Monday, March 25, 2019

Your Best Life

Throughout the Old Testament, particularly in the early parts of it, God calls His people frequently into battle. They have to fight for everything they have, pushing their way into the Promised Land inch by inch, sword by sword, blood by blood. At several points, He takes a census of the number of fighting men available.

But not all of the fighting men were ever actually available. 

There were a number of reasons that a fighting man may not actually fight with the people. Gideon, for example, sent two divisions of fighting men home - those who were afraid and those who drank water in a certain way - because the Lord told him that his army was too big for the fight, for the Lord to get the glory of it. 

There were also, however, rules on which of the fighting men couldn't fight with Israel on any given day. For example, men who had just gotten married but hadn't had the chance to cement their new bond with their wife were exempt from fighting. They were to go home and lay in the marriage bed and be a family. Also, men who had purchased land but hadn't had the chance to work it were exempt from fighting. Men who had built a home but hadn't moved into it were exempt from fighting, too. 

In other words, if you haven't had a chance yet to live your life, God won't put you at risk of dying. 

And this is contrary to a lot of what it's too easy to think about God. It's too easy for us to have the kind of Christianity that thinks that God is just a lot of rules, that He doesn't want us to have any fun, that He doesn't want us to do anything ever. That God is all about danger, about calling us into difficult places and putting us at risk, asking us to do things that we don't want to do and never would do of our own volition. We think that God is about pushing us harder, calling us deeper, taking us away from everything we've known and loved into a boring, difficult life of something merely called "obedience" that feels like it has so very little to do with us and everything to do with a God that we just don't quite understand. 

It's easy for us to feel a little disconnection from our faith, like God's ways and God's rules aren't relevant to life in today's world. Like He just doesn't "get it," doesn't understand what 2019 requires of us in terms of being a person who lives in a community or being a person who holds onto a privatized faith or...whatever it is that we conceive of in this world. 

What we've lost sight of is the essential nugget of truth that is God's compassion, that is His purpose and intent. It's here in the Old Testament law, even in the midst of almost-constant battle, and it's reiterated again and again, no place better than in the life of Jesus. And that little nugget is this: 

God's primary concern is life, and life abundant. 

Every single one of God's rules and laws was meant to guard your life, not to ruin it. It was meant to enable you to thrive, not to suffocate you. It was intended to give you a way to live, not just offer you a good and holy way to die. 

Somewhere along the way, our Christianity got the idea that our faith is about dying well, but it's just not true. It's not true. The Christian faith, the very essence of everything God has ever said or done for us, is about living. It's about life

And if you've built a life but haven't lived it yet, God doesn't call you out to put all of that at risk. Not even in faith. He always, always calls you home. To your best life. To His best life. To life abundant.

Friday, March 22, 2019

To God's House

As Israel prepared to leave Egypt, the Lord sent the people to their own homes for the celebration of the first Passover. They were to slaughter the sacrifice for their own family, paint the blood over their own doors, eat at their own tables, and be prepared to walk out of their homes one last time - sandals on their feet and bags slung over their shoulders. And then they are told that they will celebrate this event, this Passover, every year for the rest of their lives, remembering what it is that the Lord did for them when they were slaves in Egypt.

Now, in Deuteronomy, as they stand on the edge of the Promised Land, Moses reminds them about this celebration that they must hold every year. He reminds them that they are to sacrifice and feast every year in honor of what God has done for them to deliver them to this good land in which they are about to live. 

But in Canaan, the Passover has changed.

No longer are the people to slaughter their own sacrifices. No longer are they to eat them at their own table. Rather, God says, the people will come to the Tabernacle, and then to the Temple, and they will celebrate the Passover there - together as a people. 

In other words, a feast that was instituted in every home in Israel now takes place only at the Lord's home in Israel. It's moved from your house to God's house. From your table to His table. Instead of painting your doors so that He will pass them by, now you come to His and enter in. 

And this is the kind of thing that God is always doing, which is why we have to pay great attention here. 

See, God comes to us where we are. That's always been the case, and we know it no better than in the example of Jesus, who came in flesh and lived among us. God's all about getting you where you are and giving you these beautiful, wonderful, holy opportunities to engage Him in the place where you live. 

But He doesn't want you to stay there. He doesn't want you to be isolated in your own place, doing your own thing, even if it's the same thing that everyone else is doing in their own place. He wants you as part of His community, as part of His people, and that means that eventually, you have to leave your place and come to His. You have to leave your house and come to His. You have to stop being your own family and start being part of His. 

Because we've always been a people. Even in a day and age where we're told that faith is a private matter, that God loves you individually, that your devotion is a matter of personal choice, etc. etc., we're still a people; we're still a community. We're God's people; we're His community. 

