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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Day 88: We choose the LORD

Today's Reading: Joshua 22-24

From bricks and slavery
to manna and freedom
We choose the LORD

From fear and death
to dancing and life
We choose the LORD

From impurity and bitterness
to holiness and rejoicing
We choose the LORD

From double-mindedness and faithlessness
to covenant and obedience
We choose the LORD

From discord and selfishness
to community and shalom
We choose the LORD

From wanderings and wilderness
to boundaries and promised land
We choose the LORD

LORD, you have chosen us
Now we choose you.

May we dwell in your love.
May we dwell in your peace.
May we dwell in your refuge.

Day 87: Our Holy City of Refuge

Today's Reading: Joshua 19-21

I am fascinated by the concept of cities of refuge, a safe hiding place for those who have committed an unintentional yet horrible sin--manslaughter. The Hebrew word translated "refuge" gets it roots in the concept of "deformed" or "handicapped," the sorry state of all humanity. Each one of us under the power of sin carries "dysfunction" around with us daily--unintentionally, I might add.

Six cities (6 being the number meaning less than God or perfection, the day humans were created) were set aside. Each city name carries an insight into the understanding of refuge.

Kadesh--a place of sanctification
Shechem--a place where the burden is "shouldered," where people have your "back"
Kiriath-arba--city of the "fourth," the number of creation
Bezer--"remote fortress"
Ramoth--"stone heap," reminiscent of stones dropped and judgment withheld
Golan--"their captivity, their rejoicing"

You see, legally, a blood kin could avenge the death due to the compensatory code: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. But the LORD devised an option for the sinner--flee to the city of refuge, stand before the judges and state your case. Sounds a lot like the spiritual discipline of confession where we flee to the righteousness of Christ, stand before him and confess, "I am a sinner." The city of refuge must take the one fleeing in to the city, give him or her a place of refuge and allow that person a dwelling place. The Psalmist (in Psalm 32) calls God "my hiding place."

The one causing the accidental death must stay "captive" in the city, captive in a place of safety, until the death of the High Priest. Hebrews 5 speaks of Jesus being our High Priest who "deals with us gently." His death set all the captives free from the punishment of death.

As we enter Holy Week, let us rejoice in the one who took us in, gave us a place of refuge and sets us free by his death.

There is a Balm in Gilead.

Steal away to Jesus.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Day 86: Land

Today's Reading: Joshua 16-18

One can inherit a lot of things: money, paintings, furniture, and a bunch of old "stuff." I consider myself fortunate. My inheritance from my parents was land. Money can be spent, paintings lose their charm, furniture crumble and the old "stuff" might end up at the local Goodwill, but land is land. It remains.

Today, as with previous chapters, there is much talk of inheritance and land. When one has land, one can sustain one's self. Crops can be grown and cattle can graze. Trees can be planted and fruit harvested. Homes can be built. Children can have space to run and play.

The land described in today's passage is the most argued over land today. People are dying and killing over the land issue. Three "siblings," three religious groups, from the same father, Abraham, are arguing over their inheritance. In modern culture, there seems to be no one to arbitrate the argument, though many are trying.

One of Joshua's jobs was to make sure there was land apportioned appropriately--enough land to sustain a tribe of people. Much of scripture is the telling of the boundaries of the land which has been claimed by, robbed by and promised to the sons and daughters of Israel.

Promised land...an interesting phrase.

Land promised to the Israelites; a kingdom dreamed of by those who follow Christ. Isn't it interesting that the inheritance God gives is land? Land created and sustained by God's hand.

This weekend has been a good one to be digging in the dirt, to be tilling the land. Many find comfort and satisfaction in this very old and very sustaining use of time.

Let us give thanks to God today for the land all around us--for the land we own, the land we share and the promised land of eternity.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Day 85: You are old...

Today's Reading: Joshua 12-15

Joshua and Caleb were the two men who carried the history of Israel in their very beings. They were the only two Israelites who actually lived in the midst of the slavery of Egypt, witnessed the devastation of the plagues, waited in their homes during the passover, crossed the Red Sea, wandered in the wilderness, ate the manna, lived through the testings, spied out the land, crossed the Jordan, fought at Jericho and settled in the Promised Land.

What a life they had!

Our reading today begins with the LORD telling Joshua, "You are old, and yet, there is so much more to do." (paraphrase of Joshua 13: 1)

I had a birthday this week, and though I am in my 50's, there are days when I feel the advancement of the years in my body. Many of us, as we move into our "golden years," look forward to retirement years of ease. We hope to have time, finally, to do what we want to do, without the pressures of work or the responsibilities of raising a family. But as we age, we must remember there is still so much more to do.

In the church, it is important for the older members to pass the torch to the younger members, to make space for the new generation, to mentor them in leadership. But there is no excuse for sitting around and using age as the reason for inactivity in the kingdom of God.

We might become old, but there is always so much more to do. Our goal as we age should be to labor in the fields of the LORD until we breathe our last breath.

As I visit the elderly in my church, I hear many complaints of bones aching and brains misfiring. The flesh does wither and weaken, for sure. But our hearts and spirits should be thriving with wisdom and hope for the future kingdom of our LORD.

This past week, I had the joy of listening to an 80+ year old from my church share her excitement about her Sunday School class of 12-14 year olds. She delighted in their growing ability to talk theologically and expanding commitment to discipleship with Jesus. She thanked me over and over for "allowing" her to teach this group of young people. Amazing...

I thanked her for her commitment to the kingdom!

The call upon her life has been the call upon Peter's life: Feed my lambs, Feed my sheep.

I want to be like her "when I grow up." I want it to be said of me, "she might be old, but she has so much more to do and give for her LORD."

In the movie, O Brother, Where art thou? I was introduced to an old bluegrass song performed by the Peasall Sisters. Today, it is my theme song.

In the highways in the hedges
In the highways in the hedges
In the highways in the hedges
I'll be somewhere a workin for my Lord

I'll be somewhere a workin
I'll be somewhere a workin
I'll be somewhere a workin
I'll be somewhere a workin for my Lord

When he calls me I will answer
When he calls me I will answer
When he calls me I will answer
I'll be somewhere a workin for my Lord

In the highways in the hedges
In the highways in the hedges
In the highways in the hedges
I'll be somewhere a workin for my Lord

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Day 84: Looks can be deceiving

Today's Reading: Joshua 9-11

The evening of December 6, 1941, US military personnel stationed at Pearl Harbor were operating in "peace time" mode. Sailors were sitting in incredible vessels harbored with the rest of the US fleet. The sun and sands of the islands made a perfect setting for young men and women to be enjoying themselves. Life was good. The military personnel felt safe and secure. Little did they know, the enemy was on the way to attack at a vulnerable place--their complacency and ease.

