Give Them What They Want

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I Samuel 8:7 But the Lord told him, “Listen to the people and everything they say to you.  They have not rejected you; they have rejected Me as their king.” 

I started my week off in my study of I Samuel 8, not knowing the long-reaching decisions that would occur in our world later in it.  Succession, a break, the freedom to make our own decisions, I’m not sure exactly how to label Britain’s decision to leave the EU at this point.  Clearly, this is what the people wanted, and I’m not saying what should have been done one way or or another, but if I could have transported this scenario from I Samuel fast-forward 3,000 years, change some names and some faces, it’s  almost  like we’re sitting in the very same spot.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.  They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways: now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.  And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

I’ll admit it, this political season, recent world events and the fear that is threatening to grip our hearts in light of these tragedies has me scratching my heading and throwing my hands up, but when I started my study off, we began with this passage of scripture in Romans 13:1-7

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.  Do you wan to be free from fear of the one in authority?  Then do what is right and you will be commended.  For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.  They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.  This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give to everyone what you own them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

So, maybe this post isn’t really about what happened on Thursday, maybe, it was my excuse to get us to examine what’s in our hearts: is It lust, greed or the desire for control, or it simply the desire to see that things are just and fair? God is a God of justice, blessed are all who wait for him (Isaiah 30:18b). Let us, as believers, never forget who our King truly is.  Are we walking toward God or away from him?  How are our political decisions reflecting this?

This is what God is asking from us.  Again, this is not my partisan, highly opinionated soap box, hiked-up-waistline-‘cause-I’m-ready-for-a-fight coming out, I have just printed what the Word of the God says and here I stand.  I know, you’re chaffing, but what if the pilgrims, what if abolitionists, what if separatists…?  I know.  Seriously, I know.  But we are talking about governing authorities that build our schools, our roads, hire police officers that come to your door at 1:00 a.m. looking to arrest someone by the name of “Smith”*(yeah, that happened this morning) doing what they can to preserve the peace and well-being of the people under their reign.

Right now, more than any.other.time. we need to be on our knees in prayer, thanking God for godly authority that he has place over our lives, whether those are our pastors, our Bible teachers, etc., praying that God will continue to lead and guide them in integrity as they are messengers for what a Holy God wants us to hear.

Filter EVERYTHING through scripture, asking God for his wisdom as we make our decisions, not based on what everyone else has/is doing.

James 3:17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

 

*name changed

On Our Shoulders, Over Our Hearts: Our Royal Priesthood

RockCitySkyBut you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. I Peter 2:9

Saying “Yes”

I think we sometimes forget our authority in Christ, we don’t fully grasp what it means to stand before the throne of a Holy God to advocate on behalf of someone else, maybe sometimes we offer up a prayer and don’t realize the weight that it holds. But I’d like to challenge you to begin to see prayer–your prayers–for the power that they possess, and realize, too who it is we are representing when we enter into the presence of our Creator God. I hope that by sharing a little of what I’ve learned about the Old Testament priesthood, I can show you what depth and power those prayers have.

This past week’s study brought us further into Leviticus (8-10), examining what it meant for a priest to advocate on behalf of the nation of Israel, this priesthood began with the person of Aaron.

Did Aaron know what he was stepping into? No, but I think this is probably one of the most beautiful parts of the whole story of the Isrealites’ journey. Aaron, from the beginning, was simply doing what God needed him to do. He began by speaking on behalf of a stuttering, uncertain man named Moses who was called in the middle of the desert while on sheep duty. It wasn’t glamorous and it wasn’t even conceivable that this man would one day lead an entire nation of people. But Aaron was available and he was willing to be a mouth piece, there had to be a great deal of trust in God that he heard from, initially, second-hand but couldn’t deny once He began to show his power in the signs they were to present before Pharaoh.

