EXODUS – HEAVEN OCCUPIES EARTH

Image source: GatewayBibleChurch

It was Jim Reeves who sang ‘This world is not my home’, with a stanza that says “Oh Lord, you know, I have no friend like you, If Heaven’s not my home, Then Lord what will I do”. Lovely, emotionally powerful gospel song, but Jim Reeves was wrong, heaven is not our home, the earth is home.

Exodus makes it clear that God came down to earth, built a home (the Tabernacle) and dwelled among us. Exodus Chapters 25 to 31 informs us that it was not a casual wood and nail, built in one day, type of home. We see that it was a masterful, expertly crafted home, with the finest materials, including gold, purple cloth, fine linen, acacia wood, and durable leather – God’s home in the desert was a wonder to behold!

Exodus 40:33-38 (NIV) (shortened) states: “Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle… Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because… the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle… So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night…”.

We were not created for heaven, we were created for earth; we were created so God could enlarge his family, leave heaven and dwell with us on earth. This is why the Bible states in Revelation 21:1-3 (NIV) (shortened): ‘Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”… I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God… I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them… and be their God.’

If the book of Revelation shows the universal implementation of heaven occupying earth, the book of Exodus shows us its first physical manifestation in human time and space. It is fascinating that from that single exquisite Tabernacle in the wilderness, Yahweh now has a home all across the earth.

Lord, your will be done on earth as in heaven, Amen!

EXODUS – GOD WITH US

Image source: SouthWestChurchofChrist

A popular musician many years ago sang “Exodus, movement of Jah people”. We had this album at home, and I grew up listening to it so many times, that line has stayed with me. Exodus definitely involved movement of God’s people, but, and this is very important, they moved in response to God’s actions and movement. The decision maker, the cause of all the movement, was not the people, it was God!

Last week, we saw God (Yahweh), give Pharaoh a lesson on what supreme power looks like, through the ten plagues, that knocked out trust and faith in Egypt’s many gods. Pharaoh eventually agreed to let Israel go, but why did God invest so much of heaven’s power to secure their freedom? Was it because the Israelites had a special skin color, or spoke in a special way, or had the most handsome men? No, no, no, God was moving on with his plans to build a home on earth with us humans.

At creation in the book of Genesis, God built a garden, a place of leisure where he met with Adam and Eve, and enjoyed their company, as parents enjoy the company of their children. Adam and Eve left that relationship by choice, and God decided to re-establish it with the descendants of Adam, who would willingly choose God. Finally, in Abraham (Genesis 11 to 25), God found a man who welcomed God into his home, and started working with God to build a home for God on earth.

As part of that plan to build a home with us, God explained Abraham in Genesis 15 the events of the Exodus before they happened. Heaven invested so mightily in the Exodus because after so many years of having a presence on earth like a visitor, God finally had a people with sufficient number and physical resources, to build a physical home on earth where he could dwell among us.

Exodus 25:1-9 (Living Bible) (shortened) says: ‘Jehovah said to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel that everyone who wants to may bring me an offering from this list: gold, silver, bronze, blue cloth… goatskins, acacia wood, olive oil for the lamps… onyx stones, stones to be set in the ephod and in the breastplate… I want the people of Israel to make me a sacred Temple where I can live among them. “This home of mine shall be a tent pavilion – a Tabernacle. I will give you a drawing of the construction plan…’.

God came down, brushed Pharaoh aside and finally built a home on earth. God is with us, first in Eden, then in the Tabernacle built in the wilderness, then in Solomon’s Temple, then in Jesus, and now in us the Church through the Holy Spirit. What a journey, thousands of years in the making – from Eden to us. There is so much to say and celebrate about this; the book of Revelation ends on this matter.

Great God, welcome into our lives and homes; make your presence, your grace and power, mightily felt in and through us, Amen!

EXODUS – PULLING DOWN STRONGHOLDS

Image source: VancouverAssociatedPresbyterianChurch

In the first message last week of the Exodus series, we saw that God declared he had come down to deliver Israel. Moses, who grew up in Pharaoh’s palace and knew the extent of Pharaoh’s power, agreed to lead the mission. Why? Moses, was confident that “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2Cor. 10:4 NIV).

Thus in Exodus 5:1-2 (Holman Christian Standard Bible) we read: “Later, Moses and Aaron… said to Pharaoh, “This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: Let My people go, so that they may hold a festival for Me in the wilderness.” But Pharaoh responded, “Who is Yahweh that I should obey Him by letting Israel go? I do not know anything about Yahweh… I will not let Israel go.”

“Who is Yahweh that I should obey…” – said Pharaoh. Egypt had about 2000 gods and goddesses with different ranks and powers, but Yahweh was not one of them. This why Pharaoh could say ‘who is Yahweh’; he felt he had the most powerful gods; if he has not heard of Yahweh, then Yahweh must be unimportant.

