Monthly Archives: February 2011

Not Saying What Others Want to Hear


Daily Bible Reading – Numbers 24-27

Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times. Now leave at once and go home! I said I would reward you handsomely, but the LORD has kept you from being rewarded.” Balaam answered Balak, “Did I not tell the messengers you sent me, ‘Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the LORD—and I must say only what the LORD says’? Now I am going back to my people, but come, let me warn you of what this people will do to your people in days to come.” Then he uttered his oracle: “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly, the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth. Edom will be conquered; Seir, his enemy, will be conquered, but Israel will grow strong. A ruler will come out of Jacob and destroy the survivors of the city.” Then Balaam saw Amalek and uttered his oracle: “Amalek was first among the nations, but he will come to ruin at last.” Then he saw the Kenites and uttered his oracle: “Your dwelling place is secure, your nest is set in a rock; yet you Kenites will be destroyed when Asshur takes you captive.” Then he uttered his oracle: “Ah, who can live when God does this? Ships will come from the shores of Kittim; they will subdue Asshur and Eber, but they too will come to ruin.” Then Balaam got up and returned home and Balak went his own way. (Numbers 24:10-25)

Balaam was a sorcerer who was often called upon to place a curse on others.  Balak summoned him to place a curse on the Israelites, and offered to reward him handsomely in return.  Balaam was a greedy man who used his religion as a source of profit, so ordinarily he would have likely done what Balak asked, but God spoke to him directly.  God told Balaam to only say what He told him to say.  God even spoke to Balaam through his donkey (See Numbers 22:21-35).  After being asked several times by Balak to curse the Israelites, Balaam refused to go against God.  He chose to only speak what the Lord told him to speak.  While he could have simply said what Balak wanted to hear and would have received riches for it, he chose instead to do what was right and speak the truth.  (Later in the Bible we will learn that Balaam would eventually go back to his evil ways and allow his greed to turn him away from God, but in this case he stood firm.)

Today, we are often put in situations where we can say what others want to hear or we can say what is true.  What do you say when your wife asks if you like the new blouse she bought even when you really don’t?  What do you say to your friend who asks if he should try out for the worship team even though he was not blessed with the gift of music?  In situations like these, often the easiest thing to do is to simply say what the person wants to hear.  You could easily say that the blouse is beautiful or that your friend has a great voice, even though you do not really feel these things are true, and your wife or your friend would walk away feeling great about what you said.  It sounds like a good plan, right?  The problem is, when relationships are built on lies they will eventually fall apart.  What happens when your wife decides to buy more blouses exactly like the one you didn’t really like?  Will you ever say anything?  Solid relationships with other people are built on trust, and the only way to build that trust is by telling the truth.  Even when it might not profit us, we are still called to tell the truth.  Of course, there are ways to speak the truth in love and ways to speak the truth in hate, and we should always choose to speak in love, but nevertheless we should always speak what is true.  When we begin to practice radical honesty in a loving way, we will begin to see our relationships grow and prosper like never before.  The next time you are asked a question where you are tempted to say what the person wants to hear, remember the story of Balaam and remember to speak the truth in love.

 

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John the Baptist Beheaded


Daily Bible Reading – Numbers 21-23; Mark 6,7

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered. At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:14-29)

Jesus once said, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11), and in our key passage today we learn what happened to him.  John was a prophet – a servant of the Lord who came to pave the way for Jesus.  He was a great man who did many great things, so why was he ultimately killed?  John, like Jesus, hated sin.  John knew that all sin was bad and especially knew that unrepentant sin was really a slap to the face of God.  So when John found out that King Herod was committing adultery with his brother’s wife Herodias, he was not able to sit idly by and not say anything.  He told Herod that what he was doing was wrong – he called Herod on his sin in hopes that Herod would repent and turn to God.  This made Herodias furious and she wanted John the Baptist killed, but Herod initially did not want to kill John because he knew he was a righteous and holy man.  Ultimately, though, Herod succumbed to peer pressure and beheaded John.

