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Are you full?

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.  Ephesians 5:15-18

We live in a stress-filled world and people deal with the stress of life in all different ways.  Some of those ways bring devastating side effects.  Opioids, pornography, alcohol, even shopping has caused many people in our time to lose their job, their spouse, and sometimes even more.

Dealing with deadly addictions is tough sledding.  It is rarely enough to just focus on stopping the behavior.  Human beings aren’t wired that way.

If you set an infant down in front of an electrical outlet, he will do his best to stick his finger in it.  You can tell him no.  You can explain the danger.  You can slap his hand or yell or threaten.  In the end, he will cry in frustration as you stop him from following his instinct to explore.  But every grandmother knows the best way to keep a baby away from danger is to set a brightly colored object just within his field of vision and invite him to trade his interest in the dangers of the room for that irresistible opportunity.

We are still babies my friends and the Lord understands us.  When we feel seduced to handle our stress with destructive, sinful behavior, the Lord invites us to take on Himself instead.  The most important phrase in our text for today is the last one – but be filled with the spirit.  The answer to our addictive behavior is more than just mustering our self-control.  (If we had that much self-control we wouldn’t be in the mess we are.)  The answer is to pursue Christ and His kingdom with all we have, to be filled – brim full, over the top, no room for anything else – with the Spirit of God.

Seek after Him ladies and gents.  Run after Him until you are full.

If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the Lord by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely—in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby—if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt. And he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering. Leviticus 6:2-6

 Some industrialists of the late 19th century are disparagingly referred to as Robber Barons, so-called because of their unscrupulous business practices.  Stories abound of business leaders like Andrew Carnegie and John David Rockefeller taking advantage of their workers and customers and even threatening violence on their competitors.

Despite their unsavory business tactics, these Robber Barons were often major philanthropists.  Carnegie founded Carnegie Mellon University and supported hundreds of public libraries.  Rockefeller founded the University of Chicago and contributed to important advances in education and medicine. Rockefeller was also reportedly deeply religious, read the Bible daily and led his own Bible study.

Our 19th century predecessors didn’t consider those two sides of their activity contradictory at all.  They were quite content to live disintegrated lives – one way at work and another outside it.  It’s not really an old-fashioned idea.  When was the last time you heard (or said) about an ethically questionable strategy, “That’s just business”.

But our text for today indicates that whole approach to business, and to life, is counter-Biblical.  Before the business malfeasant can even ask the Lord for forgiveness, he or she has to make full restitution (with a 20% penalty besides).  Each of us is only one person, whether Monday or Sunday.  Each of us is responsible to God and our neighbor, both on Monday and Sunday.  Let’s learn from our economic ancestors, ladies and gentlemen.  Let’s walk in consistency, loving our neighbor seven days a week.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.  Exodus 40:34-35

These verses come from the last paragraph of the last chapter of the Book of Exodus.  While the first half of the book focuses on the Hebrew’s deliverance from Egypt, the second half is dominated by the preparations the Israelites are to make to have God in their presence.

The instructions were painstaking.  Every article had to be of a certain size, with a certain design and decorative motif.  The entire nation brought their valuables to contribute to the construction efforts, everything from gold and jewels to goat hides.  The Lord, Himself, provided His Spirit to the workers to construct the temple and all its accoutrements.

Then, finally, when Moses had overseen the entire operation and all was prepared, God came into the presence of the Israelites.  He descended visibly, gloriously, and so completely that Moses could not enter the tent.

I think most would agree God could have shown up whenever He pleased.  But He waited while the Israelites invested their time and treasure in creating a space for Him in their collective lives.  This should tell us something.  God wants to be in all our lives and He certainly can show up when it suits Him, but what He really wants is for us to invest in welcoming Him.  He wants us to be devoted to preparing a space for Him.

The lesson of Exodus 40 is not to build a tabernacle.  The lesson is for us to dedicate ourselves to being prepared for God to live with us.  We don’t do it with gold and goat skins.  We do it with repentance, prayer, seeking the Lord and being obedient to all He has taught us.

