Week of 6/9/19 - Pages 241-254

At the risk of sounding irreverent, this story reminds me of the Dr. Seuss book, “Green Eggs and Ham”.  Balak wanted Balaam to speak a curse over the Israelites and he contrived many different ways to make this happen, all to no result.  

Could you, would you, in a box?  How about with a fox?  Here or there?  How about anywhere?  Of course, in “Green Eggs and Ham”, the outcome was very different as the guy ended up actually liking green eggs and ham and it ended on a high note.

In this story, Balaam is known as a man to whom “blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.” (top of p 243)  The problem was that Balak, king of Moab, was trying to get Balaam to curse the Israelites, God’s chosen and protected people. God clearly told Balaam not to curse the Israelites.  Balaam starts out great, seeming to be a valiant force for God, but it all falls apart when he lays out the surrender flag by saying “But stay here one more night, and I will see if the Lord has anything else to say to me.”

What is this “anything else” of which he speaks?  What’s going on in Balaam’s mind?  Why is he playing dumb, as if God might change his mind and decide to curse His own people?  Was he indulging in a sense of self-importance, wanting to stretch it out and make it last longer?    

I think about myself.  What do I do when I have clearly heard what God wants of me?  Do I seek new and clever ways to get out of doing what He has already told me?  Do I go back to God “one more time” just to be sure and pretend that this makes me a careful Christian?  Do I even want to be a “careful Christian”?  What would life this side of heaven be like if I more immediately obeyed God’s voice, certainly His rhema words?  

What I know for sure is that every single time I have obeyed… something big and amazing and life-changing and soul-satisfying happens – every time.  All it takes is getting over all of my protestations and pleadings with Him that I might just check “one more time” if I heard him correctly.  The older I get, the less I’m willing to settle for this watered-down version of the vibrant Christian life.  How about you?        

Week of 6/2/19 - Pages 227-240

Sometimes when I read the OT I find myself wondering how people could act like that and how could they make the decisions they do? I mean I never would. Or would I?

 The chapters in this section of Numbers are like a tug of war of emotions with truth and fiction warring against one another as the people repeatedly rebel and Moses and Aaron repeatedly advocate for the people and negotiate with God over their outcome. The two words that kept coming to me as I read through their trial and tribulations were “Faith and Fear.” There is one aspect of this story in this section of Numbers that really captures my attention.

Just look at this section in Numbers where Moses had been leading the Israelites. The Lord told him to send out men to explore Canaan. He sent one leader from each of the twelve tribes to do just that. He gave them very detailed instructions on what to look for. The men returned and gave the report on what they had seen.  The report was a mixed bag with descriptions that ranged from a land flowing with milk and honey to scary looking giants and towns that were impossibly fortified.  

Caleb excitedly interrupts their report and is filled with faith to marshal the people forward to conquer the land! He challenges the people to do just that. The Tribe leaders on the other hand, the ones who actually saw the land first-hand, were filled with fear. They let their imaginations run wild and painted all kinds of horrible pictures of what could happen to them if they were to try to go and conquer the land. They struck fear in their hearts as they described how their families would be devoured and that they would be helpless against such giants. Their fear was like a disease and it spread like wildfire amongst the people and soon the people were weeping. Just imagine how you might feel to see your loved ones and neighbors distraught and worried beyond belief! It would be hard to stand up against such a crowd and not join forces with them. Their emotions had gotten the best of them and the next thing you know they were protesting against Moses and Aaron, two Godly men that had loved them and led them through so much. Next thing you know they are railing against God, basically blaming Him for their predicament. How could God possibly do this to them? They got so worked up that they began to think it would even be better to return to Egypt. Outrageous! I thought. They would go back to a time where they were enslaved rather than stay in a place of deliverance and a future with hope?  Not a good scene! How could this situation get any worse? Was there any way for it to turn around? – read on in Numbers to find out.

 But for now I want to pause with you here for a moment to dig a little deeper into what caught my attention. Why we are not so different than the people of the Old Testament when it comes to our reactions to life’s circumstances.

 If I am honest, when I think about it, I have to admit that both faith and fear permeate my Christian life. I would like to think that I am filled with faith like Caleb was. That I am ready to conquer any and all situations with courage and determination, but the truth is that I have varying degrees of faith and varying degrees of fear that come into play in my daily life. Over the years, with some practice and a lot of help, I have most certainly discovered that there are things that help me lean more strongly into a life of faith over a life of fear: Actions, that if I practice, help me to increase the “Faith Meter” in my life.

