Thursday, March 31, 2011

March 30 ~ Miriam

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Deuteronomy 20-22; Luke 6:1-26.

A couple of things I noticed today... nothing really jumped out in a big way, but I did have a couple of thoughts I'd like to share with you.

A repetitive phrase during today's reading was "You must purge the evil from among you."  We no longer stone or put to death people who break laws (although there are a few crimes I can think of for which I could still see it being a justifiable punishment...), but sometimes we are too willing to just co-exist alongside things we know to be wrong until we start wondering why we thought they were so bad.  There are ways to continue to purge evil from among us, or at least limit association, without stoning people or putting them to death.  I don't think it's appropriate to ONLY associate with other Christians or participate ONLY in church-related activities because that leaves non-Christians feeling like we're an exclusive club they can't join.  It's great to spend time with non-Christians (and I am in no way implying that everyone non-Christian is evil), however it is important to spend regular time together with other Christians, not just sitting in the same service with them on Sunday mornings, but we need to have good relationships with other Christian people.  We need to treat ALL the people around us with love and kindness, but we can choose how often and for how long we spend time with people who may influence us or our children negatively.

For example, I would personally not attend a church that allowed homosexual people to serve in the church, be it as Sunday School teachers, music leaders, ushers, or especially as ministers.  If the person or people were known in the community to be homosexual and provide leadership in the church, it sends the message that the church condones homosexuality and I feel that is inappropriate.  Homosexuality as a sin is no worse than any other sin, it's true, and the rest of us are also sinful.  The difference is that as Christians we are to repent of our sin and ask forgiveness.  If someone is living a homosexual lifestyle, they usually don't consider it to be sin and therefore are unrepentant.

Moving on, I've sometimes wondered why the terms "disciples" and "apostles" were both used in reference to those who followed Jesus, assuming both terms referred to the twelve men that he chose who are named specifically.  Then I noticed during today's reading that Jesus' disciples were evidently many more than the Twelve.  It says in Luke 6:13, "When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles:" and in verse 17, "A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people...".

This is what Wikipedia had to say about the two terms:

The term disciple is derived from the New Testament Greek word "μαθητής"., coming to English by way of the Latin discipulus meaning "a learner". Disciple should not be confused with apostle, meaning "messenger, he that is sent". [3] While a disciple is one who learns from a teacher, a student, an apostle is sent to deliver those teachings to others.

So all those who were learning and following his teachings would be considered disciples, but only those he sent out to preach, heal, cast out demons in His name, etc. were apostles as well.

Like I said, nothing too profound today, just a couple of things I noticed.  Have a great day!

 Tomorrow's passage:  Deuteronomy 23-25; Luke 6:27-49

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011 - Kathryn

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Deuteronomy 17-19, Luke 5:17-39

Good day my friends!  It might be cold here and probably there, but the cold cannot stop the sun today!  Blessed day!

I love the story about the paralytic and his buddies.  Wow.  So many things here that we can grab for ourselves and our friends.

I am not a bold person in public.  In my former job I was often called on to act as photographer for speakers, musicians and the like.  That meant I had to push my way though crowds, or go in front of filled auditoriums, squat and take, hopefully, good pictures of people.  I didn't like it.  It wasn't me.  I feel like I'm interrupting people from being able to hear and watch what they came for.  I think that's what surprises me about these guys.  They can't find a way in.  And I'm sure they tried.  They probably tapped shoulders, said excuse me, tried to push their way through, but it didn't happen.  The crowd would not part.  Jesus had that effect on people.  They were mesmerized.  They craved the presence of Jesus and they weren't about to let someone else closer and get the healing.  I wonder if that's why they couldn't get in.  Jesus told his disciples that he came to preach, not to heal, although he did a lot of that.  So maybe the crowd was being selfish.  But these men, they were not.  What did they do?  They threw their pride to the side and climbed to the rooftop.  Then they dug through that and lowered their friend down!  We read this story so many times I think we loose sight of what they were really doing!

Lets put it in our times:  Someone tries to get in our house with a man on a stretcher.  They can't get in.  So somehow they get on the roof.  Probably with a ladder.  Have you ever had your roof worked on?  It's noisy.  When someone is walking around up there, you can hear every footfall.  So you can hear the people on the roof.  Then you hear someone hacking away.  Pieces of drywall, paint and shingles start to rain down around you.  What a mess!  Then the sun starts streaming in through your newly installed window.  You look up and see faces and continued hacking.  Eventually the hole is big enough to lower a grown man on a stretcher into your house.

Can you imagine what the owner of the house thought?  I know what I would be thinking.  I'd be on the phone calling the police.  I'd be shouting threats up through the hole.  I really wouldn't be listening to what they were trying to tell me.  I wouldn't care.  The nerve!

These men put aside their own safety (they were on a roof top), put aside their comfort (they could get in big trouble for hacking up someone's roof top), put aside their own pride (they did kind of make fools of themselves.)  But they did it for love and faith.  They loved their paralyzed buddy.  What love this is!  They did it for faith.  They didn't just sit there beside his bed saying 'Man this stinks.  Sorry about your legs.'  They took him to where he could be healed.  And you know what?  Jesus heals this man because of his friends faith.  Wow.  That just blows me away.  How can we change the lives of our loved ones by our own faith?

We love our families, we love our friends, our hearts break for those of loved ones who are hurting and broken.  Take em to Jesus.  Take em all to Jesus.  Only He has the power to forgive sins and heal brokenness.  And maybe it takes more than one.  We always assume four men brought him, but maybe there was more than that.  Maybe five or six, or even eight.  We don't know.  The thing is, this man couldn't go to Jesus himself, he needed his friends to do that for him.  Many of our friends don't know how to get to Jesus, they need us to bring them there.

Or maybe we are the paralyzed man.  Maybe we just don't have the strength or the knowledge at this time to get there and we need support.  I'm sure they consulted with this man before they took him in.  This man had his pride to swallow too.  I'm sure he was embarrassed as all get out, but in the end I'm sure he didn't care.  Because he was healed.  Maybe we need to swallow our pride and ask our friends to carry us to Jesus.

There is time for both in a lifetime.  Sometimes we are the carriers.  Sometimes we are being carried.   I'm glad God chose to have this story in the bible, it shows we need our brothers and sisters.  Life is too long to be lonely.  How can we here carry you?

 Tomorrow's passage: Deuteronomy 20-22, Luke 6:1-26

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday, March 29th

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Deuteronomy 14-16, Luke 5:1-16

The first words that jumped out at me today are right at the beginning of our passage....

Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession. Deut 14:2b
Isn't that beautiful? And just as applicable to us today. The Lord has chosen you and me to be his treasured possession! Amazing!

Next, I found this sermon that had some really interesting thoughts on the debt cancellation in Chapter 15.

First, the debt cancellation flows from the fourth commandment - the Sabbath. The command to cancel debts (there are some who think it may have simply been a one year suspension of debts where payments did not need to be made and no interest would accrue) every seven years was, not coincidentally, related to the command to allow the land to rest. It would be rather harsh to expect continued debt repayment during a year when income was not being generated.

There is a correlation between rest and giving.

