Monthly Archives: February, 2014

Numbers 11-13: Complaints and rebellion

complaint-deptIsrael moves out from Sinai…moving on as we talked about yesterday, and pretty much immediately problems arise, and will continue to arise all the way through the end of Numbers, even though God shows up again and again to defend Israel and bring them victory over enemy kings and armies.  We see a pattern building here that will continue all through Israel’s history.  God will provide, Israel will be good for a while, then they will wander away from God and do their own thing; God will bring calamity to them, Israel will remember God and repent, God will relent.  Wash, rinse and repeat.

Really, many of us still live in that pattern today.  The blessing is, God has dealt with our rebellion once and for all in the blood of Jesus and he blots out our transgressions.  Indeed, Psalm 103:10 declares: “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”

I guess my thoughts today are part warning and part rejoicing.  We have to be careful not to harbour thoughts of complaint or resentment, because they will colour everything that goes on in our lives and consume us from the inside out.  And we must be careful not to be rebellious in our spirit, because eventually that rebellion will get out.  It is really unfortunate when people spend so much time, energy and brain power complaining, especially when they have no intention of being part of the solution.  I had a pastor friend of mine whose response every time someone complained to him was: “You’re right, now what are you going to do about it?”  Funny how so many people shy away from the conversation after that.

The rejoicing is that God does not deal with us like he dealt with Israel.  Israel’s rebellion eventually led them into captivity, permanently.  It was after the death and resurrection of Jesus, but eventually Jerusalem was completely destroyed, Israel was scattered across the face of the earth and God’s chosen people became exiles.  Jesus has covered our rebellion with his blood.  But that doesn’t mean we can keep on rebelling!  It doesn’t please God any more today than it did in the desert with Israel. There are so many better ways to spend our time and energy than in complaining and rebelling.  We build better relationships, stronger churches and deeper faith without those distractions.

So the next time you think about complaining about something, consider whether or not your complaint really means anything in the grand scheme of things; consider what your motives are for complaining because selfishness plays a lot into complaints; and consider whether or not your complaint will hurt or hinder the unity of your church family.  You just might come to realize that what you had to complain about doesn’t really matter.

Happy reading.

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture?  What was something I already knew?
  •  What was new from this piece of scripture?  What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  •  How does this passage apply to my life, here and now?  Do I need to do anything about it?
  •  What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Numbers 14-15

Numbers 8-10: Moving On

We all go through periods in our lives when we are in a holding pattern and I don’t mean that in a negative way.  Life patterns get established, we get into a rhythm and we tend to be stationary.  But the time comes, eventually, when we have to move on from that place.  Life circumstances change, a new opportunity develops, or things just plain get stale and you have to spice them up a bit…I always did like a little spice.  The difficulty can come in actually making the change from being stationary to being on the move.  We like our patterns, we like our plateaus where the sun shines, the grass is green and the chances of unpredictability are small.  However, life moves on, and we have to be able to move with it or risk being left behind.

As we move into the next part of Numbers, we are coming to a point where Israel is facing a moment when they have to move on.  God has finished giving them the Law, establishing the Tabernacle, the priesthood and the sacrificial system.  He has established his dwelling place in their midst, he has showed himself to be faithful to his promises and powerful enough to overcome the difficulties the road ahead will hold.  Now is the time to move on.  The upside of this move is that God is directing it.  Numbers 9:15-23 outlines that very specifically.  Pillar of cloud by day, pillar of fire at night.  When the pillar moves, they move.  When the pillar stops, they stop.  When the pillar stays put, they stay put.  Pretty easy really.  I bet you even the sheep learned to follow that pattern after a while.  

Unfortunately, moving on often involves risk, change, a doing away with the comfortable for the adventure of the open road.  As we will see moving forward, Israel doesn’t do so well with the adventure of the open road, as is the same with many of us.  What I can’t understand is why these people who were dwelling in the very presence of God, with the tangible guidance of God constantly in front of them, had such a hard time trusting and following.  What I wouldn’t give for a pillar of fire to show up and lead us to the next step!

But we aren’t in any different place than Israel really.  God may not use pillars of cloud or fire now-a-days, his guidance and personal direction are still active.  We have been given the Holy Spirit, the tangible presence of God in the life of every believer.  So why are we so reluctant to trust and follow?  What are we so afraid of really?  I love verse 23 of chapter 9 “They camped at the Lord’s command and they set out at the Lord’s command.” It sounds so simple because it is so very simple!  Follow God’s command.  Set out when he commands, set camp when he commands.  As we will see, Israel takes that simple formula and lets their fears, their insecurities and what they see in the world around them skew the simple nature of following God.

