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There are so many rules and regulations in today’s reading.

From Festival guidelines

to rules for appointing a king

to recognizing a true prophet

to dealing with people involved in occult practices.

Like a father sending his child off to college,

God goes over every possible thing He can think of before releasing His children into the Promised Land.

I can almost see the Israelites inching toward the Jordan as they hear God saying,

“And one more thing……”

I wonder if they took notes or just hoped someone else was recording all the details……..

there was so much to remember.

Or I wonder if God supernaturally brought things back to their minds as needed.

I read Deuteronomy 19:14 and envision an Israelite farmer

walking the edge of his field in the cool of the evening and noticing the stone separating his land from his neighbor’s.

Did he hear these words as he gazes down at the rock and considers moving it slightly towards his neighbor’s field?

Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone

set up by your predecessors

in the inheritance you receive

in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess.

Deut. 19:14

Was the grass greener on the other side of these stones just as it is our fences today?

Did the farmer or shepherd ever think,

“If I just had a few more feet of land,

I would be happy.”

Did he ever glance to the right or left

and find himself tempted to pick up the stone

and stretch his property line just a little to the east or west?

God must have seen it coming.

He must have known human nature always wants a little more.

This must have continued to be a problem.

The same law is mentioned several times in Scripture.

“Cursed is anyone who moves their neighbor’s boundary stone.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

Deut. 27:17

Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors.

Proverbs 22:28

 Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless.

Proverbs 23:10

According to commentaries on the subject, most property lines were drawn by one simple stone.

It would have been so easy to take what wasn’t rightfully yours.

Slowly.

Over time.

Without anyone noticing.

And isn’t that the way the enemy works?

Sin usually starts small.

The inching into someone else’s marriage through little conversations that slowly become longer ones.

Moving the stone a little further with each encounter.

The use of drugs that begins with “just once” but slowly becomes an unstoppable addiction.

Moving the stone a little further with each decision to use….one more time.

The deceptive record keeping that leads to embezzlement.

Moving the stone a little further with each incorrectly recorded balance sheet.

We’re no different today.

Lack of contentment still pushes us down dark roads.

Roads marked by out-of-place stones.

_____________________________

God knew then what He knows now.

The ancient stones were set in place for a purpose.

And the purpose was a pleasant one.

The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;

Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

Psalm 16:6

Boundaries keep us safe.

Boundaries bring joy.

So when I read this morning of the moving of stones leading to a curse,

I take note of my own life.

Where have the boundary lines fallen for me?

And how can I know when I cross them?

I think the answer is simple.

When I begin to feel uncomfortable with my decisions,

I know I’m moving stones that aren’t mine to move.

So I flip to the New Testament.

Who can help me when I become a stone mover?

Who can remind me of where I’m supposed to be?

I remember Paul,

writing from a prison cell.

If anyone had a reason to move a stone,

it was him.

Hungry, cold, alone……

this surely didn’t feel like part of God’s plan.

But Paul knew what I want to remember today.

He says it in the very next verse,

 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Phil. 4:13

His boundary stone was in place,

and he could handle it with the help of God.

Because of this,

he was content.

Even when moving the stone would have been tempting.

I don’t think it ever crossed his mind.

So today, I want to remember the Israelites.

And I also want to be like Paul.

My boundary stones were set in place long ago.

And it’s not my job to move them.

_____________________________________________________

I know what it is to be in need,

and I know what it is to have plenty.

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,

whether well fed or hungry,

whether living in plenty or in want.

Phil. 4:12

(Today’s reading was from Deuteronomy 16-19.)
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It’s funny how a song you haven’t thought about in years can suddenly pop into your mind while reading the Bible.

This morning as I read Deuteronomy 12 – 15,

I began hearing a song in my head.

A song I had not thought of since church camp over thirty-five years ago:

“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

It seemed so easy to sing these lyrics as an elementary-aged girl and teenager.

Who doesn’t want to feel united with something bigger than themselves while holding hands with other boys and girls who feel the very same way?

I think that’s the thing I loved most about church camp:

I was surrounded by other people who loved God as much as I did.

And I had an entire week of isolation from the world.

Everything we did while we were at camp centered around Jesus.