So what can we learn from today’s key passage?  There are two important lessons we can take away from John’s gruesome fate.  The first lesson is about exposing sin.  When John saw Herod’s sin, he could have simply stayed quiet and not talked to Herod about his adultery.  As a man of God, though, John knew that sitting quietly while people around us sin is really the same as hating them and that not saying anything can often be confused for condoning sin.  John wanted to save Herod, and he knew that Herod needed to repent, so he went to him in love.  Ephesians 5:8-13 says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” John chose to expose the darkness, and because of that choice he was arrested, imprisoned, and executed.  Does that mean that John made a bad choice in exposing Herod’s sin?  Absolutely not.  Exposing the sin certainly did not make John popular with Herod or Herodias, but that was not what mattered most to John.  What was most important to John was not what others thought about him but rather what God thought about him.  Exposing Herod’s sin was in line with the will of God, meaning John made the only correct choice when choosing to talk to Herod about it, regardless of the ultimate consequences.

The second lesson we can take from this story is not to crumble under pressure.  Herod did not want to kill John.  He feared John and he knew that John was righteous and holy.  Not even his wife could convince Herod to kill John.  Sadly, though, when Herodias’ daughter asked for John’s head Herod found himself in a jam.  He had told her to ask for anything she wanted and swore on oath that he would give it to her.  To deny her request would have made Herod look very foolish in front of his guests.  Herod was more concerned with what others thought about him than he was about doing what was right.  Though he knew killing John was wrong, he crumbled in the face of pressure and killed him anyway.

In this story we instantly notice the striking contrast between John and Herod.  One man cared about doing what was right in the eyes of God, while the other cared about doing what was right in the eyes of other people.  Very often in life we find that these two things are not the same.  When we are faced with choices, we should constantly be asking ourselves which side we want to be on.  Do we want to be like Herod and go along with what the world believes to be right, or do we want to be like John and do what God tells us is right.  Isn’t this really the question we have to answer every time we are tempted to sin?  When we make the right choice – when we act in accordance to God’s will instead of man’s will – we know we are making the right decision.

 

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Taking Credit for God’s Work


Daily Bible Reading – Numbers 19,20; Psalm 28; Mark 5

In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried. Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. The LORD said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20:1-12)

About ten years ago or so I was working in the corporate office of a company near where I lived.  One day, I came up with an idea for an operational program that would change the way we ran operations and would ultimately save the company money.  I slaved night and day for at least a month working on this project and setting all of the pieces in place to ensure a successful launch, and when everything was put together I presented the idea to my boss.  A few weeks went by and I did not heard anything about the project, until one day I was sitting in a meeting with my boss, my boss’s boss, and several top executives from the company.  During that meeting, my boss was asked about the department and she brought up the project I was working on.  The only problem was that she presented the idea as if it was her own.  I sat in the meeting listening as she took credit for the work I had done.  Of course, I did not say anything during the meeting, but I can still remember how I felt that day.  I was certainly angry, but more importantly I felt betrayed by what she had done.

Though I had not thought about that situation in years, when I read today’s key passage I immediately remembered how I felt that day.  In our passage, we see that the Israelites were experiencing a drought.  They were thirsty and were agitated and were complaining to Moses.  Moses and Aaron went directly to God and asked for His help, and God told them to go back to the Israelites and to, “Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water.” Instead of following God’s instructions what did Moses do? He went back to the Israelites, but instead of simply speaking to the rock Moses said, ““Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.” In essence, Moses took credit for God’s work.  Moses acted as though he and Aaron had the power to bring water from the rock, when actually God was the one with that power.  God saved the people from their thirst in the desert – Aaron and Moses were just his messengers.  I can imagine that God felt the same way I felt ten years ago.  He was angry and felt betrayed by what Moses had done, and punished him by not allowing Moses and Aaron to enter the promised land.

We can often be tempted to feel prideful about things that we did not actually make happen.  We can be tempted to boast to others about the things we have done.  In actuality, God deserves credit for all of the good things in our lives.  The job you have and the amount of money you make are not due to your “hard work”, your education, or your experience.  You have that job and that paycheck by the grace of God.  That idea that I came up with so many years ago that I was so proud of at the time was not my own doing – that idea was a gift to me from God.  He was working to make me successful, even though I did not know it at the time and was not giving Him any credit for His work.  It is ironic that I felt so angry and betrayed that my boss took credit for my work while all the time I was taking credit for God’s work in every area of my life.  While we are not called to put ourselves down or to be self-deprecating, we are called to be humble.  We are called to acknowledge what God has done for us and what He continues to do for us daily.  In Matthew 23:12, Jesus said, “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Let’s all humble ourselves today before the Lord, and remember that He is the one deserving of all the glory.

