Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sass and Rivalry (Numbers 11-13)

I really enjoyed these chapters of Numbers.  I especially liked Numbers 11, verses 10-15.  First, I thought it served as a good reminder that God gets angry when we're whiny. It's not okay when you're three, and it's not okay when you're ninety-three. I think God wants us to ask politely for things; that can be an act of trust. But whining?  Nobody likes hearing that.

Also, I love it when Moses is frank with God. I was really excited about this for a second or two and then my excitement dwindled. My first thought was, "yes!  I can be sassy with God when I think He's put me in a crummy position!"  I mean Moses got a little lippy there didn't he?  With his hypotheticals?  Of course, before I could even fire off a brazen little prayer it occurred to me, "but Moses earned that right."  God has a purpose for me, surely, but let's not pretend it's equivocal to leading God's chosen people into their promised land.  Let me not think for a second I have the devotion, discipline, and connectedness that Moses had.  So, I still enjoy the frank talk between Moses and God, but I think I'll keep my prayers frank, but doused with respect too.

Finally I have to address the sibling rivalry going down in chapter 12.  It's bound to happen, especially when one's brother (Moses) is so clearly the favorite!  But I love that, "Moses cried out to the Lord, 'Please, God, heal her!'"  There were no formalities, no offerings, just a raw plea for his sister who had wronged him.  It's such a sweet, human side of Moses I find very touching.  I don't know what got into Miriam that she was causing trouble for her already stresssed-out baby brother, but we know she loves him.  Here is a painting by Anna Angelou of Miriam looking out for baby Moses:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Stop and Go (Numbers 8-10)

God seems to be trying to teach me something about obedience.   It seems every sermon, verse, or thought that is laid on me screams, "obedience!"  Take today's reading from Numbers for instance.  Chapter 9, verses 15-23 to be exact.  When God's cloud moves, the Israelites move. When the cloud rests over the tabernacle, the Israelites set up camp. Even if that means not moving for years.  That's incredible obedience.   I am not a patient girl; no doubt I'd be the idiot huffing and puffing and blowing with all my might, trying to get that blessed cloud to scoot!

I hope this isn't terribly sacrilegious, but the stop and go of the cloud reminded me of this commercial.  I wish God really would honk at me when I'm heading down the wrong path!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Keeping House (Numbers 3-6)

Our church is doing a bit of repainting; the church I grew up in is fundraising for a new roof; another church I frequent is adding a memorial garden.  Churches are like homes, there is always work to be done!  In chapters 3 and 4 of Numbers God details who is up keeping what in terms of the ark and tabernacle.  Can we take a moment for some shock and awe?  That 6,200 people were in charge of crossbars, tent pegs, and the like?  That 8,600 people were to take care of the sanctuary? (Including the lampstand, causing me to make blasphemous, Anchorman-esque "I love lamp" jokes to myself.)  It must have been some detailed care to employ that many men.

There are a lot of fancy church buildings these days, but there also seems to be a movement to simplify churches.  I've been reading more and more from church leaders reminding us a church is its people, not its building.  Churches can be big beautiful, old buildings or modern, high-tech buildings, log cabins, living rooms, gymnasiums, under bridges, on piers, in igloos, atop tree houses... wherever!  While it is important of course, to maintain buildings, I think people are on to something when they realize the real investment, the real maintenance should be on the people making up the church.  Likewise, while God cared deeply about his tabernacle and ark, he cared more about his people.

My church!  Redeemer United Methodist

This is where I was baptized and married.  First Presbyterian Church

I go here sometimes too and love it! Indian River United Methodist

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Obedience (Numbers 1-2)

As I mentioned a while back, my women's Bible study just started a study on the book of Jonah. It's fantastic. Priscilla's Shirer is spot on with her analogies and she makes such good points. In today's homework she asked what biblical characters I could think of who had a divine intervention that altered the course of their lives and how he or she made her mark. She gave the examples of Esther, Mary, Rahab, and Peter.  The truth is, almost every person I could think of in the Bible is in there because they were aware God was intervening with a job for them to do and they did it.  Maybe not at first, maybe not without a little coaxing, but eventually they were obedient to God and the results were titanic.

