Barbs and Thorns…



Last week I was listening to one of my podcasts. On it, the speaker recommended a movie and this speaker has similar interests as I do. I went to the IMDB app to look up the movie, which is what I usually do with recommendations. I look at the rating, summary and the parent review. This movie did not pass my test-it was rated R for language and some sexual content. The storyline though, looked great. It was a romantic comedy with sci-fi mixed in, which I would love. The problem was, it clearly didn’t pass the standard for things that would be pleasing to God. Needless to say, I have to skip seeing it. What I want you to know though is, I kind of want to see it. It looks good but I know from a godly perspective it is “trouble”.    

Today in Numbers, God warns his people about people who could bring “trouble” in the land. God is touching on a common theme we can trace in the bible portraying outsiders influence on the Israelites to sin and worldliness in our lives. God told the Israelites in Numbers to get rid of all the inhabitants. This sounds mean, but keep in mind these people had no morals. One of their goddesses was Ashetoreth, the goddess of sex. Their worship involved orgies. There were many unwanted babies due to their sexual practices, and some of these babies would be tossed alive into the bonfires that were ignited for the god Molech. Pornographic pictures were all over the land.  God knew if they did not get rid of all of it, the Israelites would eventually adopt their lifestyles, worship and loves. Their trouble and misery would be a nightmare. That  “trouble” would be as painful and irritating as “barbs in your eyes” and “thorns in your side”. Barbs and thorns are no fun, to say the least!

So, why the warning? Wouldn’t they naturally get rid of these people and wouldn’t we naturally turn away from “loving” the world? No. They wouldn’t and we won’t. These things are very attractive and luring. To the Israelites, these things would look fun, enticing, and satisfying just like sin looks fun, enticing and satisfying. Do you remember if the Israelites listened to God’s warning? Did they rid them of the inhabitants?  They did not and they became idolaters, they did adopt the practices of the people, and it led down a long, painful path of destruction and sorrow in their lives. We see the lure of the world that led David down the same path. It led Judas, with the love and “promised” fulfillment of money down the same path. The seeming “joys” of physical relations outside of marriage has led to countless destroyed marriages, families, ministries and more. It has all, as God said, been like “barbs in eyes” and “thorns in sides” both then and now. 

God has told us the only way to avoid the heartache of sin is to rid our lives of the opportunities for that enticement and temptation. We are told to guard our hearts. In a very small way, I hope that is what I am doing when I check IMDB before watching a movie. Can you think of any ways you proactively guard your heart to keep yourself from sin on a daily basis? We intentionally put OpenDNS, a filter, on our router in our home to help keep us all out of certain websites. Maybe you put your phone in a different room before going to bed. Maybe you have friends over to your place instead of going to theirs where there might strong temptations. These proactive things are ways to “drive out” the world in yours and my life. It is by taking these actions that we too will be able, with God’s help, to avoid any “barbs in our eyes” and “thorns in our sides”. 

Sometimes, you don’t need a “new” approach…

Who in this family loves how Zippy and Zoe lick e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g? No one does, of course. We have tried multiple approaches to get them to stop, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. We try distracting them, calling and telling them to stop, and even squirting them with a water bottle sprayer. Unfortunately, up to this point, we have been unsuccessful.

It is ok to try different approaches when trying to resolve a problem like this. It is a futile thing to try multiple approaches to something that God has already made clear is not His will. This is what Balak is doing in the book of Numbers with Balaam. Num. 23:13 describes his second attempt and “brilliant” idea. Think back on this story, its the one with the talking donkey. Balak, a neighboring country’s leader, sees the Israelites camped on his borders. He has heard the news of their powerful God and is afraid of them. He asks Balaam, a renowned “diviner”, to curse the Israelites for him. Instead, Balaam ends up blessing them. It is at this point that Balak thinks he should try a different approach, literally. Balak invites Balaam to “please come to another place.” Essentially, it is his hope that from this “other” place, where Balaam apparently could not see “them all”, he will be able to curse them. Balak thought it was a location problem. It was not, it was a God problem. He did not understand God. He did not understand the futility of hoping and fighting against God’s sovereign will. He tried 3 different approaches, which we know from Scripture, all failed. It was completely and utterly futile for Balak (and Balaam) to think all they needed was a different “angle”. God had made very clear what His intentions and will were, and that is precisely what happened. 

