Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day 2012

Happy Leap Day!

365 Forum is set to 365 posts per year. Most years that works out okay, but every four years or so the calendar police insert an extra day right here at the end of February... and no one asks me. Oh, no.

So, since there's no assigned Bible reading for today, that's about 10-15 minutes extra that you can use for whatever you'd like. You could learn how to say "Hello" and "Goodbye" in the language of your choice. Or you could brush up on your chopsticks technique. Or you could watch an old Webisode of Battlestar Galactica.

But time's a-wasting. What are you doing still reading this? Get on with your life. And remember, only 1460 shopping days until next Leap Day!


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 59: Deuteronomy 25, 26 and 27

My father was a wandering Aramean. (Deuteronomy 26:5)

In the waning days of their desert experience, the Israelites were anticipating how things would be different once they were settled in Canaan. Once they had taken the land, and moved in to houses they had not built, and harvested gardens they had not planted, they were to bring the first fruits of the harvest to the priest as a tithe belonging to God. They were to speak these words: My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Eqyptians mistreated us and made us suffer . . . So the Lord brought us out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 26:5-8).

They were being reminded that while enjoying the blessings of God they should never forget their humble beginnings and how far God had brought them.

My grandfather was a poor man working oil leases, coal mines and railroads (whatever work he could find) in Western Pennsylvania. My father, brought up during the Great Depression, dropped out of high school so he could go to work and help support the family. I thank the Lord my kids are looking ahead to college degrees and anticipating all that life has waiting for them.

May we never forget our roots and with God's help, how far we've come.

Where are your roots? How far has God brought you?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Day 58: Deuteronomy 22, 23 and 24

If you see your brother’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to him. (Deuteronomy 22:1)

There is a popular philosophy that can be summed up like this: Look out for #1. This sounds more like an advertisement for natural selection than it does the basis for an ethical system. The biblical writers take a different tack.

The writer of Deuteronomy records God’s admonition that rather than selfishly looking after our own interests, we are to care for our brothers and sisters. Our brother’s sheep that wanders away is our responsibility to return, even if no one’s looking. We are not to hide behind plausible deniability, but to do the right thing.

It goes on to say if we find an ox running loose and don’t know who owns it; we are to take it home, feed and care for it until we find out who it does belong to, and then return it. Although it might be easier to ignore the animal, or more advantageous to take it as our own, that’s not the way for one who claims a relationship with God.

I can’t remember the last time I came upon a wandering sheep or ox. So how does this apply to a 21st century inhabitant of a major metropolitan area? Jesus put it this way: Do to others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12).

Seen any wandering oxen lately?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Day 57: Deuteronomy 19, 20 and 21

Is any man afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his brothers will not become disheartened too. (Deuteronomy 20:8)

Have you ever been spooked by a rumor? Most of the things we worry about never happen, and of those that do, almost none end up being as bad as we feared.

In Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, as the nation was sinking into the Great Depression, he uttered these words: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Those words have been repeated over and over, because of their profundity and for the comfort and assurance they afford.

Fear is contagious. Israel’s leadership didn’t want fear infecting the ranks of its volunteer army, so anxiety was a legitimate reason for being sent home. Better to lose one fearful soul than have panic spread to everyone else.

Fear can derail not only a nation’s (or an army’s) forward momentum; it can do the same to a church. So can negativity – one of fear’s byproducts. That’s why it’s so important to speak positively. A careless word can do a lot of damage.

For he has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). That means fear doesn’t get to tell us what to do. May our words, and the attitudes from which they are spawned, always move us forward and never hold us back.

Are your words an encouragement to those around you?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Day 56: Deuteronomy 16, 17 and 18

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you. (Deuteronomy 18:15)

Moses’ life and ministry were coming to a close. He had led the people of Israel for forty years, confronting Pharaoh on behalf of his enslaved brothers and sisters, serving as the agent through which God gave the Law to his people, and interceding for the nation. Now his work was almost finished. He would soon transfer leadership to Joshua.

The people must have been wondering, Who will speak to God on our behalf? How will God communicate with us now that Moses is leaving us? God reassures Moses, and Moses reassures the people: The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him (18:15).

