Archive for September, 2016

Numbers 20:14-21 (Part 1 of 2)

Edom Refuses Israel Passage

Have you ever held a grudge against someone? A seething anger toward someone that makes you grow cold toward someone over time? It may have started as a small offense and has now grown to this major deal that causes you and the other person to not speak, to distrust, to suspect, and not to associate. Unless you are lucky, you have probably held a grudge against someone or someone has held a grudge against you. I have seen grudges in action both by my first ex-wife toward me and by my uncle toward my paternal grandparents.

 

With my ex-wife, it was a lifelong desire of hers to show anger toward me for having ended what had become a violent relationship. We had both had affairs during our marriage. There was her drug abuse, my co-dependency for years, just a toxic relationship where God was nowhere to found. Although I had forgiven her affair, by the time I had mine, it was a breath of fresh air that I was unwilling to give up. That does not make my affair justifiable in hindsight but it was my view at the time. I was literally afraid to leave her because of her vindictive nature. And, that assumption certainly played itself out in the years after she and I split. Any subsequent relationships that I had after her were marred by her anger and her hatred. She would tell anyone who would listen what a horrible person that I was. Her hatred toward me consumed her life. It was her raison d’etre. It was her reason for being. The grudge was its most intense during the three years between my split with her. It involved harassing phone calls. It involved preventing me from seeing my children to the point I had to take her to court over the issue. Her reaction was to justify the withholding of visitation rights by accusing me of having molested my oldest daughter during one of the visitations that I did get to have with my kids. That began years of vindictive behavior, particularly toward my second wife, that was only calmed in intensity when she remarried in 1996. Even after that, though not as vocal or expressive, I always learned through my daughters that my first wife still had this seething hatred for me. Even years later. My anger toward her for the things that I had put up with since our breakup (and during our marriage) became forgiveness and then pity. My first wife let her anger toward me become this all consuming reason for being that became her god and destroyed her life and what was once a promising nursing career.

 

With my one of my five uncles on my dad’s side of the family, it was my grandparent that said something about my uncle’s manhood when he and his wife had to adopt children. They were unable to have children of their own. My paternal grandpa said something really base to my uncle about his manhood and my uncle stormed out of my grandparent’s house in 1966 and never returned, never reconciled with the other brothers even after my grandparents’ respective deaths in 1979 (Pop) and 2008 (Granny), and my uncle’s death in 2014. My uncle went as far as to “adopt” a family in Inman as his “parents”. He would claim to others that his parents had died in a train crash. The irony of it all is that my uncle was a minister in the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. He was a very successful pastor and worked his way up to the largest United Methodist church in South Carolina before he retired. He refused to come home for Christmas, Thanksigiving, or any other family event, even the funerals of his parents. He refused to give the forgiveness he preached. My grandparents were equally as stubborn over the disrespects shown them over the years. They refused to forgive those things. And each year the list of offenses and reasons not to forgive and grew ever larger. And it all started with a remark made by my Pop in 1966. Knowing my shoot from the hip Pop who was rough, gruff and said everything that was on his mind no matter what, my Pop probably made the remark flippantly. I am sure that it was insensitive and maybe even deeply hurtful to my uncle but that was Pop. He had no filter to hold back comments that came to his mind. I was too little when my uncle left the family in 1966 to know the exact details of it all, but knowing my Pop and some of the rough, gruff and sometimes personal things he said to me and even my firs real long-term relationship (with the woman who became my first wife), I can see him saying something that was nothing to him but something big to my uncle. A flippant remark became a family feud that never ended even with my grandparents passed away and even to my uncle’s death. Even in his obituary, my uncle claimed no relationship to our family. Even in his death, there no forgiveness for his parents by reclaiming them as his valid and very real parents.

 

Grudges. Man can they kill your joy! My own experiences with major grudges is what I thought when I read through today’s passage, Numbers 20:14-21. This passage is a classic of an old grudge still living on years later:

 

14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying:

 

“This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardships that have come on us. 15 Our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our ancestors, 16 but when we cried out to the Lord, he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.

 

“Now we are here at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”

 

18 But Edom answered:

 

“You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”

 

19 The Israelites replied:

 

“We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot—nothing else.”

 

20 Again they answered:

 

“You may not pass through.”

 

Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army. 21 Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.

 

Let us go back in time to reflect on this passage. Two brothers became the ancestors of two nations. The Edomites descended from Esau and the Israelites from Jacob. Thus, the Israelites were “relatives” of the Edomites. Because of their common ancestry, Moses sent a brotherly message to the Edomite king. The Edomites refused. Why? Do you think it had its roots in the saga of Jacob and Esau? Most likely it did. There was distrust of the Israelites by the Edomites. This distrust and maybe even hatred had its roots in the two brothers, Jacob and Esau. The Edomite king not only said no but sent troops to prevent the Israelites from even touching their land. Jacob and Esau were the classic sibling rivalry. They even struggled with one another in the womb. The rivalry was so bad that Jacob bamboozled Esau into selling Jacob his birthright for a pot of stew. That began the enmity between Esau and his descendants for Jacob and his. A pot of good smelling stew to a weak minded man began a family feud that grew and grew and never relented. This confrontation here is not the end of it either:

  • Israel’s kings had constant conflict with Edom
    • Saul 1 Sam. 14:47
    • David 2 Sam. 8:13-14
    • Solomon 1 Kings 11:14-22
    • Jehoram 2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chron. 21:8ff
    • Jehoram 2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chron. 21:8ff
    • Ahaz 2 Chron. 28:16
  • Edom urged Babylon to destroy Jerusalem – Psalm 137:7 Remember, O Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”

 

What is our takeaway from all of this? Let us go to Psalm 130:3-4 If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? [4] But with you there is forgiveness. Let us go to elsewhere in God’s Word:

 

  • 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
  • Matthew 6:14 says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
  • Luke 6:37 indicates “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
  • 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
  • Jude 1:20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,

 

We have been forgiven by God through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We did not deserve forgiveness. We stand accused before a mighty and holy and perfect God. We are dead to rights in our sins and should be justly sent to hell. But God in his infinite love for us gives us a way out, a way to be reconciled to Him. So, then, how can we withhold forgiveness for others? How can we keep a record of offenses and yet claim the forgiveness and clean slate that we have in Jesus Christ? That’s pride my friends. Pride is sin. So, we compound sin with sin when we refuse to forgive.

 

True forgiveness is to forgive those who are not forgiving us. When we wait to do some mutual forgiveness thing at the same time or are waiting for the other person to step forward first, the list of offenses will simply grow. We cannot make these offenses against us our god. We cannot let them rule our lives. Take the first step. Be Jesus to those who have a grudge against you. Don’t let it last a lifetime. Don’t let it last generations. Be the change that you seek in others. Be the first to forgive. Step forward. Give you anger and hurt to the Lord and let Him guide your steps in reconciliation. Do not let your anger or your hurt be your god. Let God be your God. Be Jesus to the very people that have hurt you. Be the one who opens their life up and lives transparently in front of the other. Let them see that you are a sinner just as much as they are a sinner. Let us be the one that starts the peace process by opening up our lives to the other person even if they don’t ever forgive you. Getting payback of I forgive you if you forgive me is not what Jesus seeks. He gave his life for us when we were yet sinners. Someone has to stop the madness. It is you, the Christ follower. We must show the same love without expectation of payback that Jesus showed us. Jesus loved us so much that He died for us even before you and I were born and even before you and I accepted Him as Savior. How’s that for taking the first step? Love instead of hate. Trust instead of suspicion. Open book instead of hiding things. Take the first step. Be the change you seek. End the grudge now! Amen and Amen.