We may not always know exact details of God’s will, as Balaam’s blessings spelled out in Numbers 23. We may not have details like the name of the college to go to or the name of the person we will marry, but we do know more of God’s will than we probably think. It is His will that we love one another. It is God’s will that we not be “unequally yoked” to an unbeliever. It is God’s will that we be hospitable to those around us. It is God’s will that we do not complain or gossip. These are clear. Fighting to go against these things and choosing a path against these things is also futile. It is as futile as Balaam’s attempt to curse the Israelites from a different vantage point. When we choose not to love one another, whatever we are trying to accomplish in an acquaintance or friendship, will not succeed. When we complain or gossip, relationships and our testimony are destroyed, not improved. Ask any believer who chose to marry an unbeliever how that is working out compared to how they hoped it would. 

Balak and Balaam are a testimony to the futility of a life fighting against God. No vantage point or approach will ever succeed against God’s sovereign will. Can you imagine what might have happened, if instead, Balak or Balaam had humbled themselves before God at this pivotal moment and began to worship him, submitting to His will? Can you imagine what would happen in our lives, if we sought daily to fulfill God’s will as obedient servant’s of the one true God? When you and I are tempted to try another approach to what we already know is not God’s desire for us, may we be reminded of the futility of such a choice, and instead, obey what we already know to be His very clear will.

Here to serve…


His, hers, mine, yours, ours. These are all possessive pronouns. They indicate ownership. Yesterday we talked about our “prized” possessions: phones, cars, computers, etc. These are things we own and use. They serve a purpose. They do something; take us to school or work, call a friend, take a picture, create a devotion. I can not think of a thing we “own” that doesn’t serve a purpose, can you?

“Serve” is the operative word for today. To serve is to render help, be of assistance, or be of use. In Numbers today, God singles out the Levites to serve Him. God goes on to explain that every firstborn son is his (Lev. 8:16-19), but now the Levites will take their place. They were going to be set aside to be God’s. Numbers 8:14 is very clear that the Levites “will be mine”. We are talking ownership here. God is the owner. They are his possession. Now that they are His possession, they were to serve him in the tabernacle. God has of course, spelled out their exact duties throughout the Old Testament as to how they were to serve.

Two observations to see from this text. First, serving God requires He possess us first. We have to be His to serve Him. Everyone’s life is divided by whether or not they belong to God. I can’t see how anyone could serve God without belonging to Him. We must belong to Him first.  Secondly, if we claim to be Christ’s, to be saved, to be Christians-than by that claim, we ought to be serving our master. We are to be rendering help, being of assistance, being made use of by God. The Levites, as God’s possession, were assigned to serve God with all the tabernacle duties. We, as believers, have been given gifts that are perfectly suited to serve God in the duties he assigns us. Where are you serving now? Dad serves on the Shepherding team. Jordan is serving in church with the youth. The church is one of the first places God can use us to serve and further his kingdom. As members of a church, it will be important we are not just bystanders. We should be actively serving somewhere. Are you or I serving our master God, somewhere? If not, pray and look for areas He may be opening doors for you to serve. If you are not sure, try something and see if it is a good fit. Ask at church if they need help in any area and let someone know you are available. If we are truly His possession, than He can and will use us to further his kingdom and bring him glory. If we don’t have time or any interest in serving God, it may be time to ask who we are currently serving and who is truly our master.

 

Restore needed…


What are some of your prized possessions? Your phone? Computer? Car? How do you feel when they are not working? How do you treat them? Most of us treat our most valuable “things” with care, not wanting to break them. If the computer is not working, we might take it to the genius bar to get fixed, like I did last night with Mrs. K. The Apple genius ran some diagnostics tests, cleared out a few things, and made some additional suggestions on how to fix it. This included wiping it clean from all the misplaced “bits” and reinstalling the operating system. That would make it run properly again as it originally was built to run.