In following Aaron’s transition to priesthood, it is necessary to note exactly how human Aaron really was. It was he that built the golden calf while Moses was up on the mountain, it was he, along with Miriam who complained that God was speaking to him too, so, just like us, he gave into the calls of jealousy, judgment, and giving into peer pressure. But over time, God transformed Aaron, just as he is transforming us today, he loves us, and just as Aaron served as a high priest, we too are a royal priesthood. We don’t have to feel worthy, we just have to be willing. Say “yes, ” it’s ok if you cringe a little, or even if you’re a bit scared–it’s the best yes you’re ever going to say.

Preparing Ourselves

Clearly, Aaron was flawed, we are reminded of this when we see the requirement of him having to sacrifice for himself first, even before he could advocate for the people (Leviticus 29:1-3). But before we get to that, let’s take a step back and take a quick look at the priestly cleansing process in Leviticus 8:

1) v. 3-4: Gathering the entire assembly to the tent of meeting

2) v. 6 Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water

3) v. 7-9 He put the tunic on Aaron, tied the sash around him, clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him, fastening the ephod with a decorative waistband

4) v. 10-11 Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. He sprinkled some of the oil on the altar 7 times, anointing the altar and all its utensils and the basin and its stand to consecrate them

5) v. 12 He poured anointing oil on Aaron’s head to consecrate him

If we, as followers of Christ are a part of this royal priesthood, then like Aaron and his sons, we must be suited up: with the breastpiece, ephod, robe, woven tunic, turban, sash. To me, all bear a significant correlation to the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18: the breastplate (righteousness), the shoes (peace), the sword (God’s word), helmet (salvation), the shield (faith). We too, must be dressed.

Who Are We Representing?

Exodus 28: 12, “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel in the order of their birth–six names on one stone and the remaining six on the other. Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the Lord.

“There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.” (21) Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continual memorial before the Lord. Also put the Urim and the Thummin in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord. (29)

 What are the names of the people that are engraved on your shoulders and over your heart? Your sons, your daughters, your immediate family and friends? We shouldn’t be weighted down with this responsibility, but like Aaron, we must be aware who we are representing with we enter the presence of God, atoning first for our own sins, through the blood of Jesus Christ, then coming unwaveringly to present our requests.

The Lord, indeed, is our portion.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

 

 

 

Three Lessons In Leadership- Part II of II

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Yesterday we left off in Numbers 14, recounting Caleb’s leadership methods, join me as we continue today…

See, what Caleb remembered and what the 10 others selectively chose to forget was what God had promised, “I am giving you a land flowing with milk and honey.”

So, not only did these men contradict Caleb, they continued their frightful, “We can’t do this.” talk into that evening, they raised their voices, they wept aloud, they grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and count it, THREE times, they said they should have stayed in Egypt.

People, I’m not judging. I’ve done it myself, I’ve looked back, I’ve been Lot’s wife, I’ve been these Israelites, that rich young ruler…and Moses and Aaron did the only thing they had left to do, they fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there, Joshua and Caleb also tore their clothes and said to the whole Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.” He goes on to rally the people, reassuring them that THEY will devour these strangers and not the other way around, saying, “Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

The Lord’s anger burned against them and he wanted to strike them down, and yet again, Moses pleads on their behalf, saying that if the Egyptians see that Israel’s God has abandoned them, they will assume that their God was not able to bring them into the land he had promised. He asks, (14:19) “In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”

In response, the Lord relents, but there is a consequence and that is this: not one of those who saw the Lord’s glory and the signs he performed in Egypt, but who disobeyed and tested him ten times–not one of them will see the land that God had promised to their ancestors. I’m sure, upon hearing, this took a while to sink in for Moses. But God makes an exception for Caleb in verse 24, “But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.” Belief yields promise, unbelief yields wandering, confusion and unfulfillment, it is sickening to say the least. They are the most sobering verses I can think of in the Bible, Num. 14:34-35 “For forty years–one year for each of the forty days you explored the land–you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you. I the Lord, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.”