Numbers 20:1-13 (Part 3)

Water from the Rock

Have you ever lashed out in anger at someone or a group of people and did or said something that you later regretted doing? We have all had those times. I’ve had such times. You’ve had such times. Living in a fallen world, we sometimes let anger get the best of us. I am usually a person who takes guff from others and does not react and just pushes down the anger inside until it builds and builds and builds into an explosion of anger when I pass my crap limit. Although there are some who physically lash out at others and attempt to physically hurt someone else, my reactions are never physical toward another but are more passive/aggressive than direct. I remember one time when I was married to my first wife and things had deteriorated badly and probably was not more than a month or two before we broke up in the Spring of 1993. My first wife had a way of just pushing your buttons. She had a way of arguing that would drive you insane where she would argue a point to the point I had proved her wrong and then she would reverse course and begin arguing down a path that was completely opposite of her previous line of argument. She was a violent person as well. She would hit me and throw things at me. She had hit me with a clothes iron before. Threatened me with a hair dryer while I was in the shower. It was bad those last few months. I prided myself on being the logical one. I prided myself in being the one who would keep their cool in the midst of these outrageous arguments. She would lose complete control of her senses but I was proud of myself for not being like that in our battle to win whatever there was to win. The last few months we were together arguing and her violence toward me were the menu of each day.

 

Finally, one night of arguing late into the night about something I do not even remember to this day, she was arguing with me from behind a closed door to our bedroom, which of course she had locked to prevent me from going to bed in our bedroom. She said something, most likely about my manhood, that pushed me passed my crap-handling limit. Though the limit for me is pretty high, she reached it – after months of non-stop arguing. I picked up a small square ash tray. You know, one of the little gold glass ones that you can see through. I picked it up and throw it as hard as I could against. I don’t even remember what I expected to happen from that. I just threw it as hard as I could. I have probably never through any object or ball or whatever as hard as I threw that little ashtray. Guess what happened? Instead of shattering against the wooden door and falling into a million pieces on the hallway laminate floor, the ashtray wedged into the wooden door. I threw it so hard that it created a crater in the wooden door and almost penetrated through to the other side of the door in the bedroom. It did break the skin of the door on the bedroom side of the door but did not push all the way through. It was an ugly mess on the other side of the door. The wood at the penetration point was caved in and splintered. Momentarily, I was amazed at the physics of it. The speed and force that was required to make the glass ashtray penetrate the door rather than shatter and break against it was something to consider. Months and months of anger poured out in that throw. It was a release of bottled up negative energy. Being the subdued person that I normally I am, after those few seconds of being amazed at my arm strength (fleeting few seconds of thinking that I was gifted enough to be in the major leagues), I immediately regretted having been that angry and losing control. That was when I knew our marriage was done. It was one thing for her to be out of control (because that was just her nature) but it was another for me to be. Both of us losing control was not good. I regretted it immediately. I immediately knew that if I had passed the point of reason then the marriage was no longer a safe one. Someone was going to get hurt or one or both of the kids were going to get hurt. I know I had to leave. It was not too long after that when I left the marital home and did not return.

 

The irony of it all was that even though I was the calm one of the two of us was that she used that hole in the door to portray me as a violent man to others and to the court whenever it was advantageous to her. Even though anyone who knows me knows that I am a gentle, roll with the flow, everybody get along kind of guy, I was branded as wife-beater because of that hole in the door. I regretted immediately losing my cool because I knew that this would be the result. Branded.

 

It was that last confrontation of my first marriage that I thought of when I read through our passage this morning. How anger can get the best of us sometimes. I can identify with Moses. Sometimes we get so frustrated that we just lose it. Even when we are normally reasonable people, we can sometimes get pushed past our breaking point. Even a mighty biblical figure as Moses can reach his crap limit. Let’s read Numbers 20:1-13 together for a third time this morning:

 

20 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

 

2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! 4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

 

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 The Lord said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

 

9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

 

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

 

13 These were the waters of Meribah,[a] where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.

 

Here in this passage, Moses was told by the Lord to SPEAK to the rock. However, Moses struck it – not once but twice. God did the miracle, yet Moses was taking the credit for it when he shouted out his exclamation at Numbers 20:10. For this, Moses was forbidden to enter the Promised Land – for disobeying God’s direct command and for taking credit for something that God had done. I can identify with Moses. He just got pushed past his crap limit by the Israelites. They had nagged him, slandered him, and rebelled against him for forty years. He just lost it. But Moses was a leader and should have taken the higher road. Regardless of his personal anger at the people, he had to exhibit a higher moral ground that he did. With leadership comes great responsibility. As husbands and fathers, we should remember this.

 

Sometimes, as leaders, as fathers, as husbands, we must remember the end game of leading the people that we lead. We cannot react to things, as leaders, the way followers react. We must remember that we are an example to those we lead.

 

In our marriages, we must remember that we, as men, are charged to lead our household. We must be the example of reasonable and measured faith, reasonable and measured responses to the world around us. We cannot lash out in fits of rage like others might. What example are we setting for our wives and our children. Even if we are badgered and nagged and cojoled, we must be the cooler head that prevails. Further, we must take seriously the example that we set. Our families are watching. Our wives are watching. Our kids are watching (even when they do not live with you anymore). If we want our family to be what we want them to be, we must set the example. We must be the example of what we want them to be. With our authority in the family, given by God, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. Regardless of what our wives and children do, we must be the example of a godly man for them to follow. We do not get a break. We do not get a pass. It is our full-time 24/7/365 job to lead our families. We cannot take a break. We cannot say, “my wife is doing this so I don’t have to do this.” We must lead our families by example always. If we want our families to follow God, we must be following God. We cannot have lapses in leadership. Sure, we make mistakes and we should admit it when we do. But, we cannot walk away from our leadership in our families. We must be the example.

 

Just as I at the end of a marriage chose to react with passion instead of reason, we can be branded as not leading our homes well when we are not the example that we want our families to be. It starts with us as fathers and husbands. We must be the example of that which we desire of our families. They follow our lead no matter whether they admit it or not. Women and children want us to be the leader of our home. We are men. We are the husbands and fathers. It starts with us. We must be above the fray. We must be the ones who set the standard of godly behavior. We get to break on that because we are charged with be the leaders of our homes.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 20:1-13 (Part 2)

Water from the Rock

As many of you who read my blogs, you know that I am a really passionate Clemson Tigers fan. As any of you who follow college football know, Clemson has been very successful on the football field over the past five year and there success at present is only surpassed by the success of the football program during the late seventies through the early 90s, and then again back during the decade of the 1950s. However, the current success if continued at its current pace, it will become the new glory days of Clemson football. Beginning with the 2011 season, they have won 60 games while losing only 12, an 83.3% winning percentage. As well, just since the 2012 season including the first four games of this season, they have a 50-8 records, an 85% winning percentage. Even more impressive is the fact that over the last 29 games (since the end of the third game of the 2014 season), the Tigers are 27-2, a 93% winning percentage. Very impressive.

 

Yet, with the beginning of this, the 2016 season, there were sky high expectations for the Tigers, particularly on offense, where they had virtually the entire group of starters from last year back. This offensive unit, last year, had ended the season as almost an unstoppable force. So, this year, there was an expectation that they would pick up exactly where they had left off, a team that was within 5 points of winning a national championship. However, with the exception of a perfect first half against Georgia Tech, the offense has seemed inconsistent and unable to do what was necessary to put other teams away. They seemed unable to put together a string of consistent scoring drives. All of this lead to a lot of grumbling among the Clemson faithful as well as among the national media. The seemingly inconsistent play has cost the Tigers anywhere from 1 to 3 spots in the national polls. Starting the season ranked #2 only behind #1 Alabama, the Tigers have fallen to #3 in one national poll and to #5 in the other. However, at the same time, Clemson is 4-0. They are undefeated. At this same point last year, they have actually scored the same amount of points as they did last year at this point (134) and their defense actually seems better this year than last. It is all a matter of perceptions and expectations, I think. This same team started off slowly last year and built toward the national championship contender that it became by season’s end. I think we forget that as Tiger fans. This year we have seen other teams be offensive juggernauts from the get-go such as Alabama and Louisville and so on while the Tigers have seemingly struggled to generate big numbers.