Keep this in mind now as we talk about the Israelites. What have we seen over and over through Leviticus and Numbers as God walks with his people? Countless times He says “I am the Lord your God”. He calls the Israelites “his people”. He has called them out from among all others. Today, at the close of Numbers 6, Aaron is given a prayer to pray for the Israelites. It is a prayer that God would bless them. This prayer is to “put my name” upon the people of Israel. God is the owner of his people. They are His possession. His name is on them, and now, His name is on us.

Think back to the things you own again. They are yours. You can take your phone with you to a game, or leave it home. It is your choice, not the phones. If we call ourselves servants of the one true God, we are His possession. When we struggle with the paths and circumstances He has laid in our life, remember, we are His, and it is His right and choice. We protect our “things” with cases and locks and passwords. As God’s possessions, He too-will protect us in many ways. His instructions on how we are to live life are protection against “damage” and “death”. When your computer is not working or has a glitch, sometimes a program needs to be run to clean it up and get the bad “bits” off. God, owning us, does not want “bits” of sin ruining us. He is cleaning up the “malware” in our life. Sometimes, it may just require deleting a few files, other times, that clean up-due to the severity of the “malware” (sin in our life) will have to go much deeper, it will require a longer time and more difficult removal if the virus is deep in our ‘system”.  It is painful, but is for our good.

Having God’s name “upon us” means we are His. His possession. Just as the Israelites were God’s, and as He did things to protect them, to guide them, to take care of them, He will do the same for us because He treasures us. We are valuable. His name is written upon us, and as image bearers, he is daily “cleaning us up” and “restoring” our operating system back to what it originally was before sin tainted and ruined it. It is for our good. Only God can truly fix and restore you, giving you peace that surpasses all understanding. May God bless you and I and keep us. May His face shine upon us and may he be gracious to us. May He lift up His countenance on us and give us peace.* Through all of this, may we be blessed as His name is written upon our hearts and as we are His prized possession, bought with the life of his Son.

*Num. 6:24-27

Line up…


Sunday was my turn to work in the 4 year old class this month. When I work in there, part of the time we go upstairs for a short Bible teaching lesson. Mrs. K. and I have the 4-year olds line up at the door, we select someone to be the line leader and we remind the children to be very quiet going up to the room. I am sure you remember when you were little and had to “line up” like this too.

Lining up is a basic structure of organization around the world, and also throughout history. As we begin the book of Numbers today, we get to see God kind of asking the people to “line up”. He instructs Moses to “take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head.” (Num. 1:2) He then wants to count how many “able-bodied” men there are who could go to war as necessary. God appoints a leader from each tribe to help. I am sure this required some lining up. One group, though, that is not included, is the Levites. They are not to be lined up, counted or considered. We are told they are set aside to specifically and at all times watch over the tabernacle. They are also, as noted in today’s verse, to camp around it and keep guard. Their sole job was to make sure the tabernacle was handled correctly and that no one broke the laws that God had set forth so that no “wrath” would come on the people. It was a means of protecting all of them. Having Levites hold a position like this benefitted all Israelites.

God knew his people are prone to make mistakes. They were prone to disobey. He was placing people in positions to help “keep them in line” so to speak. Protective leadership structures like this are good things. We still do this today. Our church has a structure to help us be obedient followers of Christ. OBC has pastors, a shepherding team, and Sunday School teachers-all working together, but in a hierarchy that will help teach us to obey God’s Word and could hold us accountable. Of course, this even trickles down to the godly family structure of parents and children, with a parent there to guide children to obey God. We all need this. We need “levites” or others around us and in leadership positions above us to help “keep us in line.” We need others who are close to us to help remind us to obey God when we might be tempted not to or perhaps forget. The question is, do we have such people around us. You do have Pastor Curtis, dad and I, but as you are getting older and as more time is spent away from the home, having others to help hold you accountable to your life in Christ will be vital. Who are those people in your life right now? When you get married, your spouse will be one of the key people to do this, but you are not there yet. Let this passage in Numbers about the Israelites be a reminder that they were not the only ones who needed “guards” around the “tabernacle”. You and I do too. So, who are your guards today that will help remind you to honor, obey and not walk away from God, incurring the “wrath” of such a choice?

