Strength for the Journey: “A Season of Discontent” – Numbers 11 (Part One)

winter of discontentIn 1961, the year of my birth, John Steinbeck wrote his last novel, and borrowed the title from Shakespeare’s speech of Richard III: “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun [or son] of York.” Steinbeck called his novel The Winter of Our Discontent. Though it is true that many Americans were deeply disappointed by the work, feeling it lacked the quality of “The Grapes of Wrath”, the Swedish Academy awarded Steinbeck the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. In letters to personal friends after its publication, Steinbeck claimed he wrote the novel to address the moral degeneration of American culture in the 1950s and 1960s. I could describe the story of Ethan Allen Hawley, and his struggle from innocence to moral decay – but those who are familiar with the times of the 1960’s don’t really need me to make an allegory about the decay – you remember it. We are still suffering from some of the rebellion of the era. It reshaped America.

I mention Steinbeck’s story as a bridge back to a much older story of discontent. This one comes from the pages of the Bible, and is tucked into Numbers 11. The story of the readying of the people to go from the mountain of the Law into the wilderness wandering and eventually the Promised Land unfolds over ten chapters of the writing. We left off the story with the “Wagon’s Ho!” moment. In the intensity of the heat by day, the discomfort of constant camping at night, the people wore through every thread of the garment of civility in short order. No sooner were the people in the desert on the journey, and Moses recorded the “season of discontent” that settled on the traveling hoards of ex-slave Israelites. The text offers a window to watch the people in a variety complaining situations.

I am going to deliberately break the teaching of Numbers 11 into two lessons, because there are two distinct kinds of complaints in the passage – and they need to each be addressed separately. In this lesson, we want to highlight the complaints that come from a heart that doesn’t trust God – a believer that has failed to understand the goodness of God in their daily life. In the next, I want to highlight a believer that is beat down – overburdened and in need a time of “honest praise”. Honest praise is the ability to empty ourselves before God and let Him build up what has broken inside us. Here is the key…

Key Principle: Not all complaints are the same. The heart they come from changes the response we get from Heaven.

Those out of a cold heart toward God, block God’s work in and through us because of our self-centered spirit. He withdraws His blessing and stops teaching us. Yet, when we crumble under the load of real ministry– it is a different story. God offers new resources and new instruction.

Today we are examining the complaints seeping from a COLD and UN-TRUSTING HEART.

The first mentioned complaints were about the discomfort of the journey get an answer from the heavens.

Numbers 11:1 Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2 The people therefore cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD and the fire died out. 3 So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned among them.

Some people have been convinced that life on the journey to the Promised Land was designed to be easy – and they find out very quickly in their life that is not correct. God didn’t create an air conditioned envelope through the desert, nor did he make the ground soft under the sleeping areas under the tent. Physical ease isn’t supposed to be a guaranteed part of the package in your walk with God.

Three issues concerning the complaining:

First, the people became fixated on a constant spirit of complaint and became verbally unrelenting and thankless. It was one thing to have a momentary complaint, but quite another to become perpetually negative, discouraged, and mouthy. Note the phrase: “the people became like those who complain of adversity”. What a weird phrase! The Hebrew letter “kaph” placed before a word usually adds the quality of a simile – it is “like” something. Though that is usually the way to interpret it, it is not ALWAYS the way to interpret the additional letter. Here, the translators said they people became LIKE those, because they seem to have missed an idiom, or common expression. To make it clearer, let me mention another place where this idea occurs. In Hosea 5, the writer claims: “The princes of Judah have become like those who move a boundary; On them I will pour out My wrath like water.” This was a poetic way of saying they were crooks – taking lands not purchased by moving the fences. The expression “to become like” was a simple idiom that they were acting out as those who had perfected the task – and that is what it meant in Numbers 11. The people were acting out like one who was moaning on the stretcher after the war, awaiting death. They cried as one who faced their death with no hope of survival and no relenting of pain. The people saw the road ahead and evaluated the change of landscape as a death sentence. The believer cannot judge safety by appearances. God isn’t only with those whose lives are prosperous and convenient. Complaints come from a dissatisfaction with circumstances – and many of those circumstances come ultimately from God. A complaint about the conditions of the walk can be a veiled complaint about the goodness of God.

Do you truly believe that God has been good to you, and IS being good to you? It is no small question that can be glibly answered – it is a serious and piercing look into the center of our own hearts.

Second, the people seemed to express less trust in God’s presence than in their old systems of security. Let me explain. In the fourth century, the commentator St. Jerome offered the idea that they complained because of the length of the way ahead. Based on the note from Numbers 10:33, the Israelite camp had not progressed in the journey more than eight miles when this problem developed. It is highly unlikely they were weary from all the travels – they hadn’t gone that far! Far more likely was the sense that they were leaving the out lands of Egyptian camps and moving out from under the influence of Egypts travel routes – and that was scary. The issue appears to be SECURITY in the direction they were heading. The people angered the Lord because they saw Egypt as more secure than His presence. The believer is always safest following the Lord – that is the very essence of safety. Believers are not safe when removed from trouble – they are safe when moved close to their Lord in obedience.

Do you try to “read the tea leaves of circumstance” to judge what is right and secure? As the believer grows, his dependence on circumstance is lessened – because his dependence on God’s promises are greater.

Third, it isn’t clear that there wasn’t some specific occasion that brought it all about. In fact, that may have been the case. Custom of the time dictated that leaving the territory of a nation was cause to pause at the border and remember their gods and cultic practices. For that very reason Jeroboam set up calves at the extremities of the northern Kingdom when the northern confederation of tribes broke away from Judah. The Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar can be translated “Nebo, protect the standing stones on my border”. Remember, the people were leaving the edges of encampments and roadways that were used by Egypt in copper mining transports. This may have caused some to want to stop and observe the rituals and superstitions common to the time. Leaving without a sacrifice may have felt like some people react to walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror, or tripping over a black cat. God’s presence is REAL and superstition is NOT – so God doesn’t want to be compared to it. God’s one and only requirement of His people is to listen to His Word and take Him seriously. When we don’t, we show we aren’t interested in following Him beyond the immediate fix to whatever mess we have gotten ourselves into. Superstitions are expressions of trust in hocus pocus – not appropriate for the child of God. Pagan rituals aren’t supposed to be used to satisfy us – God’s presence and our tight grasp to His hand are to become our only security as we move out.

Have you learned to celebrate God’s rich love and unchanging goodness when circumstances seem to look bleak? When the doctor’s news in NOT good, or the economic forecast appears to be devastating – is God still trustworthy in your eyes? Mature believers leave the promises of Heaven for AFTER THIS LIFE and don’t expect them to be in this life NOW.

God’s response to the complaining:

There are those who read about the “Taberah lightning sound and light show” experience and see a tiny drop of malice or even cruelty in God’s eyes – and they are wrong. God wasn’t messing with the people by sending the lightning that started the fire on the edge of the camp. Troubles are often God’s warning signs that something isn’t right – and we need to back away from the edge of whatever we are engaging in. The hint of what God was doing may be found when the text says: “His anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.”

Along with the Israelites, there were others that had been swallowed up by the enslavement of the Egyptians that also went with them. Though we cannot say definitively, it is highly likely they found their place on the edge of the camp – out where the lightning fall started the fire. Be careful how you read the text – it doesn’t say PEOPLE were harmed – only property. If it is true that some of the complaint was particularly related to ritual – the spurring to do it may have come from the “mixed multitude” that came along with Israel, mentioned in places like Exodus 12:38. That is why commentators like Jamieson note: “It is worthy of notice, however, that the discontent seems to have been confined to the extremities of the camp, where, in all likelihood, “the mixed multitude” [see on [71]Ex 12:38] had their station.”

If God wasn’t being cruel and shooting lightning bolts like stories of Zeus after a drinking party on Mt. Olympus, what was He doing? God was sending trouble as a WARNING to quell the call to be involved in cultic practices that would defile Israel. He was squashing the voices of those who would have quickly drowned out the voice of Moses as leader. God often does more dramatic displays when the work is NEW, because people need to be sufficiently warned. Do you recall the body bags that carried out Ananias and Sapphira from the meeting in Acts 5? God hasn’t dropped every liar in church since (thankfully!), but He did early on – to push out pretense in the fledgling movement. Often, people who don’t yet know God’s love, respond to His power. They learn His clout before they feel His caring. These people needed to know that the parting of the water wasn’t the only time God would drop onto the scene and make Himself known. The point is that God wasn’t being CRUEL, He was guarding the believers and showing the bulge in his jacket pocket – making sure those who doubted His ability saw the edges of the weaponry available to Him in short order.

Herein is the warning: Don’t mess with God. He isn’t desperate, a pining lover so lonely that He will sit and weep, waiting for your call. He is a powerful, majestic and whole God – Who has graciously invited you to be used of Him. Respond to His love and you will see His power as helpful, not threatening.

The second mentioned complaints that got Heaven’s response were about the menu.

There are four important observations we can readily make about the problem of the menu:

First, it appears to be again linked to those who joined Israel for the journey – a distinct group of those who were not believers that were quietly tucked into the group.

11:4 The rabble (hasaph-soof’) who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat?

Have you ever noticed how a wave of discontent falls when complainers are allowed to air their critique of a situation for very long? Complaining, like yawning, is contagious. We can’t help it. When all the problems are mentioned over and over, they seem to grow even bigger than they truly are. They overwhelm us. They victimize us. They can even distract us into inaction about our own lives and responsibilities. Isn’t it much easier to blame the President for my plight than my own laziness? Why not make it Congress’ fault that I didn’t keep the oil in my car changed, or consistently discipline my children? Information can help us, but over analysis and pounding away at problems I cannot solve tends to paralyze us to the inaction of a victim. Perhaps that is why the “24/7” news cycle has seemed, in my view, to raise the depression rate among the well informed.

Note their question: “WHO will give us something different?” It is like they were saying to Israel: “Your God seems to be a bland diet vegetarian. That’s great to, you know, stay alive and all…but it isn’t very tasty and it isn’t very meaty!” That is the heart of the world’s complaint – they want to be able to CHANGE GOD TO THEIR LIKING. They want a God who allows them to have whatever they want to have – but then fixes the problems that are caused by their own self-indulgence. This was NOT just an attack on the menu – it was an attack on the CHEF. God was in their cross hairs, and He knew it. The people were naively drawn into the complaints, without the maturity in their walk and faith to see what the puppet masters of complaint were really saying. They didn’t just want meat – they wanted the ability to CONTROL GOD. They went after the WHO in the statement – not simply the WHAT. I have watched many naïve believers join the ranks of an evil agenda because they could not see through the work of the enemy inside it. Today, large numbers of evangelicals are standing on the wrong side of moral issues out of a naivety that they are being played.

When I grew up in New Jersey, I remember the rise of casino gambling. I recall the commercials as nuns, priests, community leaders, and those who helped the poor were put on TV to convince us that Atlantic City would get much help for the poor if we would vote for casino gambling. It was the moral and responsible thing to do – to get money for our schools and our poor. Drive there today, and you will see MORE POOR, and many elderly that were dispossessed from their homes because of the rise in taxes based on property values that skyrocketed when the casinos began buying up property. Naïve people lost their wallets to slick marketers.

Do we really believe that a lottery is the way to fund education? Do Floridians have to LOSE so that others can be educated? Is that the legacy of my generation to the next? We are naïve when we let the world determine the course of morality without relying on the truth of God’s Word.

Let’s be clear: No one in the world is offended at a God that is there to prosper us, care for us, and let us do what we want. That is the American god – the one that lets us be materialistic without sacrificial giving, hedonistic without penalty, and narcissistic without consequence. The problem is – that isn’t the true God. We made Him up. We like Him. He is nice and leaves us alone with our porn industry while we appease Him with an occasional church visit. The world wants to make a new god to replace the real one, and believers need to consistently seek the real One to stop unwittingly getting sucked into following after the latest carved rendition of Baal.

Second, the rabble called the people to focus on the life they had in the world, not the call of God to be distinct and dwell in His provisions.

11:5 “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, 6 but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” 7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. 8 The people would go about and gather it and grind it between two millstones or beat it in the mortar, and boil it in the pot and make cakes with it; and its taste was as the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9 When the dew fell on the camp at night, the manna would fall with it.

Look at the recitation of old Egyptian menus: fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, garlic… Yum!

Can’t you hear them?: “We will be serving today a lovely little appetizer salads of cucumbers, followed by a nicely prepared tilapia, garnished with shavings of garlic and onion. Our light afternoon menu will be topped off with delicious, sliced melon. What a perfect meal for the desert traveler in the know.”

That is the essence of the trick of distraction – keep the believers thinking about the GOOD PARTS of their former captivity in the world. Here is the part they DIDN’T mention… WE WERE SLAVES! We ate when we were TOLD we could. We worked dawn to dusk. Taskmasters beat us and could even kill us. They abused our women without penalty – and took from the fruit of our labors without deserving it. The world would have you believe that every teen is sleeping with their date, and the people who aren’t are really awkward and lonely. They would have you believe that those who have the most money are the happiest. They produce show after show that postulates that those who walk out the door when their marriage gets tough find true happiness in the e-Harmony page with the perfect someone they have been missing all the days they were married to the shrew they found early in life.

Now hear the truth. Venereal diseases are rampant and have destroyed intimacy in countless couples. Innocence has been trashed in many a child long before they should have known how to give away their most precious parts of the heart. The big lotto winner from a few months ago is now in the morgue as they test his body for what poison the family used to eliminate him – check the news. Broken marriages have left untold damage in the hearts of millions of America’s children. A February 2012 report cited: Past statistics have shown that in the U.S. 50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. Second marriages are often more likely to end in divorce than first ones – we can’t seem to find our true love even when we spin the wheel more than once. How can I say this more clearly: Night time TV, Hollywood movies and even daytime TV are telling us LIES. Life in the world isn’t happy – it’s guilty, it’s broken, and it’s pointless. Believers that look back at their old life longingly are being suckered to re-join a losing team. A great many go on calling themselves “Christian”, but increasingly live like they used to live – and that isn’t a formula for success and victory in this life, nor hearing God’s compliment in the next one: “Well done!” Believe me, when you see Him – that will matter!

Third, the problem caught on among the Israelites. The unbelievers among them pulled them into complaining by raising discontent.

11:18 “Say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the ears of the LORD, saying, “Oh that someone would give us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt.” Therefore the LORD will give you meat and you shall eat. 19 ‘You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, 20 but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’”

Duped into forgetting the terrible bondage of a past life, even the Israelites were now mimicking the words of the complaining rabble. They were looking around and looking back – but they were looking in the wrong directions.

The believer won’t find comfort LOOKING AROUND. They will feel out of place, because they are to be growing in such a way that they learn slowly to displace the values of NOW for the standards of Heaven. Following the world’s values and living by their hungers is placing your life in the blind pilot’s hands. Seriously, if you were standing in line to get on a flight and the pilot came walking slowly up the ramp tapping his white cane and wearing dark glasses, would you get on the flight? The pit comes to both the blind leader and the blind one who holds his hand and follows him. When will we learn that only the person with the true map finds the treasure. Fakes are distractions that raise your hopes and suck away your energy.

The believer won’t find comfort in LOOKING BACK. The things of this earth are to dim more and more as he learns to look in the right directions – UP and FORWARD. The answers to a broken world lay in the coming Redeemer – and nowhere else. It doesn’t mean that I do not care for the planet – I was told to steward it. It means I don’t do it to fix the broken world – because I haven’t the power. He does, and He is coming soon!

One final observation, and look at the end of the story. God heard the revelry of gluttony and greed – and it made Him really sick.

Skip down to 11:32… The people spent all day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers) and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33 While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very severe plague. 34 So the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had been greedy. 35 From Kibroth-hattaavah the people set out for Hazeroth, and they remained at Hazeroth.

Often the transliterated words in the text give a glimpse of the point of the story. In this case, “Kever” is the common term for a tomb or grave. “Kibbroth” is the plural form set in a name, with a descriptive name to follow – “hattah-av-aw”. The place became a marker and memory – mentioned five times in the Bible and always referring to this place alone. In Numbers 33 and Deuteronomy 9 God reminded them of the provocation of this event. In the end, they left there and journeyed to “Chatserot” – a word for settlements or villages. The people saw God take the lives of their greedy fellows, and many died. With the weeping and bitter memory of the grave place called “Hattah-avaw” still burning in their minds, they moved from loud complaining to walking quietly to the villages, or “Chatserot”.

I can’t say this strongly enough to any believer that is open to understanding: Living the world’s values, seeking desperately the world’s approval, pressing for the world’s hungers WILL KILL YOU!

Next time, I want to address a closer look at MOSES and the complaints from an over-stressed and BROKEN HEART.

By now, I think the point is clear – Not all complaints are the same. The heart they come from changes the response we get. Those out of a cold heart toward God, block God’s work in and through us because of our self-centered spirit. He withdraws His blessing and stops teaching us. Yet, when we crumble under the load of real ministry– it is a different story. God offers new resources and new instruction.

How could I leave this passage without the one song that was written in my lifetime that captured the heart of the complaining Israelite? Keith Green wrote it, and many of you will smile, because you know it:

So you wanna go back to Egypt, where it’s warm and secure. Are you sorry you bought the one way ticket when you thought you were sure? You wanted to live in the Land of Promise, but now it’s getting so hard. Are you sorry you’re out here in the desert, instead of your own backyard? Eating leeks and onions by the Nile. Ooh what breath, but dining out in style! Ooh, my life’s on the skids, give me the Pyramids! Well there’s nothing to do but travel, and we sure travel a lot. Cause it’s hard to keep your feet from moving when the sand gets so hot. And in the morning it’s manna hotcakes. We snack on manna all day. And they sure had a winner last night for dinner, Flaming manna soufflé. Well we once complained for something new to munch. The ground opened up and had some of us for lunch. Ooh, such fire and smoke. Can’t God even take a joke ­huh? (no!) So you wanna go back to Egypt, where old friends wait for you. You can throw a big party and tell the whole gang, That what they said was all true. And this Moses acts like a big-shot, who does he think he is. It’s true that God works lots of miracles, but Moses thinks they’re all his. Well I’m having so much trouble even now. Why’d he get so mad about that cow? (that golden cow). Moses sits rather idle, he just sits around. He just sits around and writes the Bible. Oh, Moses, put down your pen. What ­oh no, manna again? Oh, manna waffles­, manna burgers, manna bagels, fillet of manna, manna patties, manna – cotti??? How ’bout..­.ba -manna bread!”

Strength for the Journey: “Defensive Posture” – Numbers 10

CelloAs with most of you, I have come to deeply love music. I am moved, in particular, by the deep and rich sounds of the cello in the hands of a master. I love the intricate structure of Bach’s orchestral works, and especially the beauty and elegance of the resolutions in each piece. When I think of music, I think of the peaceful respite in my loft office, as an orchestra plays in the background to the sound of my typing. I spend many hours each week in my old well-worn chair, with the sounds of gentle classical artists without a word spoken or sung. The instruments are calming to me – and they help my attitude and demeanor as I write. The truth is, though, that not all musical instruments were made for sounds of pleasure. Some horns were deliberately created and shaped to make the signals of impending danger, directive attack, and even the deep sorrow over fallen warriors. Some bugles only play “taps”. We sometimes forget that music wasn’t only given to soothe – it is sometimes given to signal.

The same reality must be soberly applied to looking into the Bible’s pages. Talk about happy passages of Scripture, and you will draw a crowd.

Everyone wants to hear about peace, prosperity, Heaven, and hope. I know that I do! These are deep truths, and motivating realities of the Word. The problem is, they aren’t the whole picture. Along with the needed preaching of affirmation and encouragement – we need the bugle tones of caution. I am assured this is true – because the Word has major sections given to offering warning and preparatory counsel. There are significant glimpses in the Word that we are living in the time of a bitter conflict, fought in unseen places by ruthless foes. Ignoring that reality won’t help – and it will in fact place people in the middle of a “fire-fight” with little or no understanding concerning what they are facing.

Yes, because of the conditions of the spiritual war, we desperately need the whole counsel of God’s Word – with all its encouragement saddled beside the bugle bursts of warning. Why do I mention this? I am concerned as I watch and listen in our current day – because far too many followers of God are insufficiently dressed for battle, and inadequately prepared for the reality of the spiritual war zone. I am not qualified to know the complete sense of why this may be, but I truly believe at least some of the fault can be placed in pulpits, where we have not sufficiently reminded our people that we are in a time of elaborate and complex warfare. An over-simplified Bible and an ignorant Christian will do little to advance the Kingdom, and is more likely to be a casualty than a key asset in the day of battle. I say this with a heavy heart, beloved friend, for I know too many casualties.

Key Principle: God wants His followers to be diligent to watch for the enemy’s work, and to constantly acknowledge our need of His hand of protection – because we forget how much we NEED God.

Look back into the record of Numbers 10. Just as Moses and the people cleared the moorings of the various issues of direction, God addressed their specific need for preparation before movement – especially in the areas of communication and defense:

Though God is always with us, He has called upon believers to be diligent in setting up defense (10:1).

Numbers 10:1 The LORD spoke further to Moses, saying, 2 “Make yourself two trumpets of silver, of hammered work you shall make them; and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for having the camps set out.

God understands perfectly what believers are up against, and called Moses to be prepared (10:1). Notice the passage opened with the now familiar “the Lord spoke further…” Don’t overlook that God specified the defense methods, plans and arms for the believer to be ready for attack – and they are all found in His Word. If you are young in your faith, it may do well to remind you that the opening chapters of the Bible (1-11) outline what some of my friends calls the “five major story lines of Scripture” (my thanks to James C. Martin; Doug Greenwold and Preserving Bible Times):

God: Who He is, What He cares about.
• Adversary: Who he is, how he works, what his agenda is.
• Mutiny: What broke in man and why.
• Human Condition: Why things are the way they are now.
• Rescue: How God is taking back what the enemy has stolen away in deception.

The Bible opens with these stories not to explain the science of Creation or the methodology of how God works – but to explain that we are born into a war. Anyone who wishes to follow God must recognize that our connection to Him was broken in the Garden, and it must be re-established. The sin of the Garden is the reason for the Cross at Calvary. The Bible teaches that Jesus did NOT primarily come to be an example of self-sacrifice, but to be the one and only Lamb of God that would satisfy the mutiny of man in God’s judicial system. Though a believer has trusted in Christ, the war is not over – he just switched sides. God then reveals tools and defenses He has provided for the believer – but they must be understood, appropriated, and worn consistently. This passage is about the call to physical defense, but the physical attack is a mere echo of the truth of spiritual warfare – a relentless battle between mutineers and the God that made them.