From early morning quiet time to morning classes to afternoon recreation to evening vespers,

this week was dedicated to one thing:

Helping campers grow closer to God.

Moses knew the Israelites were getting ready to cross the Jordan and enter a land filled with all kinds of different people who worshiped all kinds of different gods.

Although the wilderness had been difficult, it had provided a somewhat safe place to focus on and learn more about the One true God.

The Promised Land would be filled with milk and honey,

but it would also be filled with people who would try to convince the Israelites that there were other gods to worship.

False prophets and false gods would begin to show up in places they had never been before.

God knew the Israelites needed a place to come together and refocus.

God knew the Israelites needed a place to find unity and freely worship Him as a group of believers.

So Moses spends time explaining how important it will be for them to have a designated location for this purpose.

There are lots of things we do today as Christians that bring us closer to God.

Church services

Small groups

Sunday school

Bible studies

Accountability partners

The list goes on and on.

But as a middle-aged Christian woman looking back on my life, I believe church camp was the place my spiritual foundation was laid.

I lived for this week every summer where I would reconnect with boys and girls from many different churches and feel like I belonged.

Memorizing Scripture

Learning new songs

Playing fun games

And feeling God’s presence from the minute I woke up until the minute I laid my head back down at night,

church camp was my home away from home.

As I read the Bible this morning,

I couldn’t help but think of all the false gods kids have to face today.

I thought of the addictions so many kids struggle with today.

From video games to social media and sadly, even to pornography;

and I was reminded of the power they could find in a week away from it all.

If Moses were here today,

I feel like he would encourage all parents to consider sending their children

to a place where they could learn about or reconnect

with the One true God who loves them most of all.

I didn’t think I’d be writing about church camp this morning.

I honestly never know where God will lead me as I read through the Old Testament.

But this morning as I read,

the song “We are one in the Spirit,”

moved through my mind,

and I was drawn back to tether ball games and campfires with other boys and girls who loved God just like I did,

and I smiled.

For me, church camp was an annual reminder of how much I loved God and He loved me.

And a reminder of how many other kids loved Him too.

Church camp brought Hope in seasons of my life when I needed it most.

And as a teenage girl, bombarded with all sorts temptations,

church camp kept my feet on solid ground.

Moses wanted the Israelites to cross the Jordan and plant their feet on solid ground,

but he knew it would take intentional effort to create a place where God could be met and worshiped.

I think it takes intentional effort today too.

If you need help finding a church camp near you,

please email me or call your local church.

I would love to help you find a place for your children or grandchildren to go this summer and spend a week fully in the presence of God.

It’s a scary and uncertain world for kids these days.

What can we do as adults to help them be ready to face it with courage and confidence as adults?

I believe church camp is one option we will never regret adding to our list of options.

Start children off on the way they should go,

and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6

(Today’s reading was from Deuteronomy 12-15.)
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Where Power Rests

March 20th, 2019

 

Were they able to see the blessing in the manna they received every day,

even though they grumbled about it from time to time along the way?

Did they ever reflect on and talk about the times God sent water from a rock just when they thought they would die of thirst?

And most of all, did they ever look back on their forty-year journey and realize how amazing it was to actually hear God’s voice coming from a cloud or fire?

Things will soon be changing for this group of people.

God will soon begin speaking directly to prophets.

His voice will no longer thunder from the sky as it did in those wilderness days.

So Moses spends his final moments on earth reminding the Israelites not of the wealth or power or riches that will come from being God’s chosen people, but of the gift of receiving words directly from the Creator of heaven and earth.

Over and over again, He says,

“Do not forget the Lord your God by failing to keep His Words.”

Basically, Moses is saying,

“The minute you stop obeying His words, you will begin to forget Him and His power.”

Moses knew what I need to be reminded of today.

God’s words matter,

and as I read and reflect on His Word, 

I realize my words matter too.

 I’m thinking of Proverbs 18:21 which says,

“Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.”

Just as Moses pleaded with the people to remember all the words they had heard from God so that they would not forget Him,

I believe God pleads with us to think about the words we choose to use so we will not forget Him either.

Deuteronomy 11:26-29 says,

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse—  

the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; 

 the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God

and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, 

which you have not known.

 When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess,

you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.

Moses makes it clear.