Choose God’s plan A…


When we flip a light switch in this house, the lights turn on. We can see at night, our computers and tv’s work, and I can cook. If dad and I chose to not pay our electric bill, despite multiple reminder letters from Delmarva Power, at some point, we would no longer receive electricity to our house. It would be freezing here in the winter, no electronics would work, and I highly doubt any meal I would try to make would be very appealing. It does not take a genius to figure out that not paying the electric bill eventually means no electricity.

This is exactly the same logic that baffles me about Leviticus 26. God is so clear cut in this chapter. While I was only able to put bits and pieces of the verses from the chapter on this devotion, if you read the whole chapter, you will see it with clarity. If God’s people would obey him, God would bless them. If they chose to disobey, they would be cursed, and their lives would be a nightmare. The baffling part? They chose option B. They did not just choose it once, but time and time again.

Today, I tried to think about why. Why would anyone in their right mind do this? Why would anyone refuse a life where God promises blessings and choose, instead, death and destruction for themselves? As I consider the Israelites disobedience, it was a slow decline into an immoral mess. I think it was like the proverbial frog in the pot. The disobedience occurred in tiny little steps, until it was the “normal” way of life.

I know time and time again as I read the Bible, my heart is the heart of an Israelite. I am inclined to the same weaknesses they were. Humans are inclined to sin. Based on this truth, I have to ask, how am I also choosing disobedience? This is not necessarily an easy question to answer. If I were to ask you “Are you disobeying God today?” I think all of the answers off the top of our head would be “no”. We do not lie, cheat, steal, murder, or any of the other “biggies” in the 10 commandments. We are against abortion and hold to traditional biblical views of marriage. I would go so far as to think others might see me as a “good” or  “nice” person, as are all of you. But I know better. I know I am a sinner, and to be a sinner means there is sin in my life. If I don’t want to follow the footsteps of disobedience to God, and the deadly destruction that path leads to, I better wise up and figure out what my slippery slopes of sin are. What disobedience is my “norm”? Where am I blind in my life to sin, and becoming quite comfortable with it. This will require constantly asking God to show me through His Word and through others where I am disobeying. When I see, I need to repent, ask forgiveness and turn from my sin. Can you name an area of sin in your life? Can I? It is there, I can assure you. I just am oblivious to it, or not admitting to the truth in my life. Maybe you are not either. Yesterday, I suggested we carve out time this week to observe a Sabbath and spend time alone with God. Part of that time could be spent asking God where in our lives we are disobeying him. Be serious. Ask God to bring them to mind and I would suggest writing down at least 3 areas that God points out. Then, honestly repent of these areas of sin,  decide to obey God with the Spirits help and get out of the pot, before we all get boiled alive!

Not enough snow days…


I assume we would all agree yesterday was a “day of rest” of sorts. It was a snow day, all work and school was canceled. There were no plans and we were able to rest. I love a good snow day, but we need rest a little more often than just snow days. In fact, I know that at Snow Camp Jordan and Aaron attended this year, they also talked about the importance of rest.

In Leviticus today, we are on a section where God is laying out some specifics about rest for the land. In Old Testament times, God was very clear that the people were to let their fields “rest” every 7th year. They were not to plant them or harvest them. God called this the “sabbath” of the land. Later, in verse 6, after spelling out that they were not to work the land, God assures His people the land will provide. In other words, there would be enough. As I read this, I realized this would require a great amount of trust from the Israelites. The closest equivalent I can think of is asking dad to work 6 years, and every 7th year, to not work, trusting God would provide for us. God has NOT told dad (or us) to do that, but I think the trust factor would be the same. It is easy for us to read the part about God mandating taking a rest, but I see that trusting God DURING the rest is also part of this.

We do not observe a formal Sabbath today, neither weekly nor in terms of our work, and that in and of itself is something to consider. At the very least, we do know we need rest. At the pace our world pushes us, it will not come naturally, just as it did not for the Israelites. Something else to consider though is how rest and trust in God may be connected. God told his people to rest the 7th year AND He would provide. The purpose was to focus on God, his provisions, what He had given the people and who He was as their God. Trust was required that this God of theirs could be trusted to provide. It required a knowledge and close relationship with their God. It would actually require them to give up a “love of money”, I think in some ways, because no sowing, no reaping, also meant no income. It would force them to NOT depend on finances as the “rock” they were standing on. I might go so far as to say our ability to truly rest is hinged on our trust in God. If we do not fully trust God, we will never be able to truly find rest.

