Monthly Archives: February 2015

Technical Difficulties — (Life Journal – 2/28/2015)

I have no idea how, but I lost about 30 minutes of editing in one fell swoop in WordPress.  I had an error in proofing and when I hit save draft it went back to my draft from this morning. No way I can recreate this one so just letting it go.
Be blessed… see you tomorrow!

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God is Not in My Box (Life Journal – 2/27/15)

Scripture

“Spend the night here,” Balaam said to them, “and I will report back to you with the answer the Lord gives me.” So the Moabite officials stayed with him.

God came to Balaam and asked, “Who are these men with you?”

10 Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me this message: 11 ‘A people that has come out of Egypt covers the face of the land. Now come and put a curse on them for me. Perhaps then I will be able to fight them and drive them away.’”

12 But God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.” (Numbers  22:8-12 NIV)

Observation

God talks to Balaam — as he did to Moses? Balaam has some special gift or access to the Lord that others lack.

It is interesting that God asks who is with Balaam. Wouldn’t God know who they were and why they were present?

Contrasted here are cursing and blessing – one precludes the other. The Israelites cannot be cursed because God has already blessed them.

Vs. 10 may harken back to God’s promise to Abram – the people of Israel as a mighty nation that covers the face of the land.

Application

I am so certain of how God works – God does this and not that, God is in these things and not those. We tend to be sure we know how and where God works. Almost to the point that God is a domesticated divinity – a God who does what we want in the ways we want. So much of what passes for faith , even in me, is along these lines.

Yet here is a prophet, a man, who is not an Israelite and yet to him God speaks. God came to him and not the other way around. God initiates this conversation. Not a sign or a dream but speaks (it seems) as we speak to one another.

This story suggests a humility to me, to us. God may act as he chooses, God may use whom he will. We cannot put God into the narrow channels of our imagination. God is, alone, free to choose and act. We constrain and limit him by being sure of what God wants to use to speak and act. Perhaps we do well to be more open and more humble in our evaluation!

Prayer

O God, as you came to Balaam and spoke, so would you speak to us. May we not limit you in ways that cause us to miss your voice. May we not assume that we know what we, in truth, do not. You are the judge, not we. You alone are sovereign. May I have eyes that can see and ears that can hear, especially when you work outside my presuppositions and prejudices. In the name of Jesus, who overturned many’s assumptions and judgments. Amen. Continue reading

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It Takes Only a Single Moment (Life Journal – 2/26/2015)

Scripture

The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 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?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

12 But 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 20:7-12 NIV)

Observation

God tells Moses to speak to the rock and to bring water out of the rock for the community. In contrast to God’s instructions, Moses strikes the rock with the staff twice and instead of offering the water for their lives he castigates them.

God calls Moses’ act a lack of faith and one that did not honor God. There is a contrast between the first part – “… just as he commanded him…”( vs. 9) and “Because you did not trust in me…” (vs. 12).

Interestingly… God still brings the water even though Moses and Aaron did not do as God instructed. Does Moses’ use of the staff suggest a belief in magic, in the inherent power of the staff rather than in God?

Application

One of my favorite people used to complain to me about this story. His gripe? That after all that Moses did, after all his faithfulness, God denies him entry to the promised land for this one act. How could God be so unfair to Moses and Aaron? It was just one little thing.

Part of the answer lies in the detailed and often confusing instructions about clean and unclean (and their analogy to holy and unholy). Just as sacrifices had to be without spot or blemish, so did Moses have to be clean and holy in his leadership. How can a God who demands such scrupulous attention to the minutiae of life then ignore such a blatant disregard for clearly given instructions?

I think of colleagues whose ministry has been lost over a single incident, relationships broken over a single moment, opportunities lost by hesitation or foolishness. Life is full of these seemingly unfair consequences yet consequences they are.

The other issue here is honoring God – Moses actions seems to dishonor God, to not display faith or faithfulness. God gave Moses simple instructions for the provision of water. Moses instead chooses to make a drama of it – both in terms of the dramatic striking of the rock and his criticism of the people. Moses seems to take God’s glory and also God’s place as judge.

Leadership is serious, and there are sometimes no do-over’s. Discipleship, too. There is surely grace and that abundant. But there are consequences to actions that we cannot escape and there are moments of decision that cannot be re-visited.

