Monday, April 30, 2012

The Person of God's Choosing

Read Numbers 26-27.

The book is called Numbers because twice God instructed them to conduct a national census.  The counting was limited to those twenty years of age and older who were able to go to war.  In 1:46 the total was 603,550.  Now, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, only Joshua and Caleb (and of course, Moses) remain from the first generation of former slaves.  The new total was 601,730.  It is estimated that the entire population would have been, perhaps, five times that amount.

With a new generation ready to enter their land of promise, it was time for a new leader.  Moses, because of his public sin in chapter 20, knew he would not be allowed go with them.  But God does a gracious thing for Moses in letting him see the land from a mountain top.  It was here that Moses prayed for a successor to shepherd the people.

Out of millions to choose from, the LORD selected Joshua, "a man in whom is the Spirit".  Joshua had been Moses' assistant for a long time.  He served as the army's field general.  Along with Caleb, he had been one of the two faithful men who originally spied out the new land.  But when God referred to Joshua, he cited none of his positions or achievements.  He simply called him a Spirit-filled man.

Being filled with the Spirit simply means that I relinquish control of my thoughts, speech and behaviors to the LORD and discipline myself to do what He desires (Galatians 5:16-24).  Education, skill, personality, and experience are all important components for job qualifications.  But  when God's Spirit is in control of a person, He can give them favor with others, open doors, and enable their influence to exceed all expectations.  He does this in a person's life so He alone will receive the credit.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Living in a Counterculture

Read Numbers 25.

Followers of the LORD have always been a counterculture.  Though not perfect...
God's people live in the world
but they are not of the world
and are to conduct themselves in such a way in the world
that the world sees the difference God has made in their lives, even if they disagree.

By living out the commands and principles of God's word, we have the opportunity to "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior."  To some with open hearts, such a lifestyle becomes attractive and they too place their faith in Christ.  Some others may observe with respect or even amazement of the difference.  Then, to some who are so gripped by their sin and rebellion against God that they reject all that is holy and pure.

It is always sad to see someone violate their commitments or go back on their promises.  The news media are quick to point out these lapses when it comes to public figures.  But God holds everyone, everywhere to account, whether they agree with Him or even acknowledge His very existence.

In this chapter, the nation of Israel is camped on the east side of the Jordan River.  It appears to be a time of a pagan celebration that involved gross sexuality immorality.  This were not merely physical acts, but they were part of that culture's spiritual worship.  Demonic is the best description for it, as is all false religions.

Some of the Israelites succumbed to the cultural temptations.  God held "all the chiefs of the people" accountable.  A total of 24,000 died.  Though the judgment on sin may not always come so quickly, God takes the purity of His people seriously.

Sobering lessons for us all.
1. Leaders are responsible for protecting the moral purity of the people.
2. Leaders are responsible for protecting the spiritual purity of the people.
3. God can use one courageous leader to restore purity among the people.
4. Sooner or later, God holds individuals accountable for their own behavior.

Question: Is there an area of spiritual or moral impurity in my life that I need to courageously confront today?

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Messenger's Motive Check

Read Numbers 22-24.

This is a story of a pagan prophet, yet, at least here, God spoke to him directly.  Balaam obviously had some reputation of being a seer whom could be called upon in time of need.

Balak, king of Moab, became frightened at the sight and size of the nation of Israel.  His terror caused him to seek spiritual advice before going to war.   His solution was to pay Balaam to curse his enemy.  When Balaam could not be bought, Balak next offered him basically a blank check to come and curse Israel.

This may have been a custom for other enemies but such was not going to happen here.  The true basis for the denial of cursing Israel goes all the way back to Genesis 12.  In His covenant to Abraham, the LORD promised, "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse."  The continuing validity of this promise is underscored in Balaam's oracle in 23:19-"God is not a man that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Has he said, and will he not do it?  Or has he spoken and will he not fulfill it?"

Evidently, Balaam began thinking about Balak's offer.  Curiosity about the experience of meeting with Balak and getting paid did not seem wrong in itself.  Perhaps, he should go and check it out.  What harm would it do?  God gave him the green light to go, but the LORD had more to say. 