1)    The promises of God – Psalm 119:105 (In addition to the reading of God’s Word, if He has given me a specific Word or Words, these are also great reminders to help me in trailblazing a life of faith)

2)    Christian Friends – Community of Faith - Proverbs 15:22  (wisdom is found in many Godly Counselors, the Israelites chose to listen to trouble-makers, those who were stirring up trouble and living in fear. We have a choice in the kind of friends that we seek advice and counsel from)

3)    Prayer – Jeremiah 33:3 (Turning to God, not away from Him as the Israelites did when they were blaming God for their present circumstances)

4)    Reviewing the many ways He has delivered me in the past - Lamentations 3:22-23, Reviewing His mercies ( The Israelites let their fear blot out the amazing miracles, signs and wonders that they had experienced and had lived through)
So next time you are faced with a decision or a difficult life circumstance, consider how you might increase your “Faith Meter.”

Week of 5/26/19 - Pages 213-226

One of the most beautiful blessings in the Bible is on page 214, (Numbers 6:24-26) given to Moses to give to Aaron and his sons to bless the people of Israel.

 “May the Lord bless you and protect you

 May the Lord smile on you

 And be gracious to you.

 May the Lord show you his favor

 And give you peace.”

Whenever I hear this passage I imagine God lavishing His blessing on me, as my protector, my friend and partner and generous provider.  I have read this verse many times but as I began to write this blog the context of this verse in the story of Moses and the Israelites is what struck me.

Before this blessing is given, the children of Israel are assembled, getting ready to leave on a dangerous journey across the desert. Many of them were going to die in the wilderness. They were going to be assaulted by enemies. They were going to face thirst and starvation. They were going to face division and disention, and before they begin this arduous, dangerous, adventurous journey, God goes before them with a blessing, and one would think nothing would have been more comforting to them than the guarantee of God's sovereign blessing. That in and of itself plays into the whole story of Numbers, because over and over what will the people of God doubt in the wilderness? They will doubt God's purpose to bless them. Isn't it ironic? Before they ever set out, God says to them through Aaron ‘Let Me just make one thing perfectly clear’…. And He pronounces this blessing, and if they could have just believed that, how different the story of Numbers would have been. It would have been an entirely different book if they had believed what God said in this passage. 

These pages go on to chronicle the journey and the many complaints the Israelites had about the hardships they endured and the food provided them.  If they had only trusted God and His blessing and provision.

 Sound at all familiar??  Perhaps we are not too different than the people in this story.   If we truly believed that the Lord loves to bless us then how dramatically different our lives would be.  We go through life so often thinking that our satisfaction will come from this pleasure, that job, these possessions or people liking us.  We run around trying to stuff our hearts full of life and satisfy our longings somewhere else other than the blessing of Almighty God.  If we could simply understand that God is the giver, He is the source, He is the author of the only blessing worth having and so only God can fill us up, it would dramatically change our lives. 

I am convicted by these passages to show more trust in the Lord’s provision than the people of Israel in this story. To lean on, trust, and be confident in the Lord with all my heart and mind.  I hope you be blessed as well.

Week of 5/19/19 - Pages 201-212

The book is called “Numbers” for a reason – lots of numbers and lots of names, many of which I have difficulty pronouncing.  But, what’s in a name?  A name provides identity and a sense of belonging.  Imagine growing up in ancient Israel and reading the name of your great, great, great grandfather in the Bible.  What a sense of pride and connection that would bring.

Growing up, I didn’t like my name; I wanted one that was more common.  I guess I could be glad that I didn’t have a name like Zurishaddai (Numbers 1:6).  But, names have meaning, and Zurishaddai means “The Almighty is a rock”.  The name would be a continual reminder of God’s strength, stability, and protection.

Jesus, the cornerstone (i.e., the rock) on whom we can build our lives, also referred to himself as the good shepherd (John 10:11), and to us as sheep.  He said in John 10:3, “the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”  He knows us individually and cares deeply about us.  In fact, Jesus said in Luke 12:7 that, “the very hairs of your head are all numbered”, which brings us back to Numbers.

The bottom line: People are important to God.  He calls us not simply to be a number in His kingdom, but to belong in His family as His dearly loved children and have an intimate relationship with Him and with others.