The study is giving me a renewed appreciation for Moses.  We know how he resisted the job to begin with and then!  What a wild job it turned out to be!  Arguing with Pharaoh, leading the (kind of fickle) Israelites, performing miracles, talking with God (!!!), overseeing the construction of the ark and tabernacle, acting as judge, leading battles, recording all of this for prosperity... I have to wonder if he ever wished he would have just stuttered a big, fat "No!" when God approached him.  But then it may have been Moses rather than Jonah who was swallowed by the whale!

In any event, Moses writes on in Numbers and we begin to see the Israelites getting into formation for their first "real" battle (I'm not counting running away from the Egyptians).  The first couple chapters were filled with (you guessed it!) lots of numbers.  There are so many Israelites!  I am scared to think of moving the five people in my family to another house; I cannot imagine moving thousands and thousands of people around the desert.  But Moses is God's #1 guy- not a bad number to be.

Here's the study we're doing if you're interested!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Leaving Leviticus

Read Leviticus: check!
I finished the last couple chapters of Leviticus today.  This may be a bit after the fact, but Matthew Henry's Commentary explains Leviticus is made up of laws the Lord gave Moses in the first month of the second year of the Israelites liberation from Egypt.  Numbers is going to consist of the laws given in the second month.  But who's counting?

Chapter 27: Redeeming What Is the Lord's was interesting.  Again, MHC helped me out explaining, "This is part of the law concerning singular vows, extraordinary ones, which though God did not expressly insist on, yet.... he would be well pleased with.  Note, we should not only ask, 'what must we do?', but, 'what may we do, for the glory and honour of God?'"  In other words, "Ask not what God can do for you, but what you can do for your God."  Maybe JFK brushed up on his Leviticus before his inauguration address.  It certainly applies.  I ask God for stuff on the daily, but I can't think of a time I asked specifically and directly what I could do for him.

Inexplicably, chapter 26, verse 17 also reverberated with me: "I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you."  It just put the fear of... well, God in me.  Imagine having God's face set against you!  It gives me the goosebumps.  And having enemies who hate me?  I'm crushed when someone has to honk at me when the light turns green.  And if I'm running?  It better be for a reason like fitting into my pants, and not for nothing!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bring On the Defects (Lev. 22-23)

I don't know about you, but I am not one for gore. I could totally do without all the blood and messy sacrificing in Leviticus. It does seem timely though, that I'm in the thick of this sacrifice-heavy book right as Lent is kicking off. Just as Christians everywhere are making sacrifices and reflecting on Jesus' ultimate sacrifice.

I found chapter 22, verse 20 compelling. "Do not bring anything with a defect, because it will not be accepted on your behalf." Nowadays we don't have any complicated animal sacrifices (thank you Jesus!), but we still make sacrifices of money, time, etc.  But how often are they without defect?  I admit, many times I just give God leftovers. For instance, more than once I've used whatever cash I have after filling all my other needs as my Sunday offering. Defective sacrifice. Or I'll volunteer  to help with something or other at church, and then moan and groan when I realize it will mean missing a Superbowl party (or whatever).  Defective sacrifice.

On the other hand, I am a firm believer in "fake it 'til you make it".  I don't want to not sacrifice my resources just because I don't set out with a completely joyful heart. They may look defective at first, but some of my greatest joys have started out as well, kind of a pain in my neck.  But then? It turns out they aren't even sacrifices at all.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Strings Attached (Lev. 16-21)

I am a list maker, so I really appreciated the writing style in this portion of Leviticus.  It’s so interesting how this list of rules God gave the Israelites has evolved in the Christian faith.  Today some of the rules are totally irrelevant (“Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” 19:19), some are still steadfast (“Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.” 19:13), and others still, are up in the air or interpreted in different ways (“Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists…” 19:31).  God set these rules because he knew the Israelites and he knew they needed these specific guidelines to keep them on task and mindful of Him. I find myself feeling bad for the Israelites (silly, I know since they were God’s chosen people), but these rules made complete sense in their lives.  In the same way, if God wrote out guidelines in a book for us today He may not mention it being a sin to plant two seeds in one field (19:19), but instead cheating on tax returns, or lying on a resume, or hacking into computers, or ignoring your kids to read Twilight.  Just kidding about that last one… kind of.

