Friday, March 24, 2017

"Chasing an Empty Litter Bag"

Joshua 7.20-21 NASU

“So Achan answered Joshua and said, ‘Truly, I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.’”

From the fifth floor balcony of my hotel room overlooking the Oregon beach at Seaside, I watched a comical scene unfold. Well-intended troops of concerned citizens braved the wind, cold, and rain to participate in a spring break beach clean up. One boy’s lightweight plastic litter bag flew out of his hand and the wind kept it just out of his reach. He chased the litter bag for what must have been a ¼ mile before admitting defeat. The bag had a mind of its own. Fueled by the power of the wind, the bag refused to be apprehended and appeared to be playing a game. In desperation the boy finally stopped chasing the bag and sadly returned to his group empty handed. Throughout the day, I saw several unsupervised litter bags rolling down the beach. Ironically, a few members of the litter patrol left the beach with more litter than they retrieved!

Achan meant well. The “beautiful mantle from Shinar” took his breath away and he conveniently forgot all about the “ban”


“...only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, so that
you do not covet them and take some of the things under the ban”.
Joshua 6.18 NASU 

Achan may have wondered “What harm could it do?” Where was the logic in his self-serving question?  What would he do with the beautiful garment from Shinar? Where would he wear it? When friends and family inquired, “Where did you get that beautiful coat?,” what would he say? Why did Achan need “two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold?”  
Where would he spend it?

Like the boy chasing a litter bag, the goal of Achan’s desires remained just out of reach. His newly acquired possessions were of no benefit to him as they lay buried in the dirt under his tent. What he thought would improve the quality of his life simply added the demands of acquisition management. Achan could no longer travel light. His recent possessions created new stress and pressures. Achan now had more stuff to haul and hide. His chase for riches ended badly. He never got what he was looking for. Ironically, Achan’s pursuit of possessions left the landscape of his soul cluttered with more, not less, litter

I often chase an empty litter bag. I am swept up in the futile dream of equating possessions with happiness. Do I believe a closet-full of “mantle[s] from Shinar” or a bank account with “shekels of silver and a bar of gold” will bring me lasting joy? I sometimes act as though I do.


Sadly, like Achan, some people actually catch the litter bag and fill it with more garbage than they can possibly manage.  They learn material wealth can actually diminish, rather than enhance, the quality of life.

The next time I feel the desire for another possession well up within me, I will try to remember to ask Jesus the all-important question... “Is it under the ban for me?”


Thursday, March 23, 2017

"Imagine the Terror"

Joshua 4.10-11 “God’s Word” Translation [1]

The priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan. They stood there until everything the Lord had ordered Joshua to tell the people had been carried out… The people hurried to the other side. As soon as everyone had crossed, the priests with the Lord's ark crossed and went ahead of them.”

These priests had faith, real faith. They had guts! The men who carried the Ark of the Covenant into the water of the Jordan trusted God for a miracle. They believed He would give a repeat performance of the astonishing Red Sea event which took place 40 years earlier. The waters divided and “rose up like a dam” when the priests “came to the edge of the Jordan River and set foot in the water” (Joshua 3.15-16 GWT). If the waters rose up, they could also come crashing down. The priests grasped the precarious nature of their situation. Death by drowning was a real possibility with the slightest shift in the wind or will of God. But these leaders valiantly faced danger and “remained standing in the middle of the Jordan” until “everyone had crossed” to the other side.

That’s what leaders do. They hold steady and face danger until their mission is complete. When it comes to risk and hazard, godly men are the first in and last out. They, like the priests in the Jordan River, are men of faith and guts.

