Friday, February 22, 2019

"The Place of Pain"

Numbers 11.11a, 14-15 “The Message”

“Moses said to God, ‘Why are you treating me this way? What did I ever do to you to deserve this?’ ‘I can’t do this by myself — it’s too much, all these people. 

If this is how you intend to treat me, do me a favor and kill me. I’ve seen enough; I’ve had enough. Let me out of here.’

Sometimes you come to the end of your rope and the end of yourself. “I can’t do this by myself.” It’s a place of pain. Like Moses, your soul screams at God, “What did I ever do to you to deserve this? It’s too much.” Dark thoughts of personal demise float through your mind... Why doesn’t God just “do me a favor and kill me?”

“I’ve seen enough; I’ve had enough.
Let me out of here.”

God called Moses to perform a task. Then He made it impossible for Moses to succeed. Moses cried out, “I can’t do this myself.” He was stuck between the absolute awareness of God’s calling and utter impossibility of its fulfillment. That’s a rough place to be. It’s the place of pain, hopelessness, despair. It’s worse than death. In fact, some reasonable people would opt to die rather than to suffer more pain. Unfortunately, God’s plan of redemptive suffering does not include an ‘easy way out.’ Moses was stuck. He felt betrayed by God.

“I’ve seen enough; I’ve had enough. Let me out of here.”

Are you in the place of pain? Hang on. God reveals His purpose in time. Hold steady. It’s in the place of pain (and only this place) that one develops the depth of character necessary to carry out His will. You may not want to perform the will of the Lord at this price. You may not want this depth of character. But it was never really your choice. It’s God’s choice for you. Moses, Job, David, Elijah, Paul and many others survived the place of pain. They are not our only examples. Jesus also hit His personal bottom at the place of pain. He literally sweat blood there (Luke 22.44). Christ discovered His absolute alone-ness in the place of pain (John 16.32). He suffered the betrayal of His Heavenly Father and even died there.

“…Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying,
‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’”

“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.”
Matthew 27.46, 50 NKJV

Pain does not last forever. It ends well. Though not immediately visible, there is a redemptive purpose for your suffering in the place of pain.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

"Pass it On"

Numbers 8:24-26 NIV

“This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the Tent of Meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. 

“They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the Tent of Meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.”

I’m sisty-six years old. I feel vibrant, healthy, and strong. I am just as motivated today as I was at twenty-five. Although I've collected a few new pains and pounds, I (think, but am not certain) my mind is sharper and I have many years of experience I can readily apply to almost any endeavor. I am still ‘driven scriven’ with a compelling desire to excel.

In reality I am no longer twenty-five. I have less life to live than I did back then and less life left than I have previously spent. I can never resurrect lost time. I cannot turn back even a few pages of history and recapture old opportunities. I could do life better as a twenty-five year old with sixty-six years of experience. But I’ll never have chance to prove it. I had my time. While I cannot reverse the clock, I can shift my focus... from performer to coach, from minister to equipper, from young man to father.

There are many men younger than me who need a spiritual father. Might I assist some of them to better serve their family, business, church, and community?

Fifty year old Levites in the time of Moses were forced to retire. They could no longer “do the work.” But their lives of service were not over. Aging Levites were expected to “assist their [younger] brothers in… duties at the Tent of Meeting.” I hope to be an effective believer until the day I die. I am sixty-six and, if I follow in the footsteps of Moses, I may only have another strong firty-four years left...

“Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his
eyesight was perfect and he was as strong as a young man.”
Deuteronomy 34.7 ~ The Living Bible

With advancing years comes the growing suspicion that my effectiveness will be measured less by how well I served my church and community, and more by how well I assisted others to serve their church and community.
_____________________

"Telemachus and Mentor" is an illustration by Pablo E. Fabisch from Fenelon's les Aventures de Télémaque, 1699. Image in the public domain.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"Put on..."

Numbers 6.24-27 NKJV

“‘The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.’

“So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Most mornings, I get up early. Pulling myself from bed I put on my pajama bottoms, bulky t-shirt, and slippers. I make my way down the stairs in the dark to the living room and kneel at the couch. I pray. For a few minutes, I pray for my family, my ministry, my friends, my job, and sometimes for the people I plan to meet that day. Besides my pajamas, I try to put on some other things...

I put on my new self.

