Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Route 66: Day 58-59; Deuteronomy 1-4

Previously on Israelites in the Wilderness...The book opens reminding us of what has transpired over the past forty years and adding a few new details that give our story some depth. Even though Moses is thought to be the writer of all five books at the beginning of the Bible, as we pass through each individual account of the Israelites he seems to have just giving just a little more explanation about the events.

For instance when Moses indicates he pleaded with God saying, “Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.” Deuteronomy 3:24-25 And God's answer--  “That is enough,” ... “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter." [3:26] 

Maga ouch! Moses must have been truly broken over the fact that he would not see his mission, the one he had been uniquely chosen for, to completion. We know it was a penalty for disobedience and God had given his word on it - NO.

'No' is hard to get around. No means no but we sometimes we want it to mean 'maybe' or 'not yet' or better yet 'for everyone but you. You are special have extraordinary circumstances.' God's word and his will are just and for our own good. Remember..."to prosper and not to harm"?  It sometimes seems harsh but we must keep in mind that there is a bigger picture in play.

If we look on to chapter four, Moses talks to the Israelites about the importance of being obedient to God's commands. It was not only going to provide them a good life but they would also be the example to the world around them about God's greatness. Verses 6-7 tell us,  "Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?"

Their obedience was going to promote God's cause to the entire population of the earth. This wisdom should not be lost on us. We, too, show others who God is through our actions. The question is, "What kind of God do we serve?" In verse two Moses tells the Israelites to be careful "not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you."

We cannot make up our own version to fit our personal life or circumstances. We must follow God's. That way the world gets an accurate view of who God really is. So, next time you hear 'No' take God at his word. Remember there is much more at stake than your plan. Your friends and family who may not be so acquainted with the God you serve are watching to see how life is working for you.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Route 66: Day 56-57; Numbers 33-36

My husband is a land surveyor and boundaries are something I hear about often. When I read this portion of Scripture I can see the blueprints that have been drawn up for the 'Promised Land Project' complete with boundary lines and land sectioned out ready to be distributed. And as I have heard all throughout this story of the Israelites, again I hear, "I know the plans I have for you..." ringing in my ears. If I had to assign a title to this whole Israelite experience it would be just that-God Has the Plan.

There is a verse in Psalms 16 that I have always loved. "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance" perhaps has its roots here in Numbers 34. I know I am a 'broken record' (does anyone even know what that means these days?) when I say how happy I am to be reading through the Bible. There have been so many Ah Ha moments and this was one of them when I can draw a parallel between these two passages. The Scripture has a way of building depth as it overlays the individual stories to build a bigger picture of God's plan for mankind and then, for me personally. I can't picture a more pleasant place to be than right in the middle of His written Word. It is alive and breathing its wisdom into my life everyday. I love its plan! Its better than anything I could have ever imagined.

How can a young person live a clean life?
By carefully reading the map of your Word.
I'm single-minded in pursuit of you;
don't let me miss the road signs you've posted.
I've banked your promises in the vault of my heart
so I won't sin myself bankrupt.
Be blessed, God;
train me in your ways of wise living.
I'll transfer to my lips
all the counsel that comes from your mouth;
I delight far more in what you tell me about living
than in gathering a pile of riches.
I ponder every morsel of wisdom from you,
I attentively watch how you've done it.
I relish everything you've told me of life,
I won't forget a word of it.  Psalm 119:9-16 The Message

Friday, February 24, 2012

Route 66: Day 55; Numbers 31-32

It seems God is tying up loose ends before the people will be ready to enter into the Promised Land. Midian is sieged and spoils taken for their part in bringing down the Israelites. But it's the Reubenites and the Gadites that really caught my attention. It has always been sad to me that these tribes settled rather than followed God into the land promised to them. They were satisfied with where they were.  It seemed good enough for them.

Do you ever feel that way? You're good right where you are.  No need for any more challenges or lessons in your life? I know I do from time to time.  I just want to set up camp and stay awhile.  But 'camp' is the effective word here.  My stop will only be only temporary. I do not want to build because I'm not staying.  I want to see what more God has planned for me. I want to follow him right into the Promised Land.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Route 66: Day 54; Numbers 28-30

As I type this, I can smell the aroma of someone's dinner cooking. The smell of garlic and onions frying is making my stomach grumble a bit at the reminder it is nearly supper time.

I wonder if the Israelites could smell that aroma  of the daily offerings being made in the tabernacle. Did the the smell that was so sweet to the God linger in the air? Did it remind the people it was time to honor the Lord?

In countries that practice Islam the reminder comes to the neighborhoods over a loud speaker. The call to prayer sounds several times a day starting before dawn urging believers to pause and pray.  The most devout can be seen wherever they are stop and honor God.