Now we get to see another preincarnate appearance of Jesus.  The angel of the LORD met Balaam on the road.  God was angry with him.  Not because he went but because thought he could personally profit from this.  2 Peter 2:15-16 provides the commentary in the context about false teachers-"Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray.  They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet's madness."

The LORD protected Balaam from being spiritually "reckless" (22:32).  Balaam became angry at the very thing God used to save his life.  He acknowledged his sin and the LORD again allowed him to proceed but with care about the message to be delivered.   No less than four times in this story Balaam announced that he could only speak what the what the LORD has said.

God's message to the unbelieving world is not ours to change.  Some today driven by personal preferences, or personal gain, or seeking to be accepted, or desiring to be relevant want to compromise the Word of God.  The scriptures, when rightly understood, are always relevant and powerful, changing lives forever.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Look and Live

Read Numbers 21.

To paraphrase Jesus, "The critics you have with you always."  No matter what Moses or God did the complaining continued.  And, the people seem to be even more bold, not just blaming Moses but "spoke against God" (v.5).  The issue of complaint was the same as before.  They were worried about their daily food and water.

Jesus said, "Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:31-32)

The LORD's judgment against those who would so falsely accuse Him of not supplying their needs was a plague of venomous snakes.  "Many people of Israel died" (v.6).  In order to stop the plague, God had Moses craft a bronze snake and put it on a pole as a symbol of healing.  Those who looked at it would live.  There was absolutely no power in the pole.  The power was in their response of faith that doing what God instructed would save them.

It has always been of interest to me that the logo of the American Medical Association is a serpent on a pole.  In the official explanation, they do not give credit to Numbers 21 from c.1500 B.C. for the logo.  Instead, they site a mythical figure of Aesculapius, the son of the sun god Apollo, as early as 1200 B.C. for its basis.  Beginning in the 17th century, a snake on a pole became the primary symbol of medicine.  The AMA has utilized it as its logo since 1910.  How many medical professionals through the years have had no idea of the true source of their own logo?

As Jesus provides a glimpse of the crucifixion for healing sin, He commented on this very passage in Numbers.  "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

How to Glorify God under Pressure

Read Numbers 20.

This is beginning to sound like a broken record.  Whenever there is an overwhelming need, the people complain against and blame their leaders.  Further, they wish either that they had stayed in slavery in Egypt or died already.  In spite of all that God has done to end it, the grumbling continued.

Emotions and perceptions can trump reality and truth. 
Fear causes us to panic that our needs will not be met.  It is so easy to blame others for what, in fact, God is doing.  In this case, God wanted to demonstrate His great power and meet their needs.  But because the LORD did not supply as they wanted and on their time table they felt totally justified in their rebellion.

God had a miraculous plan to meet their needs; one they would never forget.  Three steps to the instructions: a) take the staff; b) assemble the people; c) tell the rock to yield its water.  Moses obeyed the first two and utterly disobeyed the last part.  He failed to discipline his anger.  This resulted in Moses never entering the promised land.

Paul told Pastor Timothy that "the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness" (2 Timothy 2:24-25a).  That is tough to do when facing angry people.  Moses lost it because he took the complaining personally.  Note his words in 20:10b-"Hear now you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?"  By announcing that "we" (Moses and Aaron) would supply water and by striking the rock hard twice, he gave appearance to the people that his power could do this.  He failed to glorify God and direct full attention to Him.

The LORD is concerned about not only what is done but also how it is done. 
When others see the difference Christ makes in the way we handle a pressure situation, God can use it to draw attention to Himself.  So, how can we glorify God when the pressure is on? 
1. Know exactly what God wanted done
2. Ask to be filled with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-24)
3. Obey wholeheartedly

Jesus is the Rock of Ages.  When a person speaks to that Rock, He gives Living Water that springs up into everlasting life.  (John 4:10-14)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Faithful and Fruitful

Read Numbers 17-19.

God sovereignly selected the tribe of Levi to serve as priests for the nation.  Then, He chose Aaron to be the High Priest.  Aaron's spiritual leadership had been so challenged in the previous rebellion that God intervened with a sure vindication as to His choice of the Levites and Aaron in particular.