Prayer

Lord, it is hard to hear these words – to think that after all that they had endured, Moses and Aaron would not come to the land of promise. But you are a holy God, a God who will not share your glory with others even your beloved creatures. You are a God who seeks our faith in you – not in tricks or shows or own devices. Help me today to take seriously what you call me to do as a follower of your Son, to listen attentively when you speak, and to do what you desire and not what I think I should. Amen.

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Signs… Not a Complement (Life Journal – 2/25/2015)

Scripture

So Moses spoke to the Israelites, and their leaders gave him twelve staffs, one for the leader of each of their ancestral tribes, and Aaron’s staff was among them. Moses placed the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the covenant law.

The next day Moses entered the tent and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the tribe of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds. Then Moses brought out all the staffs from the Lord’s presence to all the Israelites. They looked at them, and each of the leaders took his own staff. (Numbers 17:6-9 NIV)

Observation

God (once again) intercedes to put an end to the Israelites grumbling about leadership and direction and destination. This time, each tribal head puts a staff along with Aaron before God and the one that buds is God’s chosen leader.

Reminiscent of God’s earlier acts of bringing water out of rock – life from lifeless, something from a thing that should not produce it. It also connects perhaps to the place that Moses’ rod has in the narrative of the Exodus journey – in Egypt, in the wilderness.

This act of discerning God’s will never happens again, at least not in this way. Other stories echo this one (Gideon’s fleece in Judges 6 for example) but are unique.

Apparently the word for “staff” in Hebrew is a pun on the word for “tribe.”

Application

I love these stories where God makes clear what to do, where to travel. We love them too. We crave certainty. We long for clarity about what God wants.

The tone of this story is negative to me. God intervenes miraculously into a situation where, from God’s perspective, things were fairly clear already – who was to lead the people and where they were headed. God intervenes in the same way a parent might intervene in a squabble among siblings or a powerful country or coalition steps into the conflict between two smaller embattled states.

God’s sign to them is not a complement or a sign of God’s favor. Quite the opposite. When God has to do something wondrous to get our attention that means we aren’t listening. When God has to intervene in some unmistakable way then we have, perhaps, lost our way. In Matthew, Jesus says ““A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! ”  Signs might be for those who have lost their way?

God has revealed what we need to know in the Scriptures and especially in Jesus. The church has over many generations – at its best – come to come consensus about many issues and questions. When we need a sign we might ask what we missed along the way. what lesson we didn’t learn. what truth we overlooked to need such an intervention?

Prayer

God of Mosese and Aaron – you gave your people a sign that they were to lead your people. A sign that should not have been necessary. A sign of their disobedience as much as of your will. May we live out what we know so well and yet live so poorly. May we look not to signs but to Jesus, not to miracles but to the manna you have left in your word and in the best traditions and teachings of your Son’s church. When we need  a sign. may we humbly accept it for what it is – a sign but also a censure. And may we not seek such things but rather you. In Jesus’ name… Amen.

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Would It Be Better? (Life Journal – 2/24/2015)

Scripture

That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:1-4 NIV)

Observation

Moses had sent spies in the land of promise who returned with a mixed report – the land was full of good things but it was also filled with people who were frightening to them.

The word “grumble” or “grumbled” appears 18 times in the Bible – six in the book of Numbers!  The theme of returning to Egypt also appears a number of times in the story of the Exodus.

The people would prefer t0 (1) have died in Egypt or the wilderness or (2) return to Egypt and their slavery there rather than face the challenges ahead.

They want to take their destiny in hand – choose a leader (rather than follow the leader God chose) and choose a destination (Egypt rather than the promised destination in Canaan).  It also suggests choosing another God?

Application

Most of us are not immune to the “Let’s return to Egypt!” syndrome. I like to think that I am but not really. It happens when things get tough… when life seems overwhelming… when circumstances and culture are bewildering. Let’s go back to an easier time. Let’s return to a place where everything was good. The truth is that mostly these places and times exist only in our memory. Time and distance soften the hard edges of past times. Memory crafts a world that didn’t quite exist except through the lens of thought.

The way ahead – the way God calls us to tread – is often difficult and even dangerous. There are , as the spies said in an earlier passage. giants in the land.

We speak of the Promised Land and we mean a place of abundance and ease. The biblical Promised Land was certainly a place of abundance – not only of good things but also of challenge. Israel faced as many problems in the new land as they had in the old!

God’s future is not marked by easy living, smooth roads, or carefree idleness.   What that future does promise is that God is with me and that God will bless even in the midst of challenge.

