Saturday, February 28, 2009

God's Timing

Few things are more infuriating to us humans than God's sense of timing.

I know. I know. He is infinite. We are finite. He is eternal. We are rooted in the present.

Peter says it well: "With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day." That is our problem. God's sense of timing is different than ours.

A former pastor used to say, "God is seldom early - but never late." That was certainly the case for Abraham. He has his son tied up. He raises the knife to kill his son. Just before the downward plunge, God tells him to stop. There is a ram to sacrifice caught in a thicket. Talk about "never late!"

Sometimes we get it right. We learn to wait. We learn to completely depend on God for everything - including His timing.

In this passage, the people of God had it down. Listen...

15 -16 "The day The Dwelling was set up, the Cloud covered The Dwelling of the Tent of Testimony. From sunset until daybreak it was over The Dwelling. It looked like fire. It was like that all the time, the Cloud over The Dwelling and at night looking like fire.
17 -23 When the Cloud lifted above the Tent, the People of Israel marched out; and when the Cloud descended the people camped. The People of Israel marched at God's command and they camped at his command. As long as the Cloud was over The Dwelling, they camped. Even when the Cloud hovered over The Dwelling for many days, they honored God's command and wouldn't march. They stayed in camp, obedient to God's command, as long as the Cloud was over The Dwelling, but the moment God issued orders they marched. If the Cloud stayed only from sunset to daybreak and then lifted at daybreak, they marched. Night or day, it made no difference—when the Cloud lifted, they marched. It made no difference whether the Cloud hovered over The Dwelling for two days or a month or a year, as long as the Cloud was there, they were there. And when the Cloud went up, they got up and marched. They camped at God's command and they marched at God's command. They lived obediently by God's orders as delivered by Moses." (Numbers 9:15-23)

Instead of giving them kudos for being patient, obedient followers, I am full of recriminations. The cloud shielded them from the blistering sun. The fire warmed them from the freezing desert night. Of course they would wait! And how obvious. No question there what God's will was. Just look up (literally)! Easy to follow when there is a CLOUD telling you what God's will is. What His timing is.

But in this passage they got it right.

"They camped at God's command and they marched at God's command. They lived obediently by God's orders as delivered by Moses."

So, You're the Leader?

Simon Bolivar liberated 5 present day countries in South America from the tyranny of Spain. In this picture he is leading his army over the Andes mountains in the dead of winter to lead the surprise attack that broke the power of Spain.

His men were hungry, cold, and unprepared for the snow and ice. Many died. Many complained. In the end he became an international hero. But there was a high price to being the leader of the revolution.

Today's reading is dramatic. God sending His Spirit on a group of leaders. Bitter complaining. Moses asking God to kill him. Quail 3 feet deep. God burning up with anger. Dissension among the leadership. Miriam struck with leprosy. Spies sent out to reconnoiter. Demonstration of both boldness and fear.

I remember 3 years ago asking myself a question. "How did I get to this place?" I was the owner of a flourishing business involving nearly 100 people, an elder at a church of 3000 in the middle of upheaval, and managing 82 renters in properties I owned. Each of those three areas of leadership had bone crushing problems. I felt incapable of dealing with any one of the sets of difficulties. Certainly not all three at once.

So, I identify with Moses. His experience in today's passage starts with the people complaining about their hard life. God gets mad and starts to burn up the edges of the camp. The people cry out to Moses. Moses cries out to God. The fire goes out.

Then the people complain about the food (manna, given miraculously every day by God himself). They wanted meat. God gets mad. Moses asks God to kill him. It is too much, he says.

God has Moses set aside 70 leaders, and God puts His spirit in them as well. They are to share the load of leadership.

God promises Moses that He will give the people meat. This next interaction is just too good. I have to share it:

21 -22 Moses said, "I'm standing here surrounded by 600,000 men on foot and you say, 'I'll give them meat, meat every day for a month.' So where's it coming from? Even if all the flocks and herds were butchered, would that be enough? Even if all the fish in the sea were caught, would that be enough?"
23 God answered Moses, "So, do you think I can't take care of you? You'll see soon enough whether what I say happens for you or not."

God gives them meat. Quail piled 3 feet deep.

