Sunday, December 22, 2013

What is Christmas without Christ?

Nice but not enough...

I have always loved Christmas.  What's not to love?  Twinkling lights, shiny presents, friends and family, music--an ADHD extravaganza!  (Squirrel!)

The catch is that crisis happens any time of the year.  Our family is not immune.  In fact, we find life-altering crisis so frequently, we have come to think we eat it for breakfast--and it tastes like Wheaties most of  the time.  But when CRISIS comes in the middle of this joyous season, the music begins to sound tinny and irritating, the greetings become annoying, and family gatherings can become just another place to wish for "Peace on earth, goodwill toward men." 

At that point, what you believe about the season begins to really matter. 

If Christmas is just a secular holiday, then it becomes an inescapable reminder of pain and pathos. It feels macabre, like a song out of tune or a waking nightmare--Halloween held over.  It's easy to feel like you have to put on a happy face when all you want to do is scream for it to stop.  Anguished bitterness has a catch-phrase:  "Bah Humbug." 

But there's another way.  At the core of a Christ-filled Christmas is a captivating word: 


God with us.

Somehow that simple thought wraps the pain in a blanket of peace like new-fallen snow.  The ground may be just as hard and unyielding, but everything is clean and beautiful again because we are not alone, or at least we don't have to be alone.   

Yet, at the end of that nightmare came a miracle:  God came to live with us.  God came to walk in our shoes by our side.  He didn't take the crisis away.  It was still a smelly stable.  They were still a long way from home and family--and it was going to get a lot worse before it got better.  Yet His presence was enough to make it all very different.  And just in case they had forgotten the enormity of what just happened, Joseph and Mary get a night-time wakeup call from an awe-struck crowd of shepherds that told of angel anthems and all of Heaven rejoicing.  Jesus told us:

"10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

The next time the enemy of your souls comes to steal your joy, kill your hope and destroy your holiday, remember again that you have a choice:  your pain can be faced alone or with the greatest gift ever given:  Immanuel. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Isaiah 10-14: God is love or God is wrath? Yes.

We hear a lot about how God is a God of love and that is the truth, but this kind of love extends far beyond just a feeling.  This is the kind of love that wants the best for the object of its affection.  It is a protective, compassionate, love that is driven for the growth and well-being of the ones that are loved.  This love will be as tough as it needs to be to get to what it must have, by its very nature.  This is a love of justice first and foremost, and a desire for those God created to become like Himself. 

That type of love will express itself in wrath.  It cannot be any other way.  That passion includes protection for the beloved and a demand for the right, even from His beloved.  We see it reflected in the passion of a momma bear--protective and unyielding, first to any attacker, but also in correcting her own.  In Isaiah 10, God shows his wrath against unfair judges and their treatment of the poor and oppressed.  In response, He sends Assyria as a tool to correct those judges, but their love of violence makes them the next target for His wrath.  Similarly, God chooses to use the Babylonians as a tool of correction for Israel's idolatry and injustice, but their cruelty does not go unpunished either. 

That's one of the reasons so many of these passages ultimately include promises of a Messiah that will execute God's justice rightly.  His wrath will be sure and final, but only toward those who abuse others and reject His leadership.  Peace cannot be had when men oppose an omnipotent God. 

If we measure our offenses by the scales that compare our sins to others, we might be able to get the scales to balance or come close but that's not the scales that will be used.  The wages (balancing punishment) for sin--any sin--is death.  His justice cannot abide the affront to His righteousness or the offense to His other children.  It is amazing that there is any rescue afforded at all. 

That's why chapter 12 is so profound.  He provides our salvation so that His anger can be satisfied, therefore:

    “I will praise you, O Lord!
You were angry with me, but not any more.
    Now you comfort me.
See, God has come to save me.
    I will trust in him and not be afraid."

Friday, August 2, 2013

Isaiah 5-9: God's expectations and the coming storm

These chapters look remarkably familiar.  Can you see our own headlines in these chapters?

A well tended vineyard that produces sour grapes...

Real estate investing and hoarding along with evictions of the poor resulting in mass vacancy...

Addictive drunkenness and partying...

The wise in their own eyes, declaring evil good and good evil...

The Lord, high and lifted up in His Glory and righteousness, showing us our corporate wickedness...

A calling to speak out to a doomed people...

A promise of rescue but no faith to receive the promise...

The people to be rescued gloating over their enemies downfall...

A national disaster in return for their gloating...

Conspiracy theories distracting God's people from worship...

Spiritism, mysticism and mediums sought, though God's word is readily available...

People arrogantly declaring their rebuilding will be better than their past...

Just last week we saw Solomon telling us that nothing is new under the sun--ain't that the truth.  There is always a chance to repent, but without God calling the hearts of the people, we have about as much hope as Israel and Judah had.  It's a pattern that has happened over and over again.
Still, God promised that if His own people will seek His face and turn from our wicked ways, He will respond and heal all of us. 

Does He have your attention yet?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Isaiah 1-4, Pride or Praise?

Isaiah kicks off the books of the prophets with a great overview.  God lays out his arguments against Israel (and against us) in stark detail (vs 11 and 17--He even says it twice). 

"Human pride will be humbled,
    and human arrogance will be brought down.
Only the Lord will be exalted
    on that day of judgment."

We have focused on our beauty, our festivals, our celebrations as a tool to glorify ourselves.  Our pride has led us to exalt flash and glitter, with only a side glance toward either God or justice for others.  Emotion and salesmanship lead the day.  We worship ourselves rather than Him and we hardly even realize we've done it.  God's reaction is absolute nausea.

The shift can be so subtle.  We believe he deserves our best so we pursue excellence in order to bring Him a gift that is suitable for His grandeur--rather than realizing that the best we can give on our own is no better than filth in His eyes.  Like a child bringing mud-pies to their parents, the gift may be acceptable in childhood, when offered in humility as the best we can offer.  When, as mature believers, we continue to hold up mud-pies and cow-patties made from our own resources as a meal fitting for a King, His disgust shouldn't come as a surprise. 

We have nothing of value of our own to give Him.  To hone our skills for our glory is the essence of pride.  That pride means that we seek for ourselves the praise and adoration of others that rightfully belongs to Him.  This withholds from Him the only thing of value we have to give--our own adoring hearts and the adoration of others.  Not only that, our self-focus robs us of the compassion needed to desire justice for others, multiplying our wrongs toward a God who expects us to be fighting with Him rather than against Him. 

Does that mean we offer Him sloppiness or lack of preparation?  Absolutely not.  However, in our pursuit of excellence, He is our leader, companion and guide, not merely the object of our gifts.  We cannot give anything to Him that He hasn't crafted within us.  We create at his side, using His tools and the gifts of the Spirit.  Far too often, I have used the tools of the enemy, like perfectionism and a critical, argumentative spirit, to try to fashion for God something that only exalts myself.  He is patient with my weakness, but there's still nothing good about anything that is created using those tools. 

Lord, I choose a spirit of Praise.  Thank You for exposing my pride.  Forgive me for the foolish and self-centered things I have tried to give you.  Bring me back to true worship of You only. 


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Nehemiah 13: Foreign wives...


