His Presence, Our Beauty

Scripture Focus: Exodus 26:30, 33-34
30 “Set up the tabernacle according to the plan shown you on the mountain…33 Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the covenant law behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. 34 Put the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law in the Most Holy Place. 

Reflection: His Presence, Our Beauty
By Erin Newton

Amid the desert, the Tabernacle was an oasis of color. Blue, purple, red. Against the dull hues of brown rocks and sandy ground, there would be the shimmer of gold, silver, and bronze. Where God dwelt with his people, there would be beauty.

It’s easy to get lost in the detailed blueprint for the tabernacle. If we collect all the materials together, it is an array of beauty. There are acacia frames and wooden cross bars. Hooks and clasps in precious metals. Fine linen in jewel-toned colors of a sunset just before the darkness of night.

This is how God chose to be with his people—among the drab backdrop of a desert, he created a vibrant refuge. It is the extraordinary among the ordinary.

God dwelt with his people in the most inhospitable places. In a place without life, God would sustain them with food and water. Day after day after day. All the while, he traveled with them. He guided them. He dwelt with them. The Creator nestled among the created.

As time carried on, the presence of God moved to the permanent Temple. Surrounded by scenes of a garden—it was filled with palm trees and floral designs, cedar walls and golden details, images of the same winged creatures that guarded the entrance to Eden.

Then his presence moved among the people once again. Jesus tabernacled in the fabric of a human body with sunkissed skin of deep brown hues.

Upon the cross, the jewel-toned hues were seen once more. Blue and purple bruises marred his beaten body. Scarlet red blood dripped from his head, hands, feet, and side. His body, disfigured with the vibrant colors of royalty, hung on a cross in the most humble of deaths.

The dark night and shadowed tomb would not hold his presence. As promised, he took up residence in the hearts of every believer. Like the bright golden tongues of fire, the Spirit fell upon the people. He came to dwell again in a lonely place, bringing life and beauty to our souls.

And so, he has remained, in the hearts of every one of us.

He brings life to our mortal bodies. He clothes us in the rich hues of his grace. Among the prism of colors God brings to his people, he clothes us in white—the full intensity of all colors all at once. His presence is our crowning beauty.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another… — Psalm 90.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 26 (Listen 4:18)
Luke 8(Listen 8:09)

Read more about Of Temples and Gardens
The Tabernacle, Solomon’s Temple, and other biblical Temples mimic and recreate the imagery of Eden’s garden.

Read more about From The Most Holy Place
The same Spirit that makes the most holy place holy has been sent to “tabernacle” within us.

A Hedge of Protection?

Scripture Focus: Exodus 19:10-12
10 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death.

Reflection: A Hedge of Protection?
By Erin Newton

We tend to think of rules as a means to kill joy. Limitations on our freedom are viewed negatively. So what does it mean when God puts a boundary around himself?

For three months, the Hebrews followed the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. God guided them, protected them.

At Sinai, the mountain was covered by the cloud. To prepare to meet God, the people consecrated themselves and a boundary was set. Their approach to God was limited, like God placing boundaries on the sea, “This far you may come and no farther” (Job 38.11).

Since the Fall of creation, the relationship between God and humanity has been fettered by restrictions. Every encounter required shielding and protection. Was this boundary and the command to kill anyone who crossed the line a reflection of an angry God? Was God trying to avoid contact with people he found so repulsive?

No, we find quite the opposite in the boundaries set by God. It is not from annoyance or repulsion or anger that God separated himself from them. It was out of love.

God asked Moses to create a boundary so no one would get too close to his presence. He threatened severe punishment to help them take this request seriously.

He yearns to be near them, so much so he will build a traveling abode for his presence. But when the people are going to be close to Him, precautions must be taken. He is holy and they are not. He is unblemished and they are covered in guilt. He is perfect and they are imperfect. The two entities cannot coexist. Out of love, God set boundaries to his presence.

