Friday, March 28, 2014

Numbers 11 - Better Off a Slave

How ungrateful we can be. God provides us with all that we need and yet we look around for something better. We are given talents to apply toward work, but our wages seem never to be enough and we long for more. Contentment seems to be something that we can't maintain. 

Just recently, I was reminded of my own lack of contentment when I pined on about my desire to see spring come after a long harsh winter. My friend remindede to be patient and we would see warmer weather in God's good time. Oh how I hated to be confronted with my whining. 

In chapter 11 of Numbers that is exactly what we find the nation of Israel doing. They were whining. They detested the manna God provided and in their discontentment stirred up God's wrath against them by demanding meat. Even Moses grew weary of the nation so that God granted Him some relief for the burden of leadership and placed His Spirit on the 70 elders. 

The people complained and reminded Moses and God that they believed they were better off when they were slaves in Egypt, demonstrating not only their lack of gratitude but also a lack of faith as well. They preferred servitude to freedom. They failed to see that even in Egypt, their provision came from God. They had issues not with their location but deep in their hearts they did not love or trust God. They saw their surroundings and forgot that God is bigger than any problem we face. They detested God's provision and rather than asking gently, they demanded their way before God. God responds to their demands only to demonstrate His great power. 

Moses is even skeptical that God could provide meat to the people for an entire month. There were so many of them. But God challenges: "is the Lord's arm too short?" Num 11:23. We too need to be reminded that God can do anything He chooses. He gives from His bounty, but He can also take away. We are His people and as we trust in His great love we see His provision for us. 

Instead of listing our wants before The Lord, sometimes it is good just to rest in His provision and thank Him for His great love. Where there is a need we should be careful to look that God's will be done and ours be undone. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Numbers 10 - At the Trumpet Sound, Will You Go?

Just like it says in the hymn When the Roll is Called up Yonder", the trumpet call will gather, in chapter 10 if Numbers we see God commanding the nation to use the different trumpet sounds to both call the people together and signal their time to leave.  When God calls his people they should be ready to respond whenever that call comes. My fear is that we may not be ready because of the influences the world has had on us. 

Just as in the times of Moses, when God calls his people to leave He goes with them. In the times of old He presented himself in a cloud and today He gives his Holy Spirit to those who are His. We can know that God will not leave or forsake the people He has redeemed. God is with us as we lie down and as we go about our days. He continues to be sovereign over events so no opposition can come but what it will demonstrate God's glory. We may face hardship, but God is with us and our faith is strengthened as we see Him respond to our prayers for help and encouragement. 

One thing I find interesting in this chapter is Moses' invitation to his brother in law, Hobab. Hobab is the son of a Midianite and the brother of Moses' wife.  In Judges he is referred to as a Kenite and we know he responded positively to Moses' invitation as they were with the Israelites later in their story. Here a gentile receives this invitation: "if you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things The Lord gives us" Num 10:32. 

God has not forgotten his chosen nation of Israel, but just as is displayed in this invitation, he has opened the way for Gentiles to share in the good things of The Lord, with the greatest thing being the hope we have of forgiveness of sin and of life with Him both on earth and in glory. God has enough love for all. 

The real question for us is when God sounds the trumpet will we be ready?  Will we stay on earth or will we leave with the saints?  In I Thessalonians we know the Lord's return will come at just the right time. "For The Lord himself will come down from Heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first and we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet The Lord in the air."  I Thess 4:16-17. See The Lord is still in the cloud and we will meet hit here if we will obey the call. In the meantime, we should get ourselves ready so that we can leave when the call comes. 

Hobab decided to go. Will you?

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Numbers 9 - When God Moves You

The Israelites had a wonderful GPS system. Their turns and their directions mapped out by God himself as he directed them by cloud. At the end of this chapter we see that "whether the could stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the Lord's command they encamped, and at the Lord's command they set out. They obeyed the Lord's order in accordance with His command through Moses. (Num 9:22-23). 

Whenever I am faced with a decision, it is nice to have clear direction and to know I am following the Lord's direction for me. While I do not have a personal cloud to guide me, I do have His word and I am fortunate to belong to a body of believers, a church where we are challenged not only to dig into the word, but to apply it as well. Many of my decisions are made in advance as I study the principles God presents. They prepare me for moves I may be called to make in the future. 

There are barriers to honoring God's commands that I am challenged to remove as I study. For instance we see in this chapter that the people had to be ready to move at a moments notice. When God said "go" they went. All too often our love of the world ties us in such a way that we cannot move when God calls us to change work or even locations of service. 

Too many of us are bound by debt that keeps us from moving when God directs. This debt often ties us to employment where we don't thrive because of the tainted working environment. We know we don't belong there, but we cannot afford to change.  Some of us have too much of ourselves invested in that pension plan to sever ties. The reward for bearing with less than God's best is too great. 

Moves take us into unknown territory and too many of us have such weak faith to consider walking into the inknown so we stay when God calls us to move. Others of us are so eager to move, that we go before God leads. We take off in our own direction imagining that we can do things for ourselves. 