“…since you have taken off your old self with its
practices and have put on the new self, which is being
renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
Colossians 3.9-10 NIV

I put on the armor of God.

Put on the full armor of God so that you
can take your stand against the devil's schemes.”
Ephesians 6.11 NIV

I put on a heart of compassion.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God,
holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…”
Colossians 3.12 NASU

I put on love.

“And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Colossians 3.14 NIV

I put on Jesus.

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and
make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”
Romans 3.14 NASU

Some day soon I will put on immortality.

“So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this
mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the
saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death,
where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’”
1st Corinthians 15.54-55 NKJV

I put on the name of the Lord.

“So they shall put My name on the children
of Israel, and I will bless them.”
Numbers 6.27 NKJV

This morning I got up and put on my pajamas. Then I put on the things of God. What an amazing day it will be...

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"Do All that Needs to be Done"

Numbers 4.26c NIV

“The Gershonites are to do all that needs to be done with these things.”

My wife and I had a small communication issue. She expected me to know certain things she thought about. I remember wishing she would clearly inform me of the things she thought I should know.

A few years before she died, my wife pointed out that there was a full basket of clean laundry at the foot of the stairs. I heard her and verified she was right. There was indeed a full basket of clean laundry at the foot of the stairs. I even acknowledged her comment, “Yes. I see that.” I thought that was the end of the matter. I later discovered was there was more to the message than what met the ear. Imbedded in the communique was a deeper, hidden message: “If you go to the foot of the stairs you will find a full basket of clean laundry. Would you please take that basket up to the our bedroom?” My wife expected me to know what she meant. This was a repeating issue in our home. I routinely heard other similar comments... “The lawn needs mowing” and “The garbage can is full.” She expected me to comprehend the deeper message behind her statements of fact which was always the same: “Would you please do something about it! Make the problem go away!”

Maybe I’m not as stupid as I sound. Perhaps I didn’t really want to understand the hidden meaning. It’s way easier to listen than act (i.e., hear and acknowledge the statement and then quickly move out of earshot). This strategy has always worked well for me. Somehow the laundry basket always made it to the bedroom, the lawn got mowed, and the garbage taken out without any help from me. However, I think my wife expected more from me. Jesus probably did too. 

The Gershonites were responsible to carry the furnishings of the Tabernacle from place to place during the Israelite’s forty years of wilderness wandering. These furnishings included tent coverings, courtyard curtains, framework, ropes, pegs, utensils, and equipment of various kinds. It was a big task to take down the Tabernacle, move it, and set it up again. It took seven thousand, five hundred Gershonites to complete the work (Numbers 3.22).  I assume there was more to the job than the brief details found in the biblical account, so God issued a broad command... The Gershonites were to “do all that needs to be done.”

Could a man like me ever be sensitive enough to actually see “all that needs to be done” before my wife even pointed it out to me? Thankfully, she didn’t expect me to be a mind-reader. My wife was never demanding but always willing to tell me “all that needs to be done.” I just had to ask. She was apparently called by Jesus to help me see the reality that surrounds us. The rest was up to me. 

My dear wife is in heaven now, and today, I'd do anything to have her issue a veiled command to me. But that will never again be possible. God gave me two decades with this amazing woman to teach me how to be a good Gershonite and learn be sensitive enough to “do all that needs to be done.”

Monday, February 18, 2019

"Jesus Mentions You by Name"

Numbers 1.17 NKJV

“Then Moses and Aaron took these men who had been mentioned by name,…”

It is always proper to mention a person by name in casual, group conversation if that person is there and participating in the discussion. To refer to a present party as “him” or “her,” “she” or “he” is rude. A failure to properly address a person by name is a subtle way of diminishing their value in the interaction.

God never does that. He “mentioned by name” those selected to lead the people of God. Those so “mentioned” had names you would not recognize or see in common usage today. Names like Elizur, Shelumiel and Nahshon. There was Nehanel, Eliab, Elishama, Gamaliel and Abidan; Ahiezer, Pagiel, Eliasaph and Ahira. They had strange-sounding names, but God “mentioned them by name” nonetheless.

