Monday, March 18, 2019

Count Your Healing

After the plague in the wilderness, as Israel finally stands once again on the edge of the Promised Land, the Lord commands His people to take a census. 

They have already taken one census, when they first came out of Egypt, but it's important that every man who was involved in the sin when the spies were first sent out and did not believe in the Lord's promise has died, and so it seems natural to here take a census to ensure that all of the men have indeed died and that a new generation has firm hold on the nation. That way, they can truly enter the land the Lord has promised to give them. 

But there was another good reason to take a census here, one that probably escapes most readers who have already forgotten by now what it means to take a census in Israel. 

See, every time Israel took a census, each person who was counted had to be bought back. There was a set price for every person, based on sex and age, and all the money was given to the Lord. This is why, by the way, it was a sin when David took an unauthorized census - he was basically charging the people a tax for existing in his kingdom, and God had not requested the census, or the offering that came with it. 

In other words, every time there was a census, the people had to redeem themselves in the Lord's eyes by buying themselves back with an offering. 

Which means that as Israel stands again on the edge of the Promised Land, ready finally to enter into what the Lord has given them, now is a perfect time not just to count the generations, but to redeem themselves, to make an offering for their lives to the Lord, to declare their worth in His eyes and to buy themselves back. 

Just think about that for awhile. It's beautiful. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Snakes on a Plain

After yet another disobedience, after even more grumbling, from Israel, God once again decides that He's had enough. He sends poisonous snakes among the camp of the Israelites in the wilderness, and everyone who is bitten by the aggressive snakes dies. 

Now, we could talk about what it means that God chose snakes to send among them. As we know, it was a snake (a serpent, cursed to become a snake) in the Garden who tempted Eve into wanting to know good and evil the way that God did, and so it makes sense that God would send snakes among a people who thought they knew better than He did and were arrogant in their own self-confidence and self-assurance. 

But that's really just a bonus. It's not what I want to talk about today. (Interesting bonus, though, right?) 

What we need to look at is what happens after the snakes, what God does when His people are dying and when the man He's appointed to lead them falls face down once more in intercession for them, as was Moses's pattern. He pleads with God to stop the plague among the people, to stop killing them, to stop the havoc that the snakes are wreaking. And God does, but not in the way that you might have expected.

God walks Moses through making a bronze snake and then raising it on a pole, high enough that the camp can turn and look at it. Anyone who has been bitten by a snake can raise his eyes and look at the bronze snake and be cured of the bite. The poison won't affect him. He will live.

Oh, thank the Lord for His mercy! Thank Him for His grace! Thank Him for providing healing for His people, just as He promised, and for watching over them...

...except, kinda...why didn't He just take away the snakes?

That's what our faith wants to know. That's what we expect Him to do when we pray. It's all well and good that we have a God who can heal us, and who will heal us, but what we really want is for God to take away what's hurting us in the first place. yet, that's not what Numbers tells us happened here. Not once do the Scriptures say that God took away the snakes. Rather, He merely made a way for men to live with them.

It's a tough pill to swallow. We pray and we pray and we pray, but we still have cancer. We still have bitterness. We still have failure. We still have rejection. We still have difficulty. We still have death. It doesn't seem to matter how hard we pray sometimes, we can't seem to shake the snakes that slither among us. And we cry out to God, asking Him what in the world He's doing, since He doesn't seem to be doing anything for us. 

And He says, look! Lift your eyes, and you will see. 

A bronze snake. Fantastic. 

But remember, when the New Testament comes around, it is Jesus Himself who says that He is the one lifted up in our camp. He has become the bronze snake. Those who look to Him, though they be afflicted, will live. He has made a way for us to live in the trials and troubles of this world. 

It's not what we want, but it's mercy nonetheless. It's grace all the same. It is provision and healing and promise, everything we love about our Lord. It's part of living in a messy place with a God who still loves us, despite our grumblings. And He's given us a way to live, and promised life abundant. 

Even where the snakes slither.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Work of Intercession

We've talked a lot about Moses as a good and faithful leader, and we saw even yesterday how quickly and instinctively he falls on his face for his people. In fact, it might even be fair to say that as often as we see Moses standing before his people, we see him face-down before the Lord. At least. 

But here's the thing: he didn't have to. 

Moses didn't have to once intercede for his people. He could have just left them to their own consequences. He could have just let them be and let whatever was going to happen to them happen to them. He could have just left it alone and focused on his own relationship with the Lord. After all, he was not in any personal danger (with perhaps one exception) of becoming a victim himself of God's wrath. His life wasn't in jeopardy. His well-being wasn't threatened. 

He was faithful. He was doing things right. He was hoping and believing and trusting and obeying, just like everyone else ought to have been doing. And he'd told them they ought to be doing it. He'd done what he was supposed to do. If they didn't want to listen and so wanted to cut themselves off from God, it could have easily been no skin off of his back. 

But these were his people. And Moses, though he was not implicated in nor responsible for their sin, felt a tremendous burden for them, and so he fell on his face and prayed on their behalf. 

This is one of those humilities of spirit that we've all but lost in today's individualized Christianity. We have stopped interceding for one another. 

And we're not talking here about the prayer list, which is a beast unto its own self (and often creates more problems than it solves). We're not talking about interceding for the needs or concerns of others, praying for cancer treatments and financial problems and addiction recovery and weight loss and whatever. We're talking about interceding for the holiness and the faith of the community God has given us. 

When was the last time you prayed for someone else's faith? Not a faith tied to a circumstance, but a faith nestled in the heart. 

Moses prays for the way the people live. He prays for the way their hearts turn. He prays for their obedience and understanding. He prays for their action and love. He prays for their mercy and forgiveness, and for God's mercy and forgiveness for them. Have you ever prayed for someone else to experience God's mercy?

If you have, you're among the few. Because in our modern Christianity, we're taught that what you do with God is between you and God. Your relationship with Him is yours and yours alone. Your faith is a private matter, and you can't judge the way someone else believes. We're taught to leave matters of faith alone, even among the faithful, and just let them be whatever they are, and so we have abandoned one another to the limits of our own imaginations and we require nothing more from each other than a simple confession that we do, in some way or another, "believe." 

Oh, then, you must be a Christian. I mean, if you "believe" and everything.

And yet, we are a people who simply haven't seen God move the way that He used to. In fact, it's one of the things that troubles us about our modern Christianity, although we have been told to accept it and to simply wait for the end of all things until we see Him again. 

Friends, He's not moving because we're not praying. We're not interceding for one another. We're not falling down on our faces and crying out over the way that we, as a community, believe. We're too busy convincing ourselves that it's not our problem, not our concern, not our care. Because hey, we believe, and we're not in danger of paying the price for their failures of faith. 

But oh, we are. Moses prayed because he knew that the only way to see God work in this people was to pray for them to be a people through whom God could work. The same is still true today. If we want to see God move in our world, we have to be a people who pray for our community to be a people through whom God can move. That means praying for the faith of one another, falling face down in intercession for our collective holiness. 

Can you do that? 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A Father's Love

At one point in the wilderness, Aaron and Miriam (the sister of Moses and Aaron) have had just about enough of Moses and start to question his qualifications to be really anything at all in Israel, since he has married a foreign woman. It starts to make more sense to them that God should speak to Israel through, well, a more full-blooded, fully-dedicate Israelite. Such as, you know, themselves. 