This could be seen as a difficult passage.  The thought of all those wives being abandoned as a point of loyalty seems to go against all that God desires.  We know He hates divorce.  God stands up for the weak and victimized--especially women and children--and this passage stands in stark contrast to what we would normally expect, but there's more to this story than meets the eye. 

Had the women wanted to become a part of Israel, there were ceremonies to do so.  One noted example is Ruth, who was allowed and encouraged to marry Boaz even though she was from Moab (one of the nations mentioned in this passage).  In entreating Naomi to allow her to stay with her three times and vowing to take on Naomi's people and God, she was considered a Jewish proselyte.  It was rare but it could be done.  Any one of those women could have chosen to become an Israelite and there would have been no problem. 

Where the problem comes in is that these women willingly married Jewish men intentionally to drive a wedge between them and their nation and God.  The fact that the children couldn't even speak Hebrew, the language of the scripture, was further indication that these were not women who wanted to be a part of their husband's culture, but women who intended to keep their own gods, including detestable practices like child sacrifice and ritualistic prostitution. 

Mata Hari
A leading Levite giving the daughter of Tobiah to his son was pure treason. Tobiah fought for the downfall of Jerusalem throughout the entire 12 year rebuilding period to the point that the workers had to arm themselves during the work for their own protection.  This harkens back to the practices that Baalam recommended to Balak  to bring down the nation of Israel.  At Baalam's direction, Balak sent foreign women to tempt the Israelite men to idolatry as a strategy to get God to be mad at them and remove His blessing.  These marriages were not innocent.  They were a well-thought out infiltration with a long historical precedent.  It even involved the same nationality of people.  These marriages  were intentional acts of war.  In many ways, this is similar to the spy, Mata Hari, that was used in WWII to seduce Allied men, intending to steal their secrets.  The only difference is that these women were stealing the spiritual livelihood of the men of Israel from within their own homes.  This kind of treachery is far more diabolical. 

One of the wildest comparisons I've ever heard is between what Ezra the priest and Nehemiah the official did in response to finding out about the men of Judah marrying these foreign women. In response, Ezra tore his own robes. Nehemiah tore the robes of the offenders. It's a good balance. The priest went in repentance before God, identifying himself in intercession for the people of God. The government leader held people accountable for their treachery.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

II Kings 4-5: Three women of means...



There are three gals in these chapters.  They have little in common except that they have no idea how truly wealthy they are.
The prophet's widow comes to Elisha at the brink of catastrophe.  Her husband has died and her sons are to be sold as slaves to pay off their debt.  That will leave her with no means for her own needs and no heritage for her family.  Elisha asks her what she has, and it ain't much--a small cask of oil.  What she forgets is that she also has a large extended family of friends.  She also has a God who cares for widows and orphans in their distress.  The friends provide the jars; God provides the oil; the widow and her sons provide the labor.  Her needs are met both for the present and the future.  In the process, she begins to see all that God has provided rather than all she has lost.  She is truly wealthy.

The second woman is a gifted hostess.  Elisha and Gehazi stop by her home frequently to eat as they travel and she makes a point to prepare a permanent room for them.  She appears to have everything she needs including an overabundance that allows her to be generous.  When Elisha wants to give her something in return, she can't even think of something she needs.  It is Gehazi that points out the obvious--she has no children.  In her culture, she could have everything material she could ever want but without a child, she is still considered accursed and destitute.  When Elisha tells her this will change, we glimpse her heart.  She is content in her life and has reconciled herself to barrenness--but this is no joking matter.  It hurts to even consider the pain she has put aside so many years ago.  Within a year she does have a son and her hope is fulfilled.  Can you imagine the joy at his birth?  Can you imagine the potential for despair as he dies in her arms?  This time, she refuses to even speak the unspeakable!  Is her hope gone again too?  Her actions speak volumes.  Her son was a miracle to begin with so she goes to the source--she tells her husband all is well and refuses to speak to anyone but Elisha.  When she finally reaches him, she collapses at Elisha's feet and all of her pain and fears tumble out of her broken heart.  Elisha responds immediately and wrestles the boy's life from the very jaws of death, joyfully returning the promised son to his mom.  She may have been financially prosperous, but her true wealth was in the loyalty of her friend and pastor, her restraint and meager hope, and in the God who can give, take away and give back the most precious things in life. Her faith, though it is small, is what makes her wealthy beyond measure.

The third girl is just a child--a child who has been ripped from her homeland by forces beyond her control.  Israel has disobeyed God over and over and the outcome is defeat in warfare--and she is a casualty.  She has lost everything:  her family, her home, her way of life, all possessions, even her own dignity.  You would think that she might rejoice at the suffering of her master since she has suffered so much.  Her spirit is not so impoverished.  Though she has lost much, she has not lost her God and she knows what He can do, even for an uncircumcised Syrian warlord.  She has enough faith to point her mistress to the only place they can find hope.  As a result, her master is not only healed, but his heart is set apart as a worshipper of the only true God.  Notice that he admits to Elisha that his position obligates him to support others as they worship idols, but his heart is not there any longer.  The wealth of her faith overflowed and through an experience with a real God, her faith is imparted to her master.  This is wealth no one can take away. 

It is not circumstances or attitude that make us wealthy.  It is reliance on the infinite wealth of God's presence and power.  Though each of these women may have seemed impoverished to the world around them, their God made them wealthy in the only things that really count. 

What about you?  Do you see the circumstances that leave you unfulfilled or the God that provides for all of your needs according to His abundance?  What can you do today to overflow what God has given you into others?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Plenty of Hubris to go around: I Sam 28-31

This section seems like upside down day.  David is about to go to battle against Israel with the Philistines.  Saul, who has known the glory of God in prophecy, is going to see a medium.  Why would either one do something so out of character?

Saul is desperate.  He's facing a battle without God and without direction.  No matter how hard he looks for answers, none are forthcoming.  He's willing to go through banned channels to get any kind of insight he can find.  His pride has kept him from laying down the kingdom when God took it from him and now it's all falling apart.  Contrast that to Moses who told God that if He didn't go with them, they wouldn't go.  The answer Saul gets is not what he wanted, but probably wasn't all that surprising.  One side note:  Mediums and spiritists were banned by God for our protection.  Leaving yourself open to the spirit world outside of God's plan leaves you open to demonic influence and probably explains Saul's subsequent battlefield suicide. 

David also seems to be arrogantly attempting to prove his worth to his new king.  He seems to have abandoned the idea that he could ever be king himself and is working toward what he can achieve on his own.  God protects David from his own stupidity when the remainder of the Philistine commanders rightfully question David's loyalties.  David is sent home to find it burned to the ground and everyone gone, victims of Amekelite revenge over David's recent extra-curricular activities.  David's eagerness to prove his value left his family vulnerable to attack and his warriors weary from an unnecessary trek to a war he had no business being around.  They get their families and stuff back, but I'm sure it was traumatic for everyone. 

Unlike Saul, David acts rightly, rewarding not only the ones who rescued them but the ones who stayed behind.  He also remembers those that have supported him through his exile, sharing the plunder with them as well--especially since they had also been attacked by the Amekelite raiders too. He acts like a king, sharing the benefits of his success with all who will be under him. 