Yahweh answered Pharaoh by knocking out Egypt’s most powerful gods. This is what the ten plagues from Exodus Chapters 7 to 12 were about; khnum and hapi were gods of the nile; heket was a goddess with frog head; geb was a god of dust; khepri was a god with fly head; on and on to the tenth plague the death of the firstborn in Egypt – an attack on gods serket, meshkenet, sobek, renenutet, and osiris. The Egyptian gods could neither protect Egypt nor Pharaoh, so he was forced to let Israel go.

As a result of the tenth plague, Exodus 12:30-32 (Holman Bible) says: “During the night Pharaoh got up, he along with all his officials and all the Egyptians… He summoned Moses and Aaron during the night and said, “Get up, leave my people, both you and the Israelites, and go, worship Yahweh as you have asked. Take even your flocks and your herds as you asked and leave, and also bless me.”

Yahweh, you are the most high God, and we walk humbly before you; we know you are mighty, bless us too, Amen!

EXODUS – HEAVEN CAME DOWN

Image source: SOMAChristianChurch

Its about 2 months now since we studied the book of Genesis together. The last study in that series was on 14 February and was titled ‘Reading Genesis with God in Focus’. The series ended by calling on us to study Genesis not just to know the people and stories in there, but to also focus on God who is the main character in the book. In our study of Exodus, let’s also focus on God.

The book of Exodus is divided into two parts; Chapters 1 to 18 is about how God delivered Israel from Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai in the Arabian desert. Chapters 19 to 40 is about how God revealed himself to all of the people of Israel and entered into a binding relationship with them.

Genesis ends with Jacob and his large family of 70 people, settling in the land of Goshen in Egypt. Exodus Chapter 1 opens with how the family of Jacob prospered in Goshen and grew in number, to the point where the Egyptians became afraid. Consequently the Egyptians enslaved Israel and made their lives miserable and bitter. God then put his plan of deliverance into action through Moses.

Exodus 3:7-10 (NIV) (shortened) states: The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt… So I have come down to rescue them… and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey… the cry of the Israelites has reached me… So now, go. I am sending you [Moses] to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

“I have come down to rescue them” – this is a declaration of war; God has come down to free Israel from Pharaoh, the hard pitiless slave driver and killer king of Egypt. God has appointed Moses as the human captain to lead God’s invisible angel army to make this happen; it is God’s war. Next week we will see God’s mighty weapons of war that secured Israel’s release from death in Egypt.

Lord, as we study Exodus, open our eyes to see you, Amen!

EMUNAH – FAITH THAT STANDS THE TEST OF TIME

Image source: RhemaTheFaithfulChurch

How can you tell if someone truly loves you? How do you tell if your team mate is committed to a plan? How can you be sure that your boss trust in you? One sure way is to observe how your partner, your team mate, or your boss acts towards you and speaks about you, over a period of time. As time passes, their true intentions towards you will be challenged and tested; blessed are you if they stay true to you.

The test of time, is the truest test of commitments we make. As time passes, our commitments will be challenged by people and events around us, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes accidentally. One of such commitments we make that is severely tested is our faith in God.

Many of us have come across Habakkuk 2:4b (KJV) that says: “…but the just shall live by his faith.” It is requoted in Romans 1:17, and in Galatians 3:11, and again in Hebrews 10:38. What is the origin story in the book of Habakkuk behind this famous passage and what has it got to do with ‘EMUNAH’.

Habakkuk the Prophet lived about 2600 years ago, at a time when corruption and violence were common in Judah. He prayed that God should intervene; God responded that he will use the vicious Babylonians to judge Judah. This scared Habakkuk so much, but God assured him that the “the just [God fearing people] shall live by EMUNAH” – this Hebrew word is what our Bibles translate as faith.

While our Bibles keep the translation of ‘EMUNAH” short, the full meaning of the word refers to ‘tried and tested faith’ of the Christian, and in addition ‘tried and tested faith of God’. The long translation of Habakkuk 2:4b would be: “…but the just shall live by their tried and tested faith in a tried and faithful God.” Stated another way – ‘the just shall live by absolute trust in an absolutely trustworthy God’.

More could be said about ‘EMUNAH’, but that is for another time. One takeaway message today, is that in these COVID-19 pandemic times, when we are all exhausted by fear, lockdowns, and social distancing, our faith in God is being tried and tested like never before; Habakkuk encourages us to keep going because ‘the just shall live by their tried and tested faith in a tried and faithful God’.

Lord, give us new strength to overcome the COVID-19 assault on our minds and spirits, on our familes and loved ones, in Jesus name, Amen!

Read More: The Just Shall Live by Faith, by John J. Parsons, writing in the Hebrew for Christians website.

