Timing is everything…

Have you ever had to start over on a project that you already invested a lot of time in? Maybe you have a friend who switched majors in college and now has to do an extra year of college in order to make up credits for the new major. A year is a long delay in moving on in life. Keep in mind how hard delays like that are to wait for or go through. 

Now, with that in the back of your mind, reread today’s Scripture. This is God’s thought expressed to Moses, when the Israelites decided it would be a bright idea to worship a golden calf. God was furious. He initially told Moses He will just destroy them all (except Moses) and start over. Start over? He will start over and make a nation mightier and greater than that current one which may have numbered up to 2. 4 million people? Think about how long that would take! It would take generations to go from Moses and his family, to a whole new nation of millions. The time it had taken from Abrahams family to this point was around 400+ years. God would be restarting something that would add countless centuries to “the” plan? 

The fact is, His plan was never changed- because God knew exactly what He was going to do from creation, but even the mention of this would have covered 400+ years. The point is, God’s time IS NOT our time. God is at work to fulfill His complete will and purposes, even if it takes 400 “more” years. Just look at Deuteronomy 10:22; “Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.” They are being reminded of a promise God made to his people with Abraham 400 years ago. He is pointing out it has now been fulfilled-that a group of 70 people has now turned to the promised “numerous as the stars.” This was the plan that He actually began 1500 years ago with Adam and Eve, was verbalized to Abraham and has now come to fruition. God was not in a hurry.

God’s timing is still often very different than our timing. He is still not in a hurry. He is not worried. He completes all His promises and completes all His plans. He is doing it step by step in our lives too. He has his “macro” plan for the world, but also what I would call His “micro” plan for us that “ … he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 1:6) His plan is to make us Christlike. We are being conformed to the image of Christ. When things are not happening in a way we want or in the time frame we want, either whatever that “thing” is will not contribute to making us more Christlike or it is not time for it yet. That is why we are waiting. The full understanding of the “why do I have to wait” question we may never know, but we can be sure it will be worth the wait. We can be certain because we stand on the promise and knowledge that our God is perfect, His plans are perfectly timed and He completes each and every one of them with no exceptions.

Be a die-hard fan…

We often talk in our family about “die-hard” sports fans versus “fair-weather” fans; those who hop on the bandwagon when things are good. I believe we would all agree Jordan is a true Philadelphia fan through and through; Eagles, Sixers, Phillies and Flyers. We will never hear Jordan cheering for the Cav’s or Cowboys. His love of sports are Philadelphia teams only and exclusively. Jordan knows all about the team’s players and their stats. He reads and often forwards countless articles about them. He follows Philly sports twitter accounts, goes to games when he can, has written a few blog entries about them and wears the jerseys. Jordan has a life size Eagles player Phathead glued to his bedroom wall. No one could ever say he is less than 100% devoted.  We do not have to remind him daily to love and follow his teams. I don’t say to Jordan, “I think you should really make an effort to watch the Sixers game tonight”. He works his schedule around the games when possible and is always aware of when they are playing and against whom. Jordan loves Philadelphia teams.

This is the best example I can think of for an “undivided” love. In Deuteronomy today, the verse I quote above in the German bible says our love for God is to be “ungeteilte”. That word translated to English is “undivided”. In full, the verse reads “I, the Lord, your God, require undivided love from you.”  English versions translate it  “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” I looked at all English translations to for the wording of “undivided love”. I did not find any, but after consideration, I think the meaning is ultimately the same. Think about jealousy. God is jealous. This jealously is in relation to his people worshiping any other gods. God is jealous of anything else getting the worship and love He deserves and is worthy of. So, really, it is an undivided love He is looking for. It is an all or nothing love. Either He is #1 or He is not. There is no in-between. 

Now, let me come back to Jordan as an illustration. If Jordan said he was a huge Philadelphia sports fan, but bought season tickets to the Ravens or Celtics games-I think we would doubt his allegiance.(Although Chandler might like it.) His actions would betray his words. I would call him a “fair-weather fan” or at least say he was not loyal to his teams.  In the same way, our actions will confirm or betray our words regarding who is our first love as well. Do we seek out activities and attend activities that build our understanding and relationship with God?  Can we quote “stats” (maybe verses are the equivalent?) about God, his people, his beliefs and truths? Do we get excited when we see God “win” souls or moral victories in this world? What pictures do we save and put up around us, on our walls or as wallpaper on our device screens? Do we enjoy the company of others who love our “team” (God) as much as we do? Do we gather together with other fans (Christians) for events and outings? Is God our first love, or do we have an undivided heart that betrays our words when we claim to be a Christian and a person who loves God? Our God is a jealous God. It is always a good thing to pray that we would have an undivided heart towards Him, that we would “love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind…” (Luke 10:27, my words in italics) May we never, ever be a “fair-weather” fan or have a divided heart when it comes to God. 


Better than “just a phone call away”…

You all do not know what it is like to grow up without a cell phone in your pocket. This affords you the ability to contact anyone at anytime regardless of whether they are near or far. If you get a flat tire on 95, you can call for help. When you go to meet someone at the mall, you can text them once you arrive. Instant contact with a person is a given no matter the distance. In my day, we had to schedule everything ahead of time. If I got a flat tire, I either had to change it myself or walk to the nearest gas station or phone. If I was meeting friends at the mall, we had to decide the place and time long before we left the house for it to all work out. If the person was not near enough to physically see or call, we had a slim chance of ever getting together.

Being “near” or “far” away to contact someone is Moses subject for the Israelites today. He wants to make sure they remember at this point as they start life in the Promised Land,  how God is near when they call upon him, and he is not talking cell phone calls! God has proven to be near to them throughout their 40 years of wandering. They have never and would never see any other nation whose “god” would be near when called upon. This fact alone made the God of Israel stand out beyond any other gods worshiped around them. In fact, this made Israel a greater nation because of the proximity of their God to them. They were the ones chosen by the creator. They were the nation God’s eye was upon and whom God was choosing to bless. They were a great nation with a God that was near whenever they called upon Him. 

We know that if we fast forward to Jesus day, God opens up his offer to all, not just the nation of Israel, in a new way. He offers salvation and forgiveness to Jew and Gentile alike, and says we can be grafted in to with His people. Therefore, if we call ourselves servants of God, we too, have a God who is near to us whenever we call upon Him. Someone who is near, hears us. If we call for help, someone nearby could come and help. If we want to talk, a person who is near, can hear, converse and listen. A being who is “near” sees all that is going on in our life. The “near” God of Israel is our near God as well. 

This should be an encouragement to us, and I believe it is sometimes. But I also know that sometimes because we don’t ‘feel” like God is near or that He hears us, we might mistake it for Him not being there. In the Psalms in the Old Testament we see the people cry out about this to God. For example, Ps. 22 records the words, “Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”. The Psalmist clearly didn’t “feel” God near to him at this moment. Prayers answered with “no” or “wait” can “feel” like God isn’t listening or near. Deuteronomy reminds us today, that despite our feelings, He is near. He is the ONLY God who will ever be near. This is a promise to grab onto and trust in even when we can’t see or feel God’s presence or action in our life. Let’s just remind ourselves we serve a God who is near us. He is not just a “phone call” away, but physically near, always listening, always watching, always loving-even when it may not feel like He is.


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”!