Here are some principles from this chapter that we can apply:

1.  Leave at God's time:  the people were prepared to leave when God directed and to stay when He remained. No matter when God directed (day or night) they obeyed. 

2.  Stay close:  the people were always where God was. We need to keep a close walk with The Lord considering His word daily and fellowshipping (prayer and praise) regularly. 

3.  Obey: our providence is tied to our obedience. We can trust that when we follow God's command, it will always brig about God's best. Our own reasoning can get us into trouble. 

Where is God calling you to serve?  It may be a workplace, but it could also be in your home, your neighborhood or within your church. God has a plan and a purpose for each of us. Can we be about God's purpose for us today?

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Numbers 8 - Standing in the Gap

The Levites were selected by God himself to stand in the gap for the people. Priests who offered the sacrifice for sin of the people were from the tribe of Levi. From the very beginning, God made it clear that people could not approach Him in their own way ad on their own merit. He is Holy and those who approach Him must be holy too. 

We see in this chapter the ceremonial cleansing ritual for the Levites and their role a substitutes for the first born of the nation. They were set apart for God even as God set apart the first-born in the plagues on Egypt. Levites were to be given wholly to God's service. 

Even during their service there were phases. Prior to age 25 they would not serve I the Tent of Meeting, but I am sure they were being prepared for service and taught the precepts given from God and learning about their role as that subtitle for the people. At age 25 they would enlist for service until age 50 where they would step down from service and become consultants to the younger men. The concept of retirement in this chapter is not the life of leisure with no responsibility but a change in intensity of work as the man grows older. Wisdom continued to be passed on but they would no longer be required to do the physical labors of the Levites. 

Work was established before the fall of man and gives a means of contributing to the world. It allows us to have purposeful activity. Work is not a punishment, but a means for us to fulfill our purpose here on Earth. 

I don't want to leave this chapter without making reference to this passage as a foreshadow of Jesus' fulfillment. Jesus was the only holy, sinless person who could fulfill the role of our substitute. He was the only on who could bridge the gap between God and man. He alone paid the penalty for our sin and offers us the hope of forgiveness of sin and eternity in Heaven. We, a sinner from birth have no merit to approach a holy God. No good works, no good character that could earn us a place in Heaven or earn God's favor here. We are saved and forgiven not because of who we are, but because of who Jesus is. He paid our penalty so we could go free. We can now approach God directly in prayer through Jesus. There is no other prophet, no other Messiah who could do this. We owe every breath to Him who stood in the gap so we could have life. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Numbers 7 - Furnishing the Tabernacle

Transporting the tabernacle was an undertaking. Many of the pieces were large and heavy. Though there were able bodies men identified, God supplied carts and oxen to assist with the burden through the gifts of the people. Moreover, God supplied the furnishings of the tabernacle through the generosity of the people. 

Whenever God did a work, He didn't need to rely on the charity of outside nations or on debt. He owns everything and he places wealth in the hands if his people to give for His glory. There was equity as well. Each tribe bore an equal portion of the burden regardless of their numbers or their special giftings. 

As you read through this lengthy chapter, you see a repetition. Tribe after tribe brought the furnishings for the tabernacle so that each tribe was represented there. They brought silver plates and bowls, gold dishes, grain offerings, burnt offerings, sin offerings and fellowship offerings. Each tribe sent a leader one day at a time with Judah first down to Naphtali. Likely all the precious metals were taken from Egypt at the time of the Exodus. 

God looks for us to be faithfully obedient to His commands. He asked the nation to furnish the tabernacle and they freely gave to God what He asked. Every lathing we own came from God's provision in our lives. We have no real rights to it. Though God could force it from us because it is His, He looks to see if we will be generous toward Him. Will we recognize His hand in our provision by freely giving?  

A precious verse is shared at the end if this chapter, Num 7:89 - Moses speaks to The Lord and he hears the Lord's voice coming from above the ark of the Testimony. God took note of the people's offering and met with Moses. 

Is it possible that we squelch the voice of God in our own lives by clinging tightly to our possessions?  Do we value stuff more than the provider of the stuff?  Do we love the world more than we love God?

We cannot have more than one love. Our loyalty must be clear and distinct. In 1 John 2:15 - 17 we see this command, "do not love the works or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For ever ting in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting if what he has and does comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and it's desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever."  My dear friend, choose forever treasures and hold loosely to the things you have. Give God His rightful place and meet with Him in fellowship. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Numbers 6 - Separated For God

What do you do when you want to get closer to God?  Do you eliminate distractions from your life?  Do you go away for a retreat? Do you lock yourself away?  Do you increase attendance in worship?  

In this passage we learn of the vow of the Nazerite. This vow was voluntarily taken to separate and dedicate oneself to seeking and serving God. The three primary commands undertaken in observing the vow were 1. No strong drink, 2. No cutting of hair and 3. No defiling contact with dead. After the vow was completed there was a ceremony of shaving and burning the hair and presenting a wave offering to The Lord. 