And that means we have to do stuff together.

That's why it's important to find a church and be a part of it. That's why you need a small group. That's why it's not enough to read your Bible every day, but instead, you're better off reading it with others who are reading it. Discussing it. Learning it. Loving it. Celebrating it. It's why we break bread together when we meet - because we are a people of one feast. Communion just misses something if you take a swig of grape juice out of your own fridge; it's not the same. 

So if you're one of those who says you're "spiritual, but not religious" or that you "love Jesus, but not His church" or that you're "a Christian, but don't need all that formal stuff," you're wrong. That's not how God designed it. Maybe at first, maybe that's how He gets you, but it's not where He wants you to stay. It's not His plan.

His plan is that we'd all come out of our houses and enter into His. That we'd leave our own places for somewhere holy. That instead of slaughtering our own Lamb, we'd come to the One prepared for us...and feast together. Worship together. Live together. Celebrate together. 

So let's do it...together. For His glory. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Giants in the Land

When Israel first sent spies into the Promised Land, they came back and told the people that the land was very, very good, just as good as God told them and better than they could have even imagined. But there was one problem with it - it was full of giants. 

Literal giants. Men who stood a foot and a half taller than any of the men of Israel. Men over 7 feet tall, with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. Men whose shadows alone would set Israel in darkness. Yes, Israel, the land is good, but it's full of giants. 

This report sent terror through the hearts of the people, so much terror that they decided they couldn't possibly defeat the people of the land...and they didn't even want to try. No one in all Israel was going to risk his life against this massive force of giants; no one thought himself a giant-slayer. (Except, of course, for Caleb and Joshua, two of the spies who were confident in God's ability to deliver them into the land.) 

Their terror was counted against them as sin, for they let their fear stop them from doing what God had commanded them to do. And they spent an entire generation in the wilderness, until all of the men guided by fear had died and a new generation had risen up. 

There's a little part of us that reads this whole thing and thinks it's probably exaggerated. There aren't really giants; they don't exist. The spies must have meant that the people were stronger than they were. Or better armed. Or something. But they certainly weren't giants. It's got to be one of those fantastical things that we don't think we're supposed to take seriously from the Bible, one of those little things that makes a point rather than reports a fact. 

But here's the thing - when we get to Deuteronomy, we see exactly the same report. There really were giants in the land. 

The sin was not that the spies convinced everyone that there were giants in the land; the sin was that the people let the giants stop them.

We can understand why. Most of us, we read the report about the Promised Land, and we don't really blame Israel. We don't want to fight giants, either. Good decision, we think, turning back into the wilderness. Even if it's barren and hard and temporary, anything's better than giants

In fact, that's still how most of us live. When we find out about the battles that others are facing in this broken world, our first response is often, "That's not so bad. That can't really be what it is. You're probably exaggerating the whole thing." And we dismiss what our brothers and sisters are going through, what they're dealing with. 

Then, when we find out that their giants are real, when we finally understand the magnitude of the situation, when it's confirmed that there are giants in the land, then our best advice is to turn around. Run away. Go back. Spend more time in a hard place because the good place...well, it has giants. Nobody wants to fight giants. Anything's better than that. 

Even a life not-well-lived. 

We need to be a people who are better at slaying giants. We need to be a people brave enough to confront them. We need the confidence of Caleb and Joshua, not because giants aren't real or because we incorrectly estimate their power, but because we have a God who has made a promise to us, and we need to believe in His power and His promise more than anything else. We have to stop saying, with Israel, "But giants..." and instead, say with Caleb and Joshua,

"But God...." 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

About the Land

We continue our journey through the Bible, cover-to-cover, and we enter now into Deuteronomy, which has Israel on the edge of the Promised Land and Moses's final words. Here, Israel both looks back at what God has done for them and what He commands of them and looks ahead to what He has promised and how they are to live. 

And as the people stand ready to begin to take possession of a land flowing with milk and honey, God occasionally stops them for one reason or another. One early reason is to remind them what is - and isn't - their land. 

Specifically, He instructs them that they are not to attack the sons of Esau, Jacob's (and therefore, Israel's) brother. This land, He says, He has given to Esau and his descendants, and it's not for Israel. Hands off. No swords. No stones. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. 

It seems an interesting command, particularly from a God who is also about to walk His people through the slaughter of a lot of other nations (though really not as many as it seems, if you look at how unfaithfully Israel followed through on all of this). It also seems an interesting command from a God who says He is a jealous God, who tolerates no rivals, and who has chosen Israel as His own special people out of all the world. 

