Monday, February 28, 2011

Joshua 6-8

Spending the week in Columbia doing church work for the Board of Ordained Ministry.  Listening to some great young preachers who are working their way toward ordination.  8:30 a.m until 8:30 p.m., but getting ready for bed now after I finish this blog.  Hope you week is warmed by some gentle early spring sunshine.

Joshua 6-8 continues in a cycle that Israel is having great difficulty breaking.  Obedience is followed by victory.  Victory is followed by Blessing.  Blessing is followed by disobedience.  Disobedience is followed by defeat.  Defeat is followed by Judgment.  Judgment is followed by repentance.  Repentance is followed by obedience.  Obedience by victory and the cycle goes on.

Remember at the close of our last reading, the hearts of the nations that were currently occupying Canaan were melting in fear at what they saw approaching.  Jericho responded to the approaching armies by closing the gate and waiting for what it could not prevent.  When you are on God's side the victory is assured and as the song says, "the walls came tumblin' down."  Jericho is the first fruits of the promised land.  I hope you remember my Sunday morning offering prayer asking God's blessing as we bring the first fruits of our blessing to give back to this sacred place called the church.  The first fruits belong to God and that is why all of Jericho was to be devoted to God.  When Achan kept some of the gold, sliver and bronze; he was stealing from God.  While the victory over Jericho was accomplished, the sin of Achan guaranteed that God would not look favorably on Israel's future.  God does not bless disobedience.  The sin in the camp was a pestilence and guaranteed failure.  Sin can permeate a camp, it can permeate a community, it can permeate a church; the result in every case is that God cannot bless sin.  It violates his very nature.  We may think that the price paid by Achan's family was too high for his covetous failure, but the wages of sin is death and God is trying to create a nation that is fully devoted to him in such a way that it can be a righteous example to the world. Judgment follows sin.  Repentance that leads to obedience again will result in victory.  Ai is conquered when the sin is removed and obedience is again the rule.

Pray that we will recognize sin in our lives and repent before God finds it necessary to punish our disobedience.  Give thanks that Jesus has paid the price for our failure.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Joshua 1-5

Did I say that Deuteronomy 30 was one of my favorite chapters in the Bible?  So is the early part of Joshua.  It is filled with the most vivid stories of God's love for us.

The story of Rahab should give every living being hope.  God can redeem the vilest of sinners and graft them into the story of redemption for all of the world.  Rahab a prostitute and of one of the tribes that Israel is to drive out of the promised land gains favor with Israel by offering protection to the two spies that Joshua sends to spy out Jericho.  Her story is one of redemption, salvation and sanctification; a perfect example of what God can do with us as well.  Rahab, a sinner and an outsider, trusts and is rewarded by being granted asylum and then becomes adopted into the very lineage of Jesus Christ.  The scarlet cord used to mark her domicile and to mark it as a place to be saved should remind you of the scarlet mark placed on the doorposts of the Israelite that marked them as places that the angel of death would passover as it claimed the first born of Egypt.  The scarlet cord should remind you of the blood of Jesus which marks us as a people to be saved from the wages of sin.

The ark leads the procession into the river Jordan.  As it leads the procession of Israelites, the waters pile up and all can crossover in safety.  Jesus is our Ark.  he leads us to safety.   All who follow him are saved from the flood.

Israel is instructed to bring 12 stones out of the bottom of the Jordan river and to pile them on the Jericho side as a lasted memorial to the mighty work that God did in stopping the flow of the Jordan and allowing all of Israel to cross over on dry land.  Perhaps the miracle was not as great as the parting of the Red Sea, but it is a sign to the people that God goes before them and leads them in the battle against the perversity that is throughout Canaan.  "What do these stones mean?"  The story of God's mighty deeds are to be told throughout the generations.  What stories do you tell your children and your children's children about the mighty acts of God in your life.  Certainly we should tell these great bible stories, but their is more.....surely God has been apparent to you in your life.  Where have you seen him at work?  Tell these stories as a lasting memorial to God's continuing presence and let the world know that our God still leads us into his preferred future.

In Chapter 5, Joshua is confronted by the Commander of the Army of God.  Who was that?  Was it an Gabriel?  We do not know, but we know it was holy ground, perhaps as holy as that which Moses had experienced at the burning Bush.  Interesting the Angel's response to Joshua's question, "are you for us or against us?"  The angel replied, "neither".  It was the wrong question.  The question should always be, "who's side are we on?"  Only those who are on the side of God will be more than conquerors. 

I'm telling you....this is great stuff.  Thanks for reading with me and encouraging me in this great biblical journey.  I will be in Columbia this week doing church work for the Missouri Conference.  I can be reached by cell or e-mail.  Jennifer will be in the office.  I hope you have a great and God filled week.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Deuteronomy 30-34

You probably noticed that I am reading 1 less chapter.  Sorry, no good excuses.  I have been with the confirmation class the last two days and they have taken a lot of time and finishing at the end of the chapter feels right, too.  I'll make it up later, I hope.

We had a great time on our confirmation weekend in spite of the weather.  We were not able to visit the Greek Orthodox Church as planned because of the slick roads on Saturday morning and loss of power at the church, but it was still a good time.  We have 8 excellent young people in the class and Erica Griffit, Lisa Lunsford, Kelly Gouldsmith and Joyce Adams were great helpers and chaperones.

 Chapter 30 contains some of my very favorite passages.  I am preaching on it tomorrow so I don't want to get carried away.  Moses is completing his oration to to Israel, his last speech before going home to the Lord and he reminds them that he has told them everything that they need to live in this great and good land that God has prepared for them.  they have been told all that they need to know to be more than chose.....which shall it be?  will it be blessings or curses?  Will it be life or will it be death?  Seems pretty easy doesn't it?  And it was in the moment.  To a person, they swore allegiance to God, but from our perspective, historically we know that it didn't last.

As soon as the new car smell was gone, sin was in the camp again.  We'll read about it in a little bit in the book of Joshua.  But isn't that the same as it is for us?  In the emotional high of a spiritual encounter with God we commit ourselves to holy and righteous living and then the world begins to creep in at the edges.  We miss church because we have tickets to the big game or because Saturday night lasted too long and we need the sleep.  And its not that we missed church, it is just that we put a higher value on some other activity and God is debased and an idol begins to appear.  We place a higher value on the children's sporting activities or we need to use the place at the lake more because we have so much money invested in it.  It's not that those activities are bad, it's just that they elevate the things of this world to a place that belongs only to God and an idol begins to grow.  Soon one generation who know God forgets to tell the stories to the next and within three generations God is no longer honored and the church is a place for Christmas and Easter.....the pastor a person we call for funerals and weddings.  What is it that we want?  Is it blessings or curses?  Is it life or death?  We know the way to both and both are available.  Which do we chose?

At 120 years, Moses is ready to enter into his rest, but not before his successor is installed.  One of the great calls of leaders is to replicate themselves.  Much of the unrest in the Middle East and Africa, maybe to a different degree in our own country is how leaders want to stay longer than they should and adequate leadership has not been raised up and prepared and consecrated to the important work that is ahead.  The church must always be raising up new leaders.  Who are the Pastors, the deacons, the trustees, the Sunday school teachers among us who have not yet been called and trained to take over when the capable folks now in charge are ready to enter into their rest?

God, who knows everything even before it happens, tells Moses that despite all of his work, this stiff necked people will fail to keep their promises and they kingdom that he is building will crumble and fall.  These people that God has claimed as his own will reject him and they will be scattered across the face of the earth.  But one day, God will again here their cry and he will again gather them together.  Doesn't that sound like the prophecy of the reincarnation of Israel following WWII.  The Jews had not had a home land since the destruction of the temple in 68AD, they had suffered cruelly at the hands of many nations, anti-semitism was worldwide, Adolf Hitler sought to exterminate them and then Israel appeared again.  Israel is God's and so should we be.  the only eternal protection in all of eternity is to be adopted into the family of God and to trust in his promises.  What did I say earlier?  chose life!!!

Moses died at 120 years, still filled with vision and strength.  Joshua was filled with that same spirit, that same vision.  Moses had tutored him, had mentored him and at just the right time had passed the mantle of leadership to him.  there would never be another Moses......but just now, what Israel needed was Joshua.......bring on Jericho.......let's see what we can do with that mountain!!

Hope to see you on Sabbath Day.  God's best to you. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Deuteronomy 27-29

On a day like wouldn't you like to be camped on the bank of a river with the promised land?  I am buoyed by the knowledge that spring is close.  Hope you are safe and warm.  Last night was a rough one for me.  I had a reaction to a new medication that caused chills and fever and (most troubling) a very rapid heartbeat.  Sleep was in short supply, but I feel much better today although a little sleep deprived.