God recognized the need to be able to call the people together without stirring the people to panic (10:2). Wise Pastors are instructing believers about warfare in a time when they are not being slammed. The believer must be ever ready to face the world, fight,] and deny the flesh, and resist the Devil. The two trumpets were fashioned by God’s plan to distinguish between the sound of muster to fight and the sound of assemble for instructions and movement. When believers don’t know how to hear the trumpets, they don’t know what to do. Either they will panic each time, assuming battle is imminent, or they will gather to assemble and show up without their arms. In many cases, they will count on their neighbor and ask what the signal means – not accepting for themselves the proper responsibility for discernment. We have whole churches today that cannot distinguish what the Word says concerning the war – and they blame Satan for acts in which he was in no way involved. They confuse irresponsible behavior with Satanic attack, and cannot really discern one trumpet from the other. They are no danger to the enemy and little asset to the Kingdom, because they cause as much confusion as they offer assistance. They don’t use the Word and the Spirit to bring them along to maturity. They remind me of the story Zig Ziglar used to tell (from See You at the Top):

Oil was discovered on some Oklahoma property belonging to an elderly Indian. All his life he had been poverty stricken, just eking out a living. But the discovery of oil had suddenly made him a very wealthy man. The first thing he bought was a very big Cadillac. He wanted the longest car in the county, so he added four spare tires on the trunk. He would dress up in his new clothes and everyday he would take his Cadillac into the hot dusty little town nearby. He wanted to see everyone and he wanted everyone to see him. He was a friendly old soul. so when he was riding through town he would turn in all directions to wave at all the people as he rolled by. Interesting enough, he never ran into anybody nor into anything. The reason for this was that directly in front of that big beautiful auto was two horses harnessed to it and pulling it. There was nothing wrong with the car’s engine. It was because the old Indian had never learned to drive it. He had never learned how to insert the key into the ignition switch and turn it on. Under the hood was 100 plus horsepower ready and willing and raring to go, but the old Indian was content to use the two horsepower hooked to the front of the car…The devil gets really happy (or as happy as a devil can get) when he can keep the believer chugging along in their Christian life on a two horse power faith level. At that rate, the spiritual progress is slowed down to a crawl, and this is what the devil is after in his warfare with us.

God set up a clear system to assess the meaning of the Warning Signals (10:3-7)

Numbers 10:3 “When both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the doorway of the tent of meeting.

One essential signal was set to call believers together – because God’s intent was that they hear from Him as a group – not just individually (10:3). The design of God always included individual responsibility before Him – as in the deliberate obedience to His Word and seeking of Him in individual prayer. At the same time, there was the requirement of corporate responsibility among believers. We were never allowed – not in the old economy or in the present one – to simply follow God without attaching ourselves to others. Israel was to worship together, share in festival life together, and seek God’s blessing together as a nation. In that same way, God’s church was called to assemble, learn, serve, and grow together. Weak believers walk alone. The enemy knows how easily they can be knocked out of service. It is for no less than this reason that the early writer to the Messianic followers of the first century wrote in Hebrews:

Hebrews 10:19 Having therefore, brothers, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) 24 And let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.

Did you see the progression of the thought?

We have new boldness because Jesus paid for our entrance to the Holy of Holies with His blood – and there is no fear of separation from God anymore (10:19-20). We have a High Priest that bids us blessing (10:21).

What should we do with this?
• We must draw near to God – walk in with hearts clean and hungry to be near Him (10:22).
• We must be bold about what God has done in us and for us (10:23).
• We must help EACH OTHER with prompting, encouragement and service (10:24).
• We must be diligent about assembling together – especially as the day of Jesus’ return gets close (10:25).

Our call is STILL to assemble together, and to learn, serve, encourage, and walk through life together. With the many churches available to us, in many cases what it has done is water down the ability of believers to hold each other accountable, and expect Christian behavior from one another. If people misbehave in one church, they simply go to another, with no desire to reconcile what they have done to the cause of Christ – and both churches are weakened – the one he left AND the one he brought himself into.

Sometimes God wanted just the leaders to get together to handle issues – so they had their own assembly signal.

Numbers 10:4 “Yet if only one is blown, then the leaders, the heads of the divisions of Israel, shall assemble before you.

From Genesis to Revelation, we have seen that God calls, raises, nurtures, and protects leaders. They have different responsibilities that the followers. They are charged with greater demands to be both right with God and an example to the flock. The warning of James rings in my ears in the old King James language I learned as a child…”Stop being so many teachers, for theirs is the greater condemnation.” James argued the responsibility of Godliness is heavier on the teacher of God’s truths – and I have often thought about that. It haunts me. I sometimes want to drop the pretense of being any different and punch someone who makes me mad. That’s the truth! The problem is that my name is not my own. My name is tacked on to YOUR name at Grace, and onto Jesus’ name in Heaven. If I punch someone, you will pay some of the price, and that isn’t right. So, for the moment, I won’t punch you.

Here is my point: it isn’t wrong to hold leaders to a higher standard than we hold followers. God has made it clear in His Word that leaders must be circumspect, and can be disqualified. We should not be hungry to tear apart anyone, but we cannot gloss over leadership responsibilities to walk with special care. None of us are perfect – I assure you – but leaders are more culpable than followers.

Recently, a fellow minister was counseling someone and crossed an emotional line – and later a physical one – in the counseling relationship. Not only is the action wrong, but the crossed lines show a misunderstanding of the role of a true counselor. The flawed view of the ROLE is also part of the problem (in addition to other sin issues more familiar). Let me caution you: Don’t go to a counselor for emotional support – that is what we are to get from friends and family. Counselors – I know this may sound crazy – are where we go for COUNSEL. The client may not be clear on this, but the COUNSELOR must be clear on this. We aren’t emotional supports, our proper role is informational and reflective (helping the person see where they are and are not living in harmony with their accepted standards). When the counselor confuses the role, they endanger the effectiveness of the role, and confuse the person seeking help. Leaders must sharpen other leaders, and there are times the call to assemble is just for them.

Because the enemy wants to destroy, God established emergency signals that were also essential for God’s people.

Numbers 10:5 “But when you blow an alarm, the camps that are pitched on the east side shall set out. 6 “When you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are pitched on the south side shall set out; an alarm is to be blown for them to set out. 7 “When convening the assembly, however, you shall blow without sounding an alarm… 9 “When you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and be saved from your enemies.

God instructed believers how to face a crisis so that they would be prepared and not confused (10:5-6). He worked on such a detail level that He placed an ASSEMBLY ORDER into the text. If they didn’t follow the instructions, confusion and defeat would follow. God wasn’t just wasting His time blowing off steam – there is a point to every instruction. Why do I mention this? Because many believers and many churches – whole denominations and fellowships – seem to miss the detailed nature of the Almighty. When God said believers should only marry believers – He had a reason. When God said that marriage disputes should be healed by both parties kneeling before the Cross and making things right with God and each other – He wasn’t just suggesting things. When God said not to put people into responsible positions of ministry too quickly, He had something in mind. We live in the time of cutting corners… but God’s commandments cannot be discounted. They must be understood, and when the enemy tries to move in to the thinking of the church, he should be spotted and identified.

Pastor Wayne Field noted: “General Peter Cosgrove is the recently retired Chief of the Australian Defense Force. In his autobiography he tells about his first tour of duty as a young lieutenant in Vietnam. His first posting was at a base near the village of Dat Do. The purpose of the base was to house army engineers. These Aussie soldiers would use giant bulldozers with a huge chain dragged between them to rip down vegetation. The purpose of this was to deny the enemy any possibility of concealment in the jungle. Huge tracts of jungle were just ripped down and burnt – that way no one could hide (p71). The Aussies were removing any camouflage that might possibly be used for evil purposes. In dealing with our spiritual enemies we have to pull down and lay flat the jungle in order to identify them. Once they have been identified we can better deal with them.” (sermon central illustrations).

The church simply cannot truly be the church without opening the fields around, and putting out spotters that will call sin what it is. Enough toleration of all things evil in the name of love!

I don’t know why America’s pulpits are aflame against the vicious killing of our unborn. I don’t know why we don’t hear insistence in the face of routine divorce. I cannot fathom what we are waiting for, when our children are being indoctrinated by pagan thinkers to follow after anti-god and anti-truth thinking. I am not on the war path – but I have pledged to seek God, teach His Word, and stand against the enemy’s cruel attacks on God’s church. It comes with the job. Frankly, some need to surrender the holy calling and go into politics if what they want to do is keep everyone happy – since it is working so well for our current Congress.

I plead with you to hear me from the heart I intend this… If you ARE divorced, if you DID have an abortion, if you have really violated God’s Word in your life in ways that cannot be undone – I am not here to beat you down. I want you to leave with GOD, not GUILT. What I am addressing is the growing flagrant violation of God’s Holy Word IN HIS MODERN CHURCH that is being caused by MISFORMED TOLERANCE and rampant BIBLICAL IGNORANCE. If you have done these things, don’t be hurt by my words, fall into the powerful and gentle hands of a Loving God! He didn’t stop loving you when you took a life any more than He stopped loving Moses, King David, or Saul of Tarsus when THEY took the life of another. God used them for great things, and He can and will use your life as well – if you give it to Him.

My words are to those who HAVE NOT done these things, BE WARNED. God is not swept up in the desire to be popular, and He is not concerned if His “tweets are trending”. He tells the truth, and He knows the end from the beginning.

Did you notice why God said to the children of Israel to blow the trumpet when the attack comes? (10:9) The purpose of the trumpet wasn’t just for people to get busy, but for God to come to their defense. He knew exactly when to come – when they ASKED HIM. We often “have not because we ask not”. We simply think that because God “already knows”, we shouldn’t really worry about informing Him. The fact is, we don’t cry out to God with our needs because we are informing Him – but because by our obedience to remember to call Him we are INVITING Him to help.

Not everyone was qualified to determine the danger and blow the trumpet.

Go back for a moment to a verse we skipped in Number 10:8 “The priestly sons of Aaron, moreover, shall blow the trumpets; and this shall be for you a perpetual statute throughout your generations.

God selected specific people who were to learn when it was appropriate to blow the trumpet (10:8). This wasn’t everyone with a strong opinion and an hour’s study – it was done by qualified men who were selected by God. I have to admit that one of the richest blessings in my life is to be involved in some small way, in the training of those God has called to lead in the next generation. I cannot tell you how exciting it is to watch them, through struggle and celebration, come to conclusions about their future and God’s call. Just keep this in mind: In ministry – too quickly appointed means too easy defeated. God selected and men trained – then as now.

Don’t’ forget! Not all the blasts were BAD either! Some were to call people to a feast, and remember that the Lord is their God!

This has seemed like such a tough message, that I am happy to tell you that there are some wonderful reminders of happy things! God said:

Numbers 10:10 “Also in the day of your gladness and in your appointed feasts, and on the first days of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be as a reminder of you before your God. I am the LORD your God.”

The signals were not all heavy – sometimes they were blessings and promises that all the people could share! Some were for GLADNESS and feasting and SHELMIM offerings (called “peace”) – where you expressed incredible thankfulness for all that God had done! The trumpet was not just calling upon God to protect, but blessing God for provision! What a joyful blowing of the trumpet on a day like that!

Once the people were ready and defense was set, God called “Wagons Ho!” and off they went.

He moved them with the sign of His presence (10:11-13): 11 Now in the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth of the month, the cloud was lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony; 12 and the sons of Israel set out on their journeys from the wilderness of Sinai. Then the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. 13 So they moved out for the first time according to the commandment of the LORD through Moses.

They followed Him in strict order (10:14-28): 

• First out of the camp was Judah, then Isaachar, and then Zebulun (10:14-16).

• As the third tribe moved, the Tabernacle’s disassembly was completed – with Gershonites and Merarites carrying in order.

• Next came the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad (10:18-20)

• The Kohathites took the holy objects next, allowing the Gershonites and Merarites to set up the Tabernacle in the next place in advance of their arrival with the objects.

• On came Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin, and Dan (as rear guards), along with Asher and Nphtali (10:22-28).

Moses invited a good camping guide (Hobab, his brother in law the Midianite 10:29-32).

Every movement of the people had a second sound – beside the trumpet. Anyone standing near to Moses would hear him: 33 Thus they set out from the mount of the LORD three days’ journey, with the ark of the covenant of the LORD journeying in front of them for the three days, to seek out a resting place for them. 34 The cloud of the LORD was over them by day when they set out from the camp. 35 Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, “Rise up, O LORD! And let Your enemies be scattered, And let those who hate You flee before You.” 36 When it came to rest, he said, “Return, O LORD, To the myriad thousands of Israel.”

Moses knew that God wanted to move the people, and that God was committed to lead the people – but they needed to CONSTANTLY be called to remember they weren’t to CHOOSE THEIR OWN PATH. God would defend them, but they must FOLLOW Him.

God wants His followers to be diligent to watch for the enemy’s work, and to constantly acknowledge our need of His hand of protection – because we forget how much we NEED God.

Be careful, church. Be watchful. Be vigilant. “The attack [of Pearl Harbor] took place [December 7, 1941] on a sunny Sunday morning. A minimal contingent of soldiers was on duty at the time. Most offices on the base were closed and many servicemen were on leave for the weekend. New technology, including the new radar mounted on Opana Point, were in place, manned and functioning at the time of the attack. The incoming Japanese attack planes were detected by the radar and reported, but were mistaken for an incoming group of American planes due from the mainland that morning. While on practice maneuvers outside the harbor that morning, an American destroyer spotted a Japanese submarine attempting to sneak into the harbor. The submarine was fired upon, immediately reported — and ignored.” (

Strength for the Journey: “Discerning God’s Direction” – Numbers 9

God’s ddirection1irection sometimes seems confusing, doesn’t it? You may have noticed that the Bible is not a small book, and it is not lacking in detail. God had much to say, and keeping all of it straight in our mind is essential, but it takes work. We need to really be intentional about learning and applying the Word, but sometimes it is confusing to us. Maybe a good way to introduce the problem is by using a humorous little story that makes the point…

Years ago, a small church suspected a candidate, despite his supposed seminary training, was not ready to be ordained to Gospel ministry. A committee of knowledgeable Christian men convened to question the candidate carefully on his knowledge of the Holy Scripture. The candidate offered some curious answers to theological questions. As a result, the committee decided the best thing to do was quiz his recall of the Scriptures. The candidate “… was asked, “What part of the Bible do you like best?” He said: “I like the New Testament best.” Then he was asked, “What Book in the New Testament is your favorite?” He answered, “I like the Book of the Parables, Sir.” [Puzzled by the response…] They asked him to relate one of the parables to the committee. And a bit uncertain, he began… “Once upon a time a man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves; and the thorns grew up and choked the man. And he went on and met the Queen of Sheba, and she gave that man, yes sir, a thousand talents of silver, and a hundred changes of raiment. “And he got in his chariot and drove furiously and, as he was driving along under a big tree, his hair got caught in a limb and left him hanging there! And he hung there many days and many nights. The ravens brought him food to eat and water to drink. And one night while he was hanging there asleep, his wife Delilah came along and cut off his hair, and he fell on stony ground. And it began to rain, and rained forty days and forty nights. And he hid himself in a cave. Later he went on and met a man who said, ‘Come in and take supper with me.’ But he said, ‘I can’t come in, for I have married a wife.’ And the man went out into the highways and hedges and compelled him to come in! He then came to Jerusalem, and saw Queen Jezebel sitting high and lifted up in a window of the wall. When she saw him she laughed, and he said, ‘Throw her down out of there,’ and they threw her down. And he said ‘Throw her down again,’ and they threw her down seventy-times-seven. And the fragments which they picked up filled twelve baskets full! NOW, whose wife will she be in the day of the Judgment?” The story didn’t say what the committee decided, [but I have hope that he will not be your next Pastor]. (Adapted from a sermon by Bobby Scobey, If the Church Became Unchristian # 4 – Behavior More Important than Belief, 6/22/2010).

The passage we are looking at today will help us straighten out some problems in following God’s direction, while giving us confidence in God’s comforting presence. God IS with us. God’s will CAN be understood. His direction CAN be followed – but it will take work to discern the path. Look at the example in Numbers chapter nine.

Key Principle: God’s continual presence in our life is an empowering prize and a securing peace. When we don’t see it, we have strayed, and must choose to return.

Just as with us, so God dwelt with His people in the desert of Sinai, as they made their journey to the Promised Land God showed up before the people of Israel to keep the people moving ahead and confident about their direction. In the passage for our lesson today, He showed up in two important ways: 1) in response to uncertain application to the Word – when two instructions of God seemed to conflict God made His direction clear; 2) in direction and obvious manifestation of His power and presence when God wanted the people to move, He obviously LED them. The passage provided a record that there are two clear ways to follow God’s direction when His followers are uncertain:

• Seek Him when His Word offers what appears to be conflicting direction.
• Watch for His manifest presence and empowering in our lives.

God isn’t playing “cat and mouse games” with believers. He WANTS us to know His direction. He isn’t looking to be cryptic, causing us to search dark caves for ancient inscriptions. He has delivered His Word through the perils of history and the scrutiny of arrogant men. He has guided us by the hand with His enduring and patient hand. Yet, following the One we cannot see with our physical eye, while we are so transfixed in the material world can be difficult. God provided the content of His Word and the tug of His hand – yet there are still problems discerning His direction. God wants us to WORK at discerning His direction, and following His manifest presence. If we cut the chapter in two parts, we see answers to two distinct problems…

Two Problems following God’s direction:

Problem One: The complex nature of God’s Word in a sin-ridden society.

Life is often more complicated than a simple “right” and “wrong” in many areas of modern choice. I am not implying that God is uncertain about His desired design, but rather that the fruits of generations of sinners have made life more complicated than simply looking at a verse and deciding what is a correct practice. The further from God one has walked, the more complex it becomes to recognize the combinations of principles from God’s Word to solve problems. Facing the complexity of the modern family alone is a study in threading the needle of truth. Add to that the breadth of the principles of God’s Word, and we find ourselves having to search carefully for answers.

When we were raising children in schools that began with prayer, and taught respect to authority, and when we had the support of a community that operated in principles much closer to Biblical truth – the culture helped us raise our children to fear God and walk much closer to a Biblical form of morality. Whether we engaged the moral lesson that “Timmy and Lassie” taught us, or soaked in a primer in honesty we got from watching “Opie” get caught in a lie in Mayberry, the culture didn’t seem to try to pull the Bible away from daily life at every turn. We live now in different times. ABC Family line up on Tuesday night is now “Pretty Little Liars” followed by “The Lying Game”…and that is the FAMILY CHANNEL. The previews alone should scare a follower of God about what passes as moral in common culture.

As sin multiplies and wrong is redefined as right in this “progressive” culture, the application of God’s Word requires greater energy and more careful search with a consistent approach to Scripture. This is not a time for laziness in our study. We dare not “dumb down” our knowledge of the Word inside the church as the world numbs itself from God’s truth on the outside. That combination will leave young believers helpless in the confusion over God’s direction. It is time to do a more careful work in the Word, and to examine our lives carefully for conformity to God’s standard, while seeking to walk with intensity and consistency in God’s path of direction.

Now here is my question: What do you do when you have an important choice to make, and more than one principle of God’s Word applies, but doesn’t seamlessly fit together?

That was the problem in Numbers 9:1-14. God had already said ALL ISRAEL was to participate without exception in the Passover feast (cp. Ex. 12), but God subsequently instructed separation from sacrifices and cultic observances in Israel by those defiled by burial of their dead (Numbers 5:2), restricting them from participation in OTHER SACRIFICES and worship for a time. The specific question was this: “Which principle of God’s spoken Word applies in THIS SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCE?”

The Situation was set amid listening to the Lord:

God instructed the timing of the Passover feast. He wanted things done exactly, and according to all that He had said. Numbers 9:1 Thus the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, 2 “Now, let the sons of Israel observe the Passover at its appointed time. 3 “On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall observe it at its appointed time; you shall observe it according to all its statutes and according to all its ordinances.” God spoke clearly, and Moses knew exactly what God’s intent was concerning the observance. They were given in statutes (a word for “engravings” or eternal and unchanging truths).

The context was strict obedience to the revealed desire of God:

Numbers 9:4 So Moses told the sons of Israel to observe the Passover. 5 They observed the Passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, in the wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses, so the sons of Israel did. This should remind us of an important truth: God is not haphazard in His prescriptions. He is not sloppy in His standards – and His followers must not be as well. When God calls on His people to act, He does so with very specific principles and standards in mind. When Paul wrote to first century Corinthian believers not to “yoke together with unbelievers” – he certainly excluded cross participation between the pagan temple and the local church. The values, world view, and allegiances were different – because their God was different. As God spoke through Paul’s words, God marked out the family of believers as distinct in their community. Would not marrying a person who does not see life as an opportunity to serve our Master betray this idea? Believers need to be careful to recall that God is specific because God knows what He wants. For Israel, He expressed that He wanted full participation in the festival as previously instructed… and that set up the problem.

The Problem was there was no previous precedent for a specific case of conflicting Scripture:

Outside the camp were some who were defiled because of a recent burial. They were now faced with a dilemma – two things God said seemed to conflict. Numbers 9:6 But there were some men who were unclean because of the dead person, so that they could not observe Passover on that day; so they came before Moses and Aaron on that day. Don’t quickly dismiss that Moses and Aaron received the men. The men CAME IN to the camp to meet with Moses, though they were defiled. Remember, defilement didn’t mean SINFUL, it meant INELLIGIBLE for a specified time because of a condition that was NOT specifically sinful. Not all defilement is from direct sin – though sin defiles. Sin causes death in a general way, and the handling of the dead defiles one and sets them out of participation for a time.

Moses was willing to meet them, because it wasn’t clear what they should do. Was defilement suspended by God at Passover? How could God both REQUIRE them to do something and RESTRICT them at the same time? They assumed they WERE ELIGIBLE and returned to the camp – a logical but erroneous conclusion.

The Question was WHY they could not observe (they were still part of Israel!):

Standing in front of Moses and Aaron, the men confronted the problem: Numbers 9:7 Those men said to him, “Though we are unclean because of the dead person, why are we restrained from presenting the offering of the LORD at its appointed time among the sons of Israel?” 8 Moses therefore said to them, “Wait, and I will listen to what the LORD will command concerning you.” Look at what Moses did with the problem! When he didn’t know God’s direction, he dropped to his knees and sought God.

Don’t misunderstand or misread what happened. There were TWO THINGS Moses did:

1) He confronted each of the commands and knew them thoroughly BEFORE he came before God. What it meant to OBSERVE the feast was not at all unclear. The three leading points: eating the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, leaving nothing till the next day, and not breaking a bone (Exodus 12:8, Exodus 12:10, Exodus 12:46) are repeated in this passage.

Let me say it carefully, in hopes that the lesson will not be obscured: We don’t have to prayerfully ask God for answers to questions He has already made clear in His Word. Don’t drop to your knees and ask if you should have a sexual encounter outside of a marriage vow. Don’t seek God’s face, asking whether you should steal money from another’s dresser drawer. Don’t fall in desperation before Jesus asking Him to change His standards on pornography. Don’t beg God to give you millions without work in the next lottery. Respect for God means searching His Word before we ask Him to answer us contrary to His stated principles and His clean character. This is why it is important for a believer to KNOW the Word so that they can follow God’s direction. There aren’t as many difficult directions as we may think. Direction is always a mystery to one who has not read the map already.

2) He sought God when the two commands could not be reconciled. When two passages seemed to lead in two directions – he was without an answer. Moses THEN went to God with the problem.