 

As Tiger fans, we have grown accustomed to a high level of play and now complain about how many points we are scoring rather than enjoying the fact that we are still undefeated so far this season. Not too many years ago during that long dry spell of mediocrity between 1993-2009, we would have been extremely happy to be 4-0 right now, winning two road games already in places that we have rarely won over the years (at Auburn and at Georgia Tech). We would be grateful for the success. However, now after being one of the winningest college programs over the past five and one-third seasons, we start to see the problems rather that the successes. We are knit-picking and saying that the sky is falling rather than enjoying being 4-0 and ranked in the top 5 for a long time now. Myself, I believe that the Tigers can do better for sure. However, I am grateful that my favorite team has found ways to get the wins so far this season. I am thankful for the fact that our defense has really been the star this year. And, some football philosopher once said, “offense fills the stands but defense wins championships!” I guess we will find out who this 2016 Tiger team really is this weekend when they face another Top 5 team, Louisville, in a ACC showdown game, but nonetheless, in order for this to have become a big game, the Tigers have had to have remained unbeaten. For all their imperfections so far this season, they are undefeated and thus had made this game with Louisville a big one.

 

As my wife reads this blog, I am sure she is yawning about all the football commentary, but I think the comparison of the detractors of the 2016 version of the Clemson Tiger football team and how the Israelites were complaining against their leadership.

 

Let’s read Numbers 20:1-13 together for a second time this morning:

 

20 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

 

2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! 4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

 

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 The Lord said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

 

9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

 

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

 

13 These were the waters of Meribah,[a] where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.

 

What I want us to walk away with this morning is the fact that we must keep things in perspective. Here, in this passage, we see the Israelites grumbling again. Yes, grumbling again. They see what they don’t have instead of what they do have. They are alive right now and over the past 40 years because of the provision of God. He has never failed to provide for His people, but yet they complain at every turn. This is wrong and that is wrong. Nothing is good enough. Sure, we sit here reading God’s Word and say, “You idiots! Can’t you see what God has done for you!” However, we cannot speak with such derision towards the Israelites because, are we not the same? We complain about not having more than we have because we are caring more about what others have than being thankful for God’s specific provision for us in our life – not someone’s else life. We complain about our situations too when we fail to realize that our situation is of our own making.

 

The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years because of their own sin. They failed to obey the Lord and thus the wandering for 40 years in the wilderness was their just punishment. We whine and complain at where we are in our relationship. Have we ever thought that our condition is caused by our own disobedience to God? Often our disobedience to God’s Word leads us to consequences that are difficult for us to deal with and we whine and complain about how things got this way. Wake up! We put ourselves in these positions and we need to accept responsibility for them and do what is necessary to get through our consequences of sin. Let us learn to be obedient to God’s Word and work our way through the valleys of the shadow of death that we have created for ourselves. Let us learn to find joy in that journey. Let us realize and learn from our mistakes. Let us find the joy in finding a flower in the midst of the storm. Let us be thankful that God is still providing for us. Let us be thankful that He has not cast us aside. Let us be thankful that He provides even when we are disobedient. Let us take our lumps and learn from them. Let us take heed on being obedient going forward so that we do not have experience the consequences of sin going forward. Let us be thankful for what God has done for us even though He has allowed consequences to occur that were of our own making. Let us change and be thankful for His provision. Instead of complaining about what a friend or a spouse or a coworker is not doing because of the fact that we have both done things to cause distrust, let us realize that we played a role in the relationship getting to where it is and become the change we seek. Become obedient to the Lord and seek to love despite fear. Let us be the ones that seek obedience to God regardless of the situation. God provides when we are obedient. It may take time to work through the problems caused by our sin but the first step is being thankfully obedient to a God who always provides.

 

Just as Clemson fans need to keep in perspective that the Tigers are being successful though it might not be pretty, they are being successful. The victories have come. The team is undefeated. It might not be in the fashion that we have come accustomed to where it was easy and seemed a thing of precision and beauty. We cannot grumble for the way it is being done. We should remember the days when we simply celebrated victory and not how it was done. We, too, must realize that God is our provider and He will provide for us. It may not always be the way we like. All of us have created circumstances that we whine and complain about but yet we forget that it was our own disobedience to the Lord that caused things to look and smell as they do right now. But has God ever stopped providing for you? Are you not experiencing victory simply by not being completely destroyed for our disobedience? God is there for us and is providing for us. He loves us and provides for us even while He allows us to experience the consequences of our sin.

 

Let us be thankful for God being with us in the storm. Let us be thankful that we have a God who loves us despite our sins. Let us be thankful that He provides for us even when we are disobedient. Let us see that provision and be thankful for it. Let us see that obedience will lead us out of the wilderness. Instead of complaining about why we are in the wilderness and why things are not perfect like we want them, let us see the wilderness of our own making. Let us see that our sins have caused the wilderness. Let us see that our way out of the wilderness begins with our own obedience to God and not someone else’s. Let us see that obedience to the Lord is the key. Let us quit complaining about our condition and begin seeing the wonders of God’s provision even in the storm. Let us quit complaining about our condition and get to the business of being obedient to the Lord. Then, the blessings will flow. Let us quit whining and complaining and begin being obedient to the Lord. Let’s get to work on that!

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 20:1-13 (Part 1)
Water from the Rock

I know the fathers of the world can identify with this! So, guys, read on. How many times have you heard those dreaded words of “some assembly required”? Show of hands out there, how many of you have tried to put together whatever needed assembling without using the directions? Those of you dads out there with your hands down…you’re lying! We’ve all done it. Whether it be a kid’s toy on Christmas Eve? Whether it be a yard tool or other yard equipment? Whether it be the dreaded entertainment center that has 11 billion parts and screws? We have all thought we knew best. We have our male pride, right? We can do this. “I don’t need any help from some stinking directions written by some guy in a back office in Hong Kong somewhere!” is our battle cry when it comes to putting things together. And, yes, we tear off into our project without those directions and we try to put whatever it is together without reading and obeying those directions. Then you get to the point that you realize that you have really screwed up and you have to disassemble the whole thing and start over. This time, you use the directions and lo and behold, it worked out perfectly. You feel really stupid for having tried to put it together on your own and then having to tear it down and start over again as if you had done nothing the previous two or three hours (if you are lucky to have only spent that amount of time). You guys know what I am talking about. That frustrating feeling that you should have followed the directions from the beginning and you would not be right here, right back where you started from. Frustration for having wasted all that time on prideful attempt to do it your way and not the way known and tested in the assembly directions that came with the thing that you were putting together.

When I started reading this passage, I first really was puzzled by why the author, whom we presume for the most part to be Moses, inserts v.1 of chapter 20 in a sequence on the ongoing issues of managing the society of Israel, we have this inserted mention of the death of Miriam. It really puzzled me why that was inserted between the instruction on the water of purification sequence and the sequence about the grumblings of having no water and God’s resolution to that. It just seemed to be a weird insert to me. At the same token, I know, too, that there are no wasted words in God’s Word. So, I struggled with it all day yesterday while on vacation in the Rocky Mountains in a cabin compound with friends. This was mulling around in my mind while hiking through the most beautiful evidence of God’s majesty that I have seen in a long time and while watching pro football on TV that sits in front of a picture window with this giant, majestic 14,000 foot group of mountains in front of me. Why, why did the Lord want that in there? I finally got it this morning. Think about the location. We are right back where we started from. Right before the Promised Land. All that time wasted.

That’s what I want us to think about today as we read through this passage the first time today (there will be two more blogs on this passage to come). I want us to think about how many times in our lives we are back at Kadesh once again. Back at square one after we have gone off on our own and done things our way only to find that we screwed it all up and we are back at square one. Let’s read Numbers 20:1-13 together right now with a focus on that first verse, Numbers 20:1:

20 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! 4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 The Lord said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

13 These were the waters of Meribah,[a] where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.

What I want us to walk away with this morning is just doing things God’s way from the get-go. Think about all the times that we try to do things our way. And how often we completely screw things up. How often do we have to start over from scratch? How often do we have to retrace our steps and fix our messes that we have created? Why didn’t we just do things God’s way from the beginning. There is an old saying that goes, “if you keep doing what you are doing you will keep getting what you’ve always got” that seems so true here. Miriam who started off so well in the desert but ended up doing things her own way, grumbling against God and her leadership and then ended up dying short of the Promised Land right back where they started from right at the border of what God had planned. She died short of the finish line of what God had promised and it was all because she did not do it God’s way the first time.

