1 Samuel 3: God continued to show up at Shiloh.
God’s presence has been rare and, as a result, even those who desire righteousness have blindly stumbled through life. At our best humans are still pretty pitiful and, in this distant day, most people have no interest in striving for anything close to “the best” anyway. Because of that spiritual darkness dominates. Then, in the figurative and literal night God speaks to young Samuel. Even better than that: God speaks and then continues to speak. There’s something wonderful about the phrase, “God continued to show up at Shiloh.” It has the feel of springtime in it. After the long, cold winter, the sun is shining and new life is breaking out everywhere. I’ve journeyed through my share of spiritual winters: times when God seemed far away and unreachable. But I’ve also enjoyed spiritual springtime. Frankly, my experience was more like Samuel’s than I care to admit, because in my case, like his, I didn’t have much to do with the dawning of the new day in my heart. All I know is that, after the night, God showed up and then continued to show up. By his grace, I will be faithful when spiritual winter comes, but, oh, how I love the spiritual springtime!
Take Away: Spiritual winter comes to just about everyone. How good to be reminded that after the winter season, springtime arrives.
Are you with us or against us?
Joshua 5: “Whose side are you on — ours or our enemies’?” He said, “Neither, I’m commander of God’s army. I’ve just arrived.”
I confess that I love these mysterious passages of the Bible. As Joshua prepares for his first Canaan conquest battle he encounters a stranger who’s holding a drawn sword. Joshua asks his allegiance, and the answer is that this stranger is on neither side. He’s commander of God’s army and has only just arrived on the scene. What’s going on here? God has an army? He sends his commander to scout out the battlefield? There are more questions than answers here. Apparently, the commander of God’s army has come to give Joshua the heavenly battle plan. As I continue reading, the “March around the City” strategy is given to Joshua. In light of the abundance of unknown things in this little passage, I don’t want to go too far out in finding devotional material, but a few things come to mind. First, God’s ready to go to war on my behalf, even when I’m unaware of his presence. Second, God doesn’t claim allegiance to me; I claim allegiance to him. Third, God has a plan that may be very different than my own. Fourth, his plan is always the best one.
Take Away: It’s good to know God has an army, that he’s on my side, and that he has a sure fire, God-guaranteed plan.
The funeral was poorly attended
Deuteronomy 34: No prophet has risen since in Israel like Moses, whom God knew face-to-face.
At 120 years of age Moses is physically and mentally as fit as ever. The years have not taken their toll because the Lord has intervened, overriding the aging process. Now, though, the time has come for Moses to die. Under God’s direction this 120 year old man sets out alone to climb a mountain. From the peak he looks across into the Promised Land. He will never set foot there but he knows his people will. Then Moses dies leaving a legacy of superlatives. The only one at his funeral is the same God who met him alone at the burning bush eighty years earlier. From first to last it’s been God and Moses. I’m a bit sad that after giving his life to the project that Moses doesn’t get to lead the Israelites across Jordan. However, it’s hard to be too sorry about it. After all, he lived long and well. He walked with God and knew his Maker face-to-face. At the end of his long journey, the Lord, himself, lays him to rest. I can only hope that, with the more spectacular elements stripped away, something remotely similar can be said when the final lines of my life are written.
Take Away: There’s something beautiful about the passing of one of God’s choice people.
The water’s fine, come on in
Deuteronomy 20: Don’t waver in resolve. Don’t fear. Don’t hesitate. Don’t panic. God, your God, is right there with you.
A dad is teaching his son to swim and his approach is quite reasonable. Dad doesn’t relax on the lounge chair and tell his son, “If you need me, I’ll be right here.” Instead, Dad gets into the pool and then beckons his son, “Come on in, I’m right here and I’ll help you.” Moses is instructing the spiritual leaders of the people of Israel. Soon these people will cross the Jordan River and engage the armies of the nations of Canaan. They’ll be outnumbered and will face experienced armies in numerous battles. Moses instructs the spiritual leaders of the land to prepare God’s people for battle by encouraging them to be strong and courageous. The reason for confidence is that God is going into the battle with them. Moses is about to depart but the Lord isn’t going anywhere. Instead, thick or thin, he’ll be with them all the way. God is never a sideline spectator to our lives. Of course he’s near when things are going well. He’s also near in the darkness of night. As my spirit trembles he reaches out to me, reassuring me that it’ll be okay because he’s right here and he’ll help me through it all.