Today's reading is the conclusion of Moses oration to Israel before they crossover and he heads into the mountains.  Tomorrow's reading includes one of my very favorite passages "chose life".

Moses reminds Israel that God has chosen them from all the peoples of the world to be his own; to be, not just "hearers of the word, but doers."  Isn't that still them problem for many of God's chosen, that we hear, read, know what God calls us to but we fail to do what is commanded of us as his Children of Blessing.  God calls us to be more than people of the book, but to be people who are obedient to God's word.

This section about blessings and curses is difficult for us to fully comprehend, it appears to me that God planned to reveal himself to the world through Israel; whether they succeeded or failed.  The blessing that he had in store for them were so dramatic that all the world would know that only God could have made it so and, indeed, at the height of Israel's power during David & Solomon's rule; much of the world bowed to Israel even though, geographically, Israel was never a very big country, but God did bless them indeed during their seasons of obedience.  The curses came with the blesses.  The flip side of the two-edged sword if you were going to enter into an Old Testament covenant with God and those promises came true as well.

Israel disregarded God's command about keeping Sabbath, having no Idols, caring for the Alien, orphan and widow and eventually they were carried off into exile....twice!!  And then in about 68 A.D., the Romans destroyed the temple, laid siege to Jerusalem, tore it brick by brick and if you can believe the historical account of Josephus, a historian of that era, cannibalism was practiced during the siege by the Jews who were starving to death waiting for Rome to smash them.  Ugly stuff!!

But we are Christians, we are bound by a different covenant....a New Testament promise that doesn't depend upon our faithfulness because it is grounded in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ who bore the punishment for our failures.  We are not blessed because of our obedience, but we are blessed because of Christ's obedience.  Now that is something to give thanks for.......can I hear a hallelujah?

Finally, as Moses begins to wind down in this great oration he reminds them again about all that God has done for them in delivering them from slavery in Egypt and preserving them in the wilderness.  But he tells them it is not the signs and wonders in the wilderness that will make them victorious in this new land, but it is the supernatural change that has been done in their hearts as they have given their allegiance to God and trusted in him for all of their needs that will help them stay the course.  Sometimes we think that if God would do a great miracle that all the world could see, then they would come to faith.  But that has not been the case in the last 5 or 6 thousand years.  Signs and wonders won't save us or bring us to faith.....God working in our hearts is the thing that will bring salvation and the peace that passes all understanding.

Thanks for reading along with me.  You are a great encouragement.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Deuteronomy 24-26

Aren't you about ready to cross the Jordan?  Are you getting tired of reading all of these rules?  Certainly they must be important or they wouldn't have been preserved for us across the centuries and I do hope that their has been enough repetition for you to see how important our care for widows and orphans and the poor are in the eyes of God.

Chapter 24 spends some time on a very touch subject.....divorce.  It is important to note that while God allows for divorce, he never demands it.  In fact, I believe that God intends for marriage to be forever and that it is the hardening of the heart (either husband or wife) that leads to divorce.  The uncleanness referred to in the Bible as the only reason for divorce is associated with sexual impropriety.  Remember that when a man and a woman marry they become one.  Infidelity is a sin against that oneness, but pure love (I'm not saying we are able to do this, I am just saying this would be God's preferred way) forgives the most grievous of sins.  I say that because were it not so, all of us would die for our sins against God.  Again I say, God allows divorce, but he does not recommend it.

Look at how laws are instigated to protect the poor, the widow, the orphan.  If you make a loan to a poor man you cannot keep the surety bond (his coat or his millstone, etc.) over night.  You must return it by days end, because he needs those things to make a living and to live.  The millstone was used to crush grain and make flour.  The coat often served as a covering at night.  Pay the day worker at the end of each day.  He depends upon those wages to provide daily food for himself and his family.  Leave some olives, some wheat and barely, some grapes for the gleaner to take home with them to take care of their families.

I just think that these passages are important reminders to us.  While the poor will always be among us, God strongly reminds us that we are not to take advantage of them.  I'm not smart enough to understand all of the answers but I think God has an opinion about the protests going on in Wisconsin about working folks being able to organize.  I think God has an opinion about how we treat the homeless on the streets of KC.  I think God has an opinion about how we treat the single mom and the man on the street corner with the sign in his hand.  this stuff isn't just for our reading pleasure.  Remember.....we are to hide these words in our heart, it is to flavor our lives so that we will not sin against God.

Use fair weights and measures.  it is a sin to cheat and steal.  I've got a feeling that there are a lot of folks who have a lot to account for when they meet their maker.  Being fair is another way of practicing righteousness.

Remember, says chapter 26, "you were once a wondering Aramean."  God has delivered us from lives that were without meaning.  Had we died in our sins we would have been condemned to an eternal death, but God in his mercy has delivered us from the wages of sin.  he has allowed us to enter into a land flowing with milk and honey.  He has blessed us and them multiplied our blessings.  We are his people and he is our God.  He calls us to righteousness, to be examples of Godliness, to be hope for those who are without hope, to offer comfort and ultimately to invite the world to share in the knowledge of these sacred words and the love of the Creator who gives them to us.

Hope you are having a great day.  It is supposed to 50 degrees on this 23rd day of February.  that will be something to celebrate.  God bless you in your faithfulness.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Deuteronomy 21-23

Various and miscellaneous laws:

The discussion about how to atone for a dead body in the land where it cannot be determined how the death occurred is really about how sacred life is to God.  this ceremony with the heifer and the oath and the handwashing illustrates the necessity of substitutionary atonement where sin occurs.  The death of the heifer is a substitute for the life that has been lost.  This is at the core of what we believe about Christ's death on the cross.....he is our substitute.  Unrelated to anything, but reading about the elders handwashing as part of the ceremony reminded me of Pilate washing his hands to rid himself of guilt in the crucifixion of Jesus.

In the later part of the 21st Chapter is some instruction about taking of women during war.  I only mention this because it is so radical in the context of that time in history.  Women, children and material goods were considered as the "wages" of war, but here God instructs Israel that these women could be taken as wives (granting them all the privileges and protections of a wife) but if they were not, they were to be set free.  This was very radical behavior and illustrates God's concern for all of his "children", even those of pagan nations.

I doubt that very many rebellious sons were ever stoned......wouldn't that be a serious limitation on population.  Teenagers would be a great risk.  But this law was about the 5th commandment; honor thy father and mother that your days shall be long upon the earth.  Honor is do....part of honor is obedience to our elders.....that is God's way.

Chapter 22 emphasizes that we have a responsibility not just to ourselves, but to others as well.  I discern this because God calls on the Israelite to care for lost property and make every effort to return it to it's proper owner.  "finders keepers, losers weepers" was not God's intention for us.

Further proof of God's high esteem for life can be seen in his order to Israel that they put parapets around there roofs to insure that no one could accidently fall off a roof and die.  A parapet would be a low wall around the edges of the roof.

The tassels at the corners of robes and outer garments are to remind all of Israel to keep God's law.  What is your reminder?

In Chapter 23 is God establishing the law for Israel that the traveler can enter into a field or a vineyard and eat of the harvest there (but not take more than he needs in that moment).  I mention this to illustrate how the Scribes and Pharisees were way off base when they accused Jesus and his disciples (Luke 6) of violating the Sabbath by gleaning in the fields on the Sabbath.  Jesus and the disciples were taking grain in their hands to satisfy their hunger.....a practice that was guaranteed by God in this 23rd chapter of Deuteronomy.

Hope you are having a great week!!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Deuteronomy 13-20

Ok, I confess, part of this should have been done yesterday.  Frankly, there weren't enough hours in the day yesterday to get it done.....well, I could have stayed up into the wee hours, but I was tired.  Boo hoo! Two great sabbath day services, lunch with Mike and his family, a great visit with Joy Brown about her upcoming surgery and 8 hours with two great young men (Jordan Snyder and James Strickler) at the Winter Jam.  The concert was awesome, 10 bands for $10.  Sprint arena was sold out and filled with youth who were also sold out (for Jesus).  It was a great night, but I didn't get home to nearly 11 p.m.  Ok, now you have heard my excuses.  Here are my ramblings for this section of Deuteronomy.

Much of what we are reading here is a restatement of God's instructions to Israel through Moses before they enter the Promised Land.  There are some new things and some of the reinforcement would be good for us to remember.

In Chapter 13 we are reminded to keep our worship pure.  I am always jealous of the pulpit.  I do not like to give it up when I am available.  I have been appointed to this place and God has called me to speak a word to those who come to be encouraged.  I do not want the pulpit to become a place where we can make announcements and become a public service organization.  the Church is the place created by God for the building up of the saints and for sending of disciples into the world in the name of God.  Worship must always be aimed at God and be about God.  When we have special Sundays (Boy Scout, Girl Scout, 4 H, etc.), these must not be a glorification of those organizations, these Sundays should be used to glorify God and encourage the good works of those organizations.  This is God's House!!