So what signals you that it is time for prayers of thanksgiving? For me it's the morning sunrise bringing a new day full of possibilities, a sweet baby smile so full of wonder and life, or even teenagers bantering about the kitchen hoping for snack from my refrigerator. These moments along many with others throughout the day bring the realization of how much I appreciate that God is in my daily life and I breathe out a prayer of gratitude.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Route 66: Day 53; Numbers 26-27

More counting, talk of inheritance guidelines and the passing along the leadership baton make up the bulk of these two chapters. One of the things that keeps coming to my mind over the last few chapters the example of faith or lack thereof in the lives of God's chosen. The Israelites struggle so much in that area. We often look at this as being so very sad for these individuals. Here they had God in a form that could be seen when he was present yet even then they faltered. But even sadder I think is the message they we passing on to their children and grandchildren. What kind of God would they bequeath to future generations?

Faith and what it looks like to follow God faithfully is something that we WILL give to our children. How we respond to God will make an impact-good or bad. For the Israel's younger generation, they would have to learn faith in God on their own.  Their parents were a major failure when it came to following God's instructions.

If we really desire to give our children a secure future what better gift is there than a faith in God.? My oldest daughter often includes in her testimony of a time her father's faith impressed on her the need to obey God. When she was coming into her adolescent years, our family was forced to move away from the home she remembered the most, the school she felt secure in and the friends she had had as long as she could remember. She pleaded with her dad asking, "Why do we have to go?" It seemed so cruel to her young heart. His answer though it probably didn't soften the blow at the time time was "Because God said so." 

Even if it did not make the move any easier, our daughter says that one statement made a significant impact in her life. Over time it has caused her to see the value in following God's instructions.  Her father's willingness to obey especially  when it was hard has now become part of her own spiritual life. And the 'trust God way of life'  is being passed on to her own children and those in her circle of influence.  

So then, when we pass on faith lets make sure its the good stuff. The future generations depend on it.  Plus it's pretty exciting when you see your kids take their portion of God's promise for themselves.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Route 66: Days 50-52; Numbers 21-25

Oh, the irony of it all!  Israel, fearful and faithless, shortsighted and self-preserving, now find themselves doing the very thing the wished to avoid- Fighting for their lives. No one was happy to see this mass of people coming into their territory and the Israelites would find themselves in battle after battle moved through the wilderness. This is the very thing they imagined they would never survive if they did as God proposed yet here they were.

Disobedience rarely makes your life more peaceful and secure and boy, did the Israelites find that out. Now their misery would be extended 40 years and they would find themselves having to defend themselves over and over. The funny thing is they were always victorious. Time after time their army defeated their attackers. Again, we see that God was very generous to these people who chose rebellion rather than him. You think they would get it after awhile. God is big and strong.  He never fails at anything he does. You want to follow his plan. Period. Maybe that's just what he was going to take 40 years time to imprint it onto their souls.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Route 66: Day 47-49; Numbers 8-15

Sometimes I feel like I have whiplash when I finish reading about the Israelites. One chapter "they did everything that the Lord commanded" and then the next they are raising such a ruckus about their comfort level. "If only we had meat to eat!" is heard throughout the camp.  I love God's answer to their problem. "You want it, you got it. So much so that before this is over the sight of quail is going to make you vomit!" Can you blame God for being angry. He has been trying to build their faith and at this point it didn't matter how many miracles the people experienced, he was getting nowhere.

And then comes the eyewitness report of the Promised Land. It was an amazing place where God was leading them. There was an abundance of fruit there. It was all God had promised only one 'small' problem. They had to take possession of it. They would have to move forward with God. "What?!  There are giants there!" It would just be a enormous hardship and actually pretty terrifying. For most of the people it was just too much. They just as soon stay where they were and God gave them exactly what they wished for.

We are not much different from these people who made the choice to wander around in a wilderness rather than moving through it to a place where God promised blessing. So often we look at our difficult circumstances and we to are stopped dead in our tracks.  Fear and anguish take over and we sometimes even question God's wisdom for bringing us to the place we are at. 

In the New Testament, James has a different way to look times when we find ourselves in distress.  He says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds". [James 1:2] Joy! How can that be? Not exactly the word most of would choose when we find ourselves in a bad place but here it is in God's Word urging us to take a different view of suffering.

