March 20, 2015

God’s Presence in Vocation

by Steven Dilla

Exodus 31.1-6
The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel… and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab… Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you.”

There are particular places we expect God to be present. In ancient Israel’s day we see God’s Spirit reside in the holy of holies — a space distinct from every part of common life. We also see the special relationship Israel’s leaders and pillars of faith had with him (Adam, Eve, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Aaron to name a few).

Bezalel and Oholiab are outliers to this expectation, but not to the way God’s Spirit works. Both men are tradesmen who are filled with God’s Spirit to engage in their vocation in a unique and transcendent way. (They are not the first to have this happen.)

God creates work as an invitation into creation and empowers it as a pathway into deeper relationship with Him. Work’s transcendent value comes from him.

“If the God of the Bible exists,” posits Timothy Keller in Every Good Endeavor, “and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest of ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.”

God’s presence reaches into every part of the world as his Spirit empowers people of faith in each vocation. 

“No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest,” insists Abraham Kuyper. As an advocate for God’s presence in all things, Kuyper proclaims, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

Prayer
Father, thank you for creating, empowering, and valuing work. Give us the ability to engage in our vocations in ways which bring honor and glory to you. Give us vision for your Kingdom in our fields and in the lives of those we work with. Help us to see our work, as Dr. Keller says, as your “assignment to serve others.”

Today’s Readings
Exodus 31 (Listen – 2:32)
John 10 (Listen – 4:44)

Ancient Symbols, Modern Faith
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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This Weekend’s Readings

Saturday: Exodus 32 (Listen – 5:47); John 11 (Listen – 6:37)
Sunday: Exodus 33 (Listen – 3:49); John 12 (Listen – 6:26)

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March 19, 2015

TBT: Justification by Faith Alone

by Steven Dilla

Exodus 30.11-12, 16
Then the LORD said to Moses, “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the LORD a ransom for his life at the time he is counted… It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the LORD, making atonement for your lives.”

TBT: Justification by Faith Alone | by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Christ by suffering the penalty, and made atonement for us, removed the guilt of our sins, and sets us in the same state that Adam was in the first moment of his creation. It is no more fit that we should obtain eternal life only on that account. 

Adam did not have the reward merely on account of his innocence; if so, he would have had it fixed upon him at once, as soon as ever he was created. He was as innocent then as he could be. But he was to have the reward on account of his activeness in obedience; not on account merely of his not having done ill, but on account of his doing well.

On the same account we have not eternal life merely as void of guilt, which we have by the atonement of Christ; but on the account of Christ’s activeness in obedience, and doing well. 

Christ is our second federal head, and is called the second Adam. He acted that part for us which the first Adam should have done. When he had undertaken to stand in our place, he was looked upon and treated as though he were guilty with our guilt.

The second Adam brought himself into the state in which the first Adam was on the first moment of his existence — a state of mere freedom from guilt — and hereby was free from any obligation to suffer punishment. 

There was need of something further, a positive obedience, in order for him to obtain — as our second Adam — the reward of eternal life.

God does, in the sentence of justification, pronounce a man perfectly righteous. This, according to the established rule of nature, reason, and divine appointment, is a positive, perfect righteousness.

Prayers from the Past
Glory to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Holy God, deathless, strong,
pity us, save us,
Son of God, our Savior.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

— Anonymous prayer discovered on a pottery fragment, published in 1900.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 30 (Listen – 5:06)
John 9 (Listen – 4:56)

Ancient Symbols, Modern Faith
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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March 18, 2015

One Reason Why We Needed the Sacrificial System

by Steven Dilla

Exodus 29.44-45
[God said,] “So I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God.”

We have a tendency to believe that our sin is unique. In order to manage the guilt of sin, some people respond by jettisoning whatever transcendent truth reveals their actions as sinful. Others discipline themselves, crafting elaborate (and often painful) pathways of penance. Many disconnect from genuine community, for fear they’ll be found out. 

At first glance the sacrificial system solved all of these problems. First, everyone in the community participated — it was clear no one was alone in sin. Second, it gave a tangible action to pay the debt of sin. Most importantly, it gave people a way home. 

God’s presence fell on the tabernacle, and his glory guided his people. One would expect this would have reoriented the hearts of the ancients — but sin persisted. The sacrificial system proved insufficient to pay the price of sin, let-alone restore humankind’s relationship with God. 

We must ask ourselves, then, why we needed the sacrificial system at all.

I’m not sure we would believe that we can’t restore our own relationship with God without the track record of the Old Testament. As modern people, we can do anything. Why wouldn’t we be able to reestablish our relationship with God?