The call to rest the land, to cancel the debt (or at least one year’s payments) – is a call to obedience. What is important here is not so much what we get from the rest, but what we are then able to give to others by our resting, by our obedience to the command. The benefit of the sabbatical year is the abolition of poverty....

Deuteronomy 15 tells us that perfect obedience would end poverty, but since the presence of poverty in Deuteronomy 15:11 is a given, poverty serves as a constant reminder of our sin but also as an opportunity for grace. The key though is not in just dealing with the poverty, but going to the heart, having that changed. The reason Jesus accepted this gift (of the woman in Matthew 26 pouring expensive perfume on Jesus instead of giving it to the poor) is that the woman knows what the disciples did not: she recognized that Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection was central for a changed heart. Our calling is not just the end of poverty, not just the sense of duty, but our calling is to believe that our hearts are changed by God’s grace and with the work of Christ at the forefront of all we are and do. Then we can respond to those in need.

The existence of poverty is not an excuse for doing nothing, but should convict us that we are not doing enough. Yet the answer is not just to do more, but first look to Christ and repent of not trusting Him more. (emphasis mine, words in black mine)

Deuteronomy 15 is also linked to our passage from yesterday in Luke 4 where Jesus reads froM Isaiah 61 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

I would have never caught this....

That which the prophet Isaiah referred to was pictured in the Sabbath rest and the year of Jubilee. But it was fulfilled in the work of Christ. As Christ came to fulfill the Law, He did not come to abolish the Old Testament practices as antiquated rules of a by-gone era; rather in Christ they are understood in their truest light. The year of release is what you and I have today in the Gospel. This is now the year of the Lord’s favor.

The Sabbath rest we enjoy each week is but a picture of what Christ has done. That which we give to the poor is but a pitiful reminder of all that Christ has given us. The key idea in Deuteronomy 15 as well as in Luke 4 is that of release, of freedom. That word, aphesis, freedom, is the common word throughout the New Testament for another kind of cancellation of debt, another freedom which we enjoy because of the gift of Christ’s death in our place. That word is forgiveness. You and I have been set free from the debt we could never repay. Having been bound by the chains of sin and guilt, wracked with a poverty beyond any means of getting out of, Jesus Christ paid our debt and set us free so that we could serve our Savior out of the riches of His infinite grace. It is out of that freedom from God’s judgment that we now can help those in material distress as well as speak to them of the good news of a poverty far worse than homelessness, far more devastating than hunger – a poverty of our sin. The answer to that greatest need is Christ’s work on the Cross for us.

And that is why we are called to be fishers of men, like our passage in Luke 5. How's that for a real quick link between our OT and NT passages! ;)

Tomorrow's passage: Deuteronomy 17-19, Luke 5:17-39

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday - March 28 - Jody

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Deuteronomy 11-13, Luke 4:31-44

Deuteronomy 11:
God is reminding the Israelites that their children "were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God"(2) and that they had not witnessed "the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharoh king of Egypt and to his whole country" (3).  God is making sure that the Israelites share their stories of hardship and deliverance so their children can walk in the promised land fully knowing how they got there.

"Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." Deuteronomy 11:18-19

This passage is a reminder to us just as God reminded the Israelite - impress the stories of our faith journeys onto the hearts of our children. Share our hardships and deliverance by our Father with our children so they can walk in the promised land fully knowing how they got there as well. Teach our children, in every moment, the words God has shared with us in His word that provide the blessings in our life.

Deuteronomy 12:
I love how God instructs the Israelites to create The One Place of Worship. What a great illustration for us in todays culture. We have so many independant "church at home" options if we don't feel like going to church. We can watch church on TV, download a sermon from anywhere in the world, maybe watch a DVD bible study series. Once the Israilites reach the promised land God says "But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts..."(5,6) Just as God instructs the Israelites to seek out a special dwelling to go specifically to worship him together and glorify him, I believe this is something we need to take to heart as well. I do love the opportunity that modern technology offers us in learning online and through other media outlets, I just caution us to not forget the importance and the direction from God to see out The One Place of Worship.

I just had to add one more reference from the Deuteronomy passages:
"See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it". I love that verse. It's simple really, like Tammy said yesterday - just do what I say. Don't overcomplicate it. Simply in theory, yet our humaness makes it so hard to implement consistently!

What stood out for me in the Luke 4 reading today was Jesus' grueling schedule! He was in the body of a human man. No supernatural - "don't need to rest" - powers, yet he went from town to town, day after day, healing the bodies and hearts of his fellow man. Absorbing their hurt, saving their souls. How emotional and tiring for him.
"When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one he healed them" (vs 40 emphasis mine). The chapter ends with Jesus seeking out a solitary place and I would imagine, recharge himself and seek direction from his Father. The people find him in this place and try to keep him there with them. His reply "I must preach the good news of the kingdon of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent" (43). Through it all, Jesus stayed focused on why he was sent to earth. He looked past his human exhaustion, his tired body and the pressure of the people around him and simply looked back to why he was sent and obeyed.

Father God, help me to always go back to the simple truth of what you have called me to do. Help me to move past my human response, my human exhaustion and weaknesses and find my strength simply in solitude with you. And as I move in the directions you give, remind me to share my journey with the generations that follow me. Help them to learn from my mistakes and walk in the promised land in obedience and knowledge. Amen.

Tomorrow's passage: Deuteronomy 14-16, Luke 5:1-16

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday, March 27th

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Deuteronomy 8-10, Luke 4:1-30

So many things jumped out at me today. I'm going to just jump from one thought to another and hopefully you can follow along...

I seldom notice or thank God for our van not breaking down, our health not failing or our furnace working - unless something happens to me or someone else to remind me that these are things I've been taking for granted. We have no idea all the blessings we've received that have simply gone unnoticed.
Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Deut 8:4

Moses reminded them that God did not choose them because of something they had done or because they deserved it. He choose them because of His grace and for His glory.
Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people. Deut 9:6

The problem with prosperity is it's so easy to begin to take credit for our own success, and to forget about God. These chapters were a reminder to the Israelites not to forget God when He blessed them.
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day...You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who give you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. Deut 8:10, 11, 17, 18

He reminded them that when we take our focus off of God and place it on ourselves instead, things will go wrong.

Often we want to know what God expects of us. The answer is right here in this passage.
And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? Deut 10:12-13
Fear and respect God.
Walk in His ways, follow Him.
Love Him.
Serve Him.
Obey Him.

Pretty simple. Well, simple words. Not so easy follow through. But our follow through is a huge indicator of the condition of our hearts.
Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. Deut 10:16

Click here to read Nancy Leigh DeMoss discussion on the temptation of Christ. The thing that really got me was that Jesus defeated Satan as a man, not as God. He didn't draw upon some supernatural powers to defeat Satan. He drew upon the Word of God He had studied and memorized and learned as a man.

We have the exact same weapons at our disposal.

Are we using them?

Tomorrow's passage: Deuteronomy 11-13, Luke 4:31-44

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday, March 26th

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Deuteronomy 5-7; Luke 3.

This passage contains one of the most well-known portions in the Bible (well, the beginning portion anyway) and one I really love!