Happy reading.

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture?  What was something I already knew?
  •  What was new from this piece of scripture?  What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  •  How does this passage apply to my life, here and now?  Do I need to do anything about it?
  •  What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Numbers 11-13

Numbers 7: Care of God’s building

How much money did you spend in the last 5 years keeping, decorating and improving your home?  It seems in this world of cold economic climates, declining interest rates and dwindling investment opportunities, our homes are seen as an easy investment opportunity.  We can almost always guarantee that house and property values will increase over time, an increase we can help along with those new kitchen cupboards, strategically placed ceramic tile and improved heating/AC systems.  Because of this investment value we tend to treat our homes with respect and care.

As you read Numbers 7, consider it in light of what it says about the Israelites that they brought that much wealth and that many sacrifices to the dedication of the Tabernacle and all of its furnishings.  Forget about all of the repetition (you can just read the offering from the first tribe and then skip to verse 84 and read the summary, because the offerings are all the same), and instead consider that the dedication of the Tabernacle was the fulfillment of part of God’s promise to Israel, that he would dwell with them as their God.

I wonder if we value God’s house as much?  Don’t misunderstand me!  The New Testament understanding of the “house of God” was the gathering of believers.  We make a mistake a lot as Evangelical Protestants, thinking that the church buildings are the places where God dwells, when that is not the case.  We as the body of Christians are the temple of God on earth, his presence dwells with each of us and with the corporate body.  That doesn’t mean that we should neglect the physical buildings that God has given us as tools for ministry, outreach and the building up of the church.  But sometimes I see Christians more concerned with the well-being of their physical buildings than they are with the well-being of the saints.

Either way, we must remember that God’s desire is to dwell with is people, and as New Testament believers, that privilege is much more intimate than what the Israelites were experiencing.  Do we value that privilege?

Happy reading.

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture?  What was something I already knew?
  •  What was new from this piece of scripture?  What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  •  How does this passage apply to my life, here and now?  Do I need to do anything about it?
  •  What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Numbers 8-10

Numbers 3-6: Just one thing

Alrighty, so you’ve made it through Leviticus.  Well done!  To be honest one of my biggest concerns in working through the Bible together is getting through several challenging section.  Job was one, this section through Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy is another.  The upside of these books is that they are full of a lot of details that we just don’t need.  Please understand, they are part of the scriptures and aren’t to be ignored, but they are recorded as part of the historical, official record.  So when chapter 3 talks about the Levitical census, or how the Kohathites were to disassemble and carry the various tabernacle articles, it is perfectly alright to employ some skim reading techniques.  But don’t skip entire chapters or sections.  Quite often there is a little nugget of spiritual value buried in those sections and they can be easy to miss if you aren’t paying some attention.

One way to avoid the droning effect that can happen in these scriptural scripts is to stay on track with the schedule.  Sitting down to read 2-3 chapters is very manageable, but when you get 2, 3 or 4 days behind, the task can be daunting.

The other way to approach these scriptures is to ask God: “What are you trying to say in all of these details?”

For instance, you could read through chapter 4 about the Kohathites, the Gershonites and the Merarites and spend your time and internal dialogue wondering why these instructions are important, or how boring it is to read about sliding the carrying poles through the alter or how many coverings were to go on the Ark.  OR, you could ask God to show you what these verses say about what it means to serve when your task is menial and repetitive.  You could ponder how their treatment of the holy objects reflected their respect and reverence for God.  You could think about God’s desire for righteous people who seek after him in their hearts (reading about the Nazarite vow in chapter 6 lends itself to this kind of pondering).

When I ministered in Eau Claire, I would often remind the people that when it comes to spiritual things, you get out of them what you put into them.  If you attend church on a Sunday and assume that it will be boring, or empty or disappointing, more often than not your expectations will be fulfilled.  But if you attend expecting good things, looking to converse with your brothers and sisters in Christ, wanting to worship and meet with God, then your experience will be much more positive.  Now, obviously, God can break into even the most reserved and pessimistic hearts in order to blow our expectations out of the water, but there is something to be said about how our attitude affects our interaction with God.  I developed the habit of approaching a seminar, speaker or reading with one prayer on my heart: “God, just give me one thing, one nugget of truth, one glimmer of fresh insight to take away from this.”  I have found that God honours that prayer.

