Saturday, March 31, 2012

Who me, a Priest?

Read Leviticus 8-10.

God sovereignly selected the tribe of Levi to serve as priests.  Those who served as priests did so by birth.  They were charged with the administration of the sacrifices and offerings, and the maintenance in and around the Tabernacle for the nation.  Aaron, Moses' brother, being the patriarch, became the first chief priest.  The ordination and installation of the priesthood was one of the most elaborate rituals of all.  The detailed instructions of how to perform their duties had been given to them with exactness from God.

But like Satan's original temptation in the Garden of Eden, sin begins with questioning what God said.  How many have declared, "It is my life and I will do what I want" to their own self-destruction?  Nadab and Abihu, Aaron's own sons, decided that they did not have to follow God's word.  They showed up for service and went through the motions of worship, but their hearts and behaviors were rebellious and disobedient.  God's judgment in this case was swift.

These were Moses' nephews.  It had to be emotionally painful and publicly embarrassing.  Yet, his priority commitment was to God and His word.  To his silent brother, Moses said, "This is what the LORD has said, 'Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'" (10:3)  One way or another, through faithful living or swift judgment, God will protect His word and His glory.

As a follower of Jesus, you are a priest.
Today, under the New Covenant, people become priests of God by the second birth.  "As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1Peter 2:4-5) 

As a priest, you have a job to do for God.
The instructions have been given to us as to how to live out God's expectations in serving Him.  The Bible is God manual of how to live.

As a servant of God, you must be live to please Him. 
Our service to God is to be done in humility, submission and carefulness.  You won't be perfect, but you must be vigilant about your thoughts, words and actions.  We do not live for ourselves but for the One who sent us to serve.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sin has a Price

Read Leviticus 4-7.

Sin has a price.  Wrong-doing, intentional or unintentional, by a leader, a nation, or an individual requires a redemptive payment.  These are outlined in detail for Israel so that the leaders could teach the people what God expected and the people would know how to make things right.

The truth about sin is sometimes too obvious.  When one Sunday School teacher asked her young learner how to get forgiveness, the little boy replied, "First of all you have to sin."

Humans are born into this world spiritually dead and sin comes naturally.  The Apostle Paul wrote, "...among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind."  (Ephesians 2:3)

Without an acknowledgement of sin there is no repentance.
Without a payment for sin there is no redemption.

It is difficult to imagine the amount of animal sacrifices that were offered continually, for centuries, as the people came seeking atonement for sin.  The guilty presented themselves and their need, along with their sacrifice.  The animal was viewed as a substitute.  The guilty were saying by this act, "It is I who deserves to die for what I did wrong."  Once the offering had been properly cared for by the priest, the sin was covered until the next time of need.

Praise God that the Old Covenant is no longer in effect!  "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:4)

Jesus' death on the cross was the once and for all sacrifice for sin.  Our substitute has died for us.  The eternal payment has been made.  This does not make us perfect.  Even followers of Jesus sin.  That is why the Apostle John wrote, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9).  Today, we can live clean, forgiven, holy lives!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Sacrifices of Thanksgiving

Read Leviticus 1-3.

John Phillips, a teacher for Moody Bible Institute, had such a good 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)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It is all about Him

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 an autocrat, nor 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. 

Several thoughts come to mind-
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 for our details.

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

3. Worship has nothing to do with a music style or the organizational style 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 what 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)

Monday, March 26, 2012

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.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

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 are 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."

So, now that I am alone with God, what do I 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' responsibilities.  He 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 the person of God for himself.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

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 and independent churches that still use the name of Christ, but forsake God's Word and yield their theology to the pressure of the culture and relevance.

Friday, March 23, 2012

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 be with them and even to have a visible presence among them. 

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, preciseness, of arrangement and symmetry.

The layout and the functions of theTabernacle were to 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 were offered for sin.  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)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

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.

With the details, 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." 
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."

This section of scripture concludes with God assigning an angel to go before them each step of the way.  God will certainly fulfill His promise to them and His plan for them.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ten Guidelines for a Rewarding Life

Read Exodus 20.