Chapter 14 is about giving all of your life to God.  We cannot segment our lives and say that this part belongs to my family, this part belongs to my employer, this part is for play, this part is for God.  God wants fully devoted followers.....he wants us 24/7/365.  Many of the prohibitions in this chapter (tatoos, marking) are about not allowing the world and our surroundings to pollute our witness.  We are God's children, his special treasure and he wants the world to see him through us.  We cannot allow our witness to be watered down by adopting the pagan customs of the world.  If Jesus comes back this moment, will the thing that you are doing please him?  will the world see your witness in the things you read, listen to, watch, how you compete and earn a living?  Important things to think about if you want to be fully devoted to God. 

Chapter 14 also speaks of the tithe as part of our responsibility.  Interesting note in the reading that part of the tithe is to be consumed before the Priest in a family celebration and meal.  Could this be the beginning of our fellowship dinner tradition?

chapter 15 has one of God's favorite topic as its primary subject....the poor.  I think this is the first mention of God telling us that the poor will always be among us and we are never to take them for granted or to harden our hearts to them.  It is almost as though God intends the poor to be a test for those who love him......will you love the least as an expression of your love for me? 

The illustration of the Bond servant is stated who freely gives themselves into a lifetime of servitude.  Paul uses the idea of the bond servant to illustrate his relationship to Christ....Paul says, "I am a bond servant to Jesus (see Galatians)"  meaning that he has freely given himself to forever to the will of God in Christ Jesus.  This is the life that God calls us to as give up our own ambitions to serve the purposes of God.  the reward for this life of service is the peace that passes all understanding and an eternity of blessing.

Chapter 16 reminds us of the importance of Justice.  God expects us to work for justice and to establish systems that protect justice for all.  I suspect God is not pleased by how we have politicized justice and the wealthy have greater access to it than the poor.  Or what do you suppose he thinks about our court system where Republicans and Democrats fight to get their judges appointed who will rule favorably on their causes.  How is that about justice?  We may have a lot to account for one day when we are face to face with the final Judge and he asks us how we worked for justice in the world that he trusted to us.

Chapter 17 is more detail about courts and justice.  Appoint judges to sit at the gates and decide disagreements among the people.  but it also calls for higher courts for more difficult cases.  Those that cannot be decided by the appointed judges are to be taken to a higher court where Priests and Levites would decide.  Multiple witnesses are required to convict.....not a single witness.  God takes this justice thing seriously.  Even though God desires to always be king of our hearts and for us to turn to him for wisdom, he is Omniscient (all-knowing) and knows of our weakness and failure before we do and so 100's of years before Israel asks for a king, he tells them how to select one.

Chapter 19 is the continuing warning to Israel to not imitate the practices of the people that currently occupy the land that God is giving them.  He has particular warnings against witches, soothsayers(folks who make predictions based upon the stars), sorcerers, mediums and the like.  All of these are based upon a wisdom that is outside of God and is an abomination to God.  God calls on Israel to eradicate all of this evil.  These people (Amorited, Hittites and the like) are a great danger to Israel because they will introduce them to false teachings.  Again, God knows our weakness and our failing before we do and he says to avoid it because we will fall.  it smells good, looks good, tastes good and flatters us; but it is sin and sin always takes you places that you did not mean to go, keeps you longer than you ever meant to stay and costs more than you will ever be able to pay.  Avoid the temptation!

God also answers the will I know if a prophet is truly a prophet?  Do the things he predicts happen?  If not, no that he is a false prophet!  The world and the church has many false prophets.  There purpose is to bring glory to themselves and not to God.  There are true prophets which God has raised up for a time and a purpose.  They are humble and not self-serving.  None of what they speak will contradict God's purpose as portrayed in his scriptures.  Be careful about following the words of mean.....measure them against what you know about God.

Chapter 19 speaks to us again about the cities of refuge and insuring that sanctuary is within reach of all who inhabit Israel including aliens and travelers.  This chapter again speaks of justice as an eye for an eye.  We should remember that this was about restoring, wherever possible.  If something is taken, it must be returned.  An eye for an eye was also a limitation.  Often when someone is wronged; revenge is sought and in enacting revenge more damage is done in retaliation that was experienced in the first incident.  An eye for an eye was to insure that restoration did not include additional penalties.  Also and eye for an eye is best thought of in terms of material does not work nor was it intended for relational misunderstandings.  When two persons are engaged in verbally abusing each other.....forgiveness is the best course of action.....that is to forgive and to forget.

Finally, chapter 20 is about warfare when God calls us to the battle.  The bottom line.....if God is for us, who can be against us.  Fear not!!

Talk to you tomorrow.  Happy Reading!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Deuteronomy 10-12

What great stuff we are reading together!!!  It is the secret of the ages, but it is not a secret at all and when we have knowledge of what God desires of us, we should share it with all whom we love and then share it abroad that the nations might be turned to God and be blessed by God and the Kingdom of God might come near at hand.

What does the Lord desire of Israel and of read it, right there in chapter 10:  Fear the Lord (although this is not the kind of fear that you might have of a rabid dog or an approaching tornado....this is the fear that comes from knowing that God is in all and of all; the creator of all things, the beginning and the end.  He holds the mountains in his hands and causes the rain to fall.  This is a fear that comes from knowing how awesome God is.)  Fear the Lord.  Walk in obedience to him.  Obey his know them, but if you need a refresher refer back to Exodus 20.  Love the Lord!  How can we not do this.....he is the author of life, the giver of blessing, the one who created us for good works planned for us before the beginning of time.  Serve the Lord with our Whole Heart and Soul.  A simple enough thing to do considering that he created the air that we breath and the earth that we walk upon.  And besides, serving God is simply loving him and doing his will which is to love and care for his creation.

Don't forget God's admonition to Israel which was to love the orphan and the widow and to treat the foreigner among you with respect.  God reminds us of this very often throughout the scriptures, it must be very important to him for us to care for those who have fallen on great human misfortune and who do not have someone to care for them.  And there is a special duty for the Christian to offer hospitality to the alien among us.

God offers both blessing and a curse to those who accept his call to discipleship.  Love and obey and he will bless us out of the abundance of his goodness.  He reminds the Israelite that no longer will they have to irrigate to receive the blessing of fertile lands in this place where he is taking them.  Now they will live in a place where rain falls from heaven to bless their lands.  Do we receive blessing that we have not earned?  I certainly have and, in my most lucid moments, I know that they have come from God.  Failing to live in obedience means that I have opened the door to the curse which is that God would abandon me to the way that I have chosen which is the downward way that leads to death.  I pray that I will always turn my face to God who is the father of every good thing, that I will resist the fleshly temptation to build idols to humanity, that I will walk humbly before my God and always remember to give him praise for the blessings that surround me.

Chapter 12 is interesting in that it is preparing the way for the temple that Solomon will build in Jerusalem.  You can see that in the writing as God tells the people through Moses not to worship or make their offerings just anywhere, but to these sacred things in the places that he shows them.  In the future all sacrifices will be made in the temple in Jerusalem where on the Passover day when Jesus is hung on the cross, it is estimated that 250,000 lambs were sacrificed.

Hope you are well.  See you at church tomorrow.  If you are looking for a little excitement on Sunday afternoon, check out Winter Jam at the Sprint Center.....a great Christian Concert with Kutless, Francessca Battistelli, Newboys, Newsong and more for only $10.  Doors open at 5, concert begins at 6.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Deuteronomy 7-9

I am late tonight.  The week was long with hospital visits and a beautiful service of remembrance for Janet Ek's Mother today.  Finished my sermon preparation this evening.  Preaching out of Numbers again and looking at the cities of refuge theme in Numbers 35.  Hope that whets your appetite.

Moses continues in his dialogue with Israel reminding them that there is to be no treaty, no peace with the pagan occupants of the land that they are about to possess.  The land may be filled with giants, the cities fortified and the armies great, but none of those can stand against God.  We often get snagged on this annihilation of the inhabitants but think of the correlation between us and our sin.  God knows that if Israel allow these people to exist among them that they will eventually pull down Israel, that they will adopt their pagan customs and build altars to false gods.  Aren't we like that....we know that we have sins that we ought to get rid of, but we keep them around because we kind of like them.....they don't hurt anybody we say to ourselves, but they do make us less than God intended for us to be....those little sins do mar the image of God that is within us and the testimony that we are to the world.  Like Israel should do with Canaan but does not.....we should live sinlessly in the power of God who is greater than our sin.