About 30 years ago I watched a movie about faith and guts. “The Right Stuff” was based on Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book by the same title. One scene from the movie has haunted me for the past three decades. It vividly portrays the courage required to hold steady in the face of danger. I get claustrophobic and a little panicky thinking about it. Astronaut Gus Grissom splashed down in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Inside the cramped quarters of the Liberty Bell 7, the movie depicts a panic-stricken astronaut responsible for the premature detonation of the explosive bolts that blew off the escape hatch.[2]

Grissom nearly drowned trying to swim free of the space capsule which sank to the ocean’s bottom on that 21st day of July, 1961. Imagine the terror. What if the Liberty Bell 7 descended into the deep, dark, choppy waters moments after splashdown with Grissom still trapped alive in his sinking tomb? Thoughts of an imminent death must have gripped Gus Grissom’s mind in much the same way the priests feared drowning in the midst of the Jordan. But to cut and run is never an option for men of faith.

God give me the guts, the “right stuff” to hold steady with my calling for the benefit of those I serve even when I get scared and am tempted to abandon my role as a leader.  
________________

[1] GOD'S WORD Copyright © 1995 by God's Word to the Nations Bible Society.

[2] The Liberty Bell 7 was retrieved from the ocean floor in 1999 and there was no evidence that Gus Grissom intentionally blew the hatch. Grissom always maintained he did nothing to set off the explosives and NASA agreed. Exactly what mechanical failure caused the hatch to open remains a mystery.

The excellent graphic at the bottom of this post is entitled "Drowning" by Pretty Angel at the Deviant Art website (http://pretty-angel.deviantart.com/art/Drowning-61228318). I could not locate the artist of the (also excellent) illustration at the top of this article.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"I Need a Placebo for My Hypochondria"

Deuteronomy 32.8-9 NIV

“When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.

For the Lord's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance.

When my son was in 2nd grade, he and his classmates had a “thing” for the school nurse. According to his teacher, students exaggerated their ailments so they could make a trip to the nurse’s office. All the children, including my boy, enjoyed a little “nurse-time.” My wife and I were musing about this at the family dinner table. I suggested to my son that he pay another visit to the school nurse. “Tell her your dad said you have been stricken with a disease called hypochondria. It can only be cured if she will give you a placebo.” All of us had a good laugh, including my boy, although I was pretty sure he had no idea what “hypochondria” and “placebo” meant.

I have a strong suspicion the school nurse enjoys the kids as much as they do her. Although I never met her, the woman sounds like a truly loving and caring human being.

We all need a little “nurse-time.” You and I get emotional ‘owies’ and need a spiritual Band-Aid periodically. It’s quite OK to visit Jesus even if your hurt is exaggerated. Here’s a little secret… Jesus enjoys the visit as much as you do.

When the Lord divided up the nations and “set up boundaries for the peoples,” He awarded each tribe of Israel a portion of land as their inheritance. God also awarded Himself an inheritance also.

“For the Lord’s portion
is his people, Jacob his
allotted inheritance.”

You and I are His “portion.” We are “His allotted inheritance.” Why He wants us, we may never fully understand. Like the school nurse who secretly enjoys serving the children who clamor for “nurse-time,” our Heavenly Father gets a real kick out of being with the kids who want to be with Him.

It’s comforting to know that Jesus loves spending time with me for any reason, or even no reason at all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Pro-Life versus Pro-Death"

Deuteronomy 30.19 “The Message”

I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live.



Moses gave the people choices. Every good leader does that. School teachers, politicians, parents, pastors, police, even the Lord Himself. All of them offer choices.

Choices are usually simple. In the case of Moses and the people of God, the choices were very simple: Life or Death.

In the abortion debate there are only two choices really… Life or Death. This is not a debate between Pro-Choice and Pro-Life. To support or oppose a woman’s right to choose is not the pertinent issue. Life or Death are the real issues, not Life or Choice.

Every pregnant woman has a choice to make… give birth or abort. She may choose to abort whether it is legal or not. Legalized abortion simply makes the choice for Death an easier one. It softens the consequences… somewhat. Even if abortion is permissible by law, that does not make it permissible by conscience. The woman and man who make the choice to abort in a country that allows abortion must still face the consequences of conscience.

In the abortion debate, there is a high cost for every choice you make. Choose Life and you will pay the price of relinquishing your child to adoptive parents or raising the child yourself. There is nothing cheap or easy in the choice for Life. Choose Death and you will eventually and deeply ponder your decision to terminate a life. That too is a weighty choice with profound and lasting consequences.