It's far too easy to seek instant gratification and forget what's really important, especially when you're tired and discouraged.  God can still make it right if we remain in a right relationship with Him, but desperation is a bad place to do anything from--better to wait on the Lord though all things fall apart than to move ahead without Him. 

How have you chosen short term gratification over what is really important?  Have you chosen work over family?  Have you chosen TV over prayer?  (Yes, I'm preaching to myself.)  God can make it right, but it's time to recognize those places and ask for His help. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Creeping Discouragement: I Sam 25-27

We're beginnning to see the signs of discouragement and fatigue in David. 

Just yesterday, we saw how he stubbornly refused to get offended over a mountain of real insults.  Now, in Chapter 25, he sets out to kill the entire household of one of Caleb's decendents over not getting invited to a party.  God sends a wise woman to rescue him from such stupidity, but it's clear he's getting jumpy.  One of the first signs of fatigue is a short temper.

He takes someone with him to scout out Saul's camp and has to keep them from killing the king.  Instead, he takes Saul's canteen and spear.  This time, David's tone is not so meek.  He insults Abner for not taking care of the king.  He questions whether God has sent Saul against him--I'll bet David is beginning to wonder.  He complains about being away from home and away from God's presence.  Complaining is the second sign of fatigue.

Saul tells him he can come home, but David doesn't trust him and for the first time doesn't appear to trust God to take care of him either.  Instead, he takes his entire group and settles in enemy territory.  They live there for 16 months, secretly expanding Israel's territory while lying to the Philistine king.  Self-reliance, double-speak and compromise are also signs of fatigue. 

God does still take care of him, but David's heart is not in a good place.  Many of the Psalms of lament are written during the time of his wanderings and exile.  I'm grateful for their frank descriptions of his fatigue and his continual return to the Father, regardless of how he feels.  Sometimes seasons of pain last longer than our hearts can hold out.  David's life demostrates that God is there with us even when we are no longer capable of making rational decisions.  Sometimes it is this discouragement itself that grows our intimacy with the Almighty.  He faces discouraging circumstances all the time.  When we bring our fatigue to Him, we can learn to relate to Him in a new way.

The acronym HALT has been used by AA to stand for life's most common triggers: hungry, angry, lonely or tired.  It's not a bad list.  Celebrate Recovery uses the acrostic HEART: when you check your heart you check to see if you are:
      R--Resentful or

If you notice that your heart is in any of those places, then it's time to stop and recharge, even if it's just for a few minutes with the Father.  It may not make the situation better, but it will give you the strength to move on and brings God's resources to help you where you've already given in or given up. 

What about you?  Are you showing any of these signs?  Is your Heart needing a recharge?  Take a cue from David--for that matter, read some of David's laments in Psalms.  God is not ashamed by our weaknesses and honored David when he frankly told God all of his sorrows.  Will he do less for you?

Monday, April 8, 2013

On the Run: I Sam 22-24

One of the true marks of humility and maturity is an unoffendable heart.  An unoffendable heart doesn't just make excuses for others when they are hurt.  It truly choose not to take up offense against those who unjustly hurt him.  Instead that person looks to God to make things right and looks forward, moving on.  David gives us a powerful example of this and God doesn't disappoint.

David had shown Saul sterling service and in return, the jealous Saul was chasing him down to kill him.  No offense allowed.

Jonathan loyally protected and encouraged him, but none of Saul's other men did.  His followers are the outcasts of the land.  He is glad to have any friends, even these.  He's not offended that his friends from the battlefield aren't there. No offense allowed.

David's family had always treated him with less than sterling respect.  He wasn't even invited to the coronation dinner that Samuel called.  His brothers made fun of him.  His parents used him for the lowest job in the household.  Yet, when David is on the run and his family is in jeopardy, he makes sure they are safe in a stronghold out of the country.  No offense allowed.

Saul kills the entire priesthood in return for their unwitting support of David and only Abithiar escapes.  In Israel, this is high treason against God.  If there were any time that David had a right to oppose Saul, this would have been it.  Instead, he just welcomes Abithiar into his little troop and moves on.  In return, it is David who is able to seek and hear from the Lord--not Saul.  No offense allowed.

David sees that Keliah is being looted by the Philistines.  He's not king yet.  He's on the run.  It could leave him vulnerable to come to their defense but he does it anyway.  Of course, no good deed goes unpunished, so when Saul sets out to capture him at Keliah, David seeks out God for his next move.  He doesn't get upset when God tells him that he will be turned over by the men of Keliah, he just moves on.  David not only isn't offended, he doesn't leave room for them to hurt him.  No offense allowed.

Jonathan finds him in the desert and encourages him.  He can't stay, but again, No offense allowed.

You would think Saul would get a clue when he comes within a mountain's distance of capturing David and is called away to fight the Philistines, but he doesn't.  As soon as the distraction is done, he's right back at chasing David.  No offense allowed.

David literally catches Saul with his pants down, but only takes the corner of his coat--and feels guilty about even that.  In this dialogue, David reveals the secret to his unoffendable heart.  He appeals to God as the judge between them.  It is above his paygrade to make things right when he is wrongly accused.  That's God's job.  No offense allowed.

As a result, Saul repents with tears over his insane chase, but David knows better than to come out of hiding.  He may have won that battle, but the war is far from over.  No offense allowed. 

What unjust battles are you fighting today?  Is there anywhere you can rely on God to make things right instead of defending yourself? 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A promise kept...Joshua 9-10

At first the trickery of the Gibeonites seems to be a serious failing on behalf of the Israelite leadership, and it probably was.  The Hivites were one of the tribal groups that God promised to remove from them.  Joshua and his leaders didn't consult the Lord before they made their covenant with them and so they were trapped by their own promise. 

Was this a good thing?  No.  The Gibeonites could have easily led Israel into sin and idolotry, and probably did some of the time.  Could God do good things through it?  Absolutely. 

This treaty provided a more obvious tilt in the region's power structures so Gibeon became the flash-point for an epic battle.  To their credit, despite complaints from the people, the leaders of Israel refused to go back on their word and God honored them for it.  After marching all night to defend their new allies, the Israelite army routed all five attacking armies.  Joshua even asked for additional daylight so that he could complete the task--and God answered.  There are historical records from around the world that confirm that God did, in fact, stop the movement of the earth.  The hail that was recorded in the same battle would have been a natural consequence of the earth standing still, like water sloshing out of a moving bowl that suddenly stops.  The kind of celestial even that would be required to stop the earth's spinning on its axis would also have to include a fairly large gravitational or magnetic object in close proximity to the earth, which would also explain the description that God hurled stones at them (a meteorite shower). 

Then in his first sweeping campaign that seems to have lasted less than a week, Joshua took a huge swath of the land God had promised them, right through the heart of the territory.  The Gibeonites kept their submissive attitude toward the Israelites throughout their history.  Later on in II Samuel, God confirms their position alongside Israel, but that is for another day.  Ps 15 tells us that a prerequisite for worshipping God is that we keep our promises, even when it hurts.  God honors our word because He keeps His own word. 

What promises have you kept?  What promises do you need to keep?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Choice, Authority or Frustration: Deut 28

Check out this series on Vimeo:
If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world.

But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today...The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me.