Whenever I go to church I am greeted by many wonderful people. I see their smiles and hear them offer a friendly, “Hi Dave.” I am mentioned by name and it warms my heart. I feel doubly blessed when I am able to return the favor and respond, “Good morning John (or Betty, or Phil, or Herman, or Julie).” I sometimes resort to the generic “Hi brother” or “How are you my sister?” when I cannot recall their names (which happens more than I wish it did). But whenever possible, I address a person by their name.

I’ve heard it said that a person’s name is the sweetest sound in his or her universe. I hope to better cultivate the practice of remembering names and to say the names of people often in prayer and conversation. It is a loving thing to do.

In His first post-resurrection conversation, Jesus looked intently into the eyes of His most faithful follower and uttered only one word... “Mary” (John 20.16). Memorize this verse. It won’t be hard to remember. “Mary.” Say it out loud. Now exchange her name for yours. Close your eyes. Imagine to Jesus peering into your soul. He is full of love. He mentions you by name.

Friday, February 15, 2019

"Jesus is Not Pharaoh"

Leviticus 26.13

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves;… “I have broken the bands of your yoke and made you walk upright.” NKJV

“I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.” NASU

“I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” NIV

An oxen’s yoke pulls a plow for tilling hard soil in a muddy field. It is too heavy for a man of any size and strength. If he tries to carry the yoke, he will soon fall with his face in the dirt.

Harnessed to Pharaoh’s yoke, the Israelites suffered as slaves under the cruel control of Egyptian taskmasters. It was impossible for the children of God to “walk upright” with “heads held high.” The yoke was too hard and the burden was too heavy. The children of Israel in the time of Moses were without options. They were in bondage. 

The opposite condition may also produce similar form of bondage. Too many options restrict, rather than expand, freedom. Like an only child of rich parents on Christmas day, we are dazed by the number of gifts we can never fully appreciate. The popular notion that all ‘spiritual paths’ lead to God is an example of options overload. We have no idea which path to take. In desperation, we adopt the hope that each of them is equally as good as any other. We are so overwhelmed by religious choices we don’t know where to begin. We are crushed under the weight of options and miss the simple and easy truth altogether. Jesus alone can set us free.

God brought you out of the land of slavery. He set you free. He “broke the bars of your yoke” and “made you walk upright” with “heads held high.” Don’t impose upon yourself a new kind of servitude. Learn to “walk erect” with “heads held high” under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not Pharaoh. He can be trusted with your future. You may confidently accept the claim of Christ upon your life and destiny. His yoke is easy and burden light.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I
will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am
gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus, Matt 11:28-30 NIV

________________________________

"A Long Journey with Heavy Burden" is a photo of a 2003 carving by Ye Fa-yuan at the Office of the President Republic of China Taiwan at their website (http://www.president.gov.tw).

Thursday, February 14, 2019

"Placing Thoughts in Custody"

Leviticus 24.12 NIV

“They put him in custody until the will of the LORD should be made clear to them.”
  
It’s easy to judge. We must be warned against doing it, or we will fall easily into its practice, and then get the judgment we pass.

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.
For in the way you judge, you will be judged”.
Jesus, Matthew 7.1-2a NASU

I was heading east in the right lane on Scholls Ferry Road when I noticed a Tri-Met bus parked at a bus stop. When I was adjacent to the bus, the driver pulled into traffic without warning. I was forced to swerve into the left lane to avoid sideswiping the bus. I became instantly angry and honked to vent my wrath. I assumed the bus driver saw me and did not care. I judged him as careless and negligent and called him a couple of bad words in the privacy of my car. I considered writing down his license plate number and making a report to TriMet (the Tri-County Metropolotin Transportation District of Orgeon).  

Instead, I took a deep breath and wrestled my anger under control. I decided to let the whole thing go. No harm done. I’ve made plenty of mistakes myself. I extended little grace and tried forget the matter. That’s what “the Lord... made clear” to me after I had a little time to cool off and think clear-headedly.

When the son of an Israelite woman “blasphemed the Name with a curse,” the offender was brought to Moses. “They put him in custody until the will of the LORD should be made clear to them.” It was soon “made clear” and the matter was handled.

Judgment is a premature action of the heart. When I want to judge another person, I should try to capture that thought and place it in temporary custody “until the will of the LORD should be made clear.” The matter will be handled. God will bring justice to pass. Hasty and reactionary decisions based on hostile instincts will inevitably lead to regrettable actions that are hard to undo.