Rahab faced this issue when the spies came to her. Should she tell the king the men were hidden under the flax on the roof, and came from the northeast? Should she hide the men sent from God to her, at the expense of telling the truth?

Daniel faced this problem when the king made a decree to cease all prayer to anyone but to his throne, and God had already communicated with Daniel about his consistent prayer life.

Peter and John faced this when they were told by Jerusalem temple officials to cease preaching about Jesus.

Every believer who has ever had to carefully search the Scriptures for issues of civil disobedience has faced the problem. God calls believers to respect the government, but God placed the limit of that obedience inside the specific boundaries of His Word. The Apostles said: “We must obey God rather than men” because they understood the boundary of the two principles in collision.

Mishandling the Bible can have severe consequences. When Federal troops occupied Cheraw, South Carolina, the Confederates left so much gun powder behind that the Union troops decided to dump most of it in a little creek. Some bored soldiers were looking for some entertainment so they scooped up handfuls of the powder and carried it to their cooking fires a few hundred yards away, where they exploded it amid much shouting and laughter. With each handful they grew more careless, and left numerous crisscrossing trails of powder running back to the ravine. Sergeant Theodore Upson of the 100th Indiana had just started his coffee boiling when he saw “a little flash of powder running along the ground.” A moment later he noticed that the powder flashes had multiplied and were running in all directions. Someone yelled, “Look out for the magazine!” Upson and his comrades “made some pretty quick moves” in putting as much space between themselves and the creek bed as the burning powder trails would allow. “Then there was a tremendous explosion,” Upson recorded. “The dirt and stones flew in every direction.” The ground shook for miles. The force of the blast destroyed several houses and shattered nearly every window in town. A storm of shell and shrapnel rained down for a half-mile in every direction. One officer and three enlisted men were killed as a result of the blast, and more than a dozen were wounded. Rumor had it that Sherman at first believed the explosion was an act of sabotage, and was on the verge of issuing orders to burn the rest of the town and execute the mayor in retaliation. He relented, however, when he learned that it was the carelessness of his own men that had caused the devastation. (adapted from Mark L. Bradley,The Battle of Bentonville: Last Stand in the Carolinas, pg. 67-69).

When the Bible is poorly handled, people use its pages to justify enslavement of men of color. Social justice proponents use it to justify endless handouts without regard to any personal responsibility. The “love of God” gets misconstrued to tolerate whatever sinful practice has recently sparkled in the eye of the lost world. The Word explodes on people who use it as a popular quote book, or a rationalization source for sinful display. In the end, it is misquoted to justify wickedness and its context is perverted to appease religious sensibility, but it leads men away from God!

God replied with three standards:

God has a plan and He is not afraid to answer questions about it. Moses came with a legitimate issue, and God answered it. God offered three important statements:

First, He instructed them to observe a month later, but to observe exactly as the others did. Numbers 9:9 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 10 “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If any one of you or of your generations becomes unclean because of a dead person, or is on a distant journey, he may, however, observe the Passover to the LORD. 11 ‘In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight, they shall observe it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 ‘They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break a bone of it; according to all the statute of the Passover they shall observe it.

God didn’t force people in the midst of severe pain and loss to festivity and observance; He allowed them to choose to be a part of this a month later. At the same time, the METHODS used were not open to individual interpretation. “Do it or don’t”, the Lord said, “but if you do, it can be practiced only according to the statutes.” The normal restriction from offering did not apply if they felt they wanted to participate.

Second, He restricted any delay by others: Numbers 9:13 ‘But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet neglects to observe the Passover, that person shall then be cut off from his people, for he did not present the offering of the LORD at its appointed time. That man will bear his sin.

Third, He pressed the point that there was one standard, even among strangers in their midst: Number 9:14 ‘If an alien sojourns among you and observes the Passover to the LORD, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its ordinance, so he shall do; you shall have one statute, both for the alien and for the native of the land.’”

Step back from the detail of the passage and look at what God made clear here. The keys to following God in the complexity of His Word are two: knowing the Word well enough to understand the issue, and then seeking God for His specific intention in prayer.

I don’t want to beat the point, but I want it to be very clear. The Bible contains many principles that may appear to conflict in complex life situations. It is the work of the local church to help you to build a consistent study pattern in God’s Word, so that you will have a grasp of how to apply to principles of Scripture to the complex issues we face in modern life. If you are regularly a part of a church where that is not being accomplished, I apologize for my colleagues and their misuse of sacred responsibility.

We can have fun together, but we are not a social club. We may enjoy experiences as we tie our lives together, but the primary focus of the local church is to train you to understand the Biblical world view and live it out in daily life. This includes relationships, so the body works together. This is not a counseling center, but the Bible offers the best counsel to be found on the planet. This is not a philanthropy organization, but Spirit-filled believers are generous people, and love to give toward the meeting of needs. This is not a social club, but God’s people function as a body and need to laugh together on their way to being a useful tool in God’s hand.

Let me ask you to consider something: Purpose to dig into God’s Word this year. Be a part of learning it, studying it, and applying it to life. Learn where problems are answered inside its pages. Be a part of a church that is heavily invested in the work of systematic and careful study of its contents. The world outside doesn’t know it, but it desperately needs well informed Christians who can discuss the principles of the Bible with confidence and clarity. When tragedy strikes, the airwaves fill with pundits that have no real ability to explain evil, let alone restore confidence and hope. The hope is found in the truth. The truth is found in the Word of God.

Problem Two: The need to discern God’s manifest presence

I think every believer wants more than a book to follow. We don’t fall in love with the Word as an end in itself. We fall in love with what God said, because we are learning to fall in love with HIM! We want to experience His love and presence in daily life. Let me say it plainly: God directs believers in more than just principles – He does it in very specific manifestations of presence. If you are walking with God, you KNOW His touch. You experience His presence. I am not getting spooky, but I loathe the hesitancy we have for really admitting that we long to have Him hold tightly onto our hand and guide us. I want that – I admit it. I want more than principles and theory – I want to KNOW HIM, walk with Him, follow Him. The good news is that He desires the same thing. Look at the second part of Numbers 9, this time in the verse from 15 to 23…

The sign of His manifest presence came from the time of clear obedience:

Don’t overlook that God’s manifest presence – the times when He nudges you, speaks into your life through the voice of others, shouts through something you read or hear, or even inserts His direction into your mind as you walk through the day – are all predicated in the Word on obedience to His Word. Numbers 9:15 Now on the day that the tabernacle was erected the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and in the evening it was like the appearance of fire over the tabernacle, until morning. 16 So it was continuously; the cloud would cover it by day, and the appearance of fire by night.

The people DID what God said, and God showed up when the map ran out for them. They knew His general direction, and they were experiencing His character. Moses was getting and giving His Word. Yet, they needed more. They needed to know where to go next…and God didn’t let them down. His obvious presence followed their submission – and it still does.

The marker of the presence moved to get the people re-directed:

Numbers 9:17 Whenever the cloud was lifted from over the tent, afterward the sons of Israel would then set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the sons of Israel would camp. 18 At the command of the LORD the sons of Israel would set out, and at the command of the LORD they would camp; as long as the cloud settled over the tabernacle, they remained camped. 19 Even when the cloud lingered over the tabernacle for many days, the sons of Israel would keep the LORD’S charge and not set out.

Notice that verse 18 clues us in to the reality that the people understood God’s movement as His command. When God stopped, they knew He wanted them to stop. When God went on, they saw it as His direction.

The key to following God’s direction was watching out for His manifest presence:

Numbers 9:20 If sometimes the cloud remained a few days over the tabernacle, according to the command of the LORD they remained camped. Then according to the command of the LORD they set out. 21 If sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning, when the cloud was lifted in the morning, they would move out; or if it remained in the daytime and at night, whenever the cloud was lifted, they would set out. 22 Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but when it was lifted, they did set out. 23 At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out; they kept the LORD’S charge, according to the command of the LORD through Moses.

The keys to following God’s manifest presence are two: desire to follow Him and keep careful watch for Him. The people moved as they saw God move. They kept their eyes fixed on Him. They wanted to be in His presence and follow Him as He moved. They didn’t move and then ask the cloud to follow them – they watched the cloud and moved according to His Divine call.

Let me ask some penetrating questions: Are you experiencing God’s daily presence in your walk through life? Is He directing your paths – and you KNOW it? Are you in a position of obedience and confidence, such that God can easily step in and give direction to you?

I must finish our time in Numbers 9, but I cannot leave without exploring my heart concerning God’s direction. I need to assess my commitment to the Word, and my hunger to grow in it this year, as the Lord allows. If I don’t WANT to know what God has said, then I have already stopped listening to His directions. There is no point to His speaking into my life – I am not listening. I show in my obstinacy the rejection of God’s control, and forfeit God’s direction. If that is true, we must all remember this: You cannot get where you want to go on the wrong road. The right path to fulfillment and stability is the one I walk holding the Master’s hand.

Do you know why believers struggle to follow God together? It is as simple as the lesson of the sunflower. The tall and slender flower seems to recognize its absolute need of the sun – so the head literally follows the sun’s movements across the sky. Have you ever stood and watched a full field of sunflowers? Watching one sunflower follow the sun can be interesting, but watching hundreds of tall, yellow flowers bending in unison to follow the sun is nothing short of incredible. When you watch them, you notice they all seem harmonious and synchronized. If you look closely, watch for this one truth: their unity appears totally dependent on one thing…their relationship to the sun. So does ours. Believers that follow the Son do it in harmony with one another, and confidence that they are positioned where God intended them to be.

God’s continual presence in our life is an empowering prize and a securing peace. When we don’t see it, we have strayed, and must choose to return.

Strength for the Journey: "The Stance" (Part One) – Numbers 8

Setting up the footing at the beginning of a race is critically important if you want to win. All the participants line up for the starting gun, and in very formal competitions, they line up their footing on starting blocks to be prepared to get the maximum push when the starting gun signals – propelling them forward at high speed, and giving them thrust to push ahead in the race. Haphazard footing causes the runner to waste energy or, even worse, step out of their lane and move off course from the goal. Good runners prepare. They stretch and they step into their stance for the best position. Sometimes they do it several times as a “dry run” before they actually position themselves for the race’s beginning. Practicing how to position the start can help them prepare their mind for the race, this helps their body become set for the track ahead.

Why are we talking about the setting of a race? Because it is a significant and prepared beginning, and that is the subject of Numbers 1-10. The idea is not the beginning of a race, but the setting of a ministry. It is the foundation of the worship of God’s people, and their critical formation from rabble to nation – so that they could experience God’s blessing together. The people were organized in families and the whole society was encamped around one structure – the meeting place with God.

By now, the priests were chosen and consecrated. The Tabernacle was fully equipped, clean, ready, and consecrated. The smell of anointing oils wafted from its tent coverings. You may have been following the story as we studied together…

Numbers 1 showed the people were organized to stand their ground in battle, and had leaderships structures set in place. The people were numbered and knew their position in the various tribes. The enemy cannot be ignored in any stage of drawing together God’s people – or getting them engaged. There must always be those who are set to withstand and be vigilant against the attack – and it WILL come.

Numbers 2 showed the priorities of the people in organizing their ranks – family, worship, and educational training were the marked orders God gave them. God’s people don’t naturally think differently than the world around them. They need to be shown the importance and maintenance involved in a family, and the reality and work involved in real worship.

Numbers 3 and 4 showed the preparation and consecration of the priests to operate the Tabernacle worship according to God’s parameters. Nothing succeeds without an essential core of God’s chosen leaders, affirmed by God’s faithful followers.

Numbers 5 delineated the responsibilities of priestly and Levitical families, as well as specifying some defilements that needed to be guarded against. Leaders may have titles, but they must be given parameters of responsibility, so they can be directed.

Numbers 6 detailed the radical commitment involved in a specific call to some of His people for a time, and offered a special blessing to the people. God will call out of the congregation some gifted people with specially timed radical commitments to push the whole ministry forward.

Numbers 7 offered a picture of the anointing and dedication ceremony of the Tabernacle, as Moses moved ever closer to moving the people from the foot of the Mountain of God toward the Promised Land. The parts and pieces of ministry are BOTH spiritual and physical. The physical plant needs to be established, clean and consecrated for God’s use. This includes the meeting place, but also times and ordered responsibilities.

Even with all that preparation, the people were not yet ready to move ahead.

God would put the people on the move soon – but not quite yet. Before they could go forward, six essentials were still needed – and they are carefully enumerated and fulfilled in Numbers 8-10:

The Heart of the Worship center needed to beat with God’s truth and God’s spirit. Light was required to be sure things were happening correctly.
The workers that would keep the place, fulfill much of the ministry under the priestly direction and serve God faithfully needed to be enlisted, cleaned, and fully prepared for the work ahead. Sustainable ministry is never a one-man band.
Special sensitivity needed to be observed by putting restraints on those who could not keep the work moving because of physical age, and they needed God’s release to do less. Though the lazy struggle to get moving, responsible people need to be told to stop so they can appropriately rest.
An observance needed to be “test run” before they tried to do it on the road – and Passover was coming soon.
God’s symbolic presence needed to be seen and experienced in a powerful and dramatic way. The whole effort without God’s power showing up is just a Broadway show. When God enters and people know it – ministry is really effective.
The method of gathering and dispersing needed to be established and tested – so an alarm system was created. Attacks would come, and getting the people ready was an important part of preparedness to journey forward.

Today’s lesson will be about three of the six essentials, as contained in the words of Numbers 8. Every part of the preparation was so important that God drew out the story over ten chapters of Scripture – and we dare not brush it off or rush through it – because God thinks preparation is tremendously important…

Key Principle: God knows exactly what it takes to build a ministry well and has shared it openly. Sustained and effective ministry isn’t ready to move forward until all the preparations are completed as God prescribed them – or they will spend time later “back filling”.

Reaching a country with the Gospel – or even reaching out in a small village effectively is a difficult task. The winds of culture whip in your face. The Satanic foothold of generations ****

“Six Essentials for Effective Long-term Ministry”

Essential One: Turn on the Light.

The Heart of the Worship center needed to beat with God’s truth and God’s spirit. Light was required to be sure things were happening correctly.

Numbers 8:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you mount the lamps, the seven lamps will give light in the front of the lampstand.’” 3 Aaron therefore did so; he mounted its lamps at the front of the lampstand, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 4 Now this was the workmanship of the lampstand, hammered work of gold; from its base to its flowers it was hammered work; according to the pattern which the LORD had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.

Moses was instructed to have Aaron place the lamps in their respective mounts – made to hold each of seven lamps (Numbers 8:1-2). It was clear in the text that the placement was to “give light” in front of the lamp stand in the Holy Place. The sheen off of the gold-covered walls helped to magnify the light into a glow.

The purpose. The primary point of each lamp was to bring light into the dark room of the holy place, but it was to bring TRUTH there as well. Without stretching, we can easily see that LIGHT was used in two ways in Scripture – to denote God’s presence and absolute truth. In the case of truth, for instance, when Jesus said in the Gospel of John “I am the Light of the World” (John 5:12), the context was a lie that was being perpetrated in His midst. He wouldn’t stand for it. He is the light, and that light shines in every hidden corner.

The number. The lamp stand had three branches on either side of a center branch – making seven in all. From the account of creation with the completion in seven days, to the 54 times the word seven shows up in the closing book of the Bible – Revelation – the number seven has been synonymous with completion. The number occurs 700 times in the Bible, and often in the sense of completion. The message? God has given sufficient light for the workers to complete their task – and sufficient light for HIM to see what we are truly doing. The lamp was God-designed and brought COMPLETE light to the place of worship.

The pattern. The pattern “the Lord revealed to Moses” (8:4) were branches were to be shaped as the flowering almond branch – something that God repeated several times in Exodus 25 and 37. The name of the almond is shaqed in Hebrew. It comes from the word “shaqad”, the word for “to watch over, to keep watch or lie awake.” The unmistakable message is that God is watching! The One who watches His people is recalled in the play on words with the Almond. The light not only helped the priests see, it reminded them WHO ELSE WAS WATCHING OVER THEM. You can’t hide in God’s presence – He knows what you aren’t saying. He sees inside. The last place to try to hide sin is in the presence of a Holy and all seeing God.

At the heart of worship is honest inspection in light of the truth. The truth, like light, shows our flaws, and exposes our deeply held deceptions. It reminds us that God really does know the truth, and that He isn’t faked out by our presence, while we hide what is going on inside.

There are a number of reasons that believers don’t get their lives clean before God.

• One problem is that we MAY NOT BE SURE HOW to really use the lamp of God’s Word to see the blemishes, vermin and dirt in our lives. We see the huge content in the Word, and get lost in the language – unable to make the intended applications. For that, believers are offered both the Spirit of God and the people of God that will mentor, teach and disciple.

I am more convinced than ever before that people need much more training than they did when our culture expected more common sense. I read this from a Pastor’s newsletter up north. Maybe this will help you see what I am saying:

A letter appeared in the national news that was sent to a deceased person by the Indiana Department of Social Services. It read as follows: “Your food stamps will be stopped effective March 1st, because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances.” I just want to know what the person writing that letter was really thinking about!

• A second problem may be that we have learned to set conviction aside. James warns that some look into the mirror– but walk away and do nothing to change. We learn to shield the light from making its way into corners reserved for self carefully protected inside us.

• Still others may be haphazard in the use of the light, using it in a way that doesn’t identify and illuminate our real problem areas.

TRUE WORSHIP happens when we allow the light of God’s Holy Word to fall into every dark corner of our lives, and we allow that truth to identify even the secret intents of the heart – especially when we aren’t flattered by what the light reveals within us. That is why real worship may well include tears. The lamp lights up the truth and exposes what we are really all about.

God’s call from the HOLY PLACE of the Tabernacle was this…Don’t hide. Don’t run. Don’t shrink away. Draw near. Confess to God what you both already know. Ask Him for intense strength to break the grip of sin and guilt. Ask Him to remove a hook from your heart if you don’t have the strength to do it. You will find that He isn’t lighting up sin in you to bring condemnation – but to bring you comfort in the return to Him. He will not call wrong –“right”. He will not excuse rebellion. Humble before Him and be blessed anew by Him! Turn the Light ON!

Essential Two: Get the Team on Board.

The workers that would keep the place, fulfill much of the ministry under the priestly direction and serve God faithfully needed to be enlisted, cleaned, and fully prepared for the work ahead. Sustainable ministry is never a one-man band.

Numbers 8:5 Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 6 “Take the Levites from among the sons of Israel and cleanse them. 7 “Thus you shall do to them, for their cleansing: sprinkle purifying water on them, and let them use a razor over their whole body and wash their clothes, and they will be clean. 8 “Then let them take a bull with its grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil; and a second bull you shall take for a sin offering. 9 “So you shall present the Levites before the tent of meeting. You shall also assemble the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, 10 and present the Levites before the LORD; and the sons of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites. 11 “Aaron then shall present the Levites before the LORD as a wave offering from the sons of Israel, that they may qualify to perform the service of the LORD. 12 “Now the Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the bulls; then offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering to the LORD, to make atonement for the Levites. 13 “You shall have the Levites stand before Aaron and before his sons so as to present them as a wave offering to the LORD. 14 “Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the sons of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine. 15 “Then after that the Levites may go in to serve the tent of meeting. But you shall cleanse them and present them as a wave offering; 16 for they are wholly given to Me from among the sons of Israel. I have taken them for Myself instead of every first issue of the womb, the firstborn of all the sons of Israel. 17 “For every firstborn among the sons of Israel is Mine, among the men and among the animals; on the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for Myself. 18 “But I have taken the Levites instead of every firstborn among the sons of Israel. 19 “I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the sons of Israel, to perform the service of the sons of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement on behalf of the sons of Israel, so that there will be no plague among the sons of Israel by their coming near to the sanctuary.” 20 Thus did Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the sons of Israel to the Levites; according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so the sons of Israel did to them. 21 The Levites, too, purified themselves from sin and washed their clothes; and Aaron presented them as a wave offering before the LORD. Aaron also made atonement for them to cleanse them. 22 Then after that the Levites went in to perform their service in the tent of meeting before Aaron and before his sons; just as the LORD had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so they did to them.

As the Priests functioned in operation of the Tabernacle – the Elders functioned later in the church. As the Levites aided them and helped practical works of the Tabernacle – so the Deacons functioned later in the church. This is NOT to spiritualize the text – just make a comparison that may be helpful for our application. Look closely at the Levites:

They were chosen. They came from the Israelites, but were chosen by their God appointed birth to serve in a special way in regards to the worship center (8:6). In the same way, God has gifted some, at the time of the new birth in Messiah, to be special servants of the community. They are special, and they were chosen.

They were checked. They weren’t prepared to help until they underwent inspection and personal cleansing. The razor to the whole of the body insured that no blemish would be uninspected (8:7). This is critical in the appointment of leaders to God’s work. If sin and immaturity takes residence in leadership – the whole body suffers.

They were cleansed. They weren’t qualified simply by birth – they needed to apply the specific sin offering on their own behalf (8:8). They needed to accept the grace of God, that He would turn His face from their sin. Salvation was of the heart, sacrifice of the hands. Just as we pray to receive Christ, walk an aisle of raise a hand – so they offered a sacrifice – but the faith is what saves, not the actions. No one is ready to serve in the work until they are cleansed by the Master.

They were confirmed. They couldn’t formally function until they were publicly acknowledged by the people (8:9-10). In the same way, our Deacons are chosen from within the ranks of the body, and affirmed by the congregation. Leaders must be accountable – and as servants they are open to confirmation and correction.

They were cherished. Their lives were a special offering of the people before the Lord – because it COST to be in that service, but was a special blessing from God as well (8:11-19). Make no mistake, our modern day “Levites” are a cherished part of the work as well. Their countless hours of labor – visiting the sick, caring for the hurting, helping those in need – they are all remembered by God and should be by us!

They were coached. After they were prepared, they did their work before the priests and under the direction of Moses and Aaron (8:20-22). Our deacons work well with our elders and Pastors – and all meet together regularly. We try to help each other and honor properly each other!

Here is the point: sustainable ministry is well spread ministry. Too much on too few is a recipe for burnout and break-up. It is the work of EVERY ELDER to look for those who will help and eventually replace them. It is the work of EVERY DEACON to spot believers that have gifts like those necessary for the work and coach them – so that one day we will have more trained help. From these come committees and workers and ministry. That sounds so sterile – but that is where ministry truly becomes real. It is in the lives of the hurting that receive comfort that God is so marvelously at work. It is in the transformation of the hard heart to a soft and open one that celebration breaks forth.

Some of you are teachers, and you should be mentoring and teaching. You can wait for a class, or you can grab someone who is open to learning and pour into them. Some of you are helpers, and you can wait for someone to ask you to help, or you can ask what needs to be done. Ministry happens best when the TEAM is growing and functioning.

Essential Three: Develop Sensitivity to People.

Though the lazy struggle to get moving, responsible people need to be told to stop so they can appropriately rest. Special restraints were placed on those who could not keep the work moving because of physical age, and they needed God’s release to do less.

