Chapter-a-Day Numbers 9

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Moses said, “Give me some time; I’ll find out what God says in your circumstances.” Numbers 9:8 (MSG)

My wife hates making decisions. Even on small, seemingly insignificant choices she can brood and meditate for long periods of time. When it comes to major decisions her contemplative hesitation can, at times, feel like paralysis to me. I am aware, however, that God often uses our spouse’s contrasting personality to teach us lessons we need for our own journey.

In a market driven, consumerist culture I find myself constantly having things pushed at me. Between television, e-mail, internet, smartphones, and iPads it’s easy to get swept up in every fad and trend. The latest, greatest, newest, and most improved products and services that appeal to every individual appetite are at our fingertips 24/7/365 and if I’m not careful I can make foolish decisions on a whim with a tap on my touchpad.

Observing Wendy think through her choices has taught me the wisdom of patience. Often, she will put off a purchase and discovers that she really didn’t need it in the first place. Other times, I’ve watched her methodically think through all of the positives and negatives only to unearth a negative that would have ultimately disappointed her.

I was struck by Moses’ response to the people in today’s chapter. “Give me some time.” It reminded me that even Jesus made a habit of going off to a mountain to spend long periods of time in prayer and contemplation. Today, I’m reminded that taking time to make decisions is a good thing. Seeking guidance through prayer leads to wise choices. I can give you a long list of snap decisions I’ve made which didn’t end up so well.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 8

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God spoke to Moses: “Take the Levites from the midst of the People of Israel and purify them for doing God’s work.” Numbers 8:5 (MSG)

For me, one of the fascinating things about walking through these ancient texts is perceiving the ways that our culture and thinking are still rooted in the systems and concepts which were established thousands of years ago.

In today’s chapter, the tribe of Levi was singled out among all of the tribes of Israel for carrying out the work of the temple. In other words, “God’s work” was reserved for a special few. In any human system, I have to believe this is going to set into motion certain patterns of thought, creating classes within the culture. The special few who are given the religious tasks are going to think themselves special, even to the point of being better than the others. They will have a hard time not feeling that they are closer to God than those who don’t get this special task. Those who are not part of these special few begin to feel the opposite. They feel left out and dishonored. “God’s work” is not for them, so they dismiss the things of God as something above them. Jealousy, envy and hatred can even set in against those who seem to be “special.”

After Jesus death and resurrection, there was a major shift in God’s prescribed system. God’s Holy Spirit was poured out and into every person who believes and follows. No longer for a certain people or a select few, the Holy Spirit made no distinction. God gave the word picture of one body in which every believer is made a vital part, gifted in some way to help provide for it’s health and functions. Jesus presented a radical new paradigm.

We human beings are silly creatures, however. Once we get used to a system of behavior, we are loathe to go to the work of changing them. Within a short period of time, the followers of Jesus had organized into a system that looked much like what we read about in Numbers. There were special people set apart as priests and leaders to do the religious works of this organization now known as “the church.” Once again this human organizational system created a group of spiritual “haves” and “have nots.” 1500 years later a man named Martin Luther made a 95 item “point-of-order” to correct the mistake, arguing that what God’s Message presented was not a special “priesthood” for the select few but a “priesthood of all believers.” The reformers organized to try to get back to the prescribed organization of Jesus and his followers.

We human beings are silly creatures, however. Once we get used to a system of behavior, we are loathe to go to the work of changing them. For over forty years I’ve attended and been involved in a number of church organizations of all shapes, sizes and names. I’ve even led a few. We still like to treat our pastors and priests as “special” people who are spiritually above us. The common person in the pew still tends to think of “God’s work” as something relegated to the chosen few; it is something from which they are at best exempted, at worst unfit to carry out.

[sigh]

Today, I am reminded at how easily my human condition, culture, and systems can skew my thoughts and behaviors from those which God intended. Lord, have mercy on me.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 7

When the Altar was anointed, the leaders brought their offerings for its dedication and presented them before the Altar because God had instructed Moses, “Each day one leader is to present his offering for the dedication of the Altar.” Numbers 7:10-11 (MSG)

Sometimes when reading God’s Message, I don’t find the lesson within the text but within the pattern of the text. For twelve straight days a leader brought the same offering for the dedication of the altar. The text dutifully and exhaustively chronicles the exact same thing twelve times in a row. For the reader this is kind of boring repetition. For me, the lesson is not within all of the offerings, but in asking myself why it was chronicled this way.

Each of the leaders was required to complete the same offering. There was no pass for family standing or the number of shekels they’d donated to the building of the tabernacle. The same thing was required of each person. In the same way, Jesus did not offer a free pass to anyone. If any one wants to follow, Jesus said, they must deny themselves, take up their own cross, and follow. No exceptions.

There is also something powerful in repetition. Read the story of any athletic champion. We see them excel in a few moments on television and hoist the trophy above their heads. It looks so easy and effortless for them. What we don’t see is the disciplined, boring, repetition of training and practice. The amazing ten second highlight on SportCenter is the result of countless hours of lonely practice in the gym and the weight room.