Living in the grace of the LORD is a wonderful thing. Life goes along well with God's guidance and we have a tendency to relax. We are not as vigilant.

In 1 Peter 5:8 we read these words of warning:

"Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour."

In today's passage, Joshua and the Israelites are known by their world as the ones with whom God dwells. The Canaanite communities know of the Israelites' presence in their midst. They've heard the stories how the Israelites' God has delivered the Hebrew people.

While Joshua and the Israelites are enjoying this fame, a "lion" is lurking and plotting in the bushes to trick them, to devour them.

A caravan arrives, appearing to have journeyed a long distance. Bread is moldy. Sandals and clothing are patched and worn. Sacks are worn out and wineskins are dry and cracked.

With human eyes, the Israelites make a judgment about the impossibility of threat from these people and thus, decide to make a peace treaty with them. Though at first they ask the right questions, they make the decision by appearances, by what the eye can see.

There is one line in the passage today that highlights their crucial mistake:

"(They) did not inquire of the LORD."
Joshua 9:14

Once again, the life of faith teeters on the this principle. Just how dependent on God are we willing to be? When everything looks clear cut, do we need to ask God? This passage tells us, looks can be deceiving. The opportunity might look great. The future might seem fabulous! The risk might seem low. But who knows what is really happening?

Only God knows the hearts of people and the future. Only God knows the full truth of a situation. We must never forget, there are people and spirits "lurking around", out to deceive us. Our sight must be totally dependent upon the LORD vision.

This works both ways. Some opportunity that looks fabulous might be disastrous. Some situation that does not look at all promising might hold the most incredible future.

Once the mistake was made and recognized, Joshua remained righteous. He kept his promise to the deceivers, but also put a boundary around them; he controlled their ability to effect the progress of his people.

Each story has something to teach us. Today, may our awareness be heightened. May we not jump at opportunities which seem fabulous without consulting God first. May it never be said of us, they were deceived because they did not inquire of the LORD.

Be Thou, my vision, O LORD of my heart.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day 83: Whose side is God on?

Today's Reading: Joshua 5-8

There is a question asked frequently during times of political debate and war: "Whose side is God on?" Both sides have people praying to protect and advance their troops. With whom does God side?

Each side presumes God is on their side, for their cause.

In today's scripture, Joshua asks a man with a drawn sword, "Are you for us or for our adversaries?"

The man reveals himself as the captain of the host/army of the LORD. He basically says, "I'm not a side taker; I am one who follows the commands and leads the army of the LORD."

So we ask the wrong question. This should not surprise us. It seems we find ourselves in the good company of Adam and Eve, Job, Noah, Joseph and Moses. They too at one time or another were focusing on the wrong question, the wrong issue.

The right question is "Who is on the LORD's side?"

There is an old hymn in some dusty and worn out hymnals on some hidden away church shelves. The famous hymnist, Frances Ridley Havergal, wrote these words:

Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the King?
Who will be His helpers, other lives to bring?
Who will leave the world’s side? Who will face the foe?
Who is on the Lord’s side? Who for Him will go?
By Thy call of mercy, by Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord’s side—Savior, we are Thine!

Not for weight of glory, nor for crown and palm,
Enter we the army, raise the warrior psalm;
But for love that claimeth lives for whom He died:
He whom Jesus nameth must be on His side.
By Thy love constraining, by Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord’s side—Savior, we are Thine!

Jesus, Thou hast bought us, not with gold or gem,
But with Thine own life blood, for Thy diadem;
With Thy blessing filling each who comes to Thee,
Thou hast made us willing, Thou hast made us free.
By Thy grand redemption, by Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord’s side—Savior, we are Thine!

Fierce may be the conflict, strong may be the foe,
But the King’s own army none can overthrow;
’Round His standard ranging, victory is secure,
For His truth unchanging makes the triumph sure.
Joyfully enlisting, by Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord’s side—Savior, we are Thine!

Chosen to be soldiers, in an alien land,
Chosen, called, and faithful, for our Captain’s band,
In the service royal, let us not grow cold;
Let us be right loyal, noble, true and bold.
Master, Thou wilt keep us, by Thy grace divine,
Always on the Lord’s side—Savior, always Thine!


The next time we pray for our country, let us remember our loyalty and ask the proper question.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 82: Bet Shawnee Khoot

Today's Reading: Joshua 1-4

There are some surprising stories in the Bible. These are the stories where, as you are reading along, you think, "Did I just read what I thought I read?"

Today, we have the tribes of Israel pledging allegiance to their new leader with words like, "All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go." These words in and of themselves are shocking, but the words that follow really make me scratch my head. "Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you."

Have they been in the same story I've been reading all these last 40+ days? I surely have not seem much "obedience in all things." Have you?

Then, Joshua sends out a scouting group; and where do they lodge for the night? Not the Best Western. They lodge with a known prostitute. Can you imagine sending the leaders of your church on a journey and finding out later that they stayed at a cat house!

These stories are really shocking. I find that I read along, read along, and because I've heard them so many times, I sometimes miss the irony; the shocking, naked truths so blatantly expressed.

And don't you love the "deal" between the harlot and the spies? The Israelites allow the harlot to lie for them, they promise to save the harlot and whomever she can get in her home, and vow their lives to her if she hangs a scarlet cord out her window. Talk about intrigue. This reminds me of a James Bond film.

The red light district now has a red cord hanging out the window. It would have had to have been some sort of signal unnoticed by the rest of the visitors to the house of ill repute. It was a house of women. The cord could have been a menstrual cloth, soaked in blood.

The house of the scarlet cord--bet shawnee khoot.

The theological images run rampant in this story. The lowest and most outcast of society become the heroes of the story. People gather under a roof to be saved from the angel of death. Red/blood is the signal of salvation.