The same is true of Bible reading.  It often depends on how you approach it.  After church on Sunday, Helen, a lady from our church, made the comment that she had been finding it difficult to read through Leviticus, but God reminded her that this is his Word, which we are to respect and revere.  We should never approach it with pessimism or out of duty.  It is our honour and our privilege to read what God has to say and about how God has worked through Israel.

One more comment about Numbers: it’s more narrative than you think.  After you get through the first 8 chapters, the Israel’s story becomes the focus again.  It becomes about God’s leading, the people’s rebellion and the way that God shows Israel his power.  There’s some very good stuff in Numbers actually.

Happy reading.

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture?  What was something I already knew?
  •  What was new from this piece of scripture?  What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  •  How does this passage apply to my life, here and now?  Do I need to do anything about it?
  •  What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Numbers 7

Leviticus 26-27 & Numbers 1-2: Obedience

To obey.  To bring oneself to the point of believing another person and following their direction, guidance or command.  As we make our transition this weekend from Leviticus to Numbers, obedience becomes an important part of the conversation.

Up until this point in Israel’s history, obedience has been an individualistic thing.  We’ve read about Noah’s obedience, Abram’s obedience, Moses’ obedience, Joseph’s obedience, but as we move out of Leviticus, we begin to see obedience in the context of Israel as a whole.  Leviticus tells us God’s rules, his desires for how Israel is to live, rules that are continued in the first part of Numbers and recapped in Deuteronomy.  But was we move into second part of Numbers, starting at about chapter 11, you will begin to read the story of Israel’s obedience, or lack thereof.

The interesting thing as you make the transition into Numbers, is to realize that lays out the stipulations for blessings and discipline for Israel in the second last chapter of Leviticus.  The linchpin that separates the two?  Yep, obedience.  Obedience to God’s decrees and laws.  Obedience to God’s guidance.

There was a guy in the church who commented to me that he was pretty sure Numbers was going to kill him.  As I read Numbers again this time through, I came to realize that Numbers is actually a very interesting book, not nearly as boring as I had once thought.  Sure the first half is a bunch of more statutes and laws, but the second half walks us through a significant part of Israel’s history and gives us a great study on what it means to be disobedient and the consequences that come about as a result.

Happy reading.

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture?  What was something I already knew?
  •  What was new from this piece of scripture?  What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  •  How does this passage apply to my life, here and now?  Do I need to do anything about it?
  •  What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Numbers 3-4

Leviticus 24-25: Reverence

R•E•S•P•E•C•T

At one time, respect was a common catch-word  in most parenting vocabularies.  Children were taught to respect others, respect their elders, respect their teachers, respect the authorities and respect themselves.  Some would argue that the ability of children to show respect has been decreasing over the years.  But I’m not so sure about that.  Socrates wrote: “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”  Keep in mind that Socrates lived in the 300’s BC.  It would seem that not a lot has changed.  But two things have remained constant about respect: it must be taught and it must be earned.  Perhaps those are the same thing, but I’ll leave that for you to figure out.

There is a tragic moment in the 24th chapter of Leviticus when an unnamed son “blasphemed the Name with a curse”, and was stoned for it.  We can’t comprehend the setting of this event, because the concept of stoning someone is so far removed from our daily lives.  The last time I threw a rock at someone my backside let me know for a couple of days that it would not be wise to do it again.  Because we cannot comprehend the reality of stoning someone, it can be easy to get stuck on the stoning and miss what the passage is actually trying to teach us.  I might say that it would be easy to get caught in that trap for all of Leviticus.  We have to see past the seemingly crazy practices that God was setting up for Israel and try to see what God was teaching them or accomplishing through the practices.

So why did the young have to die?  Because he treated the Name of God with no respect, and doing that meant that he had no respect for God.  The Biblical term for showing God respect is reference.  It means to have deep respect for someone or something that manifests or shows itself.  The young man proved that he had no respect for God because of how he treated God’s name.

Remember that Moses had the same issue in Numbers 20 when God commanded him to speak to a rock to get water for Israel.  Moses instead hit the rock twice.  Moses let his anger with Israel trump his respect for God’s command.  God told Moses after the event: “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”  Moses did not show God respect and so was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

We must be careful my friends that we are showing God the respect he deserves in living our lives in such a way that our reverence for him is visible.  We do this through our obedience to his ways and his Word, by showing respect for his commands and the guidance of his Spirit.  We do this in how we treat other people because God cares about that.  We do this in how we speak to one another and how we speak about God.

