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familyworship
In Exodus 25, we find the three furnishings that the tabernacle was to house.  Here, we find what the contributions the people of God had been called to make were designated for.

It is somewhat unusual to build furniture before building the house, but perhaps the Lord intended here to show us an order of importance of sorts.  What goes into God’s house, namely the law, the mercy, the place designated for the bread, and the lampstand, is more noteworthy than the building itself.  These items represent what actually constitutes a true Christian and a true church today.

If we have not law and grace, a special place for the presence of God, and a light-bearing witness, we have not an individual nor a place prepared and fit to worship Almighty God.  We can place all kinds of other things into our hearts and inside church buildings but nothing other than these particular furnishings will suit.  Nothing other than these particular things will make either us or that building a place fitting, pleasing, and suitable for the Lord to dwell.  I imagine the reason why so much unnecessary and spiritually unrelated “stuff” goes on in the church is because the real elements and foundation necessary for true worship to take place are not even present.

 

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As the Lord begins to speak to Moses on Mount Sinai, he enters into a very long discourse on exactly how to build a place of worship.  He goes into great detail over a period of forty days and forty nights just instructing Moses on how to instruct His people to erect, furnish, and attend His place of worship.  It begins in Exodus 25 and does not conclude until Moses comes back down the mountain in Exodus chapter 31.  Let’s consider these instructions for God’s holy dwelling place carefully.

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. ~Exodus 25:1-9

The very first thing God tells Moses about his sacred place is that it is to be a place of giving.  Each and every person attending God’s place of worship was to offer a gift.  Each and every person was to contribute.  No one was to come empty handed.  No one was to be excluded from making an offering.  No one was to be kept from giving whatever they had to give.  God gave specific instructions on what to bring.  The idea here is that the people of God were to bring the very best things they had and offer those to the Lord.

Note…to the Lord.  Verse two tells us that the contributions made were “for me” and God was speaking.  The gifts we bring to the house of God are for HIM; to glorify HIM; to honor HIM; to please HIM.

This was the very first instruction God gave in regards to the place of worship where he would be pleased to come and dwell.  This tells us that giving and offering our very best gifts in a place of worship is greatly important to God.

We should never enter or attend a place of worship empty handed.  We are to bring our very best gifts and offer them back to God.  We ought never to forbid others from giving their best gifts to the Lord.  God commands His people first and foremost in a place where he is to come and dwell to contribute.

If we fail to contribute to God’s house due to apathy, complacency, laziness, or greed, we ought to be very ashamed.  If we fail to allow others to contribute due to pride, control, envy, or jealousy, we ought to be very ashamed.  God would not have made this instruction first, foremost, and primary if it was not of great importance.

Let’s do things God’s way, Church.  “Whatsoever is done in God’s service must be done by His direction and not otherwise.” ~Matthew Henry

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screwtape

In 2 Corinthians chapter 10, Paul begins to defend himself within the Corinthian Church.  He had been encouraging and instructing in the preceding chapters.  Now, his tone completely changes.  He began to deal with the fact that there were false apostles, false teachers, and false teachings in this church that were presenting in the form of competition and defaming of his own personal character as well as a concerted effort to discredit him personally and deny him the authority he had been given by God to lead and teach in this church.

Paul begins with humility agreeing with his accusers that he was indeed low and mild when present among them.  Paul makes clear that he has no desire to be rough or overbearing even despite the severe and abusive slander being spread about him personally.  Paul is not about to stoop to that level, although he does make it very clear that he is both equipped and prepared with the authority given to him by God to punish offense done against him.  It was hindering the gospel which, in turn, made it an offense done to the gospel itself.

Paul points not to his own power, but to the wonder-working power of God over the spiritual realm.  Consider his words:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” ~2 Corinthians 10:3-6

He’s like, “Hey, guys!  This confusion and conflict and disunity we find in this particular church has nothing to do with the superficial problems or isolated issues that everyone wants to argue over.  This conflict is spiritual.  Everything going on here is a result of unseen forces working to destroy and devour God’s people and God’s plan.  There is bondage here – spiritual bondage that we must wage war against.  Spiritual strongholds are just that – spirits strongly holding people captive by deceit, by confusion, by ignorance, by prejudice, by lust, by lofty, high and prideful thoughts and opinions which contradict God and His will. These things are not trite or trivial.  They are a force waging an all out war against us all.  Thank God, that in his grace he has given us weapons with divine power.  Divine power!  The very power of God!  These are weapons which are able to defeat these forceful, spiritual strongholds.

