Be Excellent to Each Other

Do you remember what it was like to be trapped in sin? If you were raised in the church, perhaps not. But in some way or another, we were all slaves to sin. We were all bound. We all needed (or possibly still need) salvation.

Now imagine you’re the one in need. You can’t escape from the never ending cycle of fear and faithlessness. Nothing you do seems to make a difference and you are without hope. How would you respond if someone who’d found their salvation looked down on you as though you were scum? Maybe it did happen and, in spite of that person’s opinion of you, you were able to find what you were looking for.

God spends a lot of time in the Old Testament law reminding Israel that they were once slaves. They were once held against their will.

Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt. That is why I am giving you this command.

Deuteronomy 24:18 (NLT)

What command did God give? He talked about not going back to glean again once you’ve harvested—leave what’s left for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Don’t take a man’s cloak as security and keep it overnight lest he be cold in the night. Always use honest scales in trade.

You were once in a similar position of bondage and someone looked upon you, not with disgust, but with grace and mercy. It is our mandate, as the Church to continue that tradition.

Basically, in the words of Bill S. Preston, Esq., be excellent to each other.

Daily Bible reading: Deuteronomy 23-25, Mark 14:51-72

The people brought

I often wonder where people assume the church gets funding from. I’ve heard unchurched people ignorantly say things like, “Why don’t all those churches take care of [insert issue here]?”

Churches are not magical entities loaded with goods and finances to clean up the messes of others on a whim. Sure, it would be fantastic if churches all over were able to stand up and be able to help with issues in the community. But the awful truth is that many churches struggle to make their own ends meet because even people in the church see it as the all-powerful organisation that doesn’t need help.

Our church, since we bought our building nearly five years ago, has learned a lot about ownership and stewardship. We get questions like, why aren’t we doing this? or why don’t we just pay someone to do that? My response is usually, who do you think is going to do it or who do you think is going to pay for it? And their response is usually one of confusion while they may or may not come to the realisation that the church’s finances are not infinite and that we must be good stewards of what we do have. While it would be great to be able to hire someone to do all the work, when funds are tight, if we can do it ourselves, we do.

Let’s go back and take a look at the first church building project.

Back in Exodus, Israel has escaped four centuries of slavery in Egypt only to find themselves adrift in the wilderness. But they’re okay. God is with them. In fact, He’s going to camp out with them. But He needs a tent. And He’s very specific about His tent. God gives Moses a seemingly impossible list of required items as well as how to make them and put them together. It’s a massive project.

I can relate to Israel here. We have a 35,000 square foot building constructed in bits and pieces between the 1940’s and 1970’s that has never been fully renovated. We have an average weekly attendance around 65. Big, impossible project.

Let’s take a look at some of the final tallies for Israel, shall we?

  • Gold: 2,200 pounds
  • Silver: 7,545 pounds
  • Bronze: 5,310 pounds

In addition to the staggering amounts of precious metals, also required was acacia wood—enough for the furniture and all support beams and poles, yards and yards fine spun and woven linen for the tent itself as well as the priest’s garments (I’m a spinner and a weaver—this is a HUGE project), leather enough for the entire roof, and the list goes on.

All but the silver—which came by way of a census tax—were gifts. Yup. Gifts. One of the pastors in our movement says, “If it’s not free, it’s not God.” It’s my understanding that his ministry has never had to pay for a building yet.

All of this is to ask a simple question: what do you bring? When the church has need, how do you fill it? Out of your overflow or out of your own need? Do you give just enough or, like Israel, give more than enough. How much would it take for your pastor to have to tell you to stop giving?

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 37-38, Matthew 23:23-39

Sound Advice

I have trouble letting go of things. If I know I can get the job done, I’d rather run myself ragged than let someone else do it for me and risk not having it done my way.

Now, I’m not Moses, but Moses was in a similar situation. Israel had escaped Egypt and were now wandering the desert complaining. (Do you ever catch yourself whining even when you’re in the middle of a miraculous situation?) Moses, being the one in communication with God had been set up as a judge of sorts over the entire nation. People would line up for days in order to have him settle a dispute. Then Jethro comes along. Moses’ father-in-law shares some sound advice.

“Now let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing him their questions to be decided. You should tell them God’s decisions, teach them God’s laws and instructions, and show them how to conduct their lives. But find some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as judges over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten.”

Exodus 18:19-21 (NLT)

Maybe you’re like me and are the type to take everything on yourself. Or maybe you’re someone who fears God and hates bribes. Either way, you’re needed.

God needs the people who can do it all, but He also needs people who can take a share and do some. Just because you may not be able to lead one thousand doesn’t mean you can’t oversee ten. And just because you oversee ten doesn’t mean you’re any less important than the person looking over all of it.

God didn’t put all these orders in place for the sake of making work for Himself. They’re in place because structure is necessary in order to do a good work. No one person can do it all on their own. Some people are ready to lead large groups, while others are able to lead small. There truly is a place for everyone and, the sooner we are able to find our own place, the better we are all able to grow together.

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 16-18, Matthew 19:16-30

Preparation

First off, if you’re an email follower of this blog, please excuse the multiple posts in a day while I play catch up. I have good reason for missing a few days, but now I’m back and we’ll continue on while catching up at the same time.

In some ways, I like to prepare. In other ways, I hate it. When I’m heading out on a long trip across the country or overseas, I have a standard spreadsheet for everything I always bring with me and extra worksheets for each type of trip I go on. My list is very different for a one week cross-Canada road trip than it is for a two week trip down the Amazon. I prepare for my expected journey.

But there are some journeys that are more difficult to prepare for. And some yet that are nearly impossible to prepare for.