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deut 6:4-9

Some people have used these verses as a reason for homeschooling. And though I'm not going to argue that, I will submit that the point of the verses is to make communicating the truths about God and His Word to our children a part of our every day lives, not something we reserve for Sundays. We need to seize every teachable moment we can, we need to live out our faith daily both in word and deed, we need to be purposeful about teaching them about relationship with Jesus. Above all, we need to realize that teaching our children about God is not the responsibility of the church, it's not the responsibility of a Christian school, it's the responsibility of us, their parents.

The verse that really stuck out to me today was the very first one in our passage....
Moses summoned all Israel and said: Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. Deut 5:1 (emphasis mine)

My Life Application Bible says....
The people had entered into a covenant with God, and Moses commanded them to hear, learn and obey his statutes. Christians also have entered into a covenant with God through Jesus Christ and should be resonsive to what God expects. Moses' threefold command to the Israelites provides excellent advice for all God's followers. Hearing is absorbing and accepting information about God. Learning is understanding its meaning and implications. Following is putting into action all we have learned and understood. All three parts are essential to a growing relationship with God.

I'd say that sums it up pretty well!

One quick comment about the Luke passage. My study bible pointed out the difference between Matthew & Luke's genealogies - Matthew's goes back to Abraham and shows that Jesus was related to all Jews. Luke's goes back to Adam, showing that Jesus is related to all human beings (as his audience was primarily Gentile). Just a little tidbit.

Tomorrow's passage: Deuteronomy 8-10, Luke 4:1-30

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday, March 25 ~ tammi

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Deuteronomy 3-4; Luke 2:25-52.

Okay, I'll confess my eyes glazed over Deuteronomy today.  I wish there was more separating it from Numbers and Leviticus ~ we just went through all this!!  And yet, the fact that it's repeated makes it obviously important.  Given the largely unwritten nature of communication at this time, when something was important or needed emphasis, it was repeated.  We see a lot of that in the Wisdom books of the Bible, as well as in the messages of the prophets.  We even see Jesus often using the phrase, "Verily, verily, I say unto you..." in the New Testament.

I've been re-listening to and soaking up an old Revive Our Hearts series lately on the first ten verses in 2 Peter, and following his statement of the purpose of the letter, Peter gives the reason for writing it:  So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.  I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body,  because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.  And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will ALWAYS be able to remember these things. (emphasis added)

We see repetition all over the Bible ~ God seems to be trying to get a few points across!  And, of course, Deuteronomy was written for the children of the faithless generation of Israelites who died in the 40 years of wilderness wandering.  Because the first generation of freed Israelites hadn't been faithful, Moses had to re-tell to the rising generation the stories of God's direction and provision as well as the judgements and punishments of the previous 40 years.  One verse that really stood out is 4:9:
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
How many of our children will be able to recite to their children how God worked in our lives?  In our day and age of instant messaging and 140-characters-or-less texts, how often do we recount stories of God's work in our lives when we talk to our children?  They get to hear the Bible stories ~ stories of God working in OTHER people's lives ~ but do we tell them about tough situations we've been in and how He's delivered us or provided for us?  I certainly need to make more of an effort in this area.  He is not only the God of the Israelites, He's the God of Tammi, too!!!  He HAS done amazing things in my life and while they may not be as obvious and miraculous as many of the stories we read in the Bible, they are what will make Him a personal God in the eyes of my daughters.  Repetition is VITAL!

Then in Luke we have the prophecies of Simeon and Anna upon meeting the 8-day old baby Jesus, and the remarkable story of Him as a 12-yr old, conversing with and astounding the religious leaders in the Temple.  I think the verses that always stand out most for me are the very last two:  "Then he went down to Nazareth with [Mary and Joseph] and was obedient (some translations read submissive) to them... And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

We don't know very much at all about Jesus' life before His baptism and public ministry began, but from these two short phrases, we do know that He honoured and obeyed His parents, and that He had to learn and develop emotionally and mentally just like everyone else.

I find that so amazing ~ that He had power as the Almighty God, and yet that He completely set that aside, was born a helpless infant, had to be trained and raised by His earthly parents, and then got His later education from the religious leaders, just like all the other boys His age.  That He could "grow in favor with GOD" I find tough to wrap my head around.  He was ONE with God from before the beginning of time!!  And yet as a human child and throughout His adolescence and early adulthood, He GREW in favour.  His human life had the same process and followed the same pattern ours do, both physically and spiritually, and yet...

He. is. GOD.

Absolutely breath-taking.

Tomorrow's passages:  Deuteronomy 5-7; Luke 3.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday, March 24 ~ Miriam

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Deuteronomy 1-2; Luke 2:1-24.

So today we begin the fifth book in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy.  Basically, the meaning of the word deuteronomy is "second law", or in this case, the 2nd time going through the law.  Moses is giving a history lesson and laying down the law, so to speak, to the new generation of Israelites, those born in the desert who remember neither Egypt, nor their disastrous first attempt at claiming the Promised Land (after God told them not to, I might add).  He doesn't go into great detail here, but starts off with them having already come to what was to have been near the end of their journey, describes the selection of judges because of the large number or people, and their rebellion against God and subsequent 38 years of wandering.

I notice that he was very clear to say that they were not to harass or provoke the Ammonites to war, as God had promised that land to the descendants of Lot.  This reminded me of Kathryn's post yesterday regarding the boundaries set down.  God basically told them "I'm giving you this -- it's plenty for all of you -- don't you dare try to take more than you've been promised because it's not going to go well for you if you do."

The other thing I thought of is that God keeps his promises.  ALWAYS.  He promised the descendants of Lot something and even though they were not his chosen people, he did not allow the Israelites even one speck of the Ammonites land.  He even gave the Ammonites victory over the strong and numerous, tall and imposing people that had lived there before them.  The same for the descendants of Esau.  God destroyed the Horites from before them and gave them that land.  So when God makes a promise, whether it is to his chosen people or to someone else, HE NEVER GOES BACK ON IT.

Think about that for a minute.  Think of all the things He's promised and then remember that He keeps each and every last one of them.  One thing I'm learning more and more about as we read the Old Testament is who God is.  His character.  He is who He is.  He hasn't changed.  He won't change.  He is God.  He is not only love, but holy, just, awesome, he gets angry (righteously), he shows mercy... he never promised that we wouldn't have sickness, sorrow, pain, persecution, difficult decisions, worries, regrets, or fear.  He DID promise to be with us, never to leave us, to carry our burdens, to forgive our sins (if we believe and repent), and to provide a home for us in Heaven one day, where all those other things will be gone.

At Bible study last night the subject of the earthquake in Japan came up briefly.  So many people died, and so many others were hurt, or lost friends and family members, or lost their homes and all their belongings, not to mention the nuclear explosions and the aftermath of that.  But one lady said something that hit me hard, and I didn't bring it up again because we ran out of time, but she said "death is the worst".  The worst thing that can happen to someone is that they die.  And yet for Christians, that should be the absolute BEST thing that could possibly happen to us!  I'm not saying I want to die, certainly not right now while my children are young.  I enjoy life on this earth.  But over the past year +, as I've learned more and more that this life is so short and temporary compared to eternity, as I've learned more about storing up treasure in heaven rather than on earth, as I've become more secure in my faith and what it means, I've really started looking forward to heaven... someday.  I don't see death as something terrible, certainly not the worst thing that could happen, and I know I can't choose when, where, or how, but I would prefer to see my children grow up, and hopefully have their own children one day (preferably not as teenagers... boy, I don't want much, do I?).