That’s why I’m not gonna play your game of fleshly and worldly comparison.  We have a war to fight and that war is not against each other.  We have only one enemy and his name is Satan.  The war is against demonic forces evidenced in these conflicts and character assassinations being brought against me personally.”

“Ignorance, prejudices, beloved lusts, are Satan’s strongholds in the souls of some; vain imaginations, carnal reasonings, and high thoughts, or proud conceits, in others, exalt themselves against the knowledge of God, that is, by these ways the devil endeavours to keep men from faith and obedience to the gospel, and secures his possession of the hearts of men, as his own house or property.  But then observe, the conquest which the word of God gains.  These strongholds are pulled down by the gospel as the means, through the grace and power of God accompanying it as the principal efficient cause…The apostle speaks not of personal revenge, but of punishing disobedience to the gospel, and disorderly walking among church-members, by inflicting church censures.  Not, thought eh apostle showed meekness and gentleness, yet he would not betray his authority; and therefore intimates that when he would commend those whose obedience was fulfilled or manifested others would fall under severe censures.” Matthew Henry

Paul had every right and reason to punish this blatant disobedience to the gospel but he was waiting for the fulfillment and completion of their obedience first.  Later, in verse 10-11, he references again their complaint of him and responds:

For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” 11 Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.

In other words, Paul doesn’t say things right.  Who does he think he is?  Writing corrective letters but showing up and speaking softly?!  His speech is all wrong.  Why would we listen to him?!

If you hate what someone is saying and you want to avoid the truth of it, a great strategy is to just personally attack them and incessantly complain about how they say it.

Paul answers by pointing to his actions.  Actions speak louder than words.  If you find someone who doesn’t talk like you or walk like you but they walk like Christ, think about who they are called to follow and imitate.  It isn’t you or your preferences.  It is Jesus Christ and His practices.

Paul goes on to oppose their worldly comparison games and refuses to participate.  He restates his purpose – which was edification for the church, not destruction as he was so often and brutally accused.

Herein we find both the cause and the remedy for conflict, confusion, and disunity within a divided church.  The cause is spiritual strongholds and evil influence warring against God and His people.  The remedy is using the weapons which are listed for us in Ephesians 6 as truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer.  These are the things which, when used appropriately, have divine power to destroy the enemy’s schemes and free our brothers and sisters from spiritual bondage.  Thank God!

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood.  Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”  C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

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defense

Paul spends the better part of 2 Corinthians 11 and 12 “boasting.”  Why would he do that?  Why did he do that – even calling himself foolish and a madman as he did it?

False “brethren” – false “apostles” – more or less false “friends” had come into the Corinthian church.  They were not only maligning the gospel, but also pointedly maligning Paul himself.  Paul steps up to the plate to defend himself based on the facts of his own example.  He uses his hardship and weakness as his boast.  He speaks of all the right and reasons he had to be heard by his church.

The truth is, he never should have had to do this.  His church should have defended him when these false frenemies came to tear him (and them!) down.  If anyone was worthy of their loyalty, it was Paul.  No one loved them more than he did save Christ.  This man would have given his life for theirs.  How could they not see the truth?  How could they be so blind?

He begins by showing them that he has all the qualifications they use to disqualify people who do not.  He shares all the pain he personally had endured for the sake of the gospel and for them.  He talks about a persistent problem he deals with in his own life – his “thorn.”  These are his “boasts.”

In chapter 12 Paul tells his church that he has been a fool to elaborate on such things, but that it was they that “forced him to it.”  How so?

His reason for speaking so foolishly and boasting in his weaknesses was because his own church had forsaken him.  Consider that.

The Corinthian church knew Paul very well.  They knew he was qualified to lead them.  They knew what he had risked, endured, and lost for the sake of the gospel and for Christ.  They surely knew these facts well.  He feels particularly inclined to remind them because they surely should have loved him.  They should have listened to him.  They should have remembered him and his true words when false brothers came in and slandered him and the gospel itself.

Paul’s church did not defend him.  They listened instead to liars who they did not know from Adam.  They followed false men with a false gospel whose primary goal was to discredit Paul himself so that they could take control of the church.

Paul’s church did not defend him so he defends himself.  He’s talking crazy because their utter foolishness is making him crazy!  He’s saying, “Hey, guys!  Remember me?  The guy who taught you the gospel?  I am not inferior to these troublemaking false new best friends of yours.  I am noone special but, with God as my witness, I am a true friend to you and to God.  Did you see the signs he gave me?  I know you did.  I don’t want your money or your positions or whatever it is you think I’m going to take away from you.  I want your heart.  Show me your heart.”