If we find rest difficult, maybe it is time to consider if we do trust God, or if instead,  we are mistakenly trusting in something else? Can we set aside time to be with God during the week? Why not? Do we not trust Him? Do we not care? Do we think we can provide all that we really need and He can not or will not? I challenge all of us to decide if we will set aside at least 1 hour this week as a time of rest and to purpose to focus on God.  Make time to concentrate on how He has provided for us. Pray for stronger trust in Him and that He will guide and provide for us in the future.. If you don’t know what to do, read Lev. 25 to start. Read this article by J.D. Greear which includes good suggestions on practicing a sabbath: 4 Ways to Win the Battle Against Busyness. Find a solid youtube video or podcast that speaks to a sabbath rest or trust in God. Take this a little more seriously. Your own trust in God and peace of mind could hinge on it. Snow days are too few and far between to just count on them as our only “day of rest”!

 

Chosen…


Remember when we went to get Zoe? We drove to the breeder in Pennsylvania. There was a pen full of pug puppies. After playing with them and observing them a little while, we all agreed Zoe was the one we wanted. We chose her. She had not really done anything spectacular. In fact, I am not sure she had done anything at all. It was all us choosing her, and none of her choosing us.

It is a glimpse of what God has done for you and I. It is all Him and none of “us”. Isn’t that what you think of when you hear a message on sanctification? Ha! I doubt  it, but we should. Look at today’s passage in Leviticus. Verse 20:8 is God telling his people to keep his statutes and do them. Why? Because He, God, “sanctifies” them. As a reminder, the definition of “sanctify” is to “set apart as” or to “declare holy”. For almost 20 chapters we have been reading all about laws, regulations, statutes, and rules God has for his people. His reason time and time again is “because I am holy.” Today, that holiness is NOT just used to describe God, but instead, it is a process God tells us He is doing on us. He is setting us apart and making us holy. He chose the Israelites, out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to make His people and to set apart from all others. He was doing a great work on them and in them, and of course now, that includes believers worldwide, including you and I. The picture I really want us to have in mind is that picture of leaning into the dog pen when we went to get Zoe, and her being picked up out of the pen, separated from the others. She was ‘set apart’ to be our dog. She was chosen, we decided to make her special from all the other dogs and to become part of our family forever.

The problem with my illustration is we could not really change Zoe. We could try a few things, like fixing her nose, keeping her healthy, and providing for her, but we can not make her a “better” or perfect dog. God, on the other hand, has chosen us, and CAN make us holy. He has all the power, ability, means and time to sanctify us. This is precisely what He is in the process of doing. Part of that process includes “following his statutes” which we should be daily committed to, but even then, it will take the power of God and assistance of the Holy Spirit in our lives to achieve this. Our job is to keep following our master, just like Zoe follows me around the house! Follow Him, love him, look constantly for the Holy Spirit’s prompting in our lives, and be dedicated to doing  what He says and shows us. Today, stop for a minute and try to really appreciate the fact God has specifically chosen you to be in His family. You and I are the ones He desires to bring into His “home”. He is preparing us for a home in eternity where He will wipe away every tear and there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain. Right now, he is “sanctifying” us in preparation for that. How can you not want to be chosen and changed to be in that home?

Stand up… it still matters.


Do you remember the “Manners” video we got from the library? I have tried to look for it online and can not find it or even the title anywhere. It sure was old-fashioned, but the content was valuable. It showed you how to put a napkin in your lap when eating. It discussed chewing your food with your mouth closed. It even taught that no bite of food going into your mouth should be larger than a grape. Many more manners were covered, and I bet they could have included today’s verse right in there with them.

Lev. 19:32 would be considered by most  to be “good manners”. Today, though, we can see it is not only “good manners”, but actually instruction from God. This verse is in the midst of a number of verses where God is giving instruction on how His people are to treat others around them. It is of importance to note that this entire chapter is preceded with the statement “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:1) Apparently, holiness is seen and related in part to how we treat others. Reading this verse in light of that context, it means that when we respect and honor the elderly or those who are older than us, we are “being holy” in a way. As stated directly in the verse, it is connected to  “revering” God.” It is a reflection of our treatment of Him. It is a reflection of our own “holiness” through Christ.