There was a reason behind his argument. It is "because... the testing of your faith produces perseverance." [1:3] When I think of the verse I keep hearing in my ears, "This is a test of the National Emergency Broadcasting System.  This is only a test."  Just as the National Emergency Broadcasting System is checking if you can hear them in an emergency by testing out the signal God also checks to see if we are listening and following his direction in times of trouble. Time after time the Israelites failed this test. They saw the giant obstacles and dug in their heels rather than hearing and following the 'emergency directions' from God. They did not trust God to do what he said he would do.

We can have a different outcome than the aimless wandering of the Israelites. Listen to God, trust his directions and get moving. Each time we do this, our faith grows a little more until following him exclusively becomes the way we do life. We have a faith that perseveres and James says when this perseverance is allowed to finish its work "[we] can be mature and complete, not lacking anything." [1:4]  We don't have to continue in wishy-washy wandering about the wilderness. We can put our faith in God and his direction. When we move out under his guidance, we will find a trustworthy passage directly into the Promise Land. A pretty good outcome I would say.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Route 66: Day 42-46: Numbers 1-7

The more I read about the Israelites the more my perception changes about them. I have to admit I have been lazy when it comes to some of the books of the Bible. I just let the teachers do all the work of getting the info into my head  and never took  the time to do anything more than a skim. The problem with that is I never really got a clear view of how well these people were organized. 

Throughout the first few chapters of Numbers we have seen governors appointed, an army  established, neighborhoods laid out and jobs distributed. Everyone had a purpose and responsibly within their community. When they moved from place to place, the people knew where their family and friends were according to the way the camp was set up.  It made it easy to keep track of each other. When they brought offerings everyone participated. No matter the numbers of any individual clan they contributed equally.  All of this structure, I believe, was intended to bring a sense of unity and equality to this nation of people. I now picture this bunch of nomadic wanderers as a significant force to be reckoned with.

Once again I am thankful for this forced march through the Scriptures. Every day I am seeing new things about old stories. Hope you are having the same experience. When we finish this journey, our church as a whole will be more knowledgable about who God is and the power he has given us through the wisdom found in his words. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Route 66: Day 41; Leviticus 26-27

Scenic Overlook
I know, I know.  I am behind a bit in the reading but I had to spend a little extra time on a scenic overlook. Light continues to be on my mind. In my last post I talked about our function as light in the world but today I want to take about God's light in our lives.

At my Bible study this past week a question was posed, "What two colors would you paint your current hardship?" It's funny how God keeps working in areas I would just as soon as forget and that particular day I was caught up AGAIN in a hurt of a broken relationship from a year ago. Though some of the pain has diminished that particular day last week I still felt sad and angry over the loss.  My paint colors for this situation--Black and red. Black for the death of a friendship and red for sheer fury I felt and still feel over the circumstances that surrounded the event.

The interesting thing is when you are dwelling in darkness over something (exactly where I've been in this particular situation over these last months) you cannot see color at all. Color diminishes as the light does to the point of seeing only black and white.  It takes light to see color because it's the light that actually contains the color we see. No light, no color. So when I found myself standing there in the dark of sadness, anger and frustration, all I could see was black-the terrible wrongness-of the situation.  Hurt cast its shadow on the entire relationship blocking out any light.

Then, a few days ago, I had a "Let there be light" moment. You know, when God is going to show you something special he created and say to you , "Look, this is good."   When I was out and about  Saturday, I noticed a group of people camping at a park I was passing. It made me wonder what kind of fun they were having, what had brought them together and how they were spending the day enjoying each others company. And that's when it happened. A glimmer of light drew my attention. I started to recall a similar time when we were camping with our 'friends' and remembered how much we, too, enjoyed our time together.  Over the next few miles on the drive home, God continued to remind me of the good times, the fun we had, the people we met, the work we did TOGETHER. He also pointed out that those memories did not belong in the darkness.They were good and were worth remembering.

I can't say that I won't feel angry or disappointed about the friendship that continues to exist in brokenness but I will see it in a different light when I think about it. I pray that someday each time it comes to mind, I will only see the positives that came from it and share God's sentiment, "It was good."

As for the passage we were supposed to consider here at the end of Leviticus, all I can say is there is great benefit in living in obedience to God, being holy as he is holy. It is just the best way to do life. If you don't think so just look at the list of punishments. And I really like the part at the very end of the book of  "everything so devoted is most holy to the LORD." That's us. Once we have given ourselves to God we are his. There is no going back. "We are God's property." [Leviticus 27:28 The Message] And nothing or no one can take us away from him.

I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.  For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light  (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. 
Leviticus 26:12; Ephesians 5:8-10
On to Numbers...I must catch up with the rest of you!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Route 66: Day 39-40; Leviticus 22-25

The lamps on the pure gold lamp stand before the Lord must be tended continually. Leviticus 24:4

I love to imagine what the lamp stand must have looked like.  Its golden blossoms and buds with its glowing light in the darkness. Beautiful and captivating.

