Monday, July 31, 2017

5 questions concerning intercessory Prayer

Read Deuteronomy 9.

The new land was inhabited.  Some people groups had lived there for hundreds of years.  They would not be easily overtaken just because millions of Israelites moved in.  No.  The inhabitants were strong and able to defend themselves.

Moses reminded the nation of Israel that their victory was assured because of "the LORD your God", not because of them.  Here in advance, he even warned them about taking credit for their success.  Twice, he told them that God was using Israel to destroy the other nations because of the "wickedness of these nations."   Therefore, God alone would get the credit for the timing of this judgment, for the empowerment of Israel, and for keeping His promise to Abraham.

In his continuing history lesson to this second generation, Moses told the story of the rebellion that took place with the golden calf.  "So I lay prostrate before the LORD for these forty days and forty nights, because the LORD had said he would destroy you." (9:25)  Moses interceded for them to God and God listened to Moses.  The nation was spared.

Key elements of intercessory prayer (9:25-29):
1. Time.
Moses was leading a nation of millions of people, but he took nearly six weeks out of his schedule to spend time alone with God.  One of the biggest hindrances to prayer is that we are too busy with our stuff instead of spending time with the Lord.  Question: Am I willing to set aside time for needed intercession?

2. Urgency.
Moses had a discipline of worship with God (Exodus 33:7) but this was different.  This was not his routine.  God was ready to destroy the nation.  Lives and the future were at stake.  Question: Exactly what is the urgency?

3. Specific request.
He asked God not to destroy His people whom He had redeemed.  Many prayers are so general we would not be able to identify the answer when it arrived.  Question: What is it that I want God to do?

4. Based upon God's word.
Moses prayer was not founded upon emotions of potential loss, nor upon his own selfish desires.  In his prayer he asked God to remember His promises and to be merciful to those who had sinned against Him.  The Lord did not need reminding, but Moses needed to say it and have that perspective in his prayer requests.  It is very difficult in times of urgency to look beyond our feelings and pray specifically according to what God has promised.  Question: What has God already said about this?

5. How God would receive glory.
God will receive glory to Himself either way.  Having the Lord's perspective on urgent matters requires that we understand how He works in the lives of people.  His goal is always that individuals come to acknowledge, love and worship Him.  Moses envisions aloud what the pagan nations would say if God destroyed Israel.  Further, Moses expressed how God's fame and power would be seen by sparing Israel instead.  Question: How will God be exalted among the people involved by answering my prayer?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Why are we wandering Around?

Read Deuteronomy 8.

Why did God have the nation of Israel wander around in the wilderness for forty years?  Immediately, one could answer that God was punishing an entire generation for their unbelief and preparing the next generation to possess the land.  That would be correct as far as results are concerned.  But notice what Moses' said was the LORD's purpose.

"...that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." (vv.2a-4)

Next, Moses reminded the nation how God had taken care of them all these years, right down to their shoe size.  Then, the warning:
"Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.'  You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth..." (v.17-18a)

Hubris bolsters self-importance and self-sufficiency.  The ego tells us we do not need God.  After all, what has He ever done for us?  Some have been hurt and therefore they find it difficult to trust anyone.  Pride-filled slogans and quotes have become popular.  "If is to be, it is up to me."  "I am the captain of my soul.  I am the master of my fate."

The very essence of a relationship with God is a complete dependence upon Him.  It is the path to receiving His care and blessings.

"The fear of the LORD is to hate evil.  Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate." (Proverbs 8:13)

"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom." (Proverbs 11:2)

"'God opposes the proud but give grace to the humble.'  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:5b-7)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Do you realize how special you Are?

Read Deuteronomy 7.

If you personally know the LORD, you are special.

This was a reminder from Moses as he continued to prepare the nation to enter the new land.  They were to take full possession of what God was giving them.  They were to maintain spiritual purity by refusing to partner with unbelievers and worshipping their false gods.