Choose Life “and your children will live.” Choose Death and they will not live. It’s as simple as that. In the long run, a choice for Life may cost you a whole lot less.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Assurance"

Deuteronomy 28.66 Amplified Bible

“Your life shall hang in doubt before you; day and night you shall be worried, and have no assurance of your life.”


This text describes the man or woman without Christ. Each person must eventually stand before his or her Maker. On their deathbed, the unrepentant will worry about the hereafter. Their lives will someday “hang in doubt” and fear will plague their thoughts. Unbelievers have “no assurance of [eternal] life.”

Assurance of salvation is available to anyone who wants it...

“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the
Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
1st John 5.13 NASU

“But as many as received Him [Jesus Christ], to them He gave the right
to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”
John 1.12 NASU

We may have assurance. We may know we have eternal life. It is apparently as easy as asking. Our home in heaven is secured by the simple act of believing “in the name of the Son of God” and simply receiving His gracious offer.

Undoubtedly, many will claim that, while they have doubts about Jesus, they do not suffer “day and night” with worry about their future with God. They have no assurance of eternal life and yet, they do not seem to care. The hereafter is of no present concern. Skeptics admit no need of Christianity. Their lives may appear full and happy. They presume heaven, if there is such a place, will take care of itself.

But the end of life, as with most other things in life, does not usually go as planned. Ultimately unbelievers “shall be worried.” Their eternal lives will “hang in doubt before” them. Lost souls will finally wish for but “have no assurance of… life.”

__________________

The excellent illustration above is by cartoonist Lynch which I found on a cool, Berlin, Germany based site called "ToonPool... enjoy the world of cartoons" (http://www.toonpool.com/).

Friday, March 17, 2017

"Unhook the Muzzle"

Deuteronomy 25.4 NASB

“You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.”

The literal meaning and original purpose of this Mosaic law was to allow a certain level of freedom to a working beast. It should not be muzzled when harnessed to a threshing wheel. Further restriction of the animal would be cruel and unnecessary and would impair its ability to complete the threshing task.

About 1,500 years later senior apostle Paul instructed his young protégé Timothy in leading the church at Ephesus by use of the same text…

For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while
it is threshing’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’”
1st Timothy 5.17-18 NASU

Paul quoted Deuteronomy 25.4 verbatim. He made an application that helped Timothy financially support his preaching and teaching elders staff. “Muzzle the ox” was understood by the early church as a monetary limitation on those called to the pastoral ministry. Paul said a limitation of this kind should not be imposed.

About 2,000 years later still, I am commanded not to “muzzle the ox.” I don’t own livestock nor do I have direct responsibility for the wages of preachers. May I, then, toss out this verse as inapplicable or irrelevant, filing it away as Bible trivia? Or, does the same God who inspired Moses to write the these words and Paul to apply these words, prompt me to find fresh meaning from the mandate: “Do not muzzle the ox?

This Scripture serves as a reminder that I will be called upon to interact with working men and women, harnessed to the threshing wheels of their vocational calling. I will be given ample opportunities to support or restrict my brother or sister in their work. They could use my support without which I become guilty of “muzzling the ox.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Never Be Afraid to Cry Out"

Deuteronomy 22.25-26a, 27 The NET Bible

“But if the man came across the engaged woman in the field and overpowered her and raped her, then only the rapist must die. You must not do anything to the young woman - she has done nothing deserving of death
…for the man met her in the field and the engaged woman cried out, but there was no one to rescue her.

My boy is a little lamb. He is blameless in almost every way. He proves his innocence every time he opens his mouth and expresses wonder at the world around him. I delight in this child. His goofy smile. His pure heart. His ability to cry when someone else gets hurt. The kid is so unlike me. I was a rowdy ten-year old. My boy is gentle, genuinely kind, and in love with Jesus. He is a pure soul and a pure delight to my soul. I cannot imagine how I would feel if someone intentionally hurt this little guy.