Although this role would be temporarily fulfilled by Joshua, Moses was not speaking about one specific person. Samuel Rolles Driver (1846-1914), Anglican Divine and Hebrew scholar, writes that Moses was referring to a permanent office rather than a particular individual [1]. As the need came up, God would raise up a prophet who would speak to the people on his behalf.

In the first century, the writer of Matthew went to great lengths to identify Jesus with Moses (Herod’s order to kill the baby boys, the Sermon on the Mount) and reveal that Moses-like prophet as none other than Jesus Christ himself.

Is there someone speaking into your life on God's behalf?

[1] S. R. Driver. Deuteronomy. “The International Critical Commentary.” (Edinburgh, T & T Clark, n.d.), 227.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 55: Deueteronomy 13, 14 and 15

There should be no poor among you. (Deuteronomy 15:4)

Our nation’s capital is full of homeless people. They make their beds at Union Station and near the White House (both obviously major tourist destinations). Every once in awhile, especially before a significant event, the Capital Police will push the poor out of these more visible locations, and relocate them elsewhere. After all, it doesn’t look good for the most prosperous nation in the world to have street people huddled beneath dirty blankets in front of tourists and TV cameras.

Chapter 15 speaks about the Sabbath year for cancelling debts. There should be no poor among you. It's not the poor this passage is aimed at, but those with plenty. Deuteronomy does not blame the have-nots for their lot in life. It charges those with much to care for those with little. Do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs (Deuteronomy 15:7,8).

Why are so many Christians quick to quote Paul: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10), but slow to quote Jesus: “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45)?

This section reminds me of Proverbs 19:17 - If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord - and he will repay you!

When’s the last time you looked the other way rather than connecting with the poor?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Day 54: Deuteronomy 10, 11 and 12

And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you? (Deuteronomy 10:12)

One thing I like about Deuteronomy is how it encapsulates the entire 40 year wilderness experience into 34 readable chapters. When reading Exodus through Numbers (especially Leviticus), it's easy to think God is all about rules and regulations, but Deuteronomy boils it down to what's really important: What does the Lord ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (Deuteronomy 10:12,13)

And did you catch that last part? For your own good? That's important for us to remember.

Israel’s neighbors were envious of its laws. The Law was seen as a sign of favor by Israel’s God, that he loved his people enough to give them boundaries in which to walk – a path leading to his blessing and kindness.

God created us to live in loving relationship with him and with people. When left to our own devices, we often abuse our freedoms and end up hurting other people, sometimes to the point of damaging those relationships – even unintentionally. But obeying God's laws preserves and even restores them.

Have you ever damaged a relationship by neglecting God’s laws? Was it worth it?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Day 53: Deuteronomy 7, 8 and 9

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. (Deuteronomy 8:10)

The Israelites would soon be inhabiting a land to which they were connected only by DNA. Although they had never set foot in Canaan, their ancestors were buried there, and Abraham had legally purchased property therein ensuring an inheritance for his children and his children's children in perpetuity.

The houses in which they would live and the vineyards from which they would harvest were not of their own making. Others had labored to build the cities and plant the gardens. Moses didn't want his followers to take these things for granted. He wanted them to give credit where credit was due, and to express their thankfulness to God.

During this economic downturn beginning the second decade of the 21st century, those of us with jobs are perhaps more aware of how much we have to be thankful for than any time in recent history. But things are bound to improve – they always do. And when we are all breathing a little easier, and not constantly wondering if ours will be the next job lost, let's think back on this difficult time, be thankful for what we have, and remember to thank God for all the good things in our lives.

In fact, let's pause to say, Thank You, right now.

For what or for whom do you need to give thanks today?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Day 59: Deuteronomy 25, 26 and 27

My father was a wandering Aramean. (Deuteronomy 26:5)

In the waning days of their desert experience, the Israelites were anticipating how things would be different once they were settled in Canaan. Once they had taken the land, and moved in to houses they had not built, and harvested gardens they had not planted, they were to bring the first fruits of the harvest to the priest as a tithe belonging to God. They were to speak these words: My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Eqyptians mistreated us and made us suffer . . . So the Lord brought us out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 26:5-8).