God tolerated their complaining, their sin, idolatry, shortsightedness. Over and over again, He proved that he was gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in great love for his people. Over and over, he gave them tangible signs of his faithfulness: manna, water from a rock, quail, his presence in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, but still, their unbelief ruled their hearts and God would not relent in this case. They would suffer the consequences.

Maybe you’re in the position of leadership right now, you can hear the complaints, the discontent, sense the duplicity of your follower’s hearts. Know that this is a season and it is the Lord who is the ultimate lawgiver and judge. If you know that you are following God’s lead, that’s all that you can do, just yesterday, I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me to do something, the results weren’t what I expected, and as I walked away, I could hear in my head, “You obeyed me, that’s the important part.” That’s all I had to fall back on.

Or maybe you are one of the followers who has found yourself complaining and as a result has become more a part of the problem instead of a solution. Take this time to repent before a holy God, who loves you and wants to fulfill His promises to you. Pick out at least 2-3 promises in the Word that have always been particularly significant to you, write them down and tape them to your bathroom mirror. Claim them because you can.

Three Lessons In Leadership-Part I of II

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This past week’s Bible study opened up on a scene of dissention. Here, in the beginning of Numbers 12, we find Miriam and Aaron complaining their little hearts out against Moses (seems like a recurring theme in the Israelite’s time in the desert, doesn’t it?) They start off scrutinizing Moses’ life choices: “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. Then they question his authority: “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” The Lord heard this, and was angry against the two of them. Verse 3 says, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” My commentary later explained that “humble” here meant “meek.” God came to Moses’ defense, because he does not hesitate to call all three of them out to the tent of meeting to have a talk, He tells them that typically, when there is a prophet among them, God would speak to them in dreams and visions, but this simply was not so in Moses’ case, Moses was an exception, “With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord.” He goes on to ask Miriam and Aaron, “Why weren’t you more ashamed to speak against my servant?” Leading me to my first point:

Lesson 1: Leaders Beware: People will complain, and when they do, watch the motivations of their hearts.

God calls whom He calls for a reason, for a time and a season and this is a GOD appointment, who were Miriam and Aaron–who are WE for that matter to question that authority? Yes, I realize that we need to hold everything, including people, against the light of scripture–just as the Bereans did with Paul (Acts 17:11). But we must also be very important to examine the motivations of our hearts when we do this, are we questioning authority because they have gone directly against the word of God, or are we questioning them because of jealousy, arrogance, selfish pride? My study shares this verse, Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Without a doubt, these leaders understand the weight of their leadership, even as a teacher and assistant in my church’s preschool for years, I understood the gravity with which I needed to undertake my role, as it says in James, “Don’t you know that we as teachers will be judged more strictly?”(James 3:1)

Lesson 2: The best leaders rise above the complaints and on top of all that show compassion to the naysayers.

After God had a talk with Miriam, Aaron and Moses, it says in verse 9, “The anger of the Lord burned against them and he left them. When the cloud lifted above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous…” It goes on to say that Aaron was horrified at this sight (probably fearing that he, too, would suffer the same fate) and turned to Moses to ask him for help–please?

This was his Moses’ chance.

He had Miriam and Aaron’s fate the palm of his hand, so to speak. Oh, there’s so many ways that this story could have gone, but what did Moses do? As the humble, meek man of God, he PRAYED. He pleaded to God to heal her. Ack, my heart dies a little here, because how many times have I been this same situation and chosen the wrong answer, “This is what they deserve, they are simply reaping what they’ve sown.” I reason to myself. But Moses, this God-appointed leader, puts aside any potential hurt and prays for his enemy before the throne of Almighty God. God does answer and he does heal, but not without consequence–verses 14-16.