All of us want to know that we are in fellowship with God, but there are apecial times when we seek a deeper fellowship longing for God's wisdom or special blessing. When we make major life choices we want to be sure we are choosing the right course or if we are faced with a crisis of faith and want to be sure we are not chasing after vapors but that our hope and our salvation is real. 

As a matter of adoption, all Christians are separated for service. Belonging to Christ we owe our entire beings to Him. We are His to command and we should be quick to obey. We are children of grace and not of law so formal ceremony may not be a part of this separation, but there should be something different about us something separate from the world. 

What distinguished you as a Christian?  Is it your private worship of our Lord?  Do you act differently from those who do not know Christ as their savior?  

Our allegiance should be clear and there should be no doubt about our selection of Masters.  Too many Chrisitians have become comfortable with the world and it's ways. We fear the powers at work here and are afraid to offer an alternative. Perhaps more of us need to take a time of complete separation and consider God's direction so that we are not prone to degrade our service with second best for The Lord.  Even if we are not ministers of the gospel, as God's children wouldn't it be appropriate to consider again our mission and our purpose before Him?

Like organizing a time of strategic planning for a business a time of separation allows for greater focus and clarity regarding our role and a time of reflection to set things right before our Creator. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Numbers 5 - The Price of Impurity

God tells us from the first chapter of Genesis on that not only is He our Creator and has all authority to direct our lives, He is also Holy and He expects His people to be pure and to shun sin. Sin can take so many forms in our lives and none is guiltless or we would not be in such desperate need if a Savior. This chapter outlines ways we can defile ourselves and the treatment of each. 

If we have potentially contagious ailments (this chapter holds up skin disease) we should separate ourselves out of compassion for the rest of the camp. We should not want to intentionally infect others with our afflictions. I write this during cold and flu season so you know who you are. Separate yourselves, wash your hands and cover your mouth. Those who were defiled were to leave the camp until they could be pronounced clean. 

Wrongful Acts
If we have wronged someone restitution is insufficient. We are called to add to the restitution 20%. We can't undo our poor behavior but we can ensure that the relationships remain intact. When that person is not available to make things right, you should go to next of kin and then to priests to confess your wrong and be right with that other person. 

Note in Num 6:6, "when a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to The Lord..."  We demonstrate our faithfulness to The Lord in how we treat others. If we are unkind, we have not only wronged that person, we have also wronged God. We tarnish God's name if we call ourselves Christian and behave badly. There is more at stake than the harm done to another. God's reputation is on the line wherever we go. 

Sexual Sin
Our faithfulness with our sexual drives is also an indication of our faithfulness to God. In the chapter God outlines marital infidelity and the means by which He would bring a curse on the unfaithful. We live in an age that permits almost anything two consenting adults would allow. Even teens are deemed to be consenting and their parents not notified if their child is engaged in unholy conduct. 

Sex outside the covenant of marriage is a sin. Marriage was to be between a man and a woman. Beyond those boundaries we are coming into conflict with God's plan for sexual conduct. When we are outside God's plan for us we frequently encounter suffering and if we maintain our hard stance against God, there are eternal consequences. 

God longs for us to embrace holy living and call sin what He calls it. Confess it and repent. God is a loving and forgiving God, but we must agree with Him regarding the sin in our lives and we must come to Him in His way. 

If you are feeling convicted of some unholy act in your life, call it by its name before God and ask for His forgiveness. Also go to the person wronged and make amends. Keep your relationships free from all types of violations of trust. "If we will confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 Jn 1;9). 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Numbers 4 - Big Job? Delegate!

I come from a background of perfectionism. Perfectionists say, "if you want a job done right, do it yourself". They don't trust others to complete a project to their specifications. I have learned through experience that the end of such a philosophy is frequently burnout, isolation and disappointment. Like Moses found in his early years in the Exodus from Egypt, you can do yourself in ministering to all the needs. You just can't do everything all the time and as we see in this chapter, it isn't Biblical to take on large assignments to yourself. God means for us to function as a body; each member playing their part. 

In Numbers 4, we get a contrasting view from God. God divides responsibilities for moving the tabernacle among the Levite clans. He assigns a leader from among Aaron's sons and outlines areas of responsibility to each clan. Every Holy item within the tabernacle would be carefully wrapped and packaged for transport. It would take over 8,500 men to do the work of serving and carrying the tabernacle - no small feat. 

If I were to select men to carry heavy items I would look for the young muscular kids fresh off the sports field, but not so with God. Men from 30-50 were selected for this special service. You had to have some maturity and responsibility. Moses and Aaron were much older but they had certainly not retired from service; their responsibilities were to train and oversee the work of the younger generations just as I am sure those in service of carrying were training their prodigies for taking their place one day. 

I can only imagine what a production it would have been to move the nation, but I suspect that as they followed God's plan it executed like clockwork. A parade of 8500 men carrying their assigned portion in service to The Lord. Imagine how smoothly our churches and even our workplaces would operate if everyone did their part and would serve The Lord with vigor and joy. We would all operate with a sense of purpose and be able to accomplish so much more than merely relying on our own strength. 

We can learn a lot from God's outline for service. May God richly bless you as you seek H and as you serve Him.