So they start grumbling amongst themselves, sharing their distaste for their brother's high rank and special favor with God, and it doesn't take long (of course) for word to reach God's ears. And God, who has chosen Moses, isn't having it. He calls a meeting, just the four of them, to remind Aaron and Miriam that He's kind of the Lord and He can kind of do whatever Lord-like things He chooses to do, including choosing for Himself the person He elects to choose. And, by the way, that's Moses. 

Miriam comes out of the meeting afflicted with leprosy.

Now, Moses - a man humble in spirit who has spent most of Israel's wilderness journey on his face, pleading in intercession for God's people - cries out in intercession here once more. He pleads with God to restore his sister, to heal her of this leprosy with which He has afflicted her. He prays earnestly for this woman who literally just questioned his value to pray at all. 

And God's answer is beautiful. If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? 

In other words, God says, I am her father, and I have made her unclean for a time. But she will be clean again.

Don't miss this. Don't read right past this all the things you've heard or worried about God and miss this. You see, it's tempting for us to see the punishment narrative, to see God's heavy hand come down on Miriam and to see Him assert His divine authority to do whatever He wants, particularly with those who disappoint/discourage/disobey Him. That is what we're always taught most prominently, it seems, and our hearts seem to just jump there rather quickly. 

If we do, we're prone to struggle with the same questions that we so frequently struggle with: who is this God? How do we know anything about His wrath? Does He just love punishing people? He must, mustn't He? Just like God. Always punishing His people. And then we wrestle with how He can even claim to be love when He's so...vengeful. So...quick-tempered. So...heavy-handed. 

But listen to the love. Hear it in His words. Moses cries out on behalf of His sister, and God's answer is, "Am I not her father? I am her father." And He loves her like a father. A father who loves her enough to discipline her. 

We always say it, right? We always talk about how God loves His children and part of love is discipline and we should be thankful for a God who punishes us and blah blah blah. We say it mostly so that maybe we ourselves will believe it, so that maybe it will be some comfort to us in our own times of punishing. Though we're not sure if we really believe it or not. It sounds...hokey. At best. 

Yet God Himself said it. He didn't just imply it. He didn't have it interpreted through someone who wrote the Scriptures for us. He didn't have it as some kind of theory in someone's head during their own time of trial. He came right out and said it. (It's in Numbers 11, by the way.) In the very same breath in which He punished Miriam for her grumbling, in the very same stanza where she walks leprously out of the tent, He says, Oh, but I am her father. 

I Am her Father.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

All Prophets

Let's be honest - Moses had a hard gig. The Lord came and spoke directly to him, so there were not a lot of questions about what he was supposed to be doing, but he still had to do it. He still had to get an entire nation of people on board with God's plan. He still had to organize them and lead them out of Egypt. He still had to keep them on track in the wilderness. Most of what we see of Moses is his intercession for the people because he's the one who, above all, had to keep their faith when they lost it. 

He was, in all effect, the pastor of Israel. 

And we know well the heavy weight of being a pastor of a people. We see it all the time, and we see how men so commonly handle the burden - they become convinced that it's all about them, that the church depends on what they are able to do, that they must not stumble because it will fail their people. That the entire weight of all that God is doing in the world is on their shoulders. 

It doesn't take much to get from this place of humble responsibility to the dangerous place of arrogant self-importance. It's a small step, really, and one we see taken far too often by our church leaders. Even our lay leaders. Even the guy who changes light bulbs in the church is susceptible to this kind of mindset. "The church doesn't run without me." And all of a sudden, we start to think ourselves more important than anyone else, our burden more holy, our hearts more capable.

We start to think it's all about us and when that happens, we start to build walls around ourselves. We start to try to protect our gifts. We start preaching and telling you what to think, but not how we thought about it to get to that point. We start making commands instead of preaching commandments. We start pretending that we do what no one else could ever possibly do, and we make sure of that by refusing to let anyone else know how we do it. We are irreplaceable. 

And we like it that way. 

But Moses has a different take, and it's a good reminder for all of us who serve in the church, no matter what it is that we do. In Numbers 11, while Moses is once again trying to be the everything for his people (at their own expectation), he cries out in frustration and says, "Oh, I wish that you ALL were prophets! I wish that you ALL were doing what I do!" 

The one man in all Israel who has reason to believe he's special, the one man who hears directly from God face-to-face, the one man who has truly been indispensable in the entire journey thus far cries out that he wishes everyone had the gifts that he has when it comes to the Lord. He wishes everyone could hear directly. He wishes more of the people were like him. 

That's a far cry from the pastor who believes no one else could ever do what he's doing. It's a long way away from the man who won't even tell anyone where the church keeps their spare light bulbs. It's leaps and bounds from the woman who teaches the same children's class every Sunday because no one else could possibly get it right. For the children, of course. 

No, Moses wishes everyone could do what he's doing. He longs for them all to hear and to speak the truth. He wants them all to lead one another through the wilderness. He wants them interceding for themselves and for each other, holding their own faith the way he's had to hold it for so long. 

He wants them privy to the things that he knows. He wants them in on the secrets and the mysteries of God. He wants them full into the whole process. Oh, I wish that you ALL were prophets like me! And not for Moses's sake, but for the people's sake. For their own good. For their own hearts. For their own souls. 

What would our churches look like if we all took this posture? What kind of community would we be if our leaders, those who serve us, believed we should all have their gifts? What if they didn't want to be irreplaceable, but wanted something more instead? 

What if you gave away your gift and longed for others to have it, too? What if you could trust someone else to lead worship that would draw you closer to God, to preach a sermon that would teach you something about Him, to change a light bulb? 

What if we all wished for us ALL to be prophets like us? How would that change our churches? How would that change the Church? 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Tied to the Land

We're still in the thick of the law, deep into Leviticus now, and this is where God tells us how everything works. How it is that we're supposed to live together. How it is that we're supposed to be in the Promised Land. 

One of the contrasts that has already come up, although we haven't looked at it in this space, is the difference between the Lord of the Israelites and the gods of the other peoples. God issues stern warnings against the gods of the other peoples, telling Israel to stay away from them. And their greatest temptation to idol worship will come not when they encounter these other peoples, necessarily, but when they live in the land. 

See, the gods of other peoples were tied to the land. They had everything to do with crop production and fertility and blessing and abundance and the kinds of measurable things that happen to a people because of a land. The other nations' acts of worship were for the places that they lived. 

The Lord of Israel, on the other hand, was a God tied to His people. It didn't matter where they were, and He demonstrates that well by being their God even in the wilderness when they don't have a place to call their own. 

But that doesn't mean the land had nothing to do with it. Here's where it gets really interesting. 

In Leviticus 25, we're told that any land that a family in Israel possesses in the pasture or in the open fields will belong to their family forever. If it is sold for any reason, it comes back to them in the Jubilee; it can never change hands for good. That's because it is a parcel of the Promised Land, a place to which God has called them, a goodness that He has given them. 

On the other hand, if a family has a house in the city and sells it, well, it's gone. It doesn't come back to them. It doesn't belong to them the way that the Promised Land does. It's just a room in a city; it doesn't have the same kind of holy meaning that the pasture land, the land flowing with milk and honey has. It's a land flowing with...street grime and human waste (let's just be honest about it here), where everything is brought in on donkeys and camels instead of rising bountifully with promise out of the fertile soil. There's nothing particularly holy about the city; the land is where it's at.

And the point of all of that is this: 

The gods of the other nations tied the people to their lands. It was only through their gods that they could get their lands to be bountiful for them, that they were confident enough to live in them, that they had the crops they desired. It was their worship that brought forth their harvest. They had to come to their gods first in order to have anything at all. 

