Thursday, February 18, 2010

Numbers of What?

What comes to your mind when I tell you that I am reading through the Biblical book entitled Numbers? Do you think of the Old Testament (it’s the fourth book)? Did you know that it was written by Moses? You may tell me that the book opens with a census or a numbering of the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

You may then tell me that you don’t see any application for your life by reading about several clans of disgruntled Israelites as they wander through the desert with a complaining and rebellious spirit. But I promise you, there is beauty in the tapestry of every word of Scripture. With time and effort, you can see magnificence in these pages. In fact, the book of Numbers offers significant lessons with direct application for us today.

In brief, Numbers relates the story of Israel’s rebellion and God’s perfect judgment. You may know the saga: the Israelites have been freed from bondage and are now headed for the Promised Land. Yet, according to Numbers, these people who had direct contact with the living God, rebel against Him: they grumble about everything from the food God provided to the leadership of Moses. In fact, they fail to keep covenant with God and, as a result, end up wandering the Sinai desert for 40 years.

Read this carefully: an eleven day journey turned into a 40-year saga of wilderness wanderings. Thus, due to their rebellion, God punished that generation severely. With the exception of Caleb and Joshua, not one of that generation entered the Promised Land.

Here’s the gist of the story: when put to the test, Israel’s faith failed.

Don’t let this story be yours!

Numbers is a tragic reminder and a warning to future generations—God will be honored by his people or they will not live to see the Promised Land. And the Promised Land for Christians today is nothing less than heaven itself.

As you read through Numbers this month, examine your own life: are you living in rebellion against God and wandering through desert territory?

Know that in Christ God has liberated you from bondage. You don’t have to waste your life in the wilderness—move on and learn to live with our Most Holy God. A God who loves you—loves you so much he died for you.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”—Ephesians 2:8–10

Monday, February 15, 2010

The power and majesty of God unleashed

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 19: 1-2

I am traveling by plane this week, so I was naturally riveted to the national weather reports. Fortunately, my flights have not yet been interrupted by the powerful storms that have crippled the Mid-Atlantic states and I’ve been able to carry on with my own schedule and plans.

Yet thousands of people have had their plans dramatically interrupted. Washington and the surrounding communities came to a virtual halt with unprecedented amounts of snow that have effectively crippled the region.

As I listened to the news reports of federal government closings, I could not help but be reminded of who is really in charge…It’s easy for us to rely on our own strength or might, and fail to see God’s hand in all things.

And God does interrupt our plans. Look at Scripture. Story after story of interrupted plans: Abraham was asked to leave his homeland; Noah told to build an arc; Job’s family killed, business destroyed, and health tested; Mary’s dreams of marriage altered; and Paul stopped on the Damascus Road. The list could go on and on…could this list include you?

Has the snow or anything else interrupted your plans this week? I urge you to take this time to examine your perspectives on power and control and submit yourself to the Lover of your soul, God Almighty.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How is the book of Leviticus Relevant today?

You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.—Leviticus 20:27

I have been urging listeners to the Bible Answer Man broadcast to stick with their January resolution to read through the Bible in 2010. According to my Legacy Reading Plan, you should be somewhere between Leviticus and Numbers.

And these books are not for the faint of heart. Frankly, this is where many well-intentioned readers either get bogged down or give up completely. So, here’s my heartfelt word of encouragement: keep reading, press on…the rewards are of eternal significance.

With the Legacy Reading Plan, I have stressed the importance of reading Scripture in whole books and not by small bites. And living in a sound bite culture driven by a sound bite generation, this is indeed hard! But hear me out: you cannot take the teachings of ancient Israel and reduce them to sound bites and then expect to fully grasp what God is teaching! It just is not possible.

For example: at first blush, Leviticus reads as a seemingly exhaustive list of detailed rituals, sacrifices, and regulations that have little to do with modern living. We don’t participate in animal sacrifices, follow elaborate dietary laws, or practice ceremonial cleanness. But reading Leviticus in context, you realize that Leviticus offers the ancient Israelites patterns of living so that they could live with an altogether Holy God. Recognizing this reality, Leviticus becomes gripping reading! You see, an Almighty, all- powerful God entered the lives of a small and insignificant people who then had to restructure their lives in order to tabernacle with God. And while we don’t live in the world of Leviticus, we too have to restructure our lives so that God can dwell with us.

Taking this principle one step further, Leviticus teaches God’s people to watch their lives carefully—to follow his rules so they can dwell with him. And while the people of Israel focused on outward laws (eating, washing, and the like), Christians today must be alert to maintain purity from within (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” [Matthew 22:37]).

If you want to hear more contextual information on how to read Leviticus, listen to my opening monologue on the Bible Answer Man broadcasts for January 29, February 1, February 2, and February 8, 2010.