In our Luke reading, I noticed that Luke was careful to point out that Joseph and Mary followed the Law of Moses to the letter in circumcising Jesus on the eighth day, waiting out their time of purification, presenting Jesus to the Lord, and offering the necessary sacrifice.  I can't say why Luke chose to point this out, but to me it brought two things to mind.
1.  Jesus came, not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.  Therefore it is important that Jesus was consecrated as a firstborn son as dictated by the Law, and that his parents were purified.
2.  Joseph and Mary were chosen by God to raise His son, and the fact that they followed the Law speaks to His having chosen them carefully.  Obviously there would have been many other qualities that made them the right ones for the job, but I'm sure adherence to the Law would've been an important one.

Anyway, there are my thoughts on today's passage.  Hope you have a great day!

 Tomorrow's passage:  Deuteronomy 3-4; Luke 2:25-52..

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 Kathryn

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Numbers 34-36, Luke 1:57-80

Happy Wednesday folks!  I trust your week is going well, if not, know that my prayers are with you.  I hope it gets better.

We are finishing up the book of Numbers today.  While the 34th chapter is one of those that my eyes tend to glaze over, I had a thought while reading it.  God is a God of boundaries.  Why didn't He just open the door to the promise land and let them go in willy-nilly?  Because He knows that disorder breeds chaos.  He knows we humans thrive on our own space.  I have a feeling that if left to their own devices the Israelites might dispurse some, but for the most part would probably all settle around the same prime areas and not explore the outer regions.  They have been wandering for 40 years.  They are tired of walking, camping and manna.  I'm sure they want to do what I often do after a long day, come in and plop on the first chair I see.  My stuff gets deposited close to me and I just nest.  I'm tired!  I don't want to move anymore.  But the Israelites are a lot of people, they need a lot of room and they need even more room to expand.  They've got all their animals that need room as well to graze and grow.  We saw what happened  between two households back in Genesis between Abraham and Lot.  It could only be worse for this Nation.  Everyone would be vying for the same prime spot for their family, home and animals.  God knows us so well, just as He knew the Israelites and He preempted their possible problems and parceled out just what they would need, according to His wisdom.

Another thought:  When God gave the Israelites their land, He not only set up internal boundaries, but He also set up external boundaries.  This too is important.  We've all heard the saying that fences make good neighbors.  By the time the Israelites are finished and already up to now, they've kicked up quite a bit of dust.  The news travels fast and surrounding nations would be afraid.  Fearful people attack.  But if clear boundaries were set up between the Israelites and their neighbors, they could co-exist peacefully.  Something else about the external boundaries; God was telling them 'This is all you need.  This, what I have provided for you, this boundary is sufficient.  You can find all you need here.'  Trouble happens when we get greedy.  You can only stretch a nation so far before it springs back, or breaks.  Rome, Greece, Babylonians, Assyrians, all were, at one time, great Empires with lots of land and they aren't now.  God is saying 'stay here, be satisfied within My borders'.

Here is a link to the borders as set up by God in Numbers 34.  

We move to the birth of John the son of Elizabeth and Zacharias.  Again, the songs in the bible used to bore me, to be honest, but the song of Zacharias struck me as beautiful.  This man had been mute and possibly deaf, or at least people thought he was deaf, given the people gesturing and making signs to him at the naming of his son, for at least 9 months, possibly a bit longer.  And the very first things out of his mouth, as recorded by scripture is praise!  What is the first thing of out my mouth in the morning?  It aint praise, I can tell you that.  But this man, whom he hadn't told his wife he loved her, or said good morning to a neighbor, or called his dog in for the night for nine months, chooses to praise the Lord who made his mouth first!  And then we see a beautiful blessing from father upon son.  Do you remember the first words you spoke to your newborn child?  I do.  I think I called them beautiful and perfect, although I have trouble remembering.  But here we have words of prophecy and blessing spoken upon this sweet babe.  The words we speak to and over our children can be so powerful.  We don't know how our words can shape and guide a child, even in infancy.  They say that even in the womb our words and actions can be felt by the baby, as evident in yesterdays reading.  I know for myself I need to watch my words.  Words can do so much to make or break a child and the end result can be for beauty or sadness.

Heavenly Father, we see Your purpose in boundaries and words.  Show us the boundaries You have in place over our lives; our children, our husbands, our ministries.  Help us to know when to say no.  And Lord place a hand over our mouths.  Train us to speak words of praise.  May the first words out of our mouths in the morning be beautiful in your ears.  Thank you Father God that You aren't done with us.  Amen.  

 Tomorrow's passage: Deuteronomy 1-2, Luke 2:1-24

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday, March 22 - Jody

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Numbers 31-33, Luke 1:39-56
Morning Y'all!! Hope everyone is having a fantastic week! And Sandy - praying you guys can shake whatever illness is bogging your family down...

Numbers 32 - I couldn't believe that the Reubenites and Gadites were opting OUT of the PROMISED LAND!! Seriously?! You'd rather build your own fences and community instead of following through to Canaan with the other tribes? I can see the desire for stability after wandering the desert for so many years, but being this close to the fulfillment of God's promise and you're opting to sit back and not follow through? The other thing that struck me in these passages is "Sins of the Fathers". These guys were doing exactly the same thing their Fathers did - the thing that caused the 40 additional years of wandering!!! Jeepers, talk about inheriting sins, traits, character etc. (something to keep in mind regarding what I'm handing down to my kids!). Rev. Robert Rayburn has the following to say about this chapter:
... what Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh did was sinful and worldly. It was an instance of unbelief. It is hard not to believe that there is something of this in the account we have read. The point is made at the outset that these Israelites had very large herds. They saw the land, realized its potential for both farming and ranching, and began to think, “Why leave this place. We’ve conquered its former masters. Let’s settle here.” They were thinking about their own prosperity, not about the Promised Land. The promise of the Lord, his calling to his people, at that moment did not mean very much to them. Notice the verb “they saw” in v. 1. Seeing and believing are often at odds. This is what Paul means when twice he reminds us that we live by faith and not by sight. Eve, remember, saw the fruit of the tree, how delectable it was, and the sight drove other considerations out of her mind. Her sight led her to a catastrophic disobedience. Lot saw how lush and well-watered was the area around Sodom and chose it for himself over the Promised Land even though it was a deeply sinful society that lived there. Choosing with our eyes can often get us and others into terrible trouble. [Duguid, 338] Clearly Moses, referring to them as a “brood of sinners” thought that their motivation was worldly and selfish. What is more, by comparing their behavior to that of the scouts or spies in Numbers 13 and to the people at Kadesh Barnea, Moses clearly judges their plan to be a product of unbelief, a lack of confidence in God. They do not think they will be better off in the Lord’s Promised Land.