These requirements from the Living God are commonly referred to as the Ten Commandments.  Some have noted they are not called the Ten Suggestions.  They really comprise a prologue to the rest of the Old Testament Law giving many specific instructions from the LORD relating to worship, government, justice, hygiene and relationships.

The Law was exact and demanding.  Violation of the law and God's expectations required a payment for the sin and guilt.  Those payments are also detailed in the law.  Time after time, year after year, those sacrifices only covered the sin.  They never took away the sin.  "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law" (Galatians 4:4).  Finally, Jesus, the Messiah, gave Himself as the once and for all sacrifice for sin.  We are no longer to live under the Old Testament Law but under the life-giving grace of God.

Does that mean that followers of Jesus are lawless?  By no means.  Reviewing the expectations of these commandments in Exodus 20 and comparing the expectations of believers in the New Testament will reveal an even higher standard of living on each point.  Read, for instance, Jesus' comparative statements in Matthew 17-48.

Jesus was later asked which was the greatest commandment in the Law?  "And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and Prophets."  (Matthew 22:37-40)

Ann Landers was a committed to her Jewish faith.  It was this faith that provided much of the basis for the advice that appeared in her daily newspaper columns for decades.  In one response to a reader she wrote, "Never have the principles of justice, ethics, morality and good mental health been enunciated so clearly as in the Bible.  ....may I suggest you read only the Ten Commandments.  It won't take long, and you will have the guidelines for an honorable and rewarding life."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Who Are God's People?

Read Exodus 19.

The description of God coming down to meet with the people is truly chilling to imagine.  It is awesome in the truest definition of the word.  Imagine the sight and sound.  The display filled every one of the human senses with God's voice, smoke, fire, earthquake, trumpet, and thunder.

Before issuing what will later be known as the ten commandments, God unfolds His intentions for His people.  This description of Israel is only intensified in the New Testament in regard to who believers in Jesus are.

1. God's people are His treasured possession.
The first characteristic of a treasure is that it is highly valued.  There is intrinsic value and worth.  And, as Owner of everything (verse 5) God's people are His special possession. 

The Apostle Paul stated, " you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

2. God's people are a kingdom of priests.
The LORD is the King of kings and His people are working on expanding His kingdom.  A priest represents God to people, performs certain tasks on God's behalf, serves people as intercessors between God and men.  In the Old Testament they offered sacrifices to God, including those to cover sin.

The New Testament makes a very clear distinction about believers in Jesus under this New Covenant.  First, there are no more sacrifices for sin.  Jesus died on the cross, once for all (Hebrews 10:12).  He is our High Priest and He alone intercedes for us to the Father.  1 Timothy 2:5, "For there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."
Then, the Apostle Peter explains, "But you 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."

3. God's people are a holy nation.
The world has too many people saying they are Christians but their lifestyle is no different than those who know nothing of Jesus Christ.  Their speech, their relationships, their use of money, their habits, their thinking, their desires, and investment of their lives betrays what they say they believe.  God's people are different than those around them.

1 Peter 1:14-"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you holy, you also be holy in all your conduct."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Let's Get Organized

Read Exodus 18.

Proverbs speaks in several places to the issue of listening to wise counsel.  This is a prime example.  Note that Jethro's first concern was not for Moses, but for the people.  It was not possible for one man to adequately serve the needs of millions of people case by case.

Moses stated that the people needed help in three areas:
1. Intercession.  Prayer.  They needed to hear from God and know His will.  Prayer on behalf of the people is a major work for every leader.
2. Intervention.  Conflict resolution.  Someone with authority was needed to listen to both sides and apply wisdom to real issues.  Building and maintaining unity within the organization is a never-ending quest of any leader.
3. Instruction.  Teaching God's Word.  The people need to know what God had already said clearly so they can align their lives accordingly.

Jethro's wisdom is found in his statement that the leader cannot meet these needs alone.  His advice was for Moses to lead in three key areas:
1. "Represent the people before God."  The leader cannot delegate his own prayer life and intercession on behalf of those for whom he is responsible.
2. "You shall warn them about the statutes and laws..."  The leader must be a primary spokesperson regarding what God has said and how the people should then live.
3. "Look for able men from all the people."  Enlisting qualified persons to surround the leader for the purpose of delegating responsibility and authority is crucial to the survival of any organization.