I’m always awe-struck when I read about the presence of God in the Old Testament. The patience and diligence required to approach God is enough to frustrate our instant gratification. Through love, they approached God as he commanded—for their own sake.

With Jesus, everything changed. People could look into his face. Touch his robe. Feel his pierced hands. Lay their heads upon his chest. Listen to his voice. Watch him cry.
With Christ, there are no longer any limitations.

Today, we prepare our hearts and consecrate our lives as we approach God in prayer and worship. But we do not fear his wrath. Our access to God is without boundaries and without fear. Praise be to God!

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
Indeed, our heart rejoices in him, for in his holy Name we put our trust.
Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, as we have put our trust in you. — Psalm 33.20-22

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 19 (Listen 4:04)
Luke 1.39-80 (Listen 9:26)

Read more about Prepared to Meet God
The ominous phrase, “Prepare to meet your God,” is meant to strike fear. Yet, this changed with the incarnation of Jesus.

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When They Ask

Scripture Focus: Exodus 12:26-27
26 And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27 then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped. 

Reflection: When They Ask
By Erin Newton

“Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.” This anonymous quote suggests the gospel can be told through actions. It’s true—faith needs to have actions. But it fails to answer Paul’s rhetorical question, “how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

As the Hebrews prepared for the final plague, God instructed them to perform the Passover ceremony. This was an unprecedented ceremony and one that would be repeated annually. With each new year, the people would explain to the community why they celebrated. No new generation could say, “I didn’t know.”

You can always tell what is important to people by what they talk about the most. We know which friends are sports fanatics, bookworms, or cinema aficionados. If we love it, we ramble on about it. When God calls the Hebrews to teach the next generation, he’s asking for the Passover to fill a place of importance in their hearts.

It is not a laborious call to cover the curriculum. With devoted hearts, the people would celebrate, and the kids would be watching. “What does this mean to you, mom? Why are you doing that, dad? Where is the lamb we had last week, uncle?”

Passing on knowledge is commanded by God. We are called to teach to our children, younger believers, and those new in the faith. Sometimes it is handled like a theological checklist. Or something we pass off to the church staff. The burden seems daunting. 

Let’s look at the passage again. The parents would be practicing their faith. The kids would be noticing. Passover would not be a mere checklist of annual traditions; the people would celebrate out of faith and love.

We are fortunate to have myriads of resources at our fingertips. There are videos and books and programs designed to teach biblical truths to people with minimal religious backgrounds. Some are created to hold the attention of small children and others are created to spur deep thinking in new believers. For our core beliefs, we usually don’t need additional resources. The truths are too important to us.

We worry how to explain the hardest questions someone might ask. Remember that the question is often very simple, “What does this mean to you?” No need to be eloquent. Speak from the heart. Let the truth be filled with your experience and emotions.

I imagine their answers, “We were terrified that night, but God saved us…”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Protect my life and deliver me; let me not be put to shame, for I have trusted in you. — Psalm 25.19

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 12.22-51 (Listen 7:31
Matthew 23 (Listen 4:53)

Read more about Complaint to Commission
The disciples to lead the next generation of the church may be those we have yet to reach.

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Do You Know The Enemy?

Scripture Focus: Exodus 5:20-23
20 When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, 21 and they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

Reflection: Do You Know The Enemy?
By Erin Newton

I have a love for science-fiction and fantasy, including most youth fiction. The Hunger Games tells a good story about an other-worldly apocalyptic fight for survival. At the climax of one book, the scene unfolds into a life-or-death decision by the heroine. She points her weapon, and the targeted character throws his hands up and yells, “Remember who the real enemy is!”

As we read through the Old Testament, there is always the risk that we will lose sight of the battle being fought. The stories are a reflection of something greater.

Moses returns from his meeting with God to confront Pharaoh. He makes his case and Pharaoh receives it about as well as you could imagine. Terrible. Horrible. It makes Pharaoh respond cruelly to the Hebrews. Moses is distraught.