“…be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for
the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
James 1.19b-20 NASU

“…take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
2nd Corinthians 10.5c NIV

I should think the best about people. Any fool can make snap judgments. Placing judgmental thoughts “in custody until the will of the LORD should be made clear” is a discipline that can only benefit me and everyone around me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"Cat's in the Cradle"

Leviticus 19.9-10 “The Message”

“When you harvest your land, don’t harvest right up to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings from the harvest. Don’t strip your vineyard bare or go back and pick up the fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am GOD, your God.”


While my capacity to receive and give love is presumably ever-expanding, there are limits. I can love more and better as I grow in Christ, but I cannot specifically and personally love everyone. The world is too large for that. I can, however, love everyone in my small part of the world; that is, the people God graciously placed in my life, starting with my immediate family.

I would like to be a force for positive change and leave the world a better place than I found it. But the world’s a big place. Understanding the limits of my influence may equip me to do a better job of loving those closest to me. They certainly deserve that.

Agriculture was the main economy of the ancient world of the Bible. Moses insisted that farmers were not to “harvest right up to the edges” of their fields or “gather gleanings from the harvest.” They were to demonstrate God’s love by allowing those who lived close by to “pick up the fallen grapes.” A farmer could make more money and elevate his financial position if he stripped his “vineyard bare.” but leaving some fruit on the trees and ground was evidence of his obedience to God. The farmer’s harvest leftovers benefited those in closest proximity to him and proved his love for the whole community. A land owner could not help everyone in the entire known world, but he could certainly assist his immediate neighbors, those who were geographically near.

I sometimes become so focused on my harvest work that I forget to reserve even the leftovers for those I love the most. I am a blessed man with a wonderful family. I must not “harvest right up to the edges” of my available energy. Rather, I should leave some for my family. If my son wants to shoot some baskets or play catch, I’ll find the time. There’s no need to strip the “vineyard” of my schedule “bare” or “go back and pick up” one last phone call or email. At the very least, my dear children deserve “the [daily] gleanings” and “fallen grapes” of my love and attention.

The application of this verse reminds me of an old song...

Cat’s in the Cradle

by Sandy and Harry Chapin from the 1974 album Verities & Balderdash

My child arrived just the other day,
He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away.
And he was talking 'fore I knew it,
And as he grew, he'd say,
"I'm gonna be like you, dad.
You know I'm gonna be like you."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, dad?"
"I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."

My son turned ten just the other day.
He said, "Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let's play.
Can you teach me to throw?"
I said, "Not today, I got a lot to do."
He said, "That's ok."
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmmed,
Said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah.
You know I'm gonna be like him."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, dad?"
"I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."

Well, he came from college just the other day,
So much like a man I just had to say,
"Son, I'm proud of you. Can you sit for a while?
"He shook his head, and he said with a smile,
"What I'd really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys.
See you later. Can I have them please?"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?"
"I don't know when, But we'll get together then, dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."

I've long since retired and my son's moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind.
"He said, "I'd love to, dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kid's got the flu,
But it's sure nice talking to you, dad.
It's been sure nice talking to you.
"And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He'd grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?"
"I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."
_________________________

The painting above is called Les Glaneuses (The Gleaners, 1857) by Jean-François Millet who was part of the Realism Movement that began in France in the 1850's.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"Yom Kippur"

Lev 16:10, 21 NASU

“But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat. “Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness.”


Scapegoating is a useful and incredibly powerful tool for shifting blame and advancing a mission. While unethical and destructive, the practice provides solidarity when a group is struggling for survival. The scapegoat is seen as the reason for everyone’s misfortune and sacrificed at the altar of the greater good by those in a position of power who think they know best. It becomes generally accepted that scapegoats deserve what they get no matter how horrible the punishment. The collective campaign to eliminate a rival, oust a co-worker, or crush a competitor breaths new negative life into the organization. Impassioned by a sense of righteous indignation, witch hunters are blinded by their own propaganda and will rest only after someone burns at the stake.

In the early days of Israel, the High Priest ceremonially imparted the sins of the nation to the scapegoat which annually bore “all their iniquities to a solitary land” (Leviticus 16.22) on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The poor beast was beaten and driven into the wilderness while having its hair plucked out and, according to the Talmud, pushed over the edge of a cliff to its death. This inhumane practice was led by “the hand of a man who stands in readiness.”