Lesson 3: Leaders: Note that going against the tide will require you to dig your heals in and claim God’s promises. Here, I’d like to shift my focus from Moses to Caleb. As we move on to Chapter 13 of Numbers, we see that God asked Moses to appoint leaders from the 12 tribes of Israel to go explore the Land of Canaan, Moses instructed them exactly where to go and asked them to answer the following questions: What is the land like? Are the people there strong or weak? Few or many? What kind of cities do they live in–are they fortified? How is the soil–is it fertile? Are there trees there? Bring back some of the fruit from the land.

The report was a mixed bag: 10 said, no way, no how, these people are giants, and the cities are fortified and very large.

BUT, Verse 30, “Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

Come back tomorrow to see how Caleb’s faith transformed his fate…including some tips for both leader and follower…

 

Why It Helps to Talk About Stuff

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Leviticus 18:1-3: “The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.  You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees.”

Little A and I have had a few preliminary birds and bees talks, we’ve gone through 2 books together, there have been a few questions and some giggles, I’ve learned a 3rd grader’s terms for certain, ahem, parts, and, and being new to this education thing, I’m not quite sure if we’ve got to the right level of information for this stage, but at least we’re trying…This was a little more than I got as a kid.  Somewhere around junior high, I was handed Preparing for Adolescence and given the instructions, “Let me know if you have any questions!”

<Record scratches somewhere in the distance, music stops abruptly.>

Awkward with a capital A.

Contrast this to my mid-20’s niece who got married a few months ago. I can remember saying to her before she was engaged that she knew a gazillion more things than I ever did at her age about relationships–even after I got married.  Not shocking, tell-all stuff, just wise, discerning things that are helpful for every woman to know going in to a life-long relationship.  She surrounded herself with godly women, she learned, I know that she and my sister-in-law must have had discussions. She went into things wide-open, and she’s told me that she is learning even now.

I like to assume that my daughter has always known stuff like saying “thank you” when someone gives her something, or holds the door for her, but, no, she didn’t know it instinctively. She had to learn by instruction and she had to learn by yielding her heart to the process. Sometimes, more than other times, this is immensely hard. I don’t need instruction, I’ve got this. Easy as pie.  No worries.  <Splat> That’s the sound of me falling flat on my face in mud.

Saying “thank you” is a bigger piece of the pie, really.  It’s about manners, about doing the right thing at the right time and it’s about treating others how you would want to be treated.  Little steps.  And in the beginning of Leviticus, God started off with the “little” instructions, like how the Israelites were to assemble their camp in the dessert (centrally around the tabernacle) or what to do when something became moldy, or what to do when someone had a wasting skin disease, all seemingly tedious details, but they were all important.  God wanted them to live orderly, healthy lives.  And so, as we graduate from how we plant our crops in chapter 19, we move on to how we use our bodies.

Just as we see in the verses above, the Israelites needed an all-‘round rewiring. They needed someone to say, “What you grew up watching, witnessing all around you, that was wrong.  It was hurtful and will bring you nothing but trouble.”  If God was calling his people apart to be holy, just as he was holy (Lev. 20:7), well, then he had to show them how.  Laws like:

1) not having sexual relations with a relative: not your mother, stepmother, aunt, niece, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, or your neighbor’s wife…

2) no homosexuality

3) no bestiality (Lev. 20:10-21)

God uses strong language here: “Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out.” Lev. 20:22

These are all rules that God continues to want us live by. Over and over again, we see that God is a jealous God.  Why shouldn’t he be? He is our Maker, our Husband.  He wants all of our affections and attentions, and living in a fallen world, these affections are usually right in our face.  Even the things don’t look bright and happy and appealing and attractive, they are there too, Little A and I had a discussion about bad words in school yesterday…sometimes it feels overwhelming.

And so we pray, the Lord’s prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, for THINE is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Be assured, we are not doing this alone, it is God who strengthens us to stand, and so do other believers, by their testimonies and how they live their lives. For we are: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. ” I Peter 2:9-12.

Let us carry this with us, as we know little acts of obedience yield big results.

