Monday, November 20, 2017

you can't come in empty-handed

The Word for today:
Exodus 30, 31
The Tabernacle is God’s picture book, illustrating the great doctrines of the Christian faith. And Stand in the Rain has been commissioned by God Himself (Matthew 28:18-20) to be your official Tabernacle tour guide…
We've come through the Tabernacle Gate, but we did not come in empty-handed.
We're often told to "come to God with empty hands, so he can fill them." But when we hear that, the "WRONG" buzzer should go off!
Because while it is true that we have nothing of our own to give him, it is also true that we can't bring nothing!  Man cannot approach God without a sacrifice.
And because the wages of sin is death, only a blood sacrifice is acceptable (Romans 6:23; Leviticus 17:11).
The sacrifice is a substitute for the sinner:
And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. (Leviticus 1:4)
The Israelite killed the sacrifice at the side of the altar with his hand placed upon its head, thus identifying himself with the sacrifice.
By faith he placed his hand upon it and God accepted this arrangement, looking to the time when the Lamb of God would take away the sin of the world, “for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (John 1:29; Hebrews 10:4).
Way back in Genesis, God wanted Abraham to understand the awful price of sin. So he told Abraham to offer his son Isaac.
But God never intended for Isaac to die. He stopped the execution, and provided a ram, whose horns were caught in a thicket, to be sacrificed in Isaac's stead.
God wanted Abraham to understand that the only acceptable sacrifice was the Son that God, not Abraham, would provide.
The same holds true with prayer. Unless and until we offer Jesus, verbally by Name, our prayers do not find God.
The Name is not a magic incantation. As the Son of God/Son of Man, He is the mediator of the covenant (the terms of a relationship) between God and Man. We simply can't connect without Him.
Apart from Jesus, in terms of salvation and prayer, we are disconnected from God. In any situation, throughout all eternity, we will not be admitted without Jesus.
So if you come to God empty-handed, that's the way you will stay.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

all you've got to do is turn around

The Word for today:
Exodus 29
Yesterday, we entered the Tabernacle through its single gate:
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. (John 10:9)
My Picture Bible.
God sent a picture before He sent the Person. The Tabernacle is God’s picture book.
ABC’s of salvation—
The Tabernacle presents the great doctrines of the Christian faith in picture form.
Salvation is on the move.
The sentence above should read: ‘The Tabernacle presents the great doctrines of the Christian faith in moving picture form.’
As we proceed through the Tabernacle, let's remember that the Tabernacle isn't an art gallery with still pictures in frames. These pictures depict your very own pilgrim's progress toward eternal life with God.
So don't let these pictures remain remote and static and lifeless. Don't let these pictures be "theology." Instead make them an outline of the story of your new life with God. As we proceed through the Tabernacle, personalize each step with the details of your own life…
Can you remember when you decided to "go through the gate?" Can you recall those first steps--perhaps halting and hesitant steps--towards faith in Jesus?
There's a well-loved Bible story that depicts one man's decision to go back home to his Father. (Many of you knew, halfway through the previous sentence, that I am referring to Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15.)
The young man went to a far country where he led a life filled with sin. Then one day he came to his senses and decided to go back home.  Here's the moment when he "entered the gate" to his father's estate:
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)
Remember that the Tabernacle is the Tent of Meeting. As you made your way back to God, he was waiting and watching and hoping to see you come through the gate.
In fact, in Exodus, the Tabernacle is described from "the inside out"---from God's point of view as he looks from within the Holiest Place out to the gate.
If, as you read this, you are still in the far country, the gate is always open and God is waiting and watching and hoping for prodigal sons and daughters to come back home.
All you've got to do is turn around.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