“…for I seek not what is yours but you…” ~2 Corinthians 12:14

You guys think I’m here to take something away from you or hurt you.  I am not seeking what belongs to you.  I am seeking YOU!  Sounds like something Jesus would say…

“Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.” ~2 Corinthians 12:19

You think I am defending myself?  This foolish defense is for YOU!!! It is for your growth, church.  BELOVED church.  Please.  Please do not let me show up and see you unrepentant.  This is my third visit to you.  I warned you.  There are no more warnings.  Warning time is over.  Examine yourselves.  See if you are truly in the faith.  I want you to be restored.  Here is the only way that is going to happen:

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you.

14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” ~2 Corinthians 13:11-14

Rejoice.  Restore.  Comfort each other.  Agree.  Live in peace.  Please.  Church, please.

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family

In Exodus chapter 18, Moses’ father in-law comes to see him.  He had heard of all that God had done for His people and wanted to speak with Moses first hand.

Apparently, Moses’ family had not been with him during a large portion of his ministry thus far.  His father in-law, Jethro, likely understood, not only the great importance of what God was doing through Moses, but also the great importance of Moses having his wife and children with him in any further endeavors.

Moses’ family coming with him served firstly to encourage and help him.  The very names of his sons, which are made special note of here in the scripture itself, serve to encourage and remind him of who he is.

Gershom, meaning stranger; pilgrim; sojourner, reminded Moses of his lifetime lack of belonging and future citizenship in heaven.  Eliezer, meaning God is my help or God delivered, reminded Moses of where his strength and help really lie.

Our families are called along with us as our primary line of encouragement and support – second only to the encouragement and support of the Holy Spirit – any time God calls us into ministry.

Moses’ family coming with him served secondly to be an example for God’s people on how his chosen ones ought to function in their own family.  Moses, being the chosen leader of the people of God, had a great responsibility to show them how to lead their own families and affairs to the glory of God.  This is the same reason the New Testament makes clear the importance of the leaders in God’s church having their own family in order first, before they may be allowed to lead God’s church.

 Matthew Henry puts it this way, “Moses must have his family with him, that while he ruled the church of God he might set a good example of prudence in family-government, 1 Timothy 3:5.  Moses had now a great deal both of honor and care put upon him, and it was fit that his wife should be with him to share with him in both.”

So, when Jethro came with Moses’ family in tow, the very first thing Moses did was to greet him respectfully and take and interest in their (his own) family’s well being.  As tempting as it must have been, Moses did not run out to Jethro and Zipporah (Moses’ wife) and tell them of all the amazing signs and wonders or run them over with all that God had done right away.  Instead, Moses took care to greet Jethro with the respect he was due and to ask of his welfare first.  Others first.  This is a basic, foundational principle God’s leaders must possess.

Finally, Moses shares his wonder-filled testimony with his own family, who, had previously only heard of it second, third, or tenth hand.  Henry says, “Conversation concerning God’s wondrous works is profitable conversation; it is good, and to the use of edifying, Psalm 105:2.”

Unfortunately, we have many who would disagree with both Moses and Mr. Henry.  They warn us, “Don’t talk too much about the things God has done which cannot be explained.  Do not give him glory for his signs and wonders.  Do not even mention those things that belong to the realm of the spiritual and miraculous.” Many disagree with Moses and Jethro and Mr. Henry because they fear; they doubt; they disbelieve; they envy.  Therefore, they seek to silence anyone who would share the great and mighty works of a God who will not be tamed for mere man’s comfort.

In disbelieving and discounting the works of God, those ones miss both the blessing and the benefit of rejoicing in and knowing well a God who is greater than our greatest imaginations.

As we see evident here in Moses’ own family, the result of speaking the truth about the signs, wonders, and miracles of God first hand is rejoicing and strengthening of faith.  Some might even call this instance conversion for Jethro.  Jethro heard of the good for God’s people and he was genuinely happy for them.  He wasn’t jealous or suspicious or contemptuous or unfavorable concerning God’s providence and people.  He was genuinely happy and rejoiced – even he, a foreigner.

Because the leader and his family made their table-talk of that which glorified God, they found themselves rejoicing rather than murmuring, complaining, or running down their would be friends as the people following behind and all around them were so quick to do. This leader of God’s people kept his own family spiritually healthy even when those who were following behind him could do nothing but grumble, complain, accuse, and fault-find.