Take Away: Everything in life changes, but God remains faithful.
Living as a people of God
Deuteronomy 6: The next time your child asks you, “What do these requirements and regulations and rules that GOD, our God, has commanded mean?”
The people of God are different than other peoples. However, their difference isn’t just for the sake of difference. Rather, their uniqueness means something. They’re a unique people because they have a unique relationship with God. While there’s no question that God is worthy of worship, there’s more to it than worship. There’s a connection between them and their God and that connection impacts everything about them. Obviously, that includes moral behavior but it also impacts what they eat, how they cut their hair, and how they dress. Even their calendar is built around their relationship with God. It’s because of how their relationship with God saturates their lives that their own children and people from the outside are perplexed and ask questions. Moses tells them how to answer those questions: “We live this way because of God. He has rescued us from our past and he has impacted everything about us. Our lives are all about him. Everything about us is about the Lord God.” This sweeping relationship between God and people was unique in their world and it’s unique in my world too. For others, God (or the gods) has his place and when we enter his territory he is to be acknowledged. Otherwise, we won’t bother him if he doesn’t bother us. For a follower of God-Jehovah though, that approach never works. Our lives are connected to him at every level. We live as we live because of that relationship. This is the message we pass on to our children. In fact, it’s the message we have for all who observe and question our approach to living.
Take Away: The Lord isn’t distant and observing. Instead, he’s present and involved.
Step into the fire
Deuteronomy 5: You were afraid, remember, of the fire and wouldn’t climb the mountain.
It was over 40 years earlier but Moses remembers it like it was yesterday. God called him up to the mountain and in that place he had a powerful encounter with the Almighty. The people of Israel, however, didn’t want that experience. They saw the billowing smoke and the fire of God and were afraid. Because of that, they preferred that Moses be their representative while they stayed safely in the valley. I wonder how many blessings I miss because it is easier to stay where I am than it is to have a raw, fire-filled encounter with the Lord. To be fair, there’s more going on in my heart that just my wanting to stay comfortably unchanged. After all, it’s frightening to come face to face with God. To get that close to God is to step into the fire. Intellectually I know it’s a good thing to meet God at that level. In fact, I hunger for him in my spirit. Still, I find myself hesitating to abandon myself to the fire of the Almighty. But I must. Otherwise, I condemn myself to a life that’s a shadow of what it could be.
Take Away: When the Lord invites you to step into the fire accept that invitation.
Intimacy with God
Deuteronomy 4: What other great nation has gods that are intimate with them the way God, our God, is with us?
I’m tempted to focus on “national gods” here. In this distant day each nation has its own gods and it’s unthinkable for anyone to imagine a nation kicking out its gods to worship those of another nation. I’m pretty sure a case could be made that we still have “national gods.” In the instance of my country those gods are named “Materialism” and “Pleasure.” However, instead of pursuing that line of thought (come to think of it, I guess I already did!) I’ll focus on what it’s like to worship the true God. Humans don’t make this God out of some precious metal. Rather, this God makes human beings out of the dust of the ground. This God makes no demand of those who serve him that he doesn’t first make of himself. For instance, before he calls people to love him he first loves them. In fact, this God always acts first, moving in grace-full ways in the lives of people. And, as Moses says, this God seeks intimacy with his Creation. Moses wants his congregation to realize how blessed they are. Of all the nations of the earth, they have the God who willingly involves himself at every level of their lives. Today, this Almighty Being invites me to experience that same level of intimacy, that personal day-to-day relationship with him.