These words sit kinda uncofortable for me... how many times do I "see" and "want"? This passage is a stark reminder of how often we live completely immersed in this world and the desires of it, that we lose sight of The Promised Land offered to each of us. To keep reading Rev.Rayburns commentary:

Calvin, on the other hand, regards this narrative as a story of God’s providence bringing good out of human sin. By the repentance of the two and a half tribes and their willing contribution to the conquest, the boundaries of the Promised Land were enlarged. The plan may have been sinful and unbelieving in its origin, but it was sanctified by faithful obedience and became a means to a good thing. Moses, in fact, accepts their plan as soon as they promise to help the rest of the nation conquer Canaan. There is flexibility to God’s plan. He had defined the Promised Land long centuries ago, but was willing to enlarge it here so long as his people did that in the right way. So much for the context.
What I want to consider with you this evening is Moses’ argument. He persuades the two and a half tribes to alter course with two considerations and both of them are as important for us to consider today as they were for Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh to consider those long years ago.
What we have here, in fact, is a group of believers under temptation, beginning to crumble under a strong temptation. They were tempted to abandon Israel’s calling – their calling as Israelites in covenant with Yahweh – and go for the prosperity and ease the world was offering them. And Moses braced them with two arguments and, as it were with a slap to the face, brought them again to their senses and to a course of obedience and faithfulness. The chapter’s subject then is temptation – the temptations Christians face – and the considerations to be reckoned with that ought to persuade believers not to sin, and the happy and holy influence of those considerations.

I love this commentary. We are Christians, and we are also human. Temptation is an expected course we will take in this world. What do we learn from this chapter?? When we are tempted - even if we've reconciled it in our minds that it's OK - pray, seek wise council and obey!

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Tomorrow's passage: Numbers 34-36, Luke 1:57-80

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday, March 21st

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Numbers 28-30, Luke 1:21-38

Sandy is still dealing with illness in their household, so I will jump in with a quick post for today.

Numbers 28 and 29 seem to be just a repeat of what we already read in Leviticus. I like Rev Robert Rayburn's summary on this....

putting this material here is a powerful confirmation of God’s assurances that Israel will take possession of the Promised Land and will enjoy prosperity there. If you add up the sacrifices stipulated in the following two chapters you come up with this.

“Every year in future the priests will have to sacrifice 113 bulls, 32 rams, and 1086 lambs and offer more than a ton of flour and a thousand bottles of oil and wine. Clearly Israel is destined to be a prosperous agricultural community. These laws about sacrifices then contribute to the note of triumph that grows ever louder as the border of Canaan is reached.” [Wenham, 197]

It would not have been possible for Israel to maintain this schedule in the wilderness. They wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to supply all the sacrifices necessary. But soon she will be settled in a fertile country and will have assumed ownership of large herds and large areas of cultivated fields, orchards, and vineyards.

Speaking about the sacrifices and the rituals of faith, he adds...

every one of the sacrifices – the burnt offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, and the peace offering – began with a worshipper placing his hand on the animal’s head, transferring his sins to the animal that then was killed in his place and its blood in some way sprinkled or poured on or about the altar. In every one of these acts of worship, and they are called worship, the matter of human sin and God’s provision of atonement is front and center. But it is precisely this reality that has largely disappeared from much of evangelical worship today.

I was interested to see what he thought about Chapter 30, especially in regards to husbands being able to nullify their wife's vows.

Numbers chapter 30 is typical of many passages in the Old Testament that, at first glance, strike modern readers – especially modern American and European readers – as very odd, if not offensive, but on closer examination can be rather easily seen to be not only eminently sensible but directly related to the great interests of biblical ethics and human life. Indeed, though the point would be put somewhat differently, we have similar laws today in 21st century America. Obligations undertaken by a child are usually the responsibility of parents and obligations undertaken by a wife, if not met, become the legal responsibility of her husband and vice versa. We accept that the family is a unity and that this has implications for the payment of obligations. This chapter concerns questions such as these.

You can read his sermon in it's entirety here.

And just a quick note on our Luke passage. I love Mary's steadfast faith and her absolute willingness to be used of God in this way. Yes it was a tremendous honour to be chosen to be the mother of the Saviour of the world, but it would also involve tremendous heartache. I don't think Mary was naive about that when she agreed to this. I think she simply trusted in God and His plan for her life. That's the kind of faith I want too!

Tomorrow's passage: Numbers 31-33 - Luke 1:39-56

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 20 - Jody

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Numbers 26-27, Luke 1:1-20

I am posting today for Tammy as she jumped in for me on Tuesday as my world was off it's axis! Thanks Tammy!

What struck me in today's reading was the story of Zelophehad's daughters in Numbers 27. Their father died without having any sons to leave his property to. His daughters approached Moses, Eleazar, the leaders and the whole assembly to petition that their father's name not be lost from his clan as he was a faithful follower.

A couple of things in particular struck me here:
1. The daughters came together and approached all of these MEN in power to petition a cause that essentially went against regular protocol. My NIV study Bible says in the notes that "Their action in approaching Moses, Eleazar and the leaders of the nation was unprecedented, an act of courage and conviction". What a great testament of women coming together in a controlled, wise way to make a request. I love to imagine these strong, humble women, grieving the loss of their father coming to the Tent of Meeting with the purpose of ensuring their father's name is not forgotten.

2. I love how Moses takes what these women request seriously. He doesn't shush them and send them out of the way and say "That's not the way we do it". He hears them and takes their petition before The Lord.
Numbers 27:5-7
 5 So Moses brought their case before the LORD, 6 and the LORD said to him, 7 “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them.

3. The law is changed because of their courage! Numbers 27:8-11
 8 “Say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies and leaves no son, give his inheritance to his daughter. 9 If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11 If his father had no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan, that he may possess it. This is to have the force of law for the Israelites, as the LORD commanded Moses.’”

We've had some ongoing discussions this year about the value of women in Bible time, in God's eyes, in the Old vs New Testament etc. Looking at this story I see a God who is just, a God who wants to hear our requests and a God who delights in fulfilling them when they align with his values - regardless of gender!!! It was this way back in the Old Testament and New Testament AND TODAY! I want to encourage all of us to approach the throne of our God with humility, courage, and conviction, making our requests known to him so he can delight in fulfilling them in our lives.

Happy Sunday to you all!!

Tomorrow's passage: Numbers 28-30, Luke 1:21-38

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday, March 19-Pamela

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Numbers 23-25, Mark 16

Numbers 25:4
4 The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.”

Observation: Our sin is never hidden from God.

Application: Sin separates us from God. We are sinful by nature and despite every intention to cover up our sin, God knows our heart and everything is known to Him. Everything. Every thought, every action, intentional and unintentional. God knows and sees it all. One of things that I thought of when I read this verse was that sin often tends to be a private thing. Sins like lying, cheating, gossip, lustful thoughts, prioritizing other things above God, coveting the things we do not have, etc. tend to happen out of the public eye and are easy to mask or hide from others.

