Sunday, March 1, 2015

Going Camping



Scripture

Num. 29:12   On the fifteenth day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. You shall celebrate a festival to the LORD seven days.

Observation

The people of God were instructed to celebrate his intervention in their lives. These festivals were to be lived out, or acted out among the people. All work was to stop and the focus was to be upon God’s provision in their lives. In this case, the Festival of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles, as this event was named, was to last for seven days.

Our precious Messiah celebrated these festivals as he grew up. They were a part of his life and activity with the family, helping to shape his humanity. Work was to cease and God was to be celebrated for seven days.

Application

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone camping. When I was a little girl our family would go camping on vacation. I’m quite certain that it was probably the only way in which we could have afforded to go on vacation because we lived in Europe. I have fond memories of the different places that we camped. One year we headed down to Yugoslavia and ended up on the Adriatic sea. Along the way we stayed in a camp with gypsies and I was fascinated for I had never been around this group of people before. We all set up our tents and made ourselves at home for the time that we were there. My mother cooked for us on a small propane burner and we children ran around, played and went swimming. It was a great time and a fun memory, although it was nearly 50 years ago.

There was something special about camping with the family. We were disconnected from the world and we had to do some work along the way. The tent had to be taken down and put up as we journeyed. Food had to be prepared in ways that were more of a challenge than at home. The days were filled with being and playing outdoors. I remember laying on the ground and watching the fluffy clouds go by and imagining all the shapes that God was creating. It was a time of slowing down and being in the moment.

The Feasts that God required of his people were not a punishment, they were to be a complete change of pace from their daily lives. They were to go camping for a week and remember what it must have been like for the Israelites who wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. It was through this physical act that they could slow down and see the hand of God at work.

Something about this festival sounds appealing to me. I’m afraid that we don’t take many moments to put aside the world and simply remember and focus on God. We can hardly set aside Sunday mornings to go to church, let alone an entire week away from work, while camping and thinking about God’s provision.

What challenges me today is to imagine what would happen if we became intentional again about creating space for prolonged emphasis on God. What would happen if we took the time to make God such a priority that our children would take a break from the world and realize that God is real and has been at work in our lives?

For some within our ‘holiness’ tradition it’s interesting that camping was a part of our history. People began gathering at camps to hear messages preached and there was a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit and spiritual renewal that occurred in those places. Today the camping and/or campmeeting experience is becoming a thing of the past. As I reflect on this scripture today I’m wondering if we may be missing something significant. Instead of seeing the need for camp to be great entertainment, could it possibly be the place where we return to our roots and we celebrate, remembering what God has done in the past and in doing so anchor our children to a future?

It seems that too much tradition is being done away with as we embrace this new world of electronics and busyness. Technology was to give us more free time, it’s simply sped up our lives in a way that makes us think we have to accomplish even more and yet we are reaching a limit of human capacity. We are on the brink of  burning out as we try to keep up, but at the same time, losing the traditions which may provide some grounding.

God planned for the Festival of Tabernacles to be an intentional time of remembering what he had done for his people in the wilderness. We must be intentional about shutting off the world and celebrating what God has done. We need to find our way to “go camping” so that the memory of Christ’s intervention our lives is not lost on ourselves or future generations.

Prayer

Lord, than you for a reminder today to slow down and celebrate your work in my life and others.  Amen.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Daughters of Zelophehad: Rerun

Scripture

Num. 27:1 ¶ Then the daughters of Zelophehad came forward. Zelophehad was son of Hepher son of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh son of Joseph, a member of the Manassite clans. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.
Num. 27:2 They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and they said,
Num. 27:3 “Our father died in the wilderness; he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin; and he had no sons.
Num. 27:4 Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”
Num. 27:5 ¶ Moses brought their case before the LORD.
Num. 27:6 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Num. 27:7 The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance among their father’s brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them.
Num. 27:8 You shall also say to the Israelites, “If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter.

Observation

This story is one which fascinates me and I wrote about it exactly three years ago. In reading this text again today, I continued to be fascinated. Therefore this post is a rerun -- a slightly updated version of my post from three years ago.

We are taken back to the Israelites who are traveling in the wilderness, but will soon cross over into the promised land.  Before they enter each family is to receive their inheritance and their assignment in the new country will be based on the census which is being taken. In the culture of the day, the clans or families were all appointed according to the male head.

