Wait and hope

We’ve had a disappointment recently in our house. My husband has been preparing for major surgery for nearly a year – we’d hoped that it would make a tremendous difference to his condition, and our lifestyle. But it turns out that he has a blood condition that would make surgery far too dangerous, and so we’ve hit the end of the road in that area of hope. I can only put it down to the faithful prayer of friends and family that we have not felt utterly despondent. Instead, we have a new hope – that God has Plan A still waiting for us.

The truth is, life doesn’t always work out the way we’ve imagined. For the Israelites, there was disappointment when Moses had vanished up the mountain, and not returned. It had seemed so promising when they’d witnessed their leader defeating the Egyptian pharaoh and army, and leading them out of slavery. It had been wonderful how he’d managed to procure food and water for them, and amazing how they’d won the battle against the Amalekites while he’d prayed for them.  It had been nothing less than spectacular when he’d introduced their laws: the mountain itself seemed to shake, and it was no hard thing to promise to faithfully obey. But that was weeks before, and they’d heard nothing more. Had God and Moses abandoned them? (Exodus 32:1-6)

A man needs something to follow, and if Moses wasn’t around to keep God in their sights, then they would have to make their own god. So they took their gold ear-rings – their own wealth and security – to have a clearly false god fashioned in the shape of a calf.

It seems absurd to create a god. You know its origin, its maker, its defects and limitations. But it seems to be what people do, when they feel disappointed in God. So easy to turn away and put your trust in your job, your politics, your own efforts, or even your football team to get life back on track. People need something to follow, something to worship, and for many, any god will do.

But when we feel God has let us down, like the Israelites, it is often that we haven’t waited long enough. Just a short while longer, and Moses would have reappeared. Waiting is hard, but believe it or not, God IS faithful. Plan A is coming.

Exodus 32:1-6

Exodus 32:1-6

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He gives his word

In the old days, not so long ago, when the preacher gave out a bible reference, there would be this rusting of paper around the room. Now, instead of hunting for the bible page,  many of us reach for our phones.  It might be quieter, but the downside is the temptation to check your emails or Facebook instead of following what the preacher is reading!

The great thing about bible apps, though, is that you have them pretty much to hand wherever you are. On the bus, in the waiting room, lunchtime at work…you can reach into your pocket and access the word of God.

When Moses went up the mountain to meet with God, and receive instructions about making the sanctuary, or tabernacle, God had something ready prepared to give him at the end: two inscribed tablets of stone – the Testimony (Exodus 31:18). This is thought to be the Ten Commandments, written into the stone by the finger of God, and had been promised to Moses in Exodus 24:12.

Writing was not new – Moses himself had already recorded the laws God had given them, in Exodus 24:4. Writing in stone was not uncommon at the time, but usually the text would be etched into the rock or wall. Portable tablets of stone were rare. But God wanted them to know two things – that his Word would last forever, and that it could go with them wherever they went.

How appropriate then, that we have our own ‘tablets’ and phones, through which we can access the entire bible, in our pockets, most places we go.

But that was not the end of the story. It wasn’t even the start. For John’s Gospel opens with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”  Jesus himself is the Word become flesh (John 1:14), whose ministry demonstrated the contents of those two tablets. He is the Word of God, the One who will last forever, and who promises to be with us wherever we go.

I don’t pretend to understand it fully, but I do know this: when we flick to the bible app, or read the verse of the day, Jesus the Word is waiting to speak into my being, to feed and water my spirit, forever, wherever. Emails and Facebook can’t do that. Lord, let me not get distracted from hearing your Word.

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Seriously Sabbath

Sundays could be a bit boring when I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s. You weren’t allowed to play out. It wasn’t that my parents forbade me, but if you went out, there wasn’t another kid in sight, and anyway it just wasn’t DONE! I remember also getting into trouble as a newly-married, for telling an elderly church lady that we’d been out on a ramble on the Sunday afternoon and picked some blackberries! Yet these days, it’s hard to spot the difference between Sundays and any other day of the week. It must be hard for people who have to work, when they really want to go to church.

