Science Geek Sam: Book Recommendation

This is a book about science in a Christian context aimed at children aged around 7-11.  It aims to show that science, and scientific enquiry, do not need to be opposed to Christianity.  It has lots of fascinating scientific facts along the way, but at the heart of the book is a conversation that develops between Sam and his Uncle Jack around discussions at Sam’s school when his teacher invites Sam’s Uncle Jack, a physicist, to speak to his class.  Uncle Jack describes how the universe began with a ‘big bang’, and upsets some parents who think he is denying the Genesis account of creation.  Uncle Jack, however, is not only a believer in the ‘big bang’ (and evolution), but also in the God of the Bible, and a firm believer that this God created the universe.

The book explores how this can be true in a very accessible and entertaining way, ideal for children (road tested on our 9 year old, who laughs out loud frequently when reading it).  I love the way that the book exudes a real sense of wonder both at creation, and at the creator, and a sense of joy in scientific enquiry and endeavour.

I know that some reading this may have severe reservations about this book because of your convictions regarding Genesis 1-2.  It may be that you understand them as ruling out some things modern science teaches – evolution and the Big Bang.  To explain why it is that I would feel able to recommend such a book I thought I’d give a bit of background to my own understanding.

I know I had books in my childhood that had the same basic understanding as Science Geek Sam (although not quite with as much humour), and looking back through them at Mum and Dad’s recently I was struck by how good they were.

Having grown up with that understanding I can then remember the difficulties I felt as a teenager being exposed to some very strongly convinced young earth creationists, for whom the only possible view point was that the earth was created in 7 periods of 24 hours each exactly as laid out in Genesis 1, and that the earth was only around 6-10,000 years old.  At the time it was their science that struck me as somewhat problematic.

I remember a presentation at my church youth group by one such person, and I remember the grilling he got from the group, and the non-Christian friends who had been brought along.  I felt distinctly disturbed both at what he had tried to claim, and at how he had tried to claim it.  The youth group leaders clearly had a similar sense, because soon afterwards they got one of the church leadership to lay out his view that believing in a creator God and in evolution could sit happily together.

For many years I decided to be thoroughly contrary and believe both that the world was around 4.6 billion years old, and that evolution was probably not true – that wasn’t my own invention, it is the thesis of a book that I read as a teenager and enjoyed.  I found especially striking the way it demolished the arguments that the earth was very young.  More recently I’ve come to have less and less problems with the idea that evolution might well be the way that God created Adam and Eve.

To believe that evolution may well be the way God created people has in no way lessened my belief in the authority of the Bible, nor does it mean that I think the Bible is in any sense in error in Genesis 1.  I just don’t think Genesis 1 has our modern scientific questions of ‘how’ in mind at all.  It is much more concerned with ‘why’ and ‘who’ questions than ‘how’.  It tells us that God made this world good, and ordered and that he made us in his image to look after the world.  Genesis 2 zooms in to look in more detail at the first human couple, Adam and Eve and explains the role they were given.

I think the rest of the Bible demands that we see Adam and Eve as real human individuals – I’d struggle to see how Romans 5:12-21 makes sense without a real Adam, for example. But as far as I can see it doesn’t actually matter for the rest of the Biblical story whether Adam and Eve were created out of dust, or were two homo-sapiens that God breathed his life into, meaning that homo-sapiens was now a creature made in his image.  (Something like this was John Stott’s view – see his BST on Romans, was Derek Kidner’s view – see his Tyndale commentary on Genesis, and is J I Packers view – none of whom can be accused of not taking Scripture seriously).  Even if there were several thousand hominids at this time Adam and Eve could still have been made representatives of the whole human race (and we’d have an answer to who Cain married…).  It would still be Adam’s sin that is decisive, because it was when Adam fell that we all fell, and became subject to death.

Death.  That is the other objection to evolution.  How does death before the fall square with the world being ‘good’? How does death before the fall square with Romans 5 (death entered through one man), and Romans 8 (all creation groaning)?

