If you build it, He will come

photo posted on www.post-gazette.com

In 1989, Kevin Costner starred in the hit film, Field of Dreams. It’s a movie about a farmer who hears a mysterious voice tell him, “If you build it, they will come.” Even though all his neighbors thought he was nuts, he built a baseball field on his farm. And when he did, the ghosts of baseball’s legends showed up to play – led by Shoeless Joe Jackson. Great movie!

In Exodus 25, God speaks to Moses and says this in verse 8: “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”

If you build it, I will come. Up to this point, God had been hanging out with Moses at the top of the mountain. His presence was in the clouds and his voice went out to one man. But God was about to come down and dwell among all the people. They just needed to prepare the place for him to dwell.

Today, God is still looking for a sanctuary in which to dwell. It’s not a building, though. It’s you. If you will clear out the clutter and make room for Him, He will come. He will fill every empty space in your life. 1 Peter 2:5 says, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

You are the tabernacle. You are the sanctuary. You are the field of dreams. And so you must make room for the Lord to come and dwell. Build a place in your life where God can show up. If you build it, He will come.

In the presence

Recently I attended a worship conference that concluded with a time of corporate worship. It was heavenly. I discovered during the time of worship that there were some things within me that were broken. While I was worshiping I was overwhelmed by the presence of the Lord and I sensed Him speaking to me. He spoke simply, but His words repaired my heart. If you’ve ever had a moment like that, you know how precious is the presence of the Lord.  Moses had moments like that. Let’s look at one of those moments in Exodus 24.

Exodus 24:15-16 15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud.

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What a moment! Moses was hanging out in the glory of the Lord. Now if you read this fast, what you see is that the glory of the Lord was there and that the Lord spoke to Moses. But if you slow down, you’ll see that Moses hung out in the glory for six days and the Lord said nothing. It wasn’t until the seventh day that the Lord spoke.

This is something I have been learning to do this last year – just hanging out in the presence of the Lord. So often, my relationship with God can become about what I need from Him. So I go to Him in prayer. I ask Him to speak. I wait on Him for vision. I place my hope in all that He can do. He is my lead, my provision, my strength, my song. He is my joy and my peace. All of these things He does for me. So I go to Him with my needs. (There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact there is everything right with that)

At the same time, He is not just to be my personal vending machine. Because that’s not how relationships work. Often in a relationship, you simply spend time together hanging out. And so this past year, I’ve tried to do more of that. I’ve attempted to still my thoughts and my mouth and just spend time in the presence of God. I have spent time in His presence while worshiping. I have spent time with Him out in nature, where trees and rivers and rocks cry out His praise. I have spent time with Him in silence, just enjoying the fact that He is my God.

Moses was at the top of a mountain waiting to hear from God. And for six days, God said nothing. He just was. He was present and Moses got to experience His glory. Today, I challenge you to spend time in the presence of the Lord. Do it with no expectations, no requirements, and no limits. You’ll be amazed at what the glory of the Lord will bring to your life!

Do NOT be a good neighbor!

Exodus 23:31-33  31 “I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. 32 Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. 33 Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.”

bad-neighbor

Well now, that doesn’t seem very neighborly, does it? Yet this was God’s instruction to His people. He was about to give them some serious real estate. When they got there, they were not to move in as friendly neighbors. It was intended to be a takeover. There would be no oaths, no handshakes, no loaning the neighbor their lawnmowers. It would be a purging.

Interesting.

If you’ve ever lived in a neighborhood you can probably relate. Sometimes your neighbors, as nice as they may be, have very different values. And if you aren’t careful, they can have more of an influence on you than you are on them. Now we aren’t called to kick our neighbors out of the neighborhood, but the Israelites were. Why is that? Because God knew those neighbors would cause them to sin.

The same thing rings true for us today. Yet I’m not talking about the people in your neighborhood. I’m talking about the neighbors within us. You see, we’ve asked Jesus to come and take residence in us. We in a sense, invite him into the neighborhood of our lives. So now we are a Christian neighborhood. Our values are holiness, righteousness, kindness, love, and the like. But we do something foolish in this Christian neighborhood. We violate Exodus 23:33 – we let places of sin live in our land. We hang on to unhealthy life choices.