What should else should I expect from a God whose Son’s life pointed toward a cross????

Prayer

Lord, the future is not always clear and when it is… it is not always easy. As I journey through Lent this year and make my way, as Jesus did, to the cross, remind me that your people have always struggled to move into the future you had for them. My resistance to the hard road – to the cross – is no different from the cries to return to Egypt. Help me, today, to move toward the promised land with its dangers and blessings both, toward the cross with its death but also with its resurrection to come. In the name of the one who walked this road and awaits me in every future… Amen.

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Of Cloaks and Wineskins (Life Journal – 2/23/2015)

Scripture

21 “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:21-22 NRSV)

Observation

Jesus uses common wisdom to make a spiritual point – but what about? In the immediate context he is being criticized because his disciples do not fast as others do. An incident where they eat grain on the Sabbath follows these words.

Cloth – old cloth would have shrunk already from washing.

Wineskins – wine fermenting in a new skin would stretch the skin but wine in an old wineskin would stretch and burst the already stretched skin.

Jesus does not advocate throwing away the old skin or the old cloak but rather matching new with new and old with old as the context requires. In a sense he puts before them a contrast between new and old as much as a call for new alone.

Application

I have sometimes missed the point here – Jesus did not so “Do not fast” or “A wise person throws away old wine skins.” In some ways it makes things more difficult doesn’t it? It would be simpler if Jesus had said “Only use new wineskins” or “The old wineskins are perfectly adequate.”  But he didn’t.

When God is doing a new thing in me, in a church, in a culture or context, new wineskins are needed. We’ve seen “contemporary” worship music emerge as a new wineskin in our time and become its own old wineskin for instance.

Where does God want to put new wine out – and therefore I need new skins as much as I may like the old? Where, on the other hand, is the cloak in need of repair with an appropriate piece of cloth?

God is often doing a new thing but not always. Sometimes we are called to go over (again) familiar ground, revisit old and treasured places – or old places that are torn like the cloak.

Lent as a time of discernment is time to ponder such things. Where is the old cloak serviceable or where is new wine being poured? Let the Lord show us…

Prayer

O Lord, sometimes you want me to patch with the old cloak that fits and works so well. Sometimes you pour new wine and ask me to provide a fitting container for it. I thank you for both – and pray for the wisdom of your Spirit to know the difference so the wine is not spilled and the cloak is not ruined. Amen.

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We Are The Firstborn (Life Journal – 2/21/2015)

Scripture

14 Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the other Israelites, and the Levites shall be mine. 15 Thereafter the Levites may go in to do service at the tent of meeting, once you have cleansed them and presented them as an elevation offering. 16 For they are unreservedly given to me from among the Israelites; I have taken them for myself, in place of all that open the womb, the firstborn of all the Israelites. 17 For all the firstborn among the Israelites are mine, both human and animal. (Numbers 8:14-17a NRSV)

Observation

In Egypt, the firstborn of in all the land were slain on the night of Passover. The firstborn of the Israelites (animal and human) belong to God. What is the connection?

The firstborn were the heirs (sources – firstborn became head of household and received double portion on inheritance).

So… the firstborn who were to inherit leadership and the most were God’s! Is this a symbol of God’s supremacy? Of God’s ownership? Of God’s being the first Himself?

The Levites being given to God symbolized this ownership, this first-ness.

Application

We are the firstborn, those dedicated to God. We belong to God. We are the one’s, too, who symbolize that God owns all in our giving of our all to God. We serve God not in the temple or tabernacle but in the church (meaning the body of those of faith rather than the physical building).

We are unreservedly God’s. We are called to make ourselves such an offering to the One who owns us anyway.

During Lent, those of us who follow Christ who sacrifice something should sacrifice our ownership, our control. We are the firstborn, the first-given to God.

Prayer

O Lord, we offer ourselves anew to you. As the Levites were given without choice, so we choose to give ourselves to you: our time, our treasures, our talents are yours. We are yours. May we be a living example of such devotion… a living sacrifice to you, our God. Amen.

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Courage and Faith (Life Journal – 2/20/2015)

ScripturePrayer

21 After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” (Acts 27:21-26 NIV)

Observation

This crisis comes after a long series of setbacks along the way. Paul either through common sense or prophetic insight or both had warned them that danger was likely.

Paul offers them courage as a consequence of faith in God. He also tells them the truth – that they will wreck but their lives will be saved.

Luke only relates the story of the angelic vision second-hand via Paul.