But He is also mad. The people were not rejecting Moses. They were rejecting God. God had provided this miraculous provision. Manna. "Nutritious. Delicious". (That phrase is my daughter - talking to her 3 year old...)

So in the midst of this amazing miracle - Quail so they could eat meat for 30 days, God sends a terrible plague.

They move on. So - problems are over and they all lived happily ever after?

Not exactly. Leadership consists of inspiring others to work toward a common goal. But it also involves continous problem solving. More to come...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Relationship

I am struck again by the simplicity and power of the relationship of God with His people. Take today's passage. It starts out simply, and GRANDLY with the statement, "God spoke to Moses."

No big deal. Nothing unusual. Same as every day. "God spoke to Moses." Does it all the time. Yeah, its Moses chatting with the Creator.

You can tell that's astonishing to me by the title of my blog.

Let's put it in perspective. There are billions of galaxies. Trillions of stars. In our Milky Way Galaxy, there are millions of stars. On the little spinning blue orb that we inhabit, there are 6.3 BILLION people. In all that complexity God - the creator and sustainer of the universe talks to... ME? WOW!

AMAZING!

1 -2 God spoke to Moses: "Tell Aaron, Install the seven lamps so they will throw light in front of the Lampstand. 3 -4 Aaron did just that."

In the great little book, "The Shack" William P Young presents God as a warm and loving Black Momma who wraps her arms around the hero of the book at the point of greatest pain in his life.

At the time I read it, I said to Patti it is either a brilliant presentation of a personal, warm, loving God, or it is heretical. Interestingly enough, the Christian community has come out on both of those alternatives. Upon reflection, I personally believe it is a valuable description of the God who is, and who is "ever present to help in time of need."

So here is God, talking to Moses. And Moses passes on His Word to Aaron. And Aaron obeys in every detail.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Offerings


Do you remember the Y2K scare? I believed something might happen, so I bought some silver. Nothing did happen back then.

We cashed in the silver this week. It has reached historic highs right now, so we did well. It had tripled in value during the time we owned it. Were sad to see it go. Happy to have had the resource when we needed it. Happy that the investment did well.

Today's reading has a lot to do with silver and gold. The leader of each of the 12 tribes of Israel is to present their offering to God. One each day. The offerings weren't random, because they were all the same.

12 -13 "On the first day, Nahshon son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah, brought his offering. His offering was:

a silver plate weighing three and a quarter pounds and a silver bowl weighing one and three-quarter pounds (according to the standard Sanctuary weights), each filled with fine flour mixed with oil as a Grain-Offering;

14 a gold vessel weighing four ounces, filled with incense"

So ladies, if you like silver and gold jewelry, take heart. That interest must come from God, because it seems that He likes it too!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How do you control the uncontrollable?

I suspect every religion from the beginning of time is an attempt to control the uncontrollable. The "fates" if you will.

The pagan religions had incantations and rituals to ward off sickness, or cause the crops to grow, or cause success in battle.

Modern pagan man rejects religion, but looks to science, medicine or ingenuity, for success, and prosperity, and health.

In my experience Christians fall into this as well. Much of the prayer that I have observed, and practiced myself, is a laundry list of requests. Most of it is that life would be easy, and prosperous and healthy. No problems. No sickness. No inconvenience. The American Dream with a religious veneer.

From my viewpoint, a lot of religion looks like Aladdin and his magic lamp. Even Christianity. I have the lamp. I do certain things. My every wish should be granted.

Our experience is otherwise. I will quote pastor Rick Warren:

"People ask me, What is the purpose of life? And I respond: In a nutshell, life is preparation for eternity. We were not made to last forever, and God wants us to be with Him in Heaven.

One day my heart is going to stop, and that will be the end of my body-- but not the end of me...

I may live 60 to 100 years on earth, but I am going to spend trillions of years in eternity. This is the warm-up act - the dress rehearsal. God wants us to practice on earth what we will do forever in eternity.

We were made by God and for God, and until you figure that out, life isn't going to make sense.

Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you're just coming out of one, or you're getting ready to go into an other one.

The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfort.

God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy.

We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that's not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness.

