Friday, April 30, 2010

1 Kings 5-7: Building the Temple

I'm just going to say it. Reading about the details of building the temple wasn't terribly inspirational.

Still, I believe these words are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and I believe that the Lord led Solomon as he planned and carried out the building of the temple, so I read carefully. I am struck by a few things:

Solomon values and respects Hiram, the king of Tyre. His letter speaks to the value of diplomacy, paying decent wages, treating neighboring countries with respect.

Men used their abilities, whether artistry or building acumen, to direct glory to God.

Beauty and art direct us toward God. The ornate gold pieces may not be my taste, but in that culture, they spoke to the richness of God. His power. His holiness. His magnificent glory.

I can hardly fathom that radiant glory. Because of Christ, we can approach the throne of God boldly. Sadly, familiarity often means that we lose a sense of that privilege. Our God is an awesome God--and we should approach him with awe.

Next, I can't help but remember that this temple, designed and built with care, was temporary. Nothing remains of this temple.

Ultimately the temple is only a symbol. It spoke to the people of the nature of God. I'm grateful that God uses metaphors and stories and artwork to give us glimpses of who he is, because without them.

And "the Most High does not dwell in houses made of human hands." (Acts 7:48)

Finally, whenever I read about Solomon, his wisdom, his devotion to God, I recall that somewhere along the way, he got distracted from serving God.

All God's promises to him were conditional--

Over and over, God says to Solomon: ". . . if you walk in my ways . . ."
Even Solomon, in all his wisdom, couldn't do that.

No matter what we've done for God in the past, no matter how we've worshiped him in the past, no matter how we've loved him in the past, he is interested in our devotion to him today.

And so today, I'm considering that. Am I truly devoted to my Lord? Am I in awe of his holiness? Am I putting him first in my life? Am I really walking in his ways?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

1 Kings 3-4: A Really, Really Smart Guy

I always knew Solomon was the wisest king that ever lived. When I was little, I had a Children's Picture Bible, and one of my favorite stories was about the two women and the baby and how Solomon knew which one was the mother. (Of course the Children's Bible didn't describe the women as prostitutes.) I remember the look of the anguished mother as the other woman rationally suggested that Solomon should cut the baby in half so that they could share the baby.

I wondered how he got that smart, that wise, that he knew those things.

He was smarter than anyone else in the land, and he ruled wisely, and the people lived in peace and prosperity. Every day "they ate, they drank, and they were happy" (4:20).

I didn't realize until this morning, but Solomon was apparently the original renaissance man. He spoke three thousand proverbs, wrote songs, studied botany, and taught zoology. So he didn't just have random wisdom, which is totally cool, but he also wanted to learn, to add to knowledge, and to discover new things. Nice.

When God gave wisdom to Solomon, he basically baptized him in it.

And it's important to remember that Solomon is not wise because he's a super smart guy--his wisdom is a gift from God. The wealth of the kingdom is a gift from God. The peace and prosperity of the people in Israel and Judah is a gift from God.

Solomon can't--or at least shouldn't--take any credit of his own.

And so in these two chapters, we see Israel in its golden age. Promises fulfilled. Life is good. And they lived happily ever after. (Why can't we live like that?)

Oops. (Spoiler alert.) That's not quite the ending.

No matter how good we're doing, financially, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, we must keep our eyes on the Lord, we must worship God and serve him, we must spend time in God's word. When Solomon, the wisest man in the world, ceased to put the Lord God first, he tumbled just like anyone else, and his sin led to all kinds of problems for the people.

Not one of us are so spiritually grounded that we can't be shaken.

"We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away." (Hebrews 2:1)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

1 Kings 1-2: Following God, Following Man

It's a little weird to jump from Joshua, where the people pledge allegiance to God and promise to serve him and him alone, to 1 Kings and the political intrigue between King David's brothers. There's plenty of politics in our world, but generally speaking political leaders in the United States don't kill each other. At least I don't think so.

Long story short, once Joshua died, the people turned their backs on God despite their promises to serve him.

