Snapshots: Day 101

Snapshots: Day 101

The Snapshot: “you are a people holy to the Lord your God.” (Deut 7:6) This verse follows an exhortation to not be like the pagans that the Lord will drive out of the Land. God had called Israel to be an utterly different people, a unique people, His people who have been redeemed from the fallen ways of the world and given a new blueprint as to how to live – and it is different from everyone else in this fallen world. That is also our calling (1 Pet 2:9), to live in relationship with the Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth  (Gen 14:19,22) and be a different people, not in a super-pious,  arrogant way, but as a cleansed and purified and humbled people, full of love and goodness, a people utterly reliant on their God. May it be so.

Further Consideration:  When I was younger there was a time when Christians seemed to get themselves in a twist about holiness and in retrospect those who focused on holiness mostly seemed to demonstrate a distinct lack of it. In the Hebrew the original word from which we get holiness seems to express ‘separation’, while the equivalent Greek word in the New Testament seems to signify ‘pure’. Put together the idea seems to be separation to God, consecration to God. When this applies to God, it suggests separation of a perfect (pure) Being from material creation, and especially from mankind!

When there is a relationship between a person and God, that person takes on the holy nature of God. Holiness we might suggest, rubs off (see Ex 30:29, Lev 16:18). The fact is that when we came to Christ we entered into close relationship with God, and the reality of that was the presence of His Holy Spirit who now indwells us. The fact that the New Testament refers to us being “in Christ” also suggests the closeness which Jesus himself spoke about when he spoke of the vine (him) and the branches (us) – see Jn 15:4,5 and so again and again we see this unity that perhaps we take for granted, a unity that makes us holy.

Initially it was seen in Israel: Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Lev 19:2) so when Jesus prays, “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity,” (Jn 17:23) we cannot but infer that within this oneness comes this holiness. So, when Peter calls us “a holy nation,” (1 Pet 2:9) he knows we are this separate, distinct, pure, consecrated-to-God people. Whether we like it not, understand it or not, we ARE holy because He is holy.

It isn’t because we now follow the Law of Moses but because we have this living relationship with God the Father, earned by God the Son and administered by God the Holy Spirit, a holy Godhead who have worked to create a holy people out of the devastation of this Fallen World.

Snapshots: Day 98

Snapshots: Day 98

The Snapshot: “the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert.” (Deut 1:1) On the plains of Moab (1:5 & 34:1,8) Moses paused up. He’s near the end of his journey. The people will shortly enter the Land but he won’t. It is a significant time. Deuteronomy is the long record of his instructions to Israel there on the plains (except for ch.34 added by another recorder). At the end of it, he declared to them, “They are not just idle words for you – they are your life.” A book full of exhortations to obey the Lord, reject idol worship, and live for God. They could never say they weren’t told.  A blueprint for a nation blessed by God, but the trouble is blueprints get lost and forgotten. Israel forgot that. We have our New Testament; may we never forget this blueprint for blessing.

Further Consideration:  In some ways Deuteronomy is quite repetitious with similar sounding calls to obedience coming and calls to keep from idol worship, and so on, but we need repetition if we are to remember things. I teach a group about strengthening memory and of course the use of repetition is one such way, so don’t be put off by reading the same things more than once – we need that!

I wonder how Moses felt on the plains of Moab as he taught Israel over a number of days. His memory clearly went back to the times of their failures because we see him reminding Israel of them in the early chapters.  We need reminding of such times, if for no other reason than to remind us what not to do again. It also reminds us how gracious God is for putting up with us. Yet in the midst of that there is the warning of being held accountable. Many lessons.

So perhaps Moses is very much aware of how vulnerable Israel are to getting it wrong and so he keeps on saying the same thing to try to get them to get the message to obey God in the new land. But at that point he has the recognition that he will not be going in with them. He has a date with God in heaven, so they will be going in without him. Mixed emotions surely. Regret at having blown it at the rock? Regret at not going in, perhaps? Or maybe relief that he’s come to the end of his road with Israel. It has often been a tough time and he’s now 120, it’s now time to go home. I wonder if he felt like the apostle Paul felt centuries later: “The time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:6,7)

Yes, probably a mixed bag of emotions, but whatever they were he remained faithful to his task of shepherding and guiding Israel so that there on the plains as his time draws near to leave, he pours his heart out for this people to remain faithful. What an example!

Snapshots: Day 91

Snapshots: Day 91

The Snapshot: “Send some men to explore the land … all of them were leaders.” (Num 13:1,3) They do say leaders are those who go ahead. These men certainly did, but we know the story of how they came back and only two were full of faith to take the Land while ten only saw problems, and the ten caused Israel to end up for forty years in the wilderness. What a responsibility. There’s a challenge for any of us who have been, are, or will be leaders in whatever capacity in ‘the church’. We have the capability of encouraging and leading God’s people on in acts of faith, or we can just see problems and difficulties and hinder the progress of God’s plans. Such a responsibility is scary, but such a responsibility is only on those called and equipped. Who? Those with hearts open to be used by God.

Further Consideration: Responsibility in leadership is a tricky thing and it is something that has the potential to weigh one down with ‘all that responsibility’. Well let’s see if we can lift the load off while avoiding becoming negative reporters like Moses’ leaders.