A chief of each of the twelve tribes presented a wooden walking staff to Moses for a test that God designed.  Imagine the miracle of life that God controls.  He can make even a piece of dead, carved wood to sprout.  But the next day when Moses went into the Tabernacle to see the results of the test he found more than anyone could have imagined.  Overnight, Aaron's staff had not only sprouted but produced ripe almonds.

God's miracles were always used to validate His message.  Here the stated purpose was to end the grumbling and rebellion against His chosen leadership.

Next, to further vindicate and solidify the ministry of the priests, God gave more specific instructions for them to carry out.

Two insights:
1. The requirement of stewardship is faithfulness.
To the Corinthians, Paul wrote: "This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy." (1 Corinthians 4:1-2)
Whatever God has call us to do and wherever He has placed us to serve, we are to demonstrate that we can be trusted with the assignment.  Further, that we are faithful in fulfilling the assignment.

2. The requirement of leadership is fruitfulness.
By definition, the word leadership indicates that a group of people are going some place or endeavoring to achieve something.  There is inherent movement needed that requires someone to show the way.  Progress of any organization or organism is never constant; it is most often seasonal.  But over time, production, or fruitfulness, is a natural expectation. 

Yet, fruitfulness is not limited to leadership.  It is the the LORD's expectation of all His followers.  Note Jesus' words from John 15:
"Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit." (v.5)
"By this my Father is glorified that you bear much fruit and prove to be my disciples." (v.8)
"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit..." (v.16)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

5 Lessons from a Rebellion

Read Numbers 15-16.

In chapter 15, God gave the Israelites a few more instructions to prepare them and to remind them of what He had said.  This included giving an offering of gratitude, the seriousness of breaking His laws, and even sewing reminders on their clothing.

It is an amazement that people do not learn from the past.  Korah and his clan decided to amass a frontal attack on the spiritual leadership of Moses and Aaron.  We have seen such a challenge before, but this one includes 250 "chiefs of the congregation."  Their accusation in 16:3 centers on their belief that the entire nation is just fine spiritually and that these two leaders had exalted themselves as holier than everyone else.  The truth was these chiefs were rebellious and filled with jealousy. 

Notice the responses of Moses.  He did not defend himself. 
1. He first fell on his face.  I assume that means he prayed. 
2. He entrusted the outcome to God.
3. God gave Moses direction on what to do.

In his message to them, Moses, reminds these men that God had separated them out from the nation as Levites, had allowed them to serve Him in the tabernacle, and to be near the presence of the LORD in ministering to and for the people.  His question to them was "Is it too small a thing for you?"  In other words, "Did not this special place God gave you mean anything to you?"

The challenge was not resolved quickly.  Some would not even come to a meeting with Moses.  God again expressed in anger His willingness to destroy the entire nation.  And, again, Moses interceded for the congregation.  It cost Korah and his entire family their lives and everything that belonged to them.  The 250 rebellious men lost their lives.  Their sin was not against Moses and Aaron, but 16:30b states "these men have despised the LORD."

Just when you would think the issue had been resolved, it was not.  "But the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled..."  They blamed Moses and Aaron for the deaths of their friends.  Now the entire congregation is angry with them.  God sent a plague and 14,700 more died.  Again, Moses interceded for the nation to stop the plague.  What a powerful description of a godly leader in 16:48- "and he stood between the dead and the living."

Lessons from the rebellion:
1. Whenever a decision is made, expect it to be tested.    Good leaders discuss and prepare for the test as best they can.  Even then they can be blindsided.
2. Some people never learn.  They go through life ignoring the grace of God and His claim on their lives, making the same foolish decisions over and over again.
3. God is deadly serious about obedience.  Some have ignored the fact that this is still true.  Because the ground did not open up to kill them when they disobeyed, they may feel they got away with sin.  They did not.  If there is not repentance, God will deal with them in His time.
4. There are no small jobs in serving the LORD.  There is a place for everyone to be used of God.  He will provide opportunities to serve Him.  It is our pride that desires the bigger or better spot.  We need to be careful and humbly serve where He puts us.
5. The most powerful activity of any leader is intercessory prayer.  We have seen this time and again in the life of Moses.  "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."  James 5:16b

Friday, April 13, 2012

7 Bedrock Principles for Leaders

Read Numbers 13-14.