In the Promised Land, they will have the power to declare both blessings and curses.

God places the power of words in the tongues of His people.

We don’t have to read far in the book of James to learn that this power is still with us today,

but the battle is no less difficult than the ones the Israelites will soon face as they cross the Jordan.

James 3:5-12

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

With words,

God spoke the world into existence,

led the Israelites through the wilderness,

and announced the coming of His Son.

Jesus defeated the devil in his own wilderness experience with the proclamation,

“Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Revelation 12:11 says,

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony;

they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”

From Genesis to Revelation,

words had power.

And I believe they still do today.

Yes, there’s power in the blood.

But I believe there’s power in our words too.

Jesus did the first part.

The second part is up to us.

Maybe that’s where our power rests.

In our tongues.

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While taking senior pictures in downtown Ashland early yesterday evening,

I never dreamed the middle-aged woman who passed us in an alley was a priest at a nearby church.

I’m not sure if it was her sweatpants or the purple stripes in her short brown hair that threw me off.

Whatever the case, I wouldn’t have chosen her as a priest in a long line-up of options.

On her way to an exercise class with other church members,

she apologized for her outward appearance

but took time to make small talk with us

as she headed into the church building we were using as a backdrop.

It’s not every day I meet someone who claims that title,

so I couldn’t help but ask the first thing that entered my mind.

“What do you think of the book of Leviticus?”

The irony of that moment didn’t hit me until this morning.

Who gets to ask that question to a priest with purple hair?

My only regret was not asking if I could take her picture.

Her answer to the question I did ask, though, was perfect.

She sighed and said,

“Ahhhhh……Leviticus…..it’s a hard one.  But it’s the law. And we need it.”

She then went on her way.

And we went on ours.

I didn’t give her words much more thought until this morning as I was reading Deuteronomy 4-7.

Moses stands before the Israelites to speak.

In a final attempt to instill in them the importance of keeping God’s commands before they enter the promised land,

he warns them of the danger of false gods.

All the while, he reminds them of God’s faithfulness

and encourages them to teach all they have learned to their children and grandchildren.

Moses knows his own death his near,

and he won’t have the chance to do this himself.

He will soon exit the story of the redemption of God’s people,

passing the baton as his death draws near.

Don’t someone’s last words seem to matter most?

What does Moses want the Israelites to remember?

What is pressing on his heart as he looks out into  the crowd and makes eye contact with so many different people he has grown to love?

What does he want them to remember after he is gone?

Fear God. Obey His laws.

Seek Him with all your heart, soul, and mind.

Tear down every idol.

Worship only Him.

As difficult as it was for me to blog through Leviticus,

I’m realizing something this morning.

The purple-haired priest was right.

Leviticus is the law.

And we need it.

We can’t obey someone who doesn’t tell us what to do.

And we can’t trust someone who doesn’t have a reason for the commands they give.

God set boundaries in Leviticus as any good parent does today.

And there were consequences when these boundary lines were crossed.

So Moses reviews the ten commandments with his audience,

reminding them of the fear they felt in Horeb as God spoke from the mountain blazing with fire

and how this fear moved them to obedience.

Ultimately, their obedience moved them closer and closer to Him –

the One who loved them most.

God no longer speaks from mountains blazing with fire.

But maybe He’s okay with speaking through purple-haired priests.

Leviticus…..it’s a hard one.

But it’s the law.

And we need it.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;

all who follow his precepts have good understanding.

To him belongs eternal praise.

Psalm 111:10

And our children do too.

Deut. 6:5-9 says,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.

Impress them on your children.

Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road,

when you lie down and when you get up.

Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  

Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

(Today’s reading was from Deuteronomy 4-7.)

We’ll never feel conviction from our sins quite like the Israelites did,

not only offering sacrifices every time they fell short…..

but also every time they even had thoughts of falling short.

We’ll never know the fatigue of wandering in the wilderness for forty years,

or the awe of being led by a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of clouds by day.

We can read about it all day long,

but the truth is,

we’ll never truly grasp what it felt like to travel forty years

in the same clothes and the same shoes

with no need of replacing them.

God demanded a lot of His chosen people,

but He took care of them all along the way,

making His presence known with every step they took

and somehow preventing what they wore from ever wearing out.

