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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.
Fan the flames
Leviticus 6: Keep the fire burning on the Altar continuously. It must not go out.
Instructions for worship continue, and will throughout the book. The command to keep the Altar fire burning stands out. The fire is representative of God. It was fire that Moses encountered in the desert; it’s a pillar of fire that leads them at night. The fire of the Altar also symbolizes the presence and work of Jehovah in their midst. Because of that, the command is that it never be allowed to go out. The application is pretty easy to understand and not so easy to apply. I want the fire of God’s presence in my life to burn freely – and, like that of the burning bush: never go out. It was the work of those who tended to the Tent of Meeting to assure the perpetuity of the flame, and it’s my responsibility to keep that flame burning in my life. I pray, read the Word, and live in fellowship with God and his people. In the midst of my busyness, this is my priority. The fire of God must keep burning.
Take Away: God’s fire in my life must be tended and never taken for granted.
Rules and regs
Leviticus 1: God called Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.
I know I’ll hear no contrary opinion when I say that the Book of Leviticus isn’t the most read book of the Bible. It’s about sacrifices and offerings and dedicating children and skin diseases. The most direct application of the rules and regulations of Leviticus pertain to the work of the Levites (those who served at the Tabernacle) and not very much to us. The instructions given touch on almost all aspects of how these Israelites of thousands of years ago were to live. In fact, it’s the “almost all” character of these regulations that opens the fuller meaning of Leviticus to us. God is coming down off the mountain to dwell among them. He’s going to inhabit the Tabernacle but that’s not all there is to it. He’s involving himself in every aspect of their lives. Of course, that includes the sacrificial system but it also includes how they’ll handle the messy part of their humanity. It includes their religious feasts and festivals but it also includes how they conduct their business affairs. I may read the prohibition against priests shaving their heads and see it as a quaint old historical fact, but when I put the whole scope of Leviticus into play I see God’s connection to every part of their lives, including how they cut their hair. I never doubt that God’s interested in how I go about worshipping him, and I’m familiar enough with the Ten Commandments to know that he insists on righteous living. However, Leviticus reminds me that the Lord’s also interested in the “non-religious” and “no-moral-aspect” parts of my life too. That doesn’t mean he intends to dictate how I handle the mundane details of my life, but it does mean he’s interested in such things and that he sees beyond the surface to the deeper meaning of things I may take for granted.
Take Away: The Lord wants to participate in all my life.
Walking with the Lord
Exodus 33: If your presence doesn’t take the lead here, call this trip off right now.
Following the golden calf incident the Lord tells Moses he’s going to change his relationship with the Israelites. Instead of being personally present, guiding them to the Promised Land, the Lord is going to assign that job to an angel. These Israelites, the Lord says, are a hard-headed people and they might just push too hard against God and be destroyed because of it. In response, Moses has another meeting with the Lord as the Pillar of Cloud descends on the Tabernacle. As Abraham interceded for the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah centuries earlier, Moses begins to deal with the Almighty. He reminds the Lord that it was the Lord, himself, who called him from tending sheep to lead these people. He doesn’t want to settle for an angel. Instead, he wants the presence of the Lord, himself, on his life and on the lives of the Israelites. In desperate insistence, Moses declares, “If your presence doesn’t take the lead here, call this trip off right now….are you traveling with us or not?” In the face of this intercession the Lord relents. It won’t be an angel who travels with the Israelites; it will be the Lord, himself. I have some theological issues with this whole exchange. After all, isn’t the Lord everywhere, all the time? Still, I’m drawn to this exchange between Moses and the Lord. As wonderful as an angelic visitation might be, it doesn’t hold a candle to the very presence of the Lord in my life. As Moses indicates, he doesn’t want to take a single step without the Lord. As I rise in the morning and enter into my day I want to do so in the spirit of Moses: I don’t want to say a word, to do a deed, to walk a step without the Lord in my life.
Take Away: I want to live in constant fellowship with the Lord, every step of the way.