Snapshots: Day 86

Snapshots: Day 86

The Snapshot: “it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you.” (Lev 1:4) How can killing a cow or a sheep make atonement, and what does atonement mean and do I need it? Some have suggested at-one-ment i.e. being made one with God again after a division caused by my sin. Synonyms are ‘compensation, amends, punishment’. This animal will be accepted by God to make up for my sins? However I see it, it is God saying by doing this one thing, I can take it that He accepts me back. But I feel bad about this animal dying for me? Accept it, it’s just a picture of what my Son will do for you one day. Your action will indicate your repentance and your obedience; that is enough, that is what this is all about.

Further Consideration: As we continue our slow progress through the Bible, the great temptation is to omit Leviticus because it seems at first sight to be so obscure in the light of today’s world – and messy. Yet we need to remember this was part of the Law given to Moses by God for Israel at that time and acted as part of the foundation of their lives as a godly community.  Some of the Law was about the priesthood but that was partly to support the expressions of activity laid out in the early chapters of Leviticus that we may summarise as ways of getting right with God after personal failure.

Living in a world as we do, where personal failure is simply something we quickly cover up but fail to deal with properly (so guilt remains and a vulnerability to repetition), it is difficult to grasp the simplicity of purpose found in the early chapters of Leviticus.

Our tendency is to avoid talking about our failures and pretending they didn’t happen, or to make excuses for them. God’s method is to openly confront them, not to leave us feeling guilty failures but to be left with a sense of resolution, that the failure (sin) has been properly dealt with before Him and so we will not have a constant feeling that He may yet be coming after us for it. The Bible is the best counselor on the planet. Instead of months of costly therapy, God declares the way to deal with guilt. For the embryonic nation of Israel it was to bring an offering, a sacrifice to the Tabernacle and to kill it before the priest. The shock of taking a life would impact the person offering it and convey a sense of the awfulness of sin but would leave them with the memory of an experience they had been through that left them clean and their sin dealt with before God so there would be no further likelihood of repercussions because of it.

Today you and I trust that Jesus is our sacrifice, when he died on the Cross and so when we “confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)


Snapshots: Day 83

Snapshots: Day 83

The Snapshot: “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones.” (Ex 34:1) What amazing grace. God meets with Moses and Israel at Sinai and gives them the Law, part of which were on two slate (probably) slabs. Israel blow it, Moses loses his cool and smashes the two tablets. End of the story of Moses and Israel. Well, no, not actually.  Here’s the puzzle: why didn’t God slap Moses, why didn’t He abandon them, give up on them? I suppose it’s the same reason He doesn’t give up on us. He knows what we’re like, He knows we’re prone to getting it wrong, needing to be constantly encouraged, needing to be given a second chance – and third and fourth, and who knows how many chances. Amazingly love means He’s committed to helping us succeed. Yes, amazing!

Further Consideration: There is an infamous crusading atheist, who I shall not name, who became notorious by concocting a paragraph of total abuse describing God. The only problem was that it was complete rubbish based upon his ignorance of the Bible – and yet it was heralded and applauded by his devoted followers, which only goes to show there are a lot of people who are ignorant of what the Bible actually says.

I believe those of us who are believers may not be quite as bad, but often we skim over scriptures and fail to take in the wonder of what it is we are reading. I have sought in the snapshot above to counter that tendency by slowing us up and getting us to realize the grace of God that was being displayed when He instructed Moses to chisel out a second set of stone tablets on which He would rewrite the Ten Commandments.

I imagine a loving father with their young child and the child has just smashed up a model that the father had made for them. Resignedly, for he is a human father, he sighs and smiles and says, “OK, let’s have another go,” and commences to rebuild the broken model.

Again we take for granted, I believe, some of the New Testament teaching. For example, My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ.” (1 Jn 2:1) There is this same thing – the God of second chances. He doesn’t want us to sin, He doesn’t want us to have temper tantrums and smash that which is precious, but when we do He is there, saddened I believe by our immaturity, but ready to forgive when we come to our senses and ask forgiveness, ready to get us up on our feet again and, pointed in the right direction again, and is there helping us have fresh resolve to get it right this time.

Yes, this is the God of second chances, the God of grace and mercy who is there for us. Never say otherwise. Worship and be thankful.

Snapshots: Day 75

Snapshots: Day 75

The Snapshot: “These are the laws you are to set before them.” (Ex 21:1) Many people don’t like ‘laws’ but the Laws of Moses are a sign of God’s love. They were clues to how He had designed us to live, how a community can live at peace, how things can be put right when we mess up, how to live differently and distinctly from the pagan nations surrounding them, how to live healthily dealing with various health problems that crop up in this fallen world  and, of course, how to relate to Him. They were specifically for Israel (and not us – many people don’t realize this), an agrarian society that was uniquely called to be God’s people. As Christians we have different ‘laws’ in the New Testament, all enhancing the wonder of our relationship with God through Jesus.