God knew that His people would be easily convinced to give their hearts away. He knew that they would, by default, follow the customs and patterns of this world. It was for this reason that He instructed us to kick out the old residents in our new neighborhood. He desires a holy land. He desires a pure land. He desires the best for you and your neighborhood. He knows that if alcohol is your source of peace, He can’t be. He knows that if you worship image, you won’t ever pursue being made into His image. If you listen to what is common, you won’t be made holy. 

So I encourage you today, do NOT be a good neighbor. Don’t let bitterness live next door. Give an eviction notice to envy. Serve lust with a homeowner’s association violation. Do not let these things reside in your land. Set God as first in your heart. Set God as ONLY in your heart. Jesus doesn’t need neighbors. When it comes to the land of your life, He gets it all.

 

Outsiders

outsiderI recently attended my wife’s 20 year High School Reunion. That sounds odd, doesn’t it? Let me try that again… my wife recently went to her 20 year High School Reunion, and I went with her. That’s better. Because it would be weird for me to just wander on into a reunion for a school I didn’t go to. To be honest, though, it kind of felt like that. Let me tell you how many people I knew: 2. One of those two was my wife. (I’ll take this moment to say thanks a lot to some friends of mine who graduated with my wife yet didn’t attend. You know who you are.)

At this event, I was the outsider. Me and a bunch of other outsider spouses just hanging out and saying “nice to meet you” a lot, even though there were a few people who weren’t actually nice to meet. These kind of settings are awkward for me. I am an introvert. My worst nightmare is attending an event where I don’t know anyone and the sole purpose of the event is socializing. So ya. Good times. I was the outsider.

Now at this event, people were mostly gracious with non-school-attending spouses. But I’ve seen other social gatherings where outsiders aren’t treated so kindly. You know, settings like church. Wait, what? I mean, people are usually friendly, but don’t necessarily make outsiders feel like not-outsiders. It’s the courtesy “hello” then back to catching up with my friends. Not cool, church people. Not cool.

Exodus 22:21 Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. 

That’s what God told the Israelites while they were wandering around in the desert looking for the promised land. Now I know that’s a specific instruction for a specific application, but what if it still applied to God’s people today? Because I think it does. Here’s the heart behind the instruction: “Hey people, you used to be outsiders, slaves, and oppressed. The insiders weren’t nice to you. They didn’t include you in their social circles. Did you like that? I didn’t think so. So don’t do that to others.”

In God’s church there shouldn’t be insiders and outsiders; there should only be family. I could elaborate on that, explaining what inclusiveness means. But I think I’ll just leave it there. Church = family. If you have attended 1562 services or 1 service, you are family. No outsiders. Church people, let’s see if we can make that happen.

On punching faces and turning cheeks

punch in faceIf you’ve read your Bible, you probably read Matthew 5, where Jesus talks about turning the other cheek. To paraphrase, “You’ve heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say if someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer them your left one also.” Turn the other cheek. It’s the way of love. It’s the way of Jesus. It’s the way of two sore cheeks.

I get that I’m supposed to love my enemies. I get that as a Christian, I am called to be a person of love, not of conflict. Jesus wanted us to love. After all, God is love. So why did Jesus have to correct this whole “eye for an eye” thing? Where did that saying come from? Let’s take a look:

Exodus 21:23-25 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Wow. This is more than just a “you’ve heard it said.” It actually comes straight from God to the Israelite people. So why would God advocate punching your neighbor in the face? And why would Jesus contradict what God had told the Israelites? Good question. I’m glad you asked.

In this passage in Exodus 21, it’s clear to me that God was trying to establish something. No, not face punching. That’s not it at all. He was trying to establish personal accountability. It seems to me that the people were getting away with a bunch of stuff that really offended the heart of God. They were careless in their caring for one another. Some guy’s bull went around goring people to death and he was like “oh well.”  So God needed to give them some basic human principles like, “take responsibility for your actions.”  If you are going to go around being a jerk and knocking people’s teeth out, then I’m gonna make a rule that someone gets to punch you in the face. Sounds fair to me.

Fast forward to the quote by Jesus. Why would He correct God? Well, He didn’t really. He was correcting what people had done with God’s commands. They had taken them into their own hands and used them to justify themselves. For example, “hey man, my cow broke it’s leg on your property, so I went ahead and killed one of your cows… because I can. God said so. Deal with it.” Doesn’t sound very neighborly does it? Definitely not loving. So Jesus came onto the scene and corrected this kind of arrogant brand of justice. That kind of thinking wasn’t what God intended in the first place.

