Friday, April 29, 2011

Their "share"

"Then the LORD said to Aaron, 'You shall have no allotment in their land, nor shall you have any share among them; I am your share and your possession among the Israelites.'"
(Numbers 18:20)

"Everyone gets their fair share!"  When God divided up the land that the Israelites had moved into (aka "The Promised Land"), all the tribe got their fair share.  All, that is, except the tribe of Levi.  The Levites became the priests & "official church staff."  They worked with the sacred objects & worship life of the people. They were spread out throughout the country, and given a place in various cities, but no land ownership like everyone else.  Why?  I'm guessing God wanted them free to "move about the country" (to borrow a slogan from Southwest Airlines). They weren't to become attached to places or things like the rest of the people.  GOD WOULD BE THEIR 'SHARE!'

As a card-carrying member of the modern-day priesthood, this is a challenging passage to me.  I like having my own stuff.  Sure, I live in a church-owned parsonage... but Jody & I also have a house we've bought for our retirement (her parents are living in it right now).  I hear that more and more of us UMC clergy are reluctant to move & participate in our "itinerant system."  Could it be that we're too comfortable?  That we have a hard time trusting that God is our share?

How might my life & ministry change if I truly trusted God for everything?  I know there's a fine line between trust and foolishness (meaning God calls us to be wise & plan accordingly, rather than just expect others to provide for us).  But we clergy seem to want to hold on to the "control" side of the equation.  Maybe God has something even better in store for us... if we'll let him be our share!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

That kind of different

"...But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me wholeheartedly, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it."
(Numbers 14:24)

12 spies.  10 pessimists & only 2 optimists.  They went into the land God had promised them.  They completed their "scouting objective."  They made their majority report: "NO WAY!"  In fact, they stirred up the people to rebel against Moses & tried to return to Egypt!  Only Caleb & Joshua offered a 2nd opinion: "WITH GOD'S HELP, WE SURELY CAN!"

God decided none of the whiners would enter the promised land he had for them.  None.  Only Caleb (and also Joshua, though not mentioned in this passage) would see it come to fruition.  Everyone else in his generation would not.  Why?  "Because he has a different spirit," says God.  Different from the masses.  Different from fear.  Different from mistrust.  Different from being swayed by faithless leaders.  That kind of "different."

I want to be that kind of "different."  How awesome to have God say that about me... about my family... about our church!  To follow God wholeheartedly.  To live in faith, not fear.  To trust the Lord more than I trust myself.  To not listen to those leaders who seem adrift from their spiritual moorings.  That kind of different.

We need more of "that kind of different" people.

Talk vs. Power

"For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power."
(1 Corinthians 4:20)

I'm sure Paul was a bit frustrated.  He had started the church in Corinth.  It began well.  Then somewhere down the line, after he left, it got off track.  The letter he wrote to encourage them (and correct them) is the book of 1 Corinthians.

One of the criticisms he had was some in the church had become quite arrogant.  Paul wanted to move beyond mere talk and get to the power of God at work.  That's what we, as the church, need to be about, says Paul.

Too often we get sidetracked by "talk" within the church.  Whether we're arguing over theology, denominationalism, or structure... the bigger issue should be how is God manifest in our ministry?  What deeds of power & life transformation are present among us?  Ultimately, people won't come to church because we've made the clearest argument.  I take that back.  Maybe people will initially be drawn to a church because of the "talk."  But they'll only stay if God's power is manifest... if lives are changed and God is made known in our midst.

May we be known more for God's power than our words!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


"The tent of meeting, with the camp of the Levites, shall set out in the center of the camps; they shall set out just as they camp, each in position, by their regiments."
(Numbers 2:17)

One could make the case that the first two chapters of the book of Numbers are actually quite boring.  Chapter one lists the census taken by the twelve tribes of Israel - tribe by tribe.  Chapter two lists where each tribe was to set up camp: east, south, west or north.  Oh joy.

But stuck in the middle (literally & figuratively) are the Levites.  They are the one group that was not required to be counted in the census.  They were in charge of the "tabernacle of the covenant" - the holy objects... the worship life of the community.  When Moses set out the camping arrangements, the Levites were put in the middle, along with the Tent of Meeting (aka "worship space").  They even listed them in the middle of the assignments: tribes in the east... followed by tribes in the south... followed by the Levites in the middle... followed by the tribes in the west... followed by the tribes in the north.  How organized!

So what, you say?  Maybe it's nothing more than just a thorough list.  Maybe their place in the middle is solely a move for their best protection.  Maybe.  Then again, maybe there's a deeper truth here.  Maybe worship MUST be the center of our lives?!  Maybe we should do more to "protect" our worship life... guarding our time spent with God and other believers in regular worship... rather than it simply being "something we do when we have the time."

How close to the center is worship to my life?  Good question.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Great Idea... never practiced!

"The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens & tenants."
(Leviticus 25:23)

It was called the Jubliee... and it was unprecedented!  It originated in the concept of Sabbath rest.  We were not made to be machines who work every day without stop.  God knew we needed rest, so He gave us the Sabbath.  One day of rest and rejuvenation.  Our Jewish brothers & sisters have continued that tradition over the centuries (while many of us Christians often fall short of taking the time to rest that we truly need!).

Then God expanded the concept of Sabbath to the LAND.  The land needed to rest, too.  Nutrients needed to be replaced.  Ground that lies fallow for a year yields greater harvests in the future.  So every 7 years, God decrees, the land gets a Sabbath rest, too.  You can eat whatever is produced, but don't "work the land" that 7th year.  This, too, was practiced over the centuries.