This was the agreement God had with the Israelites.  It doesn't explain why all good or bad things happen, but it really did happen exactly that way for the Israelites, at least all of the bad things. When they honored God, all of the blessings happened just like He described, and Solomon's reign showed the scope of God's ability to bless them. After the final seige of Jerusalem, where people did eat their children out of starvation, they were exiled back to Egypt where no one would even buy them as slaves (we'll see that later this year when we get to Jeremiah).

The thing that stands out to me is that His blessing comes with authority and His curse comes with confusion and frustration. Many of the individual blessings and cursings listed in this chapter happen at a corporate level, but I see them happening in my own life all the time. PJ's getting annoyed hearing the verse from Proverbs: "Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor." One of the first things you admit in Celebrate Recovery is that "My life is out of control and has become unmanageable." Disobedience (whether mine or others) puts lives out of control and leads to frustration and confusion. Obedience means relinquishing control to God and ultimately regaining real control under His authority.

Jesus was able to say that all authority under Heaven and earth had been given to Him because He was obedient, even obedient to death on the cross. Our authority is equally contingent on our obedience. That's important because we have no real power. Without God's authority, we won't have a chance--the enemy will eat our lunch. Once you choose obedience, your circumstances may not change immediately. You probably didn't get here overnight either. I can tell you that when you relinquish control to God through consistent obedience, He can eventually bring things back under your authority because you are under His authority.

So, where in your life do you feel out of control? Is there anything God can't do to bring that back under His control if you choose to let Him? (Yes, I'm preaching to myself too...)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Margins--Deut. 24-27


I don't know about you, but there have been times when it felt like my life had no margins.  I would work till I dropped.  I would fill up the plate and eat every bite.  I'd find one way was hard, but I'd go do it anyway.  I would take advantage of others in ways that were fair or within the rules, but just weren't right.  Mostly this came from my own fear or greed--I might miss out or not have enough. 

In these passages we see God directing his people to not just act justly, but to act generously with deep compassion for their kinsmen.  He is a God of abundance--He never has lack.  He is directing us to believe we are heirs to the same abundance and act with the same generosity.  The margins in our lives become the space where He cares for the needy. 

Besides, it takes so much more energy to gather in the last little bits and it really isn't worth it.  In traffic analysis, I can tell you that it's easy to figure out the timings for an intersection that has plenty of extra capacity--it might take half an hour or so.  When the intersection gets close to capacity, squeezing out that last 5% can take hours of adjusting the analysis.  In the same way, managing that last 5% of our time, energy and resources seems to take herculean effort.  Did God mean for us to fill every minute of our days with work and entertainment? 

As I write this, my sweet Katie has been laying on my chest like a cat sitting on the keyboard.  On most Saturday mornings, the TV would have been on and she would have been entranced by it.  Instead, in the quiet space of a less occupied morning, she came to pour out her heart of love for me and in turn receive the snuggle time she needs so badly too.  (And yes, I did put the computer down.)

She's calling again, so I need to go.  Have a great day...


Monday, February 25, 2013

Going over it again: Num. 28-29


Have you ever wondered if you were repeating yourself?  Have you realized you desperately needed to repeat yourself?  Maybe as you were walking out the door? 

Does it surprise you that Moses repeats God's instructions before he leaves? 

I've found myself getting irritated at re-reading the same sacrifice instructions over and over again.  One would think that once would be enough, but for important things, you repeat yourself.  In this case, God seems to think that it's important enough to repeat it so we read it again and they hear it again. 

It's a good thing.  I forget stuff.  I miss steps.  I forget details.  I need reminders. 

So read it again.  Remember how much we don't need to remember (Thank You Jesus!!!!).  Relesh the gravity of God's sacrifices for us and the patience He shows to our frailty. 

Got that?  I'm glad I don't need to repeat myself...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Changing of the guard: Num 26-27

"18 The Lord replied, “Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him. 19 Present him to Eleazar the priest before the whole community, and publicly commission him to lead the people. 20 Transfer some of your authority to him so the whole community of Israel will obey him."  Numbers 27:18-20

The community is ready to move into the Promised Land, but not without a change of leadership that reflects the changes that have happened in the wilderness.  The updated census shows only a minor reduction in the number of fighting men (603,550 at the start vs. 601,730 before entering the land).  Considering that 603,548 of those men have fallen in the desert, the Lord has been good to them.  The land is allocated based on the new census, but that leaves questions from those who have fallen.

The daughters of Zelophad become the first women land-owners, probably in all of history.  Orphans and widows would normally be destitute and unable to provide for themselves.  In the harsh conditions of early farming, men's labor was not easily replaced and tilling the soil was the work assigned Adam, not Eve.  Still, for the sake of the family's survival, women have always been willing to put their shoulder to the plow if necessary, maybe too willing--but that is a question for another day.  The family line must move on and if need be, it will move on with a clan of women. 
Moses also must pass out of the picture.  His disobedience means he will see the land but not enter it.  He is careful to make sure that the people have a leader and God picks one who has been by Moses' side and God's side continually since they left Egypt. 

It's interesting to me that the primary qualification God identifies for Joshua isn't his leadership skill, but the fact that he has the Spirit in him.  He doesn't appear to have the same relationship with God that Moses had, but then again, who did?  He will grow to be a great leader, though at the moment, I'm sure there are lots of questions in everyone's mind.  Succession is hard and Moses left really big, really humble shoes to fill.  No leader steps in right away with it all together.  God saw things in Joshua that may have been hard for others to see.  That's ok.  God doesn't call the equipped; He equips the ones He calls.  God picks someone He knows He can teach. 

Are you teachable?  (Am I??)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Specialist: Num 21-25

Disaster is looming. No one knows what to do. The boss calls in...the Specialist.

This is the guy who knows the story.  This is the guy who understands all the angles.  This is the amazing guy who understands everything the moment he walks on the scene and has the power to make it all right. 
There are people in every culture that have the reputation for having "the touch."  Balak thought he had his specialist when he called on Balaam.  The catastrophe that was coming was the approaching Israelite "hoard."  He had already seen what he thought they had done to the Amorites.  He didn't realize that God was the one who did it--and I'm not sure he cared.  He just wanted the problem dealt with. 

That's where Balaam came in.  He was a prophet who worked for money.  There wasn't anything intrinsically wrong with that as long as he couldn't be bought.  He worked as an agent for God Almighty (as we all should) and was good at it.  He knew God.  He could talk with Him for you and bless or curse as God allowed.  If you had a problem, he could go to God and get the right solution to fit your needs based on what God desired.  In an era when God didn't talk to everybody, that's a pretty nice resume'. 

Balaam's first answer to Balak was the right one...Take a hike.  I'm not sure why God eventually let Balaam go, but it was obvious He wasn't happy about it.  Either way, Balaam stayed true to His calling as prophet and only spoke what God told him to say.  The sun will rise in the morning, the sky is blue, and God will say what He pleases.  Balaam can't change any of that and he doesn't try. 

We find out in Revelations that Balaam does end up causing problems.  What he does is tell Balak to entice the Israelites with prostitutes and food sacrificed to idols.  As a result, the entire camp falls under a plague which is only stopped with violent deaths at Phineas' hand.  Later we find out that the Israelites take revenge on the Moabites for their intrigue and Balaam ends up as a casualty.  Seems like a tragedy to me. 