It is impossible to protect my son from suffering the small inequities common to all children. He will experience ruthless reality of pain, betrayal, loss, and disappointment. but I can try to keep my boy from growing up too quickly. Life’s harshness and his purity will soon collide. Loss of virtue will happen. It’s inevitable. My wife and I instructed our son to speak up loudly should he ever suffer a serious violation at the hands of a bigger, stronger individual, even an adult he feels is out of line. We encourage him to trust his instincts and never be afraid to make noise when he senses something is wrong. I want him to learn appropriate emotional and physical boundaries so that if or when they are transgressed, he will instinctively cry out for justice.

There is place of child-like innocence somewhere inside of you and me. We must protect this sacred place at all costs. Jesus resides with you there. It is a wonderful place where purity and cleanness reside. You may have given your innocence away by your own free will, but no one should ever be allowed to forcibly take it from you. If anyone tries, blow the whistle, even after the incident. Scream out from your soul. Make some noise. You have “done nothing deserving” of this treatment. Resist their attempts to dominate you. Cry out for justice. You will be heard. Jesus will send His angel to protect you. He will rescue you.

______________

My youngest son is no longer ten years old, but he still exhibits a purity of heart that seems to me to be quite rare in most eighteen year old men. I sense it will continue. His mother, my dear wife, died of Leukemia about eighteen months ago. She would be so proud of our son.
--

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Logging in Scribe Time"

Deuteronomy 17.18-20
The NET Bible

“When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this law on a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives,… Then he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens…”

God designed a way to keep leaders humble… “he must read it [the Torah] as long as he lives, … then he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens.” A Hebrew king’s first royal duty was to transcribe the entire law of Moses on a his own scroll. Every good leader knows how to delegate but this was one job the king had to do for himself and by himself.

“When he sits down on the throne of his kingdom, the first thing he
must do is make himself a copy of this Revelation on a scroll”.
Deuteronomy 17.18 “The Message”

The initial role of a king was the role of a scribe. He had to hand-write all 5,850 verses of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy [1] on his own scroll. This body of literature was called Torah and considered to be pure, holy, and unadulterated truth. It was, for the devoted ancient Israelite, the actual and living Word of God.

Besides the obvious benefit of learning its content and message, as the king logged in time copying the Torah, the new leader and his subjects profited by the natural development of a spirit of humility. The Hebrew Scriptures were normally transcribed by scribes who dedicated themselves to making accurate copies of the holy texts thousands of years before Gutenberg invented the printing press. They spent their lives bent over makeshift desks, stylus in hand, carefully recording for all time every single ‘jot and tittle’ (tiniest letter or smallest stroke) of the Law of Moses. With painstaking concentration, the new king was reduced to the role of a scribe and would not soon forget his many months spent recording the Holy Writ. Like any scribe, the king would experience times of monotony and tedium. The new ruler felt for a brief moment what a scribe felt his entire life… the physical pain (back aches, eye trouble, writer’s cramps) and the waves of meaninglessness washing over the shores of a man’s psyche. For some new monarchs, living like a scribe was a prison sentence.

The temporary loss of significance was good for a man who would rule a nation. The lowly life of a scribe was not an easy life. The king would recall the long and difficult hours he spent as a scribe each time he picked up his personal scroll and read Torah. It kept him humble.
______________

[1] The internet sources I researched varied. One reported 5,845 verses and another 5,853. There were no verse designations when Moses first wrote down the Law. If a typical verse contained an average of 25 Hebrew words, and a typical Hebrew word contained 7 letters, that’s over a million letter strokes of the sylus… certainly more than a weekend project!

The humorous drawing of a scribe using bad language is by artist Patricia Storm, who gave me permission to use her drawing here. You can view and purchase her work at http://www.patriciastorms.com/.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"The Sticky Beast Within"

Deuteronomy 13.17 NASU

Nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand, in order that the Lord may turn from His burning anger and show mercy to you, and have compassion on you and make you increase, just as He has sworn to your fathers,…”

 
God banned the treasures of plundered nations from the victorious Israelite warriors. They were to gather all the pillage and publicly burn it in the town square of a conquered city. The people of God were warned never to touch it.