The Israelites had camped in the south and prepared to go north into the land of promise.  But before they did 12 spies were chosen for a reconnaissance mission.  Their job was to assess the land, the people, the agriculture, the cities, and economic conditions.  Their charge was to "be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land."

Forty days later the men returned with their report.  They all saw the same things.  The problem was not with the facts but with their faith.  Ten of them felt based upon what they saw "we are not able" to go forward.  Two, Caleb and Joshua, stated "we are well able."  Who was correct?  Both!  Who was right?  Caleb and Joshua.  Why?  God said, they had a "different spirit" and "followed me fully."

There are times when one may be factually correct and spiritually wrong.  This is one of those times.

The report from the ten is called "bad".  In the King James the word is translated "evil" as it was meant to undermine and defame the will of God for this nation.  Then, they began to exaggerate their findings with intent to discourage the people even more (14:32-33).  This resulted in the people being so disillusioned that they announced their desire to choose their own leader and go back to Egypt!  How irrational is that?

Their disillusionment came from two root issues: rebellion and fear (14:9).  God wanted to kill them all right then for their ingratitude and unbelief in Him.  But Moses' interceded.  The result was that all ten spies died of a plague and the rest of that adult generation would never see the land.  They would die as they wandered in the wilderness one year for each of the forty days the spies were in the land.  The LORD was not going to change His promise or His plan.  Instead, He would work with the next generation who would obey Him.

Lessons for leaders.
1. Never take anything to the congregation without the leaders being united in mind and heart.  Dr. John Maxwell taught us, "The meeting before the meeting determines the outcome of the meeting."
2. A divided leadership leads to a divided congregation 100% of the time and destroys the God-given potential.
3. Another Maxwell principle: Leadership is influence.  When a leader says something they affect the faith or fears of others around them, whether formally or casually.  Leaders are/will be held accountable for the stewardship of the influence God gives them.
4. Without obedience to the Word of God, people will cast off restraint and plunge into sin.  This is the correct meaning of Proverbs 29:18 (see NIV, ESV or NAS translations).
5. Nothing in more important in leadership than intercessory prayer.  This is servant leadership at its best.
6. The sin was forgiven but the consequences remained.  Grace?  Yes.  But they forfeited the blessings God wanted to give and had prepared for them.
7. The will of God is not determined by a popular vote.  A majority vote in this story would have resulted in the stoning of godly men and the nation trying to return to slavery.  There are times when those faithful to the LORD must stand for what is right in the face of an opposing majority.

Some serve in difficult places and endeavor to lead difficult people.  As with Moses, God sees, hears, knows, and will reward faithful stewards.  Hebrews 6:10 says it best, "For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

When Spiritual Authority is Challenged

Read Numbers 12.

The leadership challenges for Moses continued.  Only this time the criticism and questioning of his leadership came from his own family.  Though both siblings were involved, it seems that his older sister, Miriam, was the instigator. 

On the surface, the issue that arose concerned Moses' new wife.  This was his second wife.  We are not told what happened, if anything, to his first wife, Zipporah.  Nor are we told what their disagreement was with this new wife.  But it did not take long for the root issue to become clear.  Aaron and Miriam questioned Moses spiritual authority to speak on behalf of God.  Most often, what people criticize about leadership is only the surface problem.  The root (real) issue will reveal itself in time.

What they absolutely ignored was that Moses did not choose this position.  Indeed, he never wanted  it (see Exodus 3-4).  God sovereignly chose him to lead and put him in this position.  So, at its core, they were not questioning Moses, but God Himself.  That is when God stepped in to speak audibly and unmistakeably.

1. God chooses who will speak for Him.  v. 6a
2. God spoke to the Old Testament prophets often through dreams, visions, an angel, etc..  v.6b
3. God spoke to Moses "mouth to mouth".  In other words, it was audible and personal.  The relationship was like no one else enjoyed. v.8

Then, God asked these two challengers a question of His own, "Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?"  They should have respected Moses.  Not because of Moses but because he was merely saying and doing what God wanted said and done.  This was a direct affront to the LORD.