They were being reminded that while enjoying the blessings of God they should never forget their humble beginnings and how far God had brought them.

My grandfather was a poor man working oil leases, coal mines and railroads (whatever work he could find) in Western Pennsylvania. My father, brought up during the Great Depression, dropped out of high school so he could go to work and help support the family. I thank the Lord my kids are looking ahead to college degrees and anticipating all that life has waiting for them.

May we never forget our roots and with God's help, how far we've come.

Where are your roots? How far has God brought you?

Day 52: Deuteronomy 4, 5 and 6

If from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him. (Deuteronomy 4:29)

We started the year with the premise that these writings came to their final form during the Babylonian exile. I asked you to put yourself in the place of a Jewish expatriate. Things haven't been particularly rough in Babylon; you've settled down, raised a family, and been relatively prosperous – but inside you is a longing for home. The faraway look in your parents’ eyes when speaking of Jerusalem has made you vow to return there if you ever get the chance.

Now there are rumors that your fantasy may soon become reality. Whoever wants may return to Judah with the new king’s blessing. To prepare, the priests have been reading stories from Israel's beginnings – stories of enslavement and escape, temptation and failure, desert wanderings and battles of conquest.

These stories explain why Judah was exiled seventy years ago. It was her unwillingness to obey the first commandment: You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3). But these stories also include a promise: Even if you've been scattered among the nations, …seek the Lord your God, [and] you will find him.

It was a reminder that Yahweh would not be trifled with, and a promise that Israel would not be forgotten. You vow that if you ever see Jerusalem you will not make the same mistakes as did your parents and grandparents.

What lessons have you learned from the mistakes of others?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Day 51: Deuteronomy 1, 2 and 3

It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road. (Deuteronomy 1:2)

Just a parenthetical note, that's all. Apparently common knowledge – It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road. It was from Kadesh Barnea, the southern entrance to Canaan, the spies were dispatched to survey the Promised Land. It was at Kadesh Barnea the people balked at going in and taking what was rightfully theirs.

It takes stamina, determination and careful planning to squeeze an eleven-day journey into forty years.

The people who followed Moses out of Egypt were not prepared to follow him into Canaan – not once the cold reality of battle and hardship pierced the fog of their naive expectations. They were slaves, not soldiers, and they needed to grow up if they were ever to claim their inheritance.

There may be times in our lives when it seems things are taking longer than they should, when we take inventory of our lives and insist we should have come further and accomplished more. Rather than becoming frustrated, those are the times we need to remember that God alone knows how far we've really traveled and the battles we've fought to get from where we were to where we are now.

The straight-line distance from where we started to where we end up may not tell the whole story of how far we've come.

How's your journey going?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Day 50: Numbers 34, 35 and 36

Select some towns to be your cities of refuge. (Numbers 35:11)

These closing chapters of Numbers deal with boundaries to define tribal allotments, boundaries to protect land from osmosing from one tribe to another, and boundaries to protect innocent people accused of murder.

People who think Old Testament laws are harsh must not realize the lengths to which these statutes go in protecting the accused. Customs often demanded the death penalty for injuring someone or even simple theft. Biblical laws introduced the concept that the punishment must fit the crime. An eye for an eye was not cruel; it was a limit placed on punishment to protect the defendant.

Another example of these limits is that a person could not be executed on the witness of only one person. The biblical laws stated that testimony in a capital case must be corroborated at the very least by a second witness.

Likewise, cities of refuge were set up to protect people who had accidentally killed someone. Even though the death may have been accidental, vigilantes would sometimes hunt down the offender and avenge the wounded. The defendant might be executed before getting the chance to tell his side of the story.

Harsh? Maybe not as harsh as some would believe.

Considering Jesus' admonishment to have compassion on the prisoner (Mt. 25:34-40), should we be surprised that same compassion would be extended to defendants prior to conviction?