To take the first question first, the world before the fall is described as ‘good’ and ‘very good’, not ‘perfect’.  It is fit for purpose and as God intended, not incapable of improvement.  Genesis 1-2 is the starting point.  Perfection only comes in Revelation 22 – and even then I assume that our experience of that reality will go on getting better and better.  The world is created with an intricate web of interlocking creatures who rely on each other for survival, and on people to make sure that the balance is kept in place.  Death enters the world through Adam’s sin in the sense that death as separation from God enters the world (which seems like a natural reading of Genesis 2’s ‘in the day you eat it, you will die’)

This I think gives a clue to how Romans 8 should be read when it talks about creation in bondage to corruption.  It isn’t that the fall somehow created death in animal life, plate tectonics, volcanoes and even entropy.   Instead the fall means that human beings are now radically affected by sin in every area of our lives and that we radically affect creation in everything we do and so this planet is in bondage to our sin.  We no longer steward the world as we should.

Rather than acting as guardians of creation we instead pillage it to satisfy our cravings. (I don’t think this is my idea – I’m pretty sure that Chris Wright in ‘The God I don’t Understand’ says something similar to this.) It is us creation is now in bondage to, and it is sinful people that creation will be liberated from, when it is set free and transformed at Jesus’ return, and when we return to our intended role as good guardians of a good creation.

It is for those reasons that I think books like Science Geek Sam are really valuable – hopefully helping new generations to see that scientific endeavour can be a way of understanding more clearly God’s way of creating and sustaining the universe, and that God’s Word is not a science textbook for the 21st century, but his Word for all people everywhere that shows us who and why and for whom he created the world.

The book ends with Sam thinking these thoughts:

“Perhaps for God it didn’t matter how long it all took. Just thinking about all this made me feel slightly dizzy. Bigger than the sun.  Bigger than our universe and all the other universes put together.  Bigger than everything.  And still so very close. So close that he could hear me.  ‘Hello God,’ I whispered. ‘I love the way you made everything in this world. It’s totally awesome.”

If you want to follow up more on these sort of questions then I’d recommend these organisations/websites as having helpful resources/pointers (obviously it goes without saying that I may not agree with everything on any website I point to – ‘test everything, hold to the good’ – 1 Thessalonians 5):

UK based is:

http://www.cis.org.uk/

In the US there is:

https://biologos.org/

At a slightly more academic level (but some really good events for those interested in thinking more deeply) is:

http://www.faraday.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/

 

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Created in the image of God

Created in the image of God. I don’t recall anywhere in scripture that speaks of women being created with part of God’s image in contrast to men being fully created in the image of God. We are all created in the image of God. Men and women beautifully created and declared very good.

Nowhere do I recall reading that the good news of Easter is only partly for women. That perhaps our sin has been dealt with but we are on our own the rest of the way while the good news of Easter Sunday and resurrected life is for men. The gospel story is for all people in it’s entirety.

This week as it seems most weeks recently have brought more and more stories to our attention where the reality of God’s story is being twisted, altered. For a long time I have pushed it aside, tried to believe it is not my story.  I was brought up to believe I could be who I wanted to be and it never occurred to me that men and women were treated differently. I felt utterly naive as story after story of women being paid less as their male colleagues doing the same job surfaced. It simply never occurred to me that that was how things happened. That men thought certain behaviour was justifiable and their right. It didn’t matter to me that these events took place in the so called secular context, that did not excuse it. Whether or not you believe in the gospel story, whether you believe we are created by God does not remove basic common decency and equality from those who would claim to life good moral lives.

To hear story after story of it happening in churches goes beyond my understanding. I know people can and do argue for different views on the role women can/should have in churches. This is not about this. This is reminding ourselves that we are all created in the image of God. All in the church are partakers in the work of the gospel, we are all heirs of the glorious riches He has for us. We all belong.

The gospel is not a message that belongs to men alone, it is for all. It is one we are all invited into. I am reading through Romans at the moment and have been stopped in my tracks time and again realising how incredibly amazing the good news is for us all. Jesus didn’t die on the cross over there detached from us. He died for us, He died so that the God of justice dealt with our sin and shouted a very loud ‘come and join in what I have always intended for you’ with the resurrection. The gospel, yes is about Jesus but not detached from us. It is for and end because of us, who He created in His image, men and women.