Further Consideration: We have been considering the ‘rules’ we find in the New Testament that guide us in our walk with Christ, rules which, I would suggest, reflect the laws of Moses in their purposes. They tell us how He has designed us to live in Christ, (e.g. Eph 2:1-10) forgiven and cleansed by his work on the Cross, now empowered by His Spirit. They show us how to be put right with God when we mess up (1 Jn 1:9, 2:1,2), how we can live differently from our neighbors (Rom 12:2), how to deal with health issues (Jas 5:14-16) and how to relate to Him (e.g. Phil 4:6,7). As you read through your New Testament watch out for these things and you will see many more instances of each of them. But there are two important things to be said.

First, keeping these laws or rules are not what enables us to be a Christian. We do not earn our salvation by rule-keeping; we receive it by believing in Jesus, that he is the Son of God who has died and risen again and is seated at the Father’s right hand, ruling in the midst of his enemies. The ‘rules’ are just ways we live out this new relationship with God that Jesus Has earned for us.

Second, these ‘rules’ distinguish us from our non-Christian neighbour and our call to him or her is not to follow the rules but to believe in Jesus. Our ‘rule-keeping’ is to demonstrate the wisdom and way of God that has been opened up to us through Christ. Don’t expect your unbelieving neighbour to follow and understand these same rules, because they cannot do that except as an outworking of the faith they have come to accept (hopefully) in Christ. The Laws of Moses and the rules of the New Testament reveal the love, goodness and wisdom of God. Some of those laws are strange to us because they reflected the pagan lives and practices around them to be avoided. Another reason why they are not for us. We have our own in Christ.

Snapshots: Day 71

Snapshots: Day 71

The Snapshot: “Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said” (Ex 18:24) I find this amazing. Moses is the great leader, the follower of Jehovah, the one who experiences intimacy with God, and yet he listens to this older man. The misguided believe that instant Internet access makes us wise because we can find out anything, which means that few express the humility that is described here, in listening to the wisdom of the aged. The arrogance that comes with ‘instant knowledge’ bolsters pride and becomes a stumbling block to many so only the falls through the years will teach wisdom when the easier way had been rejected. How sad, how foolish. May we listen and learn from Moses and Jethro and short-cut the pain.

Further Consideration: This snapshot reveals a deception that is so wide and so prevalent today that it is not only seriously worrying but is tragic, the belief that “I am greater than my forebears because I know – I have all this information at my fingertips. I am wise.”

Deception!  Wisdom comes either as a special gift from God or with the experience of years, experience that has involved failure, patience, perseverance, endurance. These are the things that form wisdom.

And then of course, “The fear of the Lord is beginning of wisdom.” A complete submission to God, a trust in His wisdom, His ways, His salvation, His word, His Holy Spirit. Again these are the things that go to form wisdom.

Wisdom also involves honour and respect for the aged, if for no other reason than they have been there, done it and survived. I come across aging church leaders who have endured and struggled and fought the battles of the years, some have large churches and large churches mean bigger problems, greater experience. These are men and women who have done things many of us don’t even dream about, they have been beaten and bruised, and these are people who deserve our respect and honour.

I remember one leader, now passed on I believe, who used to say when he was young he would find a senior leader and try and be with them to learn whatever they had learned. That was wisdom. He knew that such a person had so much of value that quick searches of the Internet cannot bring up. Experience of life.

But you won’t get it unless you learn to sit down and build a relationship with such a person and then just listen to them, question them about their life – we all have amazing stories to tell which convey truths about the walk with the Lord – and hear truths about successes and failures, things they have learnt the hard way, the way of walking this uneven path in this fallen world – with God!

Snapshots: Day 70

Snapshots: Day 70

The Snapshot: “Now Jethro…. heard of everything God had done for Moses” (Ex 18:1) Testimony is a powerful thing. It appears in so many ways in the Bible. What had been going on with Israel had echoed across the nearby nations, so even Jethro back in Midian had heard what his son-in-law had been doing.  In verse 9 after he came, we read, “Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel.” The priest of Midian had become a believer in Jehovah: “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” The Church today is called to bear testimony, not only by words, but by good deeds and by the miraculous, just as Israel were. Result? Belief changes, lives change. May it be so!

Further Consideration: Again and again the records show that others heard what was happening with Israel, what God was doing with them and through them. When Israel eventually came to Jericho, Rahab testified how they had heard what was happening and that created a fear in them.

Now I wonder what sort of responses there can be when the works of God are heard about. In Jesus’ day they heard about what he was doing and then saw for themselves some of the things he was doing, but they rejected them. Those were the religious leaders, people who had agendas of their own. People with their own agendas, their own prejudices, and their own fears, so often reject the good news, for it seems too good or it threatens their word-view, their stance in life. Having read some of the crusading atheists of the early twenty-first century, their prejudices and maybe some of their origins are very obvious.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way their respond to good news. Seeing people amazingly healed should have created at least a measure of joy and thankfulness, but when those enemies of Jesus rejected him, they rejected the wonder of these things and revealed their own blindness. Tell an atheist how a person has been wonderfully saved, delivered and transformed and if they respond with negative derision, it is their heart that has just been revealed for its terrible poverty of spirit.