Just as in the case of the Jews and the Gentiles, the tragedy for those who actually witnessed the miraculous take place before their very eyes, truly missed it.  Those closest to the wonders closed their eyes in willful blindness, but those standing by and hearing second hand were more zealous and faithful than they despite the many, many great advantages God had given them.

It seems that this entire passage is one with the intent to teach us the great importance of respect and care for good family relations and conversations among God’s people and leading by example in all those things related to such. When God calls leaders, he calls their families.  This is his chosen earthly example for proper daily living.  Therefore, let us live up to our calling as those to whom the world looks for answers.

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bluecollar

Where we come from, there are only two choices: blue collar or unemployed.  Even those with white collar jobs are often blue collar men and women.  My daddy was one of those.  He was a blue collar man who just happened to have a white collar job.

My dad was an electrical engineer who was raised by a widowed coal miner.  There was never a time where he transitioned out of a blue collar lifestyle.  He may have worn a tie to work, but he wore humility and frugality at home.  He was modest and down to earth, always.  Despite his exceptional intelligence, mathematical, and practical knowledge, he was a down home guy in every sense of the term.  He strummed his years-old guitar every evening.  He gardened his daddy’s ground.  He fixed his own very used cars.  He went to Pechin’s and ate the cheapest burger in town unashamedly with frequency.  A day never came in Daddy’s life that he forgot where he’d come from.  His father had built the house he and his four brothers and sister grew up in with his own two hands.  He worked hard for everything we had.  He never took on an attitude of superiority or upper-class snobbery.  Never mind that he earned twice what his closest peers did in that day and age.  No one would have ever known it.

Daddy grew up here in Fayette County.  He grew up three miles from where I’m raising my family.  Blue collar people are a huge part of our community.  You can find them in the grocery store and often find yourself standing and waiting for the husbands to stop shooting the breeze already, the milk is starting to spoil.  You can find them playing backyard baseball and sled riding with their children outside year-round.  You’ll see them supporting fundraisers for those in need and giving their well-deserved, hard-earned money and precious little time to friends they treat as family.  You’ll find them in the bars and restaurants always with a hand outstretched and a story to tell.  These are people who work hard, play harder, and love deeply.

There is one place where you won’t find many of them, though.  It is hard to find their kind inside the walls of our churches.  These days, their community is different.

Little wonder.  These are fiercely independent people.  They’ve had to be.   They are non-conformists in every sense of the word.  So, you’ll find them living in committed relationships with a gaggle of children to prove it.  You’ll find them divorced and trying their best to love and raise their kids right despite it.  These are the kind of people who would much rather talk face to face about what your problem is anyway than know you’re talking about them with your self-proclaimed elite and pretending to like them.  Their the kind of people who can handle the hard truths about life, love, and self because the world has already schooled them severely on the fact that they are indeed sinners.  They are those whose funerals are overflowing with people who love them sincerely. These are the unfavorited and undeserving because Mama told them so and they sure as shootin’ believe her.  None of this means that they are unintelligent.  Maybe they do not even make much less money than the white collar crowd any more.  The divide we see within the church concerning these folks is based solely upon contrasting personalities, dispositions, preferences, and, perhaps, roots.

Now.  We have a culture chock full of blue collar souls.  We have a church all but empty of them.  And I’m wondering why.

I believe the key to the “Why?” is found in the gospel of Matthew.  Chapter 13 talks about what happened when Jesus sought to serve people within his own hometown.  The text says that Jesus could not do many miracles in this place.  It was not because he was not able.  It was not because he was not gifted or not called or not willing.  It was because he was not accepted by the people in this place.  The very people he went to serve failed to believe in him.  They failed to believe that he was for them.  They failed to believe that he was acceptable, honorable, and genuine.  Jesus’ own people within his own hometown simply did not trust him, and this, to their own disadvantages.

So what does that have to do with our dilemma? Let me explain.

The blue collar crowd often struggles with sins that are more overt and they tend to be more open about those struggles.  The white collar crowd often struggles with sins that are more covert and they tend to be more closed about those struggles.  The blue collar crowd often speaks truth loudly and errs on the side of being harsh and intimidating.  The white collar crowd often avoids speaking truth if it means confrontation.  The blue collar crowd often errs by saying too much.  The white collar crowd often errs by not saying enough. When the blue collar crowd feels insecure or disrespected, they often simply reciprocate the attitudes displayed toward them.  When the white collar crowd feels insecure or disrespected, they often simply avoid whomever is making them feel that way.  The blue collar crowd glorifies God by working primarily with their hands.  The white collar crowd glorifies God by working primarily with their intellect.