When quotas are not met and plans fail, it becomes tempting to find a fall guy. There’s always some eager soul “who stands in readiness” to suggest a scapegoat. We really don’t need scapegoats anymore. Jesus already took the hit for every sin and failure you or I could ever imagine or commit. Jesus is enough. For me, that’s the meaning of Yom Kippur. I can stop blaming myself and others. Jesus is enough.

________________________

Cartoon by Chris Allison (www.toonhole.com).

Monday, February 11, 2019

"Jesus Pushes Back"

Leviticus 13.45-46 NIV

“The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.”

Loneliness is emotional leprosy. Somewhere in the past, lonely people came to believe they did not have what it takes to attract and keep friends. The erroneous belief evolved into a sturdier reality with each lost relationship opportunity. Another layer of confidence was eroded with each passing day of solitude. Their attire, expressions, and posture adapted to an inner conviction of their own un-lovable-ness. The chronically lonesome learned to scream in silence, “Unclean! Unclean!” and consistently repelled the people they could have loved.

Lonely people conclude they “must live alone.” They resign themselves to “live outside the camp” of happy social interaction. They expect nothing from others and develop an acute sense of abandonment. If you try to love them, they push you away. If you try to help them, they will recite for you their mantra: “It’s too late now,” and you will tend to agree. Their years turn into decades. The pattern of withdrawal deepens as the cycle of isolation worsens. They die old and alone and lonely. Paul and John wrote a song about it fifty-three years ago.

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name.
Nobody came.

Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave. No one was saved.

All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong? [1]

When Jesus encountered Simon Peter by the Lake of Gennesaret, He performed a miracle which demonstrated His deity and proved His love. Peter betrayed feelings of fear and isolation. He knew the leprosy of his own soul. Peter tried to push Jesus away.

“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Luke 5.8 NIV

But Jesus pushed back.

“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”
Luke 5.10 NIV

Jesus is hope for “all the lonely people.” He heals the leprosy of soul. He fills all the lonely places with divine power and love. He offers purpose for life and a reason to re-join the human race. Jesus pushes back.

_______________

[1] “Eleanor Rigby” from Revolver by the Beatles, 1966.

The pastel at upper right entitled "Eleanor Rigby" is by musician and artist Mary Ann Farley whose work you can view and purchase at http://maryannfarley.com/. It is used here with Mary Ann's permission.

Friday, February 08, 2019

"Don't Stand Too Close to the Power of God"

Leviticus 9.24-10.2 “The Message”

Fire blazed out from GOD and consumed the Whole-Burnt-Offering and the fat pieces on the Altar. When all the people saw it happen they cheered loudly and then fell down, bowing in reverence.

“That same day Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, took their censers, put hot coals and incense in them, and offered “strange” fire to GOD — something GOD had not commanded. Fire blazed out from GOD and consumed them — they died in GOD’s presence.”

There’s a simple but critical message here. Do what God says; no more, no less. The power of God at the Tabernacle in the wilderness was undeniable and won the applause of millions of viewers. The entire nation “cheered loudly and then fell down bowing in reverence.” The priests, specifically Aaron and his four sons became overnight sensations. These guardians of the Tabernacle were somehow connected to the magical and intoxicating power of God.  

If a small demonstration of His amazing presence was good, more was better; or so thought two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu. They devised a plan. The young celebrities  would make a repeat performance. Let’s see… the last time they placed an offering on the altar in the sight of the people, stood back and presto! “Fire blazed our from GOD and consumed the Whole-Burnt-Offering.” They may have imagined, “Let’s do it again. This is a pretty cool trick... and a great way to meet girls.” As priests, Aaron and his sons enjoyed instant acclaim. They were on a roll and Nadab and Abihu would keep it going.

Nadab and Abihu threw another offering on the altar in the sight of the people, stood back and presto! It happened again, only this time, with a slight twist... “Fire blazed out from GOD and consumed them.” God’s incendiary path took a slight turn and Nadab and Abihu “died in GOD’s presence.”

When, on occasion, God chooses you through whom to demonstrate His mighty power, try not to gather credit or stage a repeat performance. Remain one of the gang marveling at what He did. That you were central to the amazing event is immaterial. He could have used anyone. Stand back and gaze upon the miraculous with the onlookers. After God uses you, blend back into the crowd. 