However, here we encounter a family where the males have all died out.  Only the women are left.  The daughters of Zelophehad must have been amazingly strong women.  They were their clan leaders. This word didn't just mean that they happened to end up in charge, but that they actually served in the positions of leadership just as the leaders of the other tribes. These women courageously came and spoke to Moses regarding their concern.  They were being left out, simply because they were women.  Moses took this concern to God and God told Moses that the women were correct and that this was unfair.  From that time on the laws would be changed and if there were no male heirs, the women would receive the inheritance. 

Application

"Downton Abby" has been a popular television show for a few years. While the storyline has moved on it began around the theme of the inheritance. Less than 100 years ago in England a daughter could not receive the inheritance of her family.  A distant male heir, sometimes someone unknown to the family may the recipient of the family fortune.  If this was still true less than 100 years ago, we must recognize how revolutionary God's response was so very long ago. 

Often it is cultural norms which keep us from all that God truly has for us.  In the culture of Moses' day it would have been unacceptable for the women to be the heirs.  Something remarkable happened in this story.  One is simply the courage of the women.  They didn't wait around for someone else to right the wrong, but rather, they gathered themselves together, and as a team went before Moses, presenting a very logical and well thought-out argument.  Interestingly Moses didn't just give his approval.  He was probably a little thrown by the unusual request.  Therefore he had to go and meet with God and get advice from him.  The response of God reveals how counter-cultural the kingdom of God really is.  The kingdom of God is counter-cultural for there is a new culture within the kingdom.  Here we catch a glimpse of God's intended future for his people where there is equality among the genders which is not provided within the contemporary culture of the day.  It is a foreshadowing of Galatians … Gal. 3:28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Gal. 3:29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

The foreshadowing was that the inheritance would be available to all!  Thankfully, that is the day in which we live.  The inheritance truly is available to all, no matter who we are or where we fit within the social strata of the day.  We may all come before God and claim our inheritance.  We must not allow the structures of society to keep us from all that God intends for us.  We must step boldly before the throne as his sons and daughters, and claim our inheritance, serving him faithfully in his kingdom.


Prayer

Thank you for the inheritance you have provided.  May we not be shy about what you have given us, but rather, may we walk boldly before you.  Amen.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Be Opened



Scripture

Mark 7:34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

Observation

Jesus heals the man who has been deaf. He puts his fingers in the man’s ears and then the man’s tongue, touching him at the point of his exact need. Could the man not speak because he could not hear, or could he not hear and therefore could not speak? Jesus knew, and the symbolism of his touching brought healing.

However, Jesus did not only touch this man, but he looked up to heaven and then he sighed. Jesus sighed! Was he tired and worn out from ministry? Did he need strength from God in that moment? We don't know but then, Jesus speaks just one word, “Ephphatha,” which the gospel writer quotes for us. This word is spoken in Aramaic and is here transliterated for the Greek audience. A big sigh — looking up to heaven and breathing out one word in this man’s native tongue, “Be opened.” This was Jesus’ word of healing spoken over this man. Whether it was his mouth or his ears — he had been closed up, unable to be in touch with the world around him and now, he was being set free.

From deep within himself Jesus breathes out — “Be opened.” Immediately the man is set free.

Application

This is the promise of Jesus for all of us who find ourselves closed. It may be that we are closed, or that we are in contact with others who are closed and we all are in desperate need of a touch from him.

Jesus’ touch to the world today comes through his Spirit-filled followers. We are challenged to reach out and touch the world at the point of their deepest need.

And yes, there may be times that we are tired and worn out. We sigh a big sigh along with Jesus. I actually find his sigh somewhat comforting. I’ve been known to let out a big sigh from time to time because sometimes the work in service to the kingdom is simply exhausting. I think Jesus was exhausted and so he looked up to heaven for a bit of encouragement from the Father.

The words are plainly spoken in the language of the community of this man. Some would think that the word was spoken for the man to understand in his own language — but if he was unable to hear and/or speak before the healing — why would it have mattered? But was the healing also a gifting of language for this man — the language that he would need in order to communicate with the community to whom he belonged? The healing of “be opened” was one of wholeness, not just physically, but emotionally and socially. May your senses be opened, but may also your life be opened up to be accepted as a whole human being within society. You will hear and speak and fit in because you will be able to communicate in the local tongue. Wow!

Be open. A word of healing breathed over not just the deaf and mute physically, but the deaf and mute spiritually. The promise of wholeness is for all who are willing to present themselves before the Master healer. Today, the promise of “be open” can bring total transformation for all.