4 Ways to Trigger Jesus’ Faith

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My parents and I were trying to parse out some scripture this morning over the phone re: salt and light and for some reason my thoughts floated toward Jesus’s faith in God. I think it started when my dad mentioned Jesus’ holy attributes as well as his human ones. Jesus was the Word, but he still had to memorize it. Jesus, by nature, was all-powerful, yet had to subjugate himself to human authority: his parents, instructors, the government. He was the very source of all life and health, yet all around him people were sick and dying and calling on his ability to heal. He even got tired, became angry, was hungry and thirsty, all very, very human. But what stood out to me this morning was that faith factor. How else could he calm the waves with a word, call a dead girl, “just sleeping,” or deliver a man from a legion of demons? This took bravery. It took authority, and it took faith. How can we trigger this faith? By doing exactly what Jesus did:

1) Spending time alone with his father

2) By listening to what He says

3) By reading what He writes

4) By observing the things that bring Him joy

How do we practically do each one of these things? I believe items 1-3 are largely covered by reading scripture. That leaves #4: What brings God joy? We do. We humans do. I know it’s unbelievable when you factor in how terrible we can be at times. But He does. Case in point, He walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. He loved spending time with Moses, speaking with Him face to face, watching his face shine. I know he loved this (and us!) so much that he sent his own son so the He could speak with us face to face, so he could touch us tenderly on the shoulder as he offered us living water, he could break open pieces of bread and fish and divide them among a couple of thousand to make our tummies full. He could call our dead bodies out of a grave and he could offer us the very best wine at our own wedding. See, it wasn’t the super spiritual mountain-moments in Eden or at Sinai only, it was the mundane, the food and water, the touching and healing and the driving out of bad things to make room for the good.

One of my very favorite pictures is one of Jesus that I don’t see around much anymore, is a bearded man in a robe with a beautiful little lamb draped around his neck. Do you think that lamb could hear his heartbeat and vice versa? Most likely.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will carry the lambs in his arms and gently lead the ewes with young. (Isaiah 40:11)

Yes, Jesus is holy and just, and like him we are called to be holy. But do we have to be holy for God to start loving us? Absolutely not, in fact, I had this discussion with a little girl in our Sunday school class recently. She asked, “God love us when we do good things, right?”

Me: “Yeah, he certainly likes it when we do good things, but that’s not why he loves us. Think of your mommy and daddy. They love you without conditions. Even when you do bad things, they never stop loving you. Yes, they are happy when you help with the trash at home or clean up after your pet, or when you’re nice to your brother or sister, but no matter what, they always love you.

 Look! I have been standing at the door and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in and fellowship with him and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

 

 

 

Why Numbers Matter

FullSizeRenderHave you ever had one of those weeks when everything seems to come together? You’ve been waiting and praying so long, that when the answer finally does come, it’s mostly unbelievable.  It took me writing a letter of encouragement to a friend a few days ago for me to have my Aha! Moment (thanks, Oprah).  More on that later…

But I share that to say that the book of Numbers isn’t just some confusing text sandwiched between God’s Levitical law and Moses’ reinstatement that God must be #1 in the Israelite’s lives. It is an essential text for the preparation of God’s people.

At the start of this book, Moses was instructed to take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to count according to their division all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army. One man from each tribe, each of them the head of his family, is to help you. Num. 1:2-4. This census wasn’t a quick process,  I’m sure each male adult 20+ was standing there, scratching his head, thinking, Why the long lines, why all this precision?  Why the ordered encampment?  Why do the Levites get to be the ones closest to the sanctuary? Why?

Does this sound familiar?

Why am I having such a hard time finding a job? Why did my mother die so early? Why is my best friend no longer my best friend? Why does everyone else see to have it all mapped out and I don’t ?

Let me tell you a secret:

They don’t.

None of us do.

Because we aren’t the ones in charge, God is.

Isn’t the census taking and the tent arrangement and clan alignment so beautiful in light of that?