I've thought often during my daily readings that our sin does not just affect us. We never sin in isolation. Our actions can cause others to sin. Think about the 10 spies and the havoc they spread through the Isrealite camp as they spread their lies and unbelief that God would do as He said He would. Theses spies were leaders and people looked up to them and they led the people astray from God and there was serious consequences. Here was God, again, commanding Moses to air the "dirty laundry" of the LEADERS. He wanted to expose their sin and their cocky disobedience and make them an example to the others and a reminder of the consequences of sin.

We have reminders of our sin every day. It may not be a corpse in the middle of our camp that we have to pass every day. It might be a broken relationship torn by jealousy or unforgiveness that hits our gut when their name is mentioned. It might be a reputation that was damaged when we gave in to gossip and passed a story that was told in confidence and we feel guilty. God works our conscience, often privately, just like the privateness of our sin and uses it to bring our sin out in the open and make it known to others as and example of the harsh reality of what sin does or is doing in our lives.

Regardless of how private we think our sin is or whether we think our sins are hidden from everyone else, God knows. Most importantly, He knows and wants us expose them so that we can repent and draw close to Him.

Dear Lord,
You are a loving and merciful God but you also hold us accountable for our bad choices and our ability to influence others with our actions. We fall short of your glory and we are so thankful for the forgiveness that was bought for us by the blood of Jesus. Thank you. Help us to grow closer to You in all that we do. Guide us in ways to make our words and actions worthy of being on display to draw others close to You. Amen.

Tomorrow's passage: Numbers 26-27 - Luke 1:1-20

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday, March 18 ~ tammi

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Numbers 20-22, Mark 15:26-47

I am going to apologize in advance for what could be a rather incoherent post. My brain is just not here today ~ I think it may have been buried under all the snow we got yesterday...

The Old Testament reading opens up with Moses disregarding God's instructions to SPEAK to the rock and hitting it instead, and then being told as punishment he would also not be permitted to enter the Promised Land with the Israelites.

I feel for Moses a little bit here.  I'm not sure how, exactly, they can tell this, but according to the notes in my Bible, this is very close to the end of the Israelites' desert wanderings.  Which means Moses has been listening to almost 40 years of whining and complaining.  Once more, the people come to a place where there's no water, and instead of trusting God, who has shown over and over His miraculous provision for them, they whine about how great they had it back in Egypt, of all things! Seriously, I don't fault the man for snapping!!

And if this is indeed the second generation after the Exodus, they won't really have had any memories of Egypt at all, let alone it being a wonderful place! Which means their whining and complaining was passed on down from their parents.  Wow, what a sad legacy to leave when they could have left an incredible legacy of faith in God instead.

Then we have a bunch of cities and/or nations denying Israel safe passage, and as a result, some are cursed by God and some are just annihilated by the Israelite army.  Again, we have more complaints about the food and God sends a plague of poisonous snakes to punish them.  God tells Moses to make a bronze snake and raise it on a pole for all to see and everyone who looks at the snake statue will be healed.  This is a foreshadowing, of course, of Christ, who was also raised on a pole/cross to heal the sickness of sin.

Then we have more battles and more victories before coming to the very interesting story of a sorcerer named Balaam whose donkey talked to him and whom God used to bless His people even though Balaam had been hired to put a curse them.  What has always kind of confused me about this story is that when the initial request comes from Balak, the Moabite king, Balaam says he needs to inquire of the Lord.  Seems like an odd thing for a sorcerer to say, doesn't it?!

The other thing I find confusing is that at Balak's third request, God tells Balaam, "Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you."  And then the very next morning, it says Balaam saddled his donkey to go with the princes of Moab, and God "was very angry when he went."  I don't get that.  God had just told him to go the night before.  My Bible indicates it was Balaam's greedy attitude that angered God, but that's certainly not obvious from the text.  Just thought it was interesting.

Then the passage in Mark today tells of Jesus' crucifixion and burial.  I think the thing that always strikes me most about Jesus' death is the temple curtain being ripped in half, notably from top to bottom, as opposed to bottom to top, which would have given some cause to say it could have been done by the hands of men.  Although that would have been an amazing feat, if even possible ~ this was no ordinary curtain!  I was actually a little shocked at some of the statistics I found.

Though the credibility of the sources is tough to confirm, it seems widely accepted that the curtain was 60 ft long, 30 ft wide, four inches thick, and it weighed between 4 and 6 TONS.  It would have been like trying to tear a large city phone book in half!  Probably not even possible for a mere mortal!  And a simple fall from the lintel in the event of an earthquake would not have ripped it in half either.

This was so obviously an act of God and such a beautiful symbol of the access now granted to ANYONE seeking Him through Christ.  We no longer need to rely on human priests to approach God; we can enter into His presence ourselves whenever we want to!

All we need to do is call on the Name of His Son.

Tomorrow's passages: Numbers 23-25, Mark 16

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thursday, March 17 ~ Miriam

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Numbers 17-19; Mark 15:1-25.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everybody!  Are you wearing green?

Scripture - 
Numbers 17:8 - "The next day Moses entered the Tent of the Testimony and saw that Aaron's staff, which represented the house of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds."

Observation - 
God had told Moses that the staff belonging to the man he chose would sprout, but he exceeded their expectations by far.

Application - 
When God chooses to bless us, he not only meets our needs, but often exceeds our expectations and sometimes even gives us things we hadn't dared to hope for.  

For example, when we accept the sacrifice of Jesus and ask for our sins to be forgiven, not only are our sins forgiven, not only are we made pure and holy enough to stand before God, not only are we given the gift of the Holy Spirit, but we are also blessed with the immense privilege of going to heaven one day to live in joy and peace, praising God, and never having to worry, cry, or feel pain ever again.  

Closer to home, in our life on this earth, it is true that we will suffer sorrow, pain, and sickness, but we are also given the beauty of God's creation to enjoy, the privilege of a relationship with him in spite of our human nature and proclivity to sin, we are blessed with opportunities to serve others and thereby serve Him, we are entrusted with land and growing things, the care of His children (the children we raise as our own, as well as our families both genetically and through the blood of Christ), we are given opportunities to enjoy fellowship through church services, Bible studies, care groups, or whatever you choose to call them, and we are blessed with the hope and joy that looking forward to forever with Him offers us.

I wish I could remember to look at things from this standpoint all the time.  I'm a naturally optimistic person, so a lot of times I do remember how blessed I am and ignore the things I'm not so happy with, but we all have our days where we're down, or tired, or just generally feeling grumbly and we think of only the things we don't have and forget how much we've been given.  Even those of us with normally sunny dispositions have days where the clouds roll in.  (And suddenly the movie Annie is popping to mind... "Theeeeee sun'll come out, tomorrow...")  Sorry.  Anyway, the other song that comes it mind is 

Count Your Blessings

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
  1. When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
    Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
    And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
    • Refrain:
      Count your blessings, name them one by one,
      Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
      Count your blessings, name them one by one,
      *Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
      [*And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.]
  2. Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
    Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
    Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
    And you will keep singing as the days go by.
  3. When you look at others with their lands and gold,
    Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
    Count your many blessings—wealth can never buy
    Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.
  4. So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
    Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
    Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
    Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
*Alternate text.