 

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The Power of God


Daily Bible Reading – Numbers 17,18; Psalm 29; Mark 4

Ascribe to the LORD, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon leap like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD strikes with flashes of lightning. The voice of the LORD shakes the desert; the LORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!” The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD is enthroned as King forever. The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace. (Psalm 29)

Do you ever stop to think about the power of God.  I’m not talking about a passing thought or a quick acknowledgement – I am talking about actually sitting down and reflecting on His awesome power.  It can be easy for us to simply gloss over His power as we read His Word, but today I would like for us to really take some time to think about it.  Let’s think about some of the ways in which God has displayed His power over the ages.  It all started with creation.  God created everything.  From the world we live in to the stars in the sky to the air that we breathe, it was all created by God.  When I say God “made” everything, it is not like when we “make” cookies.  For most of us, making cookies involves getting some pre-made cookie dough out the freezer that already comes in a cookie-sized ball, placing it in the oven for 15 minutes or so, and then saying we “made” cookies.  I realize that some people go a little farther and actually make the dough themselves from scratch, but this is still not what I am talking about.  Imagine actually making the flour.  Imagine creating sugar or eggs.  This is what God did.  He didn’t simply use things that were already available – He made everything!

Creation was just the first of His many miraculous displays of power.  He summoned a great flood which consumed the entire earth.  He parted a sea to allow the Israelites to escape Egypt.  He rained down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.  He healed the sick and the lame.  He gave the blind their sight.  He exorcised demons.  He turned water into wine.  These are some awesome displays of power, and they are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  Perhaps the biggest display of power, though, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Up to that point in history, death was thought of as the ultimate power.  Death was the end – that was it.  But when Jesus was risen He proved His power over death.  The power of God is truly greater than we can possibly comprehend.

Now here is the best part.  That power of God – that same power that raises the dead and created everything – is available to us!  We can tap into that power as followers of Christ.  God gives us strength when we need it the most.  In Ephesians 1:18-23 Paul writes, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” God – the ultimate authority – lives in us and through us.  He gives us the power to overcome any obstacle.  Not even death is enough to trump the power of God.  Reflect on His great power today, praise Him for His mighty strength, and rest in the knowledge that when you are weak He will make you strong.

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Jesus Chooses His Twelve Disciples


Daily Bible Reading – Numbers 14-16; Mark 3

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.”  But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him. Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Mark 3:7-19)

At this point in His ministry, Jesus was already a very popular figure.  Wherever He went, large crowds were sure to follow as everyone wanted to see more of His miracles.  Out of the large group that was following His every move, Jesus decided to take twelve men and make them His disciples.  Jesus wanted to have a close group of twelve men that He could walk with daily.  He would teach them and spend time with them and prepare them for a time when He would no longer be there in physical form.  Jesus would make these men ready to eventually start the church and build the Christian religion that we know today.  Since Jesus was only one man, He restricted His number of disciples to twelve to make sure they would each get His individual attention.  So why did He choose these particular twelve men?  They must have had something special about them, right?  Were they men with an exceeding amount of faith?  Later Scriptures would reveal that these twelve men actually faltered in their faith quite a few times.  Were they men with unique abilities or special skills?  We read in the Bible that they were normal, everyday men with normal, everyday lives prior to meeting Jesus.  So what was the secret?  Why were these twelve men chosen?

While none of the men had an exceeding amount of faith, popular personalities or unique abilities, they all shared two important traits.  These men were willing to follow Jesus and they were teachable.  These men loved Jesus.  They would do anything for Him.  They knew that He was their Lord and they wanted to follow Him and obey Him.  They wanted to learn from him and understand His ways, and they wanted to live their lives for Him.  That was enough for Jesus.  He did not need special talents or abilities.  He did not need someone who knew the Scriptures backward and forward and who were well learned.  He needed people who were willing to follow Him and who were teachable.