Jethro heard, came, heard more and believed. The evidence was so overwhelming – but then it still is today! The evidence of lives changed, testimonies of healing and deliverance, of life transformation, the evidence of the Scriptures themselves, they are all there if there was a hungry person looking. The person who, at the end, says, “I wasn’t told,” will be told, “You didn’t look, you didn’t ask!”

Snapshots: Day 63

Snapshots: Day 63

The Snapshot: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm.” (Ex 14:13) Israel are in a mess. The sea is before them and an angry and vengeful Pharaoh is coming behind them – and it’s all God’s fault! And Moses says, “Do not be afraid”? You’ve got to be joking! This is a scary situation. Just like being in a small boat on a capricious lake in a vicious storm, when God seems asleep (Lk 8:23). Why do we have crisis moments like this?   Why is it that sometimes the guidance of God appears to be going pear-shaped? Just so that we can learn that He is still with us, is still in control, is still working out His purposes which will succeed. Father wants His kids to learn to trust Him for all these things, but it is a process, often a slow process. Grumble or grow, are the two choices. Choose well.

Further Consideration: I feel almost in despair at times over the Christian world. A member of the church rings me up to ask me to pray for members of their family who are in a mess. Not wanting to be discouraging I say I will pray but deep down I know the only meaningful prayer for these people who have been living godless and unrighteous lives is, “Lord, please save them.” Then and then only will they start putting their lives straight and peace, order and blessing will start to flow. Until then, we may ask God to bless them – and He might well do that – but all that means is He will stick on a plaster and they will carry on living godless and unrighteous lives and getting in a mess.

This is very different from the mess that Israel are in at the present point of our meandering through the Scriptures. They have just received an amazing deliverance and are on their way out of Egypt but the cause of their past slavery threatens them yet again. In fact the present threat is worse than they knew before because Pharaoh is now determined to kill them. I say it is different and yet in both cases the past needs putting to death.

The New Testament is quite clear: when we turn to Christ we are to die to the old life, described by the apostle Paul as, “gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts,” (Eph 2:3) and in Rom 6 he uses the language of death and resurrection to describe what has happened to us. In Israel’s case Pharaoh is about to be put to death, that is the only way to completely free Israel from their past in Egypt. When Paul says, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” (Rom 6:11) he means, consider yourself dead to that old life – of godlessness and unrighteousness – but now tuned in to living with God. There can be no half and half. Be transformed, live it, experience it and stand firm in it for it is what Christ has earned for you on the Cross. Hallelujah!

Snapshots: Day 62

Snapshots: Day 62

The Snapshot: “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him.” (Ex 13:19) Wow! Weird! No, because Joseph had made his people promise to take his bones back to Canaan when they returned. Yet that had been some four hundred years earlier, but time did not worry Joseph. God had warned Abraham it would take that long (Gen 15:13) and Joseph believed God. Moreover he realized something of the significance of being back in the Land, the Land of Promise, the land of future hope, the land of identity, so much so that he had to be there – even if it was just his bones!  Wow, that is faith, that is understanding!  That is a challenge to us. Do I see God’s big picture, do I see my part in it, do I see how important it is that I be where He wants the action to be?

Further Consideration: ‘The Land’ played a most significant part in the life and experience of Israel; it was the place of encounter with God, the place where God would bless His people. Today we, the vast majority of the Church – the Gentiles – do not have a physical land, (yes, Jewish Christians may still look to Israel as their homeland) and so for us the Bible speaks of our ‘land’ as ‘the kingdom of God’, a place, a location, an experience wherever God is manifest in and through us.

Perhaps ‘the kingdom’ is another of those doctrines that needs emphasizing across the Church today. If instead of majoring on our different expressions of ‘church’ we instead majored on the kingdom of God, we would stop being inward looking as we focus on ‘our’ denomination. group or stream, and instead focus on working out the will of God that He desires for us today.

Abraham clearly heard God’s word about the future of what would become a nation, and their taking possession of this land of Canaan in the centuries to come, and obviously passed that word on to Isaac who passed it on to Jacob who told his twelve sons about it. Joseph, through all his trials, became a man of God who understood the ways of God (some of which were clearly passed on by his elderly father, Jacob – remember the responsibility of parents we saw in the last study) and part of that understanding involved the significance of ‘the Land’.

When Joseph had others promise to take his bones back to the Land, he was allying himself with the declared will of God. What was amazing was that that promise was conveyed down the generations so that when they did eventually leave Egypt, they took Joseph’s remains with them. Amazing! So the questions that must follow. Do we see the same significance in ‘the kingdom of God’? Do we put that kingdom – the will of God – at the head of our agenda? Do we work at this for the long-term goal of creating something real for future generations? Well?