Thursday, October 28, 2010

What do we Learn from the Tabernacle?

Whenever the Israelites camped in the wilderness, they would set the Tabernacle up first and then they would set their own camps up around the Tabernacle. That meant the tabernacle was in the center of the camp. This was how the kingdoms of those days and even the Assyrians and the Babylonians camped. When their king marched with them, his camp was always in the center. The symbol is very clear. The Israelites the one true God as their king and their God was one who dwelled with his people.

The tabernacle also symbolized that their God was holy and to be approached carefully. This is seen by the encampment. The Israelites could enter the courtyard to bring their sacrifices but only the Levite priests could enter the holy Place. While the Levite priests could enter the Holy Place, only the High Priest could enter the most Holy Place and even then once a year. Even the decorations and furnishings showed this. The courtyard frames had bronze supports but the tabernacle supports were silver. And even then, on entering the tabernacle, the furnishings were of gold not silver. The curtains to the courtyard were embroidered but did not have cherubim. The curtains at the entrance of the Holy Place had cherubim which were embroidered into them. But the curtains at the entrance of the Most Holy Place had cherubim not embroidered but woven into the cloth – the work of a master craftsman. It was symbolic of the majesty of their God who was pre-eminent above all things. But despite his majesty and holiness, God had chosen to bless the Israelites by dwelling among them. The location of the tabernacle, its structure and materials all symbolized this.

When we look at the Tabernacle as symbolic of God’s presence, obviously we can conclude that Jesus is our Tabernacle today. That is why in Matthew he is called Immanuel which means “God with us”. This is most clearly seen in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In English, it is not so clear. But the word translated as ‘made his dwelling’ comes from a root word that is translated as tabernacle. So v14 translates literally as “Jesus became human and tabernacled among us”. Moses’ Tabernacle pointed to this future, where God would dwell among man. Of course, today God lives in his people, the body of believers called his church.

What are the practical lessons for us to learn from. First God’s care is demonstrated in our day-to-day circumstances. Light, life and food all come from a sovereign God who lives in and among us. Our circumstances and daily blessings are not by chance or luck but God’s provision to us as an act of grace and mercy. Therefore, we need to look to God first. Our priority is to seek God first in all aspects of our lives.

The Tabernacle reminded the Israelites that God chose them. They did not choose him. Similarly, we too did not choose God. God chose us to be recipients of his love and grace. We are not to be proud and think we are one-up on non-believers like some Christians think. Instead, we should be humble before God and give him first priority in our lives.

Finally, the Tabernacle was seen as glorious holy and pure. The Israelites were to model themselves after their God by being holy and pure reflecting the glory of their God as symbolized by the Tabernacle. They had to learn which articles were clean or unclean, right or wrong, etc.

Similarly, the church, that is the body of Christ, must also be seen as holy and pure. The church is the dwelling place of God. It is not a voluntary association for the members to do as they see fit. The church is to be structured according to the will of its king, the Lord Jesus Christ. Many Christians don’t do that. Church to them is like a country club where their own wants come first. Jesus Christ lives in us and so our church, our homes and our families must reflect his beauty and glory.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Who Will Watch the Watchers Who are Watching the Watchers!

Wow! Today I have found out that no matter how liberal in thought and broad-minded people claim to be, they will reserve their RIGHT to censor you just because they are in charge. And despite censoring you, they will post all sorts of judgments on you and presume all sorts of conclusions about you. And of course you have already been muffled by then. 

I guess that is why Jesus gave us the Golden Rule! Do unto others as you want them to do to you? That means if we want someone to act justly to us, we ourselves must act justly towards others even if we do not receive justice from the ones we act justly to. If we want to have a right to be heard on our thoughts then we too must give others the right say their piece without judging to condemn them even when their thoughts are jarring to our sensibilities.

That's sad but it is life, real down-to-earth, no-up-in-the-ivory-tower kind of life. I have to learn this for myself and especially not get bogged down in vain and preening arguments.