We all are called to live out that life of good news, not in competition or fear of the other but as brothers and sisters. Not squabbling and fighting but together in all the goodness of God. Yes we are still this side of eternity so sin still gets in the way, but you know what that is why we have the cross, even this present day sin has been dealt with there and we are free to repent, enabled to forgive. Not easy, not always simply, not without tears and pain at times but that is what living the resurrected life this side of eternity allows us.

Brothers, the church is for us all, look at your congregations, the congregation you are part of. More often then not is there not a higher percent of your congreagation who are women? How many churches have tea rotas and Sunday school rotas that have an fair representation of men and women? How many churches have single men going to far off places as missionaries?

Brothers, leaders or not, if you hold to a view that says no to leadership, ask yourself what are you doing to acknowledge the role women have in your church in raising the next generation? In ensuring that there is tea and coffee afterwards? How many of you serve in these roles?  Lead humbly and with great caution when you apply God’s word to your congregation to ensure the whole congregation is built up and reminded who they are in God. It is not about you, your position, how people see you.

Brothers, leaders or not, if you hold to a view that allows women a role in leadership, listen to them, don’t be afraid if they are strong, articulate and maybe better read than you. Don’t be afraid of tears and emotion, leadership has room for that as well as strategy and reason. Build them up and allow them to build you up without fear that anything is taken the wrong way. Have honest conversations, be true and have accountability if you are concerned.

Brothers, most women I know in leadership come to that position very cautiously, and take a long time to accept it. We know the weight of the mantle that comes with it. We simply are trying live faithfully as you are too. So if you find yourself struggling with a woman who is in leadership, don’t trample your sister, don’t pull verses out of context, don’t shy away from conversation. Talk with one another, remember the gospel is big enough for hard conversations. God has this covered. Trust not in your understandings but lean on God and seek a way forward with your sisters in Christ as we will seek to do to.

Sisters let us not forget that we are all created in the image of God and therefore the gospel is good news for our brothers as much as it is for us. Let us seek God in this whole journey and be willing to engage in real conversation with brothers who are willing to journey this with us, who want to stand with us, who want to repent, who want to find a better way.

Let us all do what the Lord require of us, to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Pondering where God is leading

Why Joshua’s Tree?

Sitting in our current ‘home’ Mark and I are asking the question is now the time for us to step into something new. Not new and different from Joshua’s Tree but into that vision and to see what it looks like?

The morning of Easter Saturday we had not heard of Bishop’s Waltham and now here we are feeling as if we had always lived here. The home fulfills so many of our understandings of what is needed for Joshua’s Tree to happen through our family. At present no other houses in the area fit those needs as far as floorplan goes. It is a home in need of TLC but is perfectly livable in and over time TLC can bring new life back into it.

The children have fallen in love with the home and place and do not want to move. Mark and I for a host of reasons concur with them. We are all settling into the local church and home ed community which have both been significant blessings to us already.

Mark has just got a temporary job working 3 days a week at Southampton medical school doing in an administrative role. I am thankful for his willingness to use the skills he has that enable him to pick up jobs to ensure we have food on the table, while his heart is to have time to be writing bible resources and teaching scripture, encouraging others to press on and be equipped to live their lives rooted in God’s word themselves. He is also picking up some grading of theological papers and writing projects which he is enjoying and would love to be able to do more of.

Right now it feels the obvious next step for us is to move forward with Joshua’s Tree and to journey with others in our home through space, rest, prayer, food and conversation, and alongside that for Mark to do more writing and teaching. From our perspective the lack of funds to acquire a home either by ourselves or to know of a trust willing to support this adventure of faith is what is stopping us from stepping out. So my prayer I would love you to join us in is to seek either a way to buy our current home which is up for sale, or to seek what it is that God is asking of us. It has been hard to see people come in and look around with grand designs to alter it when we see the potential right in front of us for a place of blessing and hope. I am also trying not to cling to this house in panic as I hear viewers’ desires to buy the place.  We know that if now is right money is not an issue to God and so if that path does not open up,  that we would be open to God having something else in mind for us knowing His plans are best. It is just really hard when our hearts’ desires seem to be for a good purpose that others agree with.  It’s been 18 years or so since God first laid Joshua’s Tree on my heart and the passion for it has only grown greater the longer I have been around churches and involved in leadership.