See, they followed God by following Joshua. And once Joshua was gone, they didn't know how to follow God on their own.

Eventually, they begged God for a king, so they could be like other nations, so they could have a leader to follow. And God gave them what they wanted--with a stern warning. (You can check it out in 1 Samuel 8:4-21.)

The thing was, not all the kings followed the one true God, and whenever the king walked away from God, the people suffered.

1 Kings tells the story of the Kingdom of Israel after the death of David, the lure of idols, and God's love and compassion.

Of note, books like 1 Kings remind me to keep my eyes on God and not on man. I have tremendous spiritual leaders in my life, but none of them are perfect.

You can get some background about the book of 1 Kings at this link:

Joshua 22-24: The Choice

I have a tendency to skim over these types of passages, the ones that basically repeat the events recorded in previous chapters. In my defense, it's not like they tell me anything new.

However, they do give us a pattern to follow.

Joshua gathers the people together, and he begins to recall the past. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Egypt and slavery. Moses and the Exodus. Balaam and Balak. And battles. God demonstrated his love for the people over and over, through acts of deliverance, through acts of provision.

The point is to remember. Because they are prone to amnesia.
As are we.

That's why I journal. The written word reminds me of God's goodness.

That's why I crave spiritual community. These people of God remind me what God has done in the past, what God has called me to.

That's why I go to church on Sunday mornings. Gathering together with God's people to worship and learn challenges me to remember God's truths.

Like the people of Israel, we need to take time to remember. It's a choice really, because sometimes it's easier to keep moving than to stop and take note of the past.

At the end of the remembering, Joshua issues a challenge. He says, "Worship the Lord and serve him faithfully. Throw away anything that distracts you from worshiping the one and only God." (24:14, Erin's paraphrase)

"Choose," he says.
But as for me and my household, we will choose the Lord.

They people answer quickly.
"Of course we choose God," they say. "He's been so good to us, so of course we choose him."

Joshua challenges them again because he knows this has to be a conscious, deliberate, daily choice. And it's not always easy.

He says, "You are not able to serve God. He's holy. Are you willing to surrender to his purposes? To put away your idols, the things that you place before him? Do you REALLY choose the one true God?"

And so today I am asking the same question of myself. And, like the people, I answer quickly. "Of course I choose God. He's been so good to me."

But do I REALLY choose God? What idols have I accumulated in my life, things that I put ahead of God's purposes? What do I need to throw away?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Joshua 19-21: Every Promise Fulfilled

"The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of the Lord's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled."

If the Bible stopped with Joshua 21, we would think the people all lived happily ever after.

And if we hadn't read Genesis through Joshua, we would think the process entering into God's rest and fulfilled promises was easy. But we know it's all so much more complicated than that.

And so it is in our own lives. With our children. With our marriages. With our careers. With our ministries.

We move forward in life without guarantees, hoping or believing or trusting that God's promises are true, not knowing what will happen next. Is there another plague? Another battle?

Illness? Layoffs? Rebellion?
Will the people in our lives let us down? Disappoint us? Betray us?

If the people had returned to Egypt, they never would have seen what God had planned for them. If we fail to obey God's call to move forward boldly, we won't see God's victories, we will never enter into that rest.

And we will miss the adventures God has planned after that rest.
And so I am learning to move.

Joshua 16-18: The Inheritance

in·her·it·ance   [in-her-i-tuhns] Show IPA
1. something that is or may be inherited; property passing at the owner's death to the heir or those entitled to succeed; legacy.
2. the genetic characters transmitted from parent to offspring, taken collectively.
3. something, as a quality, characteristic, or other immaterial possession, received from progenitors or predecessors as if by succession: an inheritance of family pride.
4. the act or fact of inheriting by succession, as if by succession, or genetically: to receive property by inheritance.
5. portion; birthright; heritage: Absolute rule was considered the inheritance of kings.

I think of an inheritance as automatic. Someone dies, and it's yours. Or they hand it to you. Anyway, it's not something you work for.

