Thursday, March 6, 2008

what's the count?

51. Numbers 1-2

It is the custom of the American Church to count and keep track of the number of people who attend each church. Many churches are known for the number of people who attend, and in some cases they are known more for this number than for the witness for God that they are to the community. Because of this focus on numbers there are some who would argue that numbers are not what is important, rather the condition of the hearts of those who attend church. (These are undoubtedly the churches with fewer numbers) So what is the answer? To count or not to count, that is the question.

Bamidbar is a Hebrew word, which is the fifth word of the Book of Numbers, it means "In the wilderness". The Book of Numbers in the Hebrew Tanach is called Bamidbar. While the Hebrew Tanach begins by focusing on the place where the Hebrews are when the book is written, Jewish scholars who study the Torah take note of God counting his people in the book of Numbers.
Because they were dear to Him, He counted them often. When they left Egypt, He counted them (Exod. 12:37); when [many] fell because [of the sin] of the golden calf, He counted them to know the number of the survivors (Exod. 32:28); when He came to cause His Divine Presence to rest among them, He counted them. On the first of Nissan (the Hebrew month in which the Passover falls), the Mishkan (the Tabranacle) was erected, and on the first of Iyar, He counted them.
It is interesting that the Jewish writer points out that God counted them because "they were dear to him." It reminds me of when Jesus tells the story of the lost sheep. God cares about each one in his flock. He cares about numbers insofar as those numbers represent those who are dear to him.

So if we count to make ourselves look good, we are probably wrong. If we count so that we can keep track of those who are dear to God, then we are probably right. May we love people and keep track of them with the most sincere hearts and with pure motives for these people are dear to God.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

the world waking up

50. Matthew 21:12-22

For the last several days it has been pretty warm here in Virginia. I love Spring in Virginia. The cherry trees bloom first then the dogwoods and azaleas. People come outside more often. It is my favorite time of year. I like Fall, but I love the Spring.

One of the things I love about Spring is the celebration of Easter. Yesterday and today our reading in Matthew began the Passion week. Jesus enters Jerusalem in the same way that a conquering king would and the people fall all over themselves to show him honor. Jesus immediately goes to the Temple and stirs things up. He turns over the money changers tables and calls them thieves. This gets the attention of the religious teachers who were probably skimming from the profits of the money lenders. The final week of Jesus life before the crucifixion is filled with confrontation with these Jewish leaders.

Reading these passages is like waking up to the flowers of a dogwood tree outside our bedroom window. It is like getting out to cut the grass for the first time of the year. Easter is coming, Spring is on its way. Out with the old, cold winter and in with the new growth of Spring. Is there any question that God planned Jesus death, burial and resurrection to happen in the Spring? I guess it is not Spring everywhere in the world, but for us, thank-you God.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

the name

49. Leviticus 24 & 25

We use words flippantly in our culture. We say we believe in free speech and use this mantra to excuse certain language. You can read on bathroom walls profanity that would make a grown man blush. We turn on our televisions and invite into our homes language that is inappropriate and coarse. We go to the movies and pay someone to curse at us in surround sound. Even the video games that we play for amusement uses language that we would not endorse, except that we celebrate the birth of Jesus by wrapping these games up and giving them to our children. All in all our culture is overloaded with words. There is absolutely nothing that is off limits. Nothing.

In Hebrew culture things were different. In Leviticus 24 Moses relates a story about the son of an Israelite woman. The text says that this son "blasphemed the Name with a curse." Interesting. Even in retelling the story Moses could not even mention the name of God. Throughout the Old Testament the writers took out the vowels when writing God's name. YHWH. This is what we have translated God, or Jehovah, or Yawheh into English. Moses couldn't even write it. The son of this woman was accused of blasphemy because he said "the Name." God then commanded the whole assembly to take this son out and stone him. The entire community was responsible for his punishment. He was put to death because of his words. Because he mentioned the Name of God.

May we be careful about what we say, and may we as a community be responsible for changing our culture.

Monday, March 3, 2008

you are a priest

48. Leviticus 21-23

Throughout the book of Levitcus God describes to Moses how the priests should be cleansed, dressed, atoned, etc, etc. Many of the descriptions are for the duties of the priests and their interaction with the Hebrew people. Chapter 21 describes rules specifically for the priests themeselves. The priests could not shave their heads or the edges of their beards. They could not cut their bodies. They must not marry certain women who were defiled by prostitution, or had been divorced. And throughout this chapter the reason God gives to Moses for these regulations is because the priests are "to be considered holy, because I the Lord am holy -- I who make you holy."

Now let's fast forward to the New Testament. 1 Peter 2 reads:
9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

11Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Now look at the first verses of 1 Peter and see who Peter is writing to:
1Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Here is what Peter is saying... Jesus is the high priest and you are set apart as priests also. You see when Jesus shed his blood he was not only the sacrifice, but