Alongside that prayer is a prayer that we would be willing to move again if staying is not of God. To be honest the thought of another move and not simply not seeing Joshua’s Tree happe, but simply another move and change is no fun. It was right that we took a 3 month let and not a 12 month contract somewhere in the country as we didn’t know where Mark would end up getting a long term job and we didn’t want the financial implications that a 12 month contract on a house that ended up being in the wrong part of the country would bring. We just never imagined that within 2 weeks of living somewhere we had never heard of that we would feel this deeply rooted and at home.

As always any thoughts, responses welcome. We want to be were God wants us doing what He has for us.

Below is a link to the house on rightmove.

http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-53427903.html

Shalom

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and body. Love your neighbour as yourself. Let your body be a living sacrifice.

Shalom, deep, over flowing peace is needed to do any of those let alone all three.

Shalom.

In my body.

Shalom.

Broken, limited, unseen.

Shalom.

That moment when someone else sees you and gets it. That moment I sat in the car with a childhood friend as we drove through old familiar roads for lunch chatting as though we had seen each other only the day before, rather than the gap of ten years it had been. That moment I described what it felt like to live in my body these days and she said ‘I get it’ for her Dad had some overlapping issues.

Shalom wrapped in the greens of fields that the deepest parts of you know without seeing.

Shalom.

That moment when the doctor says ‘that reading is off the richter scale, you have not been losing your mind, your symptoms are very real’ .

That moment when the consultant’s letter with the test results confirms his words at the appointment, ‘something has gone wrong with your central nervous system’. B12 levels are not simply low they have dropped way below normal range.

Fighting for shalom as my mind races back through 20 plus years of appointments and contradictions. 20 plus years of fighting to be heard, to be seen, to know what my body was screaming at me was real. Low thyroid at the levels I was at are not normal. Vit B12 deficiency is not simply reminded with some multivitamins over the counter or extra marmite on your toast. And it turns out the two, low thyroid and Low B12 go hand in hand, but no one ever told me that. No one connected my symptoms and low readings because they seem to have always been ‘in range if somewhat on the low end’, till eventually they went off the richter scale because it was the only way my body knew how to scream loud enough to get the attention it needed.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and body. Love your neighbour as yourself. Let your body be a living sacrifice. Shalom, deep, over flowing peace is needed to do any of those let alone all three.

I was reminded today by our local supermarket toilet sign that says not all disabilities are visible. To many when they see me they do not see the broken body I live in all week. Like the older lady who tutted crossly as we stepped out the door of a coffee shop with Mark this week and got in her way because we didn’t keep moving. Living with constant vertigo means that I can not suddenly side step safely. A good day means I might look unsteady on my feet, a bad day it can mean losing my balance fully. Vertigo that wakes me up in the middle of the night because I turned over. Or the fact that every step hurts as though walking on lego constantly. Or that my right arm is often in my pocket so no one notices it shaking, dreading that moment when a hand shake is required or the cup of tea is given to me with the anticipation I will get it with my right hand. That there are constant electric shocks up and down my spine.

Shalom comes when I embrace the body knitted together by the One who knows me better than I. Shalom comes when I accept the invisible and give it a voice. Shalom does what I cannot. Shalom can live in places I would rather not. Shalom calls me to be fully present. Shalom calls me back to the One who gives me breathe.

God.

Whose shalom allows me to love, to love deeply, fully and outwardly as well as inwardly. Whose shalom allows me to receive His gift of life and grace, to receive from others their love. Whose shalom allows me to worship with all that I am as I am.

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Christ is Risen!

He is risen indeed – Hallelujah!