Is your life keeping on coming back to square one because of following your pride? Let us think about doing things God’s way so that we do not waste time in the wilderness. If we keep doing things our way we will get what we always get, having to come back to square one and starting over again. Think about the time we are wasting by not doing things God’s way. We will fall short of the promise that He has for our lives. He has a Promised Land for all of us. Is your marriage in trouble because of foolish pride in trying to do things you own prideful ways. We have to become the change that we seek in our marriages. We have to set our pride aside and do things God’s way. Are you having problems in walk with Christ? Is your pride in the way? Are you having troubles in life that you blame on others? Are you seeking things that are not of God and wondering why that you are getting the mess that you are getting? Are you wasting your life and the promise that God has for it by seeking your own desires? Right back where you started from? Starting over again? And again? How bout listening to God and His Word and doing it his way from now on?

Otherwise, you will end up like Miriam. Right at the border of the Promised Land and never getting to go there? What is it in your life that prevents you from your Promised Land? What is in your life that you are doing that is in opposition to God’s Word? What is it in your life that is in opposition to the directions that He has for your life? If you keep doing what you are doing you are going to get what you always get? Let us seek God’s direction for our life and follow it? Then we won’t have wasted the rest of our lives trying to get it done our way! Then, we won’t have to go back to the instructions and start all over again. Our time is limited here. Are you willing to live in opposition to God’s will for your life and end up dying without having entered the sweet spot of alignment with God’s will and receiving the blessings that come from that. Are you going to die right before the Promised Land?

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 19:1-22 (Part 3 of 3)
The Water of Purification

Cows are not the brightest animals in the world. Bless their hearts! They can be led and herded easily. They are just innocent animals who do not have the capacity to realize they are in danger. In that, there is this wonderful innocence about them. They are easily led to their own slaughter. However, in their slaughter, the world is fed. Every part of a cow, with maybe a few exceptions, can be used to feed people. Cows provide meat and milk that can sustain whole communities. So, they give their lives to sustain us. They are innocent animals sacrificed so others might live. Let’s keep that in mind as we read this passage. A red heifer is sacrificed. Its blood is shed. The ashes from its burnt body are then made holy for use in purifying those that are deemed uncleaned by God’s law.

Let’s read through this passage for a final time today, Numbers 19:1-22, thinking of the sacrifices of life, the shedding of blood of a cow is how much of our society is sustained through that sacrifice:

19 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: 2 “This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. 3 Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. 4 Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the tent of meeting. 5 While he watches, the heifer is to be burned—its hide, flesh, blood and intestines. 6 The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer. 7 After that, the priest must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water. He may then come into the camp, but he will be ceremonially unclean till evening. 8 The man who burns it must also wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he too will be unclean till evening.

9 “A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin. 10 The man who gathers up the ashes of the heifer must also wash his clothes, and he too will be unclean till evening. This will be a lasting ordinance both for the Israelites and for the foreigners residing among them.

11 “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. 12 They must purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean. 13 If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the Lord’s tabernacle. They must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, they are unclean; their uncleanness remains on them.

14 “This is the law that applies when a person dies in a tent: Anyone who enters the tent and anyone who is in it will be unclean for seven days, 15 and every open container without a lid fastened on it will be unclean.

16 “Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed with a sword or someone who has died a natural death, or anyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days.

17 “For the unclean person, put some ashes from the burned purification offering into a jar and pour fresh water over them. 18 Then a man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent and all the furnishings and the people who were there. He must also sprinkle anyone who has touched a human bone or a grave or anyone who has been killed or anyone who has died a natural death. 19 The man who is clean is to sprinkle those who are unclean on the third and seventh days, and on the seventh day he is to purify them. Those who are being cleansed must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and that evening they will be clean. 20 But if those who are unclean do not purify themselves, they must be cut off from the community, because they have defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. The water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, and they are unclean. 21 This is a lasting ordinance for them.

“The man who sprinkles the water of cleansing must also wash his clothes, and anyone who touches the water of cleansing will be unclean till evening. 22 Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.”
What’s my takeaway this morning? The takeaway would be that there is a similarity of the red heifer in this passage to Jesus Christ. His blood was shed for us on the cross. His body was sacrificed for us. It was a necessary sacrifice so that God could pour out His wrath on His Son against sin. It is a wrath that each of us deserves individually. It a penalty that we should be paying. However, the sacrifice that Jesus made for us was necessary to sustain us, to give us life giving sustenance, to spare us from the eternal damnation that we deserve. Jesus was innocent and pure. He had to sin in Him. He was spotless as the red heifer and with same innocence of heart. The red heifer in this passage was a way for the person who had been defiled to be reconciled to the body of the nation of Israel. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice reconciles with a holy and perfect God. We are made clean through Jesus Christ so that we can be reconciled. Without Jesus’ sacrifice, we cannot cleanse ourselves from our sins. Just one sin disqualifies us from his presence. Just like dropping a droplet of ink into a glass of water forever changes the water even though it was just one drop, our first sin removes us from the possibility of existing in God’s presence in eternity. Then, add on to that, the whole host of sins that we commit in a lifetime, we are clearly unable to be in His presence. No amount of good deeds can change the taint that our sins cast on us before God.

We must have the innocence of Jesus Christ sacrificed on our behalf. We must have His perfection imputed upon us through his death on the cross. His death pays the penalty for our sins. Our slate is wiped clean. He makes us pure in God’s eyes and it is only through Jesus that we are made pure. No good deeds. No other way of transcending our innate sinful nature. Nothing but the blood of Jesus Christ can make us clean before God and reconcile us to Him. Without Him we are caste out, like the defiled person in this passage is cast out of the community. Without Him, there is nothing that we can do ourselves to reconcile ourselves to God. We have nothing that we can offer to a holy and perfect God who needs nothing from us. We need supernatural intervention on our behalf. It comes in the name and blood of Jesus Christ. We are reconciled. We are made clean. We are set upon solid ground. We have our eternity in the presence of God secured through His innocence and His sacrifice.
Amen and Amen.

Numbers 19:1-22 (Part 2 of 3)

The Water of Purification

 

It was the night before Johnny and Kathy Thompson’s wedding back in 1982. It was summertime in the South. Even though Johnny was 5 years older than me, I was the one who was already married so it was up to me to show him a good time the night before his wedding the following evening. It was no big deal. We just hung out with our mutual friends, went to a couple of bars, whistled at girls, talked big about life (which was certainly aided by the alcoholic lubricants that we imbibed). Just your typical guys-night-out. Nothing to write home about. Nothing illegal and nothing particularly to be ashamed about. However, on the way home to Johnny’s place, things got a little wild. Being Southern boys, we loved cars. We loved driving fast. We loved doing donuts in parking lots. We were typical early 80’s 20-somethings in the South. It had rained a lot that summer and particularly a lot that week before Johnny and Kathy’s wedding. So, there was a lot of mud puddles around. To quote Zazu, from Lion King, there were “big ones, small ones, some as big as ya head!” So, I guess you’ve already figured out where this is headed. Southern boys, cars, mud puddles.

 

Being boys from what was then rural Travelers Rest, SC (now an up and coming chic suburb of Greenville right at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains), or TR as it is known to us locals here in Upstate, SC, we were driving home on Rutherford Road which had train tracks running beside it so there was this blank area between the road and the railroad tracks all along the route of Rutherford Road between Wade Hampton Blvd. and Pleasantburg Drive. In this blank space, no development could be done because there was just no room. The rails were pretty close to the road. But there was enough room during this week for a huge mud puddle to develop in an area of the road’s circuit where there was not a lot of traffic. And of course it was pretty late at night, probably 2am. You see what’s going to happen here. Boys will be boys. We saw the huge puddle. It was a miniature lake almost. You could put 15 cars, five rows of three cars side by side, in this puddle. We know the ground so there was no real fear of what was underneath the shallow waters of this giganitor puddle. Yep. It was donut time! We must have spent an hour doing donuts through the puddle. Slamming on brakes in the middle of it too see how far it would take to stop. The more we did the donuts and the slides and the slamming on of brakes, the bigger the soupy mess the puddle became. The more muddy it became. With each pass through the puddle mud was being thrown up and onto Johnny’s car. Layers and layers of mud. I mean we had to turn on the windshield wipers to get the mud off the windshield we were churning up so much mud. Finally, we decide we have had enough and we head home to Johnny’s. Having had a few that night and having had the mudding adventure of a lifetime, we were pretty tired when we got back TR and it was sooo late. We parked the car in the yard so the mud would not drip all over Johnny’s driveway. And we went in and crashed and slept like babies until the girls got there the next morning.