The first covenant was broken, not by God, but by humankind. We’d already been proven impotent. And yet, it was God — in his love — who would pay the price of restoring all that was lost.

“For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests,” Hebrews teaches, “but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.”

It is our salvation, not our sin, that is unique. Christ came as the true and better high priest and — this is the scandal of the gospel — the true and better sacrifice. Because his sacrifice was complete we can live freely under grace, engage whole-heartedly in community, and rest assured in the promise Christ will complete that which he has started.

Prayer

Father God, our hearts long for you. Forgive us for trying to manage our own sin and pay our own debts. Help us to create communities where sinners like ourselves are welcome, where healing can take place, and where your Son can be glorified through our love for one another.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 29 (Listen – 6:23)
John 8 (Listen – 7:33)

Ancient Symbols, Modern Faith
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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March 17, 2015

Reengaging Earth With Heaven

by Steven Dilla

Exodus 28.3
[God said,] “You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood.”

The first people to be filled with a spirit from God were not priests, but craftsmen. Few had direct access to God’s Spirit at this moment in human history — those that did engaged in their vocation in a way that could not be explained merely by human skill. (This happens more than once.) 

What they create under this empowerment is remarkable not only for its detail, but for its transcendent meaning.

The priestly garments are a picture of the world properly ordered. In his 21-volume series, The Antiquities of the Jews, the first-century historian Josephus describes the symbolism of the priestly garments as understood in the time of Christ:

The robe of the high priest being made of linen, signified the earth; the blue denoted the sky, being like lightning in its pomegranates, and in the noise of the bells resembling thunder. 

He also appointed the breastplate to be placed in the middle of the ephod, to resemble the earth, for that has the very middle place of the world. And the girdle which encompassed the high priest round, signified the ocean, for that goes round about and includes the universe.

And for the headdress, which was of a blue color, it seems to me to mean heaven; for how otherwise could the name of God be inscribed upon it?

Faith is designed to reengage earth with heaven. Even in the darkness of our sin and brokenness, God did not abandon us — his redemption plan begins its renewal here and now — and he will stop at nothing to complete his work. Not only is God’s name inscribed on the earth, his blood is spilt on it.

The craftsmen are a case-study of how to respond to God’s spirit of grace. As an act of faith they hone their skill over years of practice, invest themselves deeply into their work, and engage in projects which help humanity flourish.

Prayer
Father, we know no greater love than yours. Help us to see our work as part of your redemption plan for this world and those around us. Empower us to invest in the lives of our coworkers. Sharpen our ability to see what you’re doing in and through our work.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 28 (Listen – 5:54)
John 7 (Listen – 5:53)

Ancient Symbols, Modern Faith
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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March 16, 2015

It Is Finished

by Steven Dilla

Exodus 27.9
[God said,] “You shall make the court of the tabernacle.”

The tabernacle covered over 11,000 square feet at the center of Israel’s nomadic camp and was the fulcrum of ancient Jewish society. The writers of scripture occasionally referred to it as the “tent of meeting,” revealing its role as the seat of early Israeli culture, politics, and jurisprudence. 

“Tent of dwelling” is the more common term to describe the tabernacle, and gets at the transcendent purpose it served for Israel. Everything in the tabernacle is designed to bring man into communion with God.

Instruction for the tabernacle’s design is fastidious and consumes one-third of the chapters in the book of Exodus. Every object is meticulously detailed, all the way down to pegs for the sacrificial tools and fasteners on the priestly garments.

One object is conspicuously absent: a seat for the priest. 

Sacrificing animals that weigh hundreds of pounds would have been exhausting. Serving all day in the heat of the Near East would have made it more difficult. Yet the ancient priest never sat down because the work of atonement was never complete.

The author of the book of Hebrews describes Christ as “our great high priest.” Jesus, Hebrews says, “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

The New Testament’s vision for God’s presence in daily life is no less central than that of the tabernacle. It is however, no longer contingent on humanity’s sacrifices, mediated by earthly priests, or centered on a building.

The reason for this, Hebrews reveals, is stunning; “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” 

The sacrificial system isn’t gone because humankind evolved to more civil forms of worship. We no longer sacrifice because the final sacrifice has been made on our behalf. The great high priest sits because the work is complete.

Prayer
God, thank you for ending the sacrificial system by paying a price we were unable to pay. Thank you that the work of faith is no longer about restoring our relationship with you. Strengthen us to respond in joy, cultivating what you have given us through grace so that others see, experience, and respond to your never-ending love for us.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 27 (Listen – 2:52)
John 6 (Listen – 8:27)

Ancient Symbols, Modern Faith
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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