In this story we hear the echos of stories past and yet to come. Sounds a little like the ark story---salvation to all under one roof. Sounds like Passover all over again---red blood markings to signal the messengers of death to avoid anyone within the walls of this home. Sounds like the tabernacle sanctuary where scarlet curtains hung representing the sacrifices. Sounds like baptism---you shall be saved; you and your household by the blood of the lamb. Sounds like most of Jesus' stories where those outside the faith community in positions of disdain become the ones who act faithfully and are lifted up as examples.

So who are you in this story?

Are you the James Bond spies, chosen as the leaders of the church on a dangerous mission?

Are you the outcast "harlot?"

Are you someone who hears death is looming and so you run to a house for sanctuary?

Are you in the Bet Shawnee Khoot?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 81: Life Song

Today's Reading: Deuteronomy 32-34, Psalm 91

Yesterday at church, the pastor showed this video from youtube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bL124iw4TBs

After watching it, he asked each of us to tell our neighbor what song they would hear if the stethoscope was put to our heart.

Our reading today is Moses' song. It is his favorite hymn which is on his lips as he is about to meet his Maker in death. It rings with acclamation! It speaks of his great trust and love for his Lord.

After years in the dessert with God and God's people, Moses can still proclaim, "Ascribe greatness to our God!" After seeing God's blessings and God's curses, God's delight and God's wrath, Moses can still proclaim, "God's work is perfect!" While knowing he will not be able to enter the promised land, Moses can still proclaim, "All God's ways are just!"

The Psalmist acts as the voice of the angels and God, speaking back the promises of love and life to the one who extols the LORD God. The pairing of these two songs, Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 91, are a dialogue of love between two intimates.

Moses leaves life with a hymn upon his lips and a blessing upon his hands. His is not a death of bitterness or sorrow. His is not a death of drear or fear. He is able to greet death with singing and praise.

This is the way I want to die. With no regrets. With praise and trust on my lips. With blessing and hope for those who follow me.

What about you?

Day 80: Be strong and courageous!

Today's Reading: Deuteronomy 30-31

Be strong and courageous.

This will not be the last time we hear these words. These are the "Joshua" words. These are the words that defined Joshua's call and character.

"Joshua" means "Jehovah is Salvation." In English, we say "Joshua." The Hebrew is "Yeshua." In Aramaic, the name is "Jesus." "He shall save his people from their sin."

The call upon Joshua's life was to live a life of strength and courage grounded in the sure and certain knowledge that God was his and his people's salvation. The call upon Jesus' life was to live a life of strength and courage grounded in the sure and certain knowledge that, as God, and, with God, salvation would be accomplished. As Christians, the call upon our lives is to live life with courageous strength, knowing that we know that we know God is our salvation and nothing in all of heaven above, earth below or under the earth can separate us from our victorious Savior.

Wouldn't it be great to hear this cry, this cheer, this exhortation everyday? What would happen if people of faith would leave each other's company with the encouraging words, "Be strong and courageous!" How would your life change if every morning you walked out the door of your home with the charge, "Be strong and courageous today, dear child of God!"

This is our charge! These are our marching orders! Don't be wimpy, wimpy, wimpy! Be hefty, hefty, hefty!

Hefty in love.

Hefty in truth.

Hefty in hope.

Hefty in faith.

What a great way to live life!

Day 79: Your life...

Today's Reading: Deuteronomy 28-29

"So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you shall be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life."
Deuteronomy 28:66

OK. Let's get real about your life. About my life.

How do you feel at this moment?

Happy? Melancholy? Hopeful? Energetic? Doubtful?

How do you sleep at night?

Peacefully? Fitfully? Deeply? Or do you toss and turn and worry constantly?

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your life attitude?

The picture I get from our key verse today is of a person walking down a road with a picture hanging in front of her. The picture is dependent upon her relationship with God; her submission to God's will.

When her life is lined up with the ways of the world, the picture turns into a horror scene or one painted in dark navys and blacks. But when aligned with God, the picture hanging before her is filled with bright colors or pastels.

Sometimes the best gauge of our relationship to God is the picture that hangs before our walk. Despite circumstances, how does your picture look?

Day 78: When you cross the Jordan

Today's Reading: Deuteronomy 24-27

There is nothing like a fresh start. Most of us celebrate fresh starts on New Year's Day. We make resolutions and hope to keep them. We have great intentions and lots of energy to keep those high ideals.

Imagine what it felt like for the people of Israel as they stood on the bank of the Jordan River and were about to "cross over." Imagine the excitement. Imagine the hope. Imagine the great intentions.

Moses, at the front of the assembly, unable to cross over with these people with whom he had traveled for 40 years, reminds the people of the covenant. The verses from chapter 27: 15-26 reiterate a new way of living. It is a list of cursings, but it reads like a victory cheer.

It is as if Moses is saying, "We will live in such a way that displays great holiness. Any less is unacceptable to us."

And all the people say, "Amen!"

The coach is marching his team out onto the field after 40 years of training. A new beginning. A new day. A new victorious lifestyle.

And all the rules are about living with one another in a new way. A way of respect, kindness and boundaries.

Have you come to your Jordan River in your life?

Are you ready to cross over?

Are you wading through the water?

Or are you living victoriously on the other side?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 77: No cotton polyester

Today's Reading: Deuteronomy 21-23

Among all the rules, and there are a lot of them, we see too which we break all the time in our society. Even very faithful people break them. No two seeds in the same field. No mixed fibers in your clothing.

On the surface, one scratches one's head and says, "What! That doesn't make sense." Most of us who garden plant multiple seeds in one place. We mix different types of corn seed in a field to produce a better, insect resistant hybrid. We mix fibers all the time to avoid a fabric that' requires a lot of ironing.

These rules must be understood in the context of God's teaching against idolatry. God didn't want people to think they could worship more than the one true God. No mixing of faith or loyalty. This was demonstrated not only in their faith but in their clothing and their fields.

I am a purist. I like 100% cotton and nothing keeps me warmer in the winter like a100% wool sweater. I prefer organic food and pure, clean water. I love a 100% faithful husband and am thankful for God's 100% love. When viewed in this light, the purity and faithfulness of cloth and seed makes sense.

Once again, the rules point to the holiness of God, played out in the actions of God's people. Do you think we'll ever understand this main message of God to us? Faithfulness, purity, cleanliness...they all matter deeply to God.