I did a study recently on church leaders. There are those in the New Testament who appear to have been spirit-filled guys who looked after the material well-being of the flock. They were the deacons. The ones with spiritual responsibility were called elders, overseers or shepherds (pastors).  As the interchangeable names imply they were the mature and wise in the congregation of God’s people, those who guarded and protected the flock, and those who provided for the flock, whether it was food, security or healing.

Now here’s the thing, there seems little reference to them being ‘called’ whereas some denominational leaders make a big thing about ‘calling’. Actually in scripture it seems more of a natural gifting thing, an aspirational thing (1 Tim 3:1) and a character thing (3:2-7), something recognized by apostles (where there are apostles) or by the flock, and so if you are there, it is probably because God has gifted you accordingly and touched your heart – and will equip you with His grace to enable you to be a blessing to the flock. Calling? Maybe.

That’s it; if we are leaders we are called to be a blessing to the flock, serving them, looking out for them, not dominating them, but loving them and looking for all God’s goodness to them. So if you have God’s grace, what’s so difficult about that? People and Satan! Right, but His grace doesn’t change and will be sufficient to cope.

And one final thing in a short reflection like this: remember you’re imperfect and will not get it perfectly right all the time, but as long as we’re steering away from major sin, that doesn’t disqualify you. Enjoy it, be a blessing and be blessed.

Snapshots: Day 88

Snapshots: Day 88

The Snapshot: “So he consecrated Aaron … and his sons.” (Lev 8:30) Why priests? Why all these intricate instructions about what they wear and what they do? Perhaps it was to build a bridge between Israel and God, a communication bridge that said, ‘God is holy, and you are not; stay at a distance otherwise you might die. Do not be casual about your relationship with God’. Perhaps it was that there would be those whose lives were to act as constant reminders of this holy God. Perhaps they were to be temporary stand-ins until Jesus came as God’s real priest who drew each of us into his priesthood (joining him in showing that God is holy, acting as reminders of God’s presence in His world, and showing the way to Him. A holy priesthood? (1 Pet 2:9) That is you and me.

Further Consideration: I have, in the snapshot above, suggested that the priesthood acted as a division between God and the people, and I believe that is true, but there is another side to this particular coin: their role was also to bring the people to God. Admittedly the people could not come close, for only the priests could minister in the Holy Place, and the high priest only once a year in the Holiest Place (or Holy of Holies), the innermost room where the presence of God was said to dwell. Nevertheless the role of the priesthood was to teach the Law and be there to oversee the sacrifices, encouraging the people to come to God in the ways stated in the Law.

I have asked the question, why all the intricate instructions about what to wear and what to do? The first simple thought is that having established such paraphernalia, it would be unlikely that anyone else would seek to invade and become part of the priesthood, who were outside the priestly family of Levi. Anyone wearing less than these clothes would never be accepted by the people. Thus the clothes marked them out as special. Similarly all the rules relating to their activities separated them from the ordinary. Summarizing this, these things reinforced or emphasized this barrier / bridge that we have spoken about and made it a very obvious part of the Jewish life and community. It was only in later centuries in the life of Israel was all this diluted so that the priests became worldly in outlook and in Jesus’ time the Sadducees with their limited and liberal theological views held control of the priesthood with a Sadducee eventually judging Jesus.

Now when Peter says we, “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood,” (1 Pet 2:9) he reminds us that our lives are holy, reflecting a holy God, but that we are also there to act as His intermediaries in this world. We are to convey the heart and will of God and teach whoever will be taught. What a privilege!

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 85

Snapshots: Day 85

The Snapshot: “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:34) When the ‘house of the Lord’ is built according to His instructions (see the previous ‘Thought’) surely we should expect the glory of the Lord to fill it – us individually and corporately. IF that actually happened – in whichever local expression of the church that you can think of – what do you think would be seen? How would God’s glory be seen? Can any of us (maybe a few) in churches in the West at least, honestly say this is what we experience? In the days, weeks and months ahead, dare we make this prayer: “Show us Lord, what we need to change that will make this dwelling available for you”?

Further Consideration: Recently I found myself writing the following: “At the end of a Sunday morning say, do we have a buzz about the wonderful things that happened in that morning, the amazing words of revelation that were brought, the powerful testimonies of change brought, the lives that were clearly touched and changed, the obvious power of the Holy Spirit’s presence seen and felt, the heart-warming encouragements brought, the strong faith stirred, the powerful challenges brought, maybe even the tears of conviction brought, and was there a sense of having been fed by God’s word so that we walk out with head held high, stronger in conviction, more sure of our walk and certain of our future? I must pray more.”

That came out of constantly being confronted with thoughts and writings about ‘Holy Dissatisfaction’, a healthy prompting by the Spirit to get us to pray. The above is, I believe, an honest appraisal of how so much modern church life is (there are exceptions) and how many hungry Christians come away at the end of Sunday morning.

However, it is possible not to come away like this if we have no expectation of the presence of God, if we have settled to the neatly planned and orthodox service where, to be quite honest, you would not know if the presence of God was absent or not.

The glory that was seen in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple of Solomon was unique, never to be seen again (except in visions by Ezekiel). Today that ‘glory’ is the almost tangible presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst when we meet – when He is given space and welcomed. I suspect this is not something experienced by most modern churches. It is only when you have had a glimpse of this will your heart yearn for something more – the ‘more’ that God wants to bring to His people to deepen their relationship with Him, strengthen and embolden them to confront the many ungodly pressures that have been coming and continue to come on the Church today. We can opt for the familiar or we can pray for the godly Presence. May it be the latter.

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.