These people were people who believed and followed the LORD.  What made them special?
1. They were declared to be holy by God. (v.6a)
2. They were chosen by God (v.6b)
3. They were treasured by God. (v.6c)

Now, this begs the question: Why?  Why did the LORD choose to love them out of all the peoples of the earth?
-They may have been declared holy, but they were not always obedient.
-They may have numbered in the millions but they were not the largest of nations.
Truly, there was nothing about them to warrant such response from God.
The answer is in verse 8.  "But it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery."

4. They were loved by God. (v.7)
5. They were brought out of their slavery by God. (v.8a)
6. They were redeemed by God. (v.8b)
7. They were protected by God. (v.15)
In response to the LORD, the people listened, kept and did what God said. (v.12)

And, the more personal question is why did God choose to love you and me?
-We may have made a mess of our lives.
-We may not feel holy or special.
-We may still struggle with disobeying the LORD.
-We may not be the strongest.
-We may not be the best in our field.
-We may not be the best looking.
-We may not have much to offer at all.

God loved us when we were unlovely and forgave us.
"But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:4-5)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Putting the Great Commandment into Practice

Read Deuteronomy 6.

The strong purpose behind Moses' teaching the nation at this point is in verse 12.  The concern was that once they settled into the new land they would forget.  They would become so busy working and living that the miracles God had done for them, the instructions God had given to them, and the reliance they had upon God would be lost.  They would simply blend in with the cultures around them.  The generations after them would not know, or believe, or obey the LORD.

Keep in mind that God wanted things to go well with them in their new home (v.3).  So, He provided easy to follow instructions how to pass on their faith to their children (vv.7-9).

1. Teach.  This is to be done intentionally with diligence.
2. Talk.  This is to be done informally as life happens.
3. Bind.  This is to be done personally as a reminder for thinking and doing.
4. Write.  This is to be done publicly so everyone knows you belong to God.

Three personal prerequisites (vv.4-6): 
1. Who is God? 
One cannot teach about God unless they understand who He is.
"The LORD our God, the LORD is one."  The Hebrew is "Jehovah our Elohim".  This is the Shema, the most important part of the twice-daily Jewish prayer.  Elohim is a plural word and may properly be understood to say, "Jehovah our Trinity, Jehovah is one."  We do not believe in multiple gods, but the God of the Bible expresses Himself in three persons-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

2. Whom do you love?
  This is not an emotional or romantic response, but total personal commitment.
"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."  True faith in God is a heart and life response.

3. What you know?
You cannot teach what you do not know. 
"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart."
This requires daily discipline of time and effort to read, study, memorize and meditate on the Word of God.  Allow it to permeate your thinking, your emotions and your faith.  So that you may be ready when you are asked the reason for the hope that is within you (v.20).

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What God wants FOR us

Read Deuteronomy 5.

As Moses continued his second giving of the law, he repeated the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20.  He retold how fearful the people were of what they saw and heard as they stood at Mt. Sinai.  The people feared for their lives at the visible and audible presence of God.  So, they asked Moses to intercede, to meet with God, and then speak to them what he heard God say.

"Speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it." (v.27) 

Of course, the LORD heard these words from the people and acknowledged that they were correct in what they said.  But then God responded.  All of these commandments and laws were not meant to merely restrict or extract from the people.  No.  God was giving them clarity on how to relate to Him and how to live with each other.

"Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and their descendants forever!" (v.29)

Notice the desire of God for His people.
1. That our hearts, our minds, our thinking, would always be in tune with His.

2. That we would always maintain a holy regard for His constant presence with us and our accountability to Him.

3. That our behaviors would be obedient to what He wants us to be doing.

And, why did God say this?

So that we and our families might receive the full benefit of the LORD's blessings. (v.33)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

4 priceless Treasures

Read Deuteronomy 4.

God's people belong to Him by His creation, by His choice, by His redemption.  He has full claim.
" be a people of his own inheritance." (v.20)

Four priceless treasures separate faith in the true and living God from all man-made religions.
1. The Uniqueness of God.
"To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him." (v.35)
"...know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other." (v.39)

2. The Word of God.
"And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?" (v. 8)

3. Prayer to God. 
"For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?" (v.7)

4. The Mercy of God.
" will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.  When you are in tribulation and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice.  For the LORD your God is a merciful God.  He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them." (vv.27-31)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A reminder to trust God through the Test

Read Deuteronomy 1-3.