In Exodus, God is preparing Israel for a big trip. A really big trip. They’d been occupying and enslaved in a foreign country for 430 years and now it was time to go home. Their numbers had increased greatly along with their belongings and livestock. An open invitation and blessing had become oppression.

Every time Moses approached Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go” while Pharaoh responded, “no” was preparation.

For every negative response, God was preparing Israel for a greater miracle.

Every time they were turned away, God was working in the heart of the king toward a greater show of His might.

The darker the situation became for Israel, the greater the potential for a miracle became—and that’s exactly what happened.

Not only was Egypt destroyed and Israel allowed to leave, but they were encouraged to leave and blessed in their going out. They were blessed in and they were blessed going out.

In what may seem to be a great time of anger and frustration, God may be preparing for an even greater miracle.

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 11-12, Matthew 18:21-35

If there is a God…

Here’s a line we’ve all heard over and over. “If there is a God, why doesn’t He…” Do you know what I’ve learned about the people who ask that question? They’re not really looking for God at all. They’re looking for an easy out and an excuse to continue living as though God doesn’t exist.

But why doesn’t God solve all of the world’s problems? Why doesn’t He step in when atrocities take place? Why doesn’t He stop war? The simple (yet sometimes difficult to swallow) answer is that we don’t give Him the right to. God gave man dominion over the earth and man promptly handed it to the devil. God gave us free will, to fix everything in one go would be to take away our free will and defeat His entire purpose in creating us.

Believe it or not, there is good that can come from all the turmoil around us.

Back when Moses was petitioning Pharaoh to let the Egyptians go, God intentionally hardened the heart of the king so that He would be glorified.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Return to Pharaoh and again make your demands. I have made him and his officials stubborn so I can continue to display my power by performing miraculous signs among them. You will be able to tell wonderful stories to your children and grandchildren about the marvelous things I am doing among the Egyptians to prove that I am the Lord.”

Exodus 10:1-2 (NLT)

In Egypt, Moses was following God’s instructions as He paved the way for the miraculous.

The harder the hearts of the people, the greater the miracle. For us, right now, our best course of action is united prayer. If we want to see the miracle in the hardened hearts of our nations, we need to give God room to do it. A united Church in and of itself would be a miracle. Imagine what a praying, united Church could do.

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 9-10, Matthew 18:1-20

The plot

One thing I’ve noticed in reading the New Living Translation is that the Bible reads a lot like a cheesy mystery novel.

“Here comes that dreamer!” They exclaimed. “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into a deep pit. We can tell our father that a wild animal has eaten him. Then we’ll see what becomes of all his dreams!”

Genesis 37:30 (NLT)

Then the Pharisees called a meeting and discussed plans for killing Jesus.

Matthew 12:14 (NLT)

There is a lot of nefarious plotting going on all throughout the Bible. Plotting by bad people and good ones, too. There are good plots and there are bad plots.

In Genesis, we read the story of the young(est – we don’t read how old Joseph was at the time) brother, Joseph. If you’re at all familiar with Genesis, you know that Joseph goes on to pretty much rule Egypt and his family is forced to submit to him in order to survive.

In Matthew, Jesus had the audacity to eat grain and heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath day. Gasp! This was, apparently, reason enough to plot His death.

In both cases, both Joseph and Jesus were destined for more. Their stories of salvation had been plotted long before their deaths had been planned. Joseph had dreamed of being in a raised position and his family being made to bow before him. Jesus had been prophesied of back in Isaiah.

Look at my Servant,
whom I have chosen.
He is my Beloved,
and I am very please with him.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nation
He will not fight or shout;
he will not raise his voice in public.
He will not crush those who are weak,
or quench the smallest hope,
until he brings full justice with his final victory.
And his name will be the hope of all the world.

Matthew 12:18-21 (NLT) *see Isaiah 42:1-4

So the next time you feel like you’re stuck in the mystery novel being plotted against, remember this:

“For I know the plans I have for you, “says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

Even if the world is plotting against you, God has already plotted your victory.

Daily Bible reading: Genesis 36-37, Matthew 12:1-21

Together

Who hasn’t seen things on the other side and wanted to mosey on over and take advantage of it? Who hasn’t longed for greener pastures? Literally.

The land…is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock

Numbers 32:4 (ESV)

It would make sense to most – or all – that if a land is good for what you have, that you should have that land. The Israelite tribes of Reuben and Gad were in livestock. God happened to have struck down all the people in a land that happened to be great for livestock so Reuben and Gad approached Moses about taking that land.

Sounds great, right? Here’s the catch, they wanted that land instead of the land across the Jordan. They wanted that land instead of the Promised Land. They decided amongst themselves that the land just across the river from the Promised Land was good enough.

It’s not as much about the land as it is about unity. The last time a few Israelites shunned the land God had set aside for them a lot of people died. In fact, almost everyone over the age of twenty died while wandering in the wilderness for an additional forty years.

God brought Israel out of Egypt together and had every intent of bringing them into the Promised Land together. A couple of tribes lost sight of that. They lost sight of the vision of the whole and focused on their vision as a smaller group. Could they have taken the land for their livestock and been prosperous? Probably. But what would they be missing out on if the rest of Israel went ahead without them? What would Israel miss out on without all twelve tribes working together?

Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the Lord has given them?

Numbers 32:7 (ESV)

God brings people together for purpose. When we focus too much on our own wants and needs, we can very easily lose sight of the greater vision. Yes, we can accomplish great things on our own, but how much more can we accomplish together?

Daily Bible reading: Numbers 32-33, Mark 10:1-31