Is anyone fearing for his life, or maybe his dignity, while awaiting your verdict?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Day 49: Numbers 31, 32 and 33

The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. (Numbers 32:1)

As Israel was camped on the Plains of Moab, the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh took inventory of their surroundings. They got to looking around on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead, and couldn’t understand how Canaan could be any better than the lands already under their feet. They came to Moses and said, Gilead been veddy veddy goood to me. (Okay, this is a very, very obscure 1970s Saturday Night Live Garrett Morris reference – one would require a misspent youth and too much time on their hands to get it.)

At first, Moses was incensed, thinking these three tribes were abandoning the rest of the nation just as they were about to cross into Canaan to drive out the inhabitants of the land. This didn't set well with Moses until they assured him they would participate in the battle campaigns for Canaan, and then return to their wives and children in Gilead.

While Moses gave his blessing to the request of these three tribes, it really didn't end well. There was never really a strong connection between these transJordan tribes and the rest of Israel. As we continue to read, we will find the references to them are few and far between.

Do you have any distant family members with whom it would be good to reconnect?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Day 48: Numbers 28, 29 and 30

If her husband forbids her when he hears about it, he nullifies the vow that obligates her. (Numbers 30:8)

In this passage Moses emphasizes the sanctity of a promise. He starts out saying a man must absolutely keep his word to the Lord, and if he takes an oath he’d better make good his pledge. He doesn’t stop at how important it is to keep a promise already made; he also warns against making rash vows in the first place.

We’d all be better off if everyone took promises as seriously as Moses.

The rules are different when it comes to women. A young woman still living at home can have her promises annulled by her father, and a wife can have her promises overruled by her husband. But if the husband or father knows about the promise and says nothing, the promise stands.

At first glance, it might seem this passage is demeaning to women; however, that's not the point. The purpose of this regulation is not to be condescending to women, but to protect them. On the other hand, it also protects husbands and families from being burdened with debts racked up by non-worldly wise wives and daughters. These are not the arbitrary restrictions of a woman-hating God, but the sheltering embrace of a benevolent parent.

As an example of another biblical writer's honor and respect for successful businesswomen, see Proverbs 31:10-31.

Have you ever made a promise and later wished someone could get you out of it?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Day 47: Numbers 25, 26 and 27

The men began to indulge in sexual immorality with the Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices of their gods. (Numbers 25:1,2)

This is the second installment of Balaam’s story. I never really understood why, from the reporting of chapters 23 and 24, that Balaam would have been sentenced to death. After all, he didn’t curse Israel. Then I gained some pertinent information. Even though his name is not mentioned again until the report of his death in chapter 31, many biblical scholars think Balaam was behind Moab’s last ditch attack – namely the seduction of the Israelites.

On the surface, this speaks to the determination of Moab to defeat the Hebrew people. Balak felt threatened by Israel, and when a frontal military assault (Plan A) proved impractical, he attempted a side door attack (Plan B) through his agent (Balaam). When that was also unsuccessful, Balaam apparently discovered where the men of Israel were weak, and attacked them via their sexual appetites (Plan C).

For a spiritual application, Satan possesses this same dogged determination to interfere with our connection to God. Just because he is blocked on one front doesn’t mean he will give up. That’s why we need to be honest about our weaknesses, put on our spiritual armor and take guard every day.

Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. (James 1:14)

The front door to your heart is probably locked and well-protected. What about the back door?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Day 46: Numbers 22, 23 and 24

What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?"
Balaam: "You have made a fool of me!" (Numbers 22:28,29)

I love this story. We have the Israelites camping on the Plains of Moab (north end of the Dead Sea – east side of the Jordan opposite Jericho), which is where they will stay until Joshua leads them across the river. While they are camped there, Balak king of Moab sees their large numbers (read this: strategic threat) and decides on a preemptive strike, enlisting the help of an internationally renowned diviner named Balaam.

When Balaam gives in to Balak's demands, he protests that he cannot do anything counter to what God tells him. However, that doesn’t mean Balaam served Yahweh God of the Israelites. To Balaam, Yahweh was just another tribal god who could be manipulated by magic arts.