When will they matter to us?

Day 76: When you go out to battle...

Today's Reading: Deuteronomy 17-20

"Hear, O Israel, you are approaching the battle against your enemies today. Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you."
Deuteronomy 20:3-4

I have never been in a war, but I have been in a battle. The longest most drawn out battle I faced was a battle with cancer. The words in this verse are very appropriate.

The first is to determine the name of the enemy. Mine was cancer, but it can also be anything that is challenging your body or soul's health. We are not to let our hearts faint; we are not to let the strength of our hearts dissipate. No fear or worry or quaking is to follow.

Most people would be afraid, worried and panicky with diagnoses of life threatening illness or soul shattering circumstances. But we are not to be this way. Why? Because the LORD our God is the one who goes with us, to fight and to save.

I have never been a fighter. I'm competitive but I don't like fights. I would rather give in to something or someone than fight. It makes me feel secure that God is the one who fights my battles.

And like a knight in shining armor, God not only fights, but saves. God not only slays the dragon but rescues me from the evil tower.

Later in this chapter it says that when one is about to go into battle, they are to appear before the priests. For me, there is nothing like the prayers of the priesthood of believers when I am facing a battle. It is great to be consecrated to the LORD.

No matter what battle you are facing today, remember that the LORD God is with you and fighting for you.

And if the LORD is for you, who can be against you.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 75: Justice

Today's Reading: Deuteronomy 14-16

"Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you."
Deuteronomy 16:20

Justice is a word thrown around a lot in theological and political circles. Everyone attaches the word "justice" to their favorite cause or passion.

Both pro-life and pro-choice advocates claim justice to be at the heart of their cause. People who support the health care bill and those who do not would argue the issue is about justice. And what about those who want the death penalty and those who abhor it? Both claim justice.

Daily, our children claim allegiance to the flag, declaring "liberty and justice for all." I wonder what we mean when we say those words?

"If there is a poor one with you, one of your brothers (or sisters), in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor relation; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks."
15:7-8

It seems generosity is at the heart of justice. People are to take care of each other, especially those who are near to them, either relationally or geographically. The generosity is to supply more than basic need. "Freely open your hand to him."

There is an attitude here also. Justice comes without a snide or darkened heart. When giving, one should not calculate the loss. "Your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him." One is not to lord over another. One is not to give grudgingly but freely.

And once the debt is paid back, the lender is to "furnish liberally" from his or her own storehouse so that the one in need may begin life fresh.

I wonder what would happen if we took this kind of justice to heart. This kind of justice would surely bring about a new kind of liberty--a liberty for the one lifted up, and a liberty to the giver.

LORD, teach us more and more about your generous ways.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Day 74: Blind sight

Today's Reading: Deuteronomy 11-13

Today's chapters reiterate, over and over again, the command and warning against idolatry.

One is not to worship other gods.

One is not to worship at the site of other gods.

One is not to be encouraged by beloved relatives to worship other gods.

God is serious about this.

At the heart of idolatry is the phrase: "Everyone did whatever was right in their own eyes." Deuteronomy 12:8

This phrase becomes one of the central phrases in the Deuteronomic formula and always hales the beginning of a new round of idolatry.

Here is the hard thing:

It does not matter whether someone is doing something out of ignorance. Good intentions are not an excuse for idolatry.

This is a humbling and scary thought. Any of us at any time might be sitting smack dab in the midst of idolatry and not even know it. We might be going along, trip, and put our hand on something holy to balance ourselves and be condemned. We might be drawing water from a well, meet a stranger and be told the mountain site of worship shown to us by our ancestors is incorrect. We might be worshipping in our little white clabber board church, separated from our slaves, who are worshipping down by the river, and be ignorant to the sinful pride of our prejudice.

Most of us live by the principal of doing what is right in our own eyes. But all of us are blind. We cannot see; we cannot comprehend God.

This was the sin of the Pharisees, good religious folk. They were trying to do what God wanted them to do. They were doing what was right in their own eyes.

I am humbled and scared by the thought that I do not worship the LORD my God properly. I wonder how often He shakes his head at me, or cries out, "No! No! You have it all wrong!"

As soon as we become prideful in our own theologies and ceremonies, and structures become more important to us than worshipping "in spirit and in truth," we are in danger.

My only hope against idolatry is my hope in the Holy Spirit who will interpret all my bumbling. My only hope is in my great High Priest who intercedes on my behalf. My only hope is in the faithfulness of the LORD God.

Otherwise, I am just a blind one walking around aimlessly in darkness.

Day 73: Humbled

Today's Reading: Deuteronomy 8-10

"Humble" is one of those words whose meaning is hard to get one's mind around. It's sister word, "meek," is also illusive. Sometimes words like "false modesty" or "doormat" try to masquerade as "humble" and "meek," but one can always sense a bit of deception. Today's passage helps me to understand this word "humble" better than any other.

"God humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that the LORD might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD."
Deuteronomy 8:3

Humility does not allow separateness but has to do with relationship. It is a realization of dependence or, at least, interdependence. Humility realizes its deep need for "the other." It also seems to realize this need goes beyond its own understanding. There is mystery involved in humility. Humility seems to say, "I can't live without you because you give me something I can't create for myself. What I receive from you I don't and can't even comprehend."

This dependence does not exclude creativity, though. The humble are still able to build, create, tend, mine, and live fruitful lives. At the heart of humility, though, there is a gratitude and awareness that all the activities, resources and talents are grace filled gifts from someone other than the self.

There is a humility I have in my relationship with my husband. Though I lived as a single person for longer than most of my generation, I am very aware that he provides something for me which I cannot provide for myself. There is a mysterious safety and "at ease-ness" that I have when he is home and putsing around. I depend upon him. He fills in many of the gaps in my life.

This humility extends to my friends and colleagues. And as we begin to understand humility, we recognize the inter-connectedness we all have with one another.

A trip to the grocery store becomes an exercise in humility. Just think, how many people were involved in the filling of my grocery cart. From the ones who planted the seeds, tended the orchards, raised and milked the cow, raised and butchered the meat, grew the grains, climbed mountains so I could have coffee beans...the list goes on and on.

At the root of all humility is our Creator, the LORD our God. It is important to not forget, to remember, that all good gifts around us are sent mysteriously to us from God.