The suggestion in vs. 24 is that Paul’s traveling companions are spared because of Paul (?)

Application

It is so easy to say “I told you so!” I admit to taking a perverse pleasure at times at being proven right (which I always am, of course!). Paul certainly doesn’t pretend he was wrong. But his message is one of encouragement rather than judgment, an affirmation of God rather than a condemnation of their foolishness.

As Lent begins it is well to remember that Jesus faced his suffering and death with courage – a courage that was rooted in his faith in his Father and in the purposes of God being made real in him. So Paul advises courage grounded in faith (rather than in some supposed courage that the person has in himself).

God’s purposes will triumph, even when our lives are shipwrecked. Faith in God will be vindicated if not always in the ways we want or hope.

Prayer

God of Hope, give me courage today to face whatever this day brings. Give me courage rooted in you – in my faith in you rather than in me. May I take courage from your reliability and your promises, in the truth that your purposes and mission are greater than anything I may face. In the name of the one who faced the cross with courage, Jesus, I pray. Amen.

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God Forsaken Moments(Life Journal – 2/19/2015)

Scripture

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2 NIV)

Observation

In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus says these words from the cross.

These are an accusation against God, a question of why God has abandoned David.  The verses that follow, though, affirm God’s faithfulness and deliverance, God’s blessing and presence, even in the midst of suffering and torment.  The faithfulness and deliverance of God will not only come to David despite his anguished question but to all the earth. Christians hear Jesus in these words of David and the ultimate promise of salvation for all the earth he offers.

Application

The faithful can question – the blessed can cry out. I certainly do not and have not suffered as Jesus did but I do know how David felt when he authored these words. Right now I find myself in a minor time of feeling forsaken, of feeling my prayers are unanswered and my pleas are unheard.

David’s answer is to speak not only his doubt but his faith; not only to question but to remember the ways that God has answered in the past. I need today to remember the many ways that God has blessed me even down to this moment. I need to recall the many answered prayers, the countless ways that God has been faithful even when – like now – God seems a little deaf . He is not.

And as David realizes and Christ embodies, my struggles can be a blessing to others. My doubts and questions can lead to greater blessing for me and a witness to God’s goodness. And, of course, because these words remind me of Christ the final and complete answer of God my frustration points me back to hope.

Prayer

Today, O God, I feel unanswered. Today I feel not surrounded by literal enemies but rather by challenges that threaten to swallow me up. Yet you are faithful. You are mighty to bless. Jesus felt and seemed abandoned – yet you raised him to life again. Jesus cried out in anguish and you heard but had a better answer to his bitter moment. May I live and pray and speak with such faith today as I not only remember these words of David but also those that followed. In the name of the one who was not abandoned… Amen.

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Citizenship Test (Life Journal – 2/18/2015)

Scripture

10 Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 11 If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” (Acts 25:10-11 NIV)

Observation

Paul continues his long legal battle with some in religious authority. It is interesting that Paul stands on his legal or civil rights here. His argument is that if the charges against him aren’t true then he should be handed over to them.

He appeals, as was his right as a Roman citizen, to Caesar.

Why does Paul do so? To protect his life? Perhaps. To give him an audience with the most powerful man in the world and to plead Christ before him? Perhaps!

Application 

To be a follower of Jesus does not mean we abandon our human or civil rights. It does mean that our following Jesus comes before all such considerations. Paul does not compromise his faith by making a legal argument before Festus, the Roman official. In fact he argues quite clearly that if he has done nothing wrong (and he is arguing throughout this story that he hasn’t ) then he shouldn’t be handed over to them and he shouldn’t die. To die is to halt his mission, to abort his purpose.

Luke earlier tells us “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (1:8).  To go to Caesar with his case is to do just that – to enable the message of Jesus dead and risen to be told at the center of Paul’s world and to then spread to its farthest reaches.

Do I do the same? Do I look at each challenge of daily life, great or small, as a way to advance God’s mission? Do I use what is mine by right or birth or circumstance to God’s purposes? Not as consciously or as clearly or as consistently as I should. I need, like Paul, to be attentive to how God can use me and what I am to advance the message and to do His work and will.

Prayer

Lord, you used Paul’s citizenship to get him to Rome and to carry your gospel to the heart of his world and culture. I confess that I have not given all that I am and all that I have to that purpose. Take my rights, my opportunities, my privileges, take me to the Rome’s of my life where I, too, may share the good news and witness to the truth. Amen.

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