This past year has been the greatest year of my life but also the toughest, with my wife, Kay, getting cancer...

No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on.

And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.

You can focus on your purposes, or you can focus on your problems.

If you focus on your problems, you're going into self-centeredness -'which is my problem, my issues, my pain.' But one of the easiest ways to get rid of pain is to get your focus off yourself and onto God and others.

We discovered quickly that in spite of the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people, God was not going to heal Kay or make it easy for her.

It has been very difficult for her, and yet God has strengthened her character, given her a ministry of helping other people, given her a testimony, drawn her closer to Him and to people.

You have to learn to deal with both the good and the bad of life."

Today's reading ends with these wonderful words:

22 -23 God spoke to Moses: "Tell Aaron and his sons, This is how you are to bless the People of Israel. Say to them,
24 God bless you and keep you,
25 God smile on you and gift you,
26 God look you full in the face and make you prosper.
27 In so doing, they will place my name on the People of Israel—
I will confirm it by blessing them." (Numbers 6:22-27)

Monday, February 23, 2009

God speaks in the Humdrum


Today we march into Numbers. (That is a pun, but you would have to read the passage to get it...

Numbers starts so casually with the words, "God spoke to Moses..." So natural. No big deal. "God spoke to Moses."

Moses was to organize the people according to families (tribes) and number them. The Levites were to be in charge of setting up, taking down, carrying the beautiful tent where God was to be worshipped.

They started out great. "The People of Israel did everything that God commanded Moses. They did it all."

Chapter two has LOTS of numbers. I think I would call this book, the book of Numbers (ha ha). No I didn't read all the text, I just skip over all the verses with lists and numbers. But at the end of chapter two, everyone is lined up, in groups, under their proper flag, feeling quite organized and connected.

The chapter ends: "The People of Israel did everything the way God commanded Moses: They camped under their respective flags; they marched by tribe with their ancestral families."

So a lot of life is just routine. Going to bed. Getting up. Eating. Brushing your teeth. Going to work. Working. Coming home from work.

Yet in the routine, in the humdrum, God can still speak. We can still listen. And we can do "everything the way God commanded..."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ahh, Sunday...


Ahh, Sunday...

It is God's day...

And MY day. It is supposed to be a day of rest...

So-o-o-o-o today Patti does not play cello in the worship band, so we do not have to leave for church at 7:15 am. That gives some extra liesure all by itself.
And we are going out for lunch with dear friends that we have not seen for a while. That thought is pleasurable also.

Sunday...

God's day...

But later in the afternoon, I really should straighten up the dining room. We moved everything around to install two new light switches. And Patti wants me to haul a 4 drawer file cabinet upstairs, and fill it with the files I brought from the office. And to get a running start on the week, I really should go through all the mail, and pay a few bills... And I really should empty out the desk in my downstairs study, and haul it to the garage to sell on Craigslist...

Ahhh. Sunday. The Lord's day.

"Lord, speak to me from your Word today." And immediately I read the following:

2 "Keep my Sabbaths; treat my Sanctuary with reverence. I am God.

"If You Live by My Decrees..."
3 -5 "If you live by my decrees and obediently keep my commandments, I will send the rains in their seasons, the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit. You will thresh until the grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting time; you'll have more than enough to eat and will live safe and secure in your land.

6 -10 "I'll make the country a place of peace—you'll be able to go to sleep at night without fear; I'll get rid of the wild beasts; I'll eliminate war. You'll chase out your enemies and defeat them: Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand and do away with them. I'll give you my full attention: I'll make sure you prosper, make sure you grow in numbers, and keep my covenant with you in good working order. You'll still be eating from last year's harvest when you have to clean out the barns to make room for the new crops.

11 -13 "I'll set up my residence in your neighborhood; I won't avoid or shun you; I'll stroll through your streets. I'll be your God; you'll be my people. I am God, your personal God who rescued you from Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians. I ripped off the harness of your slavery so that you can move about freely."

Oh MY!!!

Do I BELIEVE that? Really? Are they just words on paper? Black ink on white pages? Or are they REAL and POWERFUL? Is God speaking to me? Can He really accomplish this?

And I wondered if God could speak to me through Leviticus...