In her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans wrote,

   “Some rabbis say that, at birth, we are each tied to God with a string and that every time we sin, the string breaks.  To those who repent of their sins, especially in the days of Rosh Hashanah, God sends the angel Gabriel to make knows in the string, so that the humble and contrite are once again tied to God.  Because each of us fails, because we all lose our way on the path to righteousness from time to time, our strings are full of knots.  But, the rabbis like to say, a string with many knots is shorter than one without knots.  So the person with many sins but a humble heart is closer to God.”

Is that gorgeous or what?  I know you are a good person and leading the best life possible, but isn’t it a comfort to know that even when we screw up we don’t have the punishments of Leviticus 20? But instead we can offer up a sincere apology and move that much closer to God’s heart.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Two Sudden Deaths (Leviticus 8-10)

Sudden deaths in today's reading.  And I'm not talking overtime in a hockey game. 

Several years ago I read The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs.  For one year Jacobs took the Bible literally and lived by its every (feasible) command.  Raised Jewish, Jacobs was nervous to dive into the New Testament because he was so unfamiliar with it, so it seemed mysterious and confusing.  That is how I feel about the Old Testament. 

Today for instance, when God consumes Aaron's two oldest sons.  The newly anointed priests.  Because they lit an "unauthorized fire."  I read up on it a bit in Matthew Henry's Commentary, which eloquently explains why such drastic measures were taken.  There are totally legit reasons, like: they did not have "orders to burn incense at all at this time."; they entered the tabernacle without permission; the pride of being a priest went to their heads; they took the incense without Moses' permission... you get the picture- they broke a lot of rules!  It's just... such a harsh punishment!

But this is the Old Testament God.  It was a different time.  A time and culture I am so distanced from that there are times I have a hard time believing this is the same God I worship.  But it is, and reading the Old Testament reminds me that God means what he says.  It gives me a healthy respect for the Father.  It makes me eternally thankful I live in a post-Jesus world.

My five year old asked me the other day, "Is there a New NEW Testament?  You know, that comes after the New Testament?"  Not yet!  But we know the story isn't completely written yet.  And someday we'll wonder how we managed in a world before Jesus' second coming; before the New New Testament.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Holy Lack of Loops (Lev. 5-7)

Leviticus.  You are closing loopholes today, you sneaky book.  What I'm hearing is, a sin is still a sin even if it's an accidental sin?!  Shoot.  And there is no statute of limitations apparently, so when I realize I screwed up I still have to own up and repent.  Ugh.  I have so much work to do.  Typically, I just figure it's too late for apologies (why dredge up the ugly past?!) and vow not to do said sin again.  Sunday my minister preached on making amends; he really made the point that it's never too late to do so (I was hoping he would say something like, "After six months you really don't have to worry about anyone you've wronged."  No such luck.)  I guess the same goes for all screw-ups.  At least according to Leviticus 5:2, 3, 4, 5, 15, 17 and 6:4.

Fortunately, I can just promise to ask forgiveness and then not go through the hassle of doing it, right?  Except Leviticus 5:4 warns against that too.  This isn't one that is just in the Old Testament either.  I remember James warning against taking oaths lightly: "Above all, my brothers, do not swear- not by heaven or by earth or by anything else.  Let your 'Yes' be yes, and your 'No,' no, or you will be condemned." (James 5:12).  So there's that.  No thoughtless promises.  This Bible is iron clad!  Which I absolutely adore about it.  It makes me nervous, but I love that it doesn't give me wiggle room on some issues, because on some issues?  If I can wiggle, I will.