 

You could hear Kathy screaming from the yard when they got there about 10am that morning. Kathy and my wife at the time, Lisa, were already all decked out for the bridesmaids’ luncheon. So, you could imagine their horror at seeing a car that was now covered, and I mean covered, with what was now dried mud. Remember, summer in the South. It stays in the 80 degree range even at night so it did not take long for the mud all over that car to dry. Kathy threatened to call off the wedding if Johnny did not get that car spotless before the wedding. Of course, Lisa gave me the evil eye for, being a married man, and having participated in this childishness. The rants of Kathy and Lisa were darts to just waking up brains after a night of partying.

 

But thank God for self-service car washes and lots of quarters. You know those self-service ones with the jet sprayers where if you don’t have the wand firmly in your hand that it will take off and do a dance all around the stall when the pressured water stream is turned on! Man, we must have spent $20 in quarters that morning til lunchtime. There was mud in every crevice of that car. There was inches of mud everywhere. We must have rinsed that car at least 10 times before we could even consider washing it. But after several hours of hard work and laughing the whole time about how muddy the car had gotten and the laughing about what the girls thought when they first saw the car in the yard for the first time. But through the power of pressurized water and soapy suds and a lot of hard scrubbing, we got the car clean. It looked goooood! Water is a magical agent for cleaning. No more has it ever been true than on that particular morning.

 

Oh the cleansing power of water. That transformation of Johnny’s car from a muddy mess to a car ready to be a show piece as Johnny and Kathy drove away on their honeymoon was what I thought of this morning when thinking again on this passage.

 

Let’s read through this passage for a second time today, Numbers 19:1-22, thinking of the cleansing power of water and how the water of purification here is similar to what baptism symbolizes for us Christians:

 

19 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: 2 “This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. 3 Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. 4 Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the tent of meeting. 5 While he watches, the heifer is to be burned—its hide, flesh, blood and intestines. 6 The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer. 7 After that, the priest must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water. He may then come into the camp, but he will be ceremonially unclean till evening. 8 The man who burns it must also wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he too will be unclean till evening.

 

9 “A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin. 10 The man who gathers up the ashes of the heifer must also wash his clothes, and he too will be unclean till evening. This will be a lasting ordinance both for the Israelites and for the foreigners residing among them.

 

11 “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. 12 They must purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean. 13 If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the Lord’s tabernacle. They must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, they are unclean; their uncleanness remains on them.

 

14 “This is the law that applies when a person dies in a tent: Anyone who enters the tent and anyone who is in it will be unclean for seven days, 15 and every open container without a lid fastened on it will be unclean.

 

16 “Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed with a sword or someone who has died a natural death, or anyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days.

 

17 “For the unclean person, put some ashes from the burned purification offering into a jar and pour fresh water over them. 18 Then a man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent and all the furnishings and the people who were there. He must also sprinkle anyone who has touched a human bone or a grave or anyone who has been killed or anyone who has died a natural death. 19 The man who is clean is to sprinkle those who are unclean on the third and seventh days, and on the seventh day he is to purify them. Those who are being cleansed must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and that evening they will be clean. 20 But if those who are unclean do not purify themselves, they must be cut off from the community, because they have defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. The water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, and they are unclean. 21 This is a lasting ordinance for them.

 

“The man who sprinkles the water of cleansing must also wash his clothes, and anyone who touches the water of cleansing will be unclean till evening. 22 Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.”

 

 

What’s my takeaway this morning? It is that transformative power of salvation in our lives that makes us clean before God that is symbolized in baptism. Just as Johnny’s car went into the car wash stall a muddy mess, it was transformed by the water and comes out the other side of the stall completely clean and spotless. Our salvation does the same thing for us. Our salvation is symbolically played out in the baptism ceremony. We come to the baptismal pool dirty in our sins. The water represents our salvation in Jesus Christ in that we join Him in the water and he covers us in his purity. We are enveloped by the water of Christ’s righteousness and He takes away or dirtiness upon Himself. Our sins are drowned in His righteousness. We arise in newness of life. We are cleansed by the water. The water stays with as we come out of the water dripping water. We are coated in the water of Christ’s righteousness. It is symbolic of his sending the Holy Spirit upon us at salvation and the clinging wetness of the water on our bodies represents the sanctifying nature of the Holy Spirit, how the Holy Spirit continues to change us and mold us into Christ’s likeness during the remainder of our days until we are made finally perfect and holy in heaven.

 

The water of purification here in this passage is a foreshadowing of baptism’s symbolic representative nature of salvation. The water of purification mixed with the ashes of the slain heifer enabled the person involved to be made clean in the eyes of God. Our salvation through believing on Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior who gave His life to pay the penalty of our sins is similar to what the heifer does for the water of purification. Without the heifer’s ashes in this scene, the water is just water. With it, the water becomes holy for the purposes of purification. Without Jesus’ death on the cross, our sins are not paid for and we stand before God with all our filthiness of sin still in place. For those sins, we are to be judged by a perfect and holy God. We cannot be in the presence of God in our sin state and must be condemned to be separated from Him in hell. With Jesus, we are covered by the cleansing waters of His holiness, His righteousness, and His purity. We can rejoin the presence of God. We can be presented to Him perfect and spotless through Christ. We are covered in his perfect nature though we still sin. We no longer take glory from our sins because Christ has sent us the Holy Spirit who spends the rest of our lives with us perfecting us from our sins, making us revolted by our own sin nature and seeking to become more and more like him. We ain’t perfect and we do not delight in our sins, the Holy Spirit makes sure of that.

 

But when you think of what Christ does for us, what the water of purification did for the Israelites, think about Johnny’s car. It was so freaking filthy. Covered in mud and I mean covered every inch of that vehicle. Through the cleansing waters of the car wash, it was made pristine and ready to be carriage for a bride as they left on their honeymoon. We are made ready to be in the presence of God, to be a wholly clean person in the presence of God through the cleansing waters of Jesus Christ. He makes us clean. He makes us wedding worthy as the bride of Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 19:1-22 (Part 1 of 3)

The Water of Purification

As Christ followers, we sometimes read the Old Testament and wonder why it is filled with these stories of unclean and clean things. We wonder how that applies to us. How can killing a red heifer without physical defect apply to our daily lives in any way? Atheists, those who loathe God’s Word for whatever their reasons may be, point to things like this as an indication that the Bible is at best good literature but nothing to live your life by. I will have to admit, at first reading, of this passage for this morning, Numbers 19:1-22, that I said to myself, “What am I going to write about this morning?” Then, it hit me.

 

As J. Ligon Duncan, III (who happens to have been a classmate of my at Furman University back in the early 80’s), writes in his sermon on Numbers 19, and which can be found at http://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/sermons/with-god-in-the-wilderness-26-the-red-heifer, he says,

 

“…as the children of Israel wandered through the wilderness, death was everywhere. It was everywhere. Death was a standing issue, and so it is a picture of God’s loving, caring concern for His people that He talks with them about how they ought to respond to death. This is especially important in light of the fact that the cultures around them had all manner of wrong responses to death. The cultures around Israel were often involved in the cult of the dead, in the worship of the dead; they would offer food sacrifices to the dead. They would come to the graves of the dead with food and put it there; they would attempt to commune with the dead through occult practices, and God wanted nothing of that in Israel. And so He spends an entire chapter informing the children of Israel of how they need to respond to death. This makes sense because of the context of death in the wilderness. Death was everywhere.”