The name of the book means "second law".  It is the second giving, or explanation, of the law by Moses to this second generation (1:5).

Here Moses takes time to recount what happened forty years before that prompted their wilderness wandering to bring them to this place.  He reminded them of the events found in Numbers 13.  The command was to "go up and take possession" of the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants.  But the people asked for some men to go and spy out the land first.  When the report came back from the spies, the nation refused to go in.  Joshua and Caleb stood against their entire nation and declared that there was no reason for fear.  The LORD would fight for them. 

But the nation did not believe God would take care of them.  They believed an evil report against God and therefore became an "evil generation" (1:35).  So, they wandered around until that entire adult population died.  Even then, the LORD did not forsake them.  He watched over them, protected them, and cared for their needs.  He fought for them as they faced opposition and war from the nations around them.  "For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands.  He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God had been with you.  You have lacked nothing" (2:7)

That previous generation did not enter and enjoy the full blessings of God due to unbelief.  Moses failed as well to trust God at a crucial time.  In an angry moment he, too, lost the privilege of entering the land.

Now, a new generation was poised to cross the Jordan River and do what their fathers would not dare.  They needed to hear the stories again.  They needed to be reminded of the mistakes of the past.  They needed to be taught again the basic expectations that God had for them as a people.

The writer of Hebrews comments on what happened to the first generation that came out of Egypt.  "So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:19).  The urging to all of us when facing difficulties and hard roads ahead is not to question God, or to believe that God is mad at us (1:27), but in faith believing trust Him. "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day..." (Hebrews 3:12-13a).

Friday, July 21, 2017

We all need a safe Place

Read Numbers 34-36.

Before the nation entered the land of promise, Moses gave some broad instructions on dividing up the land among the 9 1/2 tribes.  Then, he turned his attention to the tribe of Levi.  As a chosen tribe of priests who served the other tribes, the Levites were not granted a single large portion of real estate.  Instead, they were given six strategically located cities with their surrounding pastureland; north, central and south on both sides of the Jordan River.

These were called Cities of Refuge.  Not only did the Levites live in them but the cities provided a safe haven for a person who accidentally killed another person.  Protection was provided from unjust avengers.  It was not a safe place for criminals. 

We all need a place of refuge; a safe place when things go wrong.  Sometimes it is accidental and without intent on our part.  Often it is our own fault as a result of a foolish decision.  But trouble, guilt, and oppression sooner or later will find everyone.  

Here is our Hope-
Psalm 9:9-"The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you."

Psalm 59:16-"But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.  For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress."

Psalm 62:5-8-"For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God."

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Driving out Sin

Read Numbers 33.

When God decimated the Egyptians in Exodus and in 33:51-53 He gave the command to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan.  The underlying motive must be remembered.  God was executing judgment on the sin of His enemies.  It was not Israel against them, but them against God.  This was spiritual warfare.  33:4b-"On their gods also the LORD executed judgments."
33:52b-"...destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places."

The spiritual purification of the Canaan was crucial to Israel's future as a nation.  God warned them about this at the end of the chapter.  As Creator and Owner of all things, He will not allow the people He created to ignore Him, to be lured by the unbelieving world around them, or to devote their lives to man-made things.

Exodus 20:3-"You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God..."

Again, in Exodus 34:12-14-"Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst.  You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name in Jealous, is a jealous God)".

Tolerating sin in ourselves, a community, or a nation always leads to destruction of every kind.  Sin becomes "as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you..." (v.55).  It also leads to God's judgmental intervention.  "And I will do to you as I thought to do to them." (v.56).  

"You shall be holy, for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:16)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

7 leadership lessons when someone has a different Idea

Read Numbers 32.

Israel was encamped on the east side of the Jordan River, just north of the Dead Sea.  It was here that the LORD prepared them for entering the Land of Promise.  This was what they had all been waiting for over the last 40 years.  But two and a half of the twelve tribal families wanted to remain on the east side.  With their great flocks and herds, the land along the river seemed ideal for them.