“Nothing… under the ban shall cling to your hand.”

I am also warned not to touch certain things… another man’s wife, too much dessert, money not belonging to me, certain television shows, evil thoughts, the clamor for significance, gossip groups, credit belonging to another, self-serving activities, so-called soft-core pornography, a false self image, undeserved recognition, etc., etc.

“Nothing… under the ban shall cling to your hand.”

It’s funny how sticky my fingers can be. “The Message” Bible puts it this way…

“And don’t let any of the plunder devoted to
holy destruction stick to your fingers. Get rid of it…”

My private lust is a wild beast within me. Only the power of Christ can kill my animal instincts. I call it the “sticky beast.” If I dare to touch that which is not mine, I give the beast its power. He oozes through the pores of my hands and sticks to the object of my sinful desires. It’s hard to shake it off. Like the slime of a slug, the sticky beast does not easily wash away from my graspy fingers. If I refuse to touch what I cannot have, the sticky beast cannot harm me or anyone else I touch.

“Nothing… under the ban shall cling to your hand.”

My dad taught me as a child not to touch merchandise in the store unless I was willing to make the purchase if I accidentally dropped and broke it. I should never handle that which I know can never be mine.

“Nothing… under the ban shall cling to your hand.”

I cannot honestly claim this day to have everything I want. I once did... a beautiful wife and great kids, fantastic grandchildren, my health, a comfortable house, wonderful neighbors, a growing and successful business, a good reputation in my community, an effective ministry, a piano, a dog, a couple nice (and fully paid for) cars, and most importantly, a thriving relationship with Jesus. 

Today, I have all of that except my dearly loved wife, Adonica, who died of cancer a little over eighteen months ago. In her place, I have only lessons to be learned about grief, character, nurture, regret, faith, hope, loss, and love. I’d trade any of it to have her back again, but that is not my choice. She is gone forever. While wanting her back does not feel greedy, still, she is “under the ban.”  I cannot have her. I must stop clinging to my old life, and learn to celebrate what is good and full about the one I now have.  

“Nothing… under the ban shall cling to your hand.”

I miss you, honey.

Monday, March 13, 2017

"Brick Wall"

Deuteronomy 7.17-18 NLT

“Perhaps you will think to yourselves, ‘How can we ever conquer these nations that are so much more powerful than we are?’ But don’t be afraid of them! Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all the land of Egypt.”

 
Have you ever faced a brick wall or a seemingly insurmountable challenge? Did you wonder, like the Israelites, “How I ever conquer [this thing] which is so much more powerful than I am?”. “How can I ever”...
  • “let go?”
  • “forgive?”
  • “get a life?”
  • “quit sinning?”
  • “win the lost?”
  • “get out of jail?”
  • “make it right?”
  • “make amends?”
  • “heal my heart?”
  • “pay these bills?”
  • “finish my tasks?”
  • “raise these kids?”
  • “fix what I broke?”
  • “beat this demon?”
  • “love my enemies?”
  • “fulfill my destiny?”
  • “get market share?”
  • “build my business?”
  • “face their hostility?”
  • “meet the demands?”
  • “change the culture?”
  • “overcome this pain?”
  • “get beyond the grief?”
  • “complete these chores?”
  • “influence my opposition?”
  • “convince the authorities?”
  • “deal with my competitors?”
  • “reconcile broken relationships?”
  • “break free from emotional bondage?”
These are valid questions and the list is endless. But God has an answer...

“Don’t be afraid! Just remember what the Lord your
God did to Pharaoh and to all the land of Egypt”.

At my next brick wall I will try to remember what Jesus did the last time I needed Him.

Friday, March 10, 2017

"Assembly Required"

Deuteronomy 4.10 NASU

“Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’”

The toys I like best are those which state right on the package: “NO ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.” I hand my kid the box. He opens it and goes straight to play with his new toy. No tools, no glue, no instructions, and no mess. I get the maximum benefit with the least amount of work. If possible, I don’t even want to install a battery.