In chapter 8 Moses reminds them that God allowed them to be hungry and then fed them on Manna.  There clothes didn't wear out.  Their feet never got sore in the years of marching through the wilderness.  All of this was to demonstrate to them that "Man does not live on bread alone, but every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."  God speaks and their is manna.  God speaks and their is a pillar of fire and a column of smoke to lead them.  God speaks and their is quail.  God speaks and their is water from the rock.  Our difficulty is that rather than feeding on God's word we are too willing to fight with God's word......trying to find some wiggle room rather than living obediently and receiving the blessing that comes with that obedience.

God reminds Israel of the problem that they will face when they enter into the land and prosper.  It is the problem that America suffers from as well.  We begin to think that all of this power and riches is the result of our power, our intellect, our strength.  It is is the gift of God to the people that he has chosen to bless.  Failing to remember it is God who blesses, sets Israel and us up for a rude awakening.  Pray that we will not err as Israel did and that God would remove his hand of blessing from this great nation of ours.

Chapter 9 continues in Moses reminding Israel that none of the victories that they have experienced or will experience are the result of their righteousness.  They are sinner, but God is righteousness.  Later we will read in the scriptures that all of our righteousness is as dirty rags compared to the righteousness of God.  When we begin to think to much of ourselves, we begin to build idols to ourselves.  A little humility every day will keep us from putting ourselves in places where God alone belongs.

Our God is a consuming fire.....destroying all that is vile and corrupt and imperfect but in that process purifying all that is good and holy.  Be good, seek right living, honor God and receive the blessings of being known as children of God.

Hope your weekend is a God filled weekend and that all that you do and say brings glory to his name.  See you at church!!!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Deuteronomy 4-6

Moses continues in his final sermon to the people of Israel before relinquishing leadership to Joshua and going into the mountains to meet our God.  He reminds the people of their past disobedience and the consequences of that failure to obey God and their need to be obedient in their present circumstance if they are to achieve all that God calls them to in possessing this land that was first promised by covenant to their forefather Abraham.

Isn't it interesting that we often forget the lessons of history and then are doomed, seemingly, to repeat the mistakes of the past.  I believe that Satan is always busy trying to cause us to forget the things that we should always remember and causing us to remember the things that should be left in the past.  He seeks to neutralize God's power in us by causing us to think that we are not able.  He seeks to get us to forget the consequences of disobedience.....surely we can get away with it this time.  What is one definition of insanity, "doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."  Disobeying God and his ordinances will always lead to disaster!!

The first military loss for Israel (we will read about it in Joshua) will come when Israel disobeys God.  Isn't that insanity, after learning the lesson of obedience over two generations and 40 years walking with God in the wilderness.

God's intention is to make us wise and in that wisdom to bless us and the the world through us.  The wisdom comes from obedience to his law, his will, his word and his way.

I like what Moses says when he says, "Our God is a consuming fire!  We are reminded that fire burns off the chaff and purefies that which remains.  When you are in the fire, know that God is doing a good work in you if you remain obedient.  All that is impure is being taken and only that which honors God remains.  The purest gold has been through the hottest fire.

Moses reminds God's children to seek him with their entire heart and fully obey him and he will be found.  god doesn't want part of us.....he doesn't desire part time devotion....he wants all of us, and he wants it all the time.

In Chapter 5 we are reminded that God visits the sins of the father to the 3rd and 4th generation.  We have all seen this in reality when a parent commits an offense and the children suffer for it.  This is the principle that God speaks about in this passage.  The children suffer because of the failure of the parent.  We are reminded that our "God is a jealous God."  Again, total devotion is the key to the power of God in this world and to the peace that passes all understanding.

"Oh that they had such a heart."  The children of Israel give lip service to God and God says, "O that it will be true....that the words of their mouths and the meditations of their heart would always be acceptable to the Lord our God and our daily practices would be found to be holy as well.

In Chapter 6, Israel and the Judaic faith to this day quote this passage... "The Lord is one."  We believe that as well.... The Lord is indeed one and each part of the Lord found in the trinity....Father, Son and Holy Spirit make up that one.  There are some religions that believe Jesus to be separate from God.  We adamantly do not.  We believe Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be one with God....God in a different form, but of the same substance....not separate from, but one in God.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and might.  write it on your doorposts, keep it in your heart, bind it on your hands.  This binding on your hands was practiced by creating little boxes called phylacteries that were tied to the hand and within the box was this verse, "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and might." It is important to remember God in all things because there is such danger in disobedience.  Therefore we must not forget to teach the mighty works and words of God to our children and to our children's children.....the price of disobedience is too high even to losing our opportunity to enter into the land of milk and honey.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Deuteronomy 1-3

the word Deuteronomy means 2nd law and this book is the retelling of the Exodus and the 2nd giving of the law that is to be the measure of who Israel is to be to the world including the 10 commandments.  Deuteronomy is the 5th and last book of the Torah, the Jewish books of law and was thought to have been written by Moses about 1400 BC.  It is written in a way that gives you a sense that this is Moses speaking to the people of Israel as they are gathered together on the banks of the Jordan.  You can almost imagine it.....Moses relating the Exodus to them, reminding them of all that God has done for them and all that he wants to yet do for them if they will be faithful to the covenant that God has given them in the 10 commandments.  Moses standing before them proclaiming God's goodness and the land of milk and honey behind him......the fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham......that which their fathers had not claimed because the did not Love God enough to trust that he would be with them in the possessing of the Land.  That sin had sent Israel back into the wilderness for 38 more years until every adult male over the age of 20, except Caleb, Joshua and Moses died in the desert.

You can almost feel Moses' passion has he relates the events of the last 40 years, how God has been faithful to provide them with everything that they needed and how he had made them into a mighty nation, more numerous than the sands of the sea and the stars of the heavens.  Moses speaks of how God has struck fear in the hearts of their enemies.  Moses knows that all is in readiness if only this generation will believe in God and let that belief form an unwavering trust in God.  The failure of the previous generation had been a failure to trust in God's promises.

Do you suppose when we fail or when the church grows stagnant and wavers in its ministry that it is the result in a lack of trust?  That somewhere, sometime the church and its leaders have said, "our God is not big enough for us to win this battle."  And the result of that failing is another generation in the wilderness.  Perhaps we sit at the banks of the Jordan and God has prepared us to win over this part of Eastern Jackson County.  Are we ready to step into the waters?  Do we love God enough to believe that his promises are for us too?

Final thought for today.....Moses goes up to Mt. Pisgah where he can see the promised land.  Have you ever walked so close to Jesus that you sensed that he was about to reveal something supernatural to you?  Have you ever been in the presence of the Holy Spirit and you felt like you could almost taste heaven?  I believe it is possible for the Kingdom of God to be so close that we can see what God has promised if we only walk faithfully.  I pray that this generation will enter into God's promise and that the world will be forever changed by our faithfulness and love.

P.S. Say a prayer for Janet Ek and her family as they prepare for a memorial service for Janet's mother.  It will be here at Faith on Friday morning at 11:00. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Numbes 34-36

We finish up with Numbers today!  4 books of the Bible down and 62 to go.....aren't you proud of yourself and feeling good about your accomplishment?

Chapter 34 delineates the borders of this new nation that Israel is about to become.  These borders are 5000 years old and still important today.  From the time of the exile until today, Israel has thought of themselves in terms of these geographical dimensions.  When Israel was reconstituted following WWII these were the political boundaries that they sought.  In the 1967 6-day war, these boundaries were re-established and Israel protects them fiercely today.  They believe that God gave them this land in covenant with Abraham!!

Chapter 35 provides property to the Levites who were given no ancestral land.  These are the men who are given to the Lord and who will care for the tabernacle and the Sabbath and the many sacrifices.  Notice that the cities that they are given are scattered throughout the land.  If you equate the Levites with modern day Pastors, consider what this means.  God did not set up a place and say, "come to me."  Rather he instructed the Levites to be scattered throughout the land to be with the people.  So we are called to be scattered across the length and breadth of the world, to do God's work, to preach scriptural holiness and to pronounce the good news of Jesus Christ.  So, too, is the Christian disciple called to be "in the world, but not of the world" and to participate in the eternally important work of reclaiming the world for God and his purposes.

Secondly, chapter 35 establishes cities of refuge, places where men may go to find sanctuary until justice can be done.  It is from this concept that our notion of the church as a sanctuary comes from...a place where we can find mercy until justice comes.  Justice is a very important part of Christianity and God provides for it in this new land.  Evidence is required and a single witness is not enough to condemn a man.  The death of an innocent is a serious thing.  Our judicial system has its basis in the Judeo ethic of the Old Testament.  As the Jewish system became perverted by the error and sin of man; so it appears that our system favors the wealthy and the privileged.  This flies in the face of God's demand that we do justice to the alien, the foriegner, the poor and the underprivileged.