Because God saw the big picture. He knew what was waiting for Israel down the road.  He knew that Israel had battles ahead.  He knew that there needed be a way to communicate his rules and laws.

Yes, 40 years was a long time to wander in the desert, and time and again, just as the Israelites were tested, so are we. Will we stand firm?  Will we love him with all our heart, mind soul and strength?  Will we glorify and thank him, no matter what the circumstances?  Remember, James 1:13-15: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Consider this, we find that the total number of men eligible to fight in the army was 603,500, this was for an estimated 2M person population, this was over ¼ of their population, or a 1:4 ratio! To put that into perspective, our current armed forces vs. U.S. population is 1:318!  God was readying them, one person at a time, one heart at a time.  Now what was God doing arranging them by tribe?  These were slaves, they probably didn’t know how to read or write (I’m theorizing), what they did have was oral tradition, how else were they to quickly convey the laws of the Lord, but through speech?

Let me ask you something, if you feel like you’re in a spiritual/physical/life desert right now, wouldn’t you do everything you possibly could to find your way out? And even if that length of time isn’t up to you (which it isn’t).  Wouldn’t you do everything in you could to prepare yourself while you were there for the time that God does open up the floodgates, so that you won’t view money, relationships, success the same way again.  If you’re smart you’ll want God’s view on everything, because, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” 2 Chron. 16:9.  In light of this discussion on spiritual fervor, I want to introduce you to what the author, Bob Sorge, in “Secrets of the Secret Place” labels as spiritual violence: the intensity with which the last days’ generation will pursue God.  ‘they will seek God with their entire being, denying themselves, throwing off all entangling sins, in order to run the race with passion, purity and perseverance. ‘The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force’” (Matt. 11:12).

He goes on to say, “Jesus doesn’t respond to all believers alike. He responds differently to those who seek more diligently. We see this in the way He handled the Twelve.  Peter, James, and John were invited into some of Jesus’ most intimate and awesome moments, while the other disciples were not included.  The difference, I believe, is that the others held back somewhat in their hearts toward the Lord, while Peter, James, and John pursued Jesus harder.  Some of the disciples doubted Jesus, even after the resurrection (Matt. 28:17), and that reservation of spirit robbed them of the greatest levels of intimacy.  Those who had more were given more.”

No, we will never see the big picture, but we do know the artist who is painting it, and it should be our heart’s desire to trust Him, even in the most tedious details.

What small, tedious, repetitive task have you been assigned and have then seen how God used that for a greater purpose? I’d love to hear from you!

The Sheep Know My Voice

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John 4:1-18

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Yesterday was a hiking day, my first D5, rated so for elevation gain, speed and distance, 13.7 miles to be exact. There were 11 in in our group. Our trip leaders were a husband and wife team, Margaret and Paul*. I rode with them to the trail along with two others and we got to know eachother a little bit on the way there. It was a gorgeous morning, a perfect day to be in the North Georgia mountains. Mid-40’s, clear, breathtaking. Early on in the hike we split naturally, the die-hards in the front and the slightly-slowers in the back. For a good 4 miles or so I was right in the middle between the two groups, a little lonely at times, but maybe I spared a few people the sound of my heavy panting. It was during the second half of our trip, after about mile 9, did Paul and I start talking. He and Margaret both had two grown children each and had originally met hiking when they took it back up after their children were grown. For three weekends in a row, part of three different hiking clubs, they ran into eachother. The run-ins blossomed initially into a friendship and the rest is history.

The two of them had nicknames for the other, it was pretty sweet.  When close on the trail, they would occasionally yell, “Marco, Polo” to one another.

The trail was difficult, but for the most part clearly marked, however, around mile 11 we reached some tricky water, the forging of some streams, and really the only part of the hike where I had a very brief chance to stop and take a few pictures (that came out badly anyway), fortunately, I was able to keep up with the slightly-slowers–thank God I did. We reached tail of our lollipop route at around 4:30. We were done. And grateful. The first group was hanging out leisurely by their car changing shoes, while the second group took a pit stop and changed as well, but we were missing someone: Paul. We had someone check the bathrooms, there were multiple calls to his cell phone that went directly to voicemail. No sign. No word.