But in Israel, it was the land that tied the people to their God. It was the promise, overflowing and abundant, that reminded them of His goodness. It was their harvest that drew them back into worship. Living in the place that God had given them reminded them of the God who gives and called them back again and again and again, for it was only by His grace that they had the abundance at all. They had everything they had because God had come to them first

That makes all the difference, doesn't it? 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Fellowship Offering

When we talk about offerings and sacrifices that carry on to the third day, it's only natural for us to begin to think about Jesus. Most of us have probably wondered from time to time what it is about the third day, why God has such a special interest in it, and in the law detailing the sacrifices, we have part of our answer.

We're talking about the fellowship offering, which is not what we think immediately about when we think about Jesus. After all, He was the atoning sacrifice for our sins, we're told. And that makes Him a sin offering, doesn't it? Or a guilt offering? Or maybe even a burnt offering? Certainly, He wouldn't be a fellowship offering.

Except...

(And I have written about this before, I know, but it bears repeating) He is the Lamb. And if you read through the Old Testament law for sacrifices, you'll see plainly that the lamb...is a fellowship offering.

Which means that the sacrifice of the Lamb would not be accepted until the third day, once it has been properly carried out through and through. Once every instruction of the letter of the law has been followed regarding it. It could be rejected on the third day if it's not done correctly, but in this case, on the third day, it's done. Over with. The Lamb walks right out of the grave, right on time.

Some persons may be bothered by the idea of Jesus as a fellowship offering. I get it. We want that atoning sacrifice. We want the fullness of absolution. We want our sins to be washed away. We want...we want...we want...but if you really think about it, the Lamb as a fellowship offering is one of the most beautiful things that God could have given us.

It declares, without hesitation or confusion, that God wants to be with us, and He'll do whatever it takes to make that happen.

He wants to bring us back into intimate relationship with Him. He doesn't just want us to be free from our sin, although that's important to our connection. He doesn't just want us to be atoned for or redeemed; those are good things, but they're not enough. He wants us to be with Him and He wants to be with us - in fellowship. Together. The way we were once in the Garden.

And we know that He washes away our sins, but we're still sinners. We know that we're redeemed, but we're still broken. We know that He's called us to higher living and made it possible, but we're still dirt stuck in the mud.

But He's also brought us back into fellowship with Him, and we know that we're living this right now. In His presence; Him in ours. We live in intimate relationship with the Lord, right now, and that's not possible without His fellowship offering.

Sacrificed on a Friday, mourned on a Saturday, and accepted on a Sunday - three days later. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Persist in Holiness

For those of us who do not live under the ceremonial law, for whom animal sacrifices seem strange and foreign, and who have the once-for-all atoning sacrifice of Christ to cover over our sins, there's a lot that we don't understand about the offerings that Israel was instructed to bring to God under the Old Testament law. It's tempting and easy for us to believe that you bring your sacrifice to the priest, he offers it for you, you eat it together, and then, it's done. That's it. Finito. 

But that wasn't always the case. 

For example, if you brought a fellowship offering to the Lord, you could eat off of it for two days. But if you ate any of it on the third day, the whole thing would be rejected and worthless. Though you might have thought for two days that you were fellowshipping with the Lord, you can find out on the third day that you never actually were, by the mere fact that you were disobedient two days after your sacrifice. 

Well, now, that changes things, doesn't it? It challenges and then dismisses this image we get of a God who is pleased with simple gifts, of a God whose disappointment is abated by giving Him something. Our God is not a God at whom we can simply direct an offering and give to Him whatever our sin cost us and then go on about our merry way. He demands more, much more, from us. 

Even under the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, our God remains the same. 

It's tough for us. We'd like a God who is quick and easy, to put it bluntly. We'd like a God to whom we apologize and it's over. We'd like a God who only asks us to confess, and then we're done. For most of us, holiness works this way. Forgiveness works this way. Atonement works this way. I repented, so it's over. Done with. God's forgiven me. Let's move on. 

But what God wants from us is sustained motion in a Godward direction. What He wants from us is right living that isn't just an attempt to get things right. What He wants from us...is day three. 

He wants us to continue in our humble posture, continue in our fellowship. What He wants is for us to get it right consistently, day after day after day (you think there's a reason that rolls so easily off the tongue in a three?). He wants us to demonstrate that we understand that it's not just about what we bring; it's about how we bring it. It's not about what we give; it's about how we give it. It's not about our sacrifice; it's about our offering. 

We have to get this right. 

So the question to ask yourself is not what happens on day one. It's not. It's not about what happens at the moment of repentance, when you cry out to God, when you confess to Him, when you recommit yourself to Him, when you ask for forgiveness. It's not even about what happens on day two, when the fire is still fresh and the smoke's still in the air. 

The question is what you're doing on day three. When God says, this is the day - what day is it for you? How do you live? 

Because the fellowship offering you bring can be rejected if you don't get this right. And then everything you poured your heart into is wasted; it's worth nothing. It hasn't brought you closer to God. You're still far away from Him. 

Honestly, then, what are you doing on day three?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

On Faith

As Israel stands in the journey between captivity and the Promised Land, God describes for them in great detail what their faith should look like. And He paints a stark contrast between what their faith should look like and what they might get it confused with.

They shouldn't confuse it, He says, with the faith they had in Egypt, which was a totally different kind of faith for a totally different kind of people. In Egypt, they were His people, but they were also slaves; they had no autonomy, no free will like they have now in the wilderness. They don't get to "come;" they were a people who had to "do." And that's a big difference.

They also shouldn't confuse it, He says, with the kind of faith that the people of Canaan have, the Promised Land into which they are entering. These people have a faith that is rooted in the goodness of all they have, and that can seem tempting when Israel comes in and takes possession of all of it. But Israel should have a faith that rests on all God is. Again, a big difference. 

Really, what we're seeing is that in the wilderness, God ties Israel's faith to His character, to who He is, rather than letting them have a faith like all the other nations, which is tied to the land, to the place. God is with them, so they can put their faith in His presence. And they should.

But perhaps a bigger story, something we should be taking away from this little section of Leviticus, is that faith really only develops in the present. It only exists in the present. What you had in the past was faith then, but it's not now; it doesn't work here. And what you have in the future may be faith then, but it's not now; it doesn't work here, either. 

The only option you have is to believe in the present. That's faith. 

That doesn't mean that what you had in the past and what you may have in the future aren't valuable in the present; they very much are. They just aren't faith. What you had in the past becomes thankfulness, gratefulness. In the wilderness, Israel can be thankful for a settled place in which they were able to do what God required of them, but a settled place faith doesn't work in the wilderness, not when the nation of people is moving around. So they are thankful that they learned "how" to worship in a place where it was easier, but now, they are challenged to change how they worship to accommodate the new season. They are asked to expand what they know, but they must be thankful to know something they can now expand. Thankfulness for the past contributes to a present faith, but it does not replace it. 

In the same way, what you look forward to in the future is hope. Israel can look forward to the Promised Land, to all of the abundance and goodness that the people of the land are currently enjoying that fuels their worship, but abundance and goodness are strangers in the wilderness, so it doesn't make much sense for Israel to have a faith today that is rooted in these things. That's foolishness. (And we know it because we still see modern versions of this - those who thank God for what He hasn't done yet and live 100% believing He will do it tomorrow...when tomorrow never comes.) It's a blind kind of faith, if it tries to be faith, but it's a beautiful hope if we let it be just that. And hope for tomorrow informs today's faith; it keeps our eyes on the God who can provide such things. In this case, the God of goodness and abundance. And it deepens our dependence on and appreciation for Him, by the sheer contrast of trusting what comes in the future amid the realities of today. 