That is why I have learned one thing and that is never let someone else's actions ruin your day. Life is too good to let others pull you down, no matter how unjustly they act against you.

But still my heart begs this question - I wonder, who will watch the watchers who claim to watch out for us?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How does God view Work - Col 3:23

To understand how God views work, we can look at Col 3:22. The context of this chapter begins from v1-17 with some rules for holy living, like seeking after heavenly things, mortifying the earthly nature, consideration for other Christians, etc. Then from v18, Paul shows how our holy living is manifested in the way we treat others, beginning first with our family members. Then from v22, he moves on to the people we transact with in our working life. Imagine what would you say if you were writing to slaves? From a Christian viewpoint, the idea of a person owning one another is abhorrent. So if I had any advice to give to slaves, I would probably say “guys, you have to look after your rights. You better organize your own unions and make sure you fight for your rights. Don’t get bullied. Look for loopholes and make sure you aim to get out one day.” But what does Paul say? V22: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” He’s saying, “You’re a slave so make sure you are a good slave. In fact be the best slave possible. Do all that your master tells you to. Go the extra mile by pleasing your master even when he is not around.” And if you had to talk to the masters, what would you say. I probably would say, “hey buddy, you’re a Christian and God created all of us equal in his image. So how can you own slaves? That is sinful and you’re a hypocrite!” But what does Paul has to say? Eph 4:1 “Dear masters, be fair and good masters. Do the right thing for your slaves.”

And sandwiched in between these two verses in v23, we have our key verse for today. Its position is interesting isn’t it? After all, each one is somewhere between master and slave. We may be a top executive but we still answer to shareholders and partners. Or we may be at the bottom and yet not slaves because our boss does not own us. So in that sense, v23 refers to everyone of us who works in this 21st Century world. And what does Paul say? “Whatever you do…” In other words, “wherever you right now.” So what is God telling you right now in this verse? Don’t wait until you get that dream job before you put your heart into it. Don’t wait for that promotion before you put in a good day’s work. Don’t wait until you have your own company before you put your heart, mind and soul into your work. Whatever you do – that means whether you work part-time or fulltime, or your boss is a slave-driver, or you’re just a store-room clerk that no one can see working, work at it with all your heart. That is somewhat hard to take in when we think of it. I mean can we put all our heart into our work? We can put our hearts into taking care of our family. We can put our hearts into serving in church ministry. But when it comes to work, I am not sure if it applies all the time. A lot of us might think, there is nothing significant that I do so why put my heart into it? My boss doesn’t know I exist in the store-room so why work so hard? I just prepare the accounts for the boss to check and if some figures are wrong, it is not my fault because he should check it. And anyway, even my boss doesn’t put his heart in to it when the CEO is not around. And he doesn’t care! When the company goes on hard times, I will be the first to go. Or else he will cut my bonus. Or else he will outsource my job and I end up working 60 hours for the new boss. What’s the big deal? Why should I work hard now when my boss does not care for me? I am just going to do enough to get by until a better opening comes around. That is exactly the work attitudes that many of us encounter in our lives in the secular world.

But Paul gives us the reason why we ought to out our hearts into whatever we do. He says do it “as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” In other words, when you go to work up tomorrow morning to work, put your heart into it as though God is your supervisor or your best customer or your CEO or chairman of the board. But again, this raises the question that we ask ourselves always when faced with this point. This is not ministry, it is just work, it’s not significant. But Paul gives us a new perspective and motivation for giving your all at work when he says “since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”