But in Joshua, it's not exactly that way. The people actually fight battles to seize the inheritance. Well, technically, God wins the battles for them, but they definitely have to be obedient and follow him into battle. Until they do that, the inheritance has no benefit for the people, only potential benefit.

And I started thinking, every one of us is given an inheritance from the Lord. Our talents, our salvation, our spiritual gifts--they only hold potential benefits unless we discipline ourselves and follow God into battle.

I've wanted to write my whole life, but unless I actually do it, take risks, go into battle, so-to-speak (and many times writing is a battle), any benefit is only potential.

So, I guess the question, do we have the courage to step forward, to take risks, to develop skills, to follow God into battle, in order to seize our inheritance?

Joshua 13-15: Fifty Years Old!

"When Joshua was old and well advanced in years, the Lord said to him, 'You are very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.'"

This is the passage I read on my birthday, the day I turned fifty. (Rather significant, I think.) Not that fifty is old or anything, but it's safe to say that, unless I live to be over one hundred, more than half my life has passed. And while I'm not afraid of death, that's just an odd thought.

So I love that Joshua is old, and God still has more plans for him.

See, age doesn't matter with God.
He just wants us to be willing to listen and obey.

Yes, I am fifty years old, and God has more plans for me. There are "still very large areas of land to be taken over."

So the question isn't how old am I, or how old are you, but are we willing to be part of God's plans to move forward?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Joshua 11-12: Where's the Love?

It's hard to understand all the death and dying in some of these Old Testament books.

10:37 They took the city and put it to the sword, together with its king, its villages and everyone in it. They left no survivors. Just as at Eglon, they totally destroyed it and everyone in it.

10:39 They left no survivors.

10:40 He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of all Israel, had commanded.

11:8 . . . until no survivors were left

11:11 Everyone in it they put to the sword. They totally destroyed them, not sparing anything that breathed . . .

That's a lot of dead people. Isn't God a God of compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love?

I'm trying to get my head around this, and here's what I've got so far.
In the beginning, Adam and Eve rebelled against God and his laws.
God punished them, but maintained his relationship with them.

Over time, over generations, the relationship faded, and the people's rebellion increased. God is holy, and he decided to put an end to all of it. His compassion reached to Noah, who found favor in the sight of the Lord. He delivered Noah and his family from the floods that destroyed the rest of the earth.

All of these people, whether from Abraham's line or not, are descendants of Noah.
The rebellion has grown.

All these people, including the people of Israel, deserve God's wrath.
But God shows his compassion, his love, through Israel.
He calls them to live a holy life.

And when the time is ripe, he will bring a deliverer for all the nations, through Israel. (Jesus)

Sometimes they do, and then he blesses them.
Sometimes they don't, and then he punishes them.

Sometimes men or women from other nations choose to follow the holy God of Israel. Think Rahab, in Joshua 2. And when they do, God shows his compassion to them as well.

I've been sitting here trying to think of a way to close this post. I really want to figure this thing out, but the thing is, none of us deserve compassion. In fact, Ephesians 2 tells us that we were all objects of God's wrath until Jesus delivered us, by grace through faith that came through God. Romans 5 tells us that God shows his love by sending Jesus to die while we are still sinners.

Basically, it seems like both Israel and the people in the land have rebelled against God, but God chose to reveal himself to Israel and offer them an opportunity to serve him, to be a part of his plan to redeem the whole world.

For God so loved the world that he sent his only son into the world to save the world. (John 3:16)

Okay. That's all I've got.

Joshua 9-10: It seemed like a good idea at the time . . .

Things are looking pretty good for Joshua and the people.

The river crossing built faith.
They walked around Jericho.
The walls fell in, and the men were able to go in and take the city.

They're feeling pretty good about God--and themselves.
It's almost like they can't lose.

And so here come these tired, worn-out travelers to honor them, to beg for a treaty. There doesn't seem to be any reason not to make a treaty with them.
And so they shake hands.

But they don't "inquire of the Lord."