Finally, chapter 36 reminds us that Numbers began in the wilderness, but it ends on the Banks of the Jordan river, just across from Jericho.  Will the people called by God enter into victory this time or will the cower in the face of obstacles?  How like Israel are many of us who die in the wilderness because we do not fully trust in God and his promises.  How many will not enter into the promised land of peace and plenty because we do not have the faith to move forward at God's command?  If we are Israel, what would it take for us to move across the Jordan and become the church that God desires for us to become?

Just a post script to Sunday's services; we had nearly 300 in worship.  The turnout for the chili lunch sponsored by the Cub Scouts was fantastic.  I heard from several visitors who were very excited about the flavor of our church.  Thanks for being the church; for being warm and welcoming.  Folks cannot know the love of Jesus if the people are not willing to love in his name.  Keep the faith and keep loving.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Numbers 31-33

We are fast approaching Israel's conquering of the promised land.  This is a violent and bloody time and much of this reading is difficult, even for Christians.  This violence seems out of character for a God who calls us out of his great love for us.  Remember that vengeance should always be reserved for God.  God is holy and righteous and his vengeance is for those same purposes.  Israel was created by an act of God for the purpose of creating an example of a nation that is led by God.  Properly enacted out of obedience to God and his decrees, that nation would draw others to God and a Theocracy of justice and righteousness would prevail.  Israel's inability to be obedient to God's decrees, even in vanquishing the inhabitants of Canaan would ultimately lead to the fall of Israel as a nation-state.

The Midianites had been used by Balaam to lure the Israelite men into sexual immorality and into Idol worship.  We read earlier how God sent a plague upon Israel as a result.  Now God strikes out to destroy Balaam and Midian for fomenting Idol worship in his chosen people. Not a single Israelite soldier was lost in these battles....truly God was with this new Israeli army.

Moses is angry when Israel keeps women as hostages.  He orders the death of the women and all boys.  This sounds very harsh.  Remember that throughout Israel's history, Satan seeks to destroy God's chosen by introducing Idol worship and the Idol worship always comes when the men of Israel marry into cultures that do not honor God.  The women that Moses orders killed are part of that Idol worshipping culture and are a danger to Israel's devotion to God.  The culture of the Middle East insured that the boys would grow up seeking to avenge the deaths of their fathers and of their Midianite culture.  If they were left alive to grow into adulthood, they would be a thorn in the flesh of Israel.

In Chapter 32 the tribe of Rueben and Gad want to stay on the East side of the Jordan to settle.  Moses fears that they have not learned the lesson of 38 years earlier when Israel feared taking the promised land.  Moses feared that if they did not all stick together that other tribes might fear that they would be incapable of capturing the land.  Moses insisted that they go to war with the other 10 tribes before returning to settle in the lands east of the Jordon with their wives and their families.

I think the important part of chapter 33 is found in Moses reminder to the 12 tribes that they must drive all of the inhabitants out of the land promised to them.  Failure to do so would eventually mean their own demise and ultimately they do fall to the sin that remains in their land after the settle without driving out all of the Canaanites.  A little sin left in the camp will grow and corrupt.  How do we say it, "a rotten apple can spoil the barrel."  God knew this about the weakness of the character of these men and of us as well.  We cannot serve two masters.  While it may have seemed Barbaric, God who is all-knowing, knew that if Idol worshippers remained in Israel, they would ultimately win over some parts of Israel and destroy the very thing that he was seeking to build with these frail and flawed human beings.

Doesn't the frail and flawed sound very much like us?  We must always guard against the poison in the culture around us.  if we fail to recognize it as evil, it may well lead us to accept greater and greater evil as normal until we are mastered by the sin that we cannot see until it is to great to defeat.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


It is late this Sunday evening.  Another busy Sabbath day.  I hope that we have done something that brought glory to God this day.  Nearly 300 in church to celebrate Boy Scout Sunday.  Thanks to all who participated in any way to provide hospitality to the boys, their parents and grandparents.  Hospitality must be a hallmark and a passion for every successful church who seeks to grow the kingdom and build bridges for others to enter into the blessed kingdom.  We've got 3 beautiful grand daughters spending the night with us.  Patty will be tired and the house will be a mess, but we are grateful for the blessing that they are and for the time that we have with them.

We near the end of the journey for Israel.....after 38 additional years wandering in the wilderness they are preparing again to claim what God has promised and in preparation God instructs them to take another census....the last one was done before the spies were sent into the promised land.  this new census reveals that the count of males 20 years and older is almost identical to the previous even after the generation of unbelief has fallen in the desert.

Moses is instructed to go up into the mountain where he will be able to see the land flowing with milk and honey even though he will not be allowed to enter because of his sin in striking the rock at Meribah and failing to reveal God's holiness in the moment to the children of Israel.  Moses does not argue with God as he has so often in the past.  He is content with his fate and is content in the knowledge that God is righteous.  He is ready.  He is instructed to pass his mantle of leadership to Joshua son of Nun and to allow the people to see that passage.  it is important that we raise up new generations of leadership who will continue God's work in the church.  This new leadership must be like Joshua, men and women in whom the Spirit of God abides.

Moses reminds the people of their special holidays and feast days and of their obligation to sacrifice.  The number of sacrificial animals is staggering.  The priests are responsible for the sacrifice of 10's of thousands of bulls, goats and lambs each year.  It is estimated that at one time as many as 250,000 lambs were sacrificed in the Jerusalem Temple during one Passover celebration.  All of this was required as sin offerings and atonement offerings, etc.  None of it was sufficient.  Blood sacrifice was constantly required.  Only the sacrifice of the perfect lamb in the person of Jesus Christ was sufficient to atone for the sins of mankind.

The daily sacrifices remind us that we are to be thankful for God's blessings every morning and every evening.  We are reminded to pray without ceasing to the God who provides for our needs and who guarantees our eternity.

Numbers 30 is filled with instructions about oaths.  I believe the most important part of it was summed up by Jesus in the New Testament when he said let your yes be yes and your no be no.  Don't enter into an oath or give your word unless you are able and willing to keep your word.  If we all just did what we said we are going to do, there would be a lot less need for lawyers and judges.

I pray that your new week is filled with opportunity to be a blessing to those that cross your path and that you will honor God with your words and your deeds.  Sleep well!!  God Bless you!!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

numbers 23-25

thanks to all of you who are reading faithfully.  The Old Testament is sometimes difficult reading but it is filled with instruction for God's people and those who seek to walk righteously before our God.  I am very grateful to those of you who comment on the blog or who speak to me about your reading; it is an encouragement to me to know that you are following along even though my commentary my be a rambling dialogue.  Today will be short.  Our youngest granddaughter spent the night and she demands a lot of attention.  What a joy she is to us!!

Today's reading is a continuation of the story of Balaam; a man who was obviously spiritually gifted but was not spiritually mature.  If you wonder how God could or would use a man who seeks to make financial gain out of his gift please remember that God used a donkey to talk and now he is using an even bigger donkey for his purposes.  Nothing is too great for our God!!  Balak is trying to pay Balaam to curse Israel, but Balaam is unable to do so.  We should at least give them man credit for not defying God's direction by refusing to offer the blessing that he is given.  We should not think that our denying God's truth will ever change the course of god's plans for the world.  All we can chose to do is to decide if we are going to be a part of God's great work or languish in our rebellion.

Don't miss the great prophecy of Jesus in chapter 24.  "A star shall come from Jacob.  A Scepter shall rise out of Israel."  Balaam is being used to begin to paint the picture of the coming Messiah. 

Chapter 25 continues to tell the story of man's self-destructive ways.  Israel cannot seem to refrain from sin (how like us).  What the enemy could not do, Israel would do to itself by disobedience to God's call for holiness in their camp.  Satan always seeks to corrupt.  One of Israel's greatest temptations was sexual immorality and the temptation to worship false Gods such as the Canaanite fertility God Baal.  How often does the scripture remind us to "guard our heart". 

I pray that your reading today will strengthen your desire to be "holy of heart" and that that holiness will guide you ways that will make you "holy in life".  To live holy is to love as God instructs and the power of that love can change the world.

Hope to see you tomorrow in Church.  The Cub Scouts will be having a fundraising chili lunch following 2nd service.  Hope you can support these young men in their efforts.  God bless you!

Friday, February 11, 2011

numbers 20-22

having refused to obey God in taking the promised land, Israel turns its face back to the wilderness.  Interestingly, these 40 years in the wilderness do not take up a lot of room in the text we will be reading today and the next few days.  The people wonder aimlessly but do not move ahead much.  Is that a picture of our spiritual lives, wondering in the wilderness aimlessly because we fail to be obedient to God who calls us to cross over into the land of milk and honey, but we are afraid to to fully trust and thus we miss out on many of the blessings that God intends for us.