Jethro even provides the qualifications for the enlistees.
1. "Able."  They have what it takes to do the job.
2. "Fear God."  They have demonstrated a lifestyle that honors the LORD and His word.
3. "Trustworthy."  They have shown themselves faithful in character and performance.   

The benefits and requirements:
1. The leader's load is lighter, but he must be willing to let go of the work others can do.
2. The leaders are empowered to serve and assume responsibility, but they must be willing to step up and share the load.
3. The people are better cared for, but they must be willing to be served by appointed leaders.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Leaders Cannot Do It Alone

Read Exodus 17.

When people lose sight of the bigger picture, they will complain about the details.

When leaders lose sight of the bigger picture they become overwhelmed.

Note that Moses did not try to resolve the problem alone.  God instructed him to pass before the people with some of the other national leaders (elders) and the famous staff (a reminder of God's miraculous power).

The baseline question in verse 7 carries throughout Israel's story and in our life story as well.  "Is the LORD among us or not?"  Are we doing what God wants done or are we trying to live life on our own?

Next, the challenge is not from within to supply the people's needs, but from outside.  Instead of allowing the people to pass through their land peaceably, the Amalekites choose to fight and take advantage of these former slaves.

This records the first war Israel faced on their journey from Egypt.  We meet Joshua for the first time.  Later, we are told that Joshua had been Moses' aide since his youth.  Here he is the appointed general of Israel's army.  With 600,000 soldiers Joshua engaged in battle against the Amalekites and won by the grace of God.

Moses was the leader but as any good leader knows he cannot be successful alone.  Moses led by maintaining oversight of what was happening.  God provided Joshua for the field.  When Moses became tired, as all leaders do, God provided Aaron and Hur to support him.

Leaders do not get tired of the work.  But they do become weary in the work.  Do you know of a spiritual leader who could use your encouragement and loyal support?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Is it okay to grumble?

Read Exodus 16.

The people lost vision of why they were there, how they got there, and who the real leader was.  When that happens, invariably a longing for the "good old days" arises.  This is the second instance where the people actually said they longed to go back to slavery!

But God was their leader.  They were there by direct answer to their prayers and fulfillment of God's promises to them.  They had just witnessed the incredible power of God in wiping out the entire Egyptian army to protect them.  How soon humans forget and how quick we are to blame.

The LORD had planned to supply their needs all along.  This was a test.  He most often waits until there is no answer to the challenge without Divine intervention.  How one behaves while waiting is a test.  The use of the resources He supplies is a test.  Both are seen in this chapter.

Isn't okay with God to tell how you feel?  When does expressing one's personal feelings cross the line to become grumbling and sinful?
1. When it is expressed in anger.  Yes, we have all experienced hurt that leads to anger.  We can even mentally justify the vengeance.  The emotions are understandable, but they must be quickly resolved.  Unresolved anger can destroy a person from the inside out.

2. When it is expressed with no intent to resolve anything.  This is complaining to complain.  Sometimes folks just like echoing bad news. 

3. When it is expressed repetitively and based on a personal bias or agenda.  Notice that this is not just a statement of disappointment, but this happens when one cannot let it go.  We do this when we do not get our own way, when others did not do it our way, or on our time table.

4. When it attacks and blames other people.  Almost all the time, there are other humans involved.  However, a spiritually mature person wants to deal with the emotion of the moment quickly so they do not miss what God is doing.  When it does not make sense to us, our faith in God's goodness, His plan, and His provision is being tested.

I wish I could always make an A on those tests.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Time to Celebrate

Read Exodus 15.

Up to this time we have heard the groanings of the Israelites in the pain and sorrow of slavery.  We heard their cry of fear as they thought they would be killed by the Egyptian army.  We heard them murmur and complain against Moses.  But now we hear a new sound in the book of Exodus.  This time, for the first time, we get to hear them praise God and celebrate.

Psalm 92:1-4 "It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.  For you O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works fo your hands I sing for joy."

There is value in special times of celebrating what God has done--Christmas, Easter, The Lord's Supper, Baptism, testimonies of changed lives, God-given victories, deliverance from problems, God's supply of blessings.  All the glory, as here in this chapter, should go to the One who made it possible.