We cannot comprehend what makes a seed grow. We can observe the growth. We can plant and water and put the seed in a warm spot, but we cannot create the seed, the dirt, the water or the sunlight, much less initiate growth in the seed.

Being humble sits one down in the seat of gratitude which is the seed of worship. The mysterious providence of God truly demands our grateful response.

"You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is the LORD who is giving you power to make wealth..."
Deuteronomy 8: 18

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
Matthew 5:5

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Day 72: 5-5-5

Today's Reading: Deuteronomy 5-7

Confirmation was a very important milestone in my life. There were 36 of us in the class. The first year, Mr. Heidenrich grilled us on Bible and had us typing our weekly homework. Prior to Mr. H., Mr. Bangert read us a Psalm every Sunday and grilled us on New Testament. But the second year of confirmation was taught by my dad.

The first day of confirmation, each of us drew a number out of a hat and sat in the designated assigned seat with that number. You see, we had to memorize the Evangelical Catechism, and believing competition would push us in our endeavors, we had numbered seating. If we missed a question we were to have memorized, we moved back a seat. We could only move up if the person in front of us missed an answer and we knew it.

I drew seat 16.

Our first lesson was on grace, then scripture, followed by creation, the fall, redemption, sanctification, sacraments, confession, prayer...well, you get the idea. When Dad taught about creation, he added procreation, the big term which we found out meant "sex ed." Talk about embarrassing!

When we learned about original sin and the Fall, we memorized the long version of the 10 commandments. Wanting to give us a memory clue, Dad told us the 10 commandments could be found at 2-20-2 or 5-5-5.

Today, we are at 5-5-5: fifth book (Deuteronomy), fifth chapter, fifth verse.

Chapters 5 and 6 in Deuteronomy are weighty chapters, chock full of wonderful stuff; probably the first two chapters memorized by young boys working toward their bar mitzvah. Not only is there the central moral code for living, but the great Shema.

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!

This is the Jewish faith, the roots of the Christian faith in one central verse. Listen! (Shema!) YHWH is our God. It doesn't matter who other people worship, YHWH is our God. And the LORD (YHWH) is one. One God: one LORD, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all. Monotheism.

Also, the first great commandment is here: Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

I was fortunate beyond all blessing. I had a mother and dad who took chapters five and six of Deuteronomy seriously. They insisted we memorize, writing God's word on the tablets of our hearts. They taught us diligently; whether we were rising or going to bed, sitting, standing, walking, digging in a garden, working on homework, arguing with siblings, we were immersed in God's word.

Today, as I near my birthday, I am so grateful for these chapters of Deuteronomy and so thankful for my parents.

And so thankful to God for wanting to be my God and calling me His own.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Day 71: The D Formula

Today's Reading: Deuteronomy 3-4

"Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other."
Deuteronomy 4:39

Moses is recounting God's deliverance for Israel. In the recounting, we see a structure, a formula, which continues into the book of Judges and into our lives. It is a theological formula of the Torah and for a certain sect of the people of Israel.

Here is the formula:

Worship and obey God alone.
You will be tempted to crave the things around you and go after other gods.
Remember the LORD.
You will fall into idolatry.
The LORD will become angry and will withdraw protection.
You will cry out to the LORD; you will search for the LORD with all your heart.
Your distress will turn you back to the LORD.
The LORD in compassion will hear you and restore you.
You will experience deliverance and abundance.
Worship and obey God alone.
In abundance, you will fall away from the LORD.
Remember the LORD...

In this theological formula, prosperity and victory are closely linked to one's walk with God. Some have taken this idea and have encouraged a relationship with the LORD solely for the promise of prosperity. I think this is dangerous, and in itself, idolatrous!

But what I love about this formula is this truth. When things are going well in our lives, it is important to remember the LORD our God.

Prosperity, though craved by many, is a dangerous place on the spiritual path. In prosperity, we begin to believe we are god and become self reliant. We tend to think we can make our own rules and live a life syncretized with other idolatrous lifestyles around us.

Here is another truism.

In distress, many people, even the irreligious, turn to God, or at least toward some higher being beyond themselves. Even those who mock God in their lives, begin to seek help.

In the midst of trials, here is a verse to remember. (Circle it and highlight it. Better yet, write it on the tablet of your heart.)

"For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your parents which He swore to them."
Deuteronomy 4: 31

Though we stumble, God is compassionate.

Though we fail God, God will not fail us.

Though we destroy our relationship with God through disobedience, God will not destroy us.

Though we forget God, God does not forget, but remembers the covenant.

Bottom line, God is faithful.

Faithful God, do not let me ever wander into idolatry. Do not allow me to abuse your compassion. Teach me to be faithful, in plenty and in distress.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Day 70: Recap! Recap!

Today's Reading: Deuteronomy 1-2

Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and now, Deuteronomy...

Are you beginning to feel like deja vu all over again? Have we all been here before?

God says, "Tell the people to do this." Simple and clear. Moses says, "God says,'Do this.'" The people either murmur, complain or disobey. Ay, yay, yay! Broken record, here we go again. Let's recap all these events and see if we get it this time.

Deuteronomy is slightly different, though, in that it is not as much narrative as a journal entry or a discourse of Moses to the people.

Quit being afraid!

Move forward!

God will deliver us!

Don't take spoils of war!

Occupy the land!

One thing that excites me about Deuteronomy...it is the book Jesus quotes most frequently.

So...

Amidst all the recapping, don't skim the text!

There are jewels hidden in what might seem to be monotony!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Day 69: Boundaries

Today's Reading: Numbers 35-36

"The LORD said to Moses, 'Command the Israelites and say to them: When you enter Canaan, the land that will be allotted to you as an inheritance will have these boundaries.'"
Numbers 34: 1-2

A group of child psychologists, in order to determine whether or not children thrive in a more open community or one with structure, experimented with elementary children. First, the children were let out to play in an open field. The children huddled together in the center of the field and played very closely to one another. Then, they were let out to play in a field with a fence and the children ran to play throughout the fenced area, all the way to the far corners of the designated area. After testing this with many groups of children, the results were surprisingly consistent. The conclusion? Children love structure. Children are more "free" with boundaries.

Though in previous chapters, we have seen Israel breaking boundaries set up by others (the inhabitants of the land,) upon entering the land, God establishes clear boundaries; a whole chapter is dedicated to drawing the property lines.