Even though Balaam was warned not to curse the people of Israel, he still didn't take seriously the power of Yahweh. The image of his donkey reading him the riot act always makes me smile. Say it with me: Wil – il – il – bur – urur!  I think the conversation should have gone more like this.

Donkey: "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?"

Balaam: "You made me look like a fool!"

Donkey: "You look like a fool all right, but I didn't make you look that way!"

Have you, like Balaam, ever misunderestimated God?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Day 45: Numbers 19, 20 and 21

Bring . . . a red heifer without defect or blemish. (Numbers 19:2)

The red heifer was different from all the sacrifices detailed in Leviticus. First, most sacrificial animals were males; the red heifer was female. Second, sacrificial animals were normally not burned whole; the red heifer was. And third, the red heifer was not sacrificed; it was slaughtered – outside the camp – nowhere near the bronze altar.

The finished product, for which the ashes of the red heifer were the main ingredient, was cleansing water. This water was formulated by adding cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool to the burning heifer and its purpose was to restore ritual cleanness after a person came into contact with a dead body. This was a gift of grace, allowing a family member to minister to the deceased, knowing that their own cleanness could be restored.

Hebrews 9:13,14 explains how, as the ashes of the red heifer cleansed the ceremonially unclean allowing them to continue in relationship with the community, the blood of Christ cleanses us from our uncleanness restoring us to community with God and his children.

135 years ago Robert Lowry put it better than I ever could:

What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus
O precious is the flow that makes me white as snow
No other fount I know; nothing but the blood of Jesus

Does community need restored in your life?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Day 44: Numbers 16, 17 and 18

Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord's assembly? (Numbers 16:3)

Korah, one of the Levites and member of an influential family, became envious of Moses’ position of leadership. He brought 250 of his closest friends to challenge the authority of Aaron and Moses. What is perhaps more disturbing is that these 250 were appointed council members who were supposed to serve the community, obviously persons of influence in their own right.

How could Moses be so misunderstood? He didn't have a self-serving bone in his body. He had left the luxuries of Pharaoh's palace to defend the nation of Israel. He had placed himself between God's wrath and the people, interceding for them on more than one occasion.

What precipitated this uprising? Was it the failed incursion into the Promised Land, or the resulting defeat at the hands of the Amalekites and Canaanites? Or was it the Sabbath breaker whose execution was ordered by Moses (speaking for the Lord, of course)? Or was it something completely different?

Basically what we have here is one of the most tragic business meetings in church history. Democracy is a beautiful thing, but works better when those in the majority lobby for the good of the assembly rather than for their own selfish interests. So much for getting out the vote.

If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God (1 Peter 2:20).

Have your best motives and efforts ever been misunderstood?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Day 43: Numbers 13, 14 and 15

We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt. (Numbers 14:4)

After the spies came back from their Canaan reconnaissance, they couldn't spread their bad news fast enough: We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them (13:33). After infecting their neighbors with fear, they tried to organize a “return to Egypt” movement. We should choose a leader.

Obviously, in spite of their complaint, the problem here was not the lack of a leader, but the lack of followers. Of the twelve spies sent into Canaan, ten saw only the problems, while Joshua and Caleb saw the possibilities. And, as usual, the naysayers carried the day.

When I stand before the judgment bar of God, I pray that I'm not counted among those who stopped the forward momentum of the church because they saw their glasses as half empty.

The Israelites wanted to choose a leader who would take them, with their tails between their legs, back to Egypt. In other words, they were looking for someone who would take polls and follow majority rule. That's not leadership. Leaders don't let a group turn tail because of fear; they confront that fear and find one way or another to move the group forward.

Our greatest opportunities often come disguised as our biggest problems. Rather than fomenting fear, God wants us to catalyze those in our sphere of influence to do great things.

How would you describe your glass these days?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Day 42: Numbers 10, 11 and 12

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife. (Numbers 12:1)

Moses enjoyed a special relationship with God and others not only took notice of it, but became envious. Miriam (Moses’ sister) is an important player in the exodus story: She saved Moses’ life when he was an infant, looked after him even after he was pulled from the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter, and led the women in a song of deliverance on the heels of their Red Sea crossing.