We waited at the trail head for several minutes and I went with Margaret to speak with the park ranger, about five minutes after that, they dispatched a small atv and Margaret geared back up to go find Paul. It was getting darker, colder. Three of us stayed in the car and waited, watched, and prayed. Twenty minutes ticked by, with the sun setting, temps were dropping quickly and I didn’t want to assume to the worst, just concerned that there might have been a fall. Thirty minutes…forty minutes, a camp volunteer offered a warm place for us to wait at his mobile home, we thanked him for the offer, but said that we would wait another 10-15 minutes.

Five minutes later, we spotted the two of them and I let out a cheer. Paul looked flustered and exhausted, but thankfully, was in one piece. It wasn’t until we were on our way home that we heard the full rescue story:

Margaret went back to the tricky water part and started yelling, really, really loudly. Paul had indeed taken a wrong turn at the water and dropped his phone, that quickly disappeared in the brush. Paul responded with a whistle from his back pack, she yelled again, went up on a ridge, away from the rushing sound of the water and continued to yell. She heard the whistle again, but now further and further away, she bushwacked, and yelled , bushwacked, yelled, he whistled and eventually she found her husband. I was blown away. She didn’t give up, she didn’t let the cold, and the threat of darkness and her own safety deter her.

She. Kept. Yelling.

He kept whistling. It struck me to the heart, #1 because God and I had been speaking to eachother all day, especially around the various falls that cascaded through the valleys. I can’t even describe the beauty of these falls, I was in awe, a natural response would have been to drop to my knees in gratitude, but at one point, I felt Him saying, “Rachel, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. This beauty is NOTHING compared to the beauty I have in store for you.”

And when Margaret told us that when she first started yelling and heard a whistled response, she wondered if it was really Paul or someone playing a trick on her. But she kept going anyway, what else did she have?

And #2, this passage from John 4 immediately came to mind…the sheep listen to his voice…But we’ve got to be on the same frequency, we’ve got to know how to hone in, to focus on the shepherd. So many things creep into our conscious that threaten this communication, that bump us to a different wavelength and move us off track. So what can we do to stay on track?

1) Read his word, frequently, carefully, and expectantly.

2) Pray. This is a direct form of communication with the father, anything He says will be confirmed by scripture.

3) Weed out the noise. Media, friends, etc. All fine things in and of themselves, but we should not let them trump our final authority.

The result? Greater peace, clearer direction and full surrender to Him means that there is much less on our own shoulders.

We have no idea the beauty He has in store.

*names changed

How We Prepare Ourselves for His Dwelling

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From Exodus 25-40

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Exodus 40: 34-35

 I begin with this verse because it has to be one of my favorites in all of the Old Testament. It is so pregnant with meaning, that, after 15 Chapters of precise instruction on how God’s chosen people needed to go about constructing a tabernacle for him to dwell in while they traversed the desert for 40 years.

God’s presence in this place, in very human terms, is like walking into a freshly prepared hotel room and just sitting, taking it all in: the meaning of resting, abiding, relaxing in a place that has been prepared just for you. And here, God is so happy, so delighted to be among his people, making his cloud as a sign to them, years before they will hear the words, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)  Here He is showing his people in no uncertain terms, a) how much He loves them b) how His own heart’s desire has always been, ever since the garden, yearning to be among us.

It’s just heart-stopping.

So what does that mean for us, I mean, what do instructions about a sacrificial altar, a bronze basin in which the priests washed their hands and an altar of incense have to do with us today? More than anything else, I believe that it shows our need for a Holy God and prepared hearts. It shows that without the sacrifice of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins. We must remember, that the tabernacle didn’t operate on bank hours, so to speak, the golden lampstand was always lit, there was always oil in it, there were always sacrifices being made. This was a 24/7 operation. A precise, detailed, careful day and night act.