If the Lord is not as evident in your life as you would like, consider how you have prepared for Him.  Let’s allow Him to decide when it is time to make His presence felt, and let us dedicate ourselves to being ready when He comes.

He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting.  Exodus 38:8

Our text for this week is pretty unusual.  Throughout the five long chapters in which the Bible describes the making of the First Tabernacle and its furnishings, the only verse that notes who provided any particular item refers to this group of women donating their bronze mirrors.

A mirror is a pretty intimate article.  It tells us the truth, and we usually reserve that truth for ourselves.  I’m not sure the fact that the donors were women is the point, either.  My wife and I both have a mirror.  She spends more time in front of hers because her hair is more complicated than mine but I would not want to give mine up.

Throughout human history, mirrors have also been associated with self-obsession.  Consider both the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus and the Wicked Queen of Snow White.  That may just explain how ubiquitous they are in our day and also something about the human condition.  Most of us are pretty self-focused.  I have my schedule, my deadlines, and my to-do list.  I’m sure you have them too but I confess I rarely think about what might be on yours.

And yet these Hebrew ladies gave up their mirrors, with all they represented.  What was the outcome of this intimate sacrifice?  God turned them into a great bronze basin, a place for purification, a means of entering His presence.

Lesson alert!  If we want to become closer to God, we also have to give up our self-focus.  The way to God’s presence is not through self-absorption, even on our own improvement.  The path to the Lord is through accepting the finished work of Christ as the only necessary work of salvation.  We must take our eyes off ourselves and set them on Him.

Let’s give up our mirrors, brothers and sisters, our myopic focus on ourselves, and trade them for intimacy with the one true God.

Sabbath Faith

Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.  Exodus 34:21

The rule of Sabbath observance is pretty well-known.  Don’t work on the Sabbath.  There are a number of Christian interpretations as to exactly how to observe it, but it would be a rare pastor who said God wants you to work 24/7.  No matter our understanding of Sabbath, many of us feel awkward about it – like we know we aren’t practicing it as we should.

Many I know say they don’t have time to observe the Sabbath.  There is too much to do even in 7 days, no matter how hard they apply themselves.  If they were to take a day of rest from their labors, either they or their customers would suffer.  Others say they can’t afford to observe the Sabbath.  They are paid by the hour, or by the job, and if they ceased work for a day they would not be able to pay their bills.  So instead we ask God to change things for us, to put us in a position to be able to observe the Sabbath as we believe we should.

But in our text for today God says the Sabbath is to be observed even during plowing and harvest.  This was serious stuff.  Any farmer can tell you planting and harvesting have to be done at particular times, and the schedule doesn’t necessarily take a day off.  Planting has to be timed for the temperature, the rain, and the onset of different insects and weeds.  Harvesting too requires exact timing.  Grain left in the field one day too long can be hurt by mold or a hard rain can decrease the yield.  Either can turn a profitable year of farming into a disaster.  Queen Elizabeth I excluded farmers from Sabbath observance by law during harvest, after church services of course.

Nonetheless, the Lord specifically insists that the Sabbath is to be observed even during these critical times of the Hebrew’s annual business cycle.  Farming is certainly no harder now than it was then, especially physically.  Imagine an ancient farmer planting with a wooden stick watching one of today’s farmers riding in an air-conditioned tractor.  Post-modern Americans are certainly no poorer than the Hebrews of Moses’ day.  They would consider us wealthy (and probably pampered) beyond imagining.

What the Hebrews may have had that we lack is faith.  They had seen their God perform great feats of power to deliver them from the Egyptians.  They had eaten the manna that God provided in the wilderness.  They knew, in a way that we may not, that God would care for them.

If you struggle with whatever Sabbath observance you understand to be most right, consider that the hang up may not be in your circumstances.  It may be in your relationship with the Lord of the Sabbath.  Don’t wait for God to give you an easier job.  Ask Him for a believing heart.