Reading Exodus 31:12-17, God’s commands about keeping the Sabbath are really serious – so how, as Christians, do we come to terms with our ‘holy day’, whenever we celebrate it? How do we understand putting to death those who work on the Sabbath? Why did God think it was so important? Maybe we don’t really understand what Shabbat (Sabbath) represents.

There is so much symbolism in the Old Testament, and particularly in this book of Exodus,  that passes us by. In 2 Peter 3, Paul was reminding his hearers not to forget that Christ would return. Verse 8 – “but do not forget…with the Lord a day is like a thousand years…” The Sabbath day, at the end of a 6-day working week, can be seen as representing the millennium age of God’s reign on earth, a thousand years of rest for the world, after six thousand years of travail. The Sabbath is God’s day, and he reigns over it, just as he reigns over the earth through the millennium to come. Practising the celebration of Shabbat was a prophetic proclamation of the reign of God. It was part of the purpose of the Jewish people.

What about non-Jewish Christians then? How seriously should we take our holy day? Colossians 2:16-17  says that the festivals and Sabbaths are all a shadow of things to come. The reality is that Jesus himself is our Sabbath-rest. “Come to me, you who are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest…” Any time. When did the early Christians meet? Every day. Sabbath is the proclamation of the reign of God. That should be our life’s purpose. Any day…every day. And we should take it seriously. Because our world seriously needs to know.

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The gifts

I’m a carer. Pretty much 24/7. Not how I envisioned spending my early retirement years, but there it is. And it’s probably one of the toughest jobs I’ve done. What amazes me about it, though, is how my capabilities and personality are adapted to cope. It seems like I was made for this task I’d have never chosen.

We talk about the ‘Gifts of the Spirit’ – those nine gifts outlined in 1 Corinthians 12 of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation. The nine spiritual gifts. But then I read Exodus 31:1-11, where Bezalel, Oholiab and others were ‘filled with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts’ to enable them to manufacture all the accessories for the tent of meeting God had instructed Moses to have made. God spiritually gifted them to make the stuff.

So ‘gifts of the Spirit’ go way beyond the list in Corinthians. I’d say they go as far as skills in care, keeping a house clean, solving problems, coping with getting up in the night and the ability to drop back to sleep when you get the chance. They may even include things like patience, long suffering, and self-control – the stuff we usually class as ‘fruit of the Spirit’.

I’d say the gifts of the Spirit go as far as any skills required by any child of God to do any work he has called you to. Paid work, voluntary, or just plain ‘have to’.

If you’re struggling with your work, take time aside, and ask God to fill you afresh with his Holy Spirit. Ask him to empower you. Ask for the gifts of the Spirit you need to accomplish the task you are doing. And if you are really, really struggling, ask him if you are doing the right job. Being ‘called’ to a work isn’t just about ministers, nuns and missionaries! I’d say I was ‘called’ to be a carer, right now, right in my own home. What are you called to do?

Maybe it’s time to stop grumbling about what you have to do, and see your work as a ‘calling’ God has asked you to do. Then you can expect gifts of the Spirit to enable you to fulfil it. He promises to supply ALL our needs.

 

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Just for him

Scientists have been able to examine and analyse the ingredients used by the ancient Egyptians for perfuming and mummifying. Archaeologists have discovered they were the best perfumers in those times, and their products and recipes were highly sought throughout the known world. The Hebrews must have picked up some knowledge of this expertise during their time in Egypt, and they too, had perfumers who practised the skills.

In Exodus 30:34-38, God commanded a specific blend of ingredients to be used to make incense. As with the anointing oil, the recipe was to be unique for this purpose. It could only be used in the tabernacle, and was to be considered ‘holy to the Lord’. Any other use of either the anointing oil or the incense demanded the terrible punishment of being cut off from the people of God. The formulas for each were sacred, and had to be kept that way.

Some time ago, I realised that God wanted to be involved in every part of my life, included in everything I do, and for me to talk to him about anything and everything as I go about my daily life. I shared this in Coming home. I really enjoy that fellowship with God, But a little while back, he said something new. “As much as I like to come and spend time with you doing your things, I’d love you to come and share time with me too.” I realised that our relationship was all about me – what I was doing, the people I wanted God to help and bless, the things I wanted him to do for me.