A Couple Cautions
We must be careful in making a direct application to spiritual leaders today.  The story here does have a uniqueness about it.  However, respect for those in authority over us is taught throughout the scriptures.  Leaders are human and there are times when leaders should be asked hard questions, but always the spirit should be one of respect.  The second caution is for leaders not to think more highly of themselves than they should.  Pride goes before a fall.  Those of us who serve in any capacity must remember we are not the owner, only stewards of God's stuff.

Note the character description of Moses.
1. He served God humbly.
2. He served God faithfully.
3. He served God personally.
Though none of us will attain Moses' unique position, I believe those are the key character qualities God expects from all us. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

3 Leadership Challenges We All Face

Read Numbers 7-11.

A busy pastor I know was asked by a concerned church member if it would rain on Easter weekend.  He replied, "I am in sales, not management."  Dealing with leadership expectations can frequently be overwhelming.

What more could God had done for these people?  He rescued them from slavery.  He displayed His miraculous power.  He destroyed their enemies.  He provided their daily needs.  He gave them instructions on how to live, worship and follow Him.  "And the people complained..." (11:1).

The Problem of Complaining People
Evidently, their complaining was open and public; so much so that the LORD took strong action that resulted in the death of some.

Next, the "rabble" complained.  This refers to the non-Israelites who left Egypt and traveled with them.  Some translations refer to this group as the "mixed multitude."  They were tired of the manna that God gave them and voiced their "strong craving" for the foods back in Egypt.  At the end of this chapter God gave them what they wanted but many died for angering the LORD with their wrong desires.  All these things affected the entire nation.  It seemed everyone in every tent was now crying about something.

The Problem of Leadership Burn Out
Nothing drives a leader nuts like people within an organization complaining.  This time both the LORD and Moses became angry.  Every leader at one time or another has had the feelings expressed in Moses' prayer.  He knew he was there by the calling and will of God, yet he felt overwhelmed and unable to fix the problem he faced.  He just wanted to die and escape the mess.

This level of turmoil most often is a signal of needed change in an organization.  God did not want a new leader or new people.  He wanted to add structure to the leadership.  God's answer was for Moses to share the load of leadership with others.  "They shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone." (11:17)

The Problem of Limited Resources
The people had eaten no meat for a long time.  So, God announced that He would give them meat.  When Moses questioned how God could do supply that need, we hear a classic statement from God.  "Is the LORD's hand shortened?  Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not." (11:23)

Leadership challenges, though stressful, are God's opportunities to deal with issues, to reorganize the work, and to demonstrate His power.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

4 Powerful Statements of Blessing for You

Read Numbers 5-6.

As we saw in Leviticus, the LORD is serious about holiness.  He is holy and wants His people to be holy.  This is directly linked in here to physical, relational and spiritual purity.  Separating the leper, for instance, protected the rest of the nation from the disease.  Dealing with breaking the wedding vows in such a public manner served as a severe warning to those who violated their promises and protected the nation's families.  Holding a specific promise like the Nazarite vow to God with such detail shows just how the LORD views and values human statements of intent.

With all the restrictions and curses for violations, one may conclude that God is harsh in His requirements.  Yet, notice how quickly this section turns to God's goodness.  In His instructions to Moses, God even includes how to publicly bless the people.  Perhaps, every Christian minister has used these words at one time or another and some quote this passage every week.  This serves as a model of how to pray a blessing over the people.  Notice the elements.  It is not Moses or other leaders who supply these things to the nation.  These are God's people.  He is the One who blesses them and these blessings are based squarely on promises God has made to us.

The Provision of the LORD.
"The LORD bless you..." 
James 1:17-"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

The Protection of the LORD.
"...and keep you."
Isaiah 41:10-"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

The Presence of the LORD.
"The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you."
Hebrews 13:5b-"I will never leave you nor forsake you."

The Peace of the LORD.
"The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."
Isaiah 26:3,4-"You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock."

Monday, April 9, 2012

3 Reasons to Take Attendance Seriously

Read Numbers 1-4.