The idea of the lamp and its light has been with me since I was a very young child. One of the first verses I memorized in Sunday school is "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet; and a light unto my path." Psalm 119:105 And I sang songs like--

Give me oil in my lamp,
Keep me burning, burning, burning...

Toward the end of the year when we get to Revelation we will read that the lamp stand represents the church and the light that it together with Christ shines in the darkness of the world we live it.  Just as the tabernacle's lamp stand was the only light found in the holy place, the church with its relationship with Jesus is the only true light to those around us. And I believe just as those priests of old were instructed to continually tend to the light, we are also called to continually keep the fire burning.

But if we are to keep that flame lit, we are going to need a good supply of fuel. The Word of God is the very best source of energy we can find.  If we look how a lamp functions, it needs to be filled in order to bring light and it needs continuous tending or else the flame will eventually go out. The same is true for us. We need to stay filled up with God's Word to do our job as light.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:14-16

Just a little side note about the stand itself. Remember, there are blossoms AND buds covering the surface. Some flowers are open and on their way to make fruit but when we look to the buds there is a sense that there is still more to come... More to come. More fruit. More light. More beauty as God's Word is ignited in our lives captvating the attention of those trying to make their way out of the darkness.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Route 66: Day 38; Leviticus 19-21

"Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy."
Leviticus 19:2

God starts this portion with telling Moses to tell the people that God wants them to follow his example of holiness and then provides a list of example circumstances and actions to apply. There are so many places in the Bible that reveal God's heart and instruction that we should never have to wonder, "What would Jesus do here?"  It's all spelled out for us.  We know God's will about matters like those included in the passage because there it is in black and white. You can never go wrong when you show others respect, you tell the truth, you give to the poor, you are fair in your business dealings, you treat each other with equality, you love your neighbor, you let bygones be bygones, and  you continually follow God. Still feeling a little shaky when it comes to the holiness factor? Trust God. He has got ya covered.

"I am the LORD, who makes you holy."
 Leviticus 20:7

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Route 66: Day 37; Leviticus 16-18

Route 66: Day 37; Leviticus 16-18

God has really thought of everything. Here in the middle of the 'Schedule of Sacrifices' he has placed the scapegoat, a loophole for the people of Israel to escape the guilt and shame of their sins.  Bring in the goat, pile all their wrong doings on him and run him out in to the wilderness never to be seen again. I love it! It such a great illustration of what happens to our sin when we confess it to God but I'm getting ahead of myself.

All to often we come up with a variety of excuses for why we just couldn't do the right thing. We're too busy, we don't want to go against the flow of popular thinking, too tired, it didn't seem so bad at the moment, or I just wanted what I wanted (probably the most truthful one of the bunch). Everyone has they own set of reasons why they do the things they do. Many times we blame others or our circumstances  by placing the wrong onto their backs trying to free our own conscience of guilt. We comfort ourselves saying, "It wasn't really my fault. If it hadn't been for _________ I wouldn't have been forced to ________."  In reality, our sin is still with us either to be repeated over and over because we have convinced ourselves we aren't really doing anything wrong. It's that other guys fault. Or it lingers and festers and eventually becoming disease in our souls causing us to feel hopeless, worthless and devastated.

This is where the true Scapegoat comes in. God really did think of everything when it comes to freeing us from sin. When Jesus took on the sin of the world he not only paid the price with his life, no more penalty to be paid, but he also removed it, taking it away 'into the wilderness' to be seen no more. It's gone. We need to quit blaming other people or things for our bad behavior, face the facts that WE did wrong and confess it to God. (See 1 John 1:8-10)

Confession, the owning of our own wrong, is the key. If we own our sin then we also have the power to release it onto the Lord who can then carry it away.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;  as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:11-12

Later in the day--
All morning this idea has been returning to me so I want to share it. It may be a little tough to think about but important all the same--

There are two synonyms for scapegoat that cause me to pause. They are 'fall guy' and 'whipping boy'. Now, we know 'fall guy' is someone who takes that blame for crimes he had no part it. Jesus certainly fits this definition.  But it's the term 'whipping boy' that really gets to me. For you who may not know the term 'whipping boy' comes the practice in the English court during the 15th and 16th century of assigning a young boy to a monarch's son to take the punishment when the prince misbehaved. Yikes! How would you like to have that job? And again, I realized Jesus also plays that role in my life. The term 'whipping boy' really gets to me. God has done what always he does and has flipped everything upside down to challenge our perspective. Roles have been reversed and the King's Son has taken my beating. Who does that? Only Jesus. How can I not give my whole life to him?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Route 66: Day 34-36; Leviticus 8-15