This is how Charles Simeon, Anglican Evangelical minister in Cambridge in the 19th century described the Easter week he was converted:

In Passion Week, as I was reading Bishop Wilson on the Lord’s Supper, I met with an expression to this effect – “That the Jews knew what they did, when they transferred their sin to the head of their offering.”
The thought came into my mind,
What, may I transfer all my guilt to another?
Has God provided an Offering for me, that I may lay my sins on His head?
Then, God willing, I will not bear them on my own soul one moment longer.

Accordingly I sought to lay my sins upon the sacred head of Jesus;
and on the Wednesday began to have a hope of mercy;
on the Thursday that hope increased;
on the Friday and Saturday it became more strong;
and on the Sunday morning, Easter-day, April 4,
I awoke early with those words upon my heart and lips,
‘Jesus Christ is risen to-day! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’
From that hour peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul; and at the Lord’s Table in our Chapel I had the sweetest access to God through my blessed Saviour.

Simeon’s ministry went on to influence thousands of people through his preaching and encouragement of ministers (against the backdrop of an extremely hard beginning to his ministry – people had to stand to listen to his preaching, because his churchwardens had locked the doors pews then had).  His writings on preaching and pattern of ministry were the inspiration for John Stott and his pattern of preaching and ministry.

Or in picture form:

The rising of the sun had made everything look so different – all colours and shadows were changed that for a moment they didn’t see the important thing. Then they did. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan…

“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it magic?”

“Yes!” said a great voice behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.

“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad.

“Aren’t you dead then, dear Aslan?” said Lucy.

“Not now,” said Aslan…

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitors stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards…”

“And now,” said Aslan presently, “to business. I feel I am going to roar. You had better put your fingers in your ears.”

And they did. And Aslan stood up and when he opened his mouth to roar his face became so terrible that they did not dare to look at it. And they saw all the trees in front of him bend before the blast of his roaring as grass bends in a meadow before the wind.

Death itself working backwards. In a garden.  Weeping. Tears of sorrow, tears of confusion. ‘They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him’. Then the voice, the voice she longs most of all to hear.  The voice that calls her name: Mary.  Then she knows. He is risen.  He is alive.  There in the garden, as the first man of creation walked, so the first man of the new creation walks.  As one act of disobedience brought condemnation, so one act of obedience brings life, Paul tells us.  Life to all.

And Jesus meets us, and greets us, and sadness and sorrow and darkness flee away.

And the church meets, and sings hymns like this one, reminding us of the victory Jesus won.

1 Thine be the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son;
endless is the vict’ry Thou o’er death hast won.
Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
kept the folded grave-clothes where Thy body lay.

Refrain:
Thine be the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son;
endless is the vict’ry Thou o’er death hast won.

2 Lo, Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb.
Lovingly He greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
let His church with gladness hymns of triumph sing,
for the Lord now liveth; death hath lost its sting. [Refrain]

3 No more we doubt Thee, glorious Prince of life!!
Life is nought without Thee; aid us in our strife;
make us more than conqu’rors, through Thy deathless love;
bring us safe through Jordan to Thy home above. [Refrain]

Christ is risen – he is risen indeed – Hallelujah!

Easter Saturday Reflections

This is a strange day in the church’s year.  A day caught between the sorrow of Good Friday and the joy of Easter morning.  A day to remember.  A day for reflection for all who are caught in between times.  We have several children’s bibles, and one, the Big Picture Story Bible has a chapter for Easter Saturday.  I love the text of this particular chapter especially because I think it captures how the disciples might have felt wonderfully.

Darkness fell upon the land.

Jesus was dead.
He was buried in a tomb.
A big stone was rolled in front of the entrance,
and the people all went home.
For Jesus’ followers, that dark day
was followed by a long night.

The hours passed very slowly.
Jesus’ friends cried.
They had thought he was the king.

But now their hearts were filled with sorrow,
and their minds were filled with fear.

“What happened?”
“Why did Jesus have to die?”
“Wasn’t Jesus God’s forever king?”

The questions kept coming until the next
day turned into night.