The thing is, God knew things Joshua and the people didn't know. God knew the travelers were lying, that they actually lived nearby. God knew, and they didn't. And if they had only asked God for his advice, they could have saved themselves some trouble down the road.

Sigh. How many times have I done the same thing? Something seems like a good idea, but I don't seek counsel, from God or from godly people, who know things I don't know. (I know that part's not in the passage, but I'm adding it because sometimes God speaks to us through godly people who have gone before us.)

God delivered Joshua and the people from their error, once again demonstrating that their victories were HIS victories. They're just along for the ride.

Lately I've been forgetting that truth. I started the teaching semester asking God for wisdom every single day. And then I got comfortable and stopped asking. Yesterday he reminded me to ask. I need God. I need God when I'm teaching, when I'm writing, when I'm in class, when I'm at work, when I'm with my family.

My victories are God's victories.
I want to rely on his wisdom and not my own.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Joshua 5-8: Worship First

Sunday school teachers love the Jericho march story. I remember reenacting it in more than one class. And then there's the old spiritual. And the Veggie Tales movie. It's a great story.

It's all very improbable. March around the city one time per day for six days, and then on the seventh day, march around seven times with the priests blowing trumpets. When you're done, listen for the one long blast, and then shout really loud and the city walls will fall down.

Sometimes God asks us to do crazy-sounding things.

He wants us to trust him.
He wants us to see his power and his glory and his ability to do the impossible.

He is holy, and he wants us to worship him.

Check out chapter 5, verses 13-15. The people celebrate Passover, remembering what God has already done, and Joshua goes out for a walk. The Bible doesn't tell us what he is doing, but whatever his purpose, I'm guessing his mind is at work. We're near Jericho . . . what's next?

He looks up and sees a man with a sword and asks the man, "Are you for us or against us?"

Neither, the man says, "I'm the commander of the Lord's army."
Joshua falls on his face in reverence, and asks what message God has for him.

"Only this," says the man, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy."

Set apart for God's purposes.

Great battles, great battles won by God under improbable circumstances, start with recognizing God's power, his glory, his holiness.

Joshua 3-4: Faith and Floods and Remembering

Wouldn't it be lovely if God provided detailed, individualized maps for our spiritual journeys?

I want to know an approximate arrival time.
I want to anticipate detours and delays.
I don't like surprises, and I don't like not knowing.

Knowing what to expect helps me to feel safe.
And so I gather as much information as possible for every situation, I create alternative scenarios, and I problem solve for each one.
And then I move forward.

Fact-finding and problem-solving are useful skills, and I truly do believe God gave me these abilities.

Moses sent the spies into the Promised Land to get a good sense of what the people would be walking into. Joshua did the same thing.

Once the fact-finding is done, however, they still had to step forward, not knowing what would happen next, and they had to trust God to do what they couldn't do, to see what they couldn't see.

Case in point. The Jordan River.
In order to obey God, to move into the Promised Land, they need to get from one side of the river to the other. Except for Joshua and Caleb, none of these people were around when God parted the Red Sea. I expect they had heard stories, but hearing stories is not the same as experiencing God's power firsthand.

To complicate the matter, the river is at flood level. There's no way they can get across without God's help.

I try to picture what it's like to stand at the side of the river, wondering what will happen next.

Maybe Joshua will raise his staff over the water, and God will part the waters so they can walk safely across. God's done it before. At lease that's what people say.

Will they wait until the waters subside? Will God abandon them at the banks? Will they walk in and drown?

God does a new thing. The priests carrying the ark step into the river, and as soon as their feet touch the water, the waters rise up in a heap, and every single person, every single animal, walks across dry ground.

I'm trying to get my head around this concept of obedience, of moving forward toward God's calling, when I don't really understand where I'm going or what's going to happen next. I'm trying to understand how God's going to work things out, and honestly I don't have any answers.

Right now I feel like I'm standing at the bank of the river. I might be able to make it across if it weren't flood season, but there's no way I can progress without God. I am wondering if God is going to abandon me on the edge, wondering how long I need to wait, whether or not I'm going to drown when I step into the water.