The body of Christ is not like that. The writer of Hebrews put it this way:

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good
works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,…”
Hebrews 10.24-25 NKJV

For participation in the community of believers… ASSEMBLY IS REQUIRED. The Lord commanded Moses:- “Assemble the people” to hear the word of God, learn reverence for God, and teach their children His words. Do you “remember the day you stood before the Lord” to receive Christ? In that day He issued you a command…

“Assemble the people to Me”.

If you are a follower of Jesus, your involvement in Christian gatherings is a non-negotiable. There is no such thing as a easy, hands-free, ready-to-go Christianity right out of the box.

ASSEMBLY IS REQUIRED.
___________________

The illustration "Some Assembly Required" is used by permission of cartoonist Andrew B. Singer whose hilarious work you can find at his site "No Exit" at http://www.andysinger.com.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

"A Time to be Carried and a Time to Carry"

Deuteronomy 1.31 NKJV

“…and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place.”

 
There is a time to be carried and a time to carry. In the wilderness, the Lord carried His people “as a man carries his son.” Forty years later, on the border of the promised land, God commanded the people to carry themselves. They were ordered to occupy and take possession of their inheritance. God would go before them into the promised land. He would fight on their behalf (Deuteronomy 3.22). But the Israelites must now muster faith, carry themselves into the battle, and possess the land “flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 6.3).

Fourteen hundred years later, a paralytic was carried on a stretcher by his friends and lowered through a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus was preaching. When Jesus saw their faith, He forgave the crippled man’s sins and healed him. “Immediately he... picked up what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God” (Luke 5.25). For the paralytic, there was a time to be carried, and then a time to carry himself.

The crippled guy needed his stretcher until he didn’t need it any more. But he did not leave his stretcher behind. Rather, the paralytic “picked up what he had been lying on.” Why would a former cripple pick up the stretcher he no longer needed? Perhaps he did need it... to carry other cripples. There is a time to be carried and a time to carry. 

I was carried to Jesus by those who cared. I must care enough to carry others there.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

"Start Small and Finish Strong"

Numbers 33.3b-4a NASU

“…on the next day after the Passover the sons of Israel started out boldly in the sight of all the Egyptians, while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn whom the Lord had struck down among them.”

 
This was a glorious day in the history of Israel. After centuries of slavery, the Hebrew nation made its mass exodus from the land of bondage. Over 600,000 men, plus their wives and children and livestock, “started out boldly in the sight of all the Egyptians.” On the day following the first Passover, while “the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn,” Israel stood up to their captors and proudly marched out out of Egypt. This was an historic event of unimaginable magnitude.

Like the ancient Israelites, many of us “started out boldly,” but we have not finished as boldly as we began. Our wilderness journeys knocked off the rough edges of hope and left us distrustful of the future. If we’re lucky, our idealism mellows and we learn to accept life on its own terms. Those less pliable continue to resist reality and eventually grow cynical and bitter. Life never takes us precisely in the direction anticipated. Things often work out, but usually not the way we expect. Our original optimism turns to disappointment. Our disappointment fosters regret and disillusionment hovers like a dark and persistent cloud.

“The Message” version of the Bible states the sons of Israel “marched out heads high and confident,” while King James translates the passage quite literally from the Hebrew: “The children of Israel went out with an high hand.” Israel “left defiantly,” according to the New Living Translation. They started strong, but certainly did not finish that way. An entire generation of Israelites died in the wilderness.

It’s easy to bow to idealism’s pressure and make glorious and unrealistic projections. With a spirit of defiance we begin at a pace we cannot possibly sustain and virtually assure our future collapse. When the inevitable occurs we act surprised. but we shouldn’t be. If we had started small we could have built toward a strong finish.