The death of Miriam illustrates the beginning of God's promise that all of this generation over the age of 20 except for Caleb and Joshua will die in the wilderness.  Not even Moses, Miriam and Aaron will be allowed to enter.  Moses disobedience at Meribah will keep him from entering.  Sometimes we read this passage and say "that's not fair", but we must remember that God is God and all of his acts are righteous and holy.  In the moment that we think God is not fair, we should ask God to forgive us of our insolence at questioning his holiness.  Moses sin was in his anger that led him to a prideful statement.  He said, "must we bring water from this rock?"  Of course it wasn't Moses bringing water from the rock, it was God!  And Moses struck the rock in anger.  These actions portrayed God angrily.  We must be careful in our service to God not to portray him in a manner that would keep others from his mercy and grace.  The image of an angry God, ready to strike down humanity has kept many from salvation.  God is love, righteousness and mercy......he is water for a dry land and bread for a hungry people.

Aaron dies and his role as chief priest is passed to his son.  A picture of the decay of earthly flesh but the continuation of God's plan for humanity.

Chapter 21 has this story of the poisonous snakes and Moses fashioning a bronze snake that will save the people if they will lift up their eyes to it.  Doesn't that sound a bit like an idol?  Here is the what I am thinking.  The snake is often a symbol of evil in the bible.  Bronze is a metal that is made by passing it's elements through the fire.  The fire of testing is often a symbol for purification.  This is my thought and that doesn't make it right, so you think about it as well.  The snake is passed through the fire of purification and raised up by God indicating that nothing is beyond God's ability to save.  The bronze snake coiled around the pole has become a symbol of modern medicene and and healing.

The song that Israel sang about the water reminds me of a praise song that we used to sing, the chorus went: Spring up o well withing my soul, Spring up o well and make me whole.  Spring up o well and give to me, that life abundantly.  It was a wonderful song about God's ability to satisfy our every need.

The story of Balaam is a wonderful story of how God can take the foolish things of this world and confound the wisdom that we think we are.  We don't know a lot about Balaam, but he obviously knows something about God and has the ability to divine the spirits (this is a practice that God forbids to his children).  Balak, the king of Moab is frightened by the military successes of Israel and asks Balaam to place a curse on Israel, but God tells Balaam that Israel is blessed.  The lure of Balak's offer of riches is too much and Balaam sets out on his donkey to speak to the king.  Three times the angel of the Lord prevents Balaam's donkey from continuing.  Balaam cannot see the angel, but the donkey can.  Balaam beats the donkey.  God gives voice to the donkey and in Balaam's conversation with the donkey he becomes aware that the donkey has saved his life, that the angel would have killed him if he continued.  Balaam is often thought of as someone who perverts God's wisdom and purposes by trying to gain monetary riches by using God.  Think of that when you are listening some TV preachers.  Is this person serving for personal gain or for the Glory of God.

Many of the place names like Kadesh will sound familiar to you as Israel wanders the wilderness, retracing many of their steps as they await their next opportunity to possess that which God had intended for them since the days of Abraham.

Hope you enjoy the warming weather and that you have a most blessed weekend.  See you on Sunday!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Numbers 17-19

Thanks to those of you who post comments to the blog.  It is such an encouragement to be doing this work and know that you are doing it with me.  Blogging makes me think about what we are reading together.  I think I would like to have a party at the end of the year to celebrate all of you who are on this journey with me.  What do you think of that idea?

This is interesting reading.  Remember in the 23rd Psalm we are told that God's rod and staff comfort us.  The rod is a symbol of authority and God is going to remind the tribal leaders who he has appointed to lead them in their spiritual journey.  The rod has already been an important part of the trip from Egypt.  The rod became a serpent, was used to turn the water of the Nile into blood, called in God's plagues upon Pharaoh and his people, parted the waters of the Red Sea and later it will be used to get water from the Rock (kind of a sad part of the story for Moses).  Certainly for a dead piece of wood to flower, bloom and bear fruit would be another miracle of God and maybe this one would cause the people to cease their grumbling.  Later this Rod of Aaron's would be placed in the Ark of the Covenant along with the stone tablets containing the 10 commandments and some of the Manna from the wilderness.  When the people see the miracle of the Rod of Aaron they are again convicted of their sin and mourn their sinfulness.  How often are we like these stiff necked people who must continually be reminded of God's greatness and majesty.  We are often more concerned about our physical well being than our spiritual well being and the pursuit of earthly treasure causes us to grumble and complain even though we have seen God's work all around us. 

chapter 18 is a reinforcement of the biblical tithe and a reminder that even the Levites and the Priests are not exempt from the tithe.  This offering belongs to God.

Chapter 19 is sometimes referred to in end times theology in the discussion of the Red Heifer.  In this case the red heifer is used to ceremonially cleanse some one who has touched a dead body.  This is important because death is caused by sin (remember we were intended to live forever before Adam and Eve ate that darned apple).  Death reminds us that we are sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God.  A red heifer would be a is to be without blemish (remind you of the perfect lamb?).  The color red is reminiscent of the blood that covers sin.  The ashes are mixed with water and sprinkled on those who have become unclean because of touching a dead body.  We Methodist use this text as one of the supports for our use of sprinkling as a form of Baptism.  The cleansing is ceremonial just as in baptism the real work is done in the heart and the sprinkling, pouring or immersing does not save us from our sin, but is a sign of what God has done in our hearts.

It is Thursday, the sun is out, the promise of warmer weather is all around us.  Spring is coming!!  God is good!!!  Hope you are having a great God Blessed week.  See you Sunday.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

numbers 14-16

Wow....tough stuff.....what do we make of this.  It seems to be such a harsh punishment for rebellion.  And yet we remember how Pharaoh's heart hardened as he refused to comply with God and the price of that hardness was the lost of the 1st born of all of Egypt.  Even as loving parents we know that we cannot allow a child to continue in a rebellious state.  Such perpetual rebellion leads to destruction and surely Israel's rebellion was serious with serious consequences.

God has promised this land to Israel since the time of Abraham and here they are on the brink of occupying it and they hesitate.  They hesitate, perhaps because it seems that it may be difficult to take it from those who now occupy it.  Has God ever called you to a difficult thing?  God does not make all things easy and yet still he is with us in even the most difficult of settings.  He calls missionaries to enter hostile lands in the name of the Prince of Peace, he calls us to love our enemies, he calls us to love the "least and the lost" and to be peacemakers in times of war.  None of these are easy and yet God equips us, prepares us and calls us to enter into the land of Giants in his name, to do his will, to "occupy" the land.  Failing to move forward can only mean that we are moving backward.....perhaps even into the wilderness, never again to have the opportunity to move into the land of milk and honey.  Those who refused to enter recieved a sentence of 40 years.....until all adult males 20 years and older perished in the desert.  Only Caleb and Joshua would be allowed to enter.  Is their a correlation here for us at Faith UMC?  Let us walk by Faith knowing that God will not always make it easy for us, but still he demands obedience.

Immediately in the 15 chapter, God begins to speak again of the time when they will occupy the promised land as he speaks through Moses telling the people how they will offer sacrifices that are pleasing aromas to him.  He reminds Israel that there is no distinction between alien and this a precursor to Paul's words, "neither slave nor free, male nor female, Jew or Gentile".  Certainly God's hope is for every human being.  All who come by faith will be saved.  As a reminder the Israelites are to fashion tassels on the corners of their garments with a blue thread hanging from the tassel to remind them of God's law.  Why a blue thread.  Remember back to the tabernacle.  The Ark of the Covenant is covered by a blue cloth.  The Tabernacle contains blue curtains.  The Priestly garments contain blue.  The blue thread is to remind them of God's law and God's presence in and among them.  What do you use to remind you of God's presence in your life?

Chapter 16 is again about rebellion.  In this instance it is a group of levites who wish to be priests.  God isn't having any of it.  When the levites stand before the temple with the censers containing incense and fire they are performing a Priestly duty and God reminds them and all the people that only Aaron and his descendants have been prepared for these duties.  He brings fire down to destroy the 250 and then has Aaron take their bronze censors and pound them into a covering for the altar as a perpetual reminder of who is in charge of the tabernacle and the calling of the Priest.  Further rebellion leads to a plague striking the people and their is the Priest, Aaron, rushing into the stricken people to stand between the people and the death that comes in the form of the plague.  14,700 die, but what would have happened if Aaron had not stood with the people?  Is that not what the church is called to do?  To stand in places where death is all around and become and intercessor for the people?  is that not what Christ has done for us?

Finally, this entire 16th chapter is an illustration about what happens when there is division in the camp.  Much is written in the New Testament by Paul about the importance of unity in the body.  One of the reasons that Faith has been successful in recent years has been the absence of strife within the body.  We must be careful to work out our disagreements in ways that are pleasing to God.  We must work to be one in the Spirit and one in the Lord lest our disagreements invoke God's displeasure with those who are in the camp.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

numbers 11-13

complaints....complaints.....complaints!!!!  The story of Israel and the story of humanity; how much is it like the our own personal story?  We are so busy complaining about what we don't have that we fail to be thankful for what we do have.  Part of the story of the Exodus is surely about God's faithfulness and patience in the face of Israel's impatience and faithlessness.