Even today, Jesus is still looking for disciples, though we have a few benefits over the original twelve.  First of all, we already know the whole story.  The disciples had to live out the story of Jesus day by day never really knowing where it was going to lead, but we can read about it every single day.  We know the ending.  We know that He is God.  We know that He lives forever.  We know that one day He will come back in glory to rule over everything and everyone.  In addition, because we now have the Holy Spirit, Jesus no longer has to restrict Himself to twelve disciples.  Each of us can become a disciple of Jesus and still get personal, one on one attention from Him.  We can talk with Him and walk with Him every single moment of every single day of our lives.  So what do we have to do to become His disciples today?  What traits do we need to have?  Do we need to memorize the entire Bible before we can be a disciple?  While memorizing Scripture is a great idea that will definitely help you in your walk, that will not make you a disciple.  Do we need to get an advanced degree in theology before we can be a disciple?  Getting a degree in theology is great for some people but that will not make you a disciple either.  The price of admission to being a disciple is exactly the same today as it was for the original twelve.  Jesus is looking for people who are willing to follow Him and who are teachable.  That is it.  He is hiring for the position of disciple.  You will receive on-the-job training from Jesus Christ Himself.  He will mold you and shape you in His image, and then He will ask you to go out and reproduce yourself in others.  Once you become a disciple, you will long to create other disciples for Him.  The only special skills required are the willingness to follow Jesus and allow Him to teach you.  If you are looking for a steady job with eternal benefits, apply today.  You do not even need to send in your resume or go to His office.  You can simply bow your head right where you are and ask Jesus to make you His disciple, and He will meet you right where you are.

 

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When Fear Overshadows Faith


Daily Bible Reading – Numbers 12,13; Psalm 90; Mark 2

When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.) So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land. They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.” 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.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:17-33)

Moses sent twelve spies into Canaan to do a little reconnaissance of the land.  He wanted to know what the land was like and what the people were like.  Did they have a large army?  Were their positions fortified?  Moses wanted to gather as much information as possible before going in and taking over the land.  When the spies returned, ten of the twelve spies had a negative report.  While all twelve men agreed that the land was indeed the “land of milk and honey”, ten of them were afraid.  They told stories about giant men who lived in the promised land who protected it from intruders.  Caleb (and later Joshua) were the only two of the twelve who believed they should proceed as God directed them and take over the land.  These two men believed that with God’s help (which God had already promised to provide) they would be victorious.  At the end of the day, ten of the men were gripped with fear, while two of the men had faith.  Sadly, the majority opinion won out and the people decided not to go into the promised land.  Because of this decision, the Israelites would spend the next 40 years wandering around the desert.

Sometimes we can let our fear overshadow our faith.  It happened with the Israelites and it can happen to us.  Sometimes we felt led by God to do things that seem a little scary to us.  Maybe we are led to become a missionary or to become a pastor.  Maybe we are led to start our own ministry.  Maybe we are led to get married or to have kids.  Maybe we are led to adopt or to give our next paycheck to someone in need.  God often leads us to do things that might not make us exactly comfortable.  That’s when fear comes in and starts to ruin everything.  When we let fear overtake us, we run the risk of allowing this fear to overshadow our faith in God.  If the Israelites had simply stood firm in their faith, they surely would have gone into the promised land and been victorious just as God said they would.  Instead, they allowed fear to overshadow faith and spent the rest of their lives paying the price.  When the first signs of fear arise, take immediate steps to put an end to it.  Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness.  Remind yourself of His love and the trust He deserves.  Never allow a little fear to get in the way of doing great things for God.

 

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Nothing is Impossible For God


Daily Bible Reading – Numbers 10,11; Psalm 27; Mark 1

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down. Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone. “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The LORD heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’” But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” The LORD answered Moses, “Is the LORD’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.” (Numbers 11:4-23)

Each day, the Israelites woke up and found a brand new gift from God waiting for them.  Their daily needs were met by God through his gift of manna, which they found on the ground each morning.  It did not take long, however, before this gift was not enough for them.  They began to complain that they did not have any meat.  Their complaining angered God and frustrated Moses, who in turn took his complaints to God.  While God was not happy with the Israelites for complaining amongst themselves, He agreed to help Moses because he had brought his complaint directly to God.  God informed Moses that He would provide meat for the Israelites for an entire month.  When Moses heard this, his response was one of doubt and unbelief.  He questioned how God could possibly provide meat for 600,000 men for an entire month.  To Moses, the problem seemed too great.  But God knew that nothing was impossible for Him.  No problem was too big for God.

It is easy for us to look back at the Israelites complaining or on Moses doubt and just shake our heads.  It seems unfathomable to us that the Israelites could complain about the free food they were provided every single day which was literally placed at their feet by God, and it seems unfathomable that Moses would doubt the power and might of God given all of the things He had already done for the people.  Sadly, though, none of us are immune to this type of thinking.  How many of us have experienced times when we longed for something more that what God has already provided?  How many of us have wondered if God was listening to us and questioned why He was not stepping in immediately to help us in our time of need?  How many of us have seen a problem and thought that it was simply too great for anyone to fix?  When we start to feel worry in our lives, in essence we are doubting God.  When we wonder why God is not immediately changing our situation, we are doubting His absolute justice, power, mercy, and grace.