Most of us would say, "I have trusted God with my life" or even "I will trust God with my life." But how many of us choke a little harder when we have to say, "I am trusting God with my life"? The faith we used to have is easy because it's familiar, and the hope that we have is enticing because it's everything we could ask or imagine. But faith doesn't live in the past or in the future; it only exists in the present. You can only ever truly, fully, wholly believe in and trust God today...today. You can't trust God tomorrow today, and you can't trust Him yesterday today. Only today...today. 

So what kind of faith do you have? 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

A Call to Worship

Something entirely new is happening in the wilderness with Israel. No longer is she left to her own, to an individualized faith that takes place primarily in the single person. No, God has called her to the Tabernacle, to the place where He will dwell among her. And He's told her to bring her sacrifices there.

Sacrifices are not new; God's people have been making sacrifices for as long as they have known Him. Just think about Abraham, who was asked to take his only son to the mountain to sacrifice, only to be blessed by a ram in the thicket at just the last minute. Think about Jacob, who built an altar to the Lord at the place where He wrestled with the man. Think about the sacrifices offered at points of reconciliation between brothers. When thankfulness and blessing abound, God's people make sacrifices.

But with the institution of the Tabernacle, God has to re-train His people no longer to offer their own sacrifices. He has to teach them not to worship wherever they feel like it any more, but to come to Him, to the place where He dwells. 

There's actually a whole section about this in Leviticus, a whole paragraph dedicated to the Lord's command to bring your sacrifices to the accepted place, to come to Him with your offerings, to stop sacrificing your own animals and bring them to the priests, to the community, to the Tent, where there is an altar for them. Not just an altar, but the altar. 

The reason this ought to stand out to us is that we are living in a time just like this. We are living in a time where persons bring their offerings to God wherever they are and try to offer them for themselves, and I believe that we are under a new call to communal worship and living and we are in a time and place where we need to remind one another to come to God, not just to think about Him.

See, we've been taught over and over again that God is everywhere. That He is Spirit and ever-present, so it doesn't matter where we are, the Lord is there with us. And in one sense, this is true, but it takes away from us the need to ever come to Him. We don't have to seek. We don't have to travel. We don't ever have to move to get to God because we take for granted that He already is wherever we are. 

So we end up offering our gifts in the remotest of all places - in our own hearts and minds - and think that is pleasing to the Lord. We think that's what He wants from us. But it's really not.

What He desires is that we bring our gifts where the community can experience them. Where the aroma that is pleasing to the Lord can be smelled for miles around, from the center of it all, from everything and by everyone. He wants us to come to Him, to travel, to move to the place where He dwells among us and to know what that feels like to bring our offerings with us. To truly bring them, carry them, bear their weight and hand them over. Truly give them, offer them, pour them out on an altar. Not just an altar, the altar. 

We've forgotten how to do that, and if we listen closely, I think we can hear the call of Leviticus all over again in our own time. No longer should we be a people who sacrifice our own offerings, but we should be a people who offer our sacrifices at the place to where God has called us. 

Such a subtle, but exceptionally powerful, difference. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

Anointing

A lot of things happen in the wilderness that have never happened before in the history of God's people, and if you're paying attention in the Law, some of these things seem eerily similar - so similar, of course, that you couldn't possibly think it was just coincidence.

Take, for example, the anointing of Aaron and his sons as priests. There have been priests before; we know this because Abraham brought an offering to Melchizedek as a priest, at the very least. But for the first time, the priests will be anointed by the community and clothed in holy clothing, woven together by the skilled craftsmen. (Fun fact: the priestly robes were blue.) 

The way this worked was that Aaron and his sons would come forward and slaughter the anointing animals as an offering before the Lord. Moses would then take some of the blood of the offering and put it on the right earlobe, the right thumb, and the right big toe of the ones being anointed. This would purify and signify them before the Lord for the work that they were going to do and cleanse them to come into the Tabernacle, into the presence of the Lord. No one else in Israel, beside the priests, was to be anointed. 

Except...

Fast forward to Leviticus 14. Here, we're talking about Israelites with icky skin diseases, the contagious types. They have to be cut off from their community for 7 days until they are clean again, and once they are clean, present themselves to the priest, along with an offering for atonement for their uncleanness. Once their offering is slaughtered as a sacrifice pleasing to the Lord, the priest takes some of the blood and puts it on the right earlobe, the right thumb, and the right big toe of the one who just had the skin disease. And then he will be clean. 

Looking at this, we could say that to be anointed as the priests were anointed is to be cleansed as the man with the skin disease is cleansed. After all, the priest must be ritually clean to come before the Lord in the Tabernacle, so it makes sense. 

But we could also say, and this perhaps means more to us as common men than the other, that to be cleansed is to be anointed.

Say it again - to be cleansed is to be anointed.

Because the way the Scriptures present this, the anointing comes first. We know the cleansing sounds similar because we've already read about the anointing, and not the other way around. So the anointing is the frame of reference for the cleansing, which means it is more accurate to say that to be cleansed is to be anointed.

Which means that each of us, when we make ourselves presentable to God - clean in the most ritual sense, purified, bearing a new offering to Him (even though we no longer sacrifice animals, we often bring our hearts afresh) - come under a new anointing from Him. And anointing, of course, is the special call and mark to enter into the presence of God and do the work. 

So...have you been anointed lately? Have you been cleansed? 

Friday, March 1, 2019

Unknown Sin

Yesterday, we looked at a portion of the Law that talks about what should happen when someone sins unintentionally. In other words, when a man doesn't know he's sinned. And that requires two things - it requires the man be humble enough to listen to his brother tell him about his sin and it requires his community to be humble enough to embrace responsibility for unknown sin. 

But it still leaves the nagging question, really, how does a man sin and not even know it? In a world in which we are responsible for our own actions and in which we want to hold everyone else responsible for theirs, it seems impossible that someone could sin and not know it. They did, after all, sin, didn't they?

And we're living in a time with absolutely zero forgiveness for what we consider some of the bigger sins, which is a rather interesting time to be in. We know that in this country, we've had a history of racism. For the longest time, we tried to combat racism at the system level, figuring if we could change the system, we'd eliminate the sin. But we didn't really call it a sin, and for the longest time, we didn't even call it wrong. 

If it wasn't wrong, how were the people committing it supposed to know it was a sin? 

This is not at all to defend racism. That's not what I'm getting at. Rather, what I am trying to highlight is that there are situations in which men do things that might be considered wrong, but they aren't considered wrong at the time, so the man doesn't know that he's doing something wrong. 

It's the same way with a lot of sins. Most of the stuff that men do to one another? They don't do it maliciously. They don't do it out of hate or out of a conscious decision to trouble someone else. Rather, it's more often something that they've been taught, something that's come naturally out of the life they have lived and the experiences they have had. To them, it's natural and reasonable and right because that's the way their world works. They honestly don't know any better, and they don't know it's sin.

A friend asked not too long ago if a toxic person knows that he's toxic. The answer is...sometimes, although he probably hasn't always known. Most often, he's mimicking the relational patterns of his own family and they are patterns that have worked for him. It's how he knew, in his own system, that he was loved, so it's how he shows love now, even though it doesn't work for someone he actually loves. She, having grown up in a different relational system - or perhaps even the same one, but broken free of it as an adult - sees plainly what is not love in his style. 