Manna from heaven is never quite enough, we need MEAT.  So God gives them meat in the form of much quail that every family gathered 60 bushels!  Wow, never doubt the ability of God to provide. 

Moses is feeling the burden of leadership when the faithful are complaining.  Have you ever tried to herd cats?  Moses is so distraught at the seeming failure of the people to follow that he asks God to deliver him from the burden of leadership by taking him home.  Leading is sometimes lonely.  Develop a close walk with God so that the burden can be shared with one who can handle all of your discouragements.  Even Moses' brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, are grousing about Moses (perhaps some sibling rivalry).  God responds emphatically that Moses is his man.  Get in line or suffer the consequences.  We need to be careful about our complaints.  They can be hurtful in a multitude of ways; to ourselves, to the leadership and to the body.  Voice your complaints to God and listen for his counsel and then take them to the leadership.  The worst way to deal with your complaints is to speak them inappropriately in ways that can create division in the body.

Moses sends spies and they return fearfully.  Isn't it amazing....God has delivered them from the most powerful nation on earth (Egypt), they have witnessed awesome miracles (parting of the Red Sea, manna, quail, fire by night, and column of smoke by day), they have seen God at work on the mountain, received instruction from the very hand of God (10 commandments) and yet they are fearful that God will not finish the good work that he has started and promised by granting them this land of milk and honey.  Oh, ye of little faith.  We look at their story and are amazed at their failure, but how often have we failed to walk by faith?  How often have we settled for less because we weren't sure that our God was big enough?  Here is the key......first we must discern God's will (that is the hard part) and then we must walk on resolutely.  I am convinced that our journey through the scriptures will give us a greater capacity to know God's will for our lives and for the life of Faith.  Praying and finding time to reflect and listen in the quiet are also ways to tune into God's voice.  My prayer often is that I will not succumb to the temptation of grasshopper thinking.  My God is more than able and in case you haven't been told lately, if you are worshiping Jehovah-Jireh, the God of creation and the author of life....your God is big enough, too.

Monday, February 7, 2011

numbers 8-10

Before I begin my ramblings for today, I am remembering something from yesterday's reading, the Blessing of Aaron.  It is found at the end of Numbers 6.  It is one of the most famous of all of the blessings found in the Bible.  It reads, "The Lord Bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you his peace."  It is a great blessing.....maybe I will remember to use it on you.

Numbers 8 begins with some instructions to Moses and to Aaron about the lampstands in the tabernacle.  They are intended to provide light to the Priests while they do their work.  They are symbols of God's presence.  In the Book of Revelation there is a reference to the 7 churches who are called to be lamp stands as well; symbols and reflections of God's presence in a pagan world.  We, too, are called to be such a lamp stand; giving light to the world in the darkness of sin and despair that often prevail in this world.  Failing to project that light is to fail to do that which God has called us to.

God again reminds Israel that he took the firstborn of Egypt when Israel was delivered from slavery on the night when the Angel of Death Passed over Israel but visited every Egyptian household.  He now stakes his claim to the Levites as a substitute for the first born of Israel.  These are to be God's used in the service of God.  Some would say, "what a job!"  Begin work at age 25 and retire at!!!  This was probably instituted because the Levites were assigned the arduous task of disassembling, carrying and reassembling the tabernacle each time that Israel moved as God led them across the wilderness on their way to the Promised land.  Also, note that Levites above the age of 50 were to assist the younger men.  Perhaps serving as mentors and such.

The one note that I would make today out of Chapter 9 was the notation that alien and Israelite were to be treated the same by rule and regulation.  This will be true on the day of judgment as well.  The standard will be the same for all.....every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of All.  How grateful we should be that we have this time to practice before we meet our Savior in heaven.

And now: May the Lord Bless you and keep you;
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you;
May the Lord turn his face unto you and give you peace.

Have a great God-filled week.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

numbers 3-7

Just a few notes on Sunday condolences to all of my Steeler friends like Duane.   Tomorrow night I will probably be offering condolences to all of my MU Tiger friends.  Thanks to all who participated in the All Church Conference.  I hope and pray that our decision to sell the parsonage will be perfectly in line with God's preferred future for Faith and that we will be able to discern and be obedient to all that he calls us to.  In the meantime here a few random thoughts related to today's readings.

Note that there is a difference between the Priestly line and the levite line.  To be a Priest in the nation of Israel meant that you had to be a descendent of Aaron.  Levites were descended from the tribe of Levi.  God gave he Levites the responsibility to care for the tabernacle and all of its furnishings.  The would be similar to our Trustees.  The Priests ministered to God.  The received the peoples' offerings and made the necessary sacrifices.  It was the Priest that could enter into the Holy of Holies.  None other were allowed to enter into this sacred place or to perform the sacred ceremonies that God had called for.

Chapter 5 is a hard chapter, but the thing that I take away from it is the call to impurity.  Our God is a holy God and anything less that purity is unacceptable.  The ritual sacrifices and offerings were to atone for imperfections and to make a way for Israel to walk in the presence of God.  Impurity was to be removed from the camp if God was to remain with these people.  Often we read passages such as the one about the unfaithful wife and we say, "that's not fair.  what about the husband?"  What we fail to see is that God is setting up a limit for human abuse.  The procedures that he establishes provide ceilings and containments to prevent men from abusing those who were weaker than they.

The 6th chapter introduces us to the Nazerite; a person set aside for God....someone who fully dedicated themselves to God and service to God.  The requirements set them apart from the rest of society and made them easily distinguished from the rest of the population.  Some examples of Nazerites in the bible in Samson, John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul.  Note that women could also be Nazerites.

Finally, the overriding impression of chapter 7 is the tremendous generosity of the people as they brought their offerings to the temple and how those offerings provided for every need of the temple and of the Levites.  Remember that this great wealth was a gift from God when he created a scenario as Israel left Egypt where the Egyptians gave their gold and silver to the departing Israelites.  God provided a way for Israel to build and equip this marvelous place of worship that became the center of their camp in their 40 year journey to the land of milk and honey.

I pray that your new week is filled with blessing and that your Bible reading will edify your soul and fill you with wonder and awe at all that God has done and is doing. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Leviticus 27-Numbers 2

Wow, we did it......we made it through Leviticus.  If you can do that, this Bible in 2011will be a breeze for you.  Thanks for toughing it out with me.  That is 3 books down 63 to go.  Numbers begins the story of Israel's journey across the desert on their way to the promised land.  If you are into this sort of thing, we are about 13 months into the journey since they left Egypt.  In another 7 months they will be sending spies into Canaan and about to make a big, big mistake.  Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

The census taken in Chapter 1 of Numbers is in preparation for battle, it is to enumerate the number of men capable of war.  The total number comes to 603,550.  Remember when they left Egypt the number was 600,000.  Desert living must agree with Israel.  God is preparing them to take the land.  Later, we will read of a time when David takes a census in violation of God's will and Israel is punished.  Watch for it!

Just a couple of other thoughts; the placement of the Tent of Meeting in the center of the camp with the 12 tribes arranged around it is symbolic of where God wants to be in relation to his people.....right in the middle, in the heart of it all.  Putting God off to the right or the left, on the coffee table or in the back room; picking him up on Sunday.....all of that is asking for trouble with a capital T.  We need to arrange our lives so that God is at the center and we can constantly be reminded that we are created beings, created with a plan and a purpose and anything that violates God's purpose cannot be part of our purpose.  Whatever distracts us for being fully aware of God keeps us from honoring God with all of our heart, soul and might.  Think about that as you chose your music, your books, your movies, you entertainment; is it God honoring or does it divert us from God's purposes?

Numbers begins with God speaking to Moses and a couple of times including at the end of Chapter 2 we are told that Israel did everything that the Lord commanded them to just a very short time as we read these next chapters, we will see Israel begin to lose faith and begin to become disobedient in their minds, their hearts, their words and then their actions.  All of this will lead to a generation lost in the wilderness.  Obedience is a key discipline for the Christian.  Watch as the Israelites fail to be obedient.  Think about how we can become more faithful to God's call on our lives.  How can we become more obedient.