So, the tribal families of Reuben and Gad made a proposal to Moses to settle there.  The descendants of Joseph were divided according to his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis 48).  Each was referred to as the "half tribe".  The half tribe of Manasseh joined the proposal.

Moses' first reaction was anger.  He interpreted this proposal as a divisive threat to national unity and as a turning back on God's plan for Israel.  The basis for his quick reaction was due to their father's failure to go forward into the land after the report of the spies in Numbers 13-14.  That sin resulted in the nation wandering in the wilderness for decades and the loss of an entire generation of people.

Moses' concerns were all legitimate.  As the leader, he felt the weight of responsibility to keep the nation together and moving forward.  As a man of God, he carried a passionate desire to do what God wanted to get done.

To their credit, the tribes involved carefully explained their reasoning for the proposal.  Further they committed themselves to national unity and the conquest of the land on the west side of the Jordan.  Then, Moses made the agreement with them in the hearing of Joshua, Moses' successor, and Eleazar, the High Priest.  With the change in leadership this was crucial.  Later in the book of Joshua this agreement was forgotten and misunderstood almost to the point of civil war.

Lessons for leaders:
1. Listen to your people.  Know what they are thinking.  Know their dreams, ideas, and aspirations.
2. Ask good questions.  Show respect for others by endeavoring to understand their views and why they would say those things.  It is hard for leaders not to be defensive of their own ideas and ways of doing things. 
3. Learn from the past, but try not to react to changes based upon previous bad experiences.
4. Give people freedom to be themselves, to think and act.  Someone else may have a good idea that fits them better and serves the needs of others better than your expectation.
5. Set the guidelines or warnings by anticipating the "what ifs".
6. Be sure others are aware of the agreement.  This safe guards the organization in case the leadership changes.
7. When the answer needs to be "no" be sure that everyone understands that you are really saying "yes" to something better.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Dealing with some unfinished Business

Read Numbers 28-31.

In preparing this second generation for entering the land that God promised to Abraham and his descendants, the LORD repeated a few important lessons here and in the book of Deuteronomy.  He had them take a second census, and then reminded them of the offerings, feasts, and vows.  Next, the nation needed to deal with some unfinished business.

The basis for the war in chapter 31 is found in chapters 22-25.  The Midianites allied with the Moabites to fight Israel.  They tried to hire Balaam, a pagan prophet, to curse Israel and shore up their own confidence.  When that did not work, Satan used another tactic against God's people.  The Moabites and Midianites lured many into sexual immorality and false worship.  The LORD at that time meted out some strong and swift judgment against His own people.  But nothing further is said about the enemy involved until chapter 31.

God told Moses to prepare for war "to execute the LORD's vengeance on Midian."  This was God's judgment and He used Israel to perform it.  Do not miss 31:8b-"And they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword."  Note when the soldiers returned, Moses became angry as he discovered that not only had the young males been allowed to live, but the sexually active Midianite women had not been killed.  Then, at his command the annihilation of the Midianites was complete.

The Midianites may have felt for a long time that they got away with their sin.  They knew of the true and living God and His great power.  But instead of surrendering to the LORD, they chose to rebel against Him and His people.  They chose to go their own way.  The truth in this story is that no one gets away with sin. 

Even today there "are scoffers, following their own sinful desires.  They will say, 'Where is the promise of his coming?'"  "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that done on it will be exposed."  (2 Peter 3:4-10)

Then, Peter wrote this question: "Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness...?" (2 Peter 3:11)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

God's requirement for a Leader

Read Numbers 26-27.

The book is called Numbers because twice God instructed Israel 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, at least, 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.

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 a person surrenders control of thoughts, speech and behaviors to the LORD and disciplines themselves to do what He desires (Galatians 5:16-24).  Education, skill, personality, and experience are all important components 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.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Living counter to Culture

Read Numbers 25.

Followers of the LORD have always lived counter to the culture around them.  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" (Titus 2:10).  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, 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 accountable, whether they agree with Him or not, or even if they refuse to acknowledge His very existence.

In this chapter, the nation of Israel camped on the east side of the Jordan River.  It appears to be a time of a pagan celebration that involved gross sexuality immorality.  These 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?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Checking our Motives

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 a commentary 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 LORD has said.