God is faithful. I know he is. I've been here before.
I don't really believe I'll drown, but I just don't see how I can get from one side of the river to the other.

At some point, God's going to say, "Put your foot in." And then I'll need to step forward.

Once the people get to the other side, Joshua instructed them to build a memorial, twelve stones, one from each tribe, so that they can remember what God did.

When God delivers us, when he does what seems impossible, we need to take great pains to remember exactly how he did it. That way, when we get to the next flooded river, we'll have courage to step across when he tells us to put our foot in.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Joshua 1-2: Terrified

Moses was a little nervous when a burning bush showed up and told him and return to Egypt. Okay, maybe he was terrified.

What will I do?
Who am I to go talk to Pharaoh?
What if no one listens to me?
I won't know what to say.
I'm slow of speech.

God didn't reassure him.
He didn't tell Moses, "You can do it, Moses. You have the best education in Egypt."
He didn't say, "You totally have what it takes."

Instead, he said, "I am God. Watch what I can do."
And he turned the staff into a snake. And back into a staff.

Over the years, Moses learned to depends on God and God's power instead of his own, and the people learned to depend on Moses.

But now Moses is dead, and the task of leading the people belongs to Joshua.
The Bible doesn't say that Joshua is scared, but three times in four verses, God tells Joshua: "Be strong and courageous."

And twice he tells him, "I was with Moses, and I will be with you."

It is God who will bring the people into the land, not Joshua. Joshua's job is to move forward, to follow God, to obey him in everything. To be strong, to be courageous.

I haven't been asked to conquer a new country, but sometimes God asks me to do things that are just beyond my ability.

The promise is this: If asks me to move, he will go with me, and my role is to step forward.

I don't need to think about my weakness; I need to think about God's strength.
I need to obey.
And I need to be strong and courageous.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Numbers 25-26: Okay, who's left?

Remember when Abraham couldn't have any kids?
And God promised him that he would have more kids than there were stars in the sky?

A few generations later, the descendants are in Egypt, and there are so many that the Egyptians freak out and turn them into slaves.

God rescues them in dramatic fashion when they turn to him for help, and so here we are, wandering through the desert, trying to live for God on some days and whining and begging to go back to Egypt on other days.

And no matter where they go, God blesses them, and they have kids and those kids have kids and so on. And it's not just them. Their livestock keep increasing too. It's no wonder other nations don't want them wandering through, using up precious resources.

The thing is, when those other nations mess with God's people, they're messing with God. It doesn't turn out well for them. Remember Balak?

Moab tries another approach. It goes like this: Let's get their men to sleep with our women. And so the men follow around the Moabite women, sleeping with them, participating in Moabite fertility worship, and turning their back on the one true God, and finally God's had enough.

The penalty is death, and God sends a plague. All in all, 24,000 people died. It's tragic. It didn't have to happen, and it's not the first time people have died because they disobeyed God's laws, because they rebelled, because they worshiped other Gods. You'd think they would learn.

Afterward, the people take a census, sort of to see who's left, and to remind them that there's an inheritance waiting for those who follow God. It's for the children, really.

Following God is serious business. He is a holy God, and those who follow him must worship only God and serve only him.

It's hard. We forget to think of him first. We get distracted. We get anxious.

I'm grateful that "God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love." (See Psalm 103 and others.)

But that doesn't mean it doesn't matter.

Numbers 21-24: When God Says No

Sunday School teachers like to tell the story about the donkey that talked, and I'll admit that's pretty cool, but it's not the most interesting part of the story to me.

First of all, we have Balaam, who isn't even one of the children of Israel, and God talks to him. I love that. It's a reminder that although God reveals his plans and his heart through Israel, he never rejected the Gentiles. Only their sin.

Second, and this is the most intriguing part of the story.

The people of Israel are getting a reputation, and Prince Balak is a little concerned. So he asks Balaam to put a curse on them.

Balaam tells Balak's men. I can't curse them. God won't let me. And when Balaam blesses them, per God's instruction, Balak takes Balaam to another place and tells him to try again. Three times this happens.