So, the next time you feel your mouth forming the words “OMG” or using the name of Jesus Christ in less than an honourable way, be aware that our outward actions display for all to see, on earth and in heaven, just how much respect we have for God.

Happy reading.

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture?  What was something I already knew?
  •  What was new from this piece of scripture?  What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  •  How does this passage apply to my life, here and now?  Do I need to do anything about it?
  •  What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Leviticus 26-27

Leviticus 22-23: Growth and maturity

Spiritual-DisciplinesSpiritual disciplines.  They were a major part of the discussion in most Christian denominations for a couple of centuries, but they have become less known in the consciousness of the modern day Christian.  Spiritual disciplines are the tools that we have to use that enable us to grow and mature spiritually.  Dallas Willard, a well respected Christians author and speaker explains discipline in this way: “it is an activity within our power–something we can do–which brings us to a point where we can do what we at present cannot do by direct effort.”  He goes on to write: “The principle of discipline is even more important in the spiritual life…Spiritual disciplines are not primarily for the solving of behavioral problems, though that is one of their effects…The aim of disciplines in the spiritual life–and, specifically, in the following of Christ–is the transformation of the total state of the soul. It is the renewal of the whole person from the inside, involving differences in thought, feeling and character that may never be manifest in outward behavior at all.”

Dallas wrote a fantastic paper on spiritual disciplines that can be read here: http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=57 if you are interested in reading everything he has to say.  It is very worthwhile.

The point is, like professional weight lifting or being an award winning author or a celebrated musician, you cannot reach the heights of spiritual growth without discipline and disciplines (they are two different things).  The first is the internal motivation to stick with something in order to get better at it.  I can’t learn to play guitar without the internal discipline to keep at it.  The second are the tools I would use to get better.  Both are required in our spiritual walk.

So here are the basic spiritual disciplines that are laid out for us in scripture (disciplines Jesus practiced by the way):
1) solitude and silence
2) fasting
3) scripture memorization
4) regular prayer

disciplineThere are other disciplines one can employ (like sacrificial giving, acts of service, meditation, practicing Sabbath) but the above four are the basics of what we need as tools to deepen our spiritual pool, if you don’t mind the metaphor.  Please understand that these are not magic.  They are the activities of one who wants to deepen their spiritual life and grow toward the maturity in Christ that Paul talks about. We still need the work of the gospel and the Holy Spirit in our lives, but the Holy Spirit cannot do the work of the disciplines in our lives.  We have to choose to do these things in order to gain their benefits.

Why am I mentioning this?  God ordains several holy days for Israel to follow in Leviticus 23, days set apart as worship to God.  Days when they are to practice spiritual discipline.  They are to abstain from regular work, they are to practice self-denial.  They are to spend time exclusively in God’s presence, seeking his forgiveness for sin and bringing praise for his provision.  The ordination of these holy days was intended to create space in the regular rhythms of life  in order to focus on God.  That is what the spiritual disciplines are intended to do.

Really, that is one of the core reasons I laid this challenge out before you.  Carve time out of your day to allow God to speak through the scriptures to deepen your spiritual maturity.

Yes, it is true that the practice of the spiritual disciplines takes time, energy, commitment and sacrifice. But you won’t regret any of that, I promise.

Happy reading.

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture?  What was something I already knew?
  •  What was new from this piece of scripture?  What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  •  How does this passage apply to my life, here and now?  Do I need to do anything about it?
  •  What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Leviticus 24-25

Leviticus 19-21: Repetition (Feb 19)

You know what they say now-a-days about memory?  They say that in order to remember something, people have to be exposed to it seven times.  As you read these chapters in Leviticus, there are two phrases that are repeated several times.  When something is repeated in scripture, it is generally a good idea to pay attention to it, it just might mean something.

The two phrases are:

  1. “I am the Lord” or “I am the Lord your God”
  2. “I am the Lord who sets you apart”

These two phrases speak to two different things.  The first has to do with God’s right to give instruction and our need to obey that instruction because of his right.  This section of laws and ordinances start in chapter 18, and God begins the whole thing by saying “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: I am the Lord your God…You are to practice My ordinances and you are to keep My statutes  by following them: I am the Lord your God. Keep My statutes and ordinances; a person will live if he does them.  I am the Lord.”  Every time God repeats this first phrase then, He is reminding the Israelites of his opening statement about following and obeying God.