Other boundaries have been evident throughout our journey with the Israelites: camp boundaries, vocational boundaries, moral boundaries.

Boundaries are very important. Part of the growth development of a child is to understand where hebegins and where he ends, what is hers and what belongs to another. As we develop, we begin to intuit personal space. People who do not understand this struggle in society.

There are visible and invisible fences all around us. One of the first fences we recognize is the fence which keeps us from verbalizing every thought that comes into our mind. Morality is based upon social boundaries, and socialization is based on learning one's cultural norms or boundaries.

Interestingly, in chapter 35, God provides a safe boundary even for those who have killed someone. Six (always remember numbers!) towns are set aside as "sanctuary towns." These cities of refuge are made available and are governed by the priests. Remember, "six" is the number which represents "incomplete creation." These cities of refuge provide safety for an offender who is willing to stay within the bounds of the city, and provides safety from the offender for the rest of the community.

Boundaries remain important as Jesus teaches us to pray "forgive us our trespassing as we forgive the trespassing of others against us." In this paradigm, all sin is stepping outside the boundary set up by God.

We all trespass at one time or another. The better comprehension we have regarding boundaries, the better discerning we will be. When boundaries are kept, peace and freedom develop in a community.

"This will be your land, with its boundaries on every side."
Numbers 34:14

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day 68: Barbs in the Eye, Thorns in the Side

Today's Reading: Numbers 33-34

"If you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you live."
Numbers 33: 55

The other day, I was walking along a fence row and caught my sweater in a barb from a barbed wire fence. That booger was sharp and held fast to me, keeping me from treading further. As I tried to release myself from it, it tore into my clothing and flesh. It was a mess. It slowed me down. It caused me pain.

During Lent, we focus on repentance and cleansing. Our passage today from Numbers gives us a clue about confession. If we consider ourselves to be the fertile ground of the Lord from which fruitfulness can come, we must do our best to drive out anything from our "land" which is not of God.

Often in confession, we speak of those things which are on the surface. It is like cleaning a room. We attack what can be seen and leave the closet or the mess under the bed untouched.

Why? Because deep cleansing take a lot of time and work.

The problem is this: If we do not "drive out the inhabitants of the land" of our once carnal souls, what remains will raise its ugly head sooner or later. And when it does, it will not just be some dust to wipe away, but will be "barbs in our eyes and thorns in our sides."

It will tear at us. It will mess us up. It will slow us down. It will cause us pain.

Barbs in the eye--just thinking about that image is brutally painful. A speck in my eye causes great tearing, blinking and blurred vision. But a ragged barb! Imagine the sight lost. Imagine the spiritual blindness.

And a thorn in the side. Splinters in the tough calloused fingers are bad enough, but a huge thorn piercing the tender flesh of the abdomen? Yikes! Imagine the doubling over that would cause. Imagine the inability to look up.

Barbs in the eye remind me of something the Master said about specks and logs in the eye.

Thorns in the side remind me of our Brother Paul's complaint about the thorn in his flesh.

Both of these New Testament stories speak of sin and its burden played out in the human body and psyche.

God says: "They will give you trouble..."

So, the question to me and perhaps to you is this.

Will I cooperate with God and drive out the inhabitants in my soul so God can fully possess me? Or will I continue to hold onto things I should drive out?

LORD, give us the strength to fight the battle against that which must be driven out of us so that our vision is clear and our position toward you is upright.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Day 67: Wipe Out!

Today's Reading: Numbers 31-32

Anger and war are two concepts with which I have trouble. Though I know God has every right to be angry, it is hard for me to read about an angry God wiping out a lot of people due to disobedience and possession of land.

It is also hard to read passages where, in war, every male is killed, and then every male child and every married woman is killed...wiped out.

I understand, at some level, the holiness of God and the issues of purity displayed by completely destroying an enemy. On a small level, I have done the same thing.

I have an herb garden. It is my joy and delight in the Spring and especially in the summer when I can walk out my kitchen door and snip fresh herbs. Fantastico!

But I have a pervasive weed in my herb garden. I've tried digging it out. I've tried pulling it out. This year, I've decided I will have to pull out all my perennial herbs, clean them down to the bare root, transplant them, and WIPE OUT that nasty weed. I will gladly pull out my Round Up despite my longing to have an organic herb bed. I've had it with the weed. It must go. I realize if I am not aggressive with it, I will spring up again and invade my dear plants.

I think this is how God feels about God's creation and God's people. There is this pervasive weed called sin. It is personalized as the enemies of Israel. This can be dangerous Bible reading which could fuel aggression and violence against people who are "different" than "us." But even though there is great historicity to this story, it is even more true theologically.

God cannot stand sin. God orders the people of Israel to wipe out all the "seed bearers" (the males), any future seed bearers (the sons) and any garden that might already be sown with seed (the wives.)

This story, like most of the stories in Leviticus and Numbers, must be heard as a purity and cleansing story, not as a story lifting up genocide. This story is not about war. It is about the holiness of God.

I know its hard to see it, for as while we read it, we cannot help but hear the violent and brutal cries of Cain murdering Abel, brother destroying brother.

LORD, help us...

Day 66: Bound by a Vow

Today's Reading: Numbers 28-30

"If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth."
Numbers 30:2

Mother and Dad said, "Don't swear."

As a child I really didn't understand why, I just figured if Mother and Dad said not to swear, I shouldn't swear.

The passage today tells us why. Hidden in the Hebrew words is a spiritual reality missed by the English translation. It is found in the two words "bind himself."

"Bind" means to "tie up" in the sense of "capture," or literally "imprison." The word translated "himself" is "soul." When we make a vow or swear an oath, we are "imprisoning our souls" to that spoken word until it is accomplished.

Rash oaths are dangerous. Though said glibly, they invoke spiritual bondage upon us. Plain and simple.

Words are very important to God. God's words create our reality. God spoke and creation came into being. Being made in the image of God, our words create and shape the world around us.

We need to take care as we utter words that bind us, imprison us, tie us to our promise until it is fulfilled. It is a serious matter.

Our formal vows carry great strength. Vows made before God--baptismal vows, marriage vows, ordination vows--are binding.