Check again, Balaam. Maybe God will change his mind. Ask in another place. Ask in another way. Maybe if we sacrifice a few more bulls and goats.

But, as Balaam tells Balak, "God isn't like us. God is God. He doesn't lie, and he doesn't change his mind. When he speaks, you know something is going to happen. When he promises something, you can bet it's true."

We ask, but we don't listen. Or we rationalize and twist Scriptural principles to make answers into what we want them to be.

We try to manipulate God with our offerings.
Maybe God will change his mind.
But God is God.

And we--I mean me--can choose to follow him, according to his plans and his ways, or I can keep asking him to change his plans and his ways.

We know what happened to Balak when he did that.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Numbers 19: Clean


It's easy to become unclean, and it takes a lot of work, a lot of ceremony, and sometimes several days to become clean.

I don't understand the ritual or the rationale in Numbers 19.
Is this to show us that we can never fully attain purity?
That God is so holy, so separate, that in some ways we are always unclean?

Think of Isaiah 6, when the prophet "saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple" (6:1-7)

His response? "Woe is me. I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips . . ."

God is so holy, so awesome, that even though he was ceremonially clean, Isaiah knew he didn't measure up to God's standards.

Because of Christ, we are forgiven.
Because of Christ, we can approach the throne of grace.
Because of Christ, are clean.

Only through Christ can we be transformed to God's standards.

Be a Branch

I was talking to Nallely on Friday, about my trip to New York, about the presentation, and what I learned.

The whole experience was terrifying. I was so scared I couldn't even look at my research until the very last minute, and I didn't really understand what I was afraid of.

On Thursday, about an hour before my presentation, I realized what it was.

I was afraid that I would stand up in front of all these people from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Berkley--and all my words, all my ideas, would just sound stupid.

That was it.

And then, God spoke to me.
"Just be a branch."

Yes, profound words from John 15, which I had read in the morning.
"I am the vine, you are the branches."
"Remain in me, and I will remain in you."
"Remain in my words . . ."
"If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit . . ."

Yes, be a branch.
As long as I'm connected to the vine--Jesus-he is responsible for the fruit. Not me.
And fruit is more important than "smartness"--or lack of it.

I want to be a branch.
I am a branch.

Numbers 15-18: Holy is the Lord

It's easy to judge the people of Israel.

And yet, when I try to the see events from their point of view, I kind of get it. God pulls them out of the life they know, an oppressive existence to be sure, but predictable. He leads them into adventures, and they have to trust him every minute of the day. And really, since they can't see him, they can't hear him, they are trusting Moses.

They're tired. They're scared.

And they don't know what will happen next. I don't think they really thought about the difficulties they would face if they moved toward the land the Lord promised.
I get it.

As much as I want to live by faith, trusting God, I like to know what's going to happen next. I don't like difficulties. I don't like uncertainty.

This morning when I woke up, I wished I could go backward to my medical transcription days. I can't compare those days to Egypt, but let's just say I knew that wasn't my calling. It was hard work, but I knew what to expect. I was good at it.

God said move, and I moved.
Now? Everyday is hard, and I have no idea what the future holds.

The people? They rebel against Moses. They rebel against God. They forget the things they've seen in the past, they forget his power.

They don't understand his Holiness.
He is not like them.
His ways are not their ways.
He calls them to holiness; he calls them to live for his purposes and not their own.

That means moving across the desert.
And they're scared.

Me? I don't wander across literal deserts. But sometimes I'm scared.
I'm not alone.
Nearly every day I talk to people who feel the same way.

When we decide to follow Jesus, he moves us out of what we know, into new things, uncertain things, journeys that require faith.

He wants us to live for God's purposes.

God is holy.
Nothing matters but his purposes.
We just don't always understand how he will achieve them, where we're going, or when we'll get there.

Father, increase our faith.

Numbers 14: God's Timing, God's Power

Frustrating, isn't it?

God delivers these descendants of Abraham from slavery in Egypt, he parts the Red Sea, feeds them and gives them water in the desert, and brings them to the edge of the Promised Land.