It's a lesson in integrity.  Balaam had the greatest gift possible but he honored the money he could get from his work more than the God who spoke through him.  His advice cost many people their lives and didn't save his client. 

Sounds like a fairly modern tale...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Leadership has its dangers too: Num 19-20

Yesterday we talked about the ways that God supports the leaders He uses and the way God sees  dissention.  That also means that god holds leaders accountable as well. 

Both Moses and Aaron face a grumbling crowd (again).  This time, at least the leadership team is on the same page--the are both before God praying for the people.  Like before, God gives instruction and they go out with God's plan--speak to the rock and it will give the water they all need.  The problem is that Moses has had it with them.  His anger gets the best of him and he hits the rock, not once, but twice.  God even gave him a chance to get control of himself, but he chooses disobedience. 

The penalty seems light in comparison to the penalties handed out earlier until you realize that Moses and Aaron will spend 42 years contending with these people and never get to experience what was promised.  They have seen all that God can do.  They are ready, but they are destined to die unfulfilled.  It will be all work and no reward.  God himself is their reward, but the disappointment must have really stung.  It's the same kind of disappointment that David must have felt when God wouldn't let him build the temple. 

As believers, our position before God is secure.  As leaders, our authority is backed by God.  What we can lose is the chance to enjoy the fruits of our own ministries.  Even Evan Roberts, the great revivalist in Wales, missed out on enjoying a long, fruitful ministry because he started taking leadership responsibility on his own shoulders rather than leaving it humbly in the Lord's hands.  He is the one who truly leads.  The best we can do is herd people in the direction He's going.  It's God's responsibility and direction that are important.  We can't provide that for the people. 

As a leader, even if it's just a leader in your own household, how do you make sure that you are leading others in the direction God desires and letting the responsibility for the results fall on God's shoulders? 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Not a democracy: Num 16-18

Armchair quarterbacks abound when people get uncomfortable.  Over and over again, the people demand to share power with Moses, not realizing this was not a topic for debate.  Moses handles this with great dignity and care.  He does not demand to be in charge, but he grieves that the people would challenge God's authority in the matter. 
It's easy to struggle with  leadership when circumstances don't go well.  When we are following a human leader in a human endeavor, that might be understandable (maybe), but when you are following God, it's not ok.  Challenging the leadership God selects for the work He does is the same as challenging God.  He picked the leader and He can be counted on to continue to direct that person.  That doesn't mean we don't humbly and graciously address the sins and character flaws that all leaders have, particularly if they are hurting people.  That means first going to his Boss in prayer, asking that He address the issue in our hearts and the leader's heart.  Jesus gave a process for dealing with these issues that involves much grace and mercy. 

This is even important for an intercessor as they pray.  Part of the leadership role is to go to God to get directions for where the group is supposed to go.  A good leader will consult his intercessory team, but should be confident enough in his own relationship with God to get that vision directly.  Once he has gotten it from God, then it is the intercessor's job to pray through that vision.  The intercessor can pray for the leader to have clarity in their vision.  The intercessor can pray for God's priorities to surface and for needs to be met by their group or by others, but it's not likely that God will send your vision to the leader--you aren't God.  It may be God Himself that is making you uncomfortable.  If you can't follow the vision the leader has set before you, then you can ask God to release you to go elsewhere, but you can't just cause trouble for the leader because you disagree.  That is what the enemy does. 

We'll talk about the responsibilities of a leader another day...It's coming up soon. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Trust or disobedience: Num 14-15

They have all seen my glorious presence and the miraculous signs I performed both in Egypt and in the wilderness, but again and again they have tested me by refusing to listen to my voice. Num 14:22

We saw earlier that God had been very patient with the Israelites as tehy left Egypt, but His patience is not without limits.  Moses again has to plead with God to spare their lives. 

Sounds like my own kids.  They understand my punishments more than my kindness.  They see a task ahead of them and believe they have to do it alone so they refuse.  They see the punishment for disobedience and they want to turn around and obey.  Unlike me, God doesn't change His mind just because they've changed theirs.  Their hearts really don't trust Him to do anything other than punish them.  Until they realize the love God has for them and the ways He has the power to make things happen, it will remain a continual tug-of-war.  These are not people you can take into battle and expect to follow orders wholeheartedly.

As they turn back to the wilderness, they fear their children will die there.  It is only they who will fall there, not their children.  Their children will have to wait until their own old age to inherit the land.  In time the company will move together in trust of the God who serves them, but not yet.  At the end of Chapter 15, God commands them to tie blue tassels to their clothing as a constant reminder to obey God's commands rather than follow their own desires.  I need those reminders too.  I don't always believe God will take care of me.  I'm getting better, but I'm still not there.

What do you use to remind you of God's goodness...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Stick Together: Num 12-13


One of the things God hates more than anything is dissention.  In Moses's family squabble over his new wife God defends Moses personally.  God doesn't defend Moses' decision to marry a second wife, but he does defend Moses' authority.  It was her disrespectful attitude that caught God's attention and rightfully so.  Miriam and Aaron don't trust Moses' judgment about the woman he had married.  He saw a woman worth redeeming.  They saw a cursed people-group (remember the sons of Noah?).  The whole camp has to wait a week for the lesson to set in.

Then when the spies go up to search out the land they find a land with amazing abundance but they happen across several of their old enemies.  We saw the Amekelites earlier when they attacked the camp at a weak moment.  The Anakim were decendents of demons and were truly giants physically.  Goliath was one example of their decendents.

Those with eyes to see the natural circumstances saw only the barriers.  Those with eyes to see what God had spoken about them, these were enemies that God had already determined would be destroyed.  God had already said He would wipe out even the memory of the Amekelites in return for their treachery.  The children of Anak should never have been born and couldn't be blessed by God.  God had been waiting for the sin of the Canaanites to reach its full measure because He had already given the land to the children of Israel.  Joshua and Caleb saw themselves as tools in God's hand to do what He had already decided to do.  God had already taken down mighty Egypt.  In comparison, these enemies should be a cake walk for God, but for the Israelites that had come out of a lifetime of fending for themselves in abject terror, the thought of facing a new set of potential captors was just too much. 

We spent last weekend at a conference called Created to Connect.  It was focused on helping children from hard places like orphans and foster children overcome their fears and learn to trust and heal from the traumas of their past.  Their behavioral issues all stem from the terrors of their past and the coping mechanisms they created to protect themselves.  Even adopted children born into their new family's arms are affected in utero by the fear and trauma the mother is experiencing.  It leaves an imprint of fear that can last a lifetime if it isn't gently, patiently addressed by a caregiver that can reteach trust. In the groups they lead to help teach trust, there are three rules: 
    Sideswipe pic of mother duck leading her ducklings. First pic she's stepping on to grating over storm drain, followed by her brood. Second pic she's across, she only has 1 duckling left and she's looking down the grating.
  1. Stick Together--no one gets left behind, left out or left behind
  2. No Hurts--there's been enough hurt, don't let more hurt come from within
  3. Have Fun--real learning happens most quickly in play.  It's how God designed us to learn
It's hard when a leader sees God's vision and his people can't see the way to get there.  That's when God takes a step back in His timing so that they can learn to trust Him.  Without that trust, they have no tools to obey with their whole hearts and things will go badly.  For those of us who are early acceptors and trust God well, it's hard to wait.  God loves both the bold and the timid.  He's not going to go forward knowing He's going to lose his children along the way.  In His profound compassion, He takes all the time they need, even if that means waiting for a funeral.  If you find yourself out of unity with your body (early or late) take time to see unity from God's perspective. 