Prayer - 
Heavenly Father, we thank you for this day, we thank you for the participation and encouragement of everyone who is coming along on this journey this year, we thank you that we have a venue like this in which to be accountable to each other and grow together.  Thank you for all the many ways you bless us each and every day.  Help us to count our blessings and to remember all the things you have given us that we didn't even know to ask for.  Give us the resources we need to serve others as you would have us do, help us to be good stewards of all you have entrusted to us, and when we're struggling with circumstances here on earth that we don't understand, help us to remember that there is more for us.  This is not all there is and we thank you for the promise of our reward in heaven and our home on high.  Bless each of us today as we seek to know you and serve you better.  In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

 Tomorrow's passage:  Numbers 20-22; Mark 15:26-47.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - Kathryn

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Numbers 15-16 - Mark 14:54-72

Does anyone else get like "woah", or "woooo!" when reading the word of God?  Sometimes I get so stinkin excited about what I read!  I learn so much.  But it's easy to learn by looking in on other peoples lives.  If only we had that same benefit in our own lives.  If only we could 'look in' to our lives and learn.  I guess that's why we need to remember that these people in the bible weren't spiritual cheeses like sometimes we think they are.  They were human, with faults and flaws just like me.  What would someone say of me looking in my life?  What's even better with seeing them as human is that it means we have the ability to change or fall just like them.

I saw a couple of neat things in both our new and old testament passages today.  The first that struck me was Numbers 15:14
For the generations to come, whenever a foreigner or anyone else living among you presents a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the LORD, they must do exactly as you do. (empasis mine)
My attention caught on the foreigner, or stranger as the NKJV states.  For some reason I always viewed the Hebrew tradition as closed, almost clique-ish.  Maybe it was my mind that was closed, but there always seemed to be a heavy animosity between the Jews and Gentiles, so I didn't think many from the outside were welcomed into the fold.  Perhaps that was a human feeling portrayed by the Jews and never Gods intent.  But here I see that God has made provision, from the beginning, for the 'stranger' to find redemption.  This scripture states here that they are to do exactly as the Jews are told to do.  God wants that all would come to Him, even as far back as the inception of the Jewish nation.  How are we in our churches with new or different, or, perhaps, 'strange' people?  God wants even them and He wants ALL to come to Him the same way, through faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus isn't reserved for the clean, or the chosen, or the beautiful.  We all are designed to come to Him the same way.  It's true what they say that the ground around the cross is even.

Numbers 15:32-36 strikes a big question mark in me.  I realize this man was probably used as an example.  But I feel kinda bad for the guy.  I mean he was gathering sticks.  We don't know why, but this hardly seems worthy of death.  But it is what the Lord had commanded, so ok.  I bet word got around about that one and I bet no one else worked on the Sabbath from there after.  But what about this; remember the passage of Jesus and his disciples plucking the heads of grain on the Sabbath?  Why didn't the Pharisees haul them off and stone them?  I know Jesus had a great answer for that, found in Matthew 12, but even in His answer He says "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."  Why couldn't mercy have been shown to this man here?  I know he was probably used as an example and I accept that, but still there are some things that I just don't understand about scripture.  I can tell you one thing, I am sure grateful we are under grace instead of the law.  I would have been stoned a long time ago!

And Mark, I cannot close without mentioning our Mark passage.  I have a lot of sympathy for Peter.  He is a bold, brave and courageous man.  He does a lot more than the other disciples do.  He walks on water, everyone else stayed in the boat, he follows Jesus to the courtyard of the high priest, everyone else scatters.  Peter gets a lot of flack for how he reacts in different situations, but I see a loyal man.  I have to wonder what I would do in that same situation.  Would I be among the scattered?  Or would I be standing in the shadows of the courtyard, able to hear the false accusations thrown at Jesus?  We've all been in situations where we know what is happening is wrong and our mind is screaming at us to say something and we don't!  I wonder what was going through Peter's mind that night.  Should he speak up and possibly be arrested too?  Should he stay silent and be around to care for his wife and family?  Where should his loyalties lie?  He is afraid, I would be too!  But he is incredibly brave, even in the face of great danger.

Peter spent every day for the past three years with Christ and even he floundered in the face of fear.  I'm not saying what he did was right, it's not.  But we can 'look in' on Peter's reaction and learn for ourselves.  The more I read of scripture the more I see that these people are not spiritual giants, but just ordinary people whose lives are laid bare for all to see.  I believe Peter reacted how many of us might.  In some strange way it comforts me.

Father God thank You for the examples of Your people in scripture.  Thank You for not leaving us alone to flounder aimlessly, but You have provided, as You always do.  Help us to learn from them and to change so that in the face of uncertainty we can stand firm.  Amen.  

 Tomorrow's passage: Numbers 17-19, Mark 15:1-25

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday, March 15th

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Numbers 12-14 - Mark 14:27-53

In today's passage we see the Israelites completely self-destruct. No matter how many times I read this, for some reason everytime I try and will them to believe and change the outcome of the story. Of course, it never works.

We already know the Israelites are grumblers, and persistent grumbling is reflective of unbelief. This unbelief becomes full fledged - and the sad thing is - they never learn from it, not even during the ensuing 40 yr punishment.

Anyway, our passage starts with Aaron and Miriam giving in to envy. This is a pretty universal problem, even to true believers (as Aaron and Miriam obviously were). But they made some pretty audacious claims which were really insults directed to God and His choice of leader for the Israelites - completely forgetting the fact that they were only the leaders they were because of their relationship to Moses.

The amazing thing is that Moses does not defend himself against this libel. And, as indicated in the passage, this is an act of true humility. I'm sure we can all attest to the fact that it is incredibly difficult not to defend ourselves against unjust accusations.

The good thing is that Aaron and Miriam both see the error of their ways, repent and learn their lesson - something the other Israelites unfortunately do not do.

This story is a good lesson to us - nobody is immune to envy, even to spiritual envy. And we need to be on guard lest we fall into that easy trap.

And then the disaster of the spies report. I loved what Rev Rayburn said about the difference between the 10 faithless spies and the 2 faithful spies.....

One commentator helpfully notices that the difference between the majority report and the minority report was where to put the “but.” [Duguid, 169] They were in substantial agreement about the facts. No one disputed that the land was wonderfully fruitful, flowing with milk and honey. No one disputed that there were fortified cities and impressive people inhabiting the land. No one disputed that the population of Canaan represented a formidable force to be overcome. For the ten scouts the “but” came after the account of the prosperity of Canaan. Sure the land is fruitful, just look at these grapes! But… But the people are powerful, the cities are fortified, there are individual Canaanite men that make the twelve Israelite men look like schoolboys. How was Israel to contend with such opposition?

For the two scouts in the minority, Joshua and Caleb, the “but” came later. The land is wonderfully fruitful. Can’t wait to move in and begin enjoying the wealth of the country. And, to be sure, the cities are fortified and the Canaanite armies impressive. But the Lord has promised us this land and, as Caleb puts it in v. 30, “let’s go; we can do this. If we can cross the Yam Suph on dry ground, if we could leave the vaunted Egyptian army buried in the sea, if we could walk out of Egypt no one molesting us and in fact loading us down with gold and silver jewelry, if we can survive in the wilderness without the wherewithal to grow any food, we can certainly take possession of this land. Besides, Hebron is there, the tombs of our ancestors, the very ones to whom the Lord made the promise of this land.” The ten had only the appearance of faith because their faith, such as it was, did not render the presence, power, and promise of God real to them. The two had genuine faith because they were quite ready to act on the strength of God’s presence, power, and promise.