Sometimes we can read the Bible and the instruction is not crystal clear in our day and age as to how to live it out.  This time, I doubt anyone would have trouble understanding. Honor older people. When you were younger, we taught you to give up your seat for someone older. I am not sure I even considered this an act of “holiness”, but perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, we should. Sometimes representing God well will be an act of us honoring an older person.

Today, as we consider the holiness of God, our part in becoming his children and reflecting his holiness, consider this piece: How can you and I honor those who are older around us? Giving up a chair or seat is one easy way. There are other ways though too.  We need to respect their opinion and listen better, realizing they are speaking with wisdom and experience. The message today is to disrespect and laugh at those older than us, looking at them as ones who are perhaps “behind the times.” May we instead see them as the gifts from God that they are,  to be revered and  honored. We should realize how much we can learn from them. May we purposefully seek time with those around us who are older, asking them to share what they have learned from living a life walking with God so we can follow in their footsteps. Spend time with people older than you who come from a different generation. Take their wise counsel to heart-they have lived much more of life than you and I. We would be wise to text or call to ask advice from our parents or grandparents and heed their counsel. Respect them at all times. Our honor and reverence of those older, will show our reverence to God, and be part of our own transformation into a proper reflection of the holy God we claim we serve. Respecting elders as it turns out, is far more than just “good manners”.


 

Guard rails…

When you were babies, dad and I did not let you touch the tv remotes. Holding the remote certainly was not morally wrong, but remote controls are not baby toys. If we had let you “play” with it as a baby, at some point, we would have had to teach you later not to play with it. It was a preventative measure, and a step in teaching you the difference between what was a toy, and what was a decoration or item used for something else. As you got older when we visited friends, we could tell you something was not a toy, and you had learned not to touch it.

Preventative measures are good for all of us at all ages. They are like guard rails that keep us on the right track. They are often a rule or guideline about something, that in and of itself is not morally right or wrong, but can help keep us from sin. After a little research on today’s Leviticus chapter, I believe God’s intention here was also a “preventative” measure. If you look at todays verses, at first they seem a little odd. Why would a person be required to bring all of the named animals to the tent of meeting that were killed? Lev. 17:7 gives us the big clue. It talks about not sacrificing to a “goat demon”. The animals mentioned in Lev. 17, ox, lamb and goats, were common animals used to sacrifice to other gods for those nations around the Israelites. God knew the heart of his people, and their tendency to go astray very quickly. He had already seen them do so with Aaron and the golden calf, so He was putting up some very clear “guard rails” to protect them from repeating that sin again. It was a guard rail against becoming, or adopting the behaviors of the pagan nations around them. They were to bring any ox, lamb or goats killed to Him, and to Him alone.

The draw to become or be influenced by those around them is not only a characteristic of the Israelites. We will always have that same inclination. Conforming to the world is a natural, slow and insidious process. If we do nothing to fight it, it will happen automatically. We need guard rails just like the Israelites. Just as one example, I am reminded of Ps. 101:3, which says “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” Based on this, dad and I use OpenDNS with the internet here at the house to help us not set “anything worthless” (some versions say “evil”) before any “eyes” in this house. OpenDNS blocks sites in the categories of gambling, drugs, dating, lingerie, weapons and more. Not ALL the sites included in these are morally bad, but most would lead us in the wrong direction. OpenDNS is a “guard rail” for our eyes when we are on the internet.

What other guard rails do you and I have in place? First, think about the world we will be drawn to conform to. What are activities, thoughts, or time investments that we are naturally encouraged to do by our neighbors, the internet, and those around us, go against what God calls us to do? What do we have in place to help protect us? It could be a friend that we ask to hold us accountable in a specific area like language or media content. We could create a “guard rail” to protect us from becoming greedy setting up automatic transfers from our paycheck to church or to support another ministry. The world will NATURALLY conform us to its image. The question is, do we have any guard rails in place to help fight against this?