Wednesday, December 26, 2012

God at the Center

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “The Israelites are to camp around the tent of meeting some distance from it, each of them under their standard and holding the banners of their family.”

On the east, toward the sunrise, the divisions of the camp of Judah are to encamp under their standard... The tribe of Issachar will camp next to them... The tribe of Zebulun will be next...On the south will be the divisions of the camp of Reuben under their standard... The tribe of Simeon will camp next to them... The tribe of Gad will be next...Then the tent of meeting and the camp of the Levites will set out in the middle of the camps...On the west will be the divisions of the camp of Ephraim under their standard... The tribe of Manasseh will be next to them... The tribe of Benjamin will be next...On the north will be the divisions of the camp of Dan under their standard... The tribe of Asher will camp next to them... The tribe of Naphtali will be next...

So the Israelites did everything the Lord commanded Moses; that is the way they encamped under their standards, and that is the way they set out, each of them with their clan and family.
Numbers 2:1-3a, 5a, 7a, 10a, 12a, 14a, 17a, 18a, 20a, 22a, 25a, 27a, 29a, & 34
(emphasis added)

God gave specific instructions for how the Israelites were to set up camp. This is one of those less exciting parts of the Bible. It tells us exactly who camped where. All of the more than 600,000 Israelites camped in a huge circle around the tabernacle. (The tabernacle was a tent like temple where God dwelt among His people.) Some translations (like the ESV) interpret verse two to say that the people of Israel had their all tent doors facing the center of the camp as well. Their entire camp centered around and directed their lives toward God. It must have taken a terrible amount of effort to set this all up, but it was worth it. We know that at this time the physical representation of God's presence was visible over the tabernacle at all times (Numbers 9:15). During the day God's presence was manifested as a cloud, and at night as a pillar of fire. So every morning when they would step out of the entrance to their tents, the Israelites would look up and see God's presence over the tabernacle and were reminded that God must be at the center of all they do. And every time they set up or tore down camp, they were reminded of the same.

What are some ways you have oriented your life around God? It's good for us to have these little reminders built into our normal everyday routine to help us remember that He must be at the center of all we do, that we live to glorify His name and make disciples for the kingdom. So here are just a few ideas of ways that you can build reminders of the centrality of God into your day.
  • Have a regularly scheduled and consistent quiet time in which you spend some time in Bible reading and prayer.
  • Keep your Bible on the kitchen table instead of on the book shelf to remind you to have a quiet time while you eat breakfast.
  • Write Scripture (especially one with a special meaning to you) in a prominent place where you will be sure to see it, such as on your bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker, taped to the wall of your shower in a plastic bag, your screen saver on your phone, etc...
  • Set your alarm clock radio or even your car radio to a Christian station.
  • Make a lunch date with God! If early mornings don't work with you, then go to your car during your lunch break everyday and squirrel away a few minutes for Bible study and prayer.
  • Building regular church attendance into your life is a great help, especially if you can get into the habit of going to more than just Sunday morning service. If you can discipline yourself to add Sunday School, Wednesday night, or Sunday night church to your normal worship routine it will really help.

For further reading...
  • Try any of the above as you feel led. If you are looking for a good place to start reading the Bible, try Genesis or Matthew.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Night Light

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12

When I was a kid I used to always want a night light in my room. I was scared of the dark. That little bit of light made everything better. Without a night light, I would see a shirt lying over the back of a chair and think a monster was in my room. I would hide under the covers and try to convince myself that there was no such thing as monsters. But with even just a little night light, I could see the truth. I could be sure that there weren't any monsters. I could clearly see the path to my door, so I could get up if I needed to use the restroom or get a drink of water. It is amazing what a little light can do!

The Bible tells us that Jesus is the light of the world. Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” It  began as just a little light, a tiny babe. Even then, His light was bright enough to draw grown men to praise (Matthew 2:11). But this was just the dawning of His great light. It wasn't until His death and resurrection that Jesus would reach noonday brightness. Who He was is now clear to all who are willing to see.

The problem is that not everyone is willing to see. John 3:19-20 says, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed." All of us have been corrupted by the great enemy of God. He is a deceiver by nature and so loves darkness and confusion (John 8:44). God, however, is a God of truth (John 17:17) and clarity and so He is characterized by light. Jesus, being the very representation of God's being (Hebrews 1:3), is the true light sent into the world whereby men may be saved. But stepping into His light means we must be willing to look at the truth...the truth not only as it pertains to our world, but to ourselves as well. Stepping into the light of Jesus always reveals us for the sinners that we are. The darkness is a scary place to be, but sometimes the light can be even scarier to those who have grown accustomed to the dark. Fear not! Step into the light that Jesus offers. I wager you never really thought you were perfect anyway. Once you are in the light, fear recedes.

Those of us who have accepted Christ are now the light of the world ourselves (Matthew 5:14-15). Don't keep the light to yourself. And don't allow fear of darkness to creep back in. Remember that greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world (I John 4:4). Darkness flees before light, just as confusion and deception vanish before truth. So if the light of Christ shines in you this Christmas do not hesitate to shine. Calm fears. Speak truth. Love like Jesus did. Call to salvation.