Don’t stand too close to the power of God, or you might get burned.
__________________________

The well known photograph of a movie audience is wearing 3-D (3D) glasses was taken by J. R. Eyerman on November 26, 1952 at Paramount Theater in Hollywood, California and later appeared in LIFE magazine. This was the opening night screening of "Bwana Devil," the 1st full length, color 3-D (aka "Natural Vision") motion picture.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

"Burned Entirely"

Leviticus 6.22b-23 NASU

“By a permanent ordinance it [the grain offering] shall be entirely offered up in smoke to the LORD. So every grain offering of the priest shall be burned entirely. It shall not be eaten.”
  
Some sacrificial offerings of the Israelites were placed on the altar, cooked with fire, and eaten by the priests. Not so with the priestly grain offering. It was completely reduced to ash, “entirely offered up in smoke,” and “burned entirely.” Nothing left. Just smoke and ash disappearing in the wind.

This is a picture of all of humanity. We are all grain offerings before the Lord. The apostle Paul challenged readers to “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” (Romans 12.1). James said, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4.14). Jesus compared all human life to a lowly grain of wheat:

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone;
but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it,
and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
John 12.24-25 NKJV

We are meant to be used up.  We should wear out, not rust out. I am a “grain offering” and will one day be “entirely offered up in smoke to the LORD.” I hope my eulogy reads something like this:

He burned with desire to serve Jesus Christ. He burned brightly and he burned hot. When his life on earth was done, he burned out. God used him up and brought him home. He “burned entirely” until the end and that was the end of Dave on earth.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

"Freedom from Guilt?... Priceless!"

Leviticus 5.4 NIV

“Or if a person thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil — in any matter one might carelessly swear about — even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty.”

About twelve years ago, I was reading stories to my two youngest children who were then eight and five years old. I miss the happy nightly bedtime ritual. Tired from the end of a long day, I made a business proposal to the children. They could massage my weary feet for a wage of fifty cents each while I read to them. They agreed and readily fulfilled their part of the bargain. When we were done with stories and foot rubs, both kids excitedly asked about their money. I tucked them in bed, kissed them goodnight, and promised to pay them in the morning.

In the morning I forgot all about our little agreement. About a week later, one of them reminded me and I said, “Oh yeah. I’ve got to take care of that. I'll pay you soon.” I was busy, and again forgot.

Another month passed. I was reading the Bible as a part of my daily devotional routine when I stumbled upon these words from Leviticus:

“…if a person thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything,…
in any matter one might carelessly swear about — even though he
is unaware of it,… when he learns of it he will be guilty.”

The Bible nailed me. For some reason, in that moment, I remembered my promise. I immediately felt “guilty” when it dawned on me I forgot to pay my little workers. I instantly located four quarters. At breakfast I announced to my children, “I have something for you.” My eight year old son quickly responded: “I know. You’re going to pay us our fifty cents!” I may have forgotten, but he certainly did not!

The guilt vanished the moment I handed over the money. It felt good to pay my debt. It was definitely worth a buck. Freedom from guilt is worth any amount of money.


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The drawing of the parent reading to a child is used by permission from "First Steps A Parent Information Handbook" produced by Parents, Let's Unite for Kids (PLUK) and staff illustrator Karen Moses.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

"I Can Enter In"

Exodus 40.2b-3; 5c; 8b NASU

“…set up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. You shall place the ark of the testimony there, and you shall screen the ark with the veil… and set up the veil for the doorway of the tabernacle… and hang up the veil for the gateway of the court.”

The Tabernacle was a mobile worship center for God’s people during the wilderness journey following their mass exodus from Egypt. Moses built the Tabernacle according to the pattern God gave him on Mount Sinai. It covered a space of ground rectangular in shape and approximately ½ the size of a football field. The open air boundaries were established by a heavy linen fence nearly 8 feet high. Only priests from the tribe of Levi were allowed to enter behind the first veil through “the gateway of the court.”

The second veil was set up at “the doorway of the tabernacle,” also called the Tent of Meeting. This was a covered structure erected inside the courtyard and further divided into two spaces: The Holy Place and the Holy of Holies which were separated by a third veil through which only the High Priest could pass once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement described in the sixteenth chapter of the book of Leviticus. In this most holy place a special golden box was kept. It was called the Ark of the Covenant and contained the Ten Commandments.