Miracle after miracle after miracle.

And they panic.
They begin to wail.
The people in the land are too powerful.
We'll never enter the land.

Why did God bring us here only to kill us?
We wish we never left Egypt.
Let's go back.

Moses and Aaron fall on their faces to pray.
Joshua and Caleb say, "No! Don't panic! God will give us the land!"

And the people decide to stone Joshua and Caleb, and God steps in. He's done with these ungrateful people who do nothing but whine, who can't seem to remember anything God has done.

Long story short, the people "mourn bitterly" and decide to go up to the "land the Lord promised" and take it themselves.

They still don't get it.
With God, they can move into the land.
Without God, they can do nothing.

How often in my life has God said "move," and I panicked, thinking I didn't have the strength to move forward into the "land the Lord promised"?

How often in my life have I tried to seize the land on my own, in my own timing, by my own power?

I guess the point is that we need to listen, we need to move with God, we need to move forward by God's power, in God's timing.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Numbers 11-13: Giants in the Land

Finally Moses and the people get to the Promised Land, and Moses sends a few guys into the land to scope it out. They come back with grapes and pomegranates and figs. It really is a land flowing with milk and honey.

But, don't get your hopes up.
We'll never live there.
It's not like the people in that land are going to hand their cities over to us, and they are too powerful for us to defeat them.

And the people begin to whine again. Oh, we are so pitiful.

Caleb, one of the explorers, stops the wailing and says, "No. We can do it! We should go up and take possession of that land right now."

The explorers begin to embellish their stories. "There are giants living in the land. We look like grasshoppers compared to them. What's the point?"

It's easy to judge these people.
We collapse their lives into a few chapters. We're not living in the desert, with the heat and the wind and the smells, trusting God for the essentials of life, like water and food.

It's easy to judge these people, who have forgotten God's power, his provision and his deliverance.

They are on the edge of the land God promised, but they're afraid of the promise. Afraid of powerful forces opposing them.

They just want to go back.

And so I ask myself: What has God promised? When have I camped outside the promised land, afraid of moving forward? When have I wished I could go backward in time to a safer, more predictable life, even if that life meant captivity?

What am I forgetting?

Numbers 11-13: Just Kill Me Now

You would think the Hebrew people would remember their suffering in Egypt. You would think they would remember slavery and murdered baby boys. You would think they would remember the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea. You would think they would remember watching Egyptian soldiers pursue them and then being engulfed in the same waters that parted to allow them to cross.

You would think that Moses would remember the burning bush, staffs turned to snakes, messages from God.

But human beings are prone to amnesia.

And so the Hebrew people, tired of wandering, begin to complain.
We only eat manna.
We want meat.
Life was better in Egypt.
We had all the meat we wanted there.

And Moses? He can't stand the whining.
And so he starts some whining of his own:

What did I ever do to you that you put me in charge of these people?
There's no way I can give them what they want.
If this is what it's going to be like . . . just kill me now. (11:15)

Pretty dramatic.
Kill me now.
Send me back to Egypt.

In the midst of the struggle, in the midst of the hardship, they totally forget God's power. They forget how he delivered them in the past.

God tells Moses, get ready. I'm going to give you meat. So much you're going to wish you had never asked. So much it's going to come out your nose.

And Moses, man of faith who has seen God do incredible things in the past, says, "I'm sorry, God. That's just not possible."

I love God's response: "Is my arm too short? You think I can't do what I say I can do? Just watch."

There is a difference between Moses and the people, though.

Lacking faith for deliverance, the people cluster together and gossip.
Lacking faith for deliverance, Moses turns to God.

I too am prone to amnesia.
I will forget God's faithfulness.
I will doubt his power.

Instead of whining and gossiping with others, instead of longing for an idyllic past in captivity, I want to turn to God with my complaints.

He can handle my whining.
He can handle my doubts.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Numbers 9-10: I don't know. Let me ask God.