In other words, he doesn't love her any less, but they disagree on how to show it. And so no, he doesn't know he's toxic; he thinks he's loving. 

There comes, usually, a time when he begins to understand how broken his own experience was and sees the toxicity of his relational style. Trying desperately to change it, he's unable to make the great strides he wants to make. In this case, he knows he's toxic and may even understand a little of why, but it doesn't change his behavior; he's still sinning, technically, even though he doesn't want to. (Aren't we all?) 

Everything we do, everything about us, comes out of the experiences that we've had. Broken experiences make us broken people. They change our definitions and understandings of things, and they shape the way we interact in our world. It's why we have to have grace for each other - because you don't know how someone else is defining his experience. You don't know how his heart is approaching his behavior. 

Is it possible to sin without knowing it? Absolutely. In fact, we should go so far as to say that most of our sin is done without our knowing it. Because we are partly correct - if we knew it was a sin, we probably wouldn't do it.

So we live with grace, and we give others the benefit of the doubt. What would happen if you did? What would happen if you believed that everyone was doing their best and had pure intentions for their actions? If they weren't trying to sin, but rather, they just were? 

See yesterday's comments on humility for that one. 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

On Accountability

Among the law in Leviticus - actually, very early into the law in Leviticus - is provision for the sinner who has sinned and doesn't know it. 

Our initial reaction might be, how does one sin and not know it? We are so very concerned about right and wrong, about good and bad, that we figure that if you've done wrong or bad, you probably know you've done wrong or bad. But that's just not the case. In God's law, it is possible to break it without even realizing. And so, God has laid out what should happen when this occurs.

There are a couple of different notions here to consider. First, there is the possibility that a man may break the law without realizing he has broken the law and only finds out he is a sinner when someone else tells him about it. This is an important call to accountability, not for the community, but for the man. 

The man must be willing to hear from someone else that he's done something wrong, something he doesn't even realize he's done. 

And we all need to have this kind of humility in our lives. We all need to have the kind of spirit that is willing to hear even what we don't think is possible, particularly when we have wounded someone unintentionally. We have to be willing to hear the truth and act on it, making amends for our wrongdoing and atoning for our actions. In this case, the man who finds out he has done something wrong brings his offering to the priest as soon as he hears about it, and he is relieved of the guilt of his sin. 

But he has to be willing to hear about it first. So must we.

A second possibility is that a man does something wrong and nobody really realizes it, except that the ripple effects of sin spread through the community in an undeniable way. Something is amiss, and no one can quite put their finger on it, but everyone knows that something is wrong. It doesn't take long for a God-fearing community to realize that someone has sinned. 

In this case, the community must bring an offering before the Lord for its atonement. They must sacrifice an offering pleasing to the Lord and declare that they are aware that they are unaware of the sin, but do not deny its reality. In this way, they make peace with God for all of them, the community and the sinner included.

This one is a bit more difficult, perhaps, but it is extremely important in our contemporary world. We are living in a community of sin, a community wounded by the actions of others. It's not our sin, not necessarily. Sometimes, we don't even know what the sin was. But we see the marks of it all around us. We see the hurting souls all around us. Something is wrong, something is amiss. And we know it. 

So we, the people of God, must be a community who atones for sin where we see it without knowing it. We must be a people who come before the Lord on our knees, seeking forgiveness for the error of human ways.

And it's tough. We look at the problems of the world and we think, that's not my problem. I didn't do that. I don't think that way. I don't act that way. That's not my problem. 

Think about racism, for example. Overwhelmingly, most of us are not racists. We wouldn't consider ourselves racist. We don't do racist things. And yet, America has historically had a problem with racism. It's easy to think it's not our problem, since we aren't contributing to it, but it is our community. And that makes it our problem. 

Or sexual abuse/assault/trafficking. Most of us aren't perpetrators, and we aren't in the habit of soliciting prostitutes. This isn't our problem. We're sorry it happens, but what can we do about it besides what we're already doing - not contributing to the problem? But again, it is our community, and that makes it our problem. 

And so we need a measure of what Israel had, that sense of communal responsibility for the way that we live together before the Lord. We need the humility to accept that our community's sins are our sins, our problems are our problems, and we need to be a people who come before the Lord on our knees, bringing our offerings of atonement, seeking forgiveness, and longing to restore our community to its wholeness. 

Interestingly enough, it starts by being a people of the first vein, a people who can humbly hear that we've sinned without knowing it. For we have. 

Every one of us. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Know How

When we talk about skill, we're often talking about the ability to do something externally, such as the ability to change the oil in your car or to prepare a delicious meal from scratch. These are what we think of when we think of "skills." So when God sends to Moses men who are called "skilled craftsmen," for the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, we are pretty sure we know what that means.

It means that these are the men who know how to hammer the gold, silver, and bronze; they are smiths who work on the anvils in the shaping of metals. These are the men who can weave intricate patterns out of blue, violet, and scarlet yarns, making the finest details of the tapestry. These are the man who can read blueprints and measure twice, cut once, making sure everything is exactly as the Lord has drawn it up. These are the men with the "know-how." 

Except that's not it. Well, it's not all of it. 

It has to be some of it because if these men did not have the physical skill to do what they were being called to do, they wouldn't be able to do it. Plain and simple. They had to have some understanding and ability of the above-mentioned things in order to do them; God would not have called a man who didn't. 

But the actual phrase used here when we reference "skilled crafstmen" has nothing at all to do with what these men can do with their hands. Rather, the phrase is "the wise of heart." 

Their know-how is in the depths of their soul.

The skill of the soul is quite different than the skill of the hands. It knows the why behind the what, and it pays deep attention to the how because it understands that the how reveals something about the who. When you look at the way that these men built the Tabernacle, yes, they had detailed plans to work from, but it was their hearts that tied into the project. 

And hearts don't tie into measurements; they tie into meaning. 

These men kept before them the Lord who ordained the work. They kept before them the purposes for which they were building - that Israel would have a place where the Lord would dwell among them in mercy and that they would have a place to come to the Lord as a people. They kept before them the heart of the Lord, not just the plans of Him, and His deep love, abiding presence, and constant provision for Israel. 

They could already see in their hearts' eyes what would happen with these things that they were building. They could see the tablets inside the Ark. They could see the offerings poured out on the altars. They could see the people gathered in the courtyard, the priests clothed in their finest robes. They could see the bread sitting on the table and the lamps burning with oil in the dark of the night. They could smell the incense, even though they hadn't mixed it yet. And they knew not just what they were doing, but what they were doing it for. 

We could use a little more of this wisdom in our lives. Most of us, anyway. We could use the kind of eyes that see with the heart and remember what the Lord is doing through the work He's given us to do. We focus so much on our ability, on our skill, and that's important; we have to be able to actually do the work. But so many of us lose sight quickly of the why behind the what, and we are too busy looking at the blueprints to see the Tabernacle at all. We're too busy looking at the pieces to see the whole. We're too busy looking at the work to see the use of it. 

Yet, if God has called us to the work, it is not just because of our skill in doing it. It's not just because we are able. It's because He has made us to see the vision of what He's set before us, He's made us to see the holiness of our work. He's made us wise of heart. 

Let us never lose sight of that. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

I Am

In Exodus 34, a really interesting exchange takes place between the Lord and Moses, who have had a number of interesting exchanges up to this point. By now, Moses knows well who the Lord is and the Lord knows Moses and his heart. The two are not strangers, and you would think that they could talk like friends. Often, they do. 