Only someone we love can betray us, and such a betrayal is a painful wound. Miriam was apparently the impetus behind this attack on Moses, although his African wife was clearly not the real issue. The problem was that she felt like Moses was getting more of the attention than he deserved. She wanted to share the limelight. Notice how, rather than defending himself, Moses left the response to God.

After God schooled her about how Moses was no ordinary prophet, she was afflicted with leprosy. The fact that Aaron was not gives us a hint that Miriam was the ringleader of their little rebellion. Aaron pleaded with Moses to intercede for them (I wonder if he was sincerely thinking about his sister or his own potential punishment). Moses prayed for them and God answered his request.

Have you ever experienced the sting of betrayal? Did you exact your pound of flesh, or did you have the good grace to leave vengeance to God?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Day 41: Numbers 7, 8 and 9

They may assist . . . but they themselves must not do the work. (Numbers 8:26)

If you read chapter 7, you probably join me in being thankful there were only twelve tribes. Am I right? Every day representatives brought offerings on behalf of their tribes. The first day Nahshon brought Judah’s gift. The second day Nethanel brought Issachar’s gift. The third day Eliab of Zebulon, the fourth day Elizur, the fifth day… and day after day another leader, another tribe, another gift for the tabernacle. After 12 tribes in 12 days and 89 repetitive verses, I have to admit I am always ready for chapter 8.

Chapter 8 includes Israel's blueprint for apprenticeship, career, mentoring and retirement. Notice that Levite men could start working at age 25. Then after a 25-year career, they encountered the Levitical retirement requirement. But they didn't move to Florida to play shuffleboard the rest of their lives; they retired to teach. They initiated the age old mentoring formula: 1) I do; 2) I do, you help; 3) you do, I help; 4) you do. Hey, it still makes good sense.

Did someone come alongside you when you were getting your start, or did you just get thrown in the deep end? I know too often that’s the way we do things in the church. Every one of us should be recruiting and training our replacement. Who mentored you? Who are you mentoring?

When you hang up your spurs, who’s going to take your place?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Day 40: Numbers 4, 5 and 6

The Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die. (Numbers 4:20)

Like Leviticus, this section impresses upon the reader the holiness of God. The Kohathite clan (one of three family lines descended from the sons of Levi) was being told, We’re getting ready to move out. It’s your job to pack and carry the Ark of the Covenant, but you’re not allowed to look at it or touch it. Sounds like a disadvantage to me. They were charged with packing and carrying not only the ark, but all the holy furnishings and implements of the tabernacle.

Special instructions were given regarding the Ark of the Covenant. They were to take the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (between the Ark of the Covenant and the Altar of Incense, along with the Table and the Golden Lamp) and use it as the initial covering of the Ark. They would take the curtain and (probably walking backward) drape it over the Ark. Over that went two more layers of coverings: one rainproof and the other ornamental.

Why the drama? Was God being picky? On the contrary, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is no prima donna. This was to highlight the holiness of God and the special nature of anything (including not just things, but also persons, tasks and events) dedicated to his service.

Are you giving the things of God the respect they deserve?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Day 39: Numbers 1, 2 and 3

Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. (Numbers 1:2)

Many find Leviticus difficult to read with its instructions for endless sacrifices and observances. Upon its conclusion, those who don't know better might breathe a sigh of relief... until they start reading the census in Numbers 1. The first (and last) chapters make Leviticus look like Disneyland.

We've spent the last half of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and now the first portion of Numbers camped at Mt. Sinai. Twelve months have passed since the Israelites left Egypt. Chapters ten through twenty-five cover highlights spanning the next 39 years, including fascinating episodes recounted from wilderness travels. But truth be told the last ten chapters of the book (including a second census) can again get a little tedious.

What's the point? That takes us back to the above verse. Not that long ago, the United States took its most recent census. We would be wise to remember that our country is not just one homogeneous group of people who look, act and think alike, but a nation of individuals. While Ancient Near East cultures were more about the group (clan, village, etc.) than they were the individual, the writer of Numbers reminds us right from the start that the Israelite community is comprised of clans, families and individuals – and every story is important.