As difficult as it has been to blog through the Old Testament so far,

one thing has been evident.

God chose the Israelites and He didn’t go back on the promises He made to them.

As Deuteronomy started this morning,

Moses stood before the Israelites and recapped their wilderness journey with them

just before they stepped forward to enter the Promised Land.

As if he knew they needed a reminder of God’s presence and leading,

Moses breaks down their story into sections so that they can see why certain things happened when they did,

and how they ended up where they were on this particular day.

He wanted them to grasp with confidence just how faithful God had been at getting them to this place in spite of their grumbling and complaining all along the way.

He also wanted them to realize that even in the wilderness,

God never kept them in one place any longer than necessary.

Moses begins by reflecting on their time at Mt. Sinai

where God gave them the law and taught them just how serious it was to disobey it.

For a whole year, they camped here at Horeb.

Fear and trembling were the norm at this campsite..

People died when they ventured too close to this mountain.

The power of God’s presence had to be seen AND taught in order to be appreciated and understood.

Once they grasped His Holiness and their daily need for it,

they were ready for their journey.

So in Deuteronomy 1:6, Moses reminds them of the day when God finally said,

“You have stayed at this mountain long enough.  Resume your journey.”

After a year in this same place in the desert,

I can only imagine how ready they were to pack up their tents and get on their way.

With no clocks and no calendars,

the sun and stars were their only way of keeping track of time.

And nearly 365 sunrises would have been a lot to tally without a dry erase board and marker.

Did they even appreciate the power of the sunrise in the wilderness –

before the Son had actually risen?

I have so many questions when I get to Heaven.

That will be definitely be one of them if I get to interview any of these people.

I’ve often thought I would love if Heaven offered workshops for the first 10,000 years.

I’d love to move from cloud to cloud,

learning the back stories of people like Abraham, Noah, and Moses.

For this morning, though, I have to believe I’ve been given all I need to know for life on this planet

in the pages of the Bible.

And this morning,

I learned this.

God keeps us where we need to be as long as we need to be there…….

but not one day longer than necessary.

He uses every mountain in our life as a teachable moment.

And He uses every valley too.

We may not know until we’re looking back on life just how much we learned at each stop along the way,

but I do believe there’s not one day or week or year that’s wasted in our journey.

I can see the winding path of my own life up to this point and how even my years of taking typing and shorthand as a twenty year old college student prepared me for this morning as I sit at a keyboard over thirty years later,

clicking away with my somewhat wrinkled hands in the exact same positions as my youthful hands rested on a keyboard so many years earlier.

I never would have dreamed writing would have been my main reason for needing typing skills.

But God knew.

As I sat in the computer lab of Cincinnati Bible College day after day typing the sentence,

“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,”

over and over again in order to practice moving more and more quickly over all letters of the keyboard,

God was preparing me for today.

And as I’ve faced much harder days,

He has prepared me for even harder moments.

Strengthening my heart and mind just as he strengthened my fingers.

Moving me on only after I had learned what I needed for the next leg of my journey.

I believe every day is both a time of learning for tomorrow and a time of putting into practice what we learned yesterday.

Spiritually as well as physically.

No chapter is insignificant.

But no chapter is forever either.

So here we are,

three chapters into Deuteronomy and far from Mt. Sinai.

Almost to receive the Promised Land yet not too far from the law to forget how much it matters.

I think that’s what this Monday’s reading is all about for me.

It’s a reminder of where I’ve been and where I’m going.

It’s the Hope of all that is to come with the gentle whisper of all that has already been.

It’s the standing at the crossroad of my past and my future and realizing that every single day is actually a chance to stand at this same place,

taking a moment to look back while having the courage to step forward.

I’m not sure what this year holds for our family.

There are lots of questions looming in my mind this morning.

But this I know for sure, just as the Israelites knew several thousand years ago,

God is with me.

He held yesterday and He holds tomorrow,

but most of all,

HE HOLDS TODAY.

I’m not sure what else I need to know this morning.

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Blogging through the Bible is more challenging than I ever dreamed.

Some mornings when I read, I find myself staring at the chapters I’ve just read and wondering,

“What in the world do these words have to do with us today?”

This morning I finished the book of Numbers.

