Year Through the Bible Week 6: Instructions for Life

Readings for the week: Psalm 20-21, Exodus 25-37, Matthew 20-23, Psalm 22Listen to these passages

  1. Opening Prayer:

 Dear Lord, thank you for this day and for the invitation to spend time with you. It is easy for me to overlook that, to dismiss it, to wait until nothing else is happening or when I’m in trouble.  I forget how wonderful you are and I forget what an honor it is that you reach out to me and want to spend time with me.  I forget your glory and your majesty and all those other words that don’t really have a place in the rest of my life, because they don’t really fit what I experience each day. But you seek me out, you fill my life with hope and give me a chance to step beyond my current day to day life and be filled with wonder. Help me to see as you see, to see people and see trees and see everything and everyone I encounter with that sense of wonder. Help me to love as you love, to forgive as you forgive.  I sometimes feel overwhelmed by life and then feel overwhelmed by how much more I should be doing for you. That’s not my calling, to do ever more and feel guilty about what I can’t do. Remind me of my calling, give me peace, and above all may your Spirit teach me what I am to do this day and this week, so that I can be in rhythm with you in every way.  Wherever  I go, may I go with you, whatever I do, may I do it with you.  Amen.

  1. Psalm 20-21
  2.  Reading through Exodus 25-37:

Here we go.  For those of you who have tried reading through the Bible before, you know this is where things start getting rough. Not in a “I have a hard question” or “the people really went through a lot” sort of way.  More like, “how long is this passage about lampstands going to go on?” kind of way.  For those of you who haven’t read through the Bible, you’ve probably heard about the Law and how since we don’t need to pay attention to it because of the Cross, there’s not a lot of point in reading about it. 

Basically, this section of reading really digs into why a lot of people don’t make it through reading the Bible.  I can’t make the readings more fun–this isn’t a section that will get featured in sermons or movies.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not important, both for the Old Testament and even the New Testament. 

God made people. God loves people.  How have people responded to God?   They complain, they leave him when there’s some shiny object or some shiny person nearby, they make excuses. They take what is beautiful and turn it to something else. They rage, they fight, they kill, they steal, they always want more and more and more, not just because they want it, but often just because their neighbor has it. 

People get caught in cultures that lead them far away from God’s promise, far away from God’s peace, far away from hope and far away from love. There’s no end of people saying, “this is what you need to do in order to be a success.” Take all you can, do all you can, live for today.  YOLO!  Everyone collides with each other in a quest for meaning or entertainment. We get into fights about politics or religion  or sports or whether that thing should go here or go there.

We become obsessed with getting what we want, though even when we get it, we find there’s always something more.  But everyone else is in our way to get more, or to get something.

We’re all kids scrambling at the candy the fell out of the pinata. Mine, mine, mine. More, more, more.

But what does God want?  God loves us.  God desires the best for us. God wants to be with us, but doesn’t want to be our ‘spare time’ friend, you know, the one you call when no one else is around or everyone else is busy.  

How do we show we actually care?

How do we show anyone that we care?  We listen.  We respond to what they like.

I know, for instance, that my wife Amy loves dark chocolate. I also know she doesn’t like white chocolate.

If I give her white chocolate, what does that say about me? There’s a message there. Now early on in our relationship, I didn’t know her tastes, so might have made an ignorant mistake, but I wanted to learn what she likes so that I could share with her in a way that not only gives her joy but also shows I care.

How do we show God we care? We listen.

That’s a helpful way of reading the passages this week. Not as a list of rules but as a way of learning about God. Does God need everything to be just so, is he some sort of obsessive compulsive neat freak who can’t handle if things are out of order? No.  He puts up with a lot. Welcome to this world, where a lot of it is out of order and God still is active in reaching out. 

Maybe God is insisting on the details about the tabernacle to help the people get a sense of order, of design, of listening.  Maybe it is less, “Do this or I’ll FREAK OUT!” And more like a parent teaching their child how to make their bed, clean their room, and put away the dishes.

Does Israel care enough to do all these things? That’s a sign of a growing relationship. Are they listening? It takes patience to read through all these details, even when a lot of them don’t make sense to us.  Why care? Because God cares and maybe there’s more meaning than we might expect.

I’m also reminded a bit of the old story about celebrity “riders,” you know those expectations that are given in order to make a celebrity happy at a venue. Some of them are pretty crazy, right. Like Van Halen used to have a requirement that there was to be a bowl of M&Ms for the band backstage, with all the brown M&Ms removed. That sounded outlandish, until I learned the reason.

The staging of their concerts required a lot of details–lights, stage, sound, etc.–some of which could be dangerous if not installed correctly. The issue with the M&Ms was a way of checking if the hosts had really paid attention. If the band saw a brown M&M, they’d know the host hadn’t read everything thoroughly, and so there would likely be other mistakes.

Is the requirements for the tabernacle like that? Maybe.

Or maybe it’s a way of getting people to slow down, to pay attention, to put aside our tendency to do things the way we want to do them, and to submit. We’re not building a tabernacle (at least I’m not) but I can show my attention by reading through and learning about God’s aesthetic. Why did he want things just so?  What does this say about God?