So stick together...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Everyday Miracles: Num 8-9

Near the end of this passage is a description of something amazing.  The pillar of cloud and fire that God lived in stayed with the camp through their entire journey.  It lifted when they were to move and settled when they were to stay.  God Himself directed their journey every single day.  If anyone wondered whether they still had to obey God's commands, they could look out the front of their tent and see the pillar over the tabernacle.  There was no need to wonder where they had to go or what they had to do.  God directed them personally.  God gave them their roles and duties directly and provided them an immediate daily reminder that He was there and in charge. 

I wonder when it ceased to be a wonder...  When you see a miracle every day, does it become just an ordinary miracle?  Does it become like an image in a stained glass window--pretty to see but mundane?  Can you spend 25 years of your career working in the presence of an act of God and begin to see it as ordinary?  Probably. 

I say that because from an early age I was gifted with what others see as a special relationship with God.  I cannot remember a time in my life that I couldn't settle my heart, reach out to Him and speak with Him as a friend.  What would have been an unthinkable miracle even to the Israelites in the wilderness is a common occurance to me.  Granted, I can't live without Him.  If I forget to speak with Him, my life becomes barren and parched, like a dehydrated traveler adrift on an ocean with only salt water surrounding him.  Still, I can forget.  This intimate relationship with the Father is the birthright of all those who have been bought by His blood and sealed with His Holy Spirit. Yet it is easy to walk as if it isn't necessary to take advantage of the blessings He has so richly bestowed upon us.  He tells us that apart from Him we can do nothing and it is like the wind rustling in the tops of the trees.  We nod our heads and say, "That's nice..."  and move on as if nothing has happened.  I say "we" because I am just as guilty. 

The last few years, it has astounded me to talk with my son and hear him say, "But Mom, I can't hear Him like you do."  He has accepted Christ.  He is God's son, but he hasn't yet learned to hear God for himself.  I trust that God will do that for him when he is ready, but how often do I go on with my life and fail to seek God even though it is easy for me to find Him. 

This miraculous relationship was both a gift and a skill.  I have always heard Him but I have not always been able to distinguish Him from all the other voices coming at me, including the voice of my own heart.  I have studied the scriptures throughout my lifetime and that provides both balance for me and a wide vocabulary of scripture that God continually uses to speak into my life.  In the same way, for the Israelites, the cloud was a gift, but the following was a work.  Many of God's miraculous gifts are like that.  He does the miracle.  We work with Him in the natural things that we can do.  

Today, think about the miracles that God has given you.  Take time to worship Him for His miraculous activity in your life.  Don't miss out on the wonder just because they happen frequently.  Also think about the work you need to do to cultivate the power of that miracle in your own life. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Num 5-6: Purity

My daughter Katherine's name means purity. What came to mind when we named her was the sweet innocence of childhood. What we didn't realize was that purity also means undiluted: full strength, intense, potent, 200 proof; perfume, not toilet water.   Katie is more of the latter than the former and it is delightful. She is sweet and sometimes innocent, but more than anything, she throws herself fully into all that she does and is. 

God desires intense devotion to Him alone that embodies this kind of purity. 

Purity needed to extend to people's interactions with each other.  Any impurity of action required restitution of what was lost plus another 1/5th, regardless of whether the person was even still alive.  God is honest in His dealings and expects us to be pure in our dealings as well.  Cheating taints and dilutes our ability to do business to the Glory of God.

Purity in marriage has always been an issue and women were particularly vulnerable to a jealous husband's accusations.  The process for dealing with it leaves the result up to God to reveal, but even in the process, the wife must reaffirm that her devotion to her husband is pure--for her husband alone.

The ultimate commitment of purity in devotion was the Nazarite vow.  It showed singleminded devotion to God about all. Giving up the fruit of the vine symbolized rejection of the pleasures of this life.  Not cutting their hair symbolized rejecting the vanity of outward appearances.  Avoiding defilement from dead things shows that your life is bound up in the eternal God and even death has no power over you. 

There were two major Old Testament figures that held lifelong Nazarite vows: Samson and Samuel. Nothing can be given up to God without a powerful response from Him. Both men lived under tremendous power from the Holy Spirit.  As far as we can tell, Samuel kept this vow throughout his lifetime without interruption.  God honored his words, "letting none of them fall to the ground" and providing him with an intimacy that is rare in both Old and New Testaments.  Samson was to be a Nazarite from birth, but he showed contempt for the commitment required of his parents.  He drank and partied, which got him into trouble frequently.  He used the jawbone of a donkey to kill hundreds and ate honey out of a lion's caracass.  Eventually, when his hair was shaved off, the full vow was broken and the Holy Spirit left him without him even noticing.  As we saw a few chapters ago, it's better not to vow at all if you aren't serious about keeping it. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Numbers: Num 1-2

This is the book for accountants, and the first two chapters lead the way. Our God is a God of order and this section shows it clearly.

Before you can place a large group of people in a marching order, you need to understand how many people are in each group.  God may know that Himself, but He leaves it up to the people to count themselves.  He has a plan in mind, but for us to understand the plan, we need to understand the details that support the plan.  So Chapter 1 shows a census of all men over 20--all of those that can fight.  Then, in Chapter 2, He orders the camp in the shape of a cross and gives direction about how each division will move when they march.  Every group has its place and every group is in place. 

We talk about how God is orderly, but isn't it interesting that He expected them to order themselves.  He had a plan for how they were to be ordered, but it was the responsibility of each clan to make sure it was in the right place.  Again, this harkens back to Genesis 2 where God gave man authority over all the earth as His agent.  We order things according to God's plan, but it is we who work the plan.  That means that if my own house is disorderly, it's not God's fault.  It's mine.  He expects us to order our own lives consistently and with regularity. 

This is a place I struggle.  I live in my head and my thoughts are usually pretty orderly.  I also live in my home and it isn't.  I live within my days and I have come to realize that if I don't have a plan for those days from the beginning, then very little happens of any value.  Things change and flexibility is more often the rule than the exception, but if I fail to plan, I plan to fail.  Exercising dominion means creating order and ensuring that the order is maintained. 

What is it in your life that you have yet to take dominion over?  (Excuse me, I have to go clean...)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Keeping promises: Lev 26-27

There's basically two major topics for this week.  I'm going to skip over the blessings and cursings in Lev. 26.  We'll see it again.  For the moment, suffice it to say that all of what is predicted in this chapter actually happened in beautiful and gory detail. 

When I read through Lev. 27, the question occured to me that if God was going to be so serious about what we voluntarily vow to give Him, then why would someone vow anything to God at all?  We've all been in situations where we have tried to bargain with God.  It's a losing prospect and reveals a tragic distrust of Him.  We don't believe God is good enough to care for us just because we asked.  Somehow we must twist His arm and offer Him something special so He will do what He already wants to do.  God is so much bigger and better than that. 