As Jesus’ followers tried to sleep, they thought,
We will be sad forever.

“Will God ever rescue his people from sin?”
“Will we ever have our place with him?”
“Will God ever bring again his blessings on
all peoples of the earth?”

There are Psalms written for these kind of times.  They are called ‘lament’ – a word that indicates a pouring out of the heart to God in grief, sadness and even anger.  The language used expresses the heart.  It isn’t always neat, tidy and precise – sometimes it is shocking to our ears (try Psalm 137), but it gives us permission that we can always take our feelings to God and express them (after all he’s not going to be surprised or shocked). One such Psalm is Psalm 88, which starts off on a note of hope, but from then on is increasingly dark until the last line (famously echoed by Simon & Garfunkel):

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
    day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
    turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
    and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
    like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
    who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
    in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
    you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.[d]
You have taken from me my closest friends
    and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
    my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
    I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you show your wonders to the dead?
    Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
11 Is your love declared in the grave,
    your faithfulness in Destruction[e]?
12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
    or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

13 But I cry to you for help, Lord;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, Lord, do you reject me
    and hide your face from me?

15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
    I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
    your terrors have destroyed me.
17 All day long they surround me like a flood;
    they have completely engulfed me.
18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
    darkness is my closest friend.

At different times everyone lives in such times.  We may wish we had not seen such times, but as Gandalf points out in the Lord of the Rings so do all who see such times.

“Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.”

That is the note of hope we have as those who know the next day in the story.  And for all the implications of that to dawn in our world we wait.

Moses: God dwells with his people

After chapters 32-34 Exodus returns to the subject of the tabernacle. If you are reading through the Bible this can sometimes feel like an anticlimax. Why on earth does the Bible go into so much detail about how Israel built the tabernacle? We have, after all been given much of the detail design already. Why do we then need a blow by blow account of how it is put together?

The clue is in the events of chapters 32-34. Think of Israel at the foot of the mountain building the golden calf. Then read into Exodus 35. Moses calls the people to go, and calls for all who want to give freely to the tabernacle, to go and bring back what is needed. This was not about forcing people. It was about them giving freely. This is what happened:

Exodus 35:20 Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. 21 And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. 22 So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord.

Notice the description here – the tabernacle was constructed out of those who gave freely and willingly, moved from within to give of their treasure for the service of the LORD. Notice what a contrast that is to the golden calf, where they construct what God has not commanded. Here God has given the designs and now people give freely to what is needed. Not everyone brings the same thing, and not everyone brings the same amount, but they bring as God directs each of them individually.

How will all this material be taken and used well? Who will co-ordinate this work:

30 Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; 31 and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, 32 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, 33 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. 34 And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. 35 He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.

This is vital. It isn’t Moses. He isn’t a gifted craftsman, he’s a shepherd and a leader for the people, but he isn’t an architect. It’s Bezalel who will head up this work – he is filled with the Spirit of God – with skill, intelligence, knowledge and craftsmanship. The Spirit who hovered over the waters of creation and breathed life into people is the Spirit who fills Bezalel, so that the practical skills and intelligence he has will be put to use for the service of God.

Bezalel and Oholiab are both gifted also to teach others to also carry out the work. The work is a team effort, requiring skill and intelligence, craftsmanship and teaching. God provides the people to do the work in the way he wants the work done.

So in his church. We have all sorts of people, with all sorts of giftings – and all are to be used for his service. We have people who are gifted to lead, and we have people with much more specific skills. So we need to make sure service is allocated according to gifts. God will provide what is needed for the church to do what he wants it to do.

As we read on in Exodus 35-40 we then see each part of the tabernacle and priestly garments being made. In chapters 39-40 a refrain echoes through – this was done ‘just as the LORD commanded Moses’. It is done in obedience to God, and in line with God’s ways. The people have learned to obey, at least in this matter. Finally we get this account of the completion of the tabernacle:

33 Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work.

34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

36 In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; 37 but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. 38 So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.