Numbers 8:23 Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “This is what applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall enter to perform service in the work of the tent of meeting. 25 “But at the age of fifty years they shall retire from service in the work and not work any more. 26 “They may, however, assist their brothers in the tent of meeting, to keep an obligation, but they themselves shall do no work. Thus you shall deal with the Levites concerning their obligations.”

Notice that Levites were to work at the moving and set up of the Tabernacle from age twenty-five to age fifty. After fifty, the men were not strong enough to do the work. Wait a minute! I am more than fifty. OK, it is official… I retire. No! That is NOT the point of the Scripture.

Of course if I want to early retirement, I may have to be willing to go back to their short life spans. Life expectancy was more than twenty-three years shorter that ours – so that surely factors into the working age. Don’t get distracted by the retirement phrase – that isn’t really the problem. The problem in the passage was one of RELEASE. Responsible people tend to think of themselves as VITAL and IRREPLACABLE in the work – and the work of God is no different. Levites didn’t OWN the work – they came KNOWING they were here for a season.

I want you to know that I came here knowing that about my work as your leader. I knew that I would need from the beginning to replace myself. I am not secretly planning a departure – I am openly planning one. One day, either by God’s call home or His call elsewhere, my work among you will be done. When it is, only what is firmly built both in method and manpower will last. I cannot gather people to ME and think I am gathering them to Jesus. Moreover, a ministry should be judged not only by the impact of a man, but by the team that was deliberately built by that man, and the others around him.

I am concerned that some churches are forcing people who should be able to rest into perpetual strenuous work – because leadership hasn’t been raised up and trained along the way. I am concerned that men and women should a heavy burden because they don’t want to see their work DIE in front of them – but not enough was done to train up the next generation while they had vitality and energy. God offered a RETIREMENT DATE to remind the Levites they were not always going to be the ones who DO the work. It also was a way to release them from carrying the burden when they weren’t able – a gift of sensitivity. Someone has said that “If you have true respect for people as they are, you can be more effective in helping them to become better than they are.” I think tying too heavy a burden on people for too long disrespect them, and cuts off our ability to truly help them!

Everyone wants to be EFFECTIVE, but it requires that we LEARN to assess things properly under skilled leaders.

I love this old story: A cowboy lay sprawled across three entire seats in the posh Amarillo Theater. When the usher came by and noticed this, he whispered to the cowboy, “Sorry, sir, but you’re only allowed one seat.” The cowboy groaned but didn’t budge. The usher became more impatient: “Sir, if you don’t get up from there I’m going to have to call the manager.” Once again, the cowboy just groaned. The usher, realizing he’s dealing with an impaired individual, marched briskly back up the aisle, and in a moment he returned with the manager. Together the two of them tried repeatedly to move the cowboy, but with no success. Finally they summoned the police. The Texas Ranger surveyed the situation briefly, then asked, “All right buddy, what’s your name?” “Fred,” the cowboy moaned. “Where ya from, Fred?” asked the Ranger. With terrible pain in his voice and slowly pointing one finger painfully toward the ceiling, Fred replied, “…The balcony…” (sermon central illustrations).

Insensitive people don’t listen. They just PUSH ON and get their back up. That isn’t God’s way to handle people!

God knows exactly what it takes to build a ministry well and has shared it openly. Sustained and effective ministry isn’t ready to move forward until all the preparations are completed as God prescribed them – or they will spend time later “back filling”.

Strength for the Journey: "Laying the Foundation" – Numbers 7

Foundations are incredibly important. Across the street from my house, a neighbor passed away recently. The son took over the house, and soon after took down a score of scrub pines in the yard. Next the graders came in and the heavy equipment began pulling plants and digging holes on the property. It took a few days for us to really recognize what his workers were doing… but eventually it became clear. He was about to double the square footage of the house by pouring a new foundation and then erecting new walls connected to the house. Great care was given to digging out the footers, and pouring the right sized pilasters for the foundation weight. By the time the pad was poured for the addition, the foundation was completely tied together with reinforcing bars and concrete that was poured to the specs of the engineer on the project.

How did the engineers and builders know exactly how deep to dig and how large to make the foundation? Over the years, Floridians have gotten good at building on this sand bar. We know how to build rigid structures that are properly set in the earth, and will hold up during significant storms. Weights and stresses are measurable, and engineers have ratings on all the materials to work out mathematically how the foundation will hold in stress. One thing any builder will tell you is this – a bad foundation creates an unsafe and unstable structure. It MUST be properly laid or it must be fixed. NOTHING is more important in the project than the critical distribution of force in the foundation.

What is true in building is also true in ministry. The foundation supports the structure. As we have studied in Numbers together, we have walked through a number of important steps in the organizing of the children of Israel at the foot of Sinai – as they prepared to journey through the desert to the Promised Land. The first ten chapters of this book of the Torah collection describe the foundation laying of the people. They left Egypt as a rabble of slaves, but in the heat and tests of the desert, God would mold them into a nation. Our lesson today is about God’s call to common ministry at the dedication of the Tabernacle. Why did God retain this lesson? Because the formation of a foundation in the desert is not unlike the formation of any ministry anywhere – and we are all about spreading God’s Word and forming new ministry works around the globe.

Key Principle: Ministry is about shared identity, shared provision and common mission as a community of faith takes what God has provided and publicly and obediently follows His call.

“Seven Principles of Laying a Foundation in Ministry”

Today we will look at seven foundation building principles. Just as engineers need guidelines to build a plan upon, so ministries need a foundation plan that will determine the strength of each to endure the stresses of spiritual battles.

Principle #1: God’s blessing and direction came only after OBEDIENCE to God’s directions.

Numbers 7:1 Now on the day that Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle…

In the beginning the project was daunting and difficult.

Let’s recall the TEAM that God provided to do this with: the point – the team always looks bad at the beginning.

The entire Exodus was led by an ex-con on the run named Moses – an adopted child with a shady background and a stuttering tongue.

He was accompanied by his slick talking brother, who was swayed by the crowd within weeks of his first solo time in charge.

They were accompanied by their sister, an opinionated woman who didn’t like her brother marrying a Gentile Ethiopian, and bad mouthed him until God had to bench her with a case of leprosy for a week.

We don’t even need to take the time to mention the many followers and their murmuring spirit, nor do we need to mention the rebellion of other leaders like Korah, that led God to open up the earth and swallow them. Drunk priests that cut corners in worship are also a part of this happy band. People hoarding quail and manna, and complaining about the menu… we could go on and on..

We sometimes romanticize the work of God in the Bible, and we are disappointed when we work with people in real life ministry today. The problem is that we didn’t really read closely what the text said. Things weren’t as good in the “good old days” as we like to think.

Another very important problem we face is this… We are far better at picking out faults than we are at seeing possibilities. We have to recognize God’s power through a life and not simply see the flaws of that life. We have to learn to see past the big mouth’s of the Boagernes (“sons of thunder”) brothers – James and John – and see future preachers. We have to look past the faults of Peter and see a wise Pastor in the making. We have to see past the criticial, rabble rousing Saul of Tarsus and see a brilliant mind with the potential to plant churches all over the world! We have to see the teams as they really were, and then see our team as it can be.

Let’s recall the CIRCUMSTANCES that God placed the leadership into, and the difficulties they faced getting things going.

They were in the desert of Sinai in the heat of the day and the cold of the evening. They were moving around a rough landscape, in a subsistence living that was dependent upon God’s direct intervention for them to have even the most basic necessities. They were living in tents, sleeping on the ground, traveling in a large mass. Things were difficult and they were difficult. Yet, God used them…

How was it possible to accomplish common ministry in that difficult place with that roster of personnel? In short, it wasn’t. Ministry DOES include each of us carefully observing the Scriptures for our guide, and using our gifts for the enabling – but the fact is that real ministry happens when God WORKS THROUGH MEN- not when men work for God. Here is the point: God works through our committed obedience to His Word, through humbled men and women who decide that He is God and He has the right to correct our thinking, and light up our path. Our job is NOT to create ministry, but to FOLLOW obediently where He leads. He has commanded us to follow Him when we DON’T know the future – but we know His character.

Principle #2: Before use of the place, there was symbolic DEDICATION for the physical things.

Numbers 7:1b “… Moses anointed it…”

Moses took a flask of oil and sprinkled some of it on the various objects of the new tabernacle. The oil wasn’t magic – it was symbolic of God’s manifest presence – and perhaps even God’s very Spirit settling on the items. It is clear that anointing was symbolic and was used in the case of priests, as prescribed by God (Exodus 29). It was also used for the symbolic call to the monarchy by God in 1 Samuel 10 (Saul) and 1 Samuel 15 (David). Pouring oil by itself would not have made them physically prepared to do anything but drip. The idea was a physical picture of a spiritual reality – like a wedding ring pictures the covenantal bond of marriage in two people.

One thing every anointing had in common was this: oil was poured at times of dedication for a specific task as specified by God Himself. They were done by God’s servant, and done to people and things that were being prepared for God’s service. They were generally public events – and they were deeply meaningful to both the pourer and the one (or thing) upon whom they were poured.

Let me ask you a very simple question: Have you ever openly, publicly declared your life to be the Lords for His use of you? Have you ever consciously and deliberately said: “Lord, my life, my body, my money, my talents are yours. I dedicate them to your use.” I hear Christians talk about “an anointing” like it is an empowering, but NOT like it is a statement of dedication. Surely when David was anointed by Samuel, God was enabling him, but that was not the whole story. David wasn’t getting a jolt of juice from on high, as much as he was being called to conscious dedication. Anointing isn’t just about enabling – its about God’s call and God’s choice – and our proper response of dedication.

Principle #3: Before the thing became common, there was SEPARATION of its use.

Numbers 7:1b “…and consecrated it with all its furnishings and the altar and all its utensils; he anointed them and consecrated them also.

The items were anointed, but they were also CONSECRATED. That means they were separated for God’s use – and made UNCOMMON. They were no longer like the items of everyday use. The Tabernacle was a goat hair tent of gathering before God – but it was no city hall or open public facility. It was at the center of the camp, but it was no gathering courtyard for parties or civic meetings. This was HOLY GROUND, because God made it so. He said that place was specifically for meeting with Him – and it served no other purpose.

Just as I asked you about your public dedication, so I want to ask you about your CONSECRATION. Do you see yourself as God’s property? Do you see your time as HIS, your talents as HIS and your treasure as HIS? Can He count on you to make decisions to maintain that body so that He can call upon it for His purposes? Do you see yourself as “bought with a price” and therefore make decisions in light of His ownership?

What I watch must fall under the category of God’s choice – or I think I am my own. Where I go must conform with His choices for me – or I am not walking the consecrated path. What I become in my job or who I marry for my life’s companion – all of these decisions MUST be done with His OWNERSHIP and His MASTERY in mind – or I am not living a consecrated life.

If you know Jesus as your Savior, you are NOT an ordinary person, destined for ordinary purposes. There is something wonderfully different about you. God wants to use your life, your body, your testimony like a glove. He wants to come inside your life and move your hands, your feet, your lips and your heart to speak His love to a lost world. He wants to touch others through your touch. He wants to encourage the discouraged, through your thoughtful and rich words. He wants to work through YOU – and He will…. If we are set apart for His use. He will resist using those who cannot let Him lead. God loves to dance, but He is never the one who follows. He will lead, or He will sit down and let you stand there on the dance floor moving like He is in your arms. CONSECRATION is about the commitment to let Him lead, and to set your life apart for His Holy use.

Principle #4: Before the journey with God, LEADERS were identified and followed.

Numbers 7:2 Then the leaders of Israel, the heads of their fathers’ households, made an offering (they were the leaders of the tribes; they were the ones who were over the numbered men).

I drill this principle over and over in Scripture, because I find it so often in every plan God works. God calls people to rise to LEADERSHIP in order to get things to move forward. In this case, as we have seen so very often, God called MEN who were to lead their HOUSEHOLDS to sacrifice and serve God. There is little I should need to say on this score – but it is obvious that our culture has another objective for men.

We live in a time when masculinity has been caricatured to be stupid, smelly and Neanderthal. Our country has embarked on a great social experiment – and excessive reaction to the holding back of women – and has cut men and masculinity to the floor. Men on TV are stupid, boorish and half-witted, pathetic but loveable characters. We went in one generation from “Father Knows Best” to the image of Homer Simpson and “Father Knows Nothing – but he is a sweet dumb guy!” There is no need to denigrate men or the role they have been given to play. Yes, far too many are passive and don’t lead in their homes. The problem is, denigrating the role and demonizing the extreme of dominant males won’t train a new generation of young men for their God-given task.

Recently in our Bible class I reminded students that God made the definitions of masculine and feminine – they are Biblical and not simply cultural. They are founded in Genesis 2 and 3. The roles included being a family leader, a guardian, a mentor and a provider. Men need to reclaim the role God has carved out for them by hard work, faithfulness both on the job and in the marriage. They need to discipline their lives so they are worthy examples of leadership. They need to become what they truly want their sons to become. God works through leaders. God works through the training ground of the HOME. Today’s young boys will be tomorrow’s leaders – and we must guide them by living as examples to them. When a man lives unfaithfully to his wife – he scars and mars the children that observe the unfaithfulness. He divides their hearts and brings death into the home – a place that should be safe and sweet. In ministry we have seen it far too often – I call on our men to guard their homes prayerfully, faithfully and with intense and deliberate purpose.

Men, it has been my experience that we find it easy to block out godly counsel and quickly forget what we heard when we DO hear it. We have selective hearing and selective memory. Could this story be YOU?:

An older couple had trouble remembering common, day-to-day things. They both decided that they would write down requests the other had, and so try to avoid forgetting. One evening the woman asked if the husband would like anything. He replied, “Yes. I’d like a large ice-cream sundae with chocolate ice cream, whipped cream and a cherry on top.” The wife started off for the kitchen and the husband shouted after her, “Aren’t you going to write it down?” “Don’t be silly,” she hollered back, “I’m going to fix it right now. I won’t forget.” She was gone for quite some time. When she finally returned, she set down in front of him a large plate of hash brown potatoes, eggs, bacon, and a glass of orange juice. He took a look and said “I knew you should have written it down! You forgot the toast!” (A-Z Sermon illustrations).

I ask all of you men to please, make a note in your heart. Let’s put effort into our walk and our homes. In a few years, our nation will be glad you did.

Principle #5: Among the leaders, there was a SHARED responsibility.

Numbers 7:3 When they brought their offering before the LORD, six covered carts and twelve oxen, a cart for every two of the leaders and an ox for each one, then they presented them before the tabernacle.

No leader was called to do everything, but all were called to do SOMETHING – and that is still true today. We have on our ministry team a number of people that are very gifted in their areas. I celebrate them, and love to work with them. One is very technical, and spends his time in the electronic and computer area. Another is very administrative, and he spends his time thinking about planning, setting plans in place and operating ministry. I spend my time preparing to teach, teaching, and working on content. Among our other leaders some are musically talented, others are exhorters, and others are mercy-filled lovers of people.

Are we short on anything in our ministry? Sure we are. We have lots of gaps. I don’t mind telling you that, because you already know it. No team in this town has it all, but thank God that each ministry team has each other! I watch people, they jump from one church to the next, trying to find the perfect one… and they never will. No one has it all, but all of us have SOME of what God wants to do in our town. Let me offer two things you can do instead of looking for the “place with it all”. First, find an area you can help and figure out a way to start helping. There are widows who need help, there are hurting families that can use some extra help. You don’t need a program to get busy helping ministry move forward, you just need to look for someone who is hurting and lend a hand. One more thing you can do: Measure your leaders on their faithful use of the gifts God gave them, not on the gifts you wish they had – you will be less disappointed if you do.

I make no excuses for laziness. I want to be honest before both YOU and the LORD, and do all the things necessary for this ministry to thrive that I am able to do. Even if I do, there will be a YOU sized gap in what we have to offer. That is the truth… we need all hands on deck. This is a shared responsibility.

Principle #6: Before the ministry got underway, God DIRECTED the use of resources.

Numbers 7:4 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 5 “Accept these things from them, that they may be used in the service of the tent of meeting, and you shall give them to the Levites, to each man according to his service.” 6 So Moses took the carts and the oxen and gave them to the Levites. 7 Two carts and four oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, according to their service, 8 and four carts and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. 9 But he did not give any to the sons of Kohath because theirs was the service of the holy objects, which they carried on the shoulder.

Money and goods are not a problem for the Savior – He is not broke. He owns all that has ever been, and is capable of managing an entire universe. Let me be clear: God is not asking you to give to His work because HE needs your money – He is commanding it because He is WILLING to include you and I in His work. He loves collaboration. He didn’t need Mary’s womb to bear Jesus – He could have made the “Second Adam” the way He made the first Adam – from the dust of the ground. Yet, He wanted to give a young woman the delightful experience of participating with HIM in bringing Jesus to the world.

By the same token, God isn’t desperate for your funds to get the Gospel out. He LETS you and I give, pray and share so that we can participate. Moses was told to ACCEPT the gifts from the people. Where did THEY get the wealth? They were ex-slaves! They got the wealth by God providing through Egyptians the things they would later need in the wilderness, along with the goods and animals that multiplied while they were in the land of Egypt. God GAVE them all they had – just as God gave ME all I have.

The carts were provided for those who NEEDED them to ACCOMPLISH their God-given ministry. No carts were given to those who were not charged with work that required them. The Kohathites didn’t feel slighted and they didn’t complain about not getting carts – because the people who needed resources got them. Ministries need to be strategic in the use of resources. We don’t have enough to follow everyone’s idea about what to provide support for – so we have be selectively choose by the parameters of our own focus of ministry. God directs God’s resources for God’s ministry. The job of each ministry is to pray and listen – to discern the places God wants that work to focus.

Principle #7: All PROVISION must be clearly acknowledged as from God’s hand – and ALL are expected to do their part in participating.

Each in the community were called to give a base amount. If they publicly displayed according to their wealth, some would have been proud, and others shamed. The dedication offering was NOT a freewill offering, but rather the foundational prescribed amounts needed to get the whole Tabernacle offering system in place. This was about public participation and unity, not about amount. The specifications of what each brought were a symbolic covenant that everyone equally pulled their weight and gave their share.

Numbers 7:10 The leaders offered the dedication offering for the altar when it was anointed, so the leaders offered their offering before the altar. 11 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Let them present their offering, one leader each day, for the dedication of the altar.”

Each family shared the same proportions as prescribed for the needs. The gifts of the chieftains fall into three categories: vessels, commodities that fill the vessels, and sacrificial animals:

Numbers 7:12 … on the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of … Judah; 13 and his offering was one silver dish whose weight was one hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 14 one gold pan of ten shekels, full of incense; 15 one bull, one ram, one male lamb one year old, for a burnt offering; 16 one male goat for a sin offering; 17 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five male lambs one year old. This was the offering of Nahshon the son of Amminadab.

Numbers 7:18 On the second day Nethanel the son of Zuar, leader of Issachar… same offerings…

Numbers 7:24 On the third day it was Eliab the son of Helon, leader of … Zebulun; ..same offerings.

Numbers 7:30 On the fourth day it was Elizur the son of Shedeur, leader of the sons of Reuben… same offerings.

Numbers 7:36 On the fifth day it was Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai, leader of the children of Simeon…same offerings.

Numbers 7:42 On the sixth day it was Eliasaph the son of Deuel, leader of the sons of Gad; …same offerings.

Numbers 7:48 On the seventh day it was Elishama the son of Ammihud, leader of the sons of Ephraim…the same offerings.

Numbers 7:54 On the eighth day it was Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur, leader of the sons of Manasseh; the same offerings.

Numbers 7:60 On the ninth day it was Abidan the son of Gideoni, leader of the sons of Benjamin… the same offerings.

Numbers 7:66 On the tenth day it was Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai, leader of the sons of Dan …the same offering.

Numbers 7:72 On the eleventh day it was Pagiel the son of Ochran, leader of the sons of Asher; ..the same offerings.

Numbers 7:78 On the twelfth day it was Ahira the son of Enan, leader of the sons of Naphtali; …the same offerings.

Why do you think God commanded the individual offerings of each tribe be spread out over a twelve day period? Probably so that the obedience of each man, and the unity of each tribe to the others could be observed and acknowledged separately by the people.

Did you notice what was missing in Nahshon the Judahite’s description that was included in all of the other eleven passages? Nahshon was the only leader of the twelve who was not titled “chieftain” – though know that was his designation elsewhere in Numbers 2:4. Why not call him by the same title? The Jewish sages offered a possible explanation – that this omission was intended to prevent Nahshon from claiming Jacob’s deathbed promise for Judah by declaring himself a king over the other chieftains (JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 54). Is that true? I cannot say for sure, but it is important to note that the principle is a sound one. God did not call Nahshon to a higher place than the others – though Judah would one day have a Prince like that. We need to be careful about two things here:

Not appropriating promises that are not ours. Christians are quick to move Scriptures out of their context to adopt them for personal blessing. What God promised Judah long ago isn’t necessarily a promise you can adopt. How many times I have heard believers openly consider promises that were made in very specific situation by God in the Word as their own personal promises? We need to be careful!

Not taking greater recognition that should be ours. Paul reminds us that some parts of the Body of Messiah get better exposure. That doesn’t mean they are more important – it means they are more visible. Ask anyone who is in a cardiac ward if their face is more important than their heart – they will know it is not. In the same way, we who are more visible need to be careful not to misunderstand our own importance.

The Final Tally: 7:84 This was the dedication offering for the altar from the leaders of Israel when it was anointed: twelve silver dishes, twelve silver bowls, twelve gold pans, 85 each silver dish weighing one hundred and thirty shekels and each bowl seventy; all the silver of the utensils was 2,400 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary; 86 the twelve gold pans, full of incense, weighing ten shekels apiece, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, all the gold of the pans 120 shekels; 87 all the oxen for the burnt offering twelve bulls, all the rams twelve, the male lambs one year old with their grain offering twelve, and the male goats for a sin offering twelve; 88 and all the oxen for the sacrifice of peace offerings 24 bulls, all the rams 60, the male goats 60, the male lambs one year old 60. This was the dedication offering for the altar after it was anointed.

At the risk of stating the obvious, it is necessary that we recall that practical side of this whole story- ministry that makes a difference costs something. If we would serve God, we will show it by committing our resources.

Ministry is about shared identity, shared provision and common mission as a community of faith takes what God has provided and publicly and obediently follows His call.

Kirk Nowery in The Stewardship of Life wrote: “At 12:55 pm the mayday call crackled through the speakers at the Flight Service Station on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. The desperate pilot of a Piper A22, a small single-engine plane, was reporting that he had run out of fuel and was preparing to ditch the aircraft in the waters of Cook Inlet. On board were four people, two adults and two young girls, ages 11 and 12. They had departed two hours earlier from Port Alsworth, a small community on the south shore of Lake Clark, bound for Soldotna, a distance of about 150 miles. Under normal conditions it would been a routine flight; however, the combination of fierce headwinds and a failure to top off the fuel tank had created a lethal situation. Upon hearing the plane’s tail number, the air traffic controller realized that his own daughter was one of the young passengers aboard the plane. In desperation himself, he did everything possible to assist the pilot; but suddenly the transmission was cut off. The plane had crashed into the icy waters. Four helicopters operating nearby began searching the area within minutes of the emergency call, but they found no evidence of the plane and no survivors. The aircraft had been traveling without water survival gear, leaving its four passengers with even less of a chance to make it through the ordeal. Fiercely cold Cook Inlet, with its unpredictable glacial currents, is considered among the most dangerous waters in the world. It can claim a life in minutes, and that day it claimed four.