How do we prepare our hearts for this dwelling of a holy God? What does it mean for a perfect Father to dwell among a people of unclean lips, hearts, hands? What does it mean to set up a sanctuary to our God?

1) We must recognize our sinfulness, our need for a sacrificial lamb and a way for us to cleanse our hands before entering into his Holy presence, it says in I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

2) The importance of presenting a holy vessel to God–What kinds of things are our hearts and minds fixed on? Well, I can tell you the things they should be fixed on: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:9

3) What we do is important to God–Please, do not mistake this last point as a statement that there is a way for us to earn our way to heaven. Scripture says that all our righteous works are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). But I see it more like this: God was very meticulous in how he presented his laws to Moses and therefore to his people (He is even more detailed about these laws in the book of Leviticus). These were not the 10 guidelines, but the 10 commandments and Jesus, before the Jewish teachers of the day, Jesus blew it all out of the water when he said this in response to the Pharisee’s question, “Teacher, which is the greatest command in all the Law?” Jesus replied, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus, we are sinners in need of a holy God, nothing we do or say will ever earn our way into your presence and yet, you are there, always waiting, knocking, always steady. Help us to accept your gift of grace so that you can dwell among us.

Daniel’s Prayer for the Nation

USflagIt was now the first year of the reign of King Darius, the son of Shasuerus.  (Darius was a Mede but became king of the Chaldeans.) In that first year of his reign, I, Daniel, learned from the book of Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years.  So I earnestly  pleaded with the Lord God [to end our captivity and send us back to our own land].

As I prayed, I fasted, and wore rough sackcloth, and sprinkled myself with ashes, and confessed my sins and those of my people.

“O Lord,” I prayed, “you are a great and awesome God; you always fulfill your promises of mercy to those who love you and keep your laws.  But we have sinned so much; we have rebelled against you and scorned your commands.  We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, whom you sent again and again down through the years, with your messages to our kings and princes and to all the people.

O Lord, you are righteous; but as for us, we are always shamefaced with sin, just as you see us now; yes, all of us–the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, and all Israel, scattered near and far wherever you have driven us because of our disloyalty to you.  O Lord, we and our kings and princes and fathers are weighted down with shame because of all our sins.

But the Lord our God is merciful, and pardons even those who have rebelled against him.

O Lord our God, we have disobeyed you; we have flouted all the laws you gave us through your servants, the prophets.  All Israel has disobeyed; we have turned away from you and haven’t listened to your voice.  And so the awesome curse of God has crushed us–the curse written in the law of Moses your servant.  And you have done exactly as you warned us you would do, for never in all history has there been a disaster like what happened at Jerusalem to us and our rulers.  Every curse against us written in the law of Moses has come true; all the evils he predicted–all have come.  But even so we still refuse to satisfy the Lord our God by turning from our sins and doing right.

And so the Lord deliberately crushed us with the calamity he prepared; he is fair in everything he does, but we would not obey.  O Lord our God,  you brought lasting honor to your name by removing your people from Egypt in a great display of power. LORD, DO IT AGAIN! Though we have sinned so much and are full of wickedness, yet because of all your faithful mercies, Lord, please turn away your furious anger from Jerusalem, your own city, your holy mountain.  For the heathen mock at you because your city lies in ruins for our sins.

O our God, hear your servant’s  prayer!  Listen as I plead! Let your face shine again with peace and joy upon your desolate sanctuary–for your own glory, Lord.

O my God, bend down your ear and listen to my plea.  Open your eyes and see our wretchedness, how your city lies in ruins–for everyone knows that it is yours.  We don’t ask because we merit help, but because you are so merciful despite our grievous sins.

O Lord, hear, O Lord, forgive.  O Lord, listen to me and act!  Don’t delay–for your own sake, O my God, because your people and your city bear your name.”