Prayer

Lord, may you lead me to the place of being open every day.  Amen.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Duplicity



Scripture

Psa. 28:3        Do not drag me away with the wicked,
        with those who are workers of evil,
    who speak peace with their neighbors,
        while mischief is in their hearts.
4     Repay them according to their work,
        and according to the evil of their deeds;
    repay them according to the work of their hands;
        render them their due reward.
5     Because they do not regard the works of the LORD,
        or the work of his hands,
    he will break them down and build them up no more.

Observation

David was struggling for his enemy sought to destroy him. God was his place of refuge and the one in whom he placed his trust.

He had experienced those who pretended to be his friends, who spoke peace with him, but only did so for their own personal advantage.  They were duplicitous in their behavior, their words not matching their actions. Hypocrisy is considered abhorrent, a special type of wickedness that will be punished.

Application


Hypocrisy, or duplicity may be one of the worst sins of “Christians” these days. It is the inconsistency between the words spoken and the life lived that drives a wedge between the world and Christianity. At the same time I believe the world is desperate to witness genuine Christianity — if only we could truly live what we say.

In my own tradition we have defined a holy lifestyle in a particular way — one that describes the things that we avoid. Sadly, it has not been defined by the things that we do. The result has been, at times, duplicity. I may avoid smoking and drinking, but I speak poorly of my neighbor, destroying their reputation. There are more examples that I’m afraid most of us can envision or have personally experienced.

The problem is that this type of duplicity has been destructive to Christianity. Unfortunately, it’s been going on for a long time. It was happening in David’s time. It happened when Christ was alive. It’s happening today — and yet, God is still on the throne. God’s reputation will ultimately not be tarnished by us — but our lives and those around us will be affected by how we choose to live our lives.

In simplicity Jesus came forward to be baptized in the Jordan and the Holy Spirit came upon him. We need to come before God in simplicity, the Spirit descending upon us, empowering us to live genuine lives of faith. Complete and entire infilling with the Spirit leaves no room for duplicity for we will be the same through and through.

Prayer

Lord, please lead me this day and may my words and life reflect you.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

God’s Call to the Ministry: A Work of Grace



Scripture

Numbers 17:5 And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout; thus I will put a stop to the complaints of the Israelites that they continually make against you.

Observation


The Israelites were complaining again and this time it was because they all wanted to be able to approach God at the tent of meeting. Why should only some have that privilege?  They decided to grumble. They had no respect or reverence for the Priesthood — a foreshadowing of how the Jewish leaders would later treat Christ. They were also certain that Aaron’s ministry as a priest and that of the Levites was simply nepotism.

It was time to show the community that the calling of Aaron and the Levites was God’s calling. They had not chosen themselves to this vocation and it was not simply a voluntary offering. The calling to the ministry was a work of grace, revealed in the sprouting of Aaron’s rod. It was a work of grace in the Levites, but also for Christ. It is a heavenly calling for one to “suffer on behalf of sinners” and “offer gifts on behalf of sins,” and as Ambrose continues, “in this way even Christ did not claim the priesthood but received it.” (Letter 14, Extra Coll.)

Application

There were many among the company of the Israelites who wanted the call to ministry. Somehow they felt that there was a privilege present and they wanted it. They did not see it as service in the kingdom, nor as God’s call, but as their own personal right and privilege to approach God. There was no understanding of the call as a work of grace.

There may be a temptation to border on this same behavior today. Unfortunately I’ve seen a real lack of respect for religious leaders. Now, there would be some who would say that they deserve it, and maybe some do — but do they all? I’m afraid that the sins of a few have created a very negative situation for those called to ministry as a whole. There seems to be very little distinction between those who are called and the laity and as a result the respect for the office of the ordained elder has slipped.

Aaron and his sons didn’t always get it right, but God still wanted to use them. It was a mystery and this was God’s grace at work. God is still in the business of calling children into ordained ministry and yes, it continues to be a mystery. We desperately need those who are willing to respond to the call. Aaron and his sons were willing to respond and serve and God called the people to treat them with respect.

We should respect the called leaders because we revere Christ. At the same time we must provide opportunities for them to serve Christ faithfully. Chrysostom tells us, “the priest or prophet promotes what is truly beneficial rather than what is merely enjoyable.” This is a work of grace and one that extends from the one who is called, to the congregation. Together we become the holy people of  God.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the ministers who have shaped my life.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Choosing Captains!