 

When we visit this passage twice more in the next two blogs, we will take about the similarities of the water of purification to baptism and the similarities of the red heifer to Christ Himself, but for today. Let’s talk about how God was molding His people through some of these regulations that see archane and, at best, odd to us in the 21st century. This regulation that we have here is about death and dead bodies. In the centuries before Christ, human culture was quite different. Death was everywhere. Sickness caused by handling dead bodies was issue. They did not have the technology for preserving bodies for extended periods of time between death and burial. So there were severe health concerns by allowing persons to come in contact with decomposing bodies. In the wilderness of the desert of the Sinai, what to do with dead bodies was a big concern.

 

Other cultures glorified death in bizzare ways as Ligon Duncan indicates in the quote of his that I used. They worshiped the dead. They had bizarre rituals when it came to responding to the dead. What we consider the prohibition against tattoos in Deutoronomy has to do with how other cultures handled death. Some cultures would cut themselves, not symbolically but actual, literal cutting of their skin, and paint their bodies as they mourned the death of person they either loved or knew. God did not want His people to participate is this type of worship of death. God wanted His people to have none of that. Ancient Middle Eastern cultures were, as many cultures around the world, obsessed with death – the curiosity of it, the worship of it, developing ancestral myths over it. No wonder! Death was everywhere. The population of our planet did not start growing exponentially until 400-500 years ago with the advent of modern understandings of medicine and health. Before, then, the world’s population was less than 1 billon people right up until the 1700’s when things started exploding. Earth’s population now is estimated at close to 7.4 Billion in 2016 and is projected to be 11.2 Billion in just 150 more years. The world’s population has will have grown eleven-fold between 1700 and 2150. Mind boggling, even with the advances in birth control that we have now that the earth will have 51% more people than now in just 150 years. However, in the cultures of the ancient Middle East the world had to deal with death on a widespread scale on a daily basis. Death and dead bodies were everywhere. So death was easily something that cultures could become obsessed with and how it could develop into a religious thing.

 

God wanted His people to be a different people. He wanted them to be a nation of priest. He wanted them to be living testaments to the one true and living God. He wanted them to be separate and act differently than the cultures around them. He wanted them to be different. He wanted to be His representatives to the world because it would be through this unique culture of the Israelites that would come the Messiah to the nations. He wanted people of the world to drawn unto God through His people so that they would know the One True God and would be the kingdom of priests who would herald the one true King in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

 

Let’s read through this passage while thinking of how God wanted His people to be uncommon in a world that did not know how to handle dead bodies properly and in a world where the cult of death had become a religion:

 

19 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: 2 “This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. 3 Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. 4 Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the tent of meeting. 5 While he watches, the heifer is to be burned—its hide, flesh, blood and intestines. 6 The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer. 7 After that, the priest must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water. He may then come into the camp, but he will be ceremonially unclean till evening. 8 The man who burns it must also wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he too will be unclean till evening.

 

9 “A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin. 10 The man who gathers up the ashes of the heifer must also wash his clothes, and he too will be unclean till evening. This will be a lasting ordinance both for the Israelites and for the foreigners residing among them.

 

11 “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. 12 They must purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean. 13 If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the Lord’s tabernacle. They must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, they are unclean; their uncleanness remains on them.

 

14 “This is the law that applies when a person dies in a tent: Anyone who enters the tent and anyone who is in it will be unclean for seven days, 15 and every open container without a lid fastened on it will be unclean.

 

16 “Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed with a sword or someone who has died a natural death, or anyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days.

 

17 “For the unclean person, put some ashes from the burned purification offering into a jar and pour fresh water over them. 18 Then a man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent and all the furnishings and the people who were there. He must also sprinkle anyone who has touched a human bone or a grave or anyone who has been killed or anyone who has died a natural death. 19 The man who is clean is to sprinkle those who are unclean on the third and seventh days, and on the seventh day he is to purify them. Those who are being cleansed must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and that evening they will be clean. 20 But if those who are unclean do not purify themselves, they must be cut off from the community, because they have defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. The water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, and they are unclean. 21 This is a lasting ordinance for them.

 

“The man who sprinkles the water of cleansing must also wash his clothes, and anyone who touches the water of cleansing will be unclean till evening. 22 Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.”

 

 

What’s my takeaway this morning? Sure, all this seems like weird to us in our 21st century sensibilities but so do third world country practices today to us. Let us not dismiss the deeper messages of this passage getting lost in the surface details. The first thing that I notice here today is that God wanted His chosen people to be different from the world around them. He did not want them to assimilate their practices. He did not want them to start chipping away at His prescriptions for their holiness by assimilating the cultural practices of the world around them.

 

How relevant is that thought? We as Christians are being threatened on every side today to assimilate the culture’s practices around us. We are being pressured to accept that which is clearly against God’s Word. We are called old-fashioned, ignorant, and intolerant if we do not dive headfirst into accepting that which the culture has accepted as normal and OK. We are to be a kingdom of priests so that the world will be drawn unto Jesus Christ through loving and compassionate interaction with the world around us. However, if you cannot tell any difference between us and the world, what are they going to be drawn to. We can love the world but not participate in its ways. We can love the world by interacting with them and develop relationships with them but not accepting those behaviors of the world as our own. We can love the world by getting to know them right where they are at and leading them to knowledge of Jesus without buying into cultural norms that are clearly against God’s Word. We must love them and not hate them because we should not wish eternal separation from God in eternal damnation on even our worst enemy. Let us be that different. Let us be the difference. Let us be that kingdom of priests who points the way to the cross to a world that desperately needs it.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 18:8-32

Support for the Priests & the Levites

I am going to pull no punches today. This is a straight up challenge to who we say we are as Christians…

Have you ever wondered why churches struggle to make ends meet? Sure, there are large mega-churches out there that seem to have turned that corner and have sufficient funds to do whatever they want (or so it seems from the outside). The average church, according to Barna Research and other church statistical sources, of my church’s size, 600 per Sunday, with an average potential 350 in giving units (families or singles who are your potential givers), typically operates on a budget of $750,000. A budget of $750,000 would mean that weekly giving (online, mail and Sunday morning) averages around $14,425 per week. Statistics show that in churches of my church’s size, you will actually average about 115 giving units per Sunday (out of the average 350 giving units that attend each Sunday). That means these 115 giving units give about $125 per week. Certainly that is the average, there are a select few who give extremely generously each Sunday and there are those who give a $10 spot each each but must be counting as a giving unit. That means too that there less than half the average 600 attendee church, 115 out of 400 giving units, actually gives to the church or 33.28% of mid-sized churches give to their church.

 

In churches my church’s size in the Southeast in suburban areas (where our church finds itself – in a suburban area of the Greenville-Spartanburg metropolitan statistical area), the average income of church attendees is about $50,000 gross income before deductions. If we take that out to its potential, each giving unit in a 600 attendee church should tithe $5,000 annually. If each potential giving unit, all 350 of them in a 600 attendee church, making an average of $50,000 annually gave 10% annually, the average church budget would $1,750,000 for a 600 member church. Wow! What a difference that would be if we all just did what we are commanded to do.

 

I know that this sounds all financial and everything but I am a financial guy who is passionate about being obedient to the Lord in this area. What if we had all our potential giving units giving in our churches today. What if the church did not have to choose between ministry and paying the preacher? What if the church did not have choose between pay the electric bill and doing ministry outside the four walls of the church? What if we could have pastors who could take care of their families instead of scrimping by and praying that they have enough money to send their kids to college when the time comes? What if we could fully fund a helps ministry that helps people with getting themselves out of poverty? What if we had the money to help teenage girls who have gotten pregnant? What if we had the money to help get girls who have had to succumb to prostitution off the the streets and teach them marketable skills? What if we could fund missionaries who go to foreign nations and help girls get out the sex trafficking trade? What if we had the money to go into the cities and open satellite churches and really make a difference through education and outreach to street gang kids? What if we could help the little old lady living in a dilapidated house just down the road from the church? What if we thought more of that than spending 104% of what we make on ourselves? What if we tithed or more? What if we put our money where our mouth is about being a Christian? What if we lived off of 90% or less of what we make as God has commanded us to do?