For further reading...
  • John 1:4-10: Darkness has not overcome the light!
  • Matthew 5:14-15: You are the light of the world.
  • Exodus 10:21-23: How does the plague of darkness compare to the world we live in today. How is our situation the same? How is it different?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holy Shoulder Pads!?

“Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests... And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty... 

"You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance...
“You shall make a breastpiece of judgment, in skilled work... There shall be twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord. And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron's heart, when he goes in before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly."
Exodus 28: 1-2, 9-10, 12, 15a, 21a, 29-30
The New Testament teaches what theologians call the priesthood of the believer. This is a fancy way of saying that all Christians are priests. We aren't priests in the same way that Aaron was. We don't go into the tabernacle and make animal sacrifices. But we are priests in that now all Christians enjoy the privileges that Aaron had. We all have direct access to God the Father through Jesus. We can all enter into the very presence of God  (Matthew 27:50-51) through prayer in Jesus' name, and one day we will enter His presence physically in heaven. Also, as priests we are all called to minister in Jesus' name. We are called to offer a sacrifice of praise to God (I Peter 2:5-9). I also believe this feeds into the Great Commission which commands us all to go out and make disciples for Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).
Since it is true that all believers are priests, some of the Old Testament passages that guide the priests in their ministry ought to apply to us as well. The above passage is taken from God’s instruction for how Aaron’s priestly robes are to be made in the book of Exodus. It would be easy to read over this and think that it is a pointless piece of Scripture. But II Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness..." If you are willing to give this passage a deeper look you will find that there is buried treasure here.

First, we see that Aaron was to get a rather nifty set of shoulder pads: two onyx stones which had the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on them. Now I don’t know a lot about stones, but I do know that they tend to be heavy. And then there is a clue that this has a deeper meaning. God says “Aaron will carry their names on his two shoulders before the LORD as a reminder.” A reminder of what? The Bible does not say, but I think a good argument could be made for the idea that these stones were placed there to remind Aaron that he ought to be aware that he carried the burden of Israel on his shoulders. He was responsible for all of these people. He was to feel the weight of that responsibility when he went before the Lord on their behalf.

There is even more to be had here though because attached to these shoulder pieces was a breastpiece which had a stone for each of the twelve tribes of Israel and a set of holy dice which were used to determine God’s will. This breastpiece is called the breastpiece for decisions and in verse 30 it says, "Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly." Often this breastpiece was used to determine God’s judgment in a given situation. For example if you know the story of Achan, I think it is likely that it was used to determine which tribe the man was from who had stolen the gold (Joshua 7). Thus, some translations of the Bible call this breastpiece the breastpiece of judgment. Aaron is to carry the judgment against the people’s sin on his heart.

Certainly Jesus as the great high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16) fulfilled these verses in ways which we never can, but they have application for us as well. As a believer and a priest you have a responsibility to feel the burden of those around you whom you have been charged with taking the gospel to and ministering to. The Bible commands us to carry each other’s burdens. Moreover, you are also responsible for carrying on your heart the terrible judgment that awaits those who reject Christ or turn from His ways. When was the last time you prayed for your lost family member, friend, or even for the lost in a certain city or country of the world? Are you helping to carry anyone’s burden? I struggle to remember to do this myself. If you are like me, then rejoice with me that even this sin of self-centeredness was covered by Christ on the cross and is forgiven by God. Then begin carrying the burdens of others and seeking their salvation today. 

For further reading.
  • This prayer calendar is a great way to get started praying for the lost around the world. You simply select today's date and it gives you a target country with statistics and appropriate prayer prompts.
  • Ezekiel 22:29-30- Some of the saddest words in all of the Bible. May they not be true of us today.
  • II Timothy 3:16- Do you really believe that all Scripture is useful?
  • I Peter 2:5-9- What do you think this passage means when it says that we are a "royal priesthood?"

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

God Loves You

This past week I gathered together some of the many Scriptures that attest to the fact that God loves us. Some of you really struggle with guilt and shame. You struggle to believe that a holy God could ever love you, let alone forgive you for all you have done. Whether you fall into that category or not, read these precious verses and be reminded of just how amazing God's love for you is.
Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.
Psalm 136:26

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:17

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…
Jeremiah 29:11

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1 John 4:9-11

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
1 John 3:1

But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him...
Mark 14:61-65a
The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” And they said many other insulting things to him.
Luke 22:63-64

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Matthew 27:22-26

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
Matthew 27:27-31

Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
Matthew 27:38-44

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8
There is no doubt that God's greatest demonstration of His love for you was in sending His Son Jesus to bear the penalty for your sin and die in your place. Note that He did this not after you cleaned your life up, but while you were still a sinner, still rejecting Him as God, still His enemy. So remember this week, as you struggle against whatever life throws at you, that if God loved you so much that He sent Jesus to the cross for you, then you can be absolutely sure that nothing can ever separate you from His love.  
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:37-39