The journey through the wilderness is broken down into all the places the Israelites camped along the way with significant moments recorded at some of these locations.

After this, the Promised Land is divided between the tribes.

Special instructions are even given to the daughters of Zelophehad about who they are allowed to marry,

because their inheritance normally would have gone to brothers,

if they would have had any.

There is fear that if these women married outside their own tribe their family’s inheritance would be handed to another tribe.

And no one wanted to lose what rightfully belonged to them.

_______________________________________________

Not much has changed today.

Inheritances matter.

We see it more on television shows when a wealthy family member dies,

and his or her relatives gather for the reading of the will.

Everyone sits around a conference room table, waiting to hear what’s coming their way.

Sometimes family members are shocked to learn what they thought would become theirs has been left to an entirely different person or group.

___________________________________________________

The Israelites wanted to avoid any shocking changes in what belonged to their families.

They had traveled too many years and fought too many battles to lose their inheritance now.

So they covered all their bases with God in order to ensure their inheritance was secure.

_________________________________________

As Christians,

we are heirs.

And thankfully, our inheritance comes with a promise.

If we belong to Christ, we are Abraham’s seed.

Part of the family.

Co-heirs with Christ.

Called to  “share in His suffering in order to share in His glory.”

Just as the Israelites fought their way through the desert,

we are called to fight our way through life.

Not against men-

But against an enemy who would love nothing more than to see us miss our chance at the table.

If my life journey were broken down into places I’ve camped along the way,

with details of what happened at certain places,

March 15th, 1992, would be mentioned.

This was the day our first daughter was born.

My first and only c-section,

this little gift from God left both a physical and emotional scar.

She showed up in perfect form and became our cuddle bug immediately,

but six and a half weeks later,

she quietly slipped away.

SIDS became part of our story.

And Adrienne Annabeth’s inheritance came early.

On the day she left our arms,

we were left holding a decision.

Would the enemy get the best of us in the wilderness?

Would the suffering be too much?

I remember feeling very unloved at the young age of 27,

as if God’s love depended upon my happiness.

I had a lot of wrestling to do before I would find joy again.

And like Jacob years before, I was left with both a blessing and a limp.

Twenty-seven more years have passed since the day Adrienne became our daughter.

Tim and I have lived a whole other lifetime since then –

and we’ve camped many other places along the way.

This morning, as I think about Adrienne’s birthday and about the Israelites setting up tents and taking them down in so many different places across the desert,

I can’t help but think that’s exactly what we’ve been called to do today.

Not forgetting where we’ve been or how far we’ve traveled,

we have to keep moving forward.

Step by step,

We’re moving closer to the land we’ve been promised,

trusting that when the day comes for His will to be read aloud,

our names will be there.

No surprises.

Heirs with a promise.

But in order to share in His glory,

we shouldn’t be surprised when we’re also called to share in His suffering.

____________________________

So, today, instead of making a birthday cake,

I’ll finish this blog post and get ready for a regular day of work,

trusting that the birthday party in Heaven will exceed any celebration I could have pulled off here.

Happy birthday,

Adrienne Annabeth.

You are still so loved.

I’m camping here today in your  memory.

But I won’t stop traveling closer to you as the years pass by.

See you soon, little one.

______________________________________________________

 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, 

and heirs according to the promise.

Gal. 3:29

 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—

heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,

if indeed we share in his sufferings 

in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:17

(Today’s reading was from Numbers 33-36.)

 

 

 

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The first time I made it through the entire Bible was 2009, the year after Nick passed away.

I remember reaching these particular chapters in Numbers and finding myself upset.

I didn’t know what to do with God’s command to annihilate the Midianites.

I remember walking into a college Bible professor’s office in search of answers,

distraught with the thought of a God who required such violence from His people.

The answer I received wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear,

but I knew this professor had studied the Bible for many, many years

and loved God with all his heart…..

and I also knew what he told me that day was true.

“It’s not up to us to understand the ‘why’ behind every one of God’s commands.

It’s just up to us to trust He knows best and always has a plan.”

It’s difficult for me to imagine how evil these people were and just how much they hated God,

but I have to believe God knew their influence would destroy His plan for redeeming the world.