But in this particular case, they talk like the faithful and the Faithful One. And it's really interesting.

Yet something else in the camp of Israel has brought out God's need to declare who He is, so the Lord speaks first and lays out in plain language who He is. What His heart is. How He intends to act. The very core of His being. The depth of His character. In a beautiful, powerful, passionate monologue, the Lord says, "This is Who I Am." 

And then Moses, knowing from personal experience that everything the Lord has just said about Himself is true, having intimately encountered the very Lord who just declared Himself, absolutely certain and 100% convinced of the truth of the Lord's words, falls down on his face and begins to pray. And what does he pray? He prays that the Lord will be exactly who He just said He will be, that the Lord will do exactly what He just said He will do, that the Lord's character will be revealed exactly as the Lord has declared it will be revealed. 

In other words, God says, "This is Who I Am" and Moses falls face down and prays, "Yes, Lord. Be that." 

Let me ask you something - when was the last time you prayed for God to be exactly who He is? 

We who call ourselves the Lord's have some pretty deeply ingrained ideas about who God is, or who He's supposed to be. We have an idea when we pray about how we want Him to show up. We are pretty sure we can tell how He's supposed to answer our prayer, if He is who we think He is.

But therein lies the subtle difference. Are we a people who want God to be who we think He is...or are we a people who want God to be who He's declared Himself to be? 

In the best of scenarios, there's quite a bit of overlap here. We hope that the God that we believe in is the God who has declared Himself. But the truth is that in a world of feel-good preaching, of prosperity Gospel, of individual-centered faith, of privatized Christianity, there's also a very good chance that we've lost sight of who God says He is in favor of who we want Him to be.

Take, even as a simple example, Jesus. For a lot of today's Western world, Jesus is a "nice guy" who loves everyone indiscriminately and doesn't much care how you live your life as long as you say that you love Him back. But the Jesus of the Bible is a deeply passionate individual who cares deeply how you live your life and wants for you life abundant. When you hear Him speak, He's not soft-spoken; He's raw and powerful and passionate. That Jesus scares a lot of modern Christians. They don't want that Jesus. They want "nice guy" Jesus, and that's who they pray to and that's who they expect to show up. They can't handle the real Jesus.

And yet, we ought to be a people who are praying for the real Jesus. 

It's why I love Moses's prayer. He is more entitled than any of us to believe that he knows well the Lord, and yet, when he is faced with the reality of who the Lord declares Himself to be, all Moses can do is fall down and pray for that Lord to be present among them. For that Lord to show up. Not the Lord that he thinks he knows, but the Lord who has declared Himself, "This is Who I Am."

So I'll ask again - when was the last time you prayed for God to be exactly who He is? 

What would happen if you did?

Monday, February 25, 2019

For the Sake of Others

When the Israelites are instructed to build the Tabernacle in the wilderness, the Tent of Meeting where the Lord will dwell among them for the first time with His own place, very detailed and specific instructions are given to Moses on the mountain. These instructions contain measurements, processes, and everything they'll need to make the Tabernacle exactly like God wants it. 

And then God tells Moses that He has selected a man from Israel who has the skill to do all this. And that He has selected also a helper for this man, a helper who also has the skills to do all this. And that these two men will be in charge of building the Tabernacle. And it's easy to think that these two guys, then, were the guys, that they did it all by themselves, since they were the ones gifted for the work. 

But there in the calling is this tiny little clause, this little bit of a phrase added onto the calling of these two skilled men. He says, "I have given them the ability to teach others."

Which means that two skilled men and a bunch of novices built the Tabernacle.

This is something that we often overlook, but it is just as present in us today as it was in these two guys back then. We think that God has given us our gifts so that we can use them and that He's calling us to a place that only we can serve. We think that the most faithful thing we can do with our gifts is whatever we're gifted to do and that it's upon our shoulders to do what we can when we have opportunity to do so.

Most of us forget the tremendous blessing that it is to share our gifts with others by teaching them and training them in the same gifts. Most of us don't stop and consider that God wants us to teach others to learn how to live the way that we live out of our gifts. 

And maybe they'll never share our gifts; that's okay. But maybe they will. Either way, they get a glimpse of a life they can't understand unless we share our gifts not just through offering, but through teaching. 

Take for example my gift of faith. It gives me eyes to see the world differently than most persons do. It gives me a heart that jumps to certain conclusions that might take others a very long time to get to, if they ever do. It doesn't mean my gift is better than anyone else's, but there's something very important that I offer when I share how my gift works...rather than just my gift.

It's possible that I could just sit here and believe. That's what faith does, right? It just sits around and believes. Intensely. But what good does it do for you if I just sit here and believe in the midst of your problem? We have plenty of Christians who try to do this very thing, who look at someone in the midst of a great battle and say things like, "I believe God is going to turn this around for you." You know what happens? Nothing. It actually makes it harder for the non-faith-gifted person to believe because they don't know why you'd say that and if it doesn't happen the way they think, they can't see it and it looks like you've just got a blind faith.

The key in sharing a faith-gift faith like this is to teach others to see what you see, the way you see. You have to change their vision for their life, let them in on what's going on that's behind whatever they're looking at. If I sit here and believe based on what my heart knows and I am able to teach you to see with your heart, now you have learned a new way of faith that actually does change the way you believe.

And that's what God wants - for us to learn from each other how to do the gifted things He's called us to do. Not that we should just do them, but that we should share them and help others to do them, too. 

Like building a Tabernacle. When the project started, there were two gifted craftsmen, but God gave them both the ability and the mandate to teach others, and we have no idea how many hands wove together those tents. But we know it was more than four. And that's pretty cool. 

Because it made it the community's Tabernacle in a way that it couldn't have been if just one guy did it. It made it Israel's. And that's what it was always meant to be. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Fruits of the Spirit

This question arose this week, and it was interesting enough to take some time and look deeper into it. The question, which the person asking had apparently wrestled with for quite some time, comes from the book of Galatians. When Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, why are these not called the "fruits" of the Spirit? 

After all, it seems like Paul is talking about nine somewhat different things, things that look very different to us. Love and joy are not the same thing. Peace and kindness are rather different. So how is it that the Scriptures take these nine seemingly different things and call them just one thing - fruit?

There is, to some degree, a language argument here, although it's not the most important or most satisfying one. In fact, to try to argue word usage and language nuance here would be to distract from the simple truth that puts the matter to rest and explains beautifully, in a way that we don't often think about it, why this is.

Imagine walking up to an apple tree. It is covered in fruit - fruits, really, since there are more than one of them. And these fruit come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are big, some are small. Some are fully mature, some are still growing. Some have darkened into a good, solid red, while some remain a little streaked for whatever reason. Bite into a few, and you'll find that one may be a little sweeter or juicier, another may be a little more tart or meatier. Even though all of the fruit are the same, they are all also slightly different, unique in their own expression of the seed from which they came. 

And yet, all apples. All specifically the same type of apple. We know this because they grow on the same apple tree; we have great confidence in this. 

Now, if we were looking just at the fruit, we might be tempted to try to separate it in some way. The lighter-colored ones over here, the darker ones over there. The smaller ones here, the larger ones there. And so on. And we might even convince ourselves there was some fundamental difference between the groups of apples that we've created, but the truth remains that they are actually fundamentally the same - still all the same fruit from the same tree.