Here is the link to my pastor's message.  Click on the 2/10/13 message, "Mending Relationships" if you have your druthers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Let Us Leviticus (Lev. 1-4)

Did anybody else's husband greet them at the door with a mortified look, thinking his wife spent the whole day with dirt smudged on her forehead?  No?  Just mine?

Earlier today someone on Facebook asked, "So what is everyone giving up for Lent?"  One person claimed we aren't supposed to tell anyone what we give up, siting Matthew 6:5-6: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."  As you can imagine, it started a whole thing on her FB wall. 

With the season of Lent kicking off, and the first few chapters of Leviticus under my belt, I'm thinking a lot about sacrifice.  The word certainly has some negative (bloody!) connotations.  The offerings in Leviticus seem archaic and barbaric, but thousands of years later, many Christians agree sacrifice still has an important place in our faith.  Totally different sacrifices, totally different reasons, but still.  I think there's so much more to Lent than just giving up a vice.  But.  When we fight temptation and win, we become a little more Christlike.  And when we move something out of our lives, there becomes a bit more room for something holy to move in.  Sacrifices might not be as irrelevant as we think in our society.  And happily, they're far less bloody.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What To Wear, What To Wear (Exodus 39-40)

Happy Mardi Gras!  I've been celebrating by snacking all day long.  Imagine if the Israelites saw all the hullabaloo over this day.  I wonder if they'd whip up a manna paczki!

More on the ark, tabernacle, and priestly garments today.  I kept picturing Aaron's garments with bells and actual pomegranates, thinking God must have meant something besides the fruit.  Or maybe something got lost in translation.  But when I Googled an image of Aaron's robe, it turns out the fruit was what God had in mind!  You can't see very well in this picture (compliments of, but the things in between the bells on the hem really do look just like pomegranates. says, "The pomegranates speak of fruitfulness (abundant seeds) and are symbols of the Word of God as sweet and pleasant spiritual food."  What a juicy tidbit!  I'll never eat a pomegranate again without thinking of Aaron and his wardrobe.  All this reading about the garments and their symbolic adornments has me thinking about the Pope as we've seen lots of him in the news these last couple days.  So I Wikipedied (that past tense just doesn't have the same ring to it as "Googled" does it?) the Papal regalia.  While the Pope doesn't wear anything resembling fruit, it was an interesting read.  My favorite of his accessories is "The Fisherman's Ring" that each Pope gets "with a depiction of St. Peter in a boat casting his net, with the name of the reigning Pope around it."
I know there was much more in these chapters about architectural details, but the girly girl in me just had to address the style of the day.  High Priest style, that is. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Rose By Any Other Name (Exodus 36-38)

Today's reading is supposed to be Exodus 36-38, but I just have to jump back to yesterday's chapters.  Yesterday in Sunday school, my little four year olds and I talked about Jesus being our shepherd and knowing each of us by name.  I love that thought.  Maybe that is why Exodus 33 and 34 resonated with me.  Names are mentioned no fewer than five times.
33:12 "...'I know you by name and you have found favor with me.'"
33:17 "...'because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.'"
33:19 "...'I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.'"
34:5 "Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord."
34:14 "Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God."

These verses remind me how important names are.  I'm not great at remembering them, but even when I'm fairly certain, I'm nervous to call a person by their name.  What if I pronounce it wrong?  Or mess you up with your look-alike?  I could be (!!) embarrassed!  Or. Would it be so awful to just double check a name; just ask if I have it right?  Of course not. It lets a person know she is important to me.  Calling a person by name is validating.  So next time you see me, I should happily call you by name.  Only please forgive me if I pronounce it incorrectly or get it altogether wrong.  Of course if your name is "Jealous" that will probably stick with me.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Details (Exodus 28-35)

I don't want to say the details about the ark, altar, priests' garments, etc. are boring, but... it's a bit slow for me.  I found myself asking why this information was taking up precious space in our Bible; why did God care so much about these tiny details?  I brainstormed a few reasons.  Thoughts?  Additions?