Immediately one can determine why this is called the book of Numbers.  The LORD told Moses to take a national census.  The males, twenty years of age and older, numbered 603,550.  The reason for the limited count seems to be a check for the availability of those fit for war, if needed (1:45).

1. Numbers are important to God because each number represents a person with an eternal soul.  These are His creation.  When someone says they are not interested in the attendance at church, I wonder if they truly value people.  Attendance figures, if used correctly, are one indicator whether the ministry is effectively growing or diminishing in its influence for Christ.

Next, God gave instructions about how the 12 tribal families were to be organized.  Three tribes camped on each side of the Tabernacle.  Banners were displayed high in the air so the people could find their spot.  This infrastructure served the nation well for leadership, communication, and mobilization purposes.

2. Organization is important to God because it provides the very channels for leaders to lead.  Without efficient organization of people and work, communication will not be effective.  There will be gaps in the work.  Production will not reach the group's potential capacity.  The local church is on a mission.  That mission demands organization for mobilizing each person in the congregation so they can find their spot.

The Levites were given specific jobs to do.  Whether it was offering the sacrifices, guarding the Tabernacle, or properly packing up the "tent of meeting" for the next move, every duty was important.  Further, there was needed training for these duties.  In this case, handling God's stuff the wrong way could have meant death.  Every person doing their job correctly was a ministry for the LORD.

3. Service is important to God because He designed and equipped each person to serve Him effectively.  We do not have to wonder if wants to use us.  He does.  We do not have to wonder if God can use us.  He can.  We do not ever need to say we have nothing useful to offer.  Though some training may be required, He has already given us what we need.  As accountable stewards, our job is to get busy using what He has given to us. 

Ephesians 2:10- "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

1 Corinthians 12:7, 11-"To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good...All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Does Obedience Result in Blessings?

Leviticus 26-27

By reading chapter 26 carefully, we learn much about the character of God and how He has chosen to interact with people.  Though this is Old Testament law and directed at the nation of Israel, God's character has not changed.

One revealing assignment is to notice the organization of chapter 26 and write down the key statements God made in each paragraph.
If (v.3)
Then (v.4-13)

But if (v.14)
Then (v.16-20)

Then if (v.21)

And if (v.23)

But if (v.27)

Then (v.34)

But if (v.40)
Then (v.42)

The principle is this: Blessings follow obedience.  It is not a prosperity gospel to expect the blessings of God when one aligns themselves with God's word.  Yet, immediate blessing is not always the result of doing what God wants.  It is truly living by faith when we can trust God that He will take care of my obedience to Him in His time. 

I was reminded not long ago by Dr. Crawford Loritts in a masterful message from Hebrews 11 that some "did not receive what was promised" (Hebrews 11:39).  However, that same verse states they were "commended through their faith" and "God had provided something better for us."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

So, what's the difference?

Leviticus 20-25

The specific instructions continue regarding sexual purity, service and worship.  Again, one living today would ask why all these details are here. 
1. They had no guidelines how to live for the LORD and please Him. 
2. What they did know was mixed with a pagan Egyptian culture that worshipped many gods of creation rather than the Creator.
3. God wanted them to be different than the nations around them.  He wanted them to represent His nature, His character, and His word in such a way that others would want to worship Him also.

"You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine."  (20:26)

So, God tells them what to do and what not to do in order to demonstrate those differences.  By the way, all those differences would prove to be personally and nationally beneficial to them.  They were not to be seen as restrictive but liberating.

Imagine a culture where people treat each other with respect, dignity and justice.  Imagine a culture that does not sacrifice their children to please a made up god, nor violate each other.  Imagine a culture that enjoys atonement for their sin and forgiveness.  Imagine a culture blessed by the Living God of Heaven because He is pleased with them.  Imagine a culture that stops at prescribed times during the year to celebrate the goodness of God's grace to them.   

The Apostle Paul quotes God in 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 with these words: "For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, 'I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Therefore, go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.'  Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Is there anything sacred to you?