Long lists of how to deal with daily life. Warning labels on the food, the heartbreak of psoriasis and toxic mold. Who knew? And in case you were wondering whether or not to eat that grasshopper... All joking aside, these were things that concerned the people of Israel and their God.  This massive population existed in very close quarters and an epidemic could wipe them out in a flash.  These guidelines  would help stop the spread of infectious disease and  literally save their lives. Again, more evidence that God is present in our 'everyday'. Our well-being is important to him. He's not some distant god that watches from afar to see how we make out.  He is with us and he is for us. And all I have to say about that is, "Hallelujah!"

Friday, February 3, 2012

Route 66: Day 33; Leviticus 5-7

“ ‘If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible. Leviticus 5:1 (NIV)

Recently there was a funny little test going around Facebook the one could use to determine their religious preference. All you had to do was answer a couple of questions and follow the flow chart to find your answer.  In my case if I wanted to worship one god, I liked bacon and was not a naturally annoying person I should become a boring, generic Christian. I beg your pardon! Is that really how the world sees us, boring and generic?

Sadly, those are not the only adjectives that are used to describe the Christian community. Words like hypocritical, weak, mislead,  judgmental, and out of touch with reality are just a few that come to mind. I think we should make the world take it back! We should state the truth of about God with what we "have seen and what we have learned about" him.  He is certainly not boring or generic. And the work he does in our lives isn't either. The way we live needs to reflect that Fact so the world can see it. We need to speak up and make a loud statement that gives testimony about the awesome God we serve.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Route 66: Day 32; Levitcus 1-4

Oh, Boy, here we go. I can't say that I have spent much time contemplating this part of the Scriptures but I'm sure in the end I'll be glad I jumped in.

The laws of sacrifice are being put into place and the picture isn't pretty. Slaughter and blood covered alters and priests doesn't bode well with our modern audience but it's not the scene that disturbs me the most. It's the smell. In my head I keep hearing CSIs saying, "We got decomp here." The stench of death must have been present in the tabernacle yet we hear the Scriptures tell us the burnt offerings were  "an aroma pleasing to the Lord."

Instead of death it was the sweet scent of obedience that reached God's nose when the people offered up sacrifices. Making a sacrifice was an outward expression of their inward heart that was seeking to obey God. They were acting in submission to him. They were putting their faith in him. They were being his people. And to God that was indeed a pleasing aroma. 

We may not follow the same rules of sacrifice laid out here in Leviticus today since Jesus made the final payment for us but we are still called to live in obedience to God.  Romans 12 calls us to be a 'living sacrifice' wholly following him and living in a life that proves our faith. What's more, by living a life that proves our faith, people around us will see our God is who he claims to be-A God of Truth and Faithfulness. This leads to God using "us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." [2 Corinthians 2:14-15]  

Here's how The Message puts it--"Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation---an aroma [full] with life."

The last of verse 16 of 2 Corinthians 2 asks, "And who is equal to such a task?"   Who is equipped to do this job? I believe it will be those who are willing to live out their faith in obedience.  And obedience has the pleasing aroma of life that seems to get everyone's attention.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Route 66: Day 30-31; Exodus 36-40

At the end of December, I was part of a decorating crew for the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. It was a great experience seeing how the flower-covered floats come to life. I worked alongside some members of our church along with others from the So Cal community. It was a great time of comradery, chatting and laughing as we glued and sprinkled seeds and dried flowers to all the surfaces of these beautiful creations.

I see this very same atmosphere happening here at the end of Exodus as the people work together to build the tabernacle. What a relieve they must have felt to actually be doing something they had been trained to do. These people were trained craftsmen, artists, weavers, and builders who had been part of constructing the cities in Egypt. They had skills and God had a job for them. This project would not only create a dwelling place for the Almighty but God would also accomplish an important task in their lives. This would bring them together with a common purpose, build relationships, and give them a sense of usefulness and belonging. While they were building the tabernacle, God was building them into a community.

There is an important lesson for us in this part of God's story. We can be God's people, can know God, attend services and Bible studies but its working together with a common focus that builds the strongest relationships. Service is the mortar of the community. It connects us in such a way that strengthens and bonds, gives purpose and ownership. We are invested in each other. It develops community pride which really boils down to care and compassion for one another.

On January 2nd as 'my' float passed by on the television screen, I felt a swell of pride. Yep, I had helped build that. I and many other people had been part of creating this beautiful float. But after it had disappeared from view, it was the the day we worked together connecting as a community that would remain in my memory.