Why is this so important?
1. It is a time for reminding each other of the basis of our faith.  Our faith has a credible foundation and born out through our first hand witness.

2. It is a time for teaching each other and, especially, the next generation of God's power, love and faithfulness to us.

3. It is a time for presenting the good news of Jesus to those who have not yet embraced Him as LORD and Savior of their lives.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

5 Keys for People in Crisis

Read Exodus 14.

God has led His people eastward to the shore of the Red Sea.  There are mountains to the north of them and mountains to the south.  Suddenly, Pharaoh and his advisers see these slaves as wandering aimlessly and boxed in.  The Israelites could see the Egyptian army coming after them with full military force.

There are four perspectives in this account.
1. Pharaoh and the Egyptians had lost their slave labor and were embarrassed.  They wanted to seize what they perceived as an opportunity for some revenge and exercise of their control over Israel.
2. The Israelites feared for their lives.  They had little to no defense against the Egyptian army.  When people are in duress physically, emotionally, even financially, they will blame God and their leaders.  The statements of the people showed no insight into God's leadership.  They blamed Moses for not leaving them alone and not letting them die as slaves in Egypt.  They had no sense that were in the center of God's will for their lives, nor what God was about to do.
3. But these people were God's people.  God led them to this place.  This was God's plan all along.  Three times He states that He will get glory from Pharaoh and the Egyptian army.
4. Moses as the leader suffered the brunt of the verbal attacks by the people.  This won't be the last time that the people turn on him when they feel threatened.  He knew he was where God wanted him to be, doing what God wanted done. 

So, in preparation for a miracle Moses delivered a terse and powerful message to people in crisis.
1. "Fear not."  Fear is the opposite of faith.  In crisis, acknowledge your fear.  Fight your fear with faith in the One who brought you this far and has shown Himself faithful to you in the past.
2. "Stand firm."  Recognize the crisis as a test of you and your faith.  What kind of grade do you want to make on this test?  Crisis is never a test of God and His ability.  So, stand on what you know is right from what God has said in His Word.
3. "See the salvation of the LORD."  There is hope in the LORD.  It will require patience while we wait on Him to act on our behalf.  Faith lives in a continual mode of expectancy.  "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  (Hebrews 11:1)  "By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as if on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned." (Hebrews 11:29)
4. "The LORD will fight for you."  Joe Sangl is known for saying, "If it is God's will, then  it is God's bill."  In other words, if we are His people, in His will, doing what He wants done, we can count fully on Him to meet our needs.  God is trustworthy.  He is working His plan for our lives, even when we cannot see any movement.
5. "Be silent."  In crisis, we may need to initially vent because we are upset or scared.  But we need to quickly reach a point where we stop talking about it.  We cannot hear God's voice if we keep interrupting Him.  Some of our prayer time should be meditating on the Word of God and listening to His insights for us.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

4 Things to Remember on Life's Journey

Read Exodus 13.

American Express used an advertising slogan for years stating, "Don't leave home without it."  As the Israelites began their journey out of Egypt, God delivered a message of four things to remember.

1. As the owner of all things, God wants in return our first and best dedicated or given to Him.  The LORD does not want our leftovers.  This is the first message to the nation as they set out on their journey.  The firstborn in the family is especially to be dedicated to Him.  It was to be true also the firstborn of their livestock.  When they arrived on the land and grew crops, it was the first fruits of their harvest.  Proverbs 3:9-10, "Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting forth with wine."  The bodily resurrection of Jesus was called the first fruits of the our resurrection (1 Corinthians 15).  The implication is that expressing such gratitude to God at first is to look forward to His blessings on the rest. 
Question: Are you honoring the LORD with the first of all your increase?

2. Tell your story to the next generation so they know they know firsthand of the power of God in your life.
Question: Does the next generation in your family know the story how God has displayed His power in your life?

3. Your God-story should be evident in three personal and obvious way: a) hand-what you do; b) eyes-what you see; mouth-what you say.  To this day, the Orthodox Jews may be seen actually wearing portions of the scriptures in small leather boxes strapped to their foreheads or wrists.  These are called phylacteries.
Question: Is it obvious to others in your daily contacts that God has done a work in your life?