What does it mean to you to know you are part of something bigger than yourself?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Day 38: Leviticus 25, 26 and 27

What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops? (Leviticus 25:20)

Why is it so hard for us to trust God? In my fifty plus years there have been times I have been faithful to God and times I have been unfaithful. There have been times I trusted him and times I did not. But I can say with certainty, there has never been any wavering with God - God has always been faithful; God has always been trustworthy.

The Israelite people suffered from that same lack of trust. Even though God had assured them he would provide (they'd seen it with their own eyes), they felt the weight of providing for themselves and their families as if that responsibility rested on their own shoulders. God had shown himself to Abraham as Yahweh-Yireh (God my provider) in Genesis 22:14 – a story treasured by all Abraham's descendants. Traditionally, as this word was being delivered to the people, they were eating their fill of quail and bread every day (including the Sabbath when they were restrained from gathering manna). They had a ready example of God's faithful provision.

And yet whether it's the odd Israelite out collecting manna on the Sabbath, or planting crops in the seventh year, or David counting his fighting men, or us worrying about our bills, lack of trust seems to eclipse even our supposed lack of resources.

How will you show your faith in God’s provision this week?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Day 37: Leviticus 22, 23 and 24

Tell Aaron and his sons to treat with respect the sacred offerings the Israelites consecrate to me. (Leviticus 22:2)

This is God’s command for Aaron and his family to be faithful with the offerings brought to the tabernacle by the people of Israel. There was no denominational governing body to provide oversight, nor was there a Sinai Council for Financial Accountability.

When we bring our tithes and offerings and present them to God via the church, it's good to know that those monies are not taken for granted, but appreciated and stewarded with respect as sacred. Congregations have many of the same bills as do families. They have to pay for water and for trash removal, the light bill and building maintenance costs. As corporations they also have to pay for unemployment, insurance and salaries.

As I have shared in other venues, some of us are dreamers and visionaries, and some of us are nuts and bolts kind of people. That's by God's design. We can be thankful for those business minded men and women who watch over our facilities and finances to make sure we'll be ministering and dreaming well into the years ahead.

Take comfort that God-ordained and equipped stewards are treating as sacred the gifts you bring to the church. It is a holy calling.

Are you a dreamer or a nuts and bolts kind of person? Or maybe somewhere in the middle? What does that say for where you should be serving in your home church?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Day 36: Leviticus 19, 20 and 21

Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:2)

I used to dread this verse as an impossible command, a requirement with which I could not comply. No matter how good my intentions or committed my effort, it never achieved the desired result. As C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.” [1] The more I tried to change my behavior, the more frustrated I became. My efforts seemed doomed to failure.

New Testament scholar Paul Achtemeier writes of Romans 7:15 (…what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.): “What Paul describes in these verses therefore is the dilemma of all human beings who seek to follow God’s will apart from Christ.” [2] This is my experience when trying to conform to Scripture relying only on my own strength.

In his book Rebuilding the Real You, Pastor Jack Hayford invites us to receive this verse as a promise, rather than a threat. He illustrates how a child may inherit a receding hairline, big feet, or a cleft chin, from a parent. God is our parent, and God is holy. Holiness is in God’s DNA (so to speak). As his children, that DNA is our inheritance. [3] We don’t have to scuffle and scheme to be holy; we simply have to receive what, because of our parentage, is rightfully ours.

Do you look like your Father?

[1] C. S. Lewis. Mere Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 1952).

[2] Paul J. Achetmeier. Romans. “Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010.

[3] Jack Hayford. Rebuilding the Real You. rev. ed. (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2009).

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Day 35: Leviticus 16, 17 and 18

On this day atonement will be made for you. (Leviticus 16:30)

Chapter sixteen is where we find instructions for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). This was the one day of the year when the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place (Holy of holies), to make atonement for the nation's sins. Yom Kippur, the most important day of the Jewish calendar, is the tenth and final day of ten days of repentance beginning with Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah falls in September on the western calendar.