Kirk adds these thoughts to the story: For reasons we will never know, the pilot of that doomed aircraft chose not to use the resources that were at his disposal. He did not have enough fuel. He did not have the proper survival equipment. Perhaps he had not taken the time to get the day’s weather report. Whatever the case, he did not use the resources that were available; and in this instance the consequences were fatal…The stewardship of resources is a serious business; and God’s will is that we give it serious attention. This demands that we have the right perspective on our resources, and that is possible only if we have the right focus on our source.” (Story from Kirk Nowery: The Stewardship of Life, Page 118).

The ending verse appears to set up the next story in chapter 8…7:89 “Now when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, so He spoke to him.” What did God say? Stay tuned…

Strength for the Journey: "Radical Commitment" – Numbers 6

The line between courage and foolishness is sometimes quite blurry. I cannot imagine why anyone would walk a tightrope between two tall buildings. It seems insane. Yet the story of Man on Wire is all about just that very idea. The official trailer to the movie said this:

On August 7th, 1974, a young Frenchman named Philippe Petit stepped out on a wire illegally rigged between the New York World Trade Center’s twin towers. After dancing for nearly an hour on the wire, he was arrested, taken for psychological evaluation, and brought to jail before he was finally released. This extraordinary documentary incorporates Petit’s personal footage to show how he overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges to achieve the artistic crime of the century.”

Whatever you think about Petit’s idea of walking 110 stories above the ground, you have to admit one thing – the guy was committed. Not only was he committed enough to work at it for months – he was committed enough to trust his life to be dangled by a tiny wire. He trusted his feet to remain steady amidst the perilous cross-winds. He trusted his abilities and took on what could only be termed RADICAL COMMITMENT.

Rest easy, I am not going to be asking you to walk on a high wire a thousand feet in the air. I am, however, going to speak about a radical kind of personal commitment. God will not call ALL of us to do this – but he may call YOU. Some believers will be engaged, in each moment of each generation, in a radical kind of commitment that will force them to stand out in the face of the rest of us. If they take on the challenge, we will all be changed by their testimony. We will all be moved to recognize their intimacy with God. We will all be the better because of the commitment of a few.

Key Principle: A specific call to radical commitment may come to you from God’s Spirit and God’s Word. If it does, you will know how to respond Biblically and sensitively if you follow the pattern God left for us in His Word.

Radical commitment isn’t something new – it is as old as a walk with God itself. It isn’t for everyone. God has a call for specific people at specific moments. The important thing about the call is that it demands a proper response. Even before we turn to Numbers 6, let me show you a picture of what I am talking about:

Johann Leonhard Dober and David Nitschmann, were two young Moravian Brethren from Herrnhut, Germany that were called in 1732 to minister to the African slaves on the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix. One source recalls that when the men were told that they would not be allowed to do such a thing, Dober and Nitschmann offered themselves into the bonds of slavery if this were the only way to make passage – an irreversible offer of extreme commitment to the cause of Christ, on behalf of a forgotten people – the slaves. Another source shared the story that as they boarded a ship bound for the West Indies, and the ship pulled away from the docks, loved ones on shore cried out, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!” It is not clear that they actually became slaves. What is clear is that when asked by a court official how they would support themselves, Nitschmann replied, “We shall work as slaves among the slaves.” Another point is also clear. They left Copenhagen on October 8, 1732, and arrived in St. Thomas two months later on December 13. While in the St. Thomas, they lived frugally and preached to the slaves, and they had significant success. Other Moravian missionaries continued the work for fifty years afterward, and Moravian missionaries baptized 13,000 converts before any other missionaries arrived on the scene. Few direct quotes of the two men survive, but one is particularly moving: “Even if no one should be benefited, and no fruits follow my efforts, yet I will go, for I must obey my Savior’s call.” – Leonard Dober

These Moravians, and many others like them, were called to radical commitment. They vowed by the move of God’s hand, to do the extraordinary – and they felt that any less was blatant disobedience to God’s call in and to them. Long before the Moravians, long before the ministry of the Cross of Jesus – there was a pattern for radical commitment. It is found in a group that were called NAZARITES – those ordinary Israelites that were impressed by God to offer a special vow to complete a specific act in accordance with their call. Often they appeared quite radical – but they were following God to do extraordinary things. The pattern of that call, and the proper response is the subject of today’s lesson.

What should a “radical commitment” look like?

It is a commitment that originated from God and is in line with God’s revealed truth (6:1-2).

Number 6:1 Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them: ‘When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to the LORD…” The text offers four truths that help define this radical commitment:

The Lord gave the specific rules – that means that He is acknowledging the burden that came from Him in His people. Because He regulates the practice, such commitments must be according to His parameters.

The person making the vow was individually led to do so. No discussion is given to how the man or woman received the burden to make the vow – so it appears it is not the same for everyone.

The issue of the rules was to regulate not call them to a vow. Because I have a burden for something I am not more spiritual than others – I am just called to play a specific role in what God is doing.

The vow (neh’der) can be for personal service, or the giving of a special offering (votive) for a season. It is always given to the Lord and no other, and done for His purposes and no other reason. Jesus warned that there were those who gave “to be seen of men”. Mt. 6 and Mt. 23 both offer this insight from Jesus: “People who are seen of men because they have desired to be – have the only reward they will receive for their sacrifice right here and now.”

The issue of Numbers 6:1-2 then is this: God may call a certain man or woman to a radical commitment from a burden within for a time and for His purpose. We should not feel deprived if we are not so called, but be readily responsive if we are called. Most importantly, we must check the vow against the Scripture and it must fit into the priorities of God as stated in His Word. God is absolutely consistent: He will NOT call you to do something that He has placed outside the boundaries of proper ministry. Care should always be taken to check a burden against the pattern of the Word of God.

I remember when I was a freshman in Bible College, a speaker came from Inner City Ministries in Chicago. He shared about the terrible conditions of people in his part of the city, and how desperately they needed help. I remember coming back to the dorm and thinking, “What am I doing here? I can help! Why not quit school and go right to that area and start working?” Then one of my older room mates came and sat down to talk with me. He explained that God told me to be at school, and the needs would wait until I was made ready. He spoke of it in terms of a surgeon, whose impulse to help needed to be matched by training to help. I needed to be calmed down. Vows to the Lord are not just emotional springboards after a stirring Chapel speaker – they are considered, careful and planned.

It requires a disruption from the normal life patterns and setting aside of personal pleasures (6:3). It is a distinct call for a set time, taking extreme care to commit every effort to strict obedience (6:4).

6:3 “…he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. 4 ‘All the days of his separation he shall not eat anything that is produced by the grape vine, from the seeds even to the skin.

Because of the radical nature of a specific commitment to the Lord, it is essential that there be complete and absolute sobriety and clarity of thinking. Doubt will creep in when the vow get hard to accomplish – so it is essential for the duration of the commitment to abstain from anything that would decrease clarity, making it ever clearer that the direction was from the Lord, and for the Lord.

Fences must be set away from any possible violation. Every care should be taken to see to it that no one can even claim an influence beside the Lord – so there is both complete abstention from wine, and even from anything that can be made into wine. Though the person under commitment does not vow to be seen of men, it must be clear that what he has committed to do was not influenced by anything but God’s call.

Apart from the vow, the normative behavior was to be able to drink wine and eat grapes. The point is not that such a normal ancient practice was ungodly – it was not. Note that after the vow, they are specifically told they are allowed to do so: 1: 1:20 ‘Then the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the LORD. It is holy for the priest, together with the breast offered by waving and the thigh offered by lifting up; and afterward the Nazirite may drink wine.’

Let me interject here that abstention from alcohol is a perfectly acceptable practice among believers. Since we do not know if another believer was an alcoholic, it may be wise to abstain, at least in front of that person. Yet, abstention was not the norm in the Biblical period. We must guard against any haughty spirit that can be found in us because we abstain from normative practices. If God has told you to stay away from anything alcoholic – don’t even take cough medicine with alcohol in it. We will all understand. It is God’s call on the body you live in – but it is only a loaner body. You must do what He tells you to do.

On the other hand, what He specifies for you is personal, and cannot be applied to everyone in every place. I recently dealt with a woman that knew God told her not to wear pants of any kind. She was to wear dresses and skirts. She wouldn’t even were pajamas that had pants. The problem was that she was busy trying to get every other woman to stop wearing them – and I cautioned her that she had no business trying to do so based on Scripture. Her understanding of God’s call in life was no more general than her personal life. The Scriptures offer direction and the Spirit speaks to each of us through the Word. We need not make lists for one another that are longer than stated Scripture. Follow the Word on what is stated. Ask the Spirit for what is left to license. I have every confidence that if you are truly willing to follow God in all things – you won’t go wrong.

It should so obviously dominate your life that every aspect of it is affected – from appearance to daily practices (6:5).

6:5 …‘All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long.

Most vows and covenants required a symbol. We are physically oriented people. That is why we baptize people – because the work of the Spirit is invisible, but the world we live in is visible. We have a marriage ceremony to represent something that happens in Heavenly places as two become one.

The distinct look of one under a vow also helped others to encourage them to walk uprightly. When someone undertook a Nazarite vow, you wouldn’t offer them a glass of wine or a grape. You would see their appearance, judge their commitment, and help them accomplish it. Believers should be seeking ways to encourage each other to walk with God in the call He has made for each of us. Don’t try to get the other guy to explain all that he is going through with God. Suffice it to say that he is working out something in his walk, and God is leading him. Help him with it; don’t hinder it.

God expressed no desire to have those who were following Him walk around wild-eyed saying strange things. At the same time, you don’t know what God is taking another brother or sister through. We see only what they DO, God sees WHY they do what they do. Be encouraging to one another, pulling each other up with words of encouragement – not pulling each other down with words of discouragement.

It will restrict even normal commitments and desires – and entrust them into the hands of the Lord for that season (6:6-8).

6:6 …‘All the days of his separation to the LORD he shall not go near to a dead person. 7 ‘He shall not make himself unclean for his father or for his mother, for his brother or for his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. 8 ‘All the days of his separation he is holy to the LORD.

Separation to God’s work for the specific time of the vow takes one out of the normal loop of life. We should not enter any vow lightly, because God takes them very seriously. While in the vow, there may be things we would otherwise normally be responsible to do, that we cannot do. This should be considered before we take on the vow to accomplish something.

There are seasons in life when it would be unwise to take on a vow to the Lord –as in when a parent is quite ill and failing. Because that is true, it was important for the Lord to explain exactly what He desired concerning that time under the vow.

One of the greatest privileges of a son was to be the one to sensitively and lovingly care for the body of his parent in burial. It is a strange concept to us, but it was an honor for them. I have only one memory that compares – when I carried the body of a former colleague out after his death the hearse that was to take him to the funeral home. I will always feel that was a special honor for me.

In this time of a vow, a man forfeited that honor, and any other honor that he would anticipate – because the vow took precedence over everything else. It became his passion – his duty and his focus. Jesus warned that there would be radical commitment involved in following Him in Luke’s Gospel:

Luke 14:25 Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 “Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 “Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 “Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Jesus pressed the disciples and called on them to count the cost of following Him. Yet, not everyday are we called to live the extremes. We have to reckon that such a time may come, and we must be readied to know what comes first on the list of priorities.

Brothers and sisters, we live in a time when people measure rights more than responsibilities – privileges more than priorities. We have had the wind of culture at our back for generations, and we have come to expect much more out of life than the disciples of the early years of the faith. We consider any derision in public a form of persecution. Yet, we know little of the days of real peril known to the early church.

Under Emperor Nero, Peter was crucified upside down at the circus grounds west of the city of Rome. Paul was beheaded south of Rome. Domitian is recorded as having executed members of his own family generally assumed to have been Christians. Under Emperor Trajan, Christians were outlawed but not deliberately sought out. Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic had the Church Father Polycarp killed in Asia Minor. Under Emperor Septimus Severus (202-210) the famous martyrdoms of Perpetua and Felicity were carried out. Perpetua (born around 181) was a 22-year old married noble and a nursing mother. Her co-martyr Felicity, an expectant mother, was her slave. They were thrown before wild cows and trampled, and when they did not die, they gave each other an embrace of peace and then helped the hesitant executioner find the mark with his sword. There are thousands of other stories – all like this one. Were they different than we are? Not really. They met Christ and He changed them. They knew He was Savior, and they gave all they could. Why do we expect less? We can and should HOPE for better, but should we EXPECT better?

We may yet see days ahead where extraordinary commitment and radical devotion are called for again. I pray it is not so – but I recognize it is fully possible. It is happening in some places today, and it could happen where we are in days to come. Christianity cannot be indelibly linked to temporal success – that is not its message. The Gospel is about salvation from sin – an abundant life that may seem distant to a Christian martyr, but they die with confidence that God hears every cry, sees every tear, and knows every sacrifice.

Only in the most extreme providential situations can it be broken, and then it requires a renewal to the commitment (6:9-12).

6:9 …‘But if a man dies very suddenly beside him and he defiles his dedicated head of hair, then he shall shave his head on the day when he becomes clean; he shall shave it on the seventh day. 10 ‘Then on the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the priest, to the doorway of the tent of meeting. 11 ‘The priest shall offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, and make atonement for him concerning his sin because of the dead person. And that same day he shall consecrate his head, 12 and shall dedicate to the LORD his days as a Nazirite, and shall bring a male lamb a year old for a guilt offering; but the former days will be void because his separation was defiled….

I love that the Word of God is tremendously practical. God offers this to the one under the vow: If the man beside you keels over dead – you must break your vow and care for his needs. This was a call to the Priest and Levite of the Good Samaritan story. People who have no help, must be helped. Set aside the vow – there is a way to renew and start again says the Lord. Do you see the shocking irony? I must forfeit caring for my father and mother, but take care of the stranger that has no one else to care for him? How can that be? It is the way God works. He knows our desire is for our family, but His providence overrules our right.

The technical part of how to present the specific Nazarite offering is given (6:13-21):

We will not address the specifics of the way to offer the Nazarite sacrifice given in verses 13-21 in this lesson, but suffice it to say that every aspect of the separation and cleansing are carefully prescribed. God did not ask men to take on the seriousness of the day without ample instruction as to what they must do and not do. He is a precise God. (6:13-21).

Finally, there are unique benefits of the radically committed to the community (6:22-27).

God called some to a vow before Him. He had them make a radical commitment. He nudged their hearts with a prayer burden and a spiritual burning fire within. They felt it. They knew they needed to abandon all other pursuits and follow Him. Their names may seem a blur, buried in the past of ministries and commitments – but they are God’s heroes.

They are men like Adoniram Judson – called to reach into south central Asia, and David Livingstone – called to the dark continent called the “white man’s grave yard”. They were single women like Charlotte (Lottie) Diggs Moon and Amy Carmichael. They were student volunteers like C.T. Studd converted at a Moody evangelistic crusade and sent to China, India and later Africa. There was John R. Mott who reached into China, the likes of Rowland Bingham of the earliest days of Sudan Interior Mission. One writer introduced Mr. Bingham in this way: “Failure, death, and despair marked the beginnings of the Sudan Interior Mission..”.

What made these people surrender comfort and loving care of home to go so very far away? God’s burning passion within. God’s flaming call that pulled them from normal life. There may be a life like that today, right in the sound of my voice. God may be calling someone to extraordinary commitment. I mention their names and feel the words of Hebrews 11: “of whom the world was not worthy.”

Their lives pave a road for the Gospel, and the salvation of the souls of men. Look at the blessing they become to all of the people of God:

6:22 …Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them: 24 The LORD bless you, and keep you; 25 The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; 26 The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.’ 27 “So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them.”

Two times in the verses, God’s face is mentioned as turning toward His people. His tender but mighty attentions flow to those who are prepared to “leave it all on the field” for the Lord. Half hearted commitment doesn’t move God’s face – whole surrender does. How can we give Him less if He calls us to lay down all for Him?

A specific call to radical commitment may come to you from God’s Spirit and God’s Word. If it does, you will know how to respond Biblically and sensitively if you follow the pattern God left for us in His Word.

I close with a passage taken out of the book: From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya that slaps my commitment in the face every time I read it, It is a selection about Mary Moffatt, wife of Robert Moffatt:

The Moffats’ early years in Kuruman were filled with hardships. They lived in primitive conditions, their first home being a mud hut, with the kitchen separate from the house. Although Mary was not used to doing heavy domestic work, she adapted to African life remarkably well. She washed clothes by hand in the river and cooked on an open fireplace. She overcame her aversion to cleaning the floors with cow dung and even recommending it: “It lays the dust better than anything and kills the fleas which would otherwise breed abundantly.” Her husband Robert wrote: “Our labors might be compared to the attempts of a husbandman laboring to transform the surface of granite rock into arable land.”

I read this stuff and think to myself – Randy, you are a wimp. Shut up. Just shut up. They ministered in radical commitment – you (I tell myself) need to stand silent as you read their names. Radical commitment may grab your heart. Count the cost, but look even further. At the end of life’s journey, when the whole ordeal is over, the face of the Savior stands at the finish line of life. Run to see Him smile – and the journey will be worth it all!

Strength for the Journey: "The Asp's Poison" – Numbers 5:11-31

Though you may have heard differently back in your school days – I have some news for you: Cleopatra probably didn’t die of an “Asp” bite to her bosom. According to modern toxicologists, “Cleopatra actually used a mixture of hemlock, wolfs bane and opium to end her life.” The name of the snake as an Asp is actually also inaccurate –it actually referred to an assortment of venomous snake species found in the Nile region – but would likely have been the Egyptian cobra – if she used a snake at all. It is true that in the end of dynastic Egypt and into the period of Roman domination, the asp was a decorative symbol of royalty in some court art – a mascot if you will. If that is how we mean it – then she died BIT by the throne itself – as did many rulers who tried to withstand the inevitable rise of Roman domination on their shores. That would not have been an inaccurate assessment.

It is also true that in both ancient Egypt and Greece, an asp posseses potent venom that made it useful as a means of execution for criminals who were thought deserving of a more dignified death than that of typical executions. According to the Platonist philosopher Plutarch (a younger contemporary of the Apostle Paul), Cleopatra tested various deadly poisons on condemned persons and animals for daily entertainment and concluded that the bite of the Egyptian Cobra was the least terrible way to die; the venom brought sleepiness and heaviness without spasms of pain. In 2010, a German historian along with a toxicologist came to the conclusion the old version of her death was highly unlikely. At the same time, that explanation will not quickly leave us, because it is the one so artfully explained in William Shakespeare’s writings by none other than Cleopatra herself in Act V, scene II of “Antony and Cleopatra” – and you know the “movie version” wins over the actual historical event most every time.

You may be asking, “Why are we discussing venomous snakes?” Because most all of us have suffered from the bite of one that slithered across our path more than once. He is not a cobra… but he possesses a deadly venom. He is a snake whose venom is jealousy. King Saul suffered from its pangs when he heard the people say: “Saul has killed his thousands, David tens of thousands..” It nearly drove him mad – and jealousy will do that. In today’s lesson we want to deal with an antidote that God gave for jealousy. Left to itself, the poison will kill you. It will poison you, and then poison the relationship – killing every good thing once found between you. Like bitterness – jealousy can be remedied alone (one can come to peace without another person’s help) – but it is much more difficult to do if a suspicion of violation in the relationship is not confronted and settled.

Remember that God’s instruction in the “Law of Jealousy” was part of a bigger picture that we began to sketch out in the previous lesson in Numbers 3-5. We saw the principle in our study that:

Key Principle: God placed specific barriers and fences to protect the people, and wanted the people to pay close attention to follow the Word He has given concerning contacts and divisions among people.

Before we look at the “Law of Jealousy”, let’s set the text well…Numbers 5 includes commands to three kinds of people. In today’s lesson we will briefly review the first two of them, and then focus on the third. The three kinds are:

1. People who needed to get out of the camp (5:1-4).
2. People who needed to get right with God (5:5-8).
3. People who needed to get straight with one another (5:11-31).

Each of these should be handled carefully, and separately…

First, there were people who were defiled by contact with the dead or by manifestations of bodily discharges. They needed separation.

Numbers 5:1 “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Command the sons of Israel that they send away from the camp every leper and everyone having a discharge and everyone who is unclean because of a dead person. … so that they will not defile their camp where I dwell in their midst.”…

In review, let’s pick up only five quick highlights of what we said in the previous lesson:

1. Passages like this can easily be dismissed as only pertaining to the health conditions of the ancient desert – but we should look more broadly to the principle behind the separation barrier.

2. In the Bible the term defilement isn’t necessarily about specific sin in the life of the person who is defiled. Defilement may mean that you aren’t ready to serve God in your function at that moment.

3. God knows that His people are not always wise concerning their own limitations. They are often tempted to keep going, even when we should stop. Ineligibility may help stem off burnout. Here were the reasons one was set aside in the text:

• Sickness: People who were are sick, especially with something that was “catching”..

• Discharges: People with an active blood seepage. Not due to specific sin, but due to a sinful state – it is a status problem, not necessarily a participation problem.

• Death of a loved one: People who are handling the burial of their loved ones. I believe there is a Biblical case to be made for suspension of service by ministry people who have lost their spouse. I think it is both unwise and in my view unbiblical for them to continue right away. A time of grief should be granted and enforced by those involved in leadership.

4. The ultimate point of all this was that people weren’t always ready to keep going – even if we thought we NEEDED to for the sake of others. God was introducing a condition to get them to slow down and look at life differently.

5. Finally, but very importantly, we made the point that we are not more compassionate than God – nor do we have a better sense of our REAL responsibility than He does. He made rules so that REAL compassion and true responsibility could thrive.

Second, there were people that were caught up in sin. They needed repentance, restoration and in some cases to pay restitution.

The text turned from those who were told to go away from others because of defilement, to others who were told that their actions had separated them from others and they needed to be restored.

Numbers 5:5: “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 6 “Speak to the sons of Israel, ‘When a man or woman commits any of the sins of mankind, acting unfaithfully against the LORD, and that person is guilty, 7 then he shall confess his sins which he has committed, and he shall make restitution in full for his wrong and add to it one-fifth of it, and give it to him whom he has wronged

Skipping a pebble across the text for a review, we should not forget four things we discussed:

• People who take from others what they have not rightfully earned need to be dealt with openly – but with a view toward restoring them. God instructed the way to make it right, not just angry discipline about wrong.

• It was necessary not only to give back what you took, but to go the extra mile and give back MORE.

• If we have wronged another, Jesus said it was more important that you make it right then you offer your gift to God at the altar.

• Become the honest worker you would want in someone YOU hire to work for you. Your testimony will increase, and God will use your faithfulness as a platform to reach others.

