Can we choose God? Would we ever want to choose God? Do we have free will?
I enjoy mountain biking, but I hate being unfit (as I am). The other day, cycling with a friend, I had to stop half way through a route to get off my bike and sit down!
Steve Farrar wrote a very good book for men called: “Finishing Strong – Going the distance for your family”. Farrar points out the danger to men of messing up and not finishing the Christian life as faithful men, or as Paul described, as being “disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:27).
We all want to finish strong as Christians. We all want to be effective, productive Christians. We don’t want to slip into sin and addiction. We don’t want to fall in the wilderness as the majority of Israelites did after the Exodus. As Christians, we can’t loose our salvation because God is faithful, but we can live in disobedience and suffer God’s discipline and withdrawal of blessing.
The Bible says that the Israelites all shared the same spiritual privileges, but still the majority did not enter the Promised Land and finish strong (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). Similarly, you may have enjoyed many spiritual blessings, been a member of a good church and even attended a great bible study, yet you may be in danger of slipping up half way. How do we prevent this from happening? The Bible uses the Israelites example as a warning to us to flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:7,14). Idolatry is the root cause of all sin. Idolatry is putting a created thing before the creator. Idolatry is the default position of our hearts. If you want to finish the Christian race strong, guard your heart against idolatry. We can idolize anything: food, sport, marriage, sex, status, money, and ourselves. Idolatry leads you to take your allegiance and worship away from Jesus, and to worship at the altar of a foreign god. If you worship the sex god, you will end up an adulterer or pornographer. If you worship the food good, you will end up obese.
What are you tempted to worship? Jesus, or something or someone else? The Bible goes on to say that God will not permit us to be tempted beyond what we can endure and God will provide a way through the trial in order that we, through persistent trust and obedience, may finish strong (1 Corinthians 10:12-13.)
Some sections of the Bible may seem boring* to us. Have you ever tried to read though the book of Exodus? You probably stopped reading in chapter 25 when you hit the orders and measurements for the construction of the tabernacle (tent of meeting). About 15 chapters are devoted to the making of the tabernacle! This is very significant if you consider that just one verse is spent on the creation of the universe (Genesis 1:1). Obviously the tabernacle must be extremely important. What does it teach us?
1. God is present with his people
The tent symbolised God’s presence with his people, whom he had rescued from slavery. Once the tent was constructed, Ex 40v34 tells us, “then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” Whenever Israelites saw the tabernacle they were reminded that God was with them. The Israelites were also reminded that God is holy for they could not enter the tabernacle compound without a priest and an appropriate sacrifice. In the Most Holy Place stood the Ark of the Covenant which symbolised the very throne of God, where God is surrounded by the angels. The Most Holy Place was separated from the rest of the tabernacle and indeed, the rest of the world, by a heavy curtain, again symbolising the truth that God is awesomely holy and cannot be approached by sinful human beings. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place once a year to atone for the sins of the people by the suitable sacrifice.
John, when introducing Jesus in his biography of Jesus, writes that “the Word (Jesus) became flesh (human) and tabernacled amongst us “and then John writes, “we have seen his (Jesus) glory, the glory of the One and Only”. The Tabernacle pictured God’s presence with his people, while Jesus fulfils what the tabernacle pictured and is God with us. Jesus is our high priest.
2. God is portable
The people travelled with the tabernacle and the tabernacle travelled with the people. God presence is not fixed to one point or building, God’s presence is moveable! God is with you at church, at work and at home, if you are part of his people. We don’t go to church to be in God’s presence. Jesus promised to be with us as we go into all the world.
3. God is precise
Moses, as project manager of the Tabernacle Compound, received very detailed instructions and the tabernacle was built very precisely. Loads of attention to detail. God was saying: This is my house and I get to say how its built, I get to say who gets in, I get to say how they get in and with which sacrifice. In other words, you can’t just approach any way you want to. Same today: You get to approach God his way or not at all. It’s Jesus or nothing. Not Mohammed or Krishna, or your good life or you new enlightened spirituality. It’s not even through the ancestors. If we want to meet with the true God, we need to follow Jesus.