As I was discussing today’s reading with my wife, we talked about one of the verses in particular in this passage.  Maria told me that anytime she begins to feel worry over anything, she likes to think about this verse and it helps her eliminate the worry and get her focus back on God.  The verse comes near the end of the passage in Numbers 11:23, and it is God’s answer to Moses’ doubt – “Is the LORD’s arm too short?” The next time you start to feel worry, remember this verse.  The next time you start to feel doubt, remember this verse.  Recite this verse in your times of worry, and remember that nothing is impossible for God.

 

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Following God’s Guidance


Daily Bible Reading – Numbers 8,9; Acts 28

On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the LORD’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the LORD’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the LORD’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the LORD’s command they encamped, and at the LORD’s command they set out. They obeyed the LORD’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses. (Numbers 9:15-23)

If you are a follower of Christ, at some point in your life you have most likely asked the following question – “What is God’s will for me?”  You may have wondered, “How can I know what God wants me to do in this situation?”.  We all want to please God and we want to make sure we are following his direction, but sometimes it can be difficult to know what direction that might be.  It would be nice to have a cloud to follow during the day and fire to follow at night, as that would leave little room for our own interpretation, but following God usually does not work that way for us.  During times of frustration when we cannot seem to figure out which direction to go or how to proceed, we may even start to ask ourselves another question – “Does God still guide people?”

When I was preparing to write on this topic today, I found a passage that I want to share with you.  In Psalm 48:14 it says, “For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.” Whether we know it or not; whether we believe it or not; whether we can understand it or not – God will be our guide.  There are many places in the Bible when we can see this, but one of the best places that I continue to think about is the story of the cloud and the fire.  We saw how God used the pillar of cloud and fire in Exodus to get the Israelites safely out of Egypt, and we see it again here in Numbers.  As I thought about it and read this passage again today, I think there are four lessons we can learn from it about how God leads his people.

The first lesson is that God’s guidance is revealed one step at a time.  When the cloud lifted, the Israelites would go.  When it moved, they would follow.  When it stopped, they would stop.  Sometimes they would stay in one place overnight and move again and other times they would stay in one place for a long time, but they always had to follow God on a day to day basis.  One of the biggest problems we might have with discovering God’s will for us is that we want to see the whole picture.  We want to know right now where God is leading us and which direction He is going to take us to get us there.  But most of the time, even though God is fully aware of the complete plan He has for our lives, He does not simply provide us with that blueprint up front.  He provides us a step today, and another step tomorrow until eventually we get to where He wants us to go.

The second lesson is that we must follow God’s guidance even when we do not understand it.  If we truly want to follow God’s will for us, we have to move when He says to move and stay when He says to stay.  In Numbers 9, we see that the cloud would often move suddenly and stop suddenly with seemingly no explanation or reason.  Again, sometimes they would be in one place for a long time, and other times they would stop and set up camp only to find that they were heading out again the next morning.  There are times in our lives when we think we really want to move on to something new, but God may be telling us to stay where we are.  Likewise, there are times when we are comfortable and want to stay right where we are, but God is telling us to move on.  God demands our obedience.  When He says move, we move.  When He says stay, we stay.  We do this and we follow Him where He is leading because we love Him, even when we do not understand.

The third lesson we learn is that God’s methods for guiding us may change over time.  During the day, the Israelites saw a cloud.  That is what they needed to see to follow God.  At night, it would have been difficult for them to see a cloud so instead God led them with a pillar of fire.  While God never changed his guidance, He did change the method that He used to provide that guidance.  We often get wrapped up in thinking that God only leads people in one way.  We hear a story from a friend or a pastor about how God led them in a dream and we expect God to lead us in a dream.  But God does not necessarily work that way.  Just because He uses one method to guide one person does not mean He will use that same method to guide you.  Maybe He will guide us in a dream or a vision, but He might also guide us through the Bible, advice from other believers, or inner convictions.  Sometimes He might speak to us with a loud voice that is easy to hear, and other times it might be a whisper.  The point is that God will lead you in exactly the way you need to be led.