Some suggest the design is meant to reflect the throne room of God in heaven.  I’m not sure we can know but we can learn obedience and honor and love in responding.

But there’s so many details,  even more than what is stated.  How can anyone live up to these expectations?  Here’s the even crazier part of this passage that you may have missed: not even God expects people to get it done on their own. There’s always more questions, more details, even with the blueprint we’re given. No doubt there were things that came up (as they always do in these kinds of projects) that the instructions don’t mention.  Where were they to turn?  Where can we turn in our questions?

The answer is in the end of Exodus 35, with my friends Bezalel and Oholiab (which are fun names to say out loud, go ahead and try it, I’ll wait). Bezalel. Oholiab.  

This is a pretty momentous passage in the midst of a lot of design details.  Another reason why it’s important to read through the whole Bible. There are some really key parts lurking in the most unexpected sections. So, what’s the big deal about Exodus 35?

Exodus 35 is the first time in which a person was specifically said to be filled with the Spirit. Yep, here in the Old Testament.

Like a liquid filling a glass (that’s what the Hebrew verb refers to), the Spirit fills Bezalel to be a designer. To know God’s will and know God’s purposes and know God’s tastes directly, because the Spirit gave him insight and gave him the ability to share it with others. The first spiritual gift in the Bible was art and crafts! And also teaching.

Now, read this passage in light of God’s calling and God’s Spirit with us today. What is your “tabernacle” that God is calling you to build in your life? What is God leading you to do? How can you express your love of God? Note, this isn’t about salvation (Israel had already been ‘saved’) it is about building a relationship, expressing trust, listening and responding because we truly do love God.

  1. Reading through Matthew 20-23

The trouble with reading the Bible… wait, am I allowed to say something like that?  I thought this was a blog about encouraging people to read the Bible?  Well, it is that but I’m not going to sugarcoat things. There’s some troubles that come with reading the Bible too.  Even the Bible admits that, so I hope I’m not going too far out on a limb (and if there’s no more posts after this one, you’ll know I did in fact go too far).

Where was I? Oh, right, the trouble with reading the Bible (sometimes!) is that we can easily get caught up in the details.  You know how life works, people are rarely in the middle of an issue. We feel some need to pick sides, and this goes with religion too.  Some folks are too loose with the instructions and what’s the common response? Be too strict! That’ll get ’em into shape. Of course that’s not right either.  But we see this throughout life and we see this in the Bible.

In the OT passages, we read about some pretty detailed instructions that can help the Israelites get to know who God is and how God is different than the Egyptian Gods, and what they can do in order to please him. That’s a big question, after all. If we’re ignorant or mess up, we like to have clear instructions on what to do right. There’s nothing worse than not being sure if you’re in good graces and not knowing what to do to put it right again.

But like I said, people can take the instructions, all the details, and make these the whole goal. What is the goal? That’s a good question (thanks!).  What do you think God’s goal is in what you’ve read so far?

It’s not an obstacle course of increasingly precise rules.  There’s something more. And that is a big theme in our chapters from Matthew this week.  God gets to do what God wants to do, and that’s the main thing. If we think God somehow has to follow some version of our expectations, then we’re going to run into some confusion. Get this, even if our expectations come from the Bible. Because we can read the Bible and sometimes assume things that may not be God’s actual intention.

That’s why I’m really humble when it comes to asserting what the Bible says. I’m open to being corrected. If the Pharisees, those guys who probably knew the Scriptures as well as anybody ever, could get it wrong, then I better watch out.  Jesus comes in during these chapters and sets things straight, saying exactly what we are to look for, what we are to think about God, what we are to value, who we are to help.

Can we believe him?  That’s a huge question, because if we were standing there listening to him in person, we’d wonder why he’s talking the way he’s talking. Is he trustworthy?

That’s the biggest question of all. Do we believe him? If we do, then that changes everything.  We have to live in light of what he’s saying about God, about us, about others.  But if we don’t believe him, then we’re wasting our time studying all this. Do you believe? Why should we? Well, he gives some indication, saying what will happen next, and then we can see if he was right about that. He’s putting his authority, his interpretation, on the line.

Which is to say, the resurrection matters.  What do you believe about Jesus? What does your life say about whether or not you believe?  Who really matters as an authority in what we do, how we spend our time, who we serve? Do we, ultimately, trust Jesus or do we really trust politicians, or religious leaders, or social authorities?

Where is life found? That’s the fundamental question in these chapters and how we answer this question resonates deeply and broadly throughout our life.

5. Psalm 22

6. Respond

Share your thoughts in the comment section. This is a very important part of the reading goal, as writing out our thoughts can help us remember what we read and keep our minds on the passage. It also is very helpful to share as we learn from each other. Even our questions or confusion can bring us together, as we highlight what others may have missed or address what a lot of us are also wondering.   Don’t feel like you have to write a lot, or feel pressure to be profound. Respond with honesty and openness. Just jump right in where you’re at, knowing that Christ invites you to respond without pressure or anxiety.