The writer of Hebrews refers to the Day of Atonement and its trappings as copies of the heavenly things (Hebrews 9:23). In other words, the Old Testament sacrificial system was as close as they could come to Christ’s saving work on the cross for a people living in pre-Incarnation times. God’s heart for reconciliation didn’t just begin with the coming of Christ. He has always been working to reconcile humanity to himself.

We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:10). Unlike the offering brought by the Old Testament priests, there was no need for Christ to repeat his sacrifice yearly. The cross, while absolutely necessary, was also completely sufficient to bring reconciliation between God and mankind.

Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:30).

What difference does it make to you that Christ’s offering of himself was a once and for all sacrifice?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Day 34: Leviticus 13, 14 and 15

You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean. (Leviticus 15:31)

This is, I'm afraid, another rather difficult reading pertaining to infectious skin diseases, mildew and... discharges. Let's bring it up to date.

A while back some people I know were quarantined in their apartment because of viral pneumonia – complete with a sign on their door and everything. The health department hadn't gotten a handle on the infection and didn't want it spread to the schools where the kids attended.

When's the last time you heard about meningitis spreading through a college dormitory? With all those kids living in close contact, that's one of the health concerns of the 21st century… a fertile breeding ground for germs and disease.

Here we have the account of thousands and thousands of people traveling through the wilderness in close community (anything infecting one member could easily and quickly spread to others). Two things which scared any Ancient Near East people were leprosy and mildew. Infected people could not cohabit with healthy people, and infected homes could not be inhabited at all. So in a sense, once these two things got rooted in a group of people, they very effectively broke community. God's all about community.

What other infections could break their God-given community? The worship of false gods? Immorality? Gossip? Resenting those in leadership?

That was then; this is now.

What infections can break our worshiping community? Should we be any less careful in preventing their spread today?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Day 33: Leviticus 10, 11 and 12

Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today? (Leviticus 10:19)

Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, offered fire before the Lord in a manner contrary to what had been prescribed. The consequence for this unauthorized fire was a death sentence by fire from God’s presence.

After the tragic deaths of his children, Aaron and his two younger sons were not only forbidden to take the day off from their work in the tabernacle; they were barred from showing any sign of mourning at all. Later in the day, Moses found that a goat sacrificed as a sin offering had been completely consumed by the altar fire, along with a burnt offering, even though a portion of the sin offering was specifically to be eaten by the priests. Aaron defended himself and his sons by reminding Moses they had been faithful to carry out their duties that day in spite of the loss they had endured.

It is probable the three men did not eat because of their grief over the deaths of Nadab and Abihu. They did not display their mourning by taking off work, or by tearing their clothes, but they may have been too burdened or heart-sick to eat.

Having heard Aaron's explanation, Moses was satisfied that the digression was birthed out of sincere hearts, and not an offense against God.

Have you ever hurt so bad you didn't know how you could go on, but your responsibilities wouldn’t allow you to stop?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Day 32: Leviticus 7, 8 and 9

If anyone who is unclean eats any meat of the  fellowship offering . . . if anyone touches something unclean and then eats any meat of the fellowship offering . . . that person must be cut off from his people. (Leviticus 7:20, 21, 25, 27)

Whenever I read this passage, I have to admit, the thought comes to me: God is so strict. I mean, being excommunicated for what amounts to unwashed hands?

But maybe the attitude problem isn't God's. Maybe it's mine. Could it be that I don't take seriously enough God's holiness and his desire for me to reflect that holiness?

After the exiles returned to Jerusalem, God confronts the priests through the prophet Haggai: If . . . that fold [of your garment in which you are carrying consecrated meat] touches some bread or stew . . . does it become consecrated? (2:12). The answer is “No.” Then he turns it around: If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled? (2:13) The answer is “Yes.” Apparently, in this analogy uncleanness spreads passively by contact. Holiness is never passive… never follows the path of least resistance.

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. (Hebrews 12:10) God intentionally works holiness into our lives.

Is there anything in your life that God calls sin, but you’ve dismissed as insignificant?