The cloud comes down and God’s glory comes down. Moses cannot enter. God has come to dwell with his people. There is a complete restoration.  The promise of God living among the people – dwelling – he is at home with his people – is fulfilled.  Full forgiveness and restoration has been given.  Take heart from that.  If you have sinned forgiveness is on offer, and God will restore you – and it will be a full and complete restoration – just as it was for Israel.  The next line of the Bible after Exodus is Leviticus 1:1 ‘The LORD called to Moses from the tent’ – just as he had called him from the mountain. The place where God will manifest his glory is now the tabernacle, and later the temple, not the mountain.

Not even Moses can enter the tabernacle. God’s presence is too radiant. Leviticus will be full of strict instructions as to how to approach God. The cloud of God’s presence also becomes the means by which God will guide his people. They go with God in their midst, and therefore they go with God as their guide, going when he says it is time to go, and staying when he says it is time to stay. They are not to invent their own itinerary, but to stick with God’s itinerary, and then when he says go, go.

To think about the implications of this for us, first of all we think of the cloud of God’s presence and the strict instructions required to enter God’s presence. As I type this it is Good Friday. One of the things that happens on Good Friday is that the temple curtain is torn. The barrier between God’s presence and the world is torn down.

The key question then is: where does God’s presence manifest itself? Is there anywhere in the New Testament equivalent to the giving of the law and tabernacle at Sinai? As the Spirit descends at Pentecost there are tongues of fire and a mighty wind. God’s presence comes down, not on a tent, or to a building, but to a people. God’s people have God’s Spirit living in them.

Like the Israelites we are on a journey to a land. We have been rescued out of slavery to sin, and will one day enjoy life with God forever, in the fullness of his presence. But our journey is not the same in every respect, and the methods by which God guides are not the same in every respect. Right now a pillar of cloud outside the house that lifted and led us to the next place would feel quite welcome.

It sometimes feels like God is not guiding, or that he has forgotten about the particular journey we are taking. Yet that isn’t true, so we take our steps to do what can be done – we seek to trust and to obey in the things we know, and to trust that if God has a particular place or destination in mind he will make that clear.

There are times and days when it is easier to see the reality of that than others. Right now, for us, it is hard. In a months time we will be leaving this house and we don’t yet know where we will be going to. We are looking at houses, seeking to work out where would be sensible places to live. I am searching for jobs that would enable me to use my mixture of skills and talents to build up and encourage God’s people.

In the midst of all that the call is still to trust the God who guides. In some of the decisions we will make there will be a choice that is up to us. In other things we trust that God will make it clear. Having God as a guide does not bring neat and tidy answers. I doubt it did for even the Israelites with the pillar of cloud in a very obvious way – I imagine there were some who grumbled at having to move on again, and others who didn’t understand why they were staying in a particular location at a certain time.

We just don’t see the whole story now. One day we will. One day our faith will be sight. We will see the full story of God at work. In the first of CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the Magician’s Nephew there is a character called Digory, who believes that Aslan could provide him with something that will cure his dying mother. He is about to be tasked with a quest by Aslan, but first he wants to ask for the cure. This is the conversation:

“But please, please – won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?” Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.

“My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another. But I have to think of hundreds of years in the life of Narnia.

I think this illustration makes two vital points – the first is that God, like Aslan, really does care, and feels with us in the midst of suffering, sorrow and confusion. The second is that there is more going on than we can see. That second point makes it really hard sometimes, because I want to be able to see. But I can’t. So we have to trust the God who is our guide, that he will nourish us on the way and provide us with all we need. The only hymn that could possibly go with this theme is:

1 Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but you are mighty;
hold me with your powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore,
feed me now and evermore.

2 Open now the crystal fountain,
where the healing waters flow.
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer,
ever be my strength and shield,
ever be my strength and shield.

3 When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside.
Death of death, and hell’s Destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever sing to you,
I will ever sing to you.

And so we walk through Isaiah 50:10

10 Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on their God.

Knowing that the reality is that the God who promised to be with Moses in all that he faced is the God who is with us still. The God who utterly compassionate and good. Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He doesn’t explain himself. But he is with us through it all – working for our good and his glory in it.