Take Away: What a privilege it is for the creature to have intimate fellowship with the Creator.
“Come into my heart, Lord Jesus”
Numbers 35: Don’t desecrate the land in which you live. I live here too….
I’ve now worked my way through the “numbers” of the book of Numbers. Numbers of people and cattle and cities; who lives where and how many days between various worship events. It isn’t exactly riveting reading. In fact, it would have been easy to miss the pure gold at the end of chapter 35. The issue here is how the people are to deal with murder. Due to the fact that the laws God gives the Israelites are foundational to our own legal system it seems to be pretty common stuff. Actually though, it’s groundbreaking material, reshaping human society. God insists on justice, and adds that if society takes murder lightly the whole land will be polluted. Then he adds, “don’t desecrate the land where you live — after all, I live here too.” In spite of the dreary subject, this is a wonderful phrase of hope. Their Creator, the Sovereign of the Universe, God Almighty says his address is on their street. These days, because of the Gift of the Holy Spirit, things are even more personal. God lives, not just “in the land” but “in my heart.” If God’s presence in the land emphasized the importance of purity there, how much more does his presence in my life call for purity of heart?
Take Away: It’s a wonderful blessing to have the Lord call our lives “home” – at the same time it carries with it a real sense of responsibility.
Now that I have your attention
Numbers 7: When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to speak with God, he heard the Voice [of God]…He spoke with him.
One thing about these ancient Israelites: they know how to throw a party. The dedication of the Tent of Meeting lasts twelve days with each day having its own pageantry and symbolism. Each of the family tree groups gets a day of its own and as the days progress each family is connected to this sacred place. The offerings have been made and now Moses, instead of going up on the mountain to meet with God, enters the Most Holy Place in the new Worship Center to complete its dedication. In an awesome moment, there above the Covenant Chest and between the golden angels God’s Voice is heard. Wow! No longer will it take a trip up Mount Sinai for a meeting with the Lord. Instead, he comes to them, dwelling right there at the heart of their camp. It’s impressive to remember that this wasn’t Moses’ idea. The building and furnishing of the Tabernacle was initiated by the Lord, himself. The Israelites don’t have to figure out some way to get God’s attention. In fact, from the very beginning of their story it’s the Lord who has reached out to them, initiating a relationship with them. So it is to this day. It isn’t that I figure out just what I have to do to get God to respond to me. Instead, from the start, he reaches out to me, inviting me to be his very own. When I hear and respond I find that the Almighty is more than willing to allow me to connect my life to his.
Take Away: God has always been a communicating God.
The more things change the more they stay the same
Leviticus 13: The priest will examine the sore on the skin.
Here I am in everybody’s favorite part of Leviticus. I’m reading about clean and unclean foods, infections, woman’s stuff, and mildew. Frankly, it’ll get worse before it gets better. A quick peek ahead reveals a riveting chapter on bodily discharges. I can hardly wait! Of course, I’m kidding about these chapters being everyone’s favorite. I wonder how many New Year’s resolutions to read the Bible through have been shipwrecked right here in these chapters of Leviticus! Still, I’m taken with God’s interest in every part of their lives. This call to holiness reaches deeper than their making sacrifices for their sins or their being sure they show proper reverence to the Lord and his Tabernacle. When a person gets an infection he’s not only to deal with it from the aspect of personal hygiene but from a spiritual point of view too. Know what, this isn’t as far off the beam as one might think. A while back I went through two rounds of antibiotics trying to get rid of a sinus infection. Somewhere in the dreary days of the second week of that infection, I reminded the Lord that, while I knew there were lots of other concerns in the world, I wouldn’t mind his help in healing that infection. As I remember those unwelcome days in light of these chapters of Leviticus I’m reminded that God’s in play in the everyday bumps in the road of life. The specifics of dealing with some of those things has changed, but the basics haven’t changed all that much.
Take Away: The Lord’s interest in our lives goes way beyond our reading our Bibles and going to church.