** NOTE: Numbers 5:5-8 relate to the sinner corrected, but Numbers 5:9-10 do not. It is a clarification of the ownership of gifts given to those in the priesthood. It says: 5:9 ‘Also every contribution pertaining to all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel, which they offer to the priest, shall be his. 10 ‘So every man’s holy gifts shall be his; whatever any man gives to the priest, it becomes his.’” This was a simple clarification brought up in light of the previous comments, and sought to make clear that all gifts passed to a priest became the property of that priest. It was given in the context of theft, so that it was clear that a gift constituted a change of ownership, and was irrevocable.

Now the text turned to where we began – our poisonous slithering friend, that strikes hard with the venom of jealousy…

Third, there were couples divided by jealous suspicion. They needed inspection, counsel and in cases without foundation – restoration (Numbers 5:11-31).

1: Accusations are costly, and need to be taken seriously.

Whether or not the spouse is guilty – the accusing spouse must present to the Lord both her and an offering. This cannot be frivolous, or he will lose valuable food supplies.

Numbers 5:11 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, 13 and a man has intercourse with her and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband and she is undetected, although she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act, 14 if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has defiled herself, or if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has not defiled herself, 15 the man shall then bring his wife to the priest, and shall bring as an offering for her one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall not pour oil on it nor put frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of memorial, a reminder of iniquity.

Even suspicion is costly. Doubt robs the family. How much better for each of them to have maintained their inner heart and kept themselves both pure and uncompromised. In many cases, there is more to the jealousy than simply time unaccounted for – there is a deep mistrust that already exists and may have been fostered. Some time should be put into keeping clean accounts with one another.

The old saying is true: “Most of our suspicions of others are aroused by what we know about ourselves.” Often people who let their mind wander and heart go astray easily worry about their partner – because they know themselves.

Mark Hensley wrote that “Duke University did a study on “peace of mind.” The highest six factors found to contribute greatly to emotional and mental stability are:

1. The absence of suspicion and resentment. Nursing a grudge was a major factor in unhappiness.

2. Not living in the past. An unwholesome preoccupation with old mistakes and failures leads to depression.

3. Not wasting time and energy fighting conditions you cannot change. Cooperate with life, instead of trying to run away from it.

4. Forcing yourself to stay involved with the living world. Resist the temptation to withdraw and become reclusive during periods of emotional stress.

5. Refusing to indulge in self-pity when life hands you a raw deal. Accept the fact that nobody gets through life without some sorrow and misfortune.

6. Cultivating the virtues—love, humor, compassion and loyalty, etc.

The text of 5:11-15 do not presuppose guilt, but it is a foregone conclusion that before a couple would bring potential shame on their house – one would feel certain there was something to the accusation. There was a specific cost, and a specific person to take the problem to – because God initiated the Law. God isn’t happy with buried sin or open suspicion. There must be a remedy.

2: Sin puts a distance between God and man.

Confronting the accusation of sin needs to be direct between the sinner and God.

5:16 ‘Then the priest shall bring her near and have her stand before the LORD,

We have often declared it – but we cannot neglect to say it. Sin may affect others, but it is chiefly directed against God Himself. As a result, when I am wrong with another, I am wrong with BOTH them, and the God that made them.

Do you wonder why God didn’t direct the issue to a CIVIL authority as we would in our modern culture? The issue to God was that suspicion alone, let alone hidden guilt, would defile the whole of the congregation. You know how it goes. First, he suspects that she is cheating. Next, after sleepless nights his best friend asks him what’s wrong. Soon after, a whole group of people are speculating on what went wrong, who the offending party may have been, and what is wrong with the straying spouse. In a matter of a short time, some will weigh in as “experts” on the behavior of the two. The whole process has all the reliability of the shopping line magazine that proclaims there are “alien babies growing among us!” We live in a time of too much talk without substantial knowledge. America is swamped with experts on the inner thinking of celebrities and politicians – as though we truly know what they are doing, let alone thinking.

When a woman stood accused of infidelity, the priest brought her near to God. There she stood – alone for a time before God. Any resistance she may have had that hardens one’s heart – was challenged and softened before God’s face. If she were guilty, I suspect she would have been very apt to say so before the drinking of the water began.

Maybe that is our problem. Maybe we sin, and rather than get alone with God and face Him because of the way we have acted – we carry on the charade that we love and respect Him. We act like it surely must be someone else who is the cause of the disunity and disrespect for God in our time – surely it isn’t OUR FAULT.

Perhaps if believers took the time to get alone with God, to focus on His Divine inspection – they would recapture a sensitivity to sin in their life. For some of us, time alone with God suggests a chilly sense of sweeping guilt. For others, it is nothing of the kind. If we develop time with God, if we allow Him to step into our guilty presence and open ourselves to feel the warm wash of His cleansing – “alone time” will not be something to be avoided. The fresh feeling you had when you came to Jesus and He washed you thoroughly can be your experience all over again – but you must get alone with Him.

Get rid of religious distraction. Shut the radio and iPod off. Get far from everyone else in your heart. Really focus on placing yourself before Him. He wants to hear your voice – even in your guilt.

3: The defilement of hidden sin will deeply corrupt the worship place – defiling countless others who do not know why!

God used that place to indicate guilt or innocence. The first sip was water mixed with dust from the worship center is put into the water.

5:17 and the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel; and he shall take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water.

Don’t forget that your personal sin has communal implications. A Sunday School teacher that is hiding lust is impacting the whole body of Messiah. An usher with an anger and bitterness issue is hindering God’s open flow of life in the local body. Our sin is not irrelevant – it is very powerfully affecting others – even if we cannot see it. The worship center was affected by DIRT brought in through sin, and the worship center’s DUST would be employed to deal with the problem.

If she is innocent, the water should be a sweet drink – for it will clear suspicion. God will vindicate what she has been saying – and suspicion should evaporate. It will be based on God’s power – not her honesty! Think about the sweetness of no longer hearing a whispering over her shoulder – because GOD declared her innocent.

Charles Bridges in his commentary on Proverbs explains the quiet whispers this way: “We may seem to make light of the tale brought to our ears, and wholly to despise it. But the subtle poison has worked. ‘Suppose it should be true. Perhaps, though it may be exaggerated, there may be some ground for it.’ The thought indulged for only a moment brings suspicion, distrust, coldness: and often it ends in the separation of chief friends.”

4: Even the accusation was a tarnish against God’s glory in her honor – the truth of innocence had to be cleared!

Letting her hair down, the priest and the woman will stand before God while an offering is submitted to God for His approval. Both her and her husband should avoid getting to this point if at all possible.

5:18 ‘The priest shall then have the woman stand before the LORD and let the hair of the woman’s head go loose, and place the grain offering of memorial in her hands, which is the grain offering of jealousy, and in the hand of the priest is to be the water of bitterness that brings a curse.

God referred to hair as symbolism on a number of occasions. In the Nazarite vow of Numbers 6 and in the vow language of Leviticus 14 – hair was symbolic, and shaving was symbolic. In the case of women, Paul made the point that her hair represented her GLORY (1 Cor. 11). Here, the accusation meant that a stain would stand over her life- unless God could rescue her and vindicate her. Her hair was let down before God.

In several idiom dictionaries, the phrase “let your hair down” had specific meaning. Look for a moment at these:

Fig. to tell [someone] everything; to tell one’s innermost feelings and secrets. Let your hair down and tell me all about it. Come on. Let your hair” and “to relax and enjoy yourself without worrying what other people will think” as in: It’s nice to let your hair down once in a while and go a bit wild. (From the Online Idiom dictionary by Farlex).

It appears to me that both of these senses should apply. Standing before God, I should not be concerned about anyone else’s view of my life. His is the one that matters. I should be able to relax and tell the whole truth. Real intimacy with God forces pretense out. God wants to walk with you the way He did in the Garden BEFORE sin entered the world. You who know Christ are the only ones on the earth with which he can sojourn in that way!

5: Sin needed to be confronted and confessed or denied and rejected – and the wages needed to be made clear.

5:19 ‘The priest shall have her take an oath and shall say to the woman, “If no man has lain with you and if you have not gone astray into uncleanness, being under the authority of your husband, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse; 20 if you, however, have gone astray, being under the authority of your husband, and if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has had intercourse with you” 21 (then the priest shall have the woman swear with the oath of the curse, and the priest shall say to the woman), “the LORD make you a curse and an oath among your people by the LORD’S making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell; 22 and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, and make your abdomen swell and your thigh waste away.” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”

She confessed before God deliberately and completely. The woman verbally swore an oath before the Lord to ask for the curse or clean judgment. The woman must show that she clearly agrees to the God revealing the hidden – if there is anything hidden. If she is not guilty, this will be a simple matter. If she is guilty, perhaps she believes, as many people do, that either God is not real, or not able to see what she is truly doing.

It is a good and healthy thing to recite all the things that would result from a sinful choice BEFORE I engage in the activity.

Randy Alcorn wrote words to those of us in ministry, but the same words can be used for your life as well, in his article in Leadership Magazine: “What Happens When you fall”: The Consequences of a Moral Tumble:

• I grieve the Lord who redeemed me when I tumble.
• I drag His sacred name into the mud.
• I forget I will one day look Jesus the righteous judge in the face and give account of my actions. I will stand there without an answer.
• I begin my journey following in the footsteps of those who have gone before that have forsaken their ministries and caused me in the past to shudder.
• I inflict untold hurt on Nancy, my faithful friend and loyal wife. I lose Nancy’s respect and trust, hurting my beloved daughters, Rachel and Angie.
• I destroy my credibility with my children.
• If my blindness should continue or my wife should be unable to forgive, I may end up losing my wife and my children forever.
• I cause shame to my family.
• I lose my self respect.
• I form memories and flash backs that could plague future intimacy with my wife.
• I waste years of ministry training and experience for a long time, and perhaps permanently.
• I undermine the faithful example of other hard working Christians in our community.
• I would be bringing great pleasure to Satan.
• I would be heaping enormous judgment on the person with whom I was committing adultery.
• I could possibly bear the physical consequences of my sin with diseases such as gonorrhea, syphilis, clomidia, herpes or aids.
• I could even infect Nancy, or in the case of aids, causing her death.
• I would bring shame and hurt to fellow Pastors and elders: (Names).
• I would invoke life long embarrassment on myself.

The old adage is true: “Pure love and suspicion cannot dwell together: at the door where the latter enters, the former makes its exit.”

6: Every sinner hiding sin needs to know the weight of a LIE to God.

5:23 ‘The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall wash them off into the water of bitterness. 24 ‘Then he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse, so that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness. 25 ‘The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand, and he shall wave the grain offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar; 26 and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering as its memorial offering and offer it up in smoke on the altar, and afterward he shall make the woman drink the water.

Another dramatic step of seeing the indictment in writing added solemnity to the occasion. Insuring the woman is fully aware of the weight of the moment, the priest wrote out the curse, and then washed the words into the water cup of bitterness. She would have to INGEST her words – to drink them in.

7: God loves to clear the innocent, but God will not withhold judgment on the guilty who are hiding sin. God worked in the woman’s body to prove her or curse her.

5: 27 ‘When he has made her drink the water, then it shall come about, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness, and her abdomen will swell and her thigh will waste away, and the woman will become a curse among her people. 28 ‘But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will then be free and conceive children.

What a grand moment, when she would be set free from suspicion and God would show her word to be TRUE. Her husband would be silenced about this, and she would be blessed by God.

8: The truth is the beginning of the healing point. The purpose of coming before the Lord was to be absolutely sure nothing was left unanswered.

5:29 ‘This is the law of jealousy: when a wife, being under the authority of her husband, goes astray and defiles herself, 30 or when a spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife, he shall then make the woman stand before the LORD, and the priest shall apply all this law to her.

9: God holds us responsible to TRY to make things right before Him and each other. If you do all you can do to make it right, the sin is left on the other.

5:31 Moreover, the man will be free from guilt, but that woman shall bear her guilt.’”

The end sounds funny, but what the writer is trying to say is simple: If she was guilty – her sin would be her fault. Unfaithfulness isn’t always a two way street. If he walked through the steps and found her unfaithful – his heart would be broken. God does not heap the bad decisions and sinful choices of one on the record of the other.

I am not suggesting that sometimes we don’t play a negative role in the eye of our spouse – I am stating that my sinful choices are MY ISSUE – and so are yours. Don’t blame them. God knows your heart – and THEY are not the primary issue – your roaming and rebellious heart is!

God placed specific barriers and fences to protect the people, and wants believers to pay close attention to follow the Word He has given concerning contacts and divisions among people. When God placed specific barriers and fences – they were to protect the people and heal divisions among us. We dare not re-write the rules.

Strength for the Journey: "Making the Tough Choices" – Numbers 3-5

She meant well, she truly did. She brought home the wounded animal, and tried to nurse it to health. Well beyond her limited veterinary knowledge – she brought in the door a potential pet – but she had no idea what she was doing. You see, the animal she brought in the door was very sick, and the disease spread to all the other pets in the house. Her good heart indirectly caused the death of all of her other beloved pets. As one after another died of the same illness, she saw the problem: Good intentions aren’t enough – they need to be accompanied by right actions. Wanting to do good doesn’t mean DOING GOOD. The difference is found in the actual choices – not simply the INTENT.

I mention this because it helps to frame the chief lesson of our text. For God’s people to move forward in the heat of the wilderness THEY NEED MORE THAN GOOD HEARTS – they need His Word, and leaders that will offer His direction and discernment of His will. That is the reason why God specified the qualities and work of leaders before they left Sinai. There are many traps God’s people would unwittingly face, and leaders that followed His Word closely would soon be essential to success on the arduous path to the Promised Land. The problem is that God’s people can be moved from God’s path with simple emotional appeals to their warm-heartedness of the hurting, along with their desire to forgive and unify – even when that is NOT what God desires in a specific case.

On the face of it, unrestricted forgiveness always sounds Christian, but it is not. Leaders know that. They know that some people will say they are sorry to gain the advantages of restoration, but not truly believe what they are saying. Others bring danger to the community if too easily offered unconditional acceptance. God gave many commands about caring for one another, but He also gave commands to put distance between us and some, and to have fences around us to protect the community.

Key Principle: God placed specific barriers and fences to protect the people, and wants believers to pay close attention to follow the Word He has given concerning contacts and divisions among people.

Our story begins all the way back in Numbers 3, where we learned some principles about God’s establishment of the leadership before the tough standards of Numbers 5 were revealed. We five important truths about God’s selection process:

1: God chose the leaders He wanted for His people (3:1). Numbers 3:1 “…the LORD spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai.” Leadership is CHOSEN and GIFTED BY GOD.

2: God didn’t give enough leaders to do the work – but made them look to others. (3:2-5), They were named from the sons of Aaron. Numbers 3:2 These then are the names of the sons of Aaron… Leadership is TEAM DEPENDENT.

3: God appointed a third group to be brought into the practical maintaining of the ministry (3:6-9). We named them as the men of the tribe Levi. Numbers 3:6 “Bring the tribe of Levi near and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve himLeadership is PRACTICAL.

4: The work was both profoundly serious and extraordinarily unique (3:10). Numbers 3:10 “So you shall appoint Aaron and his sons that they may keep their priesthood, but the layman who comes near shall be put to death.” Leadership is a DISTINCT CALLING.

5: God said His servants were His personal property in a unique way (3:11-13). He replaced the Levites with the need to have a firstborn redemption from among the people of that time and said: “… So the Levites shall be Mine. 13 “For all the firstborn are Mine; on the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, from man to beast. They shall be Mine; I am the LORD.” Leadership is at God’s BECK and CALL.

If you read carefully the rest of Numbers 3 and 4, it becomes clear that God wanted to organize the leaders in each of the groups with specific tasks:

First, God told Moses to COUNT all those males who were from the specified families: Numbers 3:14 Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying, 15 “Number the sons of Levi by their fathers’ households...

Next, Moses was told to divide the work four ways – 1) Aaronic family priests; 2) Kohathite Levites; 3) Gershonite Levites and 4) Merarite Levites.

AARONIC FAMILY PRIESTS: There were commands of priestly work to Aaron’s sons. When all was said and done, they lived for the work of the worship center and cared for every aspect of its operations on behalf of the people. There were four ways this was clear:

They were to watch over the daily work in the Worship Center (3:32). Numbers 3:32 and Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest was the chief of the leaders of Levi, and had the oversight of those who perform the duties of the sanctuary. This included even the menial tasks related to the work (3:28). Numbers 3:28 “This is the service of the families of the sons of the Gershonites in the tent of meeting, and their duties shall be under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest…

They were to prepare the most holy things for proper transport (4:15). Numbers 4:15 “When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy objects … the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them, so that they will not touch the holy objects and die. .

They were to handle the oil and grain of the offerings that were necessary to the operation of the worship place (4:16). Numbers 4:16 “The responsibility of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest is the oil for the light and the fragrant incense and the continual grain offering and the anointing oil—the responsibility of all the tabernacle and of all that is in it, with the sanctuary and its furnishings.

They were to live ever watching over the worship center (live at the door) and keep their focus on worship, instruction and intercession for the rest of the nation (3:38). Numbers 3:38 Now those who were to camp before the tabernacle eastward, before the tent of meeting toward the sunrise, are Moses and Aaron and his sons, performing the duties of the sanctuary for the obligation of the sons of Israel; but the layman coming near was to be put to death…

LEVITES OF KOHATH FAMILY: There was the Levitical work of Kohath’s sons, who worked beside the priests: Those of the sons of Kohath that were NOT from Aaron were not priests, but they had a special call from God as ELDERS among the people. They focused on the worship center and worked beside the priests, but had some limitations the priests did not have. They stayed close to the priests and took their cue from the priests. They were there as godly men who would be ever ready to assist the priestly corps. They cared for the holy implements of the Tabernacle.

They were to live near the worship center and make its care their primary focus (3:27-31). 3:27 Of Kohath … 29 The families of the sons of Kohath were to camp on the southward side of the tabernacle, … 31 Now their duties involved the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, and the utensils of the sanctuary with which they minister, and the screen, and all the service concerning them;

They were to be tested and trained men, with enough experience to know how and not too much to be able to practically serve (4:1-2). Numbers 4:3 from thirty years and upward, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tent of meeting.

Their specific work was to take their cue from the priests, and when things were properly prepared, to move the objects of the Tabernacle, handling them with great care (4:4-15). Numbers 4:4 “This is the work of the descendants of Kohath in the tent of meeting, concerning the most holy things. 5 “When the camp sets out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and they shall take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it; …15 “When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy objects and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is to set out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them, so that they will not touch the holy objects and die. .. They were to stay closely tied to both the priests and the other servants, and not to become too distant from either of them (4:17-20). Numbers 4:17 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 18 “Do not let the tribe of the families of the Kohathites be cut off from among the Levites. 19 “But do this to them that they may live and not die when they approach the most holy objects: Aaron and his sons shall go in and assign each of them to his work and to his load; 20 but they shall not go in to see the holy objects even for a moment, or they will die.”…

LEVITES OF GERSHON’S FAMILY: The men of Gershon were the “fabric masters” of the Tabernacle. They transported, maintained and washed the fabrics of the Tabernacle. These were men aged between 30 and 50, camping to the west of the Tabernacle, caring for the fabric needs of the Tabernacle.

They took special care of the fabric coverings, camping behind the Tabernacle. Numbers 3:21 Of Gershon … 23 The families of the Gershonites were to camp behind the tabernacle westward…25 Now the duties of the sons of Gershon in the tent of meeting involved the tabernacle and the tent, its covering, and the screen for the doorway of the tent of meeting, 26 and the hangings of the court, and the screen for the doorway of the court which is around the tabernacle and the altar, and its cords, according to all the service concerning them….This was repeated in 4:24 “This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, in serving and in carrying: 25 they shall carry the curtains of the tabernacle and the tent of meeting with its covering and the covering of porpoise skin that is on top of it, and the screen for the doorway of the tent of meeting, 26 and the hangings of the court, and the screen for the doorway of the gate of the court which is around the tabernacle and the altar, and their cords and all the equipment for their service; and all that is to be done, they shall perform. 27 “All the service of the sons of the Gershonites, in all their loads and in all their work, shall be performed at the command of Aaron and his sons; and you shall assign to them as a duty all their loads. 28 “This is the service of the families of the sons of the Gershonites in the tent of meeting, and their duties shall be under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest

LEVITES OF MERARI’S FAMILY: These men were given charge over the metal and wood work of the Tabernacle. These were men between 30 and 50, commanded to encamp north of the Tabernacle and care for wood, metal and rope.

They lived on the north side of the Tabernacle, and were told to service the wood and metal equipment, along with the ropes. 4:33 Of Merari … 35 … They were to camp on the northward side of the tabernacle. 36 Now the appointed duties of the sons of Merari involved the frames of the tabernacle, its bars, its pillars, its sockets, all its equipment, and the service concerning them, 37 and the pillars around the court with their sockets and their pegs and their cords….

They also were active from thirty to fifty years old. 4:29 “As for the sons of Merari, you shall number them by their families, by their fathers’ households; 30 from thirty years and upward even to fifty years old, you shall number them, everyone who enters the service to do the work of the tent of meeting.

Now counted and ordered, God again revealed truth to the people, but it was painful for them to hear.

God placed specific barriers and fences to protect the people, and wanted the people to pay close attention to follow the Word He has given concerning contacts and divisions among people.

Look at three kinds of people in the commands of Numbers 5. Today’s lesson will include two of them, the third will have a lesson of its own – because of the specific nature and length of the text:

  • People who needed to get out of the camp.

  • People who needed to get right with God.

  • People who needed to get straight with one another.

Each of these should be handled carefully, and separately…

First, there were people who were defiled by contact with the dead or by manifestations of bodily discharges. They needed separation.

Numbers 5:1 “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Command the sons of Israel that they send away from the camp every leper and everyone having a discharge and everyone who is unclean because of a dead person. 3 “You shall send away both male and female; you shall send them outside the camp so that they will not defile their camp where I dwell in their midst.” 4 The sons of Israel did so and sent them outside the camp; just as the LORD had spoken to Moses, thus the sons of Israel did.

Passages like this can easily be dismissed as only pertaining to the health conditions of the ancient desert. Although I believe there is a connection to health, certainly, I would caution Bible students to look more broadly to the principle behind the separation barrier. Let me explain:

In the Bible the term defilement isn’t necessarily about specific sin in the life of the person who is defiled. Sometimes, God separated out people from ministry and even from dwelling together for a time for purposes that were not related to their specific behavior at all. The term “taw-may” translated defile can be used in a variety of ways. Sometimes it carries with it the sense of pollution of sin, as in sexual or idolatrous sin that “polluted the children of Israel”. In other cases, though, it was a marker of ineligibility for a specific service or use by God – not because of specific sin, but for other reasons. Levites that slept with their wives were not suited for eligibility of service for the next twenty-four hours (Lev. 22). If a Levite has a son that dies, he may bury him, but he may not immediately serve in his position (Lev. 21). The point of such commands included some health and cleanliness concerns, but they were focused also on the servant’s ability to concentrate on their work appropriately.