What I get from the unique application of these formulae, is that there should be a bit of our lives that is uniquely set apart for God. Time, space, effort, that is just for him, when we still our tongues and thoughts, and focus our all on his heart. Just to worship him because he is holy, and love him because he is lovely. Just for him.

A woman broke an alabaster jar to anoint the feet of Jesus with the costliest of her treasures. The perfume of it filled the house. Sacrificing a little of our time to just focus on God, without any agendas, recognising it as a time ‘holy to the Lord’, just for him, must surely bring a beautiful fragrance to our lives.

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That smell reminds me of…

You know how sometimes you get a whiff of something, and it takes you to another time and another place? A friend of mine wrote to many celebrities, asking them if they had a memory that had been triggered by a smell. Quite a lot wrote back, and she compiled a fascinating, beautifully illustrated book of these memories, and sold it in aid of Parkinson’s UK, as her husband has this horrible disease. It’s called Smellebrities and it’s available on Kindle. Do buy a copy if you don’t already have one, and support this great charity.

Smells do evoke memories, and I wonder if that was part of the purpose of the aromatic anointing oil that God instructed the perfumers to make for the tabernacle, Exodus 30:22-33. What did he want them to remember? That God is in this place. His presence. His love. His provision of a way that their sins could be forgiven, and their relationship restored with their God.

Another possible reason God commanded for this oil to be smeared on everything, was it’s antiseptic properties. With so much blood being poured out and sprinkled, it would have acted as an antibacterial to keep everyone healthy.

It was to be made to a strict formula, which could be used in no other context: unique to this place. And it caused things to be holy, special, set apart. Whatever that oil anointed, was purified and made holy.

Jesus was ‘the Christ’ or ‘Messiah’ which means the anointed one. What was he anointed with? Acts 10:38 “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power…” And we who follow him, are likewise anointed – “He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”  (2 Cor 1:21-22) We are meant to be holy, cleansed, set apart for his service.

Anointing carries a perfume. Are people around me, or you, caused to remember that God is in this place? Do I carry a sense of his presence and his love? Can I demonstrate to them the way of forgiveness and restoration of relationship with my God? Is my anointing fresh today, so that the perfume of the presence of God lingers and reminds me of his love? Can others smell God on me? Do I make the atmosphere around me a better, healthier place?

Anointing Oil

Exodus 30:22-33

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Good, clean water

Got my water bill this morning…so glad we use showers mostly instead of baths. Reminds me of the time I was giving my first little niece a bath…sat on the edge of the bath, leaned across as I was playing with her, slipped, and suddenly found myself with my bottom in the water, legs in the air! And try getting out of that one without getting even more of you wet! Still, water is wonderful stuff. We are so blessed to have it piped in, warm and pure, to help us keep clean and healthy. As well as for drinking of course.

God knew all about bacteria. An invisible and necessary part of our eco system, but dangerous in the wrong places. Like on our hands. It’s so much a part of our general education that we should wash our hands before eating or preparing food, after handling anything dirty, or even just being out and about, that it’s hard to imagine life without water in the tap or hand gel in the handbag.

It’s no wonder that God instructed Aaron and his descendants, to wash their hands when they were handling stuff like blood and carcasses in the tabernacle. And of course, their feet would get splashed with blood, and they’d be walking it around, so naturally their feet would need washing too. Cleanliness was important for longevity, even if they didn’t understand why.

Water of course, represents spiritual cleansing too. Clean inside and out. As Psalm 24:4 puts it, “Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart.” And just as you have to wash your hands many times over – as did those priests – so keeping your heart clean means constantly coming before God, repenting and rejoicing in his forgiveness – keeping short accounts – and then asking for a fresh infilling of his Holy Spirit, for power to live life better.

Keeping that bronze laver full of fresh water must have been a full-time job. But in John 7:38 Jesus invited the thirsty to come to him and drink, “Whoever believes in me… rivers of living water will flow from within them.” That cleansing, refreshing, empowering stream is with us 24/7. Are you thirsty? Come and drink. No water bills for this living flow – use as much as you like. Drink it, cleanse yourself in it, bath in it, swim in it, enjoy it.

Exodus 30:17-21

Exodus 30:17-21

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