Read Leviticus 19

"You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy."  (19:2)

Beginning in Exodus, God speaks of holy ground, holy ceremonies, holy day, holy garments, and other holy things.  In 11:44, holiness became personal: "...and be holy, for I am holy."  No longer was the word used of objects and places, but now God commanded His people to "be" holy.  And, the primary reason for personal holiness is that our character and behavior is to reflect the character and behavior of God Himself.

The word "holy" means sacred.  Something sacred has been set apart from other stuff and dedicated to God.  It treated with care, protected, and honored. 

Watch and listen to the culture around you.  The way people speak, the way they dress, the way they treat others is largely disrespectful.  Anything goes and everyone else is expected to be tolerant.  Good manners have commonly been forsaken.  Society has become lax in standards of behavior.  Honor is rare instead of the norm.  Making promises and keeping commitments are neglected or negotiable.  Respect for others, respect for oneself, is an exception.  Respect for God and His name is nearly gone.  Think for example how many times a day people around you will use the phrase "Oh my God" (OMG for texters) and not once think of the violation of using the LORD's name in vain.  Cussing and profanity is so prevalent that even believers in Jesus commonly use words that I will not print here.  We live in a world where almost nothing is sacred anymore.

But those who know and love God are commanded to be holy.  The difference is to be noticeable.  As one wag put it, "If you were on trial for being a Christian, what evidence would be presented to convict you?"

Next, God gives some more specific examples of how this works out in real life.  He speaks of how parents are to be revered, about worship, about sacrificial giving, about treatment of the poor, treatment of others, the use of omens, fortunetelling and the like for life guidance instead of God's word, treatment of one's physical body, the treatment of the elderly. 

In short, " shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD." (19:18)  When one does not like themselves they will not treat themselves very well and certainly will not love others as they should.

So, what is sacred to you?  What will you fight with all you have not to violate?
-Is your thinking sacred (holy) before the LORD?
-Is your speech sacred (holy) before the LORD?
-Is the way you treat your body sacred (holy) before the LORD?
-Is the way you treat those around you sacred (holy) before the LORD?
-Is your lifestyle and behavior sacred (holy) before the LORD?
-Is your worship of God sacred (holy) before the LORD?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Is Cleanliness next to Godliness?

Read Leviticus 11-18

"Cleanliness is next to Godliness."  It will surprise many to discover that the quote is not in the Bible.  Most sources attribute it to an ancient Hebrew saying and has appeared in many forms ever since.  The first known similar expression in English comes from the writings of Francis Bacon in 1605: "Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God."  Then, in 1791, John Wesley wrote, "Slovenliness is no part of religion.'Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness."

Imagine, several millions of people traveling in primitive conditions on foot.  There are no hospitals, no Center for Disease Control, and no awareness of things like germs, contamination, etc.  God demonstrated His special care for His people by giving them specific, practical instructions as to how to care for and protect themselves.

The purification was not limited to the physical body.  Laws regarding moral behavior were included.  Note the terms God used for unlawful sexual behavior-depravity, abomination, perversion, iniquity.  Sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is not okay with the LORD.  Just as those who do not follow physically cleanness will suffer, so shall those who practice moral impurity.

Do not miss how God provides for spiritual cleanness in the middle of all these laws regarding purity.  Instructions for the Day of Atonement is found here.  Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and that once a year, only on this day.  The description in chapter 16 is where the term "scapegoat" is derived.  The High Priest laid his hands on the goat, symbolically transferring the guilt of sin, to the animal could die in the place of those who sinned.  The blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat.  This was really the lid of the Ark of Covenant that contained the two tablets of the law.  In other words, when God looked upon the demands of the law, He saw them through the blood that atoned for their sin.

That is exactly what Jesus did on the cross.  He died in our place.  His shed blood paid for our sin once and for all.  At that moment God ripped the Holy of Holies curtain in the temple from top to bottom.  No longer would there be a need for sacrifices for sin.  No longer would there be a need for a priest to intercede.

"For there is one God, and there in one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all..." (1 Timothy 2:5)     

So, is cleanliness really next to Godliness?  My answer is yes...inside and out.

"The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever, the rules of the LORD are true." (Psalm 19:9)

"Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of the body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God." (2 Corinthians 7:1)