4. God’s presence instils passion
In Exch. 35 & 36 Moses asks for contributions from the people to fund and provide raw materials for the tabernacle and its furnishings. The people are moved to give generously and give more than is needed or expected. Moses ends up having to tell the people to stop giving. God’s people were excited and passionate about doing what they could. God was dwelling now in their midst and they wanted to see his name honoured. God’s people gave passionately, generously, fervently, excitedly, zealously and excitedly. I don’t know how that applies to you. But think about it.
* The whole Bile is inspired and useful to correct, teach, train and rebuke. But we realise some parts are more inspiring to read than others.
The Ten Commandments were engraved into the stone! They were not pencilled in or subject to alteration or change. God didn’t give the Israelites version 2.01 the following year. The Bible too is God’s permanent, unchanging, relevant, non-updatable message to us today. We are called to be faithful to the bible, not change the bible to suit our perceived needs.
e. God’s law comes through words
What sets the Bible apart, if anything? Peter, a friend of Jesus and a pastor in the early church wrote, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)
Have no idols, the second command, clarifies the first. To have other gods before God is idolatry. An idol can be ANYTHING that takes the place of God in your life. ANYTHING that demands your devotion and where you seek your security and significance. ANYTHING you treasure instead of God.
It could be the sex idol. You know you’re serving this god when you demand sex – when you want it, how you want it and you’re angry when you don’t get it. You’re even willing to hire an escort, watch porno or swing with someone else’s wife.
The work idol demands that we spend all our daylight hours in the office and only see our children on weekends
The money idol demands that your happiness is caught up with the JSE.
The leisure idol allows you to worship Jesus at church only when the weather on Sundays is too windy to go the beach or not wet enough to stay in bed.
The worship of the acceptance idol calls for your Facebook status to be changed every hour and it is also because of the worship of this idol that girlfriends allow boyfriends to take naked photos of them.
Of course there are also religious idols like my right-doctrine idol or my moral-record idol, and even my ministry-achievement idol.
The media calls you to worship these and other idols by “worship-calling”, known also as advertising.
So, do you worship Jesus alone, or some other idol? Do you strive to keep the first two commandments?
Have you been to a braaivleis (South African BBQ) recently? Did you come home depressed because of the compulsive grumblers? I did. Too much corruption in the government! Too much unemployment! Too much crime! The petrol price. The schools. The youth. The weather! You name the subject, it gets grumbled about. Perhaps even more seriously, we grumble privately to ourselves: Life is so unfair. My salary is too low. If only God would… Grumble, grumble, grumble. Grumbling should be declared our national hobby! What astounds me is that Christians are often the biggest grumblers.
God, through the prophet Haggai in the Old Testament, lashed out at his people for decorating their own home while the temple (God’s symbolic home) in Jerusalem was lying in ruins. God’s people had returned from 70 years in exile and their houses were in a mess and no doubt needed some attention. Yet, by the time of Haggai’s prophecy, God’s people had been back 19 years from exile and the temple remained unbuilt.
The excuse was that the timing was not quite right for the rebuilding (Haggai 1:2). Interestingly, the people did have time to decorate and beautify their own homes (1:4). The reason for this, according to God, was that the people did not fear or revere the LORD Almighty (1:12), nor did they live for his pleasure or honour (1:8). In other words, God’s people didn’t think much of God and were living for their own entertainment and comfort. As a result, their experienced lack of pleasing and judgment. Four times in the book of Haggai God says to his people, “What’s up with this, consider what you do!” God called for his people to make temple building their priority.
I bet that if you had to ask one of Haggai’s audience where God was on their priority list, they would have said that of course in first place. But actions speak louder than words.
God says to us too: “What’s up with this?”