Pharaoh plays the villain in this story. There is no denying that, even if we get into circular conversations about who hardened who’s heart. The protagonist is Moses. The Hebrews are the victims of the conversational drama between Pharaoh and Moses.

Is this really a story of a righteous man versus a mean bully? No, they are simply playing their parts. They have free will to comply with or reject the requests made to them: Yahweh’s call to Moses and Moses’s plea to Pharaoh. Who is the real enemy here?

Pharaoh was Egyptian royalty and that meant he was the supposed manifestation of an Egyptian god. Moses, an image-bearer of God, was the spokesperson for Yahweh. This is not just a tale of former stepbrothers vying for influence over the Hebrew slaves. This is a story that reveals the power of Moses’ God and the impotence of Pharaoh’s nonexistent pantheon.

The next chapter opens with God’s reassurance to Moses that signs and wonders will come to Egypt. Pharaoh and his people are about to take a front-row seat to a supernatural revelation.

Do we remember who the real enemy is or are we too focused on the powers of this earth? Paul reminds us that we do not struggle against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6.12).

The conflict in Exodus is real. The oppression of the Hebrews is not lessened by viewing this as a spiritual battle. The effects were bodily and painful. There is, however, hope in knowing God is at battle in our suffering. He never loses.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Rescue me from the hurtful sword and deliver me from the hand of foreign peoples,
Whose mouths speak deceitfully and whose right hand is raised in falsehood… Psalm 144.11-2

Today’s Readings
Exodus 5 (Listen 3:15
Matthew 16 (Listen 3:43)

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Christ confronts, on our behalf, our greatest enemies—sin and death. Christ is the deadly enemy of death.

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Mistakes for Good?

Scripture Focus: Genesis 48:17-19
17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”

Reflection: Mistakes for Good?
By Erin Newton

God can take something meant for evil and make it work for good. But what about mistakes? Can God take a human mistake and use it for good?

As Jacob lays on his deathbed, Joseph brings his two sons to see their dying grandfather. Jacob blesses the boys with promises given to his own sons. But the grandsons are blessed out of order! Ephraim, the younger, is given the elevated blessing, a firstborn’s portion. Manasseh, the oldest, is blessed as a second-born.

Jacob is blind, and Joseph assumes his crossed arms were an accident. Jacob continues by granting Ephraim the greater blessing.

Joseph only sees a mistake being made. (He even tries to jump in to correct his father.) He bases his assumptions on how things ought to be. He has done everything right, reconciled with his brothers, and visited his ailing father. This should be a straightforward situation; nothing can go wrong.

Like the story of Joseph’s enslavement and deportation to Egypt, God worked through situations that looked hopeless or bound for misery. We are accustomed to looking at tragedies and preaching to our hearts that God can work something good out of them. But what about things that look haphazard? What about the events that look like someone messed up? 

The text never really indicates if God divinely inspired Jacob to switch the blessing order or if a mistake was made that Jacob accepted. The blessing was done, and the results could not be changed.

How many times do we look at a situation and assume that someone has made a mistake? If it’s a small thing, we don’t give it a second thought. But what about the big mistakes—the doctor who missed a diagnosis, the airline that lost your luggage, the distracted driver that hit your car, or the cashier who overcharged you?

When these things happen, we fault the person for making a mistake. We think, “If only they had done it right, I wouldn’t be suffering right now!” We cling to an “if-only” faith.

Jesus was blamed for an “if-only” scenario. “If only you had been here, Lazarus would not have died” (John 11.32).

It is easier to blame someone for making a mistake rather than trusting God to work among errors. God works through perceived irregularities. Think of the “if-only” times in your life. Hear God say, “I know, son, I know.” 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lesson
The same stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. — Psalm 118.22

Today’s Readings
Genesis 48 (Listen 3:43
Matthew 9 (Listen 4:56)

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