1. God saw these people needed work, a purpose, as not to be bored.  He knew they would delight in this, just like he wants us to delight in our work.
2.  The Israelites needed to practice following directions; they needed to work on their humility, perhaps.
3.  Similarly, the Israelites maybe needed a lesson in dependence.  No doubt the people are at least a bit nervous using such an extravagant amount of gold, spices, colors, and fanciness.  God is trying to tell them, "I will provide for you!  You could use all the gum resin there is to use and I will provide.  Trust me."
4.  Finally, God could simply want to communicate to them that he means business.  This is a critical time and these things are not to be taken lightly. 

In any event, talk about a great architect.  Just because I get bored with these little details doesn't mean I don't love that God is in them.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Walking the Bible (Exodus 25-27)

The other day I took a DVD called "Walking the Bible"  out of the library. Maybe you've seen it on PBS?  It's not a walk through the entire Bible, just the five Books of Moses.  It was so bizarre to see these places where the Israelites traveled and lived and met God.  The spots are so.... real.  Mount Sinai is there, manna is there (and looks nothing like what I imagined), even the bush that some scholars believe was the burning bush is there.  Just going on, existing as if they aren't some of the most miraculous things in the world.

My cousin used to work in Utah doing wilderness therapy with teens. The kids who came to her had hit rock bottom; they were juvenile delinquents whose parents forced them there as a last resort.  Counselors took them into the desert for weeks and exhausted their minds and bodies, taught them about constellations, survival, and goals.  It was a wildly (excuse the pun) successful program.  Bruce Feiler, who hosts "Walking the Bible" points out that the desert forces dependence.  "It makes a person have to reach for something higher."  Putting the Israelites in the desert could not have been more perfect. They had to connect with God; they had to depend on him. 

I've heard people claim nature is their sanctuary, where they best worship God, and I always sort of figured it was a line for getting out of church.  (Judgey, I know!). But apparently they're on to something.  It makes me want to do some prayerful hiking. Just not for forty years.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I Can't Stress This Enough (Exodus 22-24)

I spoke with a friend from college today who is putting her house on the market and moving her family several states away.  She's a little nervous to move her husband, two little kids, and two dogs to a new state, new climate, new job.  But she wants her kids to grow up near their cousins and grandparents.  So she knows this is a good thing, but that doesn't make a big move any less stressful.  I imagine the Israelites felt very similar.

If the Israelites were anything like me?  All the uncertainty and stress of being in limbo and being more or less a nomad would make me crabby every now and then (and I mean, every single now and then).  Maybe crabby with my neighbors.  What I'm getting at here is that all these laws I used to think were overly specific were completely necessary and logical.  More logical than some of the weird laws we have around today (a woman isn't allowed to cut her own hair without her husband's permission?!  Really??). To be completely honest, some of the rules I have at my own house that I fabricated are irrational.  Like... if you take the last Diet Coke without telling me, you're subject to a complete dressing down for as many days as I deem necessary AND are in charge of (immediately) buying the next 12 pack.

Clearly, it would serve me well to do as Moses did and consult God for fair rules in my home. And fair consequences.  Fingers crossed he's also a caffeine addict.  You'd better keep your hands off my Diet Coke just in case he has my back on that particular regulation.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Rules, Rules, Rules (Exodus 19-21)

Age old questions about the Old Testament are bearing down on me.  Is the first half of the Bible still relevant?  Which rules still apply?  How relevant?  Which rules?  It's enough to make a girl crazy.

It's my understanding that most Christians agree Jesus' death served as the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Some other things I'm not as clear on; like why we don't have to obey rules about hair and clothes and food; and why, if these aren't relevant anymore, did they have to be in the Bible at all?