The end of today’s chapter is the powerful presence of God as Moses enters the holy place. But, the power and presence was preceded by twelve days of dutiful, repetitious, obedient, and disciplined offerings by each of the leaders.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  I Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV)

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 6

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“Also, for the duration of the consecration you must not have your hair cut. Your long hair will be a continuing sign of holy separation to God.” Numbers 6:5 (MSG)

Many years ago I had a client I visited on a quarterly basis. In the client’s office was a man who stood out from the crowd for many reasons. Chiefly, he stood out because of his long hair. It was extremely strange to see a professional man his age with hair that long. It fell almost down to his butt. After my first double-take, I figured the man was spending his after work hours trying to live out a teenage dream of being in a 80’s hair band.

As my colleagues and I got to know Mr. Hair Band Man over several business trips, we began to learn the much deeper purpose of his long hair. He told the story of a friend who had lost his way and ended up in prison. In an attempt to share the love of Jesus in a tangible way, he told this friend that he was going to take a Nazirite vow like the one described in today’s chapter. He would make a special consecration to God and would not cut his hair until his friend got out of prison. It was almost ten years when his friend was released and he finally cut his hair. His vow and his long hair became a powerful witness to his friend of his love, faith and commitment.

Looking back over my journey, I realize that there are stretches of life’s road that call for special times of consecration. There are periods of time when we may be called to be “set apart” for a special purpose; we may need to consecrate ourselves to God in a unique and more radical way. The purpose of this time of consecration may be public and relational, or it may be private and deeply personal. Either way, vows of consecration and their faithful maintenance can pave the way to new and powerful spiritual horizons.

At the Lake with Friends

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We spent this past week with our friends at the lake. One of the reasons we wanted to make sure we had a lot of room at the Playhouse was for the opportunity to have a lot of family and friends together. Mission accomplished. We had six adults and four kids which made for a loud, busy, action-packed week.

There was a lot of great food, great conversation, and warm laughter as we made plenty of memories together. As you might imagine, there are more stories and anecdotes than I have time to write about right now.

As I look back however, the highlight of my week probably came on Thursday night out on the deck. My little 2 year-old buddy Aaron acted out in a moment of toddler rage. He looked up at me and caught my glare at him. He immediately ran to hide behind his daddy’s legs crying “No papa (that’s what he calls me). No want time out!”

When it comes to giving the “dad look,” I guess I’ve still got it 🙂

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 5

Lady Justice
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God spoke to Moses: “Tell the People of Israel, When a man or woman commits any sin, the person has broken trust with God, is guilty, and must confess the sin. Full compensation plus twenty percent must be made to whoever was wronged.” Numbers 5:5-6 (MSG)

As a child, I recall living under a fairly simple rule of law in my family that was rooted in the ancient law of Moses. When I was growing up, if I wronged someone, then under this system restitution had to be made as a form of compensation. If I stole something, I was made to give it back. If I broke something, then my allowance and paper route money were required (no matter how long it took) to pay for what I broke. The key was that the offender was literally made to pay for the wrong and the victim was compensated.

I don’t always get the intricacies of the law of Moses. My 21st century American brain has difficulty wrapping my mind around ancient mesopotamian culture. I can’t fathom what every day life was like back then. More often than not I’m left scratching my head and shaking it in bewilderment. Nevertheless, the basic concepts make a lot of sense.

I think about the current system of justice in our culture and I wonder if we’ve strayed too far afield from the concept of restitution. When crimes are committed, we tend to simply lock the offender up, the victim is not compensated for the pain and loss suffered, and the community is stuck with the bill for the offender’s incarceration.

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Chapter-a-Day Numbers 4

Open door at Hidcote Manor
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And that’s the story of their numbering, as God commanded Moses. Numbers 4:49 (MSG)

I deal with numbers every day. When it comes to serving customers, businesses  do a lot of number crunching. How many calls come in? How many calls per agent? How many agents can handle certain scenarios. How many seconds does the average conversation take? What is the cost per minute per interaction?

It’s no wonder that those tasked with actually talking to customers tend to dehumanize and depersonalize the people they serve. The disembodied voice in their ear is just a another “call.” That voice is call number 43 for the day.

How easy it is to feel like an impersonal number in today’s world. We become one of a faceless throng at work, at church, and in our communities. And now, thanks to digital technology, we are increasingly sitting alone in our homes to become disembodied pieces of pixelated text in our social networks. What effect is this having on me? My loved ones? My church? My community?

I’m reminded this morning that the climactic event in God’s story is when “the Word [Jesus] became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” When God sent his Son into the world to become the ultimate sacrifice for my moral failure, it was an intensely personal, flesh-and-blood act of love. In light of that act, Jesus’ invitation to each of us is not that we sign-up for a number to get into heaven and then stand in queue. His desire is that we each invite Him inside our heart and home to engage in an everlasting, interpersonal dinner conversation:

“Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.”  (Revelation 3:20)

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