Scripture

4 So they said to one another, “Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt.”

Observation

The Israelites had made it to the promised land and were spying it out, ready to move forward with God in the lead and suddenly the people stopped. Fear gripped them and they refused to listen to the good reports of the some of the spies. Instead they began to measure their own strength, forgetting about God and determined they could not survive.

Moses was their spiritual leader but they were rejecting him. They wanted a “Captain” and they wanted to “go back to Egypt!”

Application

Think about going back to Egypt and all that meant. They had gone through the plagues, the passover, the Red Sea, the wilderness, the manna….and they would want to undo it all and go back! Had they forgotten the fact that they were slaves and they were making bricks without straw? Life had been miserable back in Egypt and yet, they seemed to forgot all that God had done and continued to do for them! They wanted a captain…for all the wrong reasons.

As a kid I hated playing sports where you had to pick teams. One reason I hated it was because I knew that I would be one of the last to be picked. I wasn’t an athlete; I was more of a nerd. Also, there were times that picking teams felt more like a popularity contest — one which I would never win! Decisions were not always made on the wisest basis.

What is the basis for our personal decisions in life? Moses was the leader and he had been faithful to God and interceded for an unfaithful people. Time after time he had saved them from a destruction of their own making.

Jesus is our leader and over and over again, with great patience and grace he tries to save us from personal destruction. Moses was not the popular leader. He wasn’t cool. He talked funny. He didn’t do things the way that a great “Captain” would and so they rejected him.

Jesus wasn’t the popular leader. He wasn’t cool. He said things that made people feel really uncomfortable. He wasn’t the military “Captain” that people wanted him to be so they rejected him.

My pastor isn’t cool. Sometimes his/her sermons aren’t as entertaining as what I can find on YouTube. My pastor needs to learn how to function like a CEO. If only he/she would have spent more time in the business world and followed their models we’d know how to do better marketing and sales!

Let’s be like the world and have an awesome looking Captain. Let’s go back to Egypt…where we will live like slaves and die.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for genuine spiritual leadership which I have been blessed to experience in my life.  Amen.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Recoiling with Horror from the Word as Preached



Scripture


22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

Observation

Jesus was teaching on fasting and he never condemned the practice. Actually, he fasted often but the way in which the Jewish authorities fasted was so compulsory that it didn’t fit with a life lived in the freedom of the Spirit. Chrysostom tells us that Jesus’ preaching, just as any fresh preaching may actually make people “recoil with indignity and horror from the word as preached.” This is because the message that Jesus preached was one of servanthood and accountability before God, and not for the benefit of the religious authorities.

The Jewish leaders had become stiff, just like old wineskins and they could not stretch to adjust to the new wine that Jesus brought with him. His message of servanthood was not something that they wanted to hear and nor could they celebrate his presence as their Messiah. He didn’t fit the paradigm and they simply found themselves frustrated with him and the activities of his disciples. They seemed to be constantly breaking the rules, pushing the wineskins beyond the bounds. The leaders were about to burst because they truly did “recoil with…horror” when they heard him preach.

Application

When the Holy Spirit is poured out among God’s people there can be a time of stretching and growth that seems to pus the boundaries. It’s when one of those sermons hits a little too close to home and a bit of conviction begins to gnaw at us that we too may recoil with horror. What do we do? We try to justify ourselves or our responses. We attack the preacher of the word and convince ourselves that he/she was wrong. This is exactly what the religious officials did to Jesus!

God wants to pour out his Spirit today on all flesh and in doing so the new wine may not take on the same shape as before. If our wineskins become old and inflexible then they will burst when filled with new wine, but if we remain spiritually fresh our wineskins will remain pliable. It is then that we can take on a new shape and new channels will be exposed for the Spirit to work in and through us. We may not fast when others fast. Instead, we may feast when they fast!

“Our Daily Homily” by F. B. Meyer says that if we live and work within the new wineskins we may even frustrate those within our churches. He goes on to say, however, that we must not think that new wineskins are of our own making. We are not to “follow the promptings and suggestions of our undisciplined wills.” We are to ask the Lord to show us what we are to do and “let the methods in which our hearts’ devotion shall express itself be so lovely, so befitting, so helpful to the world, and so full of God, that men [and women] may recognize” the hand of God and adore him alone! God’s love is not to be spilled, but stored up in our new wineskins for the “refreshment of others through our lives.” This wine which fills the new wineskins is the overflowing love of God…and our prayer is that God might give us that love so that we do not recoil with horror at the true Word which is preached.

Prayer

Lord, please keep my pliable to your leading.  Amen.