Defilement may mean that you aren’t bad, but because of something happening in your life, you aren’t ready to serve God in your function at that moment.

We don’t have such a standard today. We keep going, even when we should stop. I don’t know how many times I have counseled men in ministry that were in trouble in their life, and much of it stemmed from the same thing – the expectation that no matter what happened to them, they needed to be ready to keep going. Look at the three specific conditions of ineligibility:

People with a communicable disease. When we are sick, it is related to the fall and sin in general, but not necessarily related to a specific sin we are engaged in. Sickness may remove someone from active service for a time, particularly if it is a sickness that can be spread by them. An usher with the flu on Sunday morning can thin out a Sunday night crowd! We seem to have this exception fairly well imbedded in our day, so we will move on.

People with an active blood seepage. Under the Law, women were defiled during their monthly cycle as part of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. The accompanying pain and discomfort is a testament that mutiny against God has its price in everyday life – just as the experience of the man who breaks his body to plant in an unyielding field experienced. No woman is specifically SINFUL because of this ineligibility to be among her people – it is because she is a SINNER. Sickness, discharges and defilements are because we are all SINNERS, not because we have specifically SINNED in some area. It is a status problem, not necessarily a participation problem. Having said that, God did make the point elsewhere in Scripture that He may use sickness as a discipline to His people. Some people are held out of participation by a discharge or lesion that God intended to keep them from further contaminating the ministry with sinful practices. I have in mind the specifics of 1 Corinthians 11.

People who are handling the burial of their loved ones. No place is the “Fall of Man” so powerfully recalled as at the burial site. Physical death is an illustration of separation from God – spiritual death – that took place when the mutiny of the Garden occurred. In the Bible, the dead were handled by their family and prepared for burial. The caring for the body, with all its health dangers, removed people from the camp for a time. At the same time, I would suggest there was another reason. Perhaps those involved in the process of burial were NOT READY to be back into the flow of their life, and the time away allowed them to put some time into healing from the loss – even though it would take much longer to truly heal. The first stages of grief, in this view, would eliminate someone from service. I believe there is a Biblical case to be made for suspension of service by ministry people who have lost their spouse. I think it is both unwise and in my view unbiblical for them to continue right away. A time of grief should be granted and enforced by those involved in leadership.

The point of all this is that we aren’t always ready to keep going – even if we think we NEED to for the sake of others. We can WANT to do the right thing, but that isn’t the same as DOING the right thing.

God may be introducing a condition to get you to slow down and look at life differently. If you are not well, you should take the time, away from others, to get well – particularly if what you have can be spread to them. If you are suffering from a loss or facing some condition that is messing with your body and emotional life – you may need to set aside some time for recovery – and get off the firing line. It is unwise to push past events and trauma of body.

God commanded the leper to be removed from the camp. That doesn’t SOUND very understanding! Why was He being so MEAN? What if, because we have compassion on the leper, we decide to keep him in the camp? What would happen? In short, the malady would spread and others would be hurt. Here is the point: We are not more compassionate than God. He made rules so that REAL compassion could thrive.

I constantly hear people in our day that for the sake of compassion re-draw God’s stated lines. We want to have compassion on the brutalized and victimized woman who was raped, so we make the exception in our stand on life – because we think compassion is defined by OUR WAY of looking at things – it isn’t. God introduced a baby on the planet through a vicious and despicable act – but the baby isn’t a disease to be destroyed or a monster to be slain – it is God’s answer to man’s sin sickness. That baby has the mark of blessing that can only be understood by one like Joseph of old who said “what another meant for evil, God meant for good.” Compassion misplaced is injustice allowed.

Second, there were people that were caught up in sin. They needed repentance, restoration and in some cases to pay restitution.

In direct contrast to some people who were told to go away from others because of defilement, others were told that their actions had separated them from others and they needed to be restored. Numbers 5:5: “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 6 “Speak to the sons of Israel, ‘When a man or woman commits any of the sins of mankind, acting unfaithfully against the LORD, and that person is guilty, 7 then he shall confess his sins which he has committed, and he shall make restitution in full for his wrong and add to it one-fifth of it, and give it to him whom he has wronged. 8 ‘But if the man has no relative to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution which is made for the wrong must go to the LORD for the priest, besides the ram of atonement, by which atonement is made for him.

God made specific conditions of restoration for those who deliberately acted in a way that hurt another. When either a man or woman acted unfaithfully – meaning a deliberate act that broke the relationship, and when they were found to be guilty of that act – they were to ADMIT THEY WERE WRONG. Next, they were to give back what they took away (implying the primary sin in view here was one of theft). They were to add a 20% “markup” on the restoration and give that to the wounded party, or their estate. They were reconciled to the wounded one through this, but STILL NEEDED to be reconciled to God. That happened when they offered a RAM, a valuable asset that would have helped them secure themselves in the future.

Here is the point: People who take from others what they have not rightfully earned need to be dealt with openly, with a view toward restoring them. We are all sinners, and we all want things we shouldn’t want. We rationalize and justify in our own minds that we should have what others have. We covet another person’s good fortune, and we can easily rationalize taking. No one is exempt from the desire, but most don’t give into it. If you did – make it right. Don’t just give back what you took, go the extra mile and give back MORE. If you have taken too many breaks at work, do extra work and make it up – then do even more make sure you have repaid the full debt plus.

If you have wronged another, Jesus said it was more important that you make it right then you offer your gift to God at the altar. Don’t steal money and put it in the offering plate. It doesn’t belong there! Don’t cheat customers and think that by being CLEVER you will honor God and grow your business. For every gift to mission you make from stolen money, you wound someone’s ability to hear the Gospel right here at home.

Be the honest worker you would want in someone YOU hire to work for you. We have no right to complain about a mechanic doing a poor job on our car if we are doing a poor job in our office or factory. It is time for Christians to show their loyalty to Jesus Christ by becoming the BEST WORKERS on the job! We need men and women who will show up on time, work hard even when not watched, and give their best every day. Work is not the refuge of rest for the overactive recreation of your busy weekend. Go to bed earlier and get ready to be your best at work. Your testimony will increase, and God will use your faithfulness as a platform to reach others.

** NOTE: Numbers 5:5-8 relate to the sinner corrected, but Numbers 5:9-10 do not. It is a clarification of the ownership of gifts given to those in the priesthood. It says: 5:9 ‘Also every contribution pertaining to all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel, which they offer to the priest, shall be his. 10 ‘So every man’s holy gifts shall be his; whatever any man gives to the priest, it becomes his.’” This was a simple clarification brought up in light of the previous comments, and sought to make clear that all gifts passed to a priest became the property of that priest.

Third, there were couples divided by jealous suspicion. They needed inspection, counsel and in cases without foundation – restoration. That is our subject for the next lesson! (Numbers 5:11-31).

When God placed specific barriers and fences – they were to protect the people and heal divisions among us. We dare not re-write the rules.

Strength for the Journey: "The Call to Serve" (Part One) – Numbers 3

Despite the fact that some Christians are uneasy with discussing military service as an option for our young people, we are humbled and thankful for each young man or woman that chooses to serve in our armed forces. We support them through this sacrifice, and pray for them without ceasing. We also are particularly sensitive about the needs and work of the fine men in the “Chaplain’s Corps” of the US military. We believe their work to be more than important – we believe it to be essential….

One of the things anyone in the military will tell you is that they learn very early in their time the STRUCTURE of the service.

They know from the smallest of emblems the rank and accomplishments of others around them. They know when to stand for another person, simply because of their rank. They understand respect, and they learn the parameters of each job assigned to them. They are not taught to initiate, but to follow. Theirs is not normally a call to creativity – but to obedience. The military, perhaps better than anyone in modern society, is able to organize a rabble into a squad of accomplishers. Given a clear objective and a chain of command, they are able to carry out mission after mission. One thing is painfully clear about their work: without clear definitions and parameters, the whole system breaks down quickly. Painstaking work on organization in the boot camp saves lives on the field of battle. Under fire, it is too late to learn who is in charge, and how to accomplish team objectives – there simply isn’t time.

What is true about the physical fighting force of our military today was also true about the people of God in the wilderness long ago. They were given a short time at Sinai to organize into ranks before the journey from the Mountain of the Law to Mount Nebo – where Moses looked over the Promised Land before his death. The journey was perilous, and God’s organization and ranking was meticulous. The record of that organization is found in the text for today’s lesson from Numbers 3 and 4.

Before we look into the organization of the ancients, we again should pause and remember that the record of this organization was part of God’s training manual to believers throughout the ages. He intended that organization and preparation be hallmarks of His work in the world during every generation. In ours, it is no different. We are in a strange time in the life of the modern church. Even after churches have been planted in virtually every community of our United States, we find the populace virtually Biblically illiterate. We find believers living indistinguishable values to lost men and women around them. It is as if the army has lost its ability to recognize uniforms, let alone understand sleeve markers for rank. We need to re-examine what God wants from His followers.

Key Principle: Working together well requires defined expectations and structure. For God to be well served, believers must understand the standards for participation, the parameters of the work, and the leadership structure.

To help us understand the whole passage and the people involved, maybe it would be most helpful to recall an old story from the Bible, set at the time of the Patriarchs…

Our story began with a young woman named Leah who had a broken heart. She grew up in a home with a beautiful younger sister, and Leah was not as valued because, frankly, she wasn’t as beautiful as her younger sister Rachel. One day she met the most handsome man, and she longed to have him as her husband. Unfortunately, as was the story of her whole life, the man didn’t love her back – but fell deeply in love with her more beautiful, younger sister. Leah’s father made a deal with the young man to allow him to work for seven years in order to earn Rachel – his beautiful daughter’s hand – in marriage. At the end of the seven years, Leah’s dad switched the younger girl for our broken-hearted bigger sister. She slipped into the bridal chamber, and in darkness she drank in one night of romantic love with her new husband, believing in here heart, or at least HOPING, that if he would give her a chance, she would win him over. The morning sun revealed her face, and her new husband was angry over the switch. He felt abused by her father, and he took some of it out on her. Her charged out of the tent as she lay crying – her one night of acceptance and love sunk into a bitter pool of tears. Another deal was struck for her younger sister’s hand, and her new husband continued to work for his true love – all the while his first wife just wanted him to love her deeply – as she loved him. Would NO ONE understand her need for love? God opened her womb and she had a child and named him “Look a SON!” (Reuben) hoping to get her husband to see her as valuable and important to him. She bore him another child and called him “God has heard!” (Simeon) believing that her petitions to the Lord would bring her husband around as she gave him a future. A third child was born and she called him “Attached” (Levi) hoping that her husband would grow attached to her through this third son. It didn’t happen. She cried. She sought God some more, and then she learned her lesson – God gave her yet a fourth son, and she called him “Praise!” (Yehudah) because she was finally learning to get her self-worth and approval from God and not husband.

Those children grew up. We want to follow the sons of “Attached” or Levi. They went with Jacob into Egypt when Joseph saved their lives during a famine. The sons of Levi grew into a large brood, as did the sons of all of Jacob’s family. When Moses was used of God to lead the people from Pharaoh’s harsh hand, the sons of Levi left with the flock of Israel and journeyed to Sinai. This is where our text is set – at the Holy Mountain of God – as the children of Israel ready for the journey to the Promised Land.

Our story is about one Israelite family – that of Levi. They distinguished themselves on the journey when Moses went up onto the mountain, and the people began a terrible and sinful party around a “golden calf” set up to bear an image of their self-styled god. The Levites refused involvement, and were ordered to even kill others of Israel who were involved in debauchery (Ex. 32). The Levites acted so righteously in that exchange that God commended them in His Holy record: (Ex.32:29) and placed a special blessing on them. When we speak of Levi, by Numbers 3 and 4 he was long dead, but he had fathered three sons that became heads of significant households in Egypt: Gershon. Kohath and Merrari.

In the line of Kohath was the father of Moses and Aaron – Amram, son of Kohath, son of Levi. God set aside all the sons of Kohath that came from Aaron’s loins to be the priest of the Tabernacle. Other sons of Kohath were NOT to be priests, were special “Kohathite Levites” that handled the most holy parts of the Tabernacle. The rest of the Levitical family – sons of Gershon and Merrari – were given other important tasks in regards to the worship center of God in the camp of Israel. Our lesson is about the setting aside of each of their duties… but that is not ALL the text is about. It is about something much bigger – the principles of ORGANIZED WORSHIP AND SERVICE of the people of God.

Let’s remember that we are a part of a believing family that extends back generations. God has always had a people that was learning of His love, and attempting to walk with Him. He told us the story of our older brother Israel’s assignments to help us understand our own. Each principle is a timeless truth of an unchanging God – the same God that we serve today. In all the words, don’t get lost and forget the premise of all of this: working together well requires defined expectations and structure. For God to be well served, believers must understand the standards for participation, the parameters of the work, and the leadership structure.

Principles of God’s Worship Structure

1: God set up the system by His Word, and chose the key leaders to lead the team of servants for His people (3:1).

Numbers 3:1 Now these are the records of the generations of Aaron and Moses at the time when the LORD spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai.

God knows how He wants things done. His Word is specific as to who should serve in what capacity. It is not subject to culture or popular sentiment – it is based solely on God’s Word. The restrictions for the offices, the functions of those offices, and the call to those offices belong to God and are specified in His Holy Word. In ancient Israel, God spoke to Moses about which people were to be placed in which service – and it was based solely on their birth. God placed them in the wombs of their mothers, and the womb of a Levite gave birth to a Levite. They did nothing special to be better – they were CHOSEN.

Today, the work of God is carried out by people who were GIFTED BY God with spiritual enablings from their NEW BIRTH. When they came to Christ, they were given spiritual gifts that marked their service in the Body of Christ. They are not better – they are CHOSEN. Every believer was given gifts, and all of the gifts were designed to build the whole body. The point it this: giftedness was a birth issue, not an issue that made them somehow “holier” than others. When we function in our gifts, we will find that some among us are gifted for the operations of ministry.

Without moving far afield, we also need to recall that God placed the parameters on WHO got the specific call to do ministry tasks. He was not an “equal opportunity” leader. In the past, Levites from the family of Merari got certain tasks, but they were not to do the work of Gershonites. Kohathites were given special and important tasks – but not those of the family of Aaron, who alone bore priestly responsibilities. What if I felt God called me to be a priest, but I was not of the sons of Aaron? I would serve in the station God gave me with all my might, but I would not become another because I FELT I should be. God set the parameters. The same is true in Pastoral ministry today. I keep running into really well intentioned ladies who FEEL that God called them to do the work of Pastor. Biblically speaking, He didn’t. It isn’t unclear. We don’t have time to address all of the case for this in this lesson, but it is nowhere unclear in Scripture. How people feel about their service isn’t the point – God’s parameters are the ones that matter, and they are found in His Word.

2: The servant team cannot and will not be sufficient to accomplish the goals of ministry (3:2-5)

Numbers 3:2 These then are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. 3 These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he ordained to serve as priests. 4 But Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD when they offered strange fire before the LORD in the wilderness of Sinai; and they had no children. So Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests in the lifetime of their father Aaron. 5 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying…

Three important truths come from the few verses above. Each help us move in on God’s direction, and understand a problem God was caring for. The group of priests that came from the line of Aaron was FAR TOO SMALL to care for all the work, so they were given a portion of the work to accomplish, and the rest to oversee.

• Privileged: The men were marked by name (3:2).

God gave a special privilege to Aaron’s sons in service, and they showed themselves to be neither deserving, nor intrinsically better than the rest of the people. Serving God in intercession and leadership, shepherding and disciple building is a PRIVILEGE of weak and frail vessels. Pastoral ministry is not given to men that “glow in the dark”. It is given to men that God called – for no particular reason in themselves. Left to their own devices, they would not “deserve” any authority, and they would not exercise prudence and discipline. God granted the privilege, and they should hold ministry in their hands as something God enlisted them into, and God entrusted them for. It is a gift, not a problem. If a shepherd cannot honestly say that they sense their ministry as a gift of God – they need to recuse themselves.

• Tested: The men were held by God to a higher standard than their peers (3:3-4a).

In the case of Nadab and Abihu, it appears they became drunk on day, and failed to precisely follow God’s method of putting fire on the altar. Focus on their personal pleasure made them sloppy about caring for God’s work – and that is always a danger. One of the greatest applications of this truth in my lifetime has been the professionalism of ministry. Men in the work have begun to look at the service as an occupation more than a calling, and it shows up in a focus on what they can GET over what they are willing to SACRIFICE and how they are willing to SERVE. The standard is HIGHER for God’s under-shepherds. Their focus is supposed to be different.

• Limited: The men were too few in number to meet the needs of the community (3:4b-5)

The work was too great for the family of Aaron, and the work is still too great for the under-shepherds today. Pastors cannot reach a community, be at the bedside of the sick, pray without ceasing for the flock, disciple the young and care for the old. There are the same hour limits to Aaron’s sons as to the rest of Israel’s sons. The work was simply too much to effectively accomplish. The most important work was accomplishing the tasks God’s Word outlined for each specific office. No one office was to do the work of all. This is the reason that later in church ministry, God made intentional training and discipleship so important. The work of the under-shepherd today is to “train the believers to do the work of the ministry”, NOT to be the professional that does it for them. Good shepherds are working to fill the place with the next generation replacements, because the work will always be both too big, and last beyond the borders of our lives.

3: God appointed others to be brought into the practical maintaining of the ministry (3:6-9)

Numbers 3:6 “Bring the tribe of Levi near and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him. 7 “They shall perform the duties for him and for the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, to do the service of the tabernacle. 8 “They shall also keep all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, along with the duties of the sons of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle. 9 “You shall thus give the Levites to Aaron and to his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the sons of Israel.

Because the work was too large for the priests, God laid out the plan as to how the work could be effectively accomplished. Again three important truths can be gleaned from the verses we just read:

• Appointed: God birthed servants into this privileged position (3:6).

God appoints, God’s leaders acknowledge. The Levites were placed into their position by God, but enlisted into operation by the acknowledgement of the leaders. The same is true today. Each believer is gifted to do part of the work of ministry – and each leader should be busy trying to identify God’s gifting of them so that we can properly train and equip them for that work. Failure to identify your gifting will keep you from participating in the work the way GOD MADE YOU. Failure of leaders to enlist gifted men and women into their work, and motivate them to stay at the task faithfully will burn out ministry staff. The God-given task for anyone in ministry is to search for, enlist, train and motivate those who God has gifted. If we lack those with the appropriate gifts, we should be seeking God in prayer asking for people with the right gifts.

• Practical: They serve in ways helpful to both the ministry staff and the congregation (3:7), sometimes in areas like furnishings and meeting places (3:8).

Notice the work these servants performed was for the benefit of the whole congregation, but the work was done for GOD. They served God by serving the people’s needs in worship. The work they did included much preparation – all this is and was HOLY WORK. It could not be haphazard, and it could not be a second thought. Their priestly attention to detail would make the whole congregation function better. They were to take their part of the work seriously, and do it with all their might.

• Blessing: They are given from among the people and a gift from God to make all things work – it is an esteemed mission (3:9).

I have had the privilege of training many men for shepherding ministry, and have participated, along with the whole congregation, in shaping them. What a blessing they are to us! It is an incredible privilege – to see the hand of God on a family and watch a man diligently prepare for service of the King. I am humbled over and over to be a part of it. It is exciting, and it is fulfilling work. We are blessed when God sends one of these trained from our midst to another place to work in His vineyard there.

4: The intercession work of the minister is distinct and must not be engaged lightly (3:10).

Numbers 3:10 “So you shall appoint Aaron and his sons that they may keep their priesthood, but the layman who comes near shall be put to death.”

God called Moses to single out and recognize His Holy choice for the shepherding group – the priests that would minister for Him. Three important truths ooze from verse ten:

• Recognized: The community will know who they are (3:10a).

The priestly function was important to God, so He had them marked for their work. It wasn’t that the work of the priest was intrinsically more valuable to God than the work of others – that wasn’t the point. All obedient work for the Master is important. The point was that it would HELP the congregation if they knew who was prepared and appointed to this work… Today I bear a title called “Reverend”. It is a funny titular leftover from a bygone era – a mark of ordination to ministry. It seems strange in our casual modern day, but it is important. It is important to ME because it reminds me that people will be watching. It is important to YOU because it marks those who we are expecting something from. What should we expect?

The priest was to be exacting in his work for God in ministry, ever diligent to understand God’s Words and commands better, and careful to find clear applications to his own walk, and the lives of those in the congregation. That is the job – knowing God’s Word, applying God’s truths, training God’s people. We take a title to help recognize that established and acknowledged calling.

• Responsible: They must do their work consistently (3:10b).

The word “shamar” is translated “keep” in the verse, but that is only one part of the word’s essential meaning. The term is also to “guard” to “defend” and to “keep watch over”. It is a word with strong preservation themes. The work of the priestly office was not only to keep up the Tabernacle’s sacrificial system – it was to guard against abuses of God’s Word.

Part of the work of the shepherding office is to guard the Word and the congregational understanding of it. This relates to why it is essential that there is both training and recognition of that training. If a man began to speak out the “word of God” in a way that was untrue, or to introduce immoral applications of it in the congregation, we expect the priests would have been involved. They would speak out.

Increasingly, this is misunderstood in the modern society that we live in. Now, if a political personality stabs badly at a moral issue, the clergy are warned to stand silent because that is now “political”. Let me be perfectly clear:

o If the government licenses same sex marriages, they will stand in violation of the Word of God – and I will not stand silent.
o If the politicians claim that they are able to segment human life into stages, and take the life of anyone who is not self-sustaining, I will not stand silent.
o The definition of LIFE is a moral and Biblical issue – because God created us. The parameters of “fair pricing” are a Biblical issue – or many Minor Prophets should be removed from the book because of their overt statements about that very practice.

Let me be clear: We live in a day when we are left to two choices: government takeover of vital areas of life with all its sloppiness and immoral underpinnings, or free market raping by a party that thinks no regulation is good regulation. This isn’t a Pastor reaching into politics, though the words impact political ideology. Christians have got to be unafraid to challenge both sides of the modern American political spectrum. It is particularly important for me to remind you, dear ones, during this political season – neither side has it right, because neither is deriving the foundational principles from God’s Word.

Republicans are red state people. Democrats are blue state people. Jesus the King’s color is PURPLE.

His definitions of morality are the ones His true church represents – not the other two. Each offer some very good ideas and some very bad ones. Each need to be challenged by God’s church, familiar with God’s Word – and not let off the hook.

We can get so afraid of one side taking control we forget the other isn’t God’s side either. His thoughts are in His Word – and they need to be again in His pulpits. We should not be silent, or cast aside and told we cannot speak because that is political. Nonsense! God’s Word speaks about fair pricing, and about the origins of life – and we need to be prepared to graciously but pointedly challenge from the Word anyone who says otherwise.