Week of 5/12/19 - Pages 185-199

God gave his decrees and commands and told the people of Israel to be careful to obey them so that they might experience peace, victory, and overflowing of crops.  And above all the presence of God with His people.  There were blessings for obedience and serious consequences for being disobedient.  God gave direct instruction to the Israelites for everyday life to deal with sin and rebellion.  God did not expect his people to be sinless, he asked them to be honest.  This is something that still applies to this day. God gave specific instructions on how to draw near to Him. He gave these instructions in order for our benefit in this life and eternally with Him. He constantly reminds the Israelites that He has saved them in the past and will not forsake His promises with them. God declared “I will live among you and not despise you, I will walk among you, I will be your God, and you will be my people I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt so you would no longer be their slaves. I broke the yoke of slavery from your neck so you can walk with your heads held high.”  We can be encouraged that the Lord will show favor to us when we walk in obedience to Him and that the ultimate blessing is walking with God in His presence.

Week of 5/5/19 - Pages 171-184

Ok, this is kind of humorous. Giving the rule follower (me) the opportunity to blog about the ultimate rulebook of rulebooks.

I’ve read Leviticus a few times in my life, and the results have been mostly the same for me. Why all the rules? I get it the rules set out by God for his people in those days pretty much kept His people alive. One thing that I am still amazed and reminded of is Gods detail in the smallest of things and the gravity of not following His directives especially when it came to His temple and the Holy of Holies. Or when His people were to move into a new land that God deemed defiled.

But something hit me this time, and I am sure that it’s because we came off of the New Testament Challenge last year, but this time I found Jesus here. For example when Jesus cured the leper in Luke 17:14 he told the one healed to “Go and let the priest examine you.” Can you imagine the priest when the leper showed up? I’m pretty sure that he had to scratch his head wondering why there was this rush in leaper examinations and cures.

Yes, I confess that Leviticus is not on par with a Tom Clancy novel and will never be made into a blockbuster movie but, Leviticus is still profoundly relevant the way it deals with sin and the results of sin. 

Week of 4/28/19 - Pages 151-170

When I read Leviticus I was struct with a new thought. If you take a loftier view of the detailed instructions to make offerings to God and the various roles,  I saw a language of relationship.  How do I, the one created, stay in relationship with a Perfect Holy God. This was unique to the Old Testament times. 

It is the key idea that gets expressed. It is easy to read this book and just get lost in the details of this offering and that offering, for correcting different states a person, a leader, a community, or a people have done or not done. It is strange to me, a person living in a predominately, information/technology rich world, to think of all the animal and grain sacrifices required in this language of relationship.  I did not grow up on a farm!

It was the Old Testament that really introduced to me to the essential idea of a Perfect Holy God.  A superior being that cannot be in the same space as anything evil.  God crushes anything evil, sinful, or unrighteous. It is not comfortable to know this. Nor do I fully understand it. Why it has to be this way.  The grand narrative does hang together for me.  I see how the OT and NT support each other.  Jesus is the glue between the two.

The cost for NOT being in good relationship with God is high. Justice is swift when any sinful creature breaks the protocol when serving a Perfect Holy God. Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Aliha, were set on fire for a simple mistake that was egregious to God. God’s grace is revealed in the dialog between Moses and Aaron when Aaron responds on behalf of his other two son’s mistakes when they failed to eat a certain sacrifice.

‘ “Today my sons presented both their sin offering and their burnt offering to the LORD.  And yet this tragedy   has happened to me. If I had eaten the people’s sin offering on such a tragic day as this, would the LORD have  been pleased?” And when Moses heard this, he was satisfied.’

The ritual language maintains a dialog between humankind and God through the ‘ aroma ‘. The visible smoke and smells God senses from these offerings.    The verbs or actions of this ritual relationship language are:

1. Burnt Offering

2. Sin offering 

3. Guilt Offering 

4. Voluntary Offering

5. Peace Offering

6. Ordination Offering

7. Special Offering 

There is tremendous symbolism in what parts are for God, for the priests, for the people, and what needs to be kept away from a Perfect Holy God. The Israelites lived in a nomadic and then an agrarian society. There is tremendous ongoing cost in terms of giving to God my defect free animals/grains for sacrifice (wealth), my attention,  my time, and self-awareness of how to be ‘righteous’ and ‘clean’ before God in the world that is unrighteous and unclean before God.  The OT presents a never ending set of rituals!

Week of 4/21/19 - Pages 144-150

Exiting Exodus.

As we exit the book of Exodus, let us pause to ponder the marvelous manifestations of our awesome, Almighty God! 

This is history that only God could have orchestrated.

Could anyone conceive the improbable rise to leadership of the magnanimous Moses? How about a burning bush, productive plagues, a protected Passover, a split sea, miraculous manna (free food), colossal commandments, and a traveling Tabernacle?

This is history that only God could have orchestrated.