The second statement has to do with our position.  This concept of being set apart begins with Israel but continues on through the Bible and includes us as Christians.  It speaks to how we are to be markedly different because of our relationship with God.  The Biblical concept of holiness is rooted in this idea of being set apart and distinct, not in the idea of perfection.  This is important.  God is holy because he is different than and above everything else.  So when he calls his people to be holy, he isn’t talking about moral, ethical or physical perfection, he is talking about being distinct from the rest of the world.  Different because we follow his commands and live life as he dictates.  Also notice that being set apart has nothing to do with us; it is an act of God that happens as we align our lives with his standards.

Happy reading.

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture?  What was something I already knew?
  •  What was new from this piece of scripture?  What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  •  How does this passage apply to my life, here and now?  Do I need to do anything about it?
  •  What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Leviticus 22-23

Leviticus 16-18: Payment for pain (Feb 18)

There is a word that has been present in the scriptures we’ve been reading since God began instructing the Israelites on how to build the Tabernacle back in Exodus 25.  The word is atonement.  For much of Exodus, it appears as a descriptive word to describe the atonement seat/cover.  But on a couple of occasions mention is made of “making atonement” for the people (Exodus 30:10 is an example).  In Leviticus, we have the inauguration of the official “Day of Atonement”.  This was a day that was to happen once/year when Aaron and the Priests that followed after him, would enter into the Holy of Holies, reconsecrate the Tabernacle and it instruments and then offer sacrifices for Israels “impurities and rebellious acts” (16:16).

Atonement means to make reparation or payment for wrong or injury.  Basically the Bible teaches that all sin is against God, wrong in his eyes and painful to him.  It is this wrongness that creates the distance between a holy God and a sinful people.  Once/year, Aaron was to bring a sacrifice before God that would pay for Israel’s sin.  That sacrifice was a live goat who was released into the wilderness, symbolically carrying Israel’s sin out of the camp and far away from them.

Part of the process of sending the goat out of the camp was confession.  “Aaron will lay both is hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the Israelites’ wrongdoings and rebellious acts – all their sins” (16:21).  Confession is an uncomfortable topic in church.  I don’t know about you, but when I have heard of people talking about confessing sin, my natural reaction is to pull back.  The explanation for this is pretty simple really.  Jesus said: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:19-21)  The deeds that we don’t do in the sight of God, that we don’t want exposed to the light, are the sinful/rebellious deeds that Aaron was to confess on behalf of the people.

We don’t want people to see our sin and that is why confession is so difficult.  We think people will judge us.  We are ashamed to admit to what we’ve done, and so we hold it in.  The problem is, atonement can’t be made until the wrong or the injury or the pain (all sin) is confessed. Don’t get me wrong, Jesus made atonement for all of us on the cross, and he made that payment regardless of our admittance to sin. But getting right with God, accepting that atoning sacrifice requires to admit our “wrongdoings and rebellious acts – all our sin.”

Happy reading.

Atonement-Image

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture?  What was something I already knew?
  •  What was new from this piece of scripture?  What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  •  How does this passage apply to my life, here and now?  Do I need to do anything about it?
  •  What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Leviticus 19-21

Leviticus 14-15: Disease and discharge (Feb 17)

I gotta be honest.  I kind of at a loss about what to write for today’s reading.  I have read a couple of commentators who have likened these chapters to the discussion of how sin corrupts and how it is to be dealt with.  Personally, I think it is an awful stretch to make these two chapters fit that kind of framework, and I don’t really see why we have to make this piece of scripture talk about sin and salvation when there are lots of other pieces of the Bible that talk about sin and salvation much more clearly.

To quote Freud (not because I’m a fan) “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”  Sometimes pieces of scripture are just what they seem to be.  There isn’t always a mysterious hidden meaning.  I say that to take some pressure off.  I think we spend too much time looking for the hidden that we miss what is right in front of us and miss out on just reading and enjoying God’s Word.

So let me point out the simple truth I pointed out yesterday.  God is concerned with every area of our lives.  He is concerned with our physical well being and He is concerned with our sexual practices.  Every area of our lives, every relationship we undertake, should be an area where God is welcome to be in control.  What does God have to say to you out of these verses?  If you honestly ask God that question then let what He shows you be enough.

Happy reading.

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture?  What was something I already knew?
  •  What was new from this piece of scripture?  What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  •  How does this passage apply to my life, here and now?  Do I need to do anything about it?
  •  What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Leviticus 16-18