This is what we find with the fruit of the Spirit. If we try to categorize it in some way by looking at the nine items we are given, we find that we're tempted to conclude there is some fundamental difference between love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and goodness and faithfulness. And we look at these things and wonder why they are not called "fruits," since they seem to be so different. But the truth remains that they are actually fundamentally the same - 

All fruit from the Spirit tree.

See, it is the tree that makes it the fruit. It is the Spirit that produces them. It's as though we could walk up to the Spirit and see all these things hanging there, ripe for the picking. They all look a little different, all shaped according to their own unique growth and existence, but the fact that they are hanging on the Spirit tree makes us confident that they are all the same fruit; they come from the same seed. 

And if you were to cut them open, every one of them, what you would find inside would be the seed of the Spirit, the ability to grow more of the same. And not just more of the same, but more of what even looks different. 

Because if you cut open love and look to the seed, you find there the ability to grow joy and peace and patience. If you cut open kindness, you find in its seed the genetics for self-control and gentleness. If you cut open goodness, you find faithfulness in its seed. And we know this is true because cultivating one of these nine helps us to cultivate the others. Which should come really as no surprise, since they are all fruit of the same tree. 

So that's why they're called the fruit of the Spirit and not the fruits of the Spirit - because we're not actually looking at the fruit itself. At least, we're not supposed to be. We're looking at the tree. The tree is the Spirit, so here is its fruit. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Offerings of Captivity

Several days into the wilderness, far from the safety, security, and relative prosperity of their settlement in Egypt, Israel receives from the Lord instructions for building the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting where the Lord Himself will dwell among them. And you might think that a people who had packed up everything portable and carried it out of a more permanent place would have very little to offer in terms of collectively building something new out of their limited resources, but in Israel, exactly the opposite is true: they brought so much in freewill offering to the Lord that they had to be told to stop bringing it. 

Which kind of raises the question, where does a people in transition without a place to store anything come up with too much silver and gold and bronze for the Lord's house?

Simply put, Egypt.

Remember that when the people were preparing to leave at the first Passover, the Lord made Egypt generous to them. They asked for gold and silver and jewelry and gifts, and they received more than they asked for. The Egyptians were happy to give it to them. So they left not only with their households, but with tremendous wealth. 

So in the wilderness, when God asks for a measure of their wealth, they give what they've got. Now, think about this for a minute. This means that essentially the entire Tabernacle, the first place that God is going to physically dwell among His people, is made with the plunder of an enslaving enemy nation. Just let that sink in. It's amazing.

And it's still the offering that He's working with today, if only we'd be so generous in bringing it.

We were all at one point slaves to something other than the Lord. We have in our pasts a story, a brokenness, a captivity, and although we often look back at these times with deep anguish or even shame, the truth is that everything we've been through in our lives has left us with a tremendous gift, a great wealth that wouldn't be possible if we hadn't experienced it. 

Maybe it's compassion. Maybe it's fortitude. Maybe it's persistence. Maybe it's strength. Maybe it's a way of seeing in the world. Maybe it's love. Maybe it's something else entirely; you know what it is. It's something that you carried from one story to another, from one place to another, out of the darkness and into the light. And when you got there, it was probably wilderness at first, a place where you felt lost and didn't know what to do with all that stuff you were carrying around. 

But then there's this call. Bring your gifts. Bring your offerings. Bring what you have, so that the Lord can build a place among you for Himself. 

This is exactly where we need to bring our brokenness. He wants it. He calls for it. He's prepared to use it to build something glorious, a special place of mercy and sacrifice just for Himself, just to live among us. It's not a burden that you bear from your captivity; it's an offering, just waiting for its season. 

And this is that season.

It's easy to resent the things we carry with us from our broken places. It's easy to hate the heaviness that they bear on our shoulders. It's easy to wonder, at times, what we were thinking, trying to take that thing with us on an arduous journey through what seems like a desolate place. But that's not what we should be thinking.

What we should be thinking is...what can God build out of this? What can God make from my offering? What can He do with what I am able to freely offer Him, for no other reason than that I was willing to carry it into this wilderness in the first place?

I'm telling you - you have a tremendous gift. A tremendous gift. Make it an offering and see what glory comes of it. You won't be disappointed. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Sabbath

We're starting now to get into the commandments, into God's instructions for Israel on how they are to live. And one of the central commandments for the people is that they observe a Sabbath. In Exodus, the Sabbath is prescribed because the Lord Himself rested on the seventh day; in Deuteronomy, it is because the Lord led them out of captivity in Egypt. Regardless of the reason, the prescription hasn't changed: the people of God are to work six days and rest on the seventh. 

Sabbath is a lost art in our 24/7/365 world. We don't have to stop, so most of us don't. The rest of the world doesn't stop, so we often feel like we can't. If we do, we might get left behind. Or perhaps it's just more convenient not to. There are 168 hours in a week, and it seems like we can be more conscientious of our time if we have all of them to use. Cut us down to 144, and all of a sudden, we feel pressed.

As though time is even real. 

But God's idea for Sabbath isn't just about us, and that's something important that we have to understand. It's not individual or personal; it's one of those communal ideas that God is so fond of, and so when He gives more detailed instructions on just what Sabbath means, He makes sure that you understand that it's not just about you. 

Specifically, He says that when you observe the Sabbath, everyone around you observes the Sabbath, too. The servants in your household Sabbath with you. The oxen in your field. The livestock in your fold. Your wife and sons and daughters, indeed your whole family. When you rest, everyone connected to you rests. 

In other words, on the seventh day, make sure you provide rest for those upon whom you depend for your six days of work. If they're working with you, human or animal, they're resting with you. 

Non-negotiable.

Not only does this give the laborers rest, but it also gives the land rest. For one whole day, it's not being worked; it's free to just do what it naturally does, to exist in the glory of God and be, well, what it was created to be, not what it's being made into. 

And that, by the way, is why we need to Sabbath - so we can stop being what we're trying to make ourselves and for a little while, just be what God has made us. Whoever we are when we're not working on it is who we are at our most intimate, by the grace of God, and we need some time to touch that.

But God's prescription for the Sabbath, where not just you but everyone tied into you rests on the seventh day, has changed the way I Sabbath, for the better. 

Because now, when I think about the day that I've set aside for rest and what I will or will not do on that day, I think about whether what I will do will cause someone else to have to work in order for me to do it. In other words, I think about whether my rest brings rest to others. If it doesn't, I don't do it. 

Imagine if your day of rest was a day truly of rest and not a day to "catch up" on things. Imagine if you decided on your Sabbath that you wouldn't shop - your shopping requires someone else to work to maintain the store. Yes, they are working anyway because not everyone Sabbaths when you do, but that's not the point. Imagine if you decided that on your Sabbath, you would not eat out, not even fast food, because your eating out would require someone else to be working when you aren't. It's the basic principle that had even much of America closed on Sundays until the last few decades - when we rest, we rest together. If we set aside a day for not working, then none of us will work. And I know, it doesn't seem to make much of a difference when the world runs without you and doesn't seem to even notice that you're not asking anything of it, but I'm telling you right now - it makes a difference in your own heart.

And that doesn't mean, I don't think, that no "work" is done on the Sabbath. Sometimes, we have opportunity to love one another on the Sabbath and it almost looks like work, but love isn't work; it never has been. So yes, even when I am resting, I am willing and able to love others. I do it out of a different heart on my Sabbath day, with a different pace and a different attitude. And yes, I have even run to the store on a rare Sabbath for someone I love who has had no other options. 