4. No matter where the journey takes you, God is in the lead, shielding and providing.  The pillar of cloud would have given the people shade from the desert heat.  The pillar of fire would have provided warmth in the desert night and light.
Question: Have you noticed how the LORD protected and provided for you today?  Have you thanked Him?


Friday, March 2, 2012

Making Passover Personal

Read Exodus 12.

The LORD gave Moses the message of how He would deliver the people of Israel.  They were to get dressed, pack up, and eat a good meal standing up with their walking staff in hand, ready to leave Egypt.  Imagine the faith it took on their part after more than 400 years of slavery to believe this and prepare.

God is a God of justice and, therefore, judges sin.  God is a God of mercy and, therefore, provides a way of escape from that judgment.  The details included:
1. Instruction: sacrifice a lamb and apply the blood to the top and sides of the door frame
2. Condition: without blemish
3. Perfection: no broken bones, watched for four days to be sure of the condition
4. Reason: "I will execute judgment and kill all firstborn"
5. Personal application: "every man a lamb", "your lamb", personal identification with the sacrifice
6. Results: God promised when He saw the blood applied He would "passover" those who responded
(Source: Walk Thru the Bible)

This is not the first time we have seen God provide the death of an animal, especially a lamb, on behalf of person's sin.
Genesis 3:21-in the Garden of Eden, after the sin of Adam and Eve, God took the skin of an animal and clothed the guilty couple.
Genesis 4:4-Abel brought the firstborn of his flock and offered it to the LORD as a sacrifice.
Genesis 22:1-13-God called Abraham to offer his firstborn son as a sacrifice.  On the way, Isaac asked where the lamb was for the burnt offering.  This clearly indicates the normal expectation in the worship of God at that time.  Abraham answered, "God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering."
Keep in mind that those statements in Genesis are millennia and centuries prior to the law.  The law only incorporated what God had already expected as a covering for sin.

From Genesis to Revelation the concept is consistently taught of the sacrificial lamb, shedding blood in atonement for personal sin.  Hebrews 9:22, "...without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."

Isaiah 53:7-12 describes the Messiah as a lamb and as One who will die as an offering for sin. 
When John, the Baptist, saw Jesus, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).  Jesus said of Himself that He came "to give His life as a ransom" (Matthew 20:28).  In Hebrews 9:26, referring to Jesus, "...he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."

And, in the final judgments God has announced for this earth, in preparation for the glorious return of the Messiah to rule and reign, Revelation 5:11-12 describe the opening scenes with these words-"Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, 'Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!'"

Jesus, the perfect and only sacrificial payment for our sin, mercifully offers to all escape from eternal judgment.  Is Jesus your personal passover lamb?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

4 Takeaways in Tough Times

Read Exodus 11.

The LORD told Moses to announce the tenth plague.  This time the LORD Himself will pass through the land of Egypt at midnight.  The firstborn of every family and of all cattle will die.  The firstborn son received special honor.  The firstborn of Pharaoh was heir to the throne and considered a god as well.  The suffering throughout the nation would be unimaginable.

"But", verse 7, there would be no such suffering among the Israelites.  "Not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel."  The plagues were designed to demonstrate to an unbelieving king and nation the power and authority of the Living God and to call them to repentance toward Him.

The result would be Pharaoh's unconditional release of his slaves.

The people of Israel had lived in Egypt for 400 years.  As slaves they had little to nothing in the way of possessions.  The journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan would require resources to sustain them.  How would this practical need be met?  While Pharaoh hardened his heart against God and the Israelites, the LORD gave Moses and His people favor among the Egyptians.  The Egyptians willingly shared their silver and gold with the slaves in anticipation of their departure.

All of this was in fulfillment of the prophetic promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 15, some 500 years in advance.  "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.  But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions." (Genesis 15:13)

There are four takeaway lessons to learn that will hold up in the toughest of times.
1. God wants everyone to know, love and worship Him alone.
2. God is all-powerful and the ultimate source of all authority.
3. God protects His people.
4. God provides the needs of His people.

"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19)