Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Clean Up

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp everyone who is leprous or has a discharge and everyone who is unclean through contact with the dead. You shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell.” And the people of Israel did so, and put them outside the camp; as the LORD said to Moses, so the people of Israel did.  (Numbers 5:1-4 ESV)

There must be ritual purity in the camp where Yahweh dwells.  He is holy so His people must be holy.  Yet when ritual impurity occurs, such as here in the case of some skin disease, some unusual discharge from the body, or through touching a dead body, a designated time must be spent away from the camp until cleansing is accomplished.  This would be a hard law to obey.  Special tents would need to be erected on the outskirts of the camp where people could go to recover from their uncleanness.  This could be a long term stay if the skin ailment or discharge did not resolve.  Moses tells us that the people obeyed Yahweh in this command.

The implication for us is that whatever defiles us or makes us spiritually unclean must be dealt with radically.  Jesus’ statement, that if your eye offends pluck it out, is along this line.  Do whatever it takes to keep from sin.  Being right in the presence of a holy God is the most expedient of priorities.

The other implication is that we must help others deal radically with their uncleanness.  We have to adopt the inconvenience their uncleanness creates and compassionately help them become clean.  This is a priority that we will be tempted to neglect.  That’s their responsibility, we will think, not ours.  But that is not how God sees it.  He wants to dwell in our camp with blessing and calls on us to deal with what defiles.  We are our brother’s keeper, and, we cannot make progress as a community without seeing to the progress of the individuals within our community.

Our cry should be much the same as those who have filled the ranks of our military:  No man left behind!  We will not abandon our wounded.

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Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Modern Ethics

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:1-6, ESV)

It seems abrupt to us, but a common feature of Christian letter writing from teachers and leaders was a segment with concluding “exhortations” or encouragements to holy living.  And it is fascinating to see what is emphasized as part of the ethic of Christianity in the early church.  Should it not comprise our ethical message as well?

  • Love your fellow Christian:  This is our most basic ethical requirement as believers.  And in light of the struggles of this congregation it was a needed reminder.  Love for one another is what Jesus said would set us apart as belonging to him (John 13:34,35) and the one thing we seem to most often find missing in our testimony for Christ.
  • Love your fellow man:  Showing hospitality to strangers has always been a hallmark of believers.  We were helpless strangers and God showed us compassion.  This is not quid pro quo, an exchange of help for payback.  It is offered freely and genuinely with no expectation in return.  Who knows if God is not testing our love by sending angels to pose as strangers (see Genesis 18&19).
  • Empathize with your fellow man:  Some of the Hebrews were in prison, not for crimes but for their faith.  But even if they were there for crimes, or were people who were not believers, this was a call to identify with the horrible experience prison was as well as with other ways in which people were being mistreated.
  • Maintain sexual purity through marriage:  In our present culture the living out of the first three ethical demands would make it much easier to focus on this one, but as it is we often don’t speak compassionately about sexual purity.  We must hold ourselves to contentment with one spouse.
  • Maintain financial purity through contentment:  Love for money is a problem in any culture but all the more so in the United States, where we’ve come to expect a level of wealth as a pre-requisite to happiness.  It is hard to be free from the love of money, but that is the Christian ethic.  It is made possible by the knowledge that God will undertake to meet our needs.  We don’t need to live in fear when God is our helper and protector.

Suffice it to say that the Christian ethic is all a response to God’s work in our lives to rescue and redeem us.  It all hinges on the reality of His righteousness and loving requirements of His children.  His holiness is best for us.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Jealousy

The LORD said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain. No one shall come up with you, and let no one be seen throughout all the mountain. Let no flocks or herds graze opposite that mountain.” So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

“Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.

“You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal.

“You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Abib, for in the month Abib you came out from Egypt. All that open the womb are mine, all your male livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before me empty-handed.

“Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year.

“You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover remain until the morning. The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

And the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:1-28, ESV)

Yahweh shows his “back” to Moses and confirms that He is going to go up with these people to the land of promise. He writes, on the stone tablets Moses’ has had fashioned, the ten commandments once again and rehearses who it is that Israel is entering into covenant with. He is the one who is compassionate and forgives, the only reason the Israelites are not destroyed.

But the covenant must be rehearsed, if only in a small representative fashion, as Yahweh notes several key aspects of how Israel must live before Him. And Yahweh makes the astonishing promise that if Israel observes His law foreign nations won’t even have a desire to attack and take the land Yahweh is going to give them.

Most of all they must know He is a jealous God. For us, this seems a potentially petty way to speak, making God seem self-centered. But He is the most properly self-centered being in the universe whose love is absolutely best for us and without Whom we are entirely lost. He loves us so much that He must warn us against falling for anyone else. Such falling for another will cause our ruin. No one else can fulfill our deepest needs or guide us more truly in the path of life.

Human jealousy can be like this, but it is most often not, coming not from a place of unselfish love but from a place of fear and desperation.   We are most often jealous because we feel we lack something we need and fearfully grab for it by any means necessary.  Like God, however, we might be jealous in the sense of knowing that we are best for someone else and yearn for their well-being without putting our well-being first, without falling apart if that person doesn’t see our worth the way we do.