The book of Hebrews helps.  Chapter 8 in particular, if you'd like to check it out, sheds a bit of light on the OT situation.  Verse 13 says, "By calling this covenant 'new,' he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear."  So that's that. And God kept the itemization of rules in the OT so we would know what we are free from. Problem solved!

Just kidding.  The book of Hebrews is true, true, true.  But it's contradicted so many other places, by Jesus himself who says the word of God (and his law) is permanent and eternal.  I have no genius theology here. (Or anywhere.  Ever.  I hope you aren't coming here for that.  If you're into asking more questions though?  Or bad puns?  You're in the right spot.)  The truth is, sometimes the Bible is contradictory and complex and God makes us work for some answers.  Or turn to him for insight. I think many Christians feel as I do.  That we know in our heart of hearts what is in and what is out when it comes to the Old Testament in our world today.  There are rules that are truly timeless (the Ten Commandments, for instance) and some that were timely. I believe our brilliant and complex God simply lays in our heart which are which.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tension in the Desert (Exodus 16-18)

I sort of want to rip on the Israelites for being whiny and ungrateful, and make a lame joke like, "Of course they are. They're in the Desert of Sin!"  But the truth is, how can I blame them?  They're starving (oh goodness, nothing makes me crabbier than a rumbling stomach) and thirsty. Those are pretty basic needs.  So the biggest scold I can muster up is that they could have asked a little nicer!  Didn't they ever hear the old saying, you catch more quail with sugar than with vinegar?

I gave blood today and afterward (when my true pansy colors were showing and I was trying not to pass out) when I had to hold my arm straight up I was thinking, "I could really use Aaron and Hur about now."  Luckily no lives were dependent on my stamina.

Jethro gets a gold star for pointing out to Moses that the people's disputes should be brought before God.  It seems like that would be obvious, but like pretty much everything I'm learning I certainly don't apply that idea to my own life. It actually doesn't occur to me to take my disputes to God.  I don't have a ton of arguments, but it's absurd that I wouldn't take them straight to God when they do come up.  The truth is, I think I'm a bit scared he'll tell me I'm in the wrong.  Still, this seems like a much much better way to deal than fretting and stressing and telling off the opposition in my head all day every day.  Yes. Shiny, gold star for Jethro.  And Aaron and Hur too.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Resolution

So far I am loving getting my face in the Bible.  I would never ever be spending this much time in God's word without a reading plan or without this blog holding me accountable.  Part of my pastor's Christmas Eve sermon is below.  I think it's so convicting and true.

"I resolve from this day forward to spend more time with Christ in His Word, and I will not make excuses anymore.  I will not allow my culture to convince me that the Word of God is not important.  I will sacrifice things in order to spend more time with Christ.  I will hear His Word in church, and I will let nothing get in the way of being in worship.  I will figure out how to study His Word on my own during the week.  I will pray to Him on my own, regularly.  I will spend more time with Christ, and I will let Him change me."

I'm so far from huge chunks of this, but I'm getting there.  Slowly, but surely; verse by verse!

Friday, February 1, 2013

It's Just Not Pharoh! (Exodus 7-9)

Ew. So many plagues!  The Egyptians must be ready to wring Pharaoh's neck!  You know they're thinking, "Just give the Israelites their vacation time already!"  Except for the biology teachers of course, who probably loved the extra supply of frogs.  Anyone reading this has got to think the Pharaoh is completely nuts for not caving. I mean, these plagues are gross!  But it got me thinking about what plagues me.

Envy. Lack of self-control. Impatience. Loose lips. Just to name a few.  I'm sure if the wicked details of my life were put into a book for the world to judge, readers with a bird's eye view would be wondering why I don't just soften my heart.  Why don't I just submit to God and shed these plagues for good?  Like Pharaoh, I've told God I'm going to change; I've promised to be more patient, less gluttonous, kinder, gentler, more content, more merciful, more Christlike.  And then I don't; and then I'm not.

Let this be a lesson in judgement for me.  Pharaoh appears to be the villain in this story, but it turns out I've got a little Pharaoh in me that could stand to lose a plague or ten.