you gotta go in through the door

The Word for today:
Exodus 28
mark this:
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. (John 10:9)
Going back to the tabernacle is the spiritual equivalent of going back to the basics. Whether you're an All-Pro Bible commentator or a rookie believer, the Tabernacle should be visited and revisited--first to teach us the basics of our salvation, and continually thereafter to make sure we're staying on track as we teach others.
Over the coming days we're going to take a tour of the tabernacle, from its single gate to the Ark of the Covenant.
We're going to keep it simple, concentrating on just a few of the furnishings per day. By the time we're done, you should be able to visualize your way through the tabernacle like you can visualize your way through a house where you once lived for twenty years.
First, a view from the outside:
The tabernacle was a portable temple, a "Tent of Meeting" within a movable courtyard. It was constructed after the pattern that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai, and was continuously assembled/reassembled in the desert as Moses led the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land.
It wasn't big. Nestled at the very center of the Israeli encampment -- more than a million people -- it was a modest place.  The enclosed courtyard was 150 feet long--about half the length of a football field. The covered Tent itself was about 45 feet long.
This "Tent of Meeting" was not a place where man met man, but where man could meet God. From the beginning of creation, God's plan was to allow people the joy of fellowship with him. However, the entrance of sin into the world (Genesis 3) caused the separation of God from man, for if sinful people were to come into God's presence, his holiness would consume them.
The Tabernacle provided a temporary means by which the Israelites could enjoy God's presence without being destroyed by it. And it remains invaluable for us today, for it shows us in tangible ways what is required to meet God.
We'll start our tabernacle tour at (where else!) the gate.
To set the scene, let's consider the words of a beloved gospel song:
"So high you can't get over it
So low you can't get under it
So wide you can't get 'round it
You gotta go in through the door…" (1)
The thing to remember about the gate is that there's only one!
The entire tabernacle complex had but one entrance--because there is only one way to approach God. The Bible never wavers on this issue. It is the First Commandment of the Old Testament:
"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:2-3)
And it is the "First Commandment" of the New Testament:
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."  (John 14:6)
"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."  (Matthew 7:13-14)
This concept bothers many people. They find it narrow-minded and exclusive, when its intention is to point to a Savior who can actually save. Thus what some hear as "Thou shalt not" is really all about what thou shalt do to be saved:
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
(1) lyrics from "Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham"

Friday, November 17, 2017

"Gentlemen, this is Jesus."

The Word for today:
Exodus 26, 27
Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi started every season with a team meeting. Surrounded by veterans and rookies alike, he would hold a football high above his head so that each player could see it. With all eyes on him, he simply said: "Gentlemen, this is a football."
This was Coach Lombardi's way of reminding all of his players that success begins with a clear understanding of the basics. While it may have been a little simplistic, it succinctly illustrates the need to understand the fundamentals before moving on to more advanced tasks.
Going back to the tabernacle is the spiritual equivalent of going back to the basics. Whether you're an All-Pro Bible commentator or a rookie believer, the Tabernacle should be visited and revisited -- first to teach us the basics of our salvation, and continually thereafter to make sure we're staying on track as we teach others.
Over the next ten days we're going to take a tour of the tabernacle, from the east gate to the Ark of the Covenant.
We're going to keep it simple, concentrating on just a few of the furnishings per day. By the time we're done, you should be able to visualize your way all the way through the tabernacle like you can visualize going through a house you've lived in for twenty years. We'll be resorting to pictorial aids -- pictures and diagrams -- as we make our way "from the door to the core."
Which came first, the Bible or Jesus?
The answer, of course, is Jesus:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
That beginning (John 1:1) is the oldest beginning in scripture, because no matter when you think it was, it was before that!
(The Bible's second oldest beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, is found in Genesis 1:1. The Bible's third beginning, the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, is found in Mark 1:1.)
Jesus is the original Word, which God has proclaimed in multi-media:
The Bible is a paper expression of the original Word.
The Tabernacle is an architectural expression of the original Word.
Finally, we witnessed a human expression (an incarnation) of the original Word:
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)
So I've always wondered (silly me) why they don't build churches according to the plan given for the tabernacle. Then the building we call "the church" would actually be doing what the church is supposed to do -- proclaim the Word of the LORD.
But instead the first thing encountered upon entering our current churches is some lame and dippy "Connection Café" where the biblically ignorant can miraculously manage to stay biblically ignorant during the entire thirty years of their church membership!
What a stark contrast to the sparsely appointed Tabernacle, where God allowed just a handful of furnishings which powerfully bespoke his Word…
Now we're nearing the Door. I'll meet you right here tomorrow.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tabernacle: God's Traveling Salvation Show