EASTER, FERTILITY RITES, AND THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST

Image: Pinterest

Have you ever been part of fertility rites during Easter? I have done so, not knowing what I was participating in. When we do Easter egg hunt or buy a Easter bunny rabbit chocolate, in our small way we are joining Easter fertility rites and rituals during this season. Rabbits are promiscuous and in some cultures are often sacrificed to the goddess of love; eggs symbolize new life into the world.

Why are fertility rites celebrated at this time of year? In cold countries, this is the period where winter season gives way to spring season. In winter, trees often lose all their leaves and look dead; when places start warming up again, the trees spring back to life with new leaves and the birds return. We also witness this change of season from dry to wet or wet to dry in hot tropical countries.

As the season changes at this time, farmers get set to plant, and society carry out fertility rites to gods and goddesses for a good harvest; in some places the rites include rabbit sacrifice, exchange of eggs as gifts of new life, and sex festivals in shrines and temples. Fertility rites are thus partly based on observing nature. However, to fully understand nature, we must go to the creator of nature.

Romans 1:20 (NIV) says: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” Furthermore, Psalm 19:1-2 (NIV) says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”

While many cultures looked at the changing season at this time of the year, and came up with fertility rites and celebrations, God instituted the Passover celebrations at this time of the year to mark the deliverance of Israel from bondage to Pharaoh (a type of death), to freedom to worship God (new life). Exodus 12:17 (NIV) talking about the Passover says: “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread [Passover], because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come…”

So, in God’s calendar, this season symbolizes God’s deliverance from death to new life. There was no way Israel could have been freed from Pharaoh without strong divine intervention. This season in the Bible goes beyond physical life (the egg) to new spiritual life through divine intervention; and this brings us to Jesus and the Cross. The crucifixion happened during the celebration of Passover (see John Chapter 19).

John 20:1-10 (NIV)(shortened) reads: “Early on the first day of the week… Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter… So Peter… went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there… the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)”

Jesus died on Passover week and resurrected at the beginning of a new week; he rose with a new body that can never die. We all will experience the winter of death in our bodies, but Jesus holds for us the promise of new life (divine spring season) with a new resurrection body. Thus many cultures in the world celebrate fertility (eggs and bunnies) during this time, but the Bible celebrates the resurrection.

Happy Resurrection Sunday, with it’s good news of our deliverance, from death to new life with Jesus, Amen!

WHY WE CELEBRATE THE CROSS AT EASTER

Image source: PresbyterianFoundation

One of the more popular stories, written by William Shakespeare is ‘Romeo and Juliet’. In this widely read story, Romeo and Juliet loved one another, but their families did not approve of their relationship; in their effort to bypass this obstacle and prove the strength of their love for each other, they died tragically.

When I first read ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as a child, I thought it was quite frankly a foolish story. I had no idea about how much a person would sacrifice for the other person they truly love. As an adult, the story no longer seems foolish, I now admire how well Shakespeare writes about love. The cruel death of Jesus on the cross during this time of the year, 2000 years ago, was a sacrifice of self for the sake of love.

The Bible teaches that there are three powers in our world – God, humanity, and Satan (God’s adversary). Humanity was created to occupy and govern the earth in partnership with God. When Adam and Eve chose independence over partnership with God, a contest to win over humanity to God’s side or to Satan’s side began. God entered the contest because like a parent, God loves humanity very deeply.

We are shown this contest in the book of Job 1:6-13 (Living Bible) (shortened): One day as the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan, the Accuser, came with them… Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth… who fears God and will have nothing to do with evil.” “Why shouldn’t he when you pay him so well?” Satan scoffed. “You have always protected him and his home and his property…. take away his wealth, and you’ll see him curse you…” And the Lord replied to Satan, “You may do anything you like with his wealth, but don’t harm him physically.”

It is as a result of this contest that Jesus came to earth; he went about doing good to show that God is good; he went about doing good right up to the point of death; while he was on the cruel cross, he forgave a thief, and asked for forgiveness for those crucifying him in Luke 23:34 (Living Bible): “Father, forgive these people,” Jesus said, “for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Jesus sacrificed his life on the cross to prove how much God loves humanity. Does Satan love humanity that deeply? Jesus says in John 15:13 (Living Bible): “And here is how to measure it [love] – the greatest love is shown when a person lays down his life for his friends”. This is why we celebrate the cross at Easter – it is the indisputable evidence that God deeply loves you and I.

Lord, we thank you for your great love; we choose you over the adversary; protect us, our homes, and our property, in Jesus name, Amen!

HOW TO PRAY IN A RISKY WORLD

Image source: Lamaze

I remember the first time, twenty years ago, when I came across the work of Ulrich Beck, the German scholar who wrote the book ‘Risk Society’. The book has stayed with me because the insight it provides about the increasing dangers of modern life, is proving truer and truer from year to year.