The question is - Where will we put the "but"?

Tomorrow's passage: Numbers 15-16 - Mark 14:54-72

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday, March 14th

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Numbers 9-11, Mark 14:1-26

Unfortunately, Sandy has strep again (or still!), so I'm doing her post for her.

I read a few interesting sermons on these OT passages by Rev Rayburn.

In his sermon on the beginning of Chapter 9, Rayburn shows how there are two seemingly opposite truths being taught by this scripture, that are sometimes hard for us to put together.

The Bible does this fairly often, like we've seen with God's sovereignty and the freewill of man. Both doctrines are true, but they seem to be opposite to our human viewpoint, and we're not given a way to get from one to the other. Same with the concept of the Trinity - both the doctrine of One True God, and the doctrine of the godhead existing in three persons, are true. But it is really hard for our human minds to grasp how they can both be true at the same time.

Rayburn indicates that there are two doctrinal truths being taught in this passage that are also hard for us to reconcile, if we believe in both of them wholeheartedly.

They are...
  1. In the first place we have God’s law as demand and requirement to be strictly obeyed...The point is: there are laws and regulations that we are obliged to observe; obliged because God has laid them down in his Law. We are not free to alter that law no matter the reason.....

    And lest anyone think that this strictness in demand and the threat of judgment for disobedience is peculiar to the OT, as if the Lord were harsher in the ancient epoch than he is today ... the same emphasis is found in the NT. There are a great many texts I could cite, but since we are talking about the sacraments let me remind you of 1 Cor. 11:27 and 30 where Paul tells the Corinthian church that some among them had already suffered the judgment of the Lord because they had profaned the sacrament. Some were sick and some were dead because they had not carefully observed the requirements the Lord had laid down for the proper observance of the sacrament – sickness and death just as in Numbers 9. They also had been cut off from the people.

    But that is not the whole story. There is another pole on the continuum of the Bible’s teaching about the law. The Bible tells us something else about God’s law that is not easily reconciled with this emphasis on its strict and inflexible demand, the requirements that cannot be broken, and the forbidding of all deviations.

  2. In the second place there is in God’s Law a wonderful accommodation and concern to meet the real-life situations of human beings. Requirements are tailored to help, not to hinder the life of God’s people....And, while we might have supposed that the Lord would simply have said that the Passover, being a commemoration of an actual historical event had to be observed on its proper date, the Lord in fact bends to meet the need of his people to ensure they would not miss his blessing. He doesn’t want anyone left out. He wants everyone to have the blessing of the feast. Before this, of course, the Lord in effect had as much as said that if his people could not participate because they were providentially hindered, he would not hold it against them. There is a great deal of difference between the person who doesn’t go to church because he doesn’t want to and the person who can’t because he is sick or infirm, or a soldier in the field, or, like Robinson Crusoe, marooned on a desert island. The Lord knows the difference! Some, for no fault of their own would not be able to participate but the Lord would not for that reason accuse them of a fault. But he goes still further. He makes an accommodation for those who couldn’t participate.

    He allows this group of people – and all subsequent folk like them – to take the Passover a month later. That is a remarkable concession when you think about it; when you think about what Passover commemorated and about how strictly it was to be observed according to the regulations laid down, one of which stipulated the date on which it was to be observed. But the law is an expression of God’s goodness and his love and so it should not really surprise us that he makes even his law to accommodate the difficulties of his people’s lives....

    The Lord was happy to accommodate real life situations. The Lord by his Law was after something in us and didn’t necessarily care how that thing was got if only it was got. There is a spirit to these laws, a basic interest, and it is this spirit that matters most...

    the law is both firm and flexible, both demanding and understanding, both hard and gentle, both the expression of God’s holiness and of his love and tender affection for his people. The law said that Passover must be held on the fourteenth day of the first month because it was on that day the event itself occurred that the feast was created to commemorate. But the law also said that if someone couldn’t make that date, he or she could observe it on another. Remarkable and so important to a true understanding of the very nature of God’s law. True as it is that unbelievers need to hear about the blessing of living under God’s law, of having reliable direction for our lives, and knowing that that direction comes from the heart of a God who loves us so much he gave his Son for our salvation; I say, as important as it is for unbelievers to know this, it is also important for Christians – who can also chafe against God’s law, for they have the spirit of rebellion still living in them – to remember themselves how blessed are the people who love God’s law.
    (emphasis in bold mine)
I found his sermon on the rest of Chapter 9 and 10 to be rather thought provoking. I agreed with him on parts and disagreed in others, but have not had time to really think it through that much. He indicates that when Christians claim to receive a revelation from God, it's really hogwash. It's really us "putting out a fleece" but slanting it in our favour, or seeing and hearing things we want to hear. And claiming "God told me" or "God gave me peace" about this decision, makes it hard for other Christians to question it, because who are we to question God's divine revelation?

He indicates that we are wanting a pillar of fire or cloud to obviously direct our paths, like God did for the Israelites, but that we really do not need it. We have the Word of God, and we have our own personal "Hobabs" (Moses bil upon whose desert expertise he relied) to guide us in our journey.

And for the most part, I agree with that. We have the Word (which, when read and applied to our lives, will take care of a lot of our decisions) and we do have godly mentors and leaders who can give us wise advice.

But he doesn't seem to be allowing for the work of the Holy Spirit. I do believe that the Holy Spirit does work to lead and guide us when we are praying with the right motives (I do believe that we are sometimes guilty of doing the slanted fleece thing and "blaming" the Holy Spirit for our decisions too). I do believe that the Holy Spirit can call individuals to certain ministry work, or to certain jobs, or to marry certain people. But where is that fine line? I think it comes down to our own personal motives, our heart - and nobody but God can judge its purity. What are your thoughts on this?

He also had some very convicting words to say about grumbling in his sermon on Chapter 11. This has gotten really long, so I need to cut this short. But I have always read this coming section with a haughty attitude. Oh, I've tried to say "I'm sure I would've been no better" because it's the Christian thing to say, but I really thought I would've been better! (can you say firstborn anyone?! OK, and pride issues too apparently) However, I've also never taken grumbling nearly as seriously as God obviously does and this sermon really stepped on my toes.

He says that grumbling is evidence of unbelief; it is forgetting (or not appreciating, or taking for granted) God, His love and His power; it is a denial of God's providence; and it occurs when present trials triumph over the future rewards.

He makes the obvious (well, now it's obvious, but it wasn't to me before this) parallel between the Israelites journey through the wilderness while pressing on to the Promised Land, and our journey here on earth as we press on towards heaven. Suddenly I'm not feeling to prideful anymore. I'd encourage you to read it, if you have the time.

Tomorrow's passage: Numbers 12-14 - Mark 14:27-53