Until we, as the church, can acknowledge and agree that a person who speaks truth in a brash way and a person who avoids speaking truth are equally guilty of wrong communication and injurious to others to the very same degree, that the action resulting from being insecure and feeling disrespected can be either reciprocated disrespect or avoidance and that they are equally damaging, that subtle sins are just as bad as apparent ones, that a person who says too much and a person who doesn’t say enough are equally in need of confrontation, that we are willing to punish one and overlook the other depending on our disposition, that we are choosing friends, leaders, and confidants dependent upon who is more like us rather than who is more like God, that theological education does not equal more spiritual maturity, life experience, and practical wisdom over and above men who go to work everyday and serve God by simply being a Christian in the world and that often the very opposite is true, we will continue to have partiality and division among those who could and would best serve the church.  We simply cannot move forward until we understand our part in these biases.

How many blue collar men do you see leading in your church?  Could the reason there are so few be that the church is guilty of partiality and favoritism based on cultural preferences?  Do you feel blue collar people are accepted in our churches in the same way white collar people are?  Send me your thoughts at witnesschic@hotmail.com.

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team

“What were we learning about yesterday?”

“Jews and Gentiles!”

“What about them?”

“The Jews didn’t want the Gentiles to be in God’s family.”

“Why?”

“Because they (the Jews) weren’t worshiping God.”

“Who were they worshiping?”

“Themselves.”

“What did God want?”

“Together!”

 For he himself is our peace,who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. ~Ephesians 2:14-16

Together.  With confidence like unto that of a certain seven year-old who proudly knows her Bible lesson, I am certain I heard God’s voice in hers.  Together.  God wants His people together.

From the beginning of creation, God declared that it is not good for man to be alone.  He proceeded to give Adam a wife, Abraham a son, Leah a husband, Naomi a daughter-in-law, and even Jesus a mommy.  God gives us each other.  “Together” is a gift.

What is “together” really, though?  Is it merely sitting beside one another while staring a sparkly, colorful rectangles?  Is it just doing the same activities at the same time?  Is it primarily being physically present? What is the “together” that makes the not goodness of being alone, good?

Let’s start with what it definitely is not.

The alone-ness that was “not good” is not rectified by attending the same social events, going to the same homes, schools and churches, sitting at the same tables, or talking about the same hobbies.  The togetherness that Christ died to bring about amounts to more than superficial physical proximity or bodily juxtaposition.

Togetherness in Christ means much, much more than that.  It means what it meant for Adam and Eve – a man and a woman who had no one except each other.  It means that when we are done talking about sports and schools, we talk about failure – both mine and yours. It means we encourage and that we know one other well enough to understand why and when each other needs it. It means we stay even when we disagree.  It means we learn how to communicate for the good of the other.  It means we are open to correction, quick to forgive, and that we know each other well enough and real enough that we know what we need to correct and actually experience the need to forgive.

Why else would the Jews have so despised the thought of including Gentiles into the fold of God?  Aside from the obvious pride, jealousy, and confusion they naturally had, the Jews knew something else.  They knew what inclusion really meant for them.  That is what Paul had to address.

It meant pig-eating people in their kosher cafes.  It meant a bona fide, painful break from the Jews who did not believe the gospel – Jews who were their closest family, friends, and neighbors.  It meant sacrificing their preferences for the good of people they had previously disliked and adamantly avoided.  It meant putting down the pride of being God’s apple and making room for a whole new bushel.  It meant standing up for a Gentile when an unbelieving Jew encouraged one to harass.  This was none other than the plight of the eldest child learning to welcome new siblings while at the same time being asked to pull away from his favorite best buddies.

It meant realizing that they were not the most important people in the world and never had been.  It meant laying down their prior to pre-incarnate Christ social groups and walking in humility among those he died to place in their lives.  It meant standing up for and doing good to those who were in the faith over and above their old comrades and favorite fellow men.

It meant sacrifice.  It meant humility.  It meant courage.

God-authenticated togetherness is not mere relational or physical proximity.  God-authenticated togetherness is the very work of the gospel.

It means realizing that we are not the most important people in the world and we never were.  It means laying down our pre-Christian social groups and walking in humility among those he died to place in front of us.  It means standing up for and doing good to those who are in the faith over and above our old comrades and favorite fellow men.

It means sacrifice.  It means humility.  It means courage.

Let us not settle for mere relational or physical proximity.  Let us do the work of the gospel through our willingness to invest in God-authenticated togetherness.

Together.  God wants His people together.

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