And suddenly we are faced with a very broad context because he is saying that as a Christian, ultimately we have to give an account for every single part of our life to our Lord Jesus. And one day we will be rewarded for every single part of our life in this world and that includes our work. Not just for what we did in our marriage, or in church ministry, or raising our children. In other words, your earthly boss may reward you with a bonus or extra leave or a promotion but never forget you have a big boss up in heaven. God does not compartmentalize our lives and he is going to measure our faithfulness in every single part of our lives and that includes our working life. Don’t be deceived by thinking this is between you and your supervisor or your employer or your Company Chairman. God is saying that “No! You’re a Christian and your whole life is a test of your faithfulness to God. I am interested in your working life and faithfulness in your work is faithfulness me, your Heavenly Father. And I will reward you for your faithfulness.” The point is this – what you do is not as important as how you do it. The significance of your work is not measured by your job description and details. It is measured by whether you put your heart into your work now wherever God has placed you somewhere between being a master and being a slave. We are so focused on what and where but God is focused on the how and the diligence and the fact whether you are putting your heart into your work now.

And then to reinforce the idea, Paul tells us in v24, “It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Just as you serve him in your marriage, in your finances, in your church ministry and in your friendships, you are to serve him in the same way in the marketplace. He is your ultimate rewarder. Ultimately, you are accountable to him. He is your permanent boss and we are to serve him in our current jobs with that in mind. We are not to worry about what we do or where we work but how we do our jobs today, now. With that in mind then, let us think of what are the implications of Col 3:23 when we go to work tomorrow. I’d like us to consider 4 points that we can glean in our study of this verse.

1. What you do now has eternal implications even if it has no obvious value

The first is that your work has eternal implications even if it has no obvious value, per se. Your work, whatever it is now, has eternal implications even if it has no eternal value to anyone. The reason I am saying this is because we get too hung up on the eternal value of what we do. We think of evangelism as having eternal value. We think that maybe if we are a doctor now that has eternal value because we save lives and heal the sick. Or maybe we think that counseling people has eternal value because we heal people’s minds and attitudes. And perhaps some of you may be thinking, “exactly, pastor! That has eternal value. But look at what I am doing. I type letters for my boss. I call people and sell them things. I wash the toilets and cook for my employer. I buy and sell the stocks that my clients ask me to. How can this thing that I do have eternal value?” But that thought is so wrong. Because if we take what God is saying here in Paul’s letter as the truth, it means that, every piece of work that we do in the marketplace is significant. Significant not in the sense that it has eternal value for someone else, but it has eternal implications for you and certainly that means your work attitudes has an eternal value for you. Your heavenly father is going to watch you work tomorrow. And he will measure and judge your faithfulness to him with the faithfulness that you show towards your job tomorrow. By seeing how you give your all in your workplace tomorrow. Whether you come in on time, whether you work when the boss is not around, whether you take things from the office for your use at home. All these are going to be some of the signs of your faithfulness and God is going to be watching. And he is going to reward you according to the attitude and heart that you put into your job tomorrow, not just what you put into your ministry on Sunday or your family responsibilities.

2. How you perform at work is as important as where you work.

The second implication is how you perform at work is just as important as where you are working. We are always focused on where we work aren’t we? We see our friends have better jobs or the grass is greener over there. Or we think if only I had my own company, that is where I can perform well. If you have those thoughts, perhaps God might be saying, “Hold up my child, just take a step back and do a rethink.” Its OK to ask God for a transfer or a promotion or even to bless your efforts to start a new company. God may well do that for you in the future but what about now? God is more concerned with how you are performing right now, not just when you get that dream job or that professor’s chair or that IPO. We tend to pray far more often prayers like these, “Oh Lord help me to get that promotion or help me get another company because my boss is real nasty, etc.” How often do we pray, “God I want to do my work today really well! Help me to put all my heart into my work today and I will let you decide when I get that promotion or that transfer or that new job, etc?” If what the Scripture verse is to seen as true, that means how I do my job tomorrow wherever I am is more important than where I am. How I do my job wherever I am is more important than where I am.