Remember the apparently insignificant way Jesus entered the world and the glorious way He left it? Jesus knew how to start small and finish strong. Take a warning cue from the prophet Zechariah:

“Does anyone dare despise this day of small beginnings?”
Zechariah 4.10

I dare not “despise this day of small beginnings.” It’s better to start small and finish strong. ---

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

"You Can't Go Home Yet"

Numbers 32.18-19 NIV

We will not return to our homes until every one of the children of Israel has received his inheritance. For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has fallen to us on this eastern side of the Jordan.”
 
The leaders of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the 1/2 tribe of Manasseh approached Moses with a proposition. They wanted to claim their property inheritance in the region of the Transjordan, on the east side of the Jordan River. Moses immediately misunderstood their request and compared them to the ten spies who, 40 years earlier, gave a discouraging report and convinced an entire generation to forsake God. He branded them a “brood of sinners” and warned…

“If you turn away from following Him, He will once more abandon
them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all these people.”
Numbers 32.15 NASU

But the leaders of Reuben, Gad, and east Manasseh stood their ground, promising to assist their brothers before claiming their new territory.

“We will not return to our homes until every one
of the children of Israel has received his inheritance.”

God has a home for you. It’s in heaven. Jesus promised…

“There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home….
I’m on my way to get your room ready.”
John 14.2 “The Message”

But you can’t go there yet. Your home is ready and your inheritance is secure. You will enjoy eternity on the “eastern side of the Jordan,” but there’s still work to be done here in the land of promise. You must help others inherit their possession before you can have yours. When your work is done, then you can go home.

Reuben, Gad, and the 1/2 tribe of Manasseh would not claim their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan until “every one of the children of Israel… received his inheritance” on the west side of the river. They could not go home until the work was done. Neither can you. Your work on earth is not finished. You have an eternity to rest in the loving arms of Jesus. Until then, stay busy in the work of advancing the kingdom of God. Your sisters and brothers need you.

Monday, March 06, 2017

"Exampleship before Leadership"

Numbers 27.15-17
New English Translation

“Then Moses spoke to the Lord: ‘Let 
the Lord, the God of the spirits of all humankind, appoint a man over the community, who will go out before them, and who will come in before them, and who will lead them out, and who will bring them in, so that the community of the Lord may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.’”

Joshua became Moses’ replacement as the leader of a nation. The former man’s authority would be conferred in a public ceremony recognizing the new man appointed by God “over the community.” Joshua would be an example to the people as one “who will go out before them, and who will come in before them.” He would also be their leader “who will lead them out, and who will bring them in.”

All Christians are charged with being a good example of their faith in the human community. Like Joshua, the believer should “go out” and “come in” at the bidding of the Holy Spirit demonstrating the practice and presence of God to all who may be watching. 

But not every Christian is called to be a leader like Joshua. Leaders are appointed by God. They are certainly required to be good examples, like every other Christian, but they are more than that. They are leaders. People go where leaders go. Leaders possess an unseen magnetic force that inspires a following. Not everyone who wants to be a leader can be a leader. Only those on whom God has granted such “honor and authority”...

“And put some of your [Moses’] honor and authority upon him [Joshua],
that all the congregation of the Israelites may obey him.”
Numbers 27.20 Amplified Bible

“Not many of you should become teachers [or, leaders], my brothers and sisters,
for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
James 3.1NRSV

Every good leader must first be a good example. Today I will try to be more concerned about exampleship than leadership.
___________________

The beautiful illustration of ducklings following their mother duck is from a children's book illustrated by English artist Clifford Webb (1895-1972).

Friday, March 03, 2017

"Drive a Spear"

Num 25:7-8, 10-12 
New Century Version

Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest,… got his spear. He followed the Israelite into his tent and drove his spear through both the Israelite man and the Midianite woman. Then the terrible sickness among the Israelites stopped.”

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has saved the Israelites from my anger. He hates sin as much as I do. Since he tried to save my honor among them, I will not kill them. So tell Phinehas that I am making my peace agreement with him.’”

Hatred and peace are closely related. There can be no peace without hatred of that which disrupts the peace. Tolerance of sin creates an environment that guarantees conflict.