If they are His special people, if they are the nation who believes in Him and carries His mercy forward, if they are the ones chosen out of all the world, and if He is the Lord of the world, then shouldn't all the world belong to them? What are these not-God's-people doing with a parcel of the land that God's people can't touch? 

But it's a good reminder for all of us, and one we need to hear over and over and over again. 

Most of us count ourselves as God's people. We are His chosen ones, His best bet. We are Christians, after all, and that makes us gatekeepers of God's mercy in the world. We are His land-possessors, and He's given us the world as our playground...for His glory, of course. We take this world by storm and reclaim holy ground for Him wherever we find it. 

What if that's not true? What if that's not how it works? What if we don't need to be as protective of our Christianity as we think we do, if we don't have to be as staunch about preserving our beliefs, doctrines, ways of life, etc. as we convince ourselves? What if we don't have to come barging into every corner of the world and plant our flag? Er, I mean...His flag, of course.

What if those who don't believe the way that we believe, who don't worship the way that we worship, who don't love the way that we love also have a God-given place in this world? What if we aren't supposed to conquer everyone? 

The truth is, we don't know what was going on in the land of Esau; that's not the story that God has chosen to tell us in the Bible. But something was happening there, something that may or may not have had to do with God. Something we probably wouldn't understand even if we did know it. Something that didn't lead to Jesus the way that Israel did, but it still might have been faithful and holy. We just don't know.

And the same is true about corners of our world that we aren't privy to. We think we know, since we are the faithful and that must mean they are not, but the truth is...maybe they are. Maybe something's happening out there in lands we don't understand, something that may or may not have to do with God. Something we probably wouldn't understand even if we did know it. Something that maybe leads to Jesus and maybe doesn't, and maybe not in the same way that the Christian faith does, but maybe it's faithful and holy all the same. 

So cut "others" some slack. Consider who they are, not just who they aren't. It may be the land they're living in? God gave it to them, the same way He gave us ours. And it may just be...

...that they're still our brothers. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

God and the World

We spend a lot of our Christian lives hearing that it shouldn't matter to us what the world says; we should just live our lives the way God wants us to, no matter what. We don't need this world's approval and we don't need its permission. What we need is a little more faith, a little more courage, a little more blatant disregard for what the world says is necessary. 

What we need is just to be Christians, as God has commanded us. For it's what He's called us to do that is most important.

And all of that is true, but it is not all that easy. Nor is it particularly (necessarily) biblical to think in such ways. 

Here, we're going back to the end of Moses's life. He's led Israel through the wilderness for forty years, after leading them out of Egypt to begin with. He's led a faithful life of intercession for the people and aside from that one egregious sin, he's done a pretty good job of it. But here they stand on the edge of the Promised Land, and Moses will not be permitted to enter. He begins interceding again, praying for another man to rise up and lead the people. 

That man is, of course, Joshua, and here's where things get interesting. Joshua has already been called by the Lord. In fact, he's been serving alongside Moses for some time and is pretty well-known among the people because of it. No one questions his qualifications or his calling; they all know that Joshua is going to step up and lead. The Scriptures even tell us that God had already placed His spirit on Joshua, anointing him for the work to which he is called. 

We would say, then, that all that's left is for Joshua to step up into it and begin to lead, to start to live the way that God has called him to live, to take his rightful place and live his ordained life. But something else happens...something that seems completely unnecessary to us and yet, is clearly not unnecessary to God:

Moses lays his hands on Joshua. 

In the sight of all Israel, on the edge of the Promised Land, as his own death approaches, Moses lays his hands on Joshua and commissions him for the work the Lord has called him to. 

It's completely unnecessary, right? God's already anointed him. God's already blessed him. God's already gifted and called him. The people already accept him. The nation knows he is the one who will lead them. The only one for whom this is necessary at all...

...is Joshua himself. 

And we're much the same. We have a faith that tells us that it doesn't matter what the world says, that it doesn't matter what others say or think, that we just have to step up and go live our lives the way God has called us to. But most of us? Most of us need a little something more. 

Most of us need this commissioning. Most of us need this approval. Most of us need this outside confirmation not that we should, but that we can. We need this confidence that is bestowed upon us by those who have been there, who have traveled this journey. 

And what a tremendous gift it is, not only to receive, but to be able to give. So instead of just telling someone to go out and get their lives, what if we commissioned them for it? What if we confirmed for them the gift that God has put in them? What if we announced it and pronounced it, proclaimed it over them?

What if, instead of just expecting others to gift us with their lives, we gifted them with their lives, giving back to them the affirmations of who they are so that they could begin anew to live them? Most of us need this. 

Knowing that, we should be also a people who give it. 

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.