But then came the JUBILEE.  After 7 sets of 7 years (49 years total), God declared a GIANT SABBATH REST.  In this 50th year, "You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.  It shall be a jubilee for you; you shall return, every one of you, to your property & everyone to your family" (Lev. 25:10).  What a revolutionary decree!  Everything and everyone is returned.  Families who met hard times and had to sell their home to survive... get their home back!  People who believed going into slavery was their only way out... are freed!  What an amazing plan!  It's all founded on the idea that ultimately, everything belongs to God.  We are merely tenants & care-takers.

Historians tell us, however, that there is NO evidence that this Jubilee year was ever carried out.  Not one record of one!  Amazing.  And sad.  We humans have a hard time letting go of control, power, & ownership, don't we?  Despite the fact that we've been given so much from above, we tighten the grip on our grubby little fists and refuse to let go.  How sad.  It truly was a great idea... never practiced.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


"While GOd has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."
(Acts 17:30-31)

Paul is in Athens, speaking to an enthusiastic crowd eager to hear "something new."  They are an extremely religious people, with tons of shrines all over the city.  Paul capitalizes on this spiritual hunger, and tells them of Jesus.  Amidst his teaching, he mentions that God has "overlooked times of human ignorance" in the past, before calling all to repentance.

I love that phrase.  TIMES OF HUMAN IGNORANCE.  How true!  We've all had them, haven't we?  Whether it be ignorance about God, current events, things happening in the lives of those closest to us, etc.  Even John Wesley, the great English pastor, theologian, and the founder of Methodism, commented on how we, as humans, are wrong about some things and ignorant about much!  What a blessing that God can overlook that in our lives.

Nevertheless, He calls us to repentance.  We cannot stay ignorant forever.  Jesus came to make it easy to know God and God's love.  It's a love that demands a response.  Let us not overlook that opportunity!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

no "knock-offs"

"You shall say to the Israelites, 'This shall be my holy anointing oil... it shall not be used in any ordinary anointing of the body, and you shall make no other like it in composition..."
(Exodus 30:31-32)

God gives Moses the precise mix/recipe for the most sacred anointing oil to be used in the temple by the priests (note: it involved liquid myrrh, cinnamon, aromatic cane, cassia, and olive oil).  Later, God gives the mix/recipe for powdered incense, too.  In both cases, God stipulates that the people are NOT to attempt to reproduce it for any other purpose than worship.  In fact, those who do, shall be "cut off from the people!"

We live in a copy-cat society.  Designer clothing, shoes, handbags, accessories, etc. are purchased by the wealthy... and somewhere in Asia, knock-off versions are being created & sold worldwide.  It's a huge (and illegal) industry.  Why was God so quick to stipulate against it?

History has shown that we humans are so hungry for spiritual blessings, we'll often do/try anything.  "Holy relics" were a hit during the Middle Ages ("Hey, buddy... want to buy a piece of the cross Jesus was crucified on?!?  It'll bring you power!").  We love to wear our crosses on our necks & put the fish stickers on our cars, today.  Could it be that God knew we'd try to exploit/use the holy oil & incense for our own purposes?  That what was meant to honor God IN WORSHIP would soon become a personal "spiritual shield" we'd wield, will-nilly?

Some things are best left alone.  There are no "generic" brand spiritual short-cuts.  No knocks-offs en route to the Kingdom of God.  But that's hard for us to hear, isn't it?  We're not used to waiting.

"Lord, make me patient.  Help me wait for Your timing & plan with my life.  I don't want to rush or take a short-cut for the route You have for me.  AMEN."

Idol Plans

[From 3/31/11]

"You shall not make for yourselves an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth."
(Exodus 20:4)

The people have been through a lot.  Oppressive slavery in Egypt.  Signs & Wonders by God (aka "Ten Plagues!").  Passover & release.  Rejoicing turns to panic as the Egyptians attack.  God's salvation (again!) through the Red Sea.  And now God comes to speak to them as a group (cute thunder & lightning & earthquakes!).  God has set his indelible mark on this people, and now he's ready to lay down the ground rules for their relationships (with Him and with each other).

One of the early commandments God gives in Exodus 20 has come to be known as the "NO IDOLS" clause.  the people weren't to make any images, statues, carvings, etc. trying to re-present God.  No bulls, eagles, sheep, camels, etc.  Nothing to resemble any creature on, above or below the earth.

Author & pastor Rob Bell has an interesting insight on this.  He remarks that instead of images of wood or stone, God will use the lives of His people to show the world who He is.  I like that.  Of course, it adds a bit of pressure to us, too.  We must live in such a way that others come to see the Almighty.  And that's no idol plan!

Keep Still

[FROM 3/30/11]

"But Moses said to the people, 'Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again.  The LORD will fight for you, and you only have to keep still."
(Exodus 14:13-14)

The Hebrew people have been freed (finally!) from slavery in Egypt.  God has done an amazing thing in their midst and set them free.  Now the Egyptians are reconsidering their actions.  They'll soon pursue & attack the Hebrews.  But God knows this.  And God has a plan.  The people can't see it, of course.  Fear clouds their eyes and hearts.  Major fear!  Crippling fear.

But God (through Moses) calms the people.  "Don't be afraid.  Stand firm.  See the deliverance..." Even though the powerful Egyptian army is fast approaching, God is in control.  And here's the great battle plan of the Lord: "The LORD will fight for you, and you only have to keep still" (v.14).

We are a busy people, aren't we?  Things to do... places to go... people to see... projects to complete.  We're frequently "on the move."  Sometimes, however, we're too busy for our own good.  Psalm 46:10 reminds us to "Be still, and know that I am God."  It may be that what we need most is to simply be still, and let God do "the fighting" for us. 

Keep still.
Keep still.
Keep still.