When God makes covenant with us, God binds God's self to us also. To me this is comforting. Despite the Israelites' groanings and unfaithfulness, God is in a way "imprisoned" to them because of God's word, God's promise.

We must be careful in binding ourselves, giving ourselves over to various things. To what do you pledge allegiance? To whom have you sworn your loyalty?

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

St. Patrick's Breastplate

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Day 65: The God of the spirits of all flesh

Today's Reading: Numbers 26-27

"May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go out and come in before the, and who will lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD my not be like sheep which have no shepherd."
Numbers 27: 16-17

There are many ways one can read scripture, just as there are many ways to spend a day at the art museum. One can quickly scan each page and move to the next, as if one wants to view every room in the museum. One can spend the day looking at a masterpiece of a book or chapter. One can move closely to observe the brushstrokes of an author. Or one can hone in on one detail and marvel at its complexity and simplicity.

I am someone who likes broad strokes and nuances, but I also like minute details if they seem out of context or scream out to me like Horton's little Who.

In our reading today, Moses calls the LORD by the name, God of all the spirits of all flesh. This phrase consists of three Hebrew words.

The word God is elohim, the plural version of the word God (el) which speaks to the plural nature of one God. It is used often, but is first used in Genesis when God was creating the heavens and the earth. "Let us make humanity in our own image." This plural form used as a singular noun has been used to describe the Triune God, the God of trinity.

The word spirits is the plural form of the Hebrew word ruah, which is translated as spirits or breath. Once again from Genesis, we remember God's breath/Spirit not only was moving over the surface of the waters (Genesis 1:2), but also "breathed" into the nostrils of the dust creature the "breath" of life (Genesis 2:7).

The word flesh is the Hebrew word basar. Interestingly, in its root form, it not only means flesh, but has the more complex meaning of "one who shows forth," "a messenger of tidings," and "one who preaches or declares."

Thus, one could hear this name of God as The Triune God who breathes life into all declaring God's glory.

It is good for all of us to remember we are not the only part of creation breathing the breath of God. All of creation serves as
"messenger."
All breathing creatures are declaring their creator. As creation breathes and is sustained only by the breath, the Spirit of God, it preaches from hilltop to hilltop about its Creator.

I wonder if the flip side is also true. We are given breath for the sole purpose of declaring God. Rob Bell, a contemporary theologian and preacher, said that the name YHWH is the sound of breath. Thus the name of God is the first thing we utter as we take our first breath at birth, and is the last word on our lips as we die.

Today, LORD, let me listen to your Breath in all of creation and may I hear your proclamation through your Spirit all around me.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Day 64: Stubborn as a Mule?

Today's Reading: Numbers 23-25

Yesterday and today, we have read the story of Balaam, a prophet of God, who was summoned by Balak, the king of Moab. Balak, whose name means "devastator," wanted a man of God to come along side him and tell Balak exactly what Balak wanted to hear. Balak wanted to rein God's prophet in the way he wanted God to go. Balak wanted to manipulate God.

Balak sends his messengers to Balaam hoping to hear a word from the LORD favorable for Balak and the Moabites. Balak, a baal worshipper, wants the LORD of Israel to curse the Israelites.

Balaam, the prophet, consults God. God clearly tells Balaam not to align himself with Balak and his people. God is blessing Israel and will not curse them. Balaam faithfully delivers this message to Balak's messengers, despite bribery.

Since the messengers of Balak do not like the message, Balaam receives reluctant permission from God to deliver the message directly to Balak. Balaam sets off on his donkey, reining him toward Balak and Moab, a people who are stubborn and who will not listen to God's word.

Three times along the way, Balaam's donkey sees the angel of the LORD blocking Balaam's path. Despite the beatings of Balaam, the faithful donkey stubbornly refuses to challenge God's angel messenger. Balaam tries to rein the donkey in a direction contrary to God's will. The donkey refuses, and is given voice to speak truth to Balaam.

This experience becomes the prophetic parable for Balaam.

When Balaam arrives in Moab, Balak tries to rein Balaam in the direction contrary to God's will. Despite three rounds of mocking, sacrificial rituals and offers of monetary bribes, Balaam, like his donkey, refuses to budge. Balaam will speak the truth of the LORD to Balak, whether he wants to hear it or not.

Twice in this story, Balaam, the prophet speaks a powerful message of warning to any of us who would represent God to the world.

"Though Balak [the Devastator] were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything contrary to the command of the LORD, either good or bad, [great or small] of my own accord [contrary to the command of the LORD my God.] What the LORD speaks, that I will speak."
Numbers 22:18, 24:13

Despite the reining and beating Balaam inflicts upon his donkey, the donkey stubbornly refuses to challenge the angel of the LORD. The donkey will be faithful to his master, keeping him from danger even when threatened with death.

Despite bribery and persistent attempts of the Devastator to turn God's prophet away from God's word, God's prophet stubbornly refuses to speak contrary to the command of the LORD. What the LORD speaks, he will speak.

Despite the disobedience and the ingratitude of God's chosen people Israel, their LORD stubbornly refuses to curse them. God will bless God's people because God wills it.

Lord, take the reins. Make me like a stubborn, faithful donkey when it comes to your will. Do not allow another to rein me. Do not allow persistent attempts or bribery of the Devastator to ever mean more to me than your Word.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day 63: Spring Up, O Well!

Today's Reading: Numbers 21-22

"I've gotta river of life flowing out of me,
Makes the lame to walk and the blind to see,
Opens prison doors, sets the captive free.
I've gotta river of life flowing out of me!

Spring up, O well,
Deep in my soul!
Spring up, O well,
And make me whole!
Spring up, O well,
And give to me
That life abundantly!"

The above is a camp song I've sung for years with the children of King's Kids Camp. I thought the origin of the song was John 4, the story of the Woman at the Well and Jesus' dissertation on Living Water.

How surprised I was to find the origin of this camp song in the sometimes dusty, dry book of Numbers!

The LORD said to Moses, "Gather the people together and I will give them water." Numbers 21:16

I must admit, I am tired today. It is the end of my week and I am looking forward to tomorrow, my day off. I sleep in until I wake up. I lounge around in my jammies. I drink a warm drink snuggled up on the couch. I take my time. I go into neutral gear. I rest.

Sabbath is a well spring for me. It is the well dug for me by my God. It turns the desert wasteland of my life into a verdant garden.