But I keep coming back to what God says about Sabbath and trying to be intentional about what rest means. It's not about us individually; it's about us collectively. It's about us giving rest to one another while we take our own and receiving the gift of rest from others as they take theirs and letting the land and the animals and our own souls, just for a time, be what they are instead of what they're being made into. And remember the glorious God who breathed life into it all and made it possible. 

Even in a 24/7/365 world. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Give Him Rest

Not often, but every once in awhile, Israel came up against her enemies in the wilderness and needed to fight. In one particular battle, the onus for victory fell upon Moses, who stood on a high place within sight of the battle. 

As long as Moses had his hands raised, Israel prevailed; but as soon as Moses let his hands down, she began to lose. The battle raged on for hours upon hours, time upon time, longer than any man could possibly stand in one spot with his hands raised. You wonder, maybe, if Moses standing at the battle with his hands raised has any typological connection to Christ on the Cross with His hands outstretched, but I digress.

At some point, those tending to Moses recognize how tired he is, how it's becoming more and more of a struggle for him to keep his own arms in the air. So they come alongside him and raise up his hands for him, each man taking an arm and holding it high so that Israel can win the battle.

Most of us think this is what it means to help one another. To come alongside. We want to serve each other and be of use in our brothers' and sisters' times of need, so we come and stand and use our strength to raise their tired hands, thinking this is the best possible thing we could do for them. 

In one sense, maybe that's true. After all, it's not much of a stretch to say that what Moses wanted most in that moment was an Israelite victory. It's what he had his eyes set on. It was the goal he was working toward. He kept his hands raised for an inhuman amount of time because he cared deeply about what was happening as a result of his actions. He had his eyes on the prize, so to look at Moses in this moment and to wonder how to best help him is to see what he's looking at, to see what he sees, and to go after it with him. 

Except...

That's really only half of the story.

And it's a good thing, but it's not the best thing. 

Because look what else those who tended to Moses thought to do for him in this moment. He's been up there for hours, an excruciatingly long time. His arms are weary, but so is the rest of him. So before they come alongside him to raise his arms, his friends move a rock over for him to sit on. Yes, sit. They give rest to his weary body, not just strength to his failing arms. 

This is the part we often forget when we're trying to help one another. We get so busy looking at what our brothers and sisters are looking at that we forget to look at our brothers and sisters and see their very human needs, their very real needs. And it's the small things that are easiest to overlook. 

I mean, who would have thought Moses, in the midst of battle, might need to sit down? 

His friends, that's who. And if we are any good friends at all, it's the kind of thing that we must recognize, too.

We must have eyes for the man and not just the war. We must recognize what the human needs are, not just what the battle plan is. Everyone is fighting a fight, often that we know nothing about, but we're all doing it in the same flesh. The same failing, broken, weary flesh. 

Let us never fail to see that in each other, for this is often the place where we offer the deepest love. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Live Free or Die

There's an interesting dynamic with Israel in the wilderness. If you've read through the narrative of their journey, you've probably noticed that they're guilty of a bit of grumbling...okay, a lot of grumbling. They always seem to have something they're unhappy about. 

What's interesting is that sometimes, they're unhappy about completely opposite things. 

Take, for example, how often they cry out that they're going to die in this God-forsaken wilderness where, ironically, God has done nothing but forsake them. Rather, He is ever-present with them, and they need only to look at the cloud and the fire to know this. Still, they cry out. They're going to die in this barren place! And they conclude it would be better for them to go back to Egypt, where they were able to live. Even living as slaves is better than dying as free wanderers. 

But pay attention, and it doesn't take long before you hear another vein coming through in the Israelites' complaining - they'd rather be back in Egypt because it was a better place to die. If they were dying in Egypt, at least they'd have their own place to do it and their own households to pass on to their children. This wilderness? It's a terrible place to live. It's just not working for them. And many would rather go back to Egypt to die as slaves than to live in this wilderness for one day longer. 

So, Israel, which is it? Would you rather live as slaves than die as free men...or would you rather die as slaves than live as free men? 

Although less dramatic because we don't typically have physical places to which to tie our wanderings, the question most of us are asking today is the same one. Our grumbling is still the same. Caught between what God expects of us...and what we desire of ourselves...and the reality of our fallen nature that keeps us falling short, we're torn between whether we do good or whether we even try any more. 

Even Paul said it - the good that I want to do, I do not do, but the evil that I do not want to do, this I do. And so it is with us. We want to be godly people, but being godly people is hard. And sometimes, it seems like we're better off just giving up and living as slaves to sin rather than continue to fail and to die on a godly path.

Other times, of course, it's just tiring. Wearying. Exhausting. And we'd rather die and die quickly, and captivity to sin seems like a good place to die quickly. Better to just blow it big time than to persist in the baby steps of trying to get it right, of trying to righteous. 

It seems no matter where we are, anywhere seems better than this God-forsaken place. But what we must remember is that, like Israel, this is the place in which we are precisely not forsaken. And if we need a reminder of that, we need only look around and see Him present with us. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Smoke and Magic

We return now to our journey through the Bible, already in progress. When we last looked at the Scriptures, Moses had just been promised that he would know for certain that the Lord was with him and was behind all of this...after his obedience, not before. Which brings us right up to a series of plagues inflicted on Egypt (which, we might add, ought to have been a sign for Moses, as well). 

The plagues are interesting for a lot of reasons, and I have written about them to some extent before, particularly about how Pharaoh responds to what's going on around him. But what we need to look at today is the first few of the plagues, the ones where Egypt's magicians were called upon to do the same...and were able. 

It happens not once, not twice, but a few times. Moses and Aaron come before Pharaoh, beg him, and then warn him, and then they wave their arms in the air and something miraculous happens by the Lord's hand. Take, for example, all the water in Egypt turning to blood. Totally undrinkable. Complete nasty stench. All the fish have died; that's not helping the stench. 

So Pharaoh, in all his brilliant wisdom, calls his magicians...and has them do the same thing. Because, you know, when you're overrun with plague from the Lord, the absolute best thing you can do for yourself is bring on more plague. Good plan.

What I wonder, while reading these passages, however, is how the magicians were able to do it. Not by what magic or wonder or words they did something that until now, only the Lord had ever been able to do, but something else entirely.

I wonder whether it's possible for the magicians only because the Lord has already done it. Only because He has already introduced it into the realm of possibility. 

In other words, was it wholly new when the Lord did it...and then magicians were able only after it had been made possible? 

I think the answer is yes. 

Because we know that the Lord makes things possible for us. We know that He's always at work, doing a new thing and making new roads for us through this world. We know that after Jesus came and lived and did all of His amazing work, He told His disciples to go and do likewise, something none of these men could ever have imagined prior to their ministry with Jesus. But He made it possible, so they became able. 

The same thing is happening in Egypt. The magicians are not somehow equal to God. They aren't somehow just as good. The miracles God is doing here aren't somehow lesser because men are able to copy them. Rather, it is because God has done them at all that men are able to follow suit. It's because the Lord made it possible that the magicians are able. 

And God is still, right now, today, making things possible for you and for me. He's still doing new things, breaking the laws of physics, breaking into the world and introducing new possibilities, that we may go and do likewise. That we might make our way through the world. That we might glorify Him by what we are able to do. 

That's pretty amazing. 

One thing, though, that I'll never understand is why Pharaoh, after having his magicians bring more frogs on the land, still asked the Lord to remove them. Like the magicians weren't capable or something. 

Oh, wait. Such a thing had never been done before....