Still, there are hints that God does hear and respond to our "bargaining," but not because we hold any power over Him.  Ps. 50:23 tells us: "He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God."   Our thanksgiving rightfully honors God and prepares us to see and recognize the salvation that He has already planned.  If we can't recognize His salvation, we can't receive it from His hands.  It may be there the whole time but we remain incapable of enjoying it. 

In that light, skimping on the offerings we've promised Him out of our desperation shows a lack of gratitude for what He has done and makes us less prepared to recognize and receive the salvation He has prepared for us next time.  We forget our gratitude and promises so quickly.  It's a matter of character that we need to keep our promises to God.  God has no need to lie or go back on His promises--is He going to run out of stuff to give?  Because of His protection and provision, we don't need to back out either so He makes sure we learn to keep our promises too.  It's part of trusting Him to be there with us the next time.

What have you promised God?  Do you need to go back and make it right?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

God as Manager: Lev 24-25

As a community planner, I've often wondered what it would look like for God to order and manage a country.  This is what we see in these chapters:

Ownership:  The key to God's management style is in Lev. 25:23:  “The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me."  Since all land was owned by God and allotted to tribes, land couldn't be sold as if it belonged to the people.  It doesn't.  "Selling" property was actually a limited term lease and the cost of the lease had to be tied to the amount of time remaining until the Jubilee year.  The Israelites themselves were also owned by God and therefore couldn't be sold.  They could only be hired for a specific period of time.  The only exception was land within a walled city.  Later, after the captivity, people were assigned to cities by lottery and generally had land that was allotted to them by God elsewhere.  That land was not specific to any tribe (other than the Levitical cities which couldn't be sold at all). 

Patriotism:  God is the chief identity of the country.  Blaspheming Him carries a death sentence.  He warned them ahead of time.  His name is sacred and they treated it as sacred (at least from then on).

Principles:  Fairness is the primary guiding principle for all rules.  Losses must be restored or have an equivalent punishment. 

Management:  The beginning of ch. 24 shows part of the payments obligated to the Lord.  The bread is left for God but it is the priests that get to eat it--similar to taxes.  The priests are God's representatives to the community, just as government workers are representatives of their agency and ultimately their government.  The taxes paid support the management of the community.  (Puts a new spin on government work.)

Agricultural Management Principles:  In the south we discovered that crop rotation was absolutely necessary.  Without changing the crops, the nutrients in the soil would become depleted and later crops would yield less each year.  God understood this and incorporated it into the management plan for the land.  The 6th year's crops would provide for the people through the 9th year, but the 7th year, the land was not to be cultivated.  Wild plants would intersperse with the leftovers from previous years and renew the soil.  This principle was so important that after 490 years without sabbath rests, God required that the people be removed from the land so it could have its rest--70 years worth in Babylon.  Those in Babylon experienced great success and heartache.  Those in Israel were tormented and unsuccessful.  God made sure the land got its rest.  It makes me wonder since it's been over 60 years since Israel has been reinstated and it still hasn't had any rest years. 

God's management of the land shows great wisdom (no surprise).  What of His principles can you incorporate into your lives?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Lev 23--Taking a gratitude break...

This morning, I had a great text conversation with a friend that's really struggling with several recovery issues, (not that different than myself).

The root of my own codependency/idolotry was the realization as a teenager that God wasn't enough.  The problem with that realization was that it was only a half truth.  God wasn't enough because I didn't have enough of Him and He didn't have enough of me.  It's like learning a new language.  The kids that give themselves over to immerse themselves in the new culture have no trouble at all.  The adults who have "better" things to do struggle with grammar and never really become fluent. 

Jesus told us that He was the vine and we are the branches--apart from Him we can do nothing.  That sounds like immersion is needed.  We can't just come and go.  It has to be an ongoing part of our lives.  That's one of the reasons God established the festivals at regular intervals throughout the year.  Basically every seven weeks God established a festival to refocus their lives in a big way back on God and all He has done.  There were daily remembrances as well, but everything stopped about every 50 days for a God focused festival.  Those times of worship helped them stop to say thanks and worship Him for all He has done. 

That's one of the reasons Hebrews talks about Jesus being our sabbath rest.  We have the treasure of His Spirit within us so we can do better than taking breaks every 50 days.  We get to enjoy Him every day, all day.  Taking those opportunities consistently keeps the allure of idols from being attractive.  Failing to take them leaves us vulnerable--we seek to get our legitimate needs met by something other than Him--which is the core of idolotry. 

Take time to celebrate Him today.  He's worth it. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

I Am the Lord who makes you holy--Lev 20-22

Last night, the Lord woke me up with this word from Him about this passage. I hope it is an encouragement to you.

"I Am the One who makes you holy, sets you apart to Myself, does the hard work of holiness.  I commanded you to be holy as I Am.  I know you need this.  I also know you can't do it.  Lest your heart become discouraged, I remind you that I Am the One who makes you holy.  I Am the One who justifies.  I Am the One who gives you a new name and makes you a new creation.  I Am the One who changes your deepest desires to run hard after Me.  I Am the One who gives you the courage and wisdom to choose to do right because your frame needs it.  I am not setting before you an impossible task to be accomplished on your own.  It would be impossible if you had to do it in your own fallen, twisted strength.  I Am setting before you life to the full and enabling you to choose it.  Be at peace.  This is My work in you.  I Am the God who makes you holy."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Be Holy: Lev 16-19

"The Lord also said to Moses, 2 “Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy."  Lev 19:1-2

If a man had said this, it would have been arrogant and less than compassionate.  If we see God as just like one of us, it can feel that way coming from Him too.  When you look at the rules he lays down in these two chapters, you get an entirely different picture. 

The sexual immorality depicted in Lev. 18 is the reason why the land is vomiting out the people from the place they're about to go.  Besides, there's all kinds of implications for the redneck stupidity listed in that chapter--implications for which they have examples.  Is it a good thing to marry both sisters?  Jacob didn't fare too well with it.  Your family tree should have forks.  

The stuff in Chapter 19 seems pretty obvious to us, with few exceptions, but no one had ever said these things before.  Most of these are just a matter of treating each other with kindness and compassion. 

God's instructions to us are for our good.  His encouragement to be Holy like He is Holy is for our good, because doing otherwise will get us or someone else hurt.  He knows His lifestyle is best, not for Him--He doesn't need anything.  It's best for us.  We are fragile and need to treat ourselves and each other gently.    

Even the regulations for the day of atonement and for sacrificing only at the front of the tabernacle are intended to protect His people.  After the problem with Aaron's sons, God made the rules for atonement more explicit and even required that all others be outside of the tabernacle when the High Priest went in to make atonement.  And to keep the community from idolotry, all sacrifices were required to be performed at the entrance to the Tabernacle.  That way if they were doing something wrong that might offend God, they could be taught how to do it well. 

Jesus ultimately gives the same instructions and again, it is for our good and His glory--both things we want. 

Be holy...It's good for you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Heathcare: Lev. 11-15

Our culture tries to see a separation between the physical and the spiritual that just isn't there.  If you ever doubted that your physical being impacts your spiritual well-being, then this passage is for you.  God ties the physical cleanliness to spiritual cleanliness and in so doing, he protected his people from disease, poor health, and environmentally based sicknesses of all kinds. 