I take time to drink in the love of my Savior and Lord very deeply. After a long, and sometimes "hot" or "sticky" week's journey, Sabbath is a glorious oasis with a deep, deep well.

Jesus, the Living Water, said, "Come to me, everyone who is weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." What a wonderful opportunity, no, command, we have from God. "Gather together and I will give you water."

Sit down. Take your shoes off. Put your feet up, and let the LORD of all get you a frosted glass of clear, clean water.

"Spring up, O Well!
Sing about it!"

Numbers 21: 17

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Day 62: An "ah-ha" moment

Today's Reading: Numbers 18-20

I have just spent the last 72 hours reading and grading the ordination exams of candidates for ordained ministry of Word and Sacrament for my denomination. My charge was to read the New Testament exegetical exams which were to determine the ability of candidate to translate, analyze, theologize and apply a given text.

Whew, is my brain overloaded at this point!

With that context in mind, I came to our reading for the day.

I'm just about saturated with all these rules and regulations around tabernacle furniture, rites and rituals. I must admit, I am growing tired of the Israelites' story in the wilderness.

As I was reading along, I came to this passage and had an "ah-ha" moment:

"And they shall be joined with you and attend to the obligation of all the tent, but they shall not come near to the furnishings of the sanctuary and the altar, lest both they and you die. So you shall attend to the obligations of the sanctuary and the obligations of the altar, that there may no longer be wrath on the sons of Israel."
Numbers 18:4-5

Do you see what I see?

The main job of the priest was to tend to the furnishings and the structure of the tent/tabernacle. They offered sacrifices and kept to the code of cleanliness. But we don't hear about choir rehearsals, worship services filled with praise or a "tending" to the congregation and its needs, much less the needs of the surrounding community.

All of a sudden, I get it. I understand why Jesus and the Levitical priesthood were at odds. Jesus respected the synagogue and the temple but had moved away from the understanding of the priestly duties in his day. He saw the temple allegorically.

The Levitical priests were still tending the structures and the furniture. They saw rites and rituals as their main task. No wonder they were offended and appalled by Jesus.

As I work with my denomination in the tasks of ordination standards, polity and structure, it seems I am more like the Levitical priest. In the book of Hebrews, Jesus is said to be the high priest after the priesthood of Melchizedek. The only hint we have to that priesthood outside of Hebrews is in the book of Genesis where Melchizedek comes out of nowhere and blesses Abram.

Are there two types of priesthood in our churches, the priesthood of tending to the structures and the priesthood of blessing the people? Are both needed? Are both sanctioned by God? Is one subordinate to the other?

If I were a Levitical priest (which I never could have been because I am a woman and the whole blood issue), I think it would be very hard to see tending to furniture and structures as a life-giving vocation. And yet, this was their call from God.

I am grateful for Jesus' ministry, not only the whole salvation/redemption ministry, but the ministry of blessing. All of a sudden, stories like the blessing of the children, the calling of the prostitutes and tax collectors, and the personal conversations with the curious and the seeker carry much more power for me.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Day 61: A resistant, deadly strain

Today's Reading: Numbers 16-17

The conflict which began with complaining and murmuring has now reached its height. Open rebellion, anarchy and mutiny are in full sway. The conflict is no longer under the surface but blatant and out in the open.

Throughout these chapters, we hear both sides arguing their points, thrusting insults upon each other. There is no longer room for compromise or mediation. The ugly monster of disunity will now lead to death.

I cannot read these chapters with any joy in my heart. Though media in our culture teaches us that violence is sometimes the best response to conflict, I cannot agree. To cheer the victory, despite the fact that it means death and destruction for other humans is a concept I have difficulty embracing.

And yet, in this passage, the way God's enemies are treated is with death. The earth opens and though they are alive, they are swallowed up and gulped down by the digestive system of Sheol.

Fire consumes others, hoping to wipe out all the dissension. As if trying to purify the community of the plague of conflict and rebellion, the soiled lives of the dissenters are burned.

Still, by the end of chapter 17, grumbling still is present. It seems to be a resistant strain even to the most harsh destructive methods known to the people of Israel.

Just how seriously do we take the first signs of conflict and complaining in our own lives. Do we treat it like a common cold, hoping it will go away on its own? Or do we aggressively attack the symptoms the moment they begin? Are we willing to take the time from our busy schedules and make a trip to the Great Physician as soon as the throat of barbed speech is apparent? Or do we drip the mucoid and infectious secretions of our hatred, leaving contaminated rags around to spread the dis-ease?

Discomfort, disrespect, and pride make us vulnerable to this virus. We best treat it seriously before an epidemic spreads and causes great destruction.

Day 60: Milk and Honey

Today's Reading: Numbers 14-15, Psalm 90

As a young girl, my mother would make a homemade drink for us with fresh eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla. She would combine the ingredients and put them in the blender. It was a delicious concoction. She said that besides being delicious, it was a powerful energy drink, full of protein and nutrition. I wondered how something that tasted so good could be so good for us.

God promised the people of Israel a land flowing with milk and honey. In order for a flock of goats or cattle to produce milk, there needs to be good grazing land and quiet meadows. Cattle wandering in barren dessert would not be as likely to produce good milk as those who have verdant fields.

Honey produced by bees is dependent upon a fruitful flowering climate. Honey also takes a long time to produce; it is not a by product of hasty living.

A land of milk and honey is more than just a place of delight, it is a place of rest and abundance borne from the fruitfulness of a lush land. This was the place God promised the people they would settle one day.

But as the spies check out the land, the milk and honey promise is curdled and comes with it the sting of fear. Giants inhabit the land.

Fear is a huge detriment in one's spiritual walk. No matter if one is in the dessert and is afraid of starving to death or if one is in the land of milk and honey and now faces giants of a different sort, fear paralyzes God's people.

God has promised one thing: fruitfulness.

Fear takes hold and bars the door to the promise.

Fear curdles the milk in the stomach.

Fear sees the bees and misses the honey.

Only two of the witnesses proclaim the joy of the LORD in the promised land. Joshua and Caleb remain faithful to the vision of God. All the rest fail and thus miss out on the joy of actualizing God's intended future.

What am I missing from God because of my fears?

Dear LORD, make me one who trusts your leading. May I never miss out on the sweet, wholesome drink you have for me.