This is my eleventh year to read through these difficult chapters,

and it’s my eleventh year  to stumble through them……..

They still don’t make sense to me,

and I still don’t love what I read.

But choosing to walk away from the One who has carried me through chapters of my own that I haven’t loved doesn’t make sense either.

Life is hard.

God is good.

And evil is not tolerated.

End of story.

I move on in today’s reading and find myself wondering how the tribes of Reuben and Gad, after seeing God’s anger so many times in the wilderness, could have gotten up the nerve to approach Moses and ask if they can stay east of the Jordan…….

settling their families near the Promised Land but not quite in it???

To travel so far then choose to stop….just short of the goal….doesn’t make sense to me either.

Moses is angry at first, but chooses to grant their request if they promise to at least help the other tribes claim the land God has promised to them.

What in the world is this part of Bible history all about?

I did some research and discovered that generations before, Jacob had prophesied that Reuben’s family would fall short.

In Genesis 49:3-4, Jacob had said,

“Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power. Unstable as water, you shall not excel, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it.”

Fast forward to the years in the wilderness where Reuben’s tribe is told to camp on the south side of the tabernacle with Gad’s tribe.

The bond formed between these tribes was strong.

Strong enough for Gad’s family to be pulled into Reuben’s shortcoming………………

seeing land that looked “good enough” and “wanting it now” rather than waiting for what was best on the other side of the Jordan.

If we peek into the future, we find out this decision ends up being a bad one.

In II Kings we will learn that the land they settled in is eventually taken captive by the King of Assyria and the tribes of Reuben and Gad will find themselves living in what will then be named Ninevah.

So what do I do with all of this information??

The Midiianites are dead.

And the Reubenites and Gadites are doomed.

I refuse to close my Bible and move on with my day without something to carry with me.

I know

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching……

(II Tim. 3:16)

So there’s something here.

Something I need to know.

So I sit and think.

Lord, teach me. 

I keep going back to the fact that God knows how easily evil would spread if the Midianites were allowed to influence the Israelites.

And how the Reubenites and Gadites had become like-minded as shepherding tribes who spent all their time together,

eventually wanting the first good land they saw,

even if that meant missing life in the Promised Land.

I’m hearing a phrase in my mind I’ve heard all my life,

“Birds of a feather flock together.”

I guess shepherds who think alike “flock” together too.

And that’s what God is saying in these chapters.

Choose your company wisely.

And do not settle where you don’t want to stay.

Even if the ones you love choose to get comfy,

buying into “good enough” when “best” is just within reach.

Spiritually speaking,

Stay far away from all hints of evil and never stop pursuing all God has planned for you.

That’s it.

That’s what I’m hearing this morning in Numbers 29-32.

I’d love to know what these chapters say to you.

(Today’s reading was from Numbers 29-32.)
bible and book

 

If you’re wanting a “feel good” start to your day,

reading through the pages of the Old Testament each morning may not be the answer.

Stories like the execution of the Israelite leaders

who had aligned themselves with Baal

won’t send you humming a happy tune as you head toward the shower.

Reading about Phinehas plunging a spear through an Israelite man and a Midianite woman

in order to end a plague that had already taken the lives of 24,000 Israelites won’t leave you singing the lyrics,

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart.”

The Old Testament is tough.

God’s Holiness wasn’t something for the Israelites to take lightly.

And His expectation for His people to be Holy wasn’t either.

God hated sin then.

And He hates sin now.

Burnt offerings were a regular part of the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness,

because sin cost something –

either your life or a sacrifice.

It’s easy to avoid the Old Testament if you’re not interested in hearing about the consequences of sin

in the days of men like Abraham and Moses.

There’s another option if holding the Old Testament open in your hands doesn’t feel pleasant.

After all, we live in an era in which we’ve been given the freedom

to toss anything out of our lives that no longer “sparks joy.”

And who feels joy as they imagine the smiting of men, women, and children trudging through the desert in search of Canaan?

Here’s the other option:

Skip the books in the Bible that make you cringe.

Flip to the New Testament.

Read about Jesus’ arrival and the grace and hope that arrived with Him.

No wonder we love Christmas.

No wonder we fill our world with twinkling lights in December,

almost as if we’re trying to recreate that one special, starry night all over again every year.