The last lesson we learn from Numbers 9 is that God guides us as we stay close to Him.  The cloud that led the Israelites was not simply a symbol – the cloud was God’s presence.  When the cloud moved, if the people did not follow along with it they would be separated from God.  Knowing the will of God is not a question of where we should go or what we should do.  Those are important questions, but they are not the primary question.  The primary question is this: Are you willing to follow God wherever He leads you?  When we ask God what we should do, His response to us is “stay close to me”.  When we ask God where we should go, His response to us is “follow me”.  At the end of the passage in Numbers 9 we see this sentence, “At the LORD’s command they encamped, and at the LORD’s command they set out.” If we resolve to do the same thing, God will guide us.  If God says stop, we will stop.  If God says move, we will move.  The secret to knowing God’s will for your life is really the secret of knowing God.  The better we know Him and the closer we get to Him, the clearer His guidance will be for us.  When we seek to know Him, to follow Him, and to put Him first in everything we do, all of our guidance questions will be answered.  God is willing to guide you if you are willing to follow Him.

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Taking Risks


Daily Bible Reading – Numbers 7; Psalm 23; Acts 27

Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest. When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (Acts 27:9-25)

The only way to navigate a ship in ancient times was by looking at the stars.  When the sky was overcast, sailing became very dangerous if not impossible.  The stormy season began in September and by November sailing was almost unheard of in those days.  This event occurred in October after the Day of Atonement, so they were right in the middle of the “questionable” time to be sailing.  Paul warned the men that sailing was going to be dangerous, and told them that, “[the] voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” The pilot and the owner of the ship, however, wanted to sail and the centurion chose to listen to that advice instead of listening to Paul.  They decided to take a risk and set sail despite Paul’s warnings and despite the fact that they knew this time of year would make sailing dangerous.  This decision proved to be disastrous as a violent storm hit and put the entire crew in grave danger.  Paul then told the crew that they had a choice to make – they could continue down their destructive path of doing things their own way, or they could listen to Paul’s advice and start putting their faith in God.  If not for the grace and mercy of God, the entire ship and its crew would have surely been destroyed.

When we choose to sin against God, we also take a risk.  We know about the warnings – we can read them everyday in His holy Scriptures.  We know what God tells us to do and how He tells us to live our lives because time and time again in the Bible we can see God’s message to us as clearly as Paul’s message was to the ship’s pilot.  But sometimes, even given all of God’s warnings we still choose to depart from his leading and go our own way.  In those moments when we choose to ignore God’s directions, we are taking a huge risk.  We risk our health – sometimes our physical health, and other times our emotional, spiritual, or relational health.  When we choose to disobey God, we put ourselves and others in harm’s way.  It should not surprise us, then, when storms come up and rage against us in those times when we have chosen to disregard all the signs and set sail down our own path of destruction.  Like the men on the boat, we have a choice to make.  We can continue to go our own way and disregard God, assuring our destruction, or we can start listening to His warnings and put our faith and trust in Him.  We can come to realize that God’s instructions for our lives are there for a reason, and that He only has our own best interests at heart.  When we decide to start listening to God, His great mercy and grace will save us from destruction.

 

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Looking Forward to God’s Reign


Daily Bible Reading – Numbers 5,6; Psalm 22; Acts 26

Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen. I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the LORD will praise him— may your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! (Psalm 22:12-31)

In Psalm 22, David was suffering through a great trial.  Through his suffering, he was able to gain victory by knowing that the Father would protect him and deliver him.  David knew that despite his current struggles, one day God would reign supreme in the world and that all of his problems would be over.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus Christ would also suffer through a great trial.  Jesus would be encircled by a pack of villains, who would pierce His hands and feet.  His bones would be on display and people would stare and gloat over Him.  They would divide His clothes among them and cast lots for His garment.  Through his suffering, he was also able to gain victory by knowing that His Father would protect him and deliver him.  Jesus knew that despite His current struggles, one day He would reign supreme in the world and that all of His problems would be over.  He knew that, “all the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.”

Today, we will all suffer through times of great trials.  We will all face times when we will feel as though we are encircled by a pack of villains.  In these times of suffering, we can take solace knowing that as the children of God, our Father in Heaven will deliver us from evil and will protect us.  We can all look forward to the day when Jesus returns to reign over everything. “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” (Matthew 16:27) When that day comes, all of our trials that seem so pressing today will be a distant memory.  The house that we live in, the car that we drive, the phone that we carry, and the computer we use will mean nothing.  Our moments of greatest despair and agony will seem like a speck of dust floating in the wind.  We can rejoice today for the joy we will have tomorrow, and we can rest in the comfort of His love forever.

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