If I allow my child to pull her sister’s hair, I am setting both children up for a hostile clash of wills. There will be no peace until I insist on conformity to fair and equal standards for all children in the home. If I learn to hate hair-pulling as much as the victim, I will care enough to discipline the wrongdoer and set up boundaries to protect everyone. Together we will all enjoy peace in the family.

Is it really possible to hate sin as much as God does? Phinehas did. As a result, God made a “peace agreement with him.” God hates sin. If I want peace with Him I must hate sin as He does. That’s challenging because sin feels good. Occasionally, I like to pull someone’s hair. Tolerating a certain minimum level of sin falls short of the standard and intensity of Phinehas, placing me in league with every other human...

“...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of
God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 3.23; 6.23

I thank God for Jesus Christ who saves me from “the wages of sin.” May God grant me the spirit of Phinehas and the courage to drive a spear through the heart of my own fallen desires.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

"Don't Blame the Donkey"

Numbers 22.26-27 NIV

“Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her with his staff.”
  
Balaam was stuck. He and his donkey were tightly wedged in a narrow place between two sheer rock precipices. The beast of burden would not budge. She came to a halt and “lay down under Balaam.” The prophet was infuriated. He was stuck. There was nothing productive or intelligent left for Balaam to do so... he got mad and beat his donkey.

The poor animal was not at fault. She was forced to stop by an invisible angel who “took his stand in the way as an adversary against” Balaam (Numbers 22.22). She was an innocent and unfortunate bystander caught in the midst of a conflict between Lord of Heaven and a disobedient prophet. Constrained by the power of God, the creature had no option but to stop and suffer abuse at the hand of her master.

Balaam was stuck for a reason. God wanted a word with him. I’ve been similarly stuck, crammed into a tight, dark space and rendered motionless by circumstances and people beyond my control. I’ve lashed out at the those I perceived stood between me and the destination of my choosing.

Stuck is an interesting place to be. There’s a reason I get wedged “in a narrow place” with “no room to turn, either to the right or to the left.” God wants a word with me. It’s a familiar place beckoning me to attend another ‘come to Jesus’ meeting. The message is always the same...
  • Listen to God early, before I get stuck.
  • When I am stuck, don’t blame the donkey.
____________________

"Balaam and the Ass" is by Pieter Lastman (ca. 1583–1633), painter from the Netherlands who is most known as Rembrandt van Rijn's art instructor. For Rembrandt's version of "Balaam and the Ass," go to http://www.artbible.info/art/large/199.html.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

"Angry Men Don't Get Where They Want to Go"

Numbers 20.10-11 NIV

“He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, ‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?’ Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.”

Have you ever kicked the dog, yelled at the kids, or nagged your wife? You knew they didn’t deserve this treatment, but (you thought) you couldn’t help it. You were angry and didn’t care who knew it. You had problems at work. Traffic was horrible. Nothing went your way. It was a very bad day and at the end of that bad day your family would suffer the fallout.

Moses was having a bad day. In fact, he was having a bad 40 years! The leader was sick and tired of Israeli whiners. All they ever did was complain, threaten to run back to Egypt, bellyache about manna, and grumble among themselves. Moses was ready to let ‘em have it, and this was the chance he was waiting for.

“‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?’
Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff.”

Moses did not do what God told him to do. Actually, it was not possible for Moses to obey God in his enraged frame of mind. Obedience is not an option when we (choose to) get mad and lose our cool. That’s why James said, “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1.20 NASU). An angry man in the midst of his tirade will mishear the voice of God and misapply the will of God... guaranteed!

God gave Moses precise instructions: 

“…take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch,
speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide
enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.”
Numbers 20.8 NLT

God told Moses to take the staff. He didn’t tell him to use it. Moses was to carry the staff, and speak to the rock. Instead he yelled at the people and hit the rock with the staff... twice! Water still poured out for the people but Moses paid a high price for his disrespect...

“...the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust
in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will
not bring this community into the land I give them.’”
Numbers 20.12 NIV

Moses never made it to the promised land! Don’t let rage keep you from where God destined you to go.