Friday, February 4, 2011

another thought

As I was eating another delightful dinner with my lovely wife, I was thinking about today's readings and the piece about and eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth, which is often quoted when we are talking about punishment that fits the crime.  But then I thought that much of what God says to us is to keep us from sinking to levels that are beneath what God created us to be and I thought that perhaps this passage was to limit our need for revenge.....that it was to set a limit on our retribution.  God calls us to be examples of justice, righteousness and love and to do that we must be quick to forgive.  Forgiveness is a most difficult thing for many of us.  We say....I'll forgive but I won't forget.  And that statement says we have not truly forgiven.  If we are to emulate God's revelation in Jesus Christ we are to forgive as he forgave and that means more than and eye for an eye.  it means going the extra our coat when our cloak is demanded of us.  Hard stuff....but I think it is the way of the Cross.  Sleep well my friends.  See you on Sabbath Day.

Leviticus 24-26

What a beautiful winter's day!!  The sun is shining and the earth is seemingly at rest beneath the mantle of pure white.  Would that we were cleansed as easily from the burden of sin that presses in upon us.  It is sin that necessitates the creation of the law that allows God to define for us what is right and what is wrong.  Without the law we might decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil and to do that would cause us to forget what righteousness really looks like.  We would forget that we are sinners in need of a savior.

Chapter 24 includes instructions for maintaining the lamps upon the altar.  They are to be kept burning at all times as a symbol of God's presence.  This is part of the background for the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah when the sacred olive oil used in the lamps had been profaned and defiled and there was only a single container of oil available to keep the altar lamps burning.  It was only enough for a single day, but God miraculously kept the lamps burning for 8 days with this oil; enough time to allow olives to be pressed and new oil to be prepared.  this miracle occurred during the time of the Maccabees and is still celebrated worldwide by Jews.

The story of the stoning of the blasphemer reminds us of the 3rd commandment; Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.  It is true that we have become very casual with our language.  I suspect that God is not very excited about the way we have treated this commandment.

Chapter 25 sets out the details for the celebration of the year of Jubilee.  There is no evidence that Jubilee was ever really celebrated, but what a marvelous time it would be because everything was restored to its proper order.....all poverty would be extinguished.  Remember this was set up in preparation for the Promised land.  Every tribe and every tribesman would be established in this new country and the promise of Jubilee was that lands would be restored to the tribe, regardless of any financial misfortune every 50 years.  Also in this chapter is the concept of the kinsman redeemer which is spoken of in the story of Ruth.  Part of what is going on in this chapter is the concept that the land is never ours, it belongs to is the idea, established first in the garden, that we have dominion but not ownership.  Today, we would say that wouldn't work, but the concept of non-ownership is practiced in Hawaii and on many native American Tribal grounds where you build homes on leased land and after a period of 50 or 100 years, the land reverts back to the tribe or state....same concept...we are not the owners of the land....we care for it while we have it, but ultimately, it is not ours.

Chapter 26 reminds us that there is a price for disobedience and rebellion.  Just as a loving parent will punish a recalcitrant child, God will not ignore our violations of his commandments for ever.  His punishments are not done out of anger, but out of love; that we might be driven to our knees where we might repent of our sin and be restored to the fellowship that God created us for that we might recieve the full blessing of being sons and daughters of the Most High God.  Would that we would draw closer in this year of 2011 as we read his words and seek to walk in his will.

don't forget the all-church conference at 10 a.m. on Sunday, during the Sunday School hour.  We will be deciding whether we should keep or sell the current church parsonage.  Have a great weekend.  Don't forget to honor God by keeping his Sabbath.  God bless you!!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

leviticus 21-23

It is good to be home even if the temperatures here are significantly lower than the ones we left in Southern California.  Hope you are keeping warm.  My apologies to all who have early February birthdays and anniversaries.  I am late on my card sending.  Please know that if you are one that I have missed, I will catch up soon just as I am with my blogging and Bible reading and when I do, your card will come with an extra bit of TLC.

Leviticus 21 reminds us that nothing we do, wear or say makes us holy.  It is God and God alone who is able to do that.  We are saved by grace and grace alone.  It is God's grace lest any person should boast of their deeds that make them sufficient before the creator.  We are as dust, existing for a little while and then to dust we return.  Only God can make us worthy to stand before him for all eternity.

Chapter 22 is about offerings.  A worthy offering is an offering that is the best that we have.  We are not to come before the Lord with our left overs and our used up offerings.  We are to offer him our first fruits, anything less is unacceptable.  That is a hard concept for us, because it is a trust issue.  God who is full of Grace will forgive our insecurity in bringing our first fruits, we think; but this passage tells us that only our best is acceptable; no blemish....only the best.  Are you bringing your best to the Lord day after day?

Chapter 23 tells of the great Jewish feast days.  Isn't it interesting that God begins by reminding Israel that the most important day is the Sabbath Day.  Do you think that is to keep them from becoming C & E worshipers (Christmas & Easter)?  Every Sabbath is a holy day, set aside by God for himself.  We do not honor God when we fail to keep Sabbath.

The other high and holy days are days that Jews still keep.  They include Passover, deliverance from Egypt.  First Fruits, remembering that God brought them to a land of milk & honey.  The Feast of Weeks which became known as Pentecost, a celebration of harvest.  The feast of Trumpets, celebration of the New Year (Rosh Hashanah).  The Day of Atonement.  The Feast of Tabernacles, sometimes called the Feast of Booths, remembering that God cared for them in their journey through the wilderness to the promised land.

I hope to see you on Sunday as we practice God's command to keep Sabbath.  God Bless You!

leviticus 18-20

Sorry, I'm a day late with this.  No good excuse, but I spent yesterday in the airport and on the planes getting back to beautiful Eastern Jackson County and Faith UMC.   I'll try to catch up the meantime here is my meandering thoughts about these passages:

We often wonder about the Old Testament, so many rules, so much blood and violence; what is it all about?  There is your answer in 18:3.  God is warning Israel and us; do not be as those in Egypt, do not be as those in Canaan.  And then comes this long list of warnings that end up with how we curse the land when we violate God's will in these matters and the land becomes defiled and vomits up the perpetrators of the cause of the abomination.  Israel did not keep God's commandments and centuries after these writings, they are carried off to exile in Babylonia and Assyria.  We would do well to read these warnings well and commit them to our hearts and lives; to teach them to our children and our children's children.  Should we expect that our land that has been blessed by God would experience in less judgment than Israel?  As you read, count the number of offenses we have might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up at the spiritual state of our nation.

The reading concludes in 20 with God's desire for Israel and for us: "Do not defile are holy to me, because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own."  We are only made holy by the work of God in us through Jesus Christ.  Accepting that gift is the only way we are made right with God and having been made right with God we must accept the responsibility that he places on his live lives that are a reflection of his holiness.  We are a people set apart to be a blessing to the world.  The world may live in sin, but we are called to be "in the world but not of the world."  We are called to set an example of what it means to be obedient to God.  We cannot expect the world to conform to Christianity if we do not live the lives that make us salt worth savoring.  We cannot expect God to bless us in our sin.  Repentance is a daily matter for the Christian.  We must constantly give thanks for the Grace that restores us as we confess our frailty and walk in his mercy.  God is good!!  I am glad to be home!  See you on Sunday.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

leviticus 15-17

The day of atonement and the use of a scapegoat are central parts of this reading.  The concept of the scapegoat has long intrigued me and I have watched as we have culturally used this concept for centuries. Read the papers today and we are looking for a scapegoat.  If the economy is bad, we want to blame the government, big banks or the stock market.  One of the popular comedians (Flip Wilson) of a couple of decades ago used to blame his bad behavior on other forces by saying, "the devil made me do it!"  Scapegoats allow us to place the blame for our own sins and faults on the head of another and avoid personal responsibility.  God made a way for Israel to do exactly that by instituting the Day of Atonement and the imposition of sin on the head of the scapegoat.  Interesting that of the two goats used on the day in that ceremony, it was the scapegoat that lived (although banished to the wilderness) and the other sacrificed on the altar to atone for the sins of the people and to make them again at one with God.

Who is your scapegoat?  How do you expect to be made one with God?  From the time of the fall (Adam & Eve), we have been separated from our Creator by the vast expanse of sin that keeps us from being at one with him.  In the Levitical system of sacrifice God made a way through the use of sacrifice for the sins of the people to be forgiven.  In Christ, God gives us the perfect sacrifice, a lamb without blemish.  His sacrifice upon the cross eliminates the need for the sacrificial system.  God has made a way for all who will receive Jesus as their savior.....he has become both our scapegoat and the sacrifice upon the altar.  His blood covers our sins and he has carried them to the sea of forgetfulness, cast them in, never to be remembered again (wilderness).  We are freed from the wages of death, freed from guilt and freed to live in the fullness of God's love and blessing.  Christ has provided a better way!!  Hallelujah......amen!!

Hope you are staying in, staying safe, staying warm.  We hope to board a plane tomorrow afternoon and return to KC, Grain Valley and home tomorrow night.  Hoping that the snow and wind have subsided, the highway department has done their best work and our driveway is not drifted so much that we can't get in.  Love to you all.....see you on Sunday.