When Ulrich Beck wrote his book in 1986, many in the rich countries of Europe, America, and Asia, understood the dangers that threatened all life on earth; many in the poor countries in Africa and Asia did not. Fast forward to 2021, and thanks to the internet and social media, everyone, rich and poor, are now aware of the many risks humanity faces from the possibility of nuclear war, environmental problems, pandemics (HIV, Ebola, COVID), and new technologies (genetically modified foods, internet crimes, medical biotech like COVID vaccines).

How do we pray in a risky world? Solomon says in Proverbs 3:5-6 (New Living Translation): “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Effective prayer is based on trust and Bible knowledge – we learn of God’s will, which is God’s vision and mission, first and foremost from the Bible.

Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (New Living Translation): “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.” Leaders face pressures to be greedy, selfish, proud, and wicked – ask God to help them.

Jesus teaches in Matthew that when we pray for our needs, we should also pray for protection; thus Matthew 6:13 (New Living Translation) says our prayers should include the request: “And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” There is an enemy of humanity, that want us to experience misfortune, pain, sorrows, and tears – Jesus says pray to God to be rescued from this evil one.

Lord, teach us to pray effectively, and protect us from risks known and unknown in the world today, in Jesus name, Amen!

COVID VACCINE – HUMAN EFFORT AND DIVINE OVERSIGHT

Image Source: UC Davis Health

One of the passages in the Bible that shocked me first time I read it was Deuteronomy 23:13 (KJV) – “And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee”.

If the King James Version is very classy, here is Deuteronomy 23:13 in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) – “and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement”. Don’t leave your ‘caca’ exposed!

Here among the laws God gave Israel, is a law telling them to practice good hygiene – basic but essential. Consider that there were about 2 million of them in camp in the hot desert of Sinai, good hygiene was essential to avoid diseases. Why would a God who could heal them of all diseases, be concerned about good hygiene? At creation, God put Adam in Eden and told him to care for it (see Genesis 2:15).

The Bible teaches the need for human effort plus divine oversight in human affairs; it is not one or the other, it is both. Thus as the COVID virus assaults us, it is good that we take all hygienic precautions while humbly seeking God to safely see us through this testing period. The COVID vaccine is one of such hygienic precaution; it is right that it is voluntary, it is right that many question its safety.

My wife and I studied the science of the vaccine and it looks good; what about bad faith persons wishing to use this vaccine to hurt people; this possibility has always existed with the Yellow Fever, the Smallpox, the Polio, and the Meningitis vaccines. These are vaccines most of us have taken in the past and our children will continue to take in the future. So, if you are going to decline the COVID vaccine because of bad faith persons, you may have to decline all vaccines henceforth.

Nonetheless, my wife and I believe in prayers, and we have prayed that our choice to take the vaccine does not put us in danger known and unknown. We also trust in the words of the Bible in Romans 8:38-39 (NASB) – “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing [including vaccines] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Lord, lead us in the right path in this matter, in Jesus name, Amen!

MANNA – MIRACLE FOOD IN THE DESERT

Map source: JesusWalkBibleStudySeries

There is no Christianity without the miraculous – without the intervention of the divine in unexplainable ways in our lives and human society. There are countless such narratives of the miraculous in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. One such narrative of the miraculous is in Exodus Chapter 16 about the manna.

As you can see from the map accompanying this message, when Israel left Egypt, they traveled East from Goshen and crossed the Red Sea. To get to Canaan, they would have continued East then turn Northwards in the direction of Beersheba and Hebron (where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and all their other ancestors were buried). Instead of going in that northern direction to Canaan, God asked them to turn South and go to the Wilderness (desert) of Sin (Sinai).

God brought them to this desert, to be with them away from other nations; this was a camp for rest, learning, organization, and preparation for the promised land. However, the place had no food and the people complained bitterly in Exodus 16:3 (NLT) saying – ‘“If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”’

God heard them and responded with manna in Exodus 16:4-5 (NLT): ‘Then the Lord said… I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they will gather food, and when they prepare it, there will be twice as much as usual.”

Each person was to gather about 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds) of manna everyday, and there were about 2 million of them, giving 3 million kg of manna; where 1000 kg makes 1 ton, they gathered at least 3000 tons of manna daily, 365 days a year for 40 years non-stop (see Exodus 16:35). The most powerful food trains today can carry 125 tons of food in each coach (or car), you will need 24 coaches each day to carry 3000 tons of manna.

Where did this quantity of food come from everyday for 40 years? Psalm 78:24-25 (NLT) says – “He [God] rained down manna for them to eat; he gave them bread from heaven. They ate the food of angels! God gave them all they could hold.” Manna does not fall for us today, but the God who provided that miracle food for Israel in a desert, still answers the prayers of the needy who earnestly seek him day after day.

Lord, we need miracles too, answer us in Jesus name, Amen!