The Word for today:
Exodus 25
mark this: Exodus 25:8-9
Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.
Many of you know my disdain for the traditional Old Testament/New Testament division of the Bible. The Holy Spirit never drew that line. Those un-inspired titles have done more harm to biblical understanding than anything else I can think of.
If we must subdivide, here's the basic structure of the Bible:
Show (pictures of Jesus to come) -- from Genesis to Malachi
Jesus (Immanuel, God-with-us) -- from Matthew to John
Tell (what Jesus means to us) -- from Acts to Revelation
The so-called Old Testament introduces the children of Israel to their Messiah in picture language (so the kids can understand.)
The Law of Moses, for example, is a picture of Jesus' life:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17)
The sacrificial system (the heart of the Mosaic Law) is a picture of Jesus' sacrificial death:
"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)
The tabernacle is a picture of the gospel, the Good News of our ongoing salvation. The best, most literal translation of John 1:14 is "The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us." (Amplified Bible)
When I was a kid, I made a diorama in a shoebox. If you looked through the little "door" cut out of one end, it appeared as if you were entering an Indian village. That's what they were teaching in the fourth grade.
And to think that someone might have helped me make a diorama of the tabernacle, and thereby introduced me to Jesus the way God introduced him to Israel. But someone didn't.
If you don't know how the gospel unfolds and salvation proceeds over the course of our lives, then I'm inviting you to come along as we mentally reconstruct the tabernacle and learn what all the furnishings mean.
It wouldn't hurt any of us, even the most biblically advanced, to get a real shoebox and some construction paper, crayons, scissors, and glue. The tabernacle is a superlative gospel review. In fact, there is no better picture of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The tabernacle is God's Traveling Salvation Show, so while you're looking for a shoebox, look around for a fourth grader. The show is always more fun if you take someone along.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

I know my guardian angel's Name...

The Word for today:
Exodus 23:20-24:18
mark this: Exodus 23:20-21
See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your transgression, since my Name is in him.
My wife Shelley loves to watch the same old movies over and over. She manages, every year, to watch the 1947 movie classic, "It's a Wonderful Life," in which a guardian angel earns his wings by showing George Bailey how he has touched the lives of others…
George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) tries to commit suicide on Christmas Eve but is saved by an angel named Clarence Odbody (played by Henry Travers) who is on assignment to miraculously show George why his life matters. Clarence is a “second class” angel in training, and if he successfully completes his mission to help George, he can earn a promotion to first class and get his angel wings…
A bell rings while George and his family and friends are singing near the end of the film, and George’s daughter exclaims: “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”
Knowing that Clarence has finally earned his wings in heaven, George smiles and says: “That’s right, that’s right. Attaboy, Clarence!”
It's a cute movie. But so many people have seen it (some, like Shelley, about thirty times) that Clarence has embedded himself in our consciousness; he's what a guardian angel would be like, sort of, I guess…
Now contrast Clarence with the biblical picture of a guardian angel:
See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your transgression, since my Name is in him. (Exodus 23:20-21)
God didn't send Israel any junior varsity wannabe; in fact, the Angel God sent was God himself! We know this because the things said about the Angel were never said about anyone other than God:
1. "If you rebel against him, he will not forgive your sins."
Scripture tells us that only God has the power to forgive sin: "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2:7)
2. "My Name is in him."
God's name is always more than what we think a name connotes. It indicates his presence and is a revelation of his character and attributes. This angel, then, is the manifestation of all that God has made known about himself.
Jesus said, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (2)."  Jesus is "the express image of God's person (3)."
3. "Pay attention to him."
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" (4)
4. "He will guard you along the way."
Jesus said, "I am the way…" (5)
5. Finally, the Hebrew word for "angel" means "messenger."
Jesus, the Word made flesh, is himself God's ultimate messenger and message:
God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son...(Hebrews 1:1-2)
I don't know about you, but if there is such a thing as a guardian angel (1), I'll trade you Clarence for that One!
(1) This writer is of the opinion that angels accompanied Israel, but have been supplanted by the resident presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers today. However, I am not dogmatic on this issue, and would not be surprised to find out I'm wrong! But right or wrong, the protection and guidance of the omnipotent and omniscient Spirit cannot be enhanced by the presence of a created being, so the question (while interesting) is merely academic.
(2) John 14:9; (3) Hebrews 1:3; (4) Matthew 17:5; (5) John 14:6

