalty.  Such a demand is a sign of an insecure leader.  No, Moses' question was "Who is on the LORD's side?"  A wholehearted commitment to obey God was the singular qualification at this point.
Leadership Lesson #4: Never try to go forward without unity among other leaders who are wholeheartedly committed to do what God wants done. 

These are great reminders today as we witness the wavering and corruption of most mainstream denominations that still use the name of Christ but forsake God's Word and yield their theology to the pressure of so-called cultural relevance.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

God is with Us!

Read Exodus 25-31.

These seven chapters provided the nation of Israel with detailed instructions concerning the Tabernacle.  It was really a portable tent of sorts.  The word itself means dwelling.  Sometimes it is referred to as the “tent of meeting”.  God's stated purpose in 25:8 was "let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst."  Obviously, God is omnipresent and His presence never limited to any one area.  But it was and is God's desire to establish a visible presence among them.  He loves making Himself known among His people. 

Why all these details?  We learn throughout scripture from the creation to the culmination of all things that the God of Heaven is a God of order, of preciseness, of arrangement and of symmetry.

The layout and the functions of the Tabernacle were designed to give humans access to forgiveness and fellowship with the Living God.  These functions are timeless and picture for us what we now enjoy through faith in Jesus.  When the angel announced the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, he said, "...they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means God with us)".  John 1:14 declares concerning Jesus, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us..."

I am indebted to many resourceful writers who have published on the subject of Christ in the Tabernacle.  This is a very simple overview:
1. The Altar.  The place where sacrifices for sin were offered.  When John, the Baptist, saw Jesus, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)  Hebrews chapter 10 makes it clear that the blood of animals never took away sin.  Therefore, "...we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Hebrews 10:10)
2. The Laver.  This was used for washing and cleansing.  1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
3. The Bread.  A symbol of daily need.  Jesus said, "I am the bread of life." (John 6:48)
4. The Lampstand.  When the light is on one can see what is around them and where they are going.  Jesus said, "I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."  (John 8:12)
5. The Incense.  The smoke was a picture of prayers ascending to God.  Because Jesus is our High Priest and is the only intercessor between God and humans, Hebrews 4:16 encourages us.  "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
6. The Holy of Holies.  The place of earthly direct access to God.  The visible separation between sinful mankind and the Holy God was a very thick curtain.  Only the High Priest was allowed to enter and he only once a year.  But when Jesus died on the cross, Matthew 27:51 describes that "the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom."  God ripped the veil of separation so that we could have direct access to Him because of the sacrifice of Christ for us.

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water."  (Hebrews 10:19-22)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How shall we then live?

Read Exodus 21-24

God provides both the requirements and the resources to live for Him.

Most news broadcasts on television and radio begin the same way.  First the top headlines are presented, followed by the details.  A similar approach may be seen here.  God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and now the details are explained in the ensuing chapters.

Notice the word "if" followed by "you".  If this is the case, then here is what you shall do about it.  These are written instructions for those who will judge such cases. 

1. The exclusive worship of God (20:22-26)
God will not share His glory or His worship with anyone or anything else.

2. The treatment of slaves (21:1-11)
Even in these unfortunate situations, often brought about by poverty, there had to be equitable treatment of these people.

3. Judgments concerning violence (21:12-25)
The administration of the death penalty is detailed for violence, especially premeditated murder.

4. Laws of personal restitution (22:1-15)
The people of God were to be good neighbors.

5. Laws of personal relationships (22:16-23:13)
Romans 13:8-"Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law."

6. Laws of Sabbath and three annual feasts (23:14-19)
Feast of Unleavened Bread-Passover
Feast of Harvest-Pentecost
Feast of Ingathering-"at the end"
Note that worship and giving to God are inseparable. 
"None shall appear before me empty-handed."  (v.15)
Their giving to God was not the left-overs, nor scattered to others in need as the person desired.  "The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God." (v.19)

This section of scripture concludes with God assigning an angel to go before them each step of the way (v.23).  God will certainly fulfill His promises and His plans for them and for us.