No wonder we sing carols,

celebrating His arrival.

Jesus gave His whole life for us,

became the sacrifice for our sins –

once and for all.

And thinking about this feels good.

Thinking about what Jesus did for me sparks the kind of joy I feel every winter as December 25th approaches,

and I like this feeling.

However, ignoring the Old Testament because it doesn’t “spark joy”

would be a huge mistake for me.

I need to feel uncomfortable.

I need to be reminded just how much God despised anything or anyone who stepped toward the world and away from Him.

I need to see what unholiness looked like in the wilderness –

and the cost of unholy living.

WHY???

Because I walk in my own kind of wilderness every single day.

Yes, the Promised Land is coming.

But for now,

I’m on the journey toward it.

And the battles I face every day are no different than the ones the Israelites faced.

In some ways, my battles are harder because the enemy doesn’t always show up holding a weapon,

announcing his arrival in the pages of my life.

He’s sneaky.

And he loves to convince us that majority rules,

and that the line between what is right and what is wrong is thick –

with lots of room to “play around.”

As if fifty shades of grey really do exist between what is black and what is white.

I Peter 5:8-9 warns,

Be alert and of sober mind. 

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion

looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith,

you know that the family of believers throughout the world

is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

II. Cor. 11:3 says,

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning,

minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

Eph. 6:12 says,

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,

against the rulers, against the authorities,

against the powers of this dark world

and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

The freedom Christ brought to the world wasn’t the freedom to do and say whatever we want.

It was freedom from the power of the enemy –

who holds the power of death.

Heb. 2:14-15

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity

 so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death

—that is, the devil— 

And free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

So reading the Old Testament,

though often painful and rarely sparking the same kind of joy I feel at Christmastime,

is crucial in my walk with God.

I want to feel joy,

but I never want to forget this truth:

I have not yet arrived in the Promised Land

and there’s an enemy who is trying to keep me from getting there.

So every morning, I have a decision to make.

Choose Holiness.

Or not.

That’s the freedom I have today.

And the only way to have this freedom is to submit myself to Him

who offered it first to Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, and the Israelites.

James 4:7

Submit yourselves, then, to God.

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Lord,

Let my desire to be holy as you are holy

be the one thing that sparks true joy in my soul today.

In Your Son’s Precious Name,

Amen

(Today’s reading was from Numbers 25-28.)
gate at abbey

 

The story of Balaam is deeper than my mind can go this morning.

Or my clock will allow.

I’ve reread so many verses and looked at several commentaries and still………..

I have questions.

Lots of them.

Did God ultimately want Balaam to go with Balak’s men or not?

The command to “Not go,” seems to be followed with a “Go.”

But once Balaam is on the road,

his donkey has a supernatural experience and does its best to turn Balaam around…

or at least redirect his steps.

Balaam seems caught up in the mission by this time,

and when his donkey finally talks to him after being beaten several times,

Balaam doesn’t even flinch.

He replies to the animal on which he is riding as if talking to a donkey is an every-day experience.

It is in this moment that God chooses to open Balaam’s eyes.

Suddenly, he see what the donkey has seen all along –

An angel of the Lord is standing in his path,

sword drawn,

ready to kill Balaam if he continues to move forward.

In this moment, Balaam realizes all power and wisdom come from above –

not from himself.

With sincere humility, he offers to turn around and go home if it is evil in God’s eyes to continue.

However, now that God has Balaam’s full attention, he sends him on his way –

with a message for Balak and a blessing for the Israelites –

the very thing Balak did not want to hear.

If I’m really honest this morning,

which I always try to be,

this story confuses me.

And if I’m honest again,

 the path of my own life confuses me sometimes too.

Which way does God want me to go?

Doors open.

I walk through them.

Yet there are times I find myself wondering if this where I’m really supposed to be.

Have I gotten so caught up in a mission or a goal that I miss the voice of a talking donkey?

And what the talking donkey sees?

I hope not.

I want my eyes opened.

I want to see what Balaam’s donkey saw.

I want to know when the direction of my feet

does not match the direction of God’s will for my life.

Psalm 16:11 says,

You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

And Jeremiah 29:13 says,

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

God, make Your path known to me.

I want to find joy in your presence.