In the final scenes of Exodus, the people of Israel listened intently to Moses as he conveyed God’s call for the construction of the Tabernacle. Men and women contributed skills and material wealth, so much so that Moses stopped them, saying: 

“Men and women, don’t prepare any more gifts for the sanctuary. We have enough!”

Can you imagine being in a desert with minimal resources, tasked with an elaborate construction project, and then somehow having more provisions than you need?!

This is history that only God could have orchestrated.

God’s specifications for the Tabernacle were precise, from the sturdiest structural supports to the subtle stitching on the priests’ garments. And the Israelites listened. The catalog of project milestones completed “… just as the LORD commanded Moses” is nearly exhausting to read.

“Just as the LORD commanded…” – the phrase appears so often it must be of intense importance, but we are talking about history, right? Is that relevant for me, in today’s world? Scripture is a gift from God, full of His instructions (or commandments) for us. The Word of the LORD guides us today, much like a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

“Seek the LORD while you can find him.” Today, will you be obedient to the prodding of the Holy Spirit? If so, you will:

Be an active part of this history that only God is orchestrating!

Week of 4/14/19 - Pages 131-143

It struck me how detailed God’s instructions for life were to Moses and Israel. And after giving the instructions, on page 138 The Lord said to Moses “Write down all these instructions, for they represent the terms of the covenant I am making with you and with Israel.”

Covenant means “agreement”, so we are getting into the meat of the old covenant or “old agreement”.

We Christians believe that God has since made a new agreement or new covenant as documented in the New Testament. While not completely doing away with the old covenant, the new covenant states that the main value of the old covenant and guidance therein is to make us realize that we cannot possibly be obedient enough or good enough to be acceptable to God. History has taught us that no matter how hard we try we cannot live up to the standards that God is laying out in this old covenant (the pages we just read or are about to read). Trying to live up to those laws led our ancestors/Israel to constantly ask for forgiveness and atonement for their shortcomings.

The new covenant that God makes with us is really good news. It says that we no longer have to constantly ask for forgiveness, and we are no longer subject to the penalty (death-or eternal separation from God) for not being obedient to all of God’s very specific instructions. God’s new covenant, which seems very generous to me, says, that once and for all the penalty for our errors or failures to obey Him, were paid when His perfect Son, Jesus, was tortured and put to death. As a result, if we accept that Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for our transgressions, we are forgiven. Completely forgiving, and made completely acceptable to God. 

Week of 4/7/19 - Pages 118-130

I admit that I have been mostly a New Testament Christian, meaning that I mostly avoid reading the Old Testament except for Psalms and Proverbs.  The truth is I’ve been afraid to read about an Old Testament God who seems very different than New Testament Jesus, a God whose ways seem violent and primitive.  However, as I read the Old Testament, I’m finding something different.  I don’t need to be afraid of the Old Testament because God really is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  By not reading the Old Testament in the same way I read the New Testament I’ve been missing out on a lot of good stuff.

Here are some headlines from pages 118 – 130, which is roughly Exodus 22 – 29.  Funny how all of these observations sound very much like of Jesus:

·      God is practical – he gave sensible laws to help his people live in peace and harmony.

·      God is jealous – he won’t tolerate idols and sorcerers amongst his people.

·      God is compassionate – he protects foreigners, orphans and widows.

·      God is just – he calls his people to honesty, fairness and to care for the poor.

·      God gives renewal – he says to take a day off each week, and even gives the land rest every seventh year.

·      God loves parties – he requires his people to celebrate three festivals every year.

·      God is covenantal – he makes promises and wants to bless his people with good things.

·      God is relational – he wants to live amongst his people and asks them to build him a house.

·      God leads – he gives detailed instructions for his house, ordination and atonement.

·      God is holy – to be with him, atonement is required.

As I read the Old Testament and this section, I’m struck by God’s holiness and the cost of forgiveness. The detailed instructions he gave the Israelites regarding the tabernacle, ordination of priests and daily sacrifices for sin were emphatic, bloody reminders of his holiness and that sin is death.  For me, with my modern sensibilities, even though I understand these concepts in a theological sense, they feel ancient and primitive.  Reading the Old Testament is breaking through some of my modern bias, and helping me to see and feel God’s holiness and the cost of forgiveness. And feeling it is much more powerful than just understanding it.

Father, please forgive me for overlooking this part of your Word.  Forgive me for my modern arrogance.  As I continue to read the Old Testament, I know there will be hard parts I don’t understand.  I ask for perseverance to finish it, wisdom to understand it, and faith to trust it. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.