So what’s the takeaway from all of this “eye for an eye” talk? Two things really. 1) Take responsibility for your actions and 2) let the way of love be your way of life. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone lived that way. The way of love would never punch someone in the face, at least not intentionally. The way of personal accountability would own it’s mistakes and offer to make things right when things go wrong.

My goodness, God really knew what He was talking about. We should try to take His advice!

Crooked Picture Frames

crooked picture frame

As I sat down to write today, I looked up at the wall where the family pictures hang. Off to my left, one was crooked. Of course, I immediately fixed it. That made me think of Sunday morning while I was preaching. For some reason, I found myself making sure my Bible was set down straight next to my notes. And last week during family pictures, I was giving input into how to arrange the family for the photo when the photographer said to me: “Brad, it doesn’t need to be perfectly symmetrical.”  I think I have a problem.

The truth is, I like things perfect. I like them refined. I like all the rough edges smoothed and the blemishes worked out. I like straight picture frames and symmetrical pictures. So I often hold myself to that same smoothed out standard. The problem is, God doesn’t. In fact, He prefers quite the opposite.

Exodus 20:25 If you use stones to build my altar, use only natural, uncut stones. Do not shape the stones with a tool, for that would make the altar unfit for holy use.

My brain tells me that God prefers things that I have perfected, but my Bible tells me that He prefers things just as they are. Here in Exodus 20, God gives these simple instructions on how to build the altar of sacrifice: naturally. Use the stones with all the sharp edges. Use stones with cracks in them. It’s okay if they are different colors, shapes, and sizes. It can look messy. In fact, it should look messy. That’s the kind of altar He is going for.

Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.” I’ve read this verse hundreds of times, and it has always seemed to say that I need to bring my holy and pleasing self to God. But that’s not what it says in light of Exodus 20:25.  It simply says to bring myself.

God isn’t after perfection. He isn’t after our smoothed out stones. He doesn’t need us to take our tools and fix ourselves before He uses us. Instead, He asks us to come as we are, natural and uncut. It is in that state they He does His best work. If He feels it is necessary, He will do the refining; He will do the shaping. But we’ve got to let go of the perfectionism of our self. I’ve got to let go.

So today, I bring him my crooked picture frame, my sideways Bible and my asymmetrical picture. I come as I am. Because that’s how He asks me to come.

Dude.

snowboardingDude. It’s a complex word. If your friend is doing something stupid you can say: dude. It means I wouldn’t do that if I were you. If your friend is being annoying you can simply say: dude. In that context it means knock it off. If it’s something scary: dude. If it’s something exciting: dude. And most especially if it’s something awesome: duuuuuuude!

Here’s how it works in context: You are out snowboarding with your friend and he attempts to go over a jump that nobody should attempt. Mid-air you think he is going to die but then against all odds, he lands it. Your reaction can simply be this: Dude! Duuude!  Duuuuuuude.  Translation? Don’t do it, that’s stupid. Oh no, you are going to die! Whoa, that was epic.

So I was wondering what it would be like if the Israelites used the word dude. I know, I’m weird… but stick with me.

Exodus 19:18-19 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

This is just the coolest scene ever. God in all his glory descends on the mountain and covers it with smoke. Then the mountain starts shaking violently and everyone hears a loud trumpet blasting even though no one is playing a trumpet. To top it all off, they all hear the voice of God. In my head, I can imagine standing there taking it all in… Dude. Whoa, duuuude! Um, dude? Duuuuuuude.

As silly as the inside of my brain may sound to you, I genuinely want to have this kind of reaction to the God of the universe. Because sometimes I forget how enormous he is. I don’t think about his infinite might. I get stuck in the doldrums of every day life and lose sight of the awesomeness of my God. But somewhere deep within, I long to just ponder his power. 

So today I am going to stop and think. I am going to remember all the great things he has done. I am going to marvel that he sent his Son to rescue me from darkness. That he died for me, forgives me, receives me, heals me. I’m going to hit the pause button for a moment, think upon his greatness, and let it out.  Duuuuuuuude.  That’s all that really needs to be said.