We need to speak to principles, while praying fervently for our leaders. We are blessed to have them, and we are blessed to able to choose them. Our President is a man, and he needs our prayers. Our Vice President is a man, and he needs us to intercede on his behalf before God. Our congressman and congresswomen are just people. They don’t see everything and how it will work out. They need our help NOW, and when they time comes our CHOICE later. Our critique must be factual and substantive, not personal and abusive – that isn’t a godly way to behave… but neither is silence from our pulpits.

• Respected: Their work shall not be handled casually (3:10b).

It is hard to read words about layman being “put to death”. It is hard to understand why God so abruptly made clear that He wanted those who were not in the position to recognize that truth. He made clear that ministry wasn’t a casual thing. Service to God isn’t a “spare time” pursuit of the marginally interested. God is looking for people who take what He is doing in their community very seriously, and work diligently to train the next generation to stand for God.

We measure all our work by one standard: “Will it help construct disciples that will make other disciples?” We could have comedy nights and barn dances – and that would make the church at the center of your social life. Is that the call of God to us? I would argue that it is NOT. We can have the occasional fun time, but that isn’t even CLOSE to our primary purpose. The work is serious and important, and requires those who will seriously train to do it.

5: God marked His servants as His special ones among men (3:11-13).

Numbers 3:11 Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “Now, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the sons of Israel instead of every firstborn, the first issue of the womb among the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall be Mine. 13 “For all the firstborn are Mine; on the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, from man to beast. They shall be Mine; I am the LORD.”

Let’s thank God for some great men and women that He is using and has used in our lives. Look at what the Word reminds:

• Chosen: God specially marked them as His own in a unique property (3:11-13a).

In my life, men like Dr. Ken Masteller who first explained the Gospel to me, or Dr. Jack Jacobs, who first taught me sound methods of Bible study will forever be important in my heart. National Pastors like Chuck Swindoll and his infectious laughter, or John MacArthur and his careful studies will always be tied into my own teaching. Dr. John Caywood, who taught me in a classroom proper study methods helped me more than he could ever know. Pastor Herb Mitchell was used of God in my life to show me practical aspects of ministry. I made my first, and some of my most classic ministry blunders under his ministry tutelage. My life has been blessed with literally dozens of men who have helped, some over the airwaves and others in the classroom of church service. It doesn’t matter – they all helped shape me in some way, and I want to celebrate them. I want to be on the list of other men as they go forward. It is a unique blessing to pass what has been passed to you!

• Separated: God pulled them from the many and made them unique in His eyes (3:13b).

You can hear it ever so clearly: “They are MINE!” We must be careful about how we criticize God’s choice servants. I have been ever so blessed to have many supportive and loving leaders around my life – that is the truth! At the same time, I am quite amazed at how some people speak of men in other ministry places. Remember: they are but men and they make mistakes – but it is a holy calling. I can only hope for those who go out from this place in training that they will be granted such affirming and lovingly supportive people as I have been surrounded with!

At the same time, the words “They are MINE” are sobering to me as I serve my King. I am His unique possession – and I cannot fail to prepare or sluff off in my duties, no matter the temptation to do so. It is essential that we make choices that honor Him, and remember He is watching in the study and preparation, as well as the delivery!

Today’s ministry seems like it is moving faster than ever before, but it may not be heading in the right direction. We need to consider this story:

Years ago in Dublin, Ireland a lecturer named Thomas Henry Huxley lurched out in a horse drawn taxi. It was toward the end of the nineteenth century and Huxley has offered series of blistering verbal attacks on Christianity in public lectures and writings, especially aimed at the “alleged resurrection” of Jesus of Nazareth. He was a devoted disciple of Charles Darwin, and felt his calling to destroy the church in Europe. He was a famous biologist, teacher, author, defender of evolutionary theory. He was bold, convincing and a self-avowed humanist. He had become a traveling lecturer. Having finished another series of public assaults against several truths Christians held sacred, Huxley was in a hurry the following morning to catch his train to the next city. He took one of Dublin’s famous horse-drawn taxis and settled back with his eyes closed to rest himself for a few minutes. He assumed the driver had been told the destination by the hotel doorman, so all he said as he got in was, “Hurry . . . I’m almost late. Drive fast!” The horses lurched forward and galloped across Dublin at a vigorous pace. Before long Huxley glanced out the window and frowned as he realized they were going west, away from the sun, not toward it. Leaning forward, the scholar shouted, “Do you know where you are going?” Without looking back, the driver yelled a classic line, not meant to be humorous, “No, your honor! But I’m driving very fast!” (revised from sermon central).

…I mention him because it seems it is time for our country to take a look out the window. Deficits are doubling, moral thinking is sinking. We are actually debating the morality of beastiality in the news. Our education system is one of the most expensive on earth, but our abilities are sinking. Our past strengths are giving way. We are moving fast in technology – but are we headed in the right direction?

Now look at the church as it is poised to answer the assault of our day… are we heading in the right direction? There is a Japanese saying, “A vision without action is just a daydream, but an action without vision is plain disaster.” ( Perhaps it is time to look out the window and evaluate the direction we are taking in the ministry of Jesus as well. Is our expectation of our church framed on Biblical concepts or popular modern notions?

We must remember, working together well requires defined expectations and structure. For God to be well served, believers must understand the standards for participation, the parameters of the work, and the leadership structure.

Strength for the Journey: "Designer Travel" – Numbers 2

In all of my travels I have learned a few very important tips. I know where to shop in Paris when my luggage gets lost. I know where to get leaves from old C16th books in Istanbul. I know where the best sunset view is on Mykonos in the Greek Islands. One of the most important tips is this: Never use new or beautiful luggage on an overseas trek – it is sure to be abducted, lost or damaged. Occasionally I see people with brand new and very expensive designer luggage on the journey. I wonder if they have any idea how that nice piece of personal expression is about to get beaten up.

Today’s lesson is about God’s design for a society that is about to go on a journey – a nation on the road. Their nation was one that wanted to walk with Him – at least in its leadership. Though we don’t live in such a nation, we once did, and the desire to spread His Word and teach it to our citizenry marked a high point in our progress and expansion of the nation. It may be possible that we will have such a privilege again – we pray for such a thing. At the same time, we will always need to understand what God thought was most important to organizing a nation that would walk with Him – and that is one of the purposes of the Book of Numbers.

If you are an organizer, if you love the “container store”, this book is for you. If you find yourself frequently making lists, enjoying filing or organizing closets – this is your stop in the Bible. It is a book about God’s prescribed organization for the journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Amid the biographies and stories of the journey, this book gives a peek at the priorities of God, through His organization. Look in the cabinets of a friend’s kitchen and their organization will clue you in to what they like to cook, and what they eat. Look into the Book of Numbers and you will see what God’s priorities for the nation to move forward were, and how believers were to organize the daunting journey ahead.

Don’t forget this critical connection point: You are also undertaking a journey from redemption to Promised Land – and your journey is through the harsh desert of life. There are friends and companions for this journey. There are oases of refreshment, and palms of joy to hide under for a season. At the same time – the environment is increasingly HOSTILE to the child of God. As the temperature rises and evil men dominate, a plan for movement through this plain will become more and more essential. Around what priorities did God shape the believers long ago as they faced the journey ahead? Here is our story…

Key Principle: God organized the nation around three critical priorities: identity and strength of family, centrality of worship and necessity of training (education).

In our first lesson from Numbers, we saw that preparation for any serious journey had to be undertaken with care and forethought. What should be packed? What is essential for safety? There is more to it than just a few band aids and a water bottle. The journey for the believer from the point of God’s rescue from darkness to the Promised Land will require a careful plan, meticulously executed.

• They heard God and knew it was essential to take HIS WORD on the journey.
• God told them to build the TEAM – for the journey cannot be taken alone.
• He instructed them to be prepared for a FIGHT – the journey would include battles.
• They were commanded to search diligently for current and future LEADERS from their ranks.
• They recognized, early on, the need to carefully OBEY God’s commands –not just discuss and learn them.
• And finally, they were to keep the WORSHIP OF GOD close to every step – journeying with the heart monitored.

A step closer to leaving Sinai, both the CIVIL leader (Moses) and the SACRED leader (Aaron) were called upon by God and told to order how the believers were physically arranged in their society.

• Numbers 2:1 makes the point that a proper society that honors God is led by men and women that HEAR from God. They are NOT embarrassed to say they know Him, nor are they embarrassed to suggest that He is knowable and speaking. We need leaders who will give us more than the “touchy feely” Hallmark card God – we need them to direct us to a God who SEES and REQUIRES things of us.

• The same verse makes another point –community leaders should not hesitate to stand on God’s priorities and call on people to follow them. We need bold leaders that are unapologetic about their core values – not timid leaders who choose right and wrong by the popular polls. Evil will get more brazen as time moves forward – but we cannot be bullied into backing away from truth. The most serious compromises happen when people represent something and then fold under pressure.

We saw it recently with a fast food chain. In July, Chick-fil-A came under fire when its president, Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press:

We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.”

Almost immediately came an unbelievable bullying by the “tolerance world”. Mayors weighed in and said they would deny the franchise a right to have a site in their city. In a quiet way the government message to businesses with Biblical views was unmistakable: “Open your mouth about your views in the public sector and we will punish you for your position.”

An openly rude and crude display flared across America. People formed protests that destroyed property and impeded business in thousands of restaurants. Christians rallied on Facebook and came back with a purchasing spree. Chickens across the country wept as sales skyrocketed. Finally, the company decided to pull its support from organizations that support a Biblical family agenda, and the company apologized in its new statement on “Who we are”, suggesting they wanted to stay away from any “social policy debates” in the future. Analysts say the company’s chances at expansion were curtailed by their public perception, making it sound as though they changed course for the sake of bottom line growth. Many supportive Christians were hurt, and felt betrayed.

Let me ask a question: “What was the agenda that they were supporting?” What is the Biblical view of family that was so threatening to modern Americans? Why was their support desired, and what was its importance. Do we really lose anything important when we sit quietly and fail to engage in prayer as the redefining of the family by bullies takes place? We lose a basic structure of blessing for our children. Let me explain by continuing to look at Numbers 2…

God wanted to underscore the importance of identity by FAMILY (2:1-2a; 3-31).

God identified people and their place according to their family. If you read much of Numbers 2, this is unmistakable:

Numbers 2:1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2 “The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ households…

• 2:3 “Now those who camp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah, … 5 “Those who camp next to him shall be the tribe of Issachar… 7 “Then comes the tribe of Zebulun, … 9 … They shall set out first.

• 2:10 “On the south side shall be the standard of the camp of Reuben … 12 … next to him shall be the tribe of Simeon, …14 “Then comes the tribe of Gad…16 … And they shall set out second.

• 2:18 “On the west side shall be the standard of the camp of Ephraim …20 “Next to him shall be the tribe of Manasseh, … 22 “Then comes the tribe of Benjamin, … 24 … And they shall set out third.

• 2:25 “On the north side shall be the standard of the camp of Dan … 27 “Those who camp next to him shall be the tribe of Asher, … 29 “Then comes the tribe of Naphtali, … 31 …They shall set out last by their standards.”

When God was preparing to move the people toward their destination in the Promised Land, he helped them to understand their IDENTITY. This is a key to understanding the Biblical importance of the FAMILY.

When you take into account that the core laws of the so called “Ten Commandments” (in Exodus 20) deal first with the relationship of a man or woman with God (in the first four commands) and next their relationship with one another (in the last six commands), it is striking that the opening command of relationships is found verse 12: “Honor your father and mother …” Before God addressed how to treat people, He addressed the family.

God began relationship law with the family because He created the family as the basic building block of a society. The health and progress of any society is contingent on the success of its family units. The enemy has declared war on it, because the defeat of the family unit, or the convoluting of its components is key to swaying people quickly and violently away from all things of God. It is a true statement, the old adage: “A family can survive without a nation, but a nation cannot survive without the family.”

God’s Word made this clear through the Apostle Paul’s writings to Timothy of the “last days”: “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents …” (2 Timothy 3:2). I remember as a youth thinking that seemed out of place in the list. It seemed minor to me then, because I did not understand the bigger issue: Kill the family and you will kill the nation. You will tear down each person’s foundational identity. Natural bonding processes will break down. Mothers will no longer see the nurturing and protection of their children as their highest goal. Fathers will no longer see the blessings that come from remaining in difficult places and pressing through with God’s promises to victory. Children will grow up angry and unattached to their parents, uninformed in morality, and uninterested in God.

It is worth pointing out that Moses was used of God to simply offer: “Honor your father and mothernot honor your “baby daddy” and your “Monday momma”. The complications to modern life that have been caused by the casual commitment to marriage and the social policy of open divorce for $99 have left our country spiritually impoverished. Connect the dots. No clear understanding of “father and mother” and you will have no clear understanding of self.

The movement to “redefine” marriage and family is endorsed by Washington, but led by media. The call to normalization of homosexuality is not for the purpose of growing a tolerant nation that truly desires to follow a moral path – it is for the removal of boundaries that will take us to head-spinning and degraded positions as quickly as “open divorce” led us to where we are in my lifetime. This is not simply an issue of politics – it is at the heart of God’s agenda.

People will say to you: “If two people are in love in a committed relationship, why shouldn’t they marry?” Here is the bottom line to our view: Homosexuality is outside of God’s order for life, and that pattern is clearly and unmistakably pronounced in His Holy Word, the Bible. God is not “anti-gay,” He is “anti-sin” – and sin is defined by HIS VIEW of what HE DESIGNED and for WHAT PURPOSE He designed it – plain and simple.

One Pastor suggested: “The next time someone calls you “homophobic” for your position, call “Bibliophobic” for theirs.” Our position has been around since the Bible itself. Sharing our view were kings and former Presidents for generations and millennia. We didn’t make up biology, nor did we write the Bible. Lest you be tricked, Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 are painfully clear about God’s use of sexuality and His definition of right and wrong.

God’s explanation for the acceptance of the gay lifestyle is that men and women wanted to overwrite His rules on use of their bodies and He let them. He “turned them over” to their shameful desires. His order for the family is ever to be a man and woman, covenanted together before Him as husband and wife. The modern culture can mock this narrative, they can denigrate the place of both a man and a woman in the child’s formation – but they cannot replace the biological necessity that is so terribly obvious. In sex, a man and woman are both essential to the product. Biblically stated, in child-rearing – the same is true. Children need men and women in their formation. They need the commitment to one another through hard things that a marriage should demonstrate. Without it, they will lack something that will take deliberate replacement. I am not arguing that they will be ruined – I am arguing that doing it differently will take specific and targeted effort to make up for the lack of what was intended. It will be harder to raise them well, and easier for the system to fail.

I am deeply thankful to the Lord for the committed Christian couples who have clung to Jesus and each other through the storms of life. I believe wholeheartedly that their commitment and sacrifice to remain faithful will have an impact for generations to come. Make no mistake – God’s intent for the journey of the Christian life was to begin with those who saw the necessity of organizing around the FAMILY UNIT.

What if I came to Christ from a really messed up family? Good question. First, let me say this: “Join the club.” There are many in the family of God like you. Second, let me urge you this way: “How you came in is NOT your responsibility, but how YOU CHOOSE to behave in light of God’s commitment to the design of the family IS your responsibility.”

We must see the importance of what is being re-written in our time. God organized through the family and there are spiritual lessons that can be most easily be understood when we have the stability of a God-fearing family around us. The move forward was organized around the family in Numbers 2, and it is in our churches as well.

• Be the man or woman of God that will pay any price to take care of your parents, your spouse and your children.
• Don’t pawn off the moral education of your children to a state provided agency.
• Don’t take the easy way out when your marriage gets in rough waters. Generations from now, your descendants will be glad you stuck with it.

God wanted the whole society to recognize the central place of WORSHIP:

A second basic lesson of Numbers 2 can be found in the place of WORSHIP in the community. Again, our world is answering the generations that founded churches with a harsh voice. Remember this: the hospitals of our country were begun by believers to help people. The educational institutions of our country were begun to help people know Christ and His Word. The original charities of the country were designed by men and women with a heart for God. These facts of history are not being taught, but they haven’t vanished. They are facts of our country’s formation. WORSHIP OF GOD was at the center of our nation’s founding.

The cornerstone of the Capitol building was laid by President George Washington in 1793 but Congress moved into the building in by November of 1800. Congressional records on December 4, 1800, show that Congress approved the use of the US Capitol building as a church building. When you hear in school that someone says: “The Founding Fathers believed in separation of church and state”, tell them the phrase came from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to a church group two days after he again attended church at the Capitol listening to his friend, Rev. John Leland, on January 3, 1802. James Madison attended church in the Capitol as well. In fact, from Jefferson through Abraham Lincoln, many presidents attended church at the Capitol; and it was common practice for Members of Congress to attend those services. For a time the US Marine Corps Band participated in the early Capitol church services. The rostrum of the “Speaker of the House” was used as a preacher’s pulpit; and Congress purchased the hymnals used in the services. Don’t get DUPED by the re-telling of our history. Our Founding Fathers believed that there was NO CONNECTION between the use of public buildings and the establishment clause of the Constitution. You would be hard pressed to find any teacher that acknowledges what is still a matter of public record in the Congress. Once we were a nation that was unembarrassed to call ourselves Christian, and put the worship of the Living God at our center.

Go back and look at two places where you can see this truth in God’s Word:

• Worship was to be the focal point of all the nation (2:2b).

2:2b “… they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance.

• Worship was to be chiefly protected by the nation (2:17).

2:17 “Then the tent of meeting shall set out with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camps; just as they camp, so they shall set out, every man in his place by their standards.

If I were the enemy, I would attack the family – and I would attack the notion that WORSHIP was anything more than a scam of religious sounding hucksters trying to get your wallet in their offering plate.

The purpose of our worship is for a believer to glorify, honor, praise, exalt, and meet God in a way that is pleasing to Him. It is the shrinking of self before the greatness of God. Because “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6,10) – and because the process of worship calls on man to “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up“, the center of worship cannot be filled a stubborn, willful, self-reliant follower – God will back away from such a place.

What pushed God from the center of America is what pushes God from the center of my life – the notion that He is a luxury and not the very air I breathe, the very food I eat. Ironically, prosperity was part of God’s blessing, but also part of our societal departure from the God that blessed us. When we see God as non-essential to our survival, we have enthroned ourselves. We have embraced our own image. We have bowed to our own self will to determine our future and our choices. We have believed a lie –we can provide for ourselves a great future based on our own ingenuity – but we cannot. The dark nature within each of us will eventually twist every step forward to an entitlement to feed the fleshly and base desires. In a short span of years we will warrant one lust after the other. Eventually we will exhaust our resources on self-oriented “rights bound” thinking – pushing responsibility on others while indulging self. Man cannot sit on the throne of his own life and not end up self-consumed. It is only a matter of time.

Much mystery in the modern church has been placed on the idea of WORSHIP. It is probably worth recalling what worship IS, and how the Bible frames the subject.

Worship is NOT teaching the Bible, though that can be part of it. Worship is NOT singing, though music can be a vehicle to help it be accomplished. It is NOT giving money in an offering plate, though that can be an act out of a heart that is worshiping.

Our most simple definition of worship is the “Recognition of God’s place in our lives and our celebration of that place.” Let me offer a well-known example from the life of Isaiah:

Isaiah 6:1 “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!

A quick skipping of the stones across the top of the pond of this passage offers the simple outline:

1. Worship begins with seeing the person of the Lord – exalted and enthroned (6:1). He is high above.
2. Worship focuses me on the place of the Lord – in His holiness and elevation of God (6:2-4). He is not like me.
3. Worship tunes me in to the power of the Lord – enveloping not only Heaven – but earth! (6:3b). He is at work in the here and now.
4. Worship forces me to move my eyes from the perfection of God to the perverseness of self – the stains of my heart and life (6:5). I am a sinner.
5. Worship reminds me that purification from God is available. He alone can cleanse, and I can be made whole by Him! (6:6-7). He will wash my sin away when I ask Him to do it.
6. Worship pulls my heart to listen to the plan of God – His voice is speaking (6:8a).
7. Worship, real worship, is met by my opening of the will to follow the purposes of God in my life when His appearance has faded into memory (6:8b).

Remember, our Master told the woman at the well that God loves worship. John 4:23-24, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Jesus reminded her that worship is PRESCRIBED – not anyway we want, but “in spirit and in truth”. His followers can worship God only in the ways He deems acceptable to Him.

• Worshiping in “spirit” means that there is HEART involved. It is not sterile and cerebral. We worship on the inside, where our breath and our spirit live. It is not simply an external issue – it comes from authentic surrender and celebration within.

• Worshiping in “truth” means that there is CONTENT involved. It is not all emotional and spontaneous. We worship from the inside OUT, but it has expression from propositional truth. We don’t just FEEL IT, we LEARN IT. We grow in it. We understand God and life better because we grow in His truth.

God built into the camp a DISCIPLESHIP STRATEGY (2:32-34):

He designed the camp to have those who were trained to know and follow God most closely spread out among the people:

Numbers 2: 32 These are the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households; the total of the numbered men of the camps by their armies, 603,550. 33 The Levites, however, were not numbered among the sons of Israel, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 34 Thus the sons of Israel did; according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so they camped by their standards, and so they set out, every one by his family according to his father’s household.

Levites were not given a single area to live in the camp – they were to spread out. In the land later, they were commanded to “spread out” and live in every area of the land. They could not follow God and end up in one “holy huddle”.

We have to remember that following God in Israel was still a minority affair.

• Extract from Christendom the indwelling of God’s Spirit.
• Now take away the Word of God – all the Bibles that we have in our homes – both real believers and people who drop by every Christmas and Easter to say they are Christian.
• Now take away the hymnal and common culture of the Bible statements that float around the internet and Walmart sale calendars.

One of the great ironies of the Bible is the name LEVI is the word “ATTACHED”. When he was born, his mother Leah was trying to get Jacob to LOVE HER, and thought mistakenly that having his babies would attach the man to her. It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now. She called him “attached” as a statement of HOPE – but it didn’t work.

Interestingly, the sons of Levi were to “attach” themselves to people all over the land, and work to continually “attach” the people to God. It was the work of the Levitical line, and especially those from the lines of priests, to intercede for the people, to encourage a walk with God among the people, to show the people they were God’s special inheritance.

One of the great privileges we have as believers today is to represent God to people in our lives, and help them find Him. We are signs that point to Him; we are representatives of what a walk with Him will do in a surrendered life. It is the reason our TESTIMONY is such an issue. Our generation’s path back to God largely depends in the human frame on our clarity of lifestyle and commitment to common mission. Ours is a great privilege – to open the door to people beaten down by sinful lifestyles and unattached cold selfishness – and expose them to connection, love, acceptance by God and joy with one another.

We must be grown to full strength, that we can spread out and stand for God in our offices, our communities, our families. They may not know it, but they NEED us – because they NEED GOD. Remember, we will never reach the world in a church service – we will only get ready to do the heavy lifting it will take in the training and worship involved in such a service. The field is outside the door – and we are called and commanded to get out there and do the work of connection between God and man. It is not just a responsibility – it is a great privilege!

God organized the nation around three critical priorities: identity and strength of family, centrality of worship and necessity of training (education). We would be wise to try, as much as is within our power, to do the same.