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

some see rules, some see grace

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Exodus 21:33- 23:19
mark this: Exodus 22:27
"...for I am compassionate."
The Old Covenant gets a bad rap these days. I suppose that people in general have never cared much for God's Word, but the Law we find here in the second half of Exodus (along with Leviticus) gets particular contempt from an unbelieving world. Every sort of unpleasant epithet has been hurled its way: hateful, misogynistic, tedious, irrelevant, harmful, intolerant, confusing; on and on the venom flows, from the "educated" PhD, to the loudmouth at work.
But even within the Christian community, I often encounter attitudes towards the Law that are not much better. We know that we are "not under law, but under grace (1)." But the ignorance and negligence of this portion of Holy Scripture (not to mention downright contempt toward it) is quite disturbing. Many believers I know feel a bit embarrassed by some of the commands or prohibitions. Others have gone so far to try to divorce the New and Old Testaments from each other, a heresy that goes back a long time, to the days of the early church.
Some might even point to today's reading as an example of something tedious, out-dated, if not disconcerting (2). After all, what in the world does anything concerning oxen, or cloaks, or bride-prices or wandering donkeys have to do with any of us?
Fair enough question. But if we look a bit deeper, we see a remarkably contemporary list.
Does our modern society have real issues with revenge? How bout distorted justice? What about dishonest financial practices? Negligence? Oppression? Theft? Bribes? Partiality? Might I recommend Exodus 21-23 as a helpful reference? It beats the heck out of the situational ethics garbage we teach in the Ivy Leagues to all our future CEO's and politicians.
Furthermore, while particular regulations emerge from the Law, I see just as much, if not more, grace. God declares, "I am compassionate," then He backs it up with rules that demonstrate that truth. Look at the language used--it is full of words such as restoration, share, full restitution, and evidence. (If only these words guided today's legal system!) God really does care about truth and justice, and wants to make sure that His revealed legal system did so also. Even the much maligned "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" is not some barbaric measure, but rather God graciously limiting the amount of retaliation for an offense.
In this same Law we see God's merciful heart as special concern for those who could be exploited at the time: unmarried women, foreigners, widows and orphans, and the poor. The God of the Old Testament, unlike any other ancient deity, was actually concerned with those that other cultures would see as property or worse. There is even provision for acting in a loving way towards one's enemy (3), a concept that we see a little later on with a certain fellow from Galilee.
As we delve into the whole Law, with all its verses concerning the sacrificial system, the Tabernacle equipment and dimensions, instructions on all the feasts, the vestments of the priests, and so on, it is imperative that we do not turn off our brains thinking that God has nothing to say to us. Go deeper. Look for the bigger picture. Diligently look for Jesus Christ and His grace- because it's there. Remember "All Scripture is both God-breathed and useful (4)." Therefore these passages are also God-breathed and useful. I am so grateful that even as God spilled out the painfully detailed minutiae found in the Law, He was also revealing what a loving and compassionate God He was; because while prohibitions on shellfish may change, He does not.
(1) Romans 6:14
(2) see Exodus 22:19
(3) Exodus 23:4
(4) 2 Timothy 3:16