God charged the Levites with all of the major healthcare issues for the community as both the health department and doctor, in an era without any refrigeration.  God had promised the people before they reached Sinai that if they would follow Him, he would not allow any of the diseases of the Egyptians to fall on them.  This is how.  Long before Louis Pasteur or Jonas Salk, God described how to deal with infectious illness.  Before Dr. Oz, He was telling His people what was healthy to eat and what wasn't. 

Eventually, the priesthood took things too far, but God's intention was that his people would be healthy, live long lives and have strong children.  Since our bodies and minds are intimately related, His care for our bodies overflows into care for our minds and spirits.  He leaves no details unaddressed.  This is not surprising when you consider who He is.  Since He made us, He should know best what it takes for us to live. 

We are no longer bound by the law, but by Christ.  However, understanding why these rules were put in place can go a long way toward maintaining a body, mind and spirit that can honor Him. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Careful...Lev 10

What a tragedy on so many levels.  There were several issues at hand here.

First, Nadab and Abihu didn't take the coals from the altar that had been lit by the fire of God's presence.  They just took ordinary coals with ordinary fire. 

Second, they didn't have the right to offer up incense before God at all.  It was Aaron's job as the High Priest. 

There's also a hint that they may have been drunk when they did it. 

Incense is pictured as the prayers of the saints and provides a cautionary tale for us as well.  If we try to offer up prayers that are fired by our own desires rather than lit by the desires of Heaven, we are also bringing strange fire and God has a right to be upset with us.  The fragrance may be right, but the motivation is wrong and God can't honor it. 

The second caution is the issue of whether we bring our  prayers to God through our own High Priest, Jesus, or try to bring it to Him by ourselves without the benefit of His cleansing, interceding power.  We know that those who come to God without Christ will be consumed, just as Nadab and Abihu were.  Jesus taught his disciples to ask the Father, but it was only because they had already been with Jesus and were asking in Jesus' name (in line with his attitude, desires and authority).  Since Christians are covered by Christ's blood, we can boldly approach the throne of Grace and the Father who sits upon it.  Without recieving Christ's sacrifice for ourselves, we would be consumed as well. 

Have you recieved the covering of Christ's blood for your sin?  Have you sought the Father's heart so that your prayers are lit by the fires of His desire or you just asking for what you want? 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Leadership Responsibility: Lev 7-9

This was a hard lesson for me earlier this year.  What we see in this passage is that before leaders can usher the people into the presence of God, they have to be there themselves.  The ordination sacrifices are elaborate and require lots of work to cover over their sin and make them holy.  Not only that, the priests must remain at the tabernacle day and night for 7 days and do anything that the Lord tells them to do during that time. 

The work is worth it.  When the sacrifice for the people was laid before the Father the Glory of God came out from the temple and consumed the sacrifice and all the people cried out in joy.  Wouldn't you!?!

This is an immutable principle in ministering God's life to others.  Before we have anything to give of any worth to those we serve, we have to be clean before the Father and recieve His power and glory for ourselves.  Within ourselves, we don't have anything of value to give. 

If you think this doesn't apply to you, then think again.  All of us who are covered by the blood of Christ are a part of His body.  We all minister to each other and our contribution will be missed if we aren't adequately prepared.  If we try to give from what we naturally have, we will quickly run dry and give out of need rather than out of overflow.  That's codependency and it ruins the giver and gift. 

What do you do to prepare your own heart to minister to the people in your life?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The seriousness of Sin: Lev. 4-6

"Don't touch that!"  "Is that really what happened?"  "You didn't really promise THAT, did you?"

Oh the joys of parenting...

Some days it feels like it's one unending nag session.  The problem is that these things really are a problem.  God calls each of these daily annoyances sin and requires a sacrifice of his people to atone for it.  They might be unintentional sins, but they're still sin.  Then there's cheating.  That's not just sin, that's injury to others.  That means you have to pay back what you stole and 20% more and then you can work on atonement.  (I need to work on teaching that to my kids).

The atonement is a big deal too and the more important you become the more significant the atonement must be.  I don't know that we take sin as seriously as God does.  Breaking God's laws resulted in a significant personal loss.  That might explain why the Priest and the Levite passed by the guy in the story of the good Samaritan.  If he was dead, it was going to be a pain in the neck to get clean again--no excuse, but it sheds some light on it. 

The sacrificial system is gone, but each of our sins--each time we miss the mark--those sins were laid on Christ during His crucifixion.  When we really "get it" we begin to see how amazing grace truly is.  This helps us when we go to forgive someone too.  We don't blow off their sin against us.  It was serious enough that Christ died for it and that sin will either be covered by the blood of Christ's sacrifice or will be judged for eternity.  Additional punishment by us is not necessary.  We can let it go and let God deal with sin.  He's really the only one who has a right.

As for training, that never ends.  Back to parenting...

Friday, February 1, 2013

Details matter: Lev 1-3

Details, details...It might be easy to get bogged down in all these regulations.  Several of these sections are basically procedural rulebooks.  Because we're talking about a real God who has preferences of His own, we can't just do what we think is right.  When we face the judgement seat, it will not be a mirror.  Here are a few things that stood out to me:
  • No yeast.  Leavening is that which puffs-up.  God desires that we be real with Him.  We don't need to take the time and energy to put on a show.  We do need to take the time to prepare our hearts and our sacrifices, but not just to make them look better. 
  • Always salt.  Jesus said we are the salt of the earth.  Salt preserves and brings out the real flavors of food.  We need to gently preserve and encourage those around us as well--bringing out who they are, not drawing attention to ourselves.
  • First fruits.  Always bring God the first and best.  That's what He will use to multiply back to us (do you want more of the crappy stuff?).  He is a great God who gives us all good things and deserves our best.
  • The fat belongs to the Lord.  (Sounds like a diet, doesn't it?)  Fat is where the flavor is.  The flavor of our lives is to be a pleasing aroma to the Father. 
  • Blood is not for eating.  Something else's life is not for your consumption.  You have been granted life from the Father and He holds it sacred.  Hold other life as sacred as well. 
For the most part, the sacrifices were shared between the altar, the giver and the priests.  Eating before the Father was a form of worship. 

What did you see in the passage?  When was the last time you worshiped the Father through your eating?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Vanity or Worship? Ex 38-40


I know it's a small thing, but look at Ex 38:8:
They made the bronze basin and its bronze stand from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.

Mirrors...a symbol of our vanity...for women, it is proof that our identity is still tied to our beauty...

So what does it mean when the women who serve at the entrance to the temple gladly give up their mirrors to create a huge wash-basin? 

It means they are clean and their identity is wrapped up in their God, not their own glory.  It means that generations of children will learn to identify a beautiful woman by the character of her service and worship rather than the color of her eyes or hair.  It means that the hearts of the moms and grandmothers are personally invested in following this God, wherever He goes. 

To God, it means everything.  At the end of Chapter 40, we see God fill the tabernacle with His Glory to the extent that even Moses cannot enter.  We see that the Angel that God is sending to lead them is none other than Himself. 

God dwells with us when we choose real worship over self-worship.  The exchange is worth it.