3. Your performance at work is just as important as your Christian character and witness.

The third point is this – our performance at work is just as important as our conduct at work. Now what am I saying here? It simply means you cannot claim to be a Christian of great character and yet slack off when you are working. There are some Christians who may have this attitude. They think, “Who cares about this job anyway? I am not going to be in job very long and it has no value as far as God’s Kingdom is concerned.” I believe God might have something different to say to an attitude like that. Poor performance in your workplace is never balanced out by great Christian character. It should not be offered as an excuse in place of bad performance. Don’t say “Boss I know I did not get the job done but praise God I did not steal the pens.” Our Christian character should be a given. It is a given that we should not steal the pens, we should start work on time, we don’t take credit for others’ work, etc. However in addition to that the question is “how are we doing our jobs?’ The question is not “are you a nice person?” The question is, "are you getting the job done?" Are you being faithful to your supervisor or boss or company in doing the job they hired you to do? And you cannot make the excuse, “But that is just the world. It is just secular, it’s the marketplace, it does not matter.” No, to God, your performance matters as much as your character. Yes, God has called you to be a man or woman of great character in the marketplace. Yes, God has called you to be a good Christian witness in your office. But God has also called you to work at your present job with all your heart and to put your all into your present job. And when you put your all into the job, you can be sure that you are getting the job done. It is as simple as that. So telling God that what you do is not significant is not going to work for you.

4. Putting your heart into your work allows God to bless your work.

We come now to the last point which is if you want God to bless your work than you need to put your heart into your work. What do we mean by this? If you were a Christian counsellor and a couple were to come to you and say, “We want God to bless our marriage. Can you tell us what we can do so that God will bless our marriage?” how would you reply? I am sure you probably say that’s great and I can show you how you can get God to bless your marriage. And then you would take out the Bible and you would tell them that all they have to do is read the Bible and conduct their marriage according to the principles found in Scripture. This is because God blesses obedience and he cannot bless disobedience. In the same way if you come to me and say, “I want God to bless my work from tomorrow”, I would reply, “that’s great. So tomorrow, you have to go to your workplace and do your work with all your heart because that is what Scripture tells you to do.” Obeying the Scriptures is one sure way of ensuring that God will bless your work. But you cannot go to work tomorrow and put in half the effort or just enough to get by and then expect God to bless your work. You cannot do that and then ask God to bless you by giving you a better job like your neighbor has, or a workplace environment like another neighbour. If you’re not being obedient to God now, you cannot say, “God give me that job I been asking for and I know I can do put my all into my work over there.” God may answer, “well that is well and good and maybe I will do it someday but what about now?” Are you putting your heart into your work now? God can bless your work now but he cannot bless your work until you handle your present job the way he has asked you to in Scripture. He can only bless your work if you invite him into your workplace and acknowledge that he is the big boss that you are accountable to. And when you become accountable to God, you will want to put your heart into whatever your work is. And when you do things this way, you position yourself to receive the blessing of God.

You see the difference between what we think and what God thinks about work? With us, it is always about where we are and how much we get. With God it is about how we do at where we are right now. So when we go to work tomorrow, God will be looking at us. And when he sees us doing our job with all our hearts, he is going to be thrilled. He is going to be so proud of you because you’re being obedient to his Word. You’re showing him that “yes, you work for the Lord.”

I want to close with a story that happened to me in my early years at the Helping Hand. One of my first assignments in the Helping Hand was working for the catering department. We provided buffets for church weddings and small groups, etc. So there we were setting up the buffet tables and laying out the food when a church staff came to us. He told us that someone had messed the toilet up and he told my staff in-charge to help clean it up before the wedding started. So my staff called me to help him and while cleaning up the toilet and mopping it dry, I kept going on and on about how unfair the staff was. We did not mess the toilet up, we are the caterers and the toilets were not our responsibility and we should have just told him so. I complained that the staff was just taking advantage of us. Finally, when we finished, my staff looked at me, smiled brightly and said, “Its OK Luke, we work for the Lord not for men.”