I am a problem solver, and I love figuring out the answers to questions. Sometimes it's a lot of pressure, figuring out solutions to complicated situations.

That's why I love Moses, the humble man who speaks directly to God. The people ask Moses a question, and he doesn't try and figure out an answer based on the information available to him. He doesn't speculate and say, "Well, we have three options, and here's what's good about this solution, but . . ."

His answer is simple. He says, "I don't know. Let me ask God, and I'll get back to you." (9:8)

I want to be more like Moses.

Numbers 6-8: The Lord bless you!

When I was very little, growing up in the Presbyterian Church, all little children sat in church, on hard pews, during the incredibly dull, seemingly endless Sunday morning services. Every Sunday we stood and recited the Apostles Creed and the Lord's Prayer. Every's Sunday, we sat while the minister in his flowing robes and sashes read the morning prayer. My legs dangled from the pews, and sometimes I opened my eyes and looked around. Sometimes my mother let me bring a book so I could read during the sermon.

And then, every week, at the close of service, the minister stood at the back of the sanctuary, raised his hands, and said, "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."

I liked this prayer, but only because it was a sign that church was over and we could go home.

It was so great to come across this prayer again yesterday morning.

I'm going to start praying this prayer.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Numbers 4-5: God values women

Numbers 5 is crazy. Basically, if a man thinks his wife is unfaithful, he takes her to the priest, and she has to drink some kind of funky water. And if she has actually been unfaithful, she is cursed and won't have children.

The whole thing sounds so sexist. So misogynist.

And yet, this is a sign of God's love for women. The way he values them.

In those days, men essentially owned their wives. There were no laws against domestic violence.

And here we see this wonderful law, written into the code to protect wives.
A husband suspecting his wife of unfaithfulness doesn't have the right to beat her, put her out, or kill her.

Husband and wife must go to the priest and submit themselves to God.

Jesus came to set women free from the curse that kept them subservient to men. Jesus came to give us life and opportunity.

The promises of God are not limited to men--they are ours as well.

Numbers 4-5: Called to Serve

We can look at the book of Numbers as a anthropological study of the Hebrew people. Or we can look at the descriptions in the book as micro-studies that reflect God's character and his heart for men and women. They also reflect ways we should respond to his holiness.

So in Numbers 4, we see all these men of the priestly tribe.
Each is called to serve God.
And each serves God in very specific ways.
The Kohathites do not serve in the same capacity as the Merarites. And the Merarites do not serve in the same way as the sons of Aaron.

Peter identifies Christ followers to God's chosen people, members of a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). We are all called to serve God.
We just don't all serve him the same way.

It think it's profound that the Kohathites who basically tear down the tabernacle (remember, they are still wandering in the desert), are set apart for God. They are performing a sacred act.

And so are the Merarites, who move the stuff around.

Sometimes we negate our own priesthood because we think we play a small, meaningless task.

When we are serving God, nothing is meaningless.

And so whatever we are called to do, whatever we find ourselves doing, we must do it wholeheartedly, as to the Lord.

Remember, we are priests.

Monday, April 5, 2010

By the Numbers

What a contrast--from the book of John with its rich metaphors of light and life, with endless variations--to Numbers, a book of, well, numbers.

I'm sad I didn't get to blog on John. First, the paper and getting ready to leave for New York consumed me, and then while I was in New York, with tons of time, I had no internet. Still, I'm grateful I kept up with the reading. I love looking at the life of Christ, especially at Easter.

And now we are in Numbers, which in terms of literary genre, is basically the antithesis of John. Whereas John is story, and metaphor, and allegory, Numbers is categorization and organization. John is narrative; Numbers is science.

I naturally prefer narrative, but it is important to recognize that God use both narrative and science to communicate His story to us.

And so now we look at Numbers.

A few months ago, when I started reading the Bible from beginning to end on my own, I read Numbers, expecting a dry account of the people of Israel, their time in the desert, and lots of counting. I was not expecting to find deep truths the nature of God, communicated through the endless lists and genealogies. I am excited to revisit the book, and am trusting God to reveal himself to me through this book again.