I want eternal pleasures at your right hand…..

and yours alone.

My eyes are open, Lord.

Open my ears, too.

I want to hear you.

I want to know your voice so well that there’s no mistaking it when you speak…..

through people or nature or donkeys or whatever you choose today.

In Your Son’s Precious Name,

Amen

 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 

 I give them eternal life, 

and they shall never perish; 

no one will snatch them out of my hand.

John 10:27-28

I’m just a sheep, Lord, listening for the voice of a donkey.

(Today’s reading was from Numbers 21-24.)
cardinal in snow

Because God is the Director

March 11th, 2019

 

This morning’s reading included everything from a staff sprouting

to signify Aaron’s family as the guards of the sanctuary and the altar

to the striking of a rock by an angry Moses

 as he and Aaron faced the thirsty but once-again grumbling Israelites.

This morning’s reading also included very specific instructions

for preparing a sin offering using a red cow,

several unsuccessful attempts of the Israelites to enter cities

on their way to the Promised Land,

and the details of Aaron’s death

followed by the solemn ceremonial transition

of his power to his son Eleazar.

So much happened in these four chapters.

But there’s one verse I keep rereading.

Right in the middle of explicit instructions on how to purify unclean people

and the grumbling of the whole Israelite community,

something happens.

This “something” is not acknowledged in an emotional way.

And this “something” doesn’t even seem to leave the Israelites feeling sad.

Numbers 20:1 says,

The entire Israelite community entered the Wilderness of Zin

in the first month, and they settled in Kadesh. 

Miriam died and was buried there.

That’s it.

The sister who had stood at a distance and watched her baby brother float away in a basket

was gone.

The sister who had mustered the courage to approach Pharoah’s daughter and

offer to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the abandoned baby

was dead.

With no fanfare or designated days of mourning,

Miriam exits the Israelites’ redemption story.’

Either stage right or stage left.

Even the way she left is unclear.

But one thing is certain.

Miriam didn’t upstage anyone as she took her last breath.

I did a little research on play directions this morning

and learned that theater stages in the Middle Ages

actually sloped upwards away from the audience.

These raked stages, as they were called,

required actors to either stand “upstage”

or “downstage,” meaning they were either

higher and further from the audience

or lower and closer to them.

When an actor moved upstage and demanded the attention

of the other actors on stage with him or her,

it resulted in a cast of actors

standing with their backs to the audience.

This is where we get the phrase,

“being upstaged.”

Miriam’s death was acknowledged but seemed to turn no heads her direction.

She humbly saved her baby brother then humbly slipped off the planet.

Yet her part in the story still matters.

Without her courage at only five years old,

who knows what might have happened to Moses many years earlier.

I can’t imagine how she felt as she watched her grown-up brother hold up a staff

as God split the Red Sea for His people.

I can’t imagine what she was thinking as her little brother came down from Mt. Sinai,

face glowing and hands filled with God’s commandments.

Did she ever reflect on that morning by the Nile as she watched Moses move through the desert?

Could she still see the basket bobbing up and down as it floated down the river as Moses’ head bobbed up and down in the crowds of people that often gathered around him for instructions?

Maybe she could.

And maybe that’s why she had a weak moment in the wilderness journey years earlier

and found herself trying to move upstage,

attempting to draw the Israelites’ attention away from Moses and toward her.

This upstaging incident didn’t end well for her,

just as it hadn’t ended well for others in the wilderness who found themselves trying to do the same thing.

Leprosy never feels like a reward.

And after this season of envy and pride,

Miriam’s impact on the story of the Israelites seems to fade…..

from a prophetess leading people in praises to God to an unmentioned character in the redemption story…….

until she finally fades away……

forever.

I wonder how different her life would have gone had she continued to be a brave sideline sister

who gave God the glory all along the way –

instead of needing glory for herself?

I guess this side of Heaven,

we’ll never really know.

But one thing we can know for sure this morning is this:

Pride never leads to the right kind of attention.

And maybe today, that’s all that matters.

Because God is the director,

and He places us each where we need to be……

because the only direction

heads need to be turned

is toward Him.

Humble yourselves before the Lord,

and he will exalt you.

James 4:10

(Today’s reading was from Numbers 17-20.)