Why God chose to triple barricade Himself from His creation, I may never fully comprehend or appreciate. But when Jesus died, all barricades came down:

“Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold,
the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” [1]
Matthew 27.50

I am unrestricted. I have full access. I can enter in and meet the living God.

Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud
had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.”
Exodus 40.35

When Jesus died, the veil between God and me was ripped open and I may now enter into His holy presence. Moses could not enter in. But, I can!
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[1] The wilderness Tabernacle was eventually replaced by Solomon’s Temple which was destroyed by the Babylonians and later rebuilt by Zerubbabel around 520 B.C. This new Temple was extensively remodeled by Herod about 20 B.C. It was the veil in Herod’s Temple which was torn at the death of Jesus.

Monday, February 04, 2019

"The 20% of Those Who Do"

Exodus 36.4-7 “The Message”

“All the artisans who were at work making everything involved in constructing the Sanctuary came, one after another, to Moses, saying, ‘The people are bringing more than enough for doing this work that GOD has commanded us to do!’

 
“So Moses sent out orders through the camp: ‘Men! Women! No more offerings for the building of the Sanctuary!’ 

“The people were ordered to stop bringing offerings! There was plenty of material for all the work to be done. Enough and more than enough.”

The 80-20 rule was named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who, in 1906, noted that 80% of Italy’s income was collected by 20% of Italy’s population. The 80-20 ratio also held true for the distribution of Italy’s property. Pareto found that 20% of the population owned 80% of the country’s land.

That 80% of the consequences stem from 20% of the causes may be demonstrated in almost every people group… families, companies, government, churches, and countries.

Apparently, the children of Israel at the time of the construction of the wilderness Tabernacle never read Pareto. There was no imbalance of distribution among the givers. Everyone contributed substantially until “enough and more than enough” was collected. 

I’ve heard it said that God’s work done in God’s way never lacks God’s provision. My experience, however, validates the Pareto Principle. I’ve heard enough cajoling, pleading, guilt-tripping, and even begging from the pulpit to question whether or not Moses’ principle of “enough and more than enough” really works in today’s church. When it comes to giving time, and talents, and treasures, Pareto’s 80-20 rule well describes the typical parish. I have yet to see a preacher order his parishioners to stop giving. Until then, I will take it on faith that followers of Jesus as a whole can act with the same cooperation, generosity, and obedience of the followers of Moses. But for now, I will hope and strive to be in the 20% of those who do. 

Friday, February 01, 2019

"Blink"

Exodus 32.24b-25a NIV

“Aaron answered,... ‘Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control…”

Aaron failed as a leader. He was embarrassed when Moses caught the people worshiping a golden calf. He made excuses and blamed those he was supposed to be leading. Aaron could have kept his charge from running wild. Moses would have. Moses would have persuaded the people to behave. Instead, Aaron “let them get out of control…” Aaron was responsible for the behavior of his followers. He failed as a leader. Aaron was swayed by public opinion. 

When Moses’ return was delayed, the people cried, “Make us gods.” Aaron considered his options and made a decision... a bad one. His after-the-fact ‘spin’ on the event was ridiculous: “Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, out came this calf.” No calf magically appeared from the blaze; rather, Aaron handcrafted the idol.

“He [Aaron] took what they handed him [the gold Aaron requested]
and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool.”
Exodus 32.4 NIV

Aaron did not trust his own instincts. He over-thought the situation and carefully made the wrong decision. By contrast, Moses’ snap decision was the right one:

“And [Moses] took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he
ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.”
Exodus 32.20 NIV

It took about two seconds for Moses to size up the situation and take action.

In his bestseller Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,[1] Malcolm Gladwell explores the power of the trained mind to make split second decisions. This phenomenon, which the author calls “thin slicing,” can produce decisions as good as – or even better than – carefully planned and considered ones. This is especially true when the decision-maker is well prepared and uncorrupted by prejudices or stereotyping and not overloaded with too much information. You might say ‘less is more’ for the effective leader. In Gladwell’s own words:

“It’s a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, "Blink" is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.”[2]

Moses did not have to think about the right response to golden calf worship. He knew what was right, and he knew to do. We need more leaders like Moses.
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[1] Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell, Black Bay Books, 2005. 

[2] From Malcolm Gladwell’s website: http://www.gladwell.com/blink/.