 

It was that idea that God made provision for the ministry of the Tabernacle by requiring the Israelites to tithe of their crops and animals. It got me to thinking about how we as the modern church could learn so much from being obedient to the Lord in the area of finances and giving. We have written off the need to support the church. We have abdicated our responsibility to “they”. They will take care of it. I don’t have to. If we cannot be obedient in the area of supporting the church, it breeds a take it or leave attitude when it comes to obeying God. We see how that has worked out for the Israelites throughout the Old Testament. Let’s read what God commands about supporting the ministers and ministry of the Tabernacle, in Numbers 18:8-32:

8 Then the Lord said to Aaron, “I myself have put you in charge of the offerings presented to me; all the holy offerings the Israelites give me I give to you and your sons as your portion, your perpetual share. 9 You are to have the part of the most holy offerings that is kept from the fire. From all the gifts they bring me as most holy offerings, whether grain or sin[a] or guilt offerings, that part belongs to you and your sons. 10 Eat it as something most holy; every male shall eat it. You must regard it as holy.

 

11 “This also is yours: whatever is set aside from the gifts of all the wave offerings of the Israelites. I give this to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.

 

12 “I give you all the finest olive oil and all the finest new wine and grain they give the Lord as the firstfruits of their harvest. 13 All the land’s firstfruits that they bring to the Lord will be yours. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.

 

14 “Everything in Israel that is devoted[b] to the Lord is yours. 15 The first offspring of every womb, both human and animal, that is offered to the Lord is yours. But you must redeem every firstborn son and every firstborn male of unclean animals. 16 When they are a month old, you must redeem them at the redemption price set at five shekels[c] of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs.

 

17 “But you must not redeem the firstborn of a cow, a sheep or a goat; they are holy. Splash their blood against the altar and burn their fat as a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. 18 Their meat is to be yours, just as the breast of the wave offering and the right thigh are yours. 19 Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.”

 

20 The Lord said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites.

 

21 “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting. 22 From now on the Israelites must not go near the tent of meeting, or they will bear the consequences of their sin and will die. 23 It is the Levites who are to do the work at the tent of meeting and bear the responsibility for any offenses they commit against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. 24 Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.’”

 

25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering. 27 Your offering will be reckoned to you as grain from the threshing floor or juice from the winepress. 28 In this way you also will present an offering to the Lord from all the tithes you receive from the Israelites. From these tithes you must give the Lord’s portion to Aaron the priest. 29 You must present as the Lord’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.’

 

30 “Say to the Levites: ‘When you present the best part, it will be reckoned to you as the product of the threshing floor or the winepress. 31 You and your households may eat the rest of it anywhere, for it is your wages for your work at the tent of meeting. 32 By presenting the best part of it you will not be guilty in this matter; then you will not defile the holy offerings of the Israelites, and you will not die.’”

 

 

Do you think God just might bless us if we obeyed Him? We are no longer under the penalty of the law in Jesus Christ but Jesus said He came to fulfill the law not abolish it. Paul tells us that we should be generous givers because of what Jesus has done for us. Paul felt that 10% was just a starting point not a stopping point. He felt that we should give that and more to help the ministry of the gospel. The Lord will bless those who obey Him. He will bless you with a new perspective when you tithe and more. He will breed in you a heart of generosity rather than a self-seeking selfishness. When you give to the Lord first, you see things in a different way that begins to permeate through the rest of your life. When you give to the Lord first in your finances, you begin to put him first in everything else. When you give to the Lord first in your finances, you see that the rat race of collecting things means nothing in eternity. When you give to the Lord first in your finances, you think of giving to make eternal things happen instead of what newest thing you can buy that you think will fill your soul. It’s funny how it changes your perspective. It sure changed my and Elena’s attitude about our money. It actually changed everything when we worked out where in our finances to where we could get rid of debts and could begin to tithe. I would dare say that beginning to tithe was the beginning of seeing the world from God’s perspective and see his generosity to us be generosity that we must repeat.

 

Think about obeying the Lord and changing the perspective. Think of giving instead of collecting. Think of living off less and living more joyfully. Think of being free to be generous rather than being a slave to your debts. Think about it. Just think of the impact that our churches could have if we all were obedient to the Lord and were generous givers to the cause of Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 18:1-7 (Part 2 of 2)

Duties of the Priest & The Levites

When I was six years old back in the day, my family was living in a small farming community in between Sumter, SC and Camden, SC. Sumter’s claim to fame is that it is home to Shaw Air Force Base and is named after the revolutionary war hero, Thomas “The Fighting Gamecock” Sumter and probably not much else. Camden has a bit richer history in that it is the oldest inland town in South Carolina and there was a major revolutionary war battle fought there for which there is a historical preserve just outside of town that commemorates those events. Both though are small southern towns that are not of any particular import these days. And, we lived in an even smaller town in between the two, Rembert, SC.

 

In that small area, it was so small population wise, we had to be bussed to our school over near Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. Back in those days, the elementary school, the junior high and the high school were all on the same property. This point has a lot to do with my illustration this morning. That year, my 1st grade year, it was time for the homecoming football game, and apparently the homecoming committee (some of the high school kids) came down to the elementary school part of the campus on a Monday and was looking for a first grade boy and girl to be the crown bearer and the flower bearer for the homecoming game to held the following Friday. They looked in each classroom of first graders and were going to select some boy and some girl at random to become part of the homecoming court that Friday. By some twist of fate, I was selected. It may have had something to do with my innate cuteness at that age! LOL! However, it was not because of something I had done or something I had qualified for. It was simply that I was chosen by the girls of the homecoming committee because for whatever reason they just liked me.

 

It got me and the young girl whose name I cannot remember these 48 years later out of class twice that week to practice with the homecoming court. I was to carry the crown, which was attached, to this white satin pillow and my fellow cute first grader girl was to carry the roses that were to be bestowed upon the 1968 Homecoming Queen of Hillcrest High School. We just did what we were told. We were guided into our positions in practice. Then on Friday, during halftime of the homecoming game, we did it all again for real. Although we practiced it twice during the week, being there during the game under the lights with at least two thousand spectators there, I was a bit nervous. Must not drop the crown. Must not drop the crown. Must not walk faster than the girl I am with. Must not walk faster than the girl I am with. It was a great honor. Even though we were only first graders, if you find a 1969 Hillcrest yearbook, you will see two little first graders in the homecoming court picture. Why I was chosen for this honor still eludes me a half a century later. No one knows in my family why I was chosen. It was just that the homecoming committee’s teenagers just thought I fit the look or whatever. It was not that I was from a power family in the region. My dad had just been transferred to be the pastor of a couple of rural Methodist churches just a few months before so it wasn’t that I was like the child of this longtime preacher in the region. My mom was a working mom so she was not one of those 1960’s stay at home moms that was heavily involved in the school. None of those reasons that you might think in this situation was an explanation here. I was simply chosen at the whim of a few teenagers who peaked into Mrs. Lipsey’s first grade classroom that day. No pedigree. No history. No who ya know. Just chosen.

 

It is that idea of unmerited choice that I thought of when I read Numbers 18:1-7 for our second and final pass at this Scripture this morning. Let us read through it together now:

 

 

18 The Lord said to Aaron, “You, your sons and your family are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons alone are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the priesthood. 2 Bring your fellow Levites from your ancestral tribe to join you and assist you when you and your sons minister before the tent of the covenant law. 3 They are to be responsible to you and are to perform all the duties of the tent, but they must not go near the furnishings of the sanctuary or the altar. Otherwise both they and you will die. 4 They are to join you and be responsible for the care of the tent of meeting—all the work at the tent—and no one else may come near where you are.

 

5 “You are to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that my wrath will not fall on the Israelites again. 6 I myself have selected your fellow Levites from among the Israelites as a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord to do the work at the tent of meeting. 7 But only you and your sons may serve as priests in connection with everything at the altar and inside the curtain. I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift. Anyone else who comes near the sanctuary is to be put to death.”