Today, serve Him only. All of your needs are important to Him, but He is your biggest need.  If we are filled by Him nothing can destroy us.

The marital relationship may be the best way to help us understand the difference between sinful jealousy and righteous jealousy. I can be jealous over my relationship with my wife in a wrong way or in a right way. For example, if I feel resentment or anger merely because I see her talking to another man, that would be self-centered possessiveness and unreasonable domination—in other words, sinful jealousy. It would stem from my own selfishness or insecurity rather than from my commitment to her and to what is right.

But, on the other hand, if I see some man actually trying to alienate my wife’s affections and seduce her, then I have reason to be righteously jealous. God gave her to me to be my wife. Her body is mine just as my body is hers. I have the exclusive right to enjoy her fully, and for someone else to assume that right would be a violation of God’s holy standards. I am zealous for the exclusiveness and purity of our marriage, and that is a righteous jealousy. Jehovah feels the same way about His relationship with His “wife.” There is no selfishness in His jealousy. It is the appropriate expression of His holiness. [https://bible.org/seriespage/21-jealous-god]

Ephesians 6:21-24 — Conversations with God

Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing.  I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.  Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

Could Paul have sent me, Lord?  Am I a dear brother to other believers and a faithful servant to You?  Do I bring encouragement when I arrive?

I am thankful for the many brothers and sisters You have sent me in my life who have offered encouragement to me.  It is as if You were speaking through them to my heart.  Of course, it doesn’t mean I don’t need to hear it again, Lord.  I continue to need encouragement and You continue to offer it.  It’s not a one time deal from You.

So help me to emulate You, Lord.  Help me to offer peace to my brothers and sisters, and love with faith from You and from the Lord Jesus Christ.  Help me to stand in Your place with my family in Christ and mediate Your love.  May all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with undying love find grace to meet our every need and may we be very free with the grace we have received from You.

Ephesians 4:12-16 (part two) – Conversations with God

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Father, without a doubt we are prone to be childlike in the least beneficial ways.  As a child can be easily swayed, so we too can be tossed around by false teachers who are after our money and our souls.  When we fail to be “grown up” in our understanding of the faith we become easy targets.

So there seems to be a fine line we must walk.  We must be open to and teachable by Your gifted leaders, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  But we must also be responsible students who take care for our own education and not just believe something because someone says it.

For sure there are some teachers we will have implicit trust in.  But if we are not like the Bereans, who searched the Scriptures to verify what Paul was telling them, we are less noble learners than we should be and we open ourselves to windy doctrines.

So help us to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in love to one another and take responsibility for our growing up into You.  You are our Head, Lord Jesus, You are the One from whom all true growth takes place.  You orchestrate our individual “parts” to supply what the other parts need.  You make love the secret ingredient that spurs our growth along and makes us worthy representatives of Your headship.

Help me do my part!

Ephesians 4:12-16 – Conversations with God

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Some people can be very protective of their place and position, making it difficult, if not impossible, for someone else to gain their knowledge or experience.  But not You, Lord Jesus.  You have purposely given Your church gifted individuals for the express goal of equipping us to be replicas of You.  Whereas some might see this as just another form of pride, we, Your followers, know it is the expression of Your deepest love for us.

Your heart is to build us up, to help us attain to the full stature of Your character because you know this is what makes us the most happy and fulfilled.  When we are loving like You love, when we we are making a powerful contribution to the welfare of another like You do, we are operating at our “factory” best.

I want to be everything You are, Lord.  You want me to be everything You are.  There is nothing better to be.  So equip me, equip me, equip me.  Let me never tire of gaining more knowledge and skill to minister to my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.  Help me maintain absolute unity in the faith with them.  Make me worthy of Your gifts.

Ephesians 3:20,21 — Conversations with God

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Father, I’ll admit it…I think small.  If Jesus had told me to feed the 5,000 I would have done what the disciples did and have failed to see the possibilities with Jesus there.  But I’m also afraid to think big.  When I have had an occasion to try believing  something big and it didn’t turn out I’ve felt disappointment and foolish for expecting something so outrageous and it not happening.

I’m helped by Paul’s admission (he does include himself in the “we,” right God?) that he asks less of You than You are able to do.  I take from his words that he believed You were more than willing to do beyond what we ask or think.  That encourages me.  I have seen You demonstrate this on more than one occasion, but I still struggle to trust You.  I’m sorry.

I know that in the context Paul is immediately referring to Your ability to reveal Your love for us and generate our love for one another and fill us to Your fulness.  It seems impossible to me at times that such rich love and unity within the church is going to occur.  But Paul is urging me to think big.

So help me think big (or at least bigger) about unity and love right in my own congregation (with maybe a little left over for the rest of the church worldwide).  Help me think bigger about all You want to accomplish in Your world.  And, of course, answer this prayer even beyond what I was able to ask or think.

To You be the glory!