God's message to the unbelieving world is not ours to change.  Some who are 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.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

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 bolder, 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 needs of 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.

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?

Jesus 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." (John 3:14)  Looking in faith to Jesus as the only healing there is for sin gives life.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

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 their leaders and blame them.  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.  The truth was that the LORD was responsible for the situation and the nation was exactly where God led them.  Israel was about to experience one of the grand miracles of the entire Bible.

Why were the people continuing to grumble and lose sight of God's leadership?

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 when 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.  There were three steps to the instructions: a) take the staff; b) assemble the people; c) speak to 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 Promise 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 his anger and then lost his future 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 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)

Monday, July 10, 2017

2 requirements of God's People

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.  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.  Imagine the miracle of life that God controls.  He can make even a piece of dead, carved wood to sprout.

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 called 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 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, July 8, 2017

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.

Despite everything that they had seen and heard, 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 sinful jealousy. 

Notice the responses of Moses.  He did not defend himself. 
1. He first fell on his face. (16:4)   
2. He entrusted the outcome to God.
3. God gave Moses direction on what to do.

In his message to them, Moses, reminded these men that God had separated them out from the nation as Levites, He 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 also 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..." (16:41) They blamed Moses and Aaron for the deaths of their friends.  Now the entire congregation was angry with them.  God sent a plague and 14,700 more died.  Once more, 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.  Without 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 to humbly serve where He puts us.
5. The most powerful activity of any leader is intercessory prayer.  We have seen this over and over in the life of Moses.  "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."  (James 5:16b)

Friday, July 7, 2017

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." (13:20)

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 factually correct?  Both!  Who was spiritually right?  Caleb and Joshua.  Why?  God said they had a "different spirit" and "followed me fully." (14:24)

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!  

Their disillusionment came from two root issues: rebellion and fear (14:9).  God wanted to immediately kill them all 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, "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, July 6, 2017

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, other than she was a Cushite and not an Israelite.  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.  "And the LORD heard it." (v.2)  That is when God stepped in to speak audibly and unmistakably.

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 criticism 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 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. (v.3)
2. He served God faithfully. (v.7)
3. He served God personally. (v.8)

Though none of us will attain Moses' unique position, I believe those are the key character qualities God expects from all us.  

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

5 leadership challenges in every Ministry

Read Numbers 7-11.

Dealing with the challenges and expectations of people can frequently be overwhelming.  Here are three that Moses faced in the early days of his leadership.

1. The Problem of Complaining People
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).

Evidently, their complaining was open and public; so much so that the LORD took strong action resulting in the death of some.

2. The Problem of Craving People
Next, the "rabble" complained (11:4).  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.  Their wrong desires caused them to reject what God had provided and caused them to go back to the days of their enslavement.  At the end of this chapter God gave them what they wanted but many died for angering the LORD with their wrong desires.  

3. The Problem of Crying People
The complaining and craving, along with God's judgment, affected the entire nation.  It seemed everyone in every tent was now crying about something (11:10).  Unchecked gripping and rumors spread through an organization like a cancer and threatens to kill the organization.

4. 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 problems he faced.  He just wanted to die and escape the mess (11:15).

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)

5. 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 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 possibly reorganize the work, and to demonstrate His power.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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 this chapter 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 might 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 included 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.

1. 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."

2. 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."

3. 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."

4. 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, July 3, 2017

Do you see a crowd or Individuals?

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 (1:2).  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).  

Every person is important to God and should be important to us.
1. Numbers are important.
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, do they truly value individuals or just a crowd?  Attendance figures, if used correctly, are one indicator whether the ministry is effectively growing or diminishing in its influence for Christ.

2. Organization is important. 
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.

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.  The work will suffer.  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.

3. Service is important.
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.

God has 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 through the Holy Spirit 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."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

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 and in His time. 

Hebrews 11:39 reminds us that some faithful, godly men and women "did not receive what was promised" on earth.  However, that same verse states they were "commended through their faith" and "God had provided something better for us."  To lose temporal gains for that which will last for eternity is no loss at all.