 

Here you see that the Levites were chosen by God to serve, not because they were anything special, not that there was a competition among the clans to see which clan got to be the priestly clan and they won out. There was no competition as to which clan was most holy all the time. None of the clans would have qualified under those circumstances. Yet, they were called out by God. They were chosen by Him to carry out the honorable duties of the Tabernacle (and later the Temple). This unmerited choice emphasized the fact that these priests, and these people had done nothing to merit the provision. It was wholly one of grace, a gift from God. Therefore, it was not less, but more, important that they should recognize its sanctity. Whatever service is ours as a result of the giving of grace, is the most holy and sacred service, and therefore to be rendered with the utmost devotion.

 

When we accept Christ as our Savior, we are given an unmerited gift than cancels out the penalty of our sins for which we deserve eternity in hell, separated from God, where there is burning of flesh and the gnashing of teeth eternally. That is what we deserve. That is what we have earned. We cannot do enough good deeds to undo the effect and the penalty of our sins in the absence of the grace, the unmerited gift of salvation, of Jesus Christ. Why then are we so often seen as a sorrowful people, the people of the church. We should be the most joyous people on the planet. We actually know what we deserve and where we were headed in the absence of the gift that we did not deserve. We know that hell exists and that were pulled back from its precipice. Not because we deserved it, no! We know that we rightfully by our own merits should be eternal residents of hell. But when we throw ourselves on the mercy of the Lord, He released us from our sentence through salvation in Jesus Christ. Through grace by faith, we have been set free. We don’t deserve it by any means. There should be such great joy, tempered with great humility. There should be this outpouring of “this is what Jesus has done for me” that we cannot hide it or help it from pouring out of us. We are like prisoners who are granted a reprieve from the electric chair. We are murders, rapers, liars, whores, prostitutes, thieves, prideful, arrogant, greedy, needful, all of us. None deserve being chosen through grace by faith. But we are chosen and set on the high, dry rock above hell’s flames. We are placed on the rock of Jesus Christ through faith and extended grace that we do not deserve. How’s your joy? How well do you serve the Lord just to pay him back just a .000000000001 of what we should do for our Savior?

 

Do you see serving the Lord as an imposition? Do you think that other things are higher priorities? Are all these other things that we involve ourselves in more important than showing God honor for what He has done for us through Jesus Christ? Whatever we do, it will never be enough for the grace He has extended us? No way no how. There is not enough we can do to serve our Lord! We must do it with passion and fervor because of what He has done for us. We cannot boast because we do not deserve anything other than the fiery flames of hell. Grace is a gift. We should be like kids on Christmas morning with our gift of grace that we do not deserve.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 18:1-7 (Part 1 of 2)

Duties of the Priest & The Levites

 

My brother and I were very close in age, only 18 months apart. We were so close in age we often participated on the same sports teams growing up. There might be one year here and there where we would be separated because he would pass the age break between team age classifications before I would, but you get the point. We were so close in age that there was no big brother/little brother separation. We were basically the same age although he would invoke the big brother privilege every now and then. There were those I had known growing where there were significant age differences between an older sibling and a younger sibling. You would see the little brother get themselves in a jam and the big brother would swoop in and defend his kid brother. Movies are made of such stuff. I remember in the movie, Stand By Me, John Cusack played, although it was a brief appearance, the big brother of the character played by Will Wheaton. In the movie, Will Wheaton’s character was like the forgotten son. John Cusack’s character was the superstar football player that everybody knew and admired while Will Wheaton was the much younger and more average kid. One scene of the movie, you see John Cusack’s character deflect the praise his parents were heaping on him so that he could get them hear what his little brother was saying. He was defending his brother to a set of parents who had lost sight of the fact that they had two boys and not just one.

 

My oldest daughter is 5 ½ years older than my youngest daughter. Whereas with me and my brother, we were so close in age that we fought like cats and dogs. But in my own children I got to see this concept of an older child looking after the younger child. Meghan and Taylor were oh so close growing up. Meghan was the mothering big sister and Taylor was the idolizing little sister. Meghan was fiercely protective of her little sister. Taylor was the precocious one who knew that Meghan always had her back. Taylor looked up to her sister and would sometimes obey her sister more than she would her parents. There was closeness that Meghan and Taylor had that my brother and I never had. My brother and I were so competitive with one another because we were so close in age that we would throw each other under the bus to preserve our victories over the other. Meghan and Taylor, though, were tight. There was such an age difference for them that they did not run in the same circles and were never at the same school at the same time. So, it was the classic big sister/little sister relationship. Meghan was a second mom to Taylor and would run interference with her mom to keep Taylor out of trouble. Taylor would do stuff for Meghan that a little sister could get away with that a big sister could not. They would work together to get what they wanted. Taylor admired her big sister and Meghan watched out for and defended her little sister. Although their relationship has hit a rough spot of late (at ages 26, Taylor, and 31, Meghan), I imagine that if the chips were down and each had no other to call, they would be there for each other.

 

It is that idea of taking the punishment for someone else or defending someone else in the face of wrongdoing like much older siblings often do for their younger siblings that I thought of this morning when I read Numbers 18:1-7 for our first pass at this Scripture this morning. Let us read through it together now:

 

 

18 The Lord said to Aaron, “You, your sons and your family are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons alone are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the priesthood. 2 Bring your fellow Levites from your ancestral tribe to join you and assist you when you and your sons minister before the tent of the covenant law. 3 They are to be responsible to you and are to perform all the duties of the tent, but they must not go near the furnishings of the sanctuary or the altar. Otherwise both they and you will die. 4 They are to join you and be responsible for the care of the tent of meeting—all the work at the tent—and no one else may come near where you are.

 

5 “You are to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that my wrath will not fall on the Israelites again. 6 I myself have selected your fellow Levites from among the Israelites as a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord to do the work at the tent of meeting. 7 But only you and your sons may serve as priests in connection with everything at the altar and inside the curtain. I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift. Anyone else who comes near the sanctuary is to be put to death.”

 

Here you see that the Levites clans were given to Aaron and his descendents to be the permanent helpers of the priests at the Tabernacle. There were to most everything at the Tabernacle except for certain duties reserved for the Aaronic priests. They were to be held responsible for any offenses related to sanctuary. The Levites were like the big brother or big sister taking the rap for the Israelites. They, then, had to make sure that the people understood what a violation was. If a violation occurred the Levites would take the punishment for it. They had to prevent people from getting to close to the holiness of God in their imperfections. They had to run interfence for them just like a big brother or big sister does sometimes for their precocious little brother or little sister.

 

Isn’t that what Jesus does for us? When we are a precocious little brother or little sister we drift off into territory that we should not and He comes and rescues us from the errors of our own making. When we get in trouble with the Lord through our sins, Jesus comes in and accepts the blame for our wrongdoing and accepts the punishment for it. We sin with impunity against the Lord. We are precocious sinners. We think we can get away with our sins by saying that they are OK. It is not OK even though we think we are the cute little brother or little sister. Sin is sin even if we change its name to something more acceptable. But when God’s wrath comes against us and we are rightfully to be consumed, and we scream out to the Lord to do something in all earnestness and humility knowing that we deserve our punishment, Jesus steps in and takes our punishment for us. We are preserved. We are wiped clean. We are saved from our own judgment. Oh yes, we deserved get our butt kicked. We deserve to be punished by God. However, Jesus steps in and defends us and takes the punishment that we deserve.

 

Are you a precocious sinning little brother or little sister? Are you in a jam from which you cannot extricate yourself? Do you see that you are about to be swallowed up in punishment for the sins of of your own making? Call out to Jesus right now? He is your Savior and He will take the fight that you should have fought? He will take the beating that you deserve? He will take the punishment that you deserve and will set you on high ground and clean you off and make you right with God. Are you ready? Are you willing to call on His name in humility and seeking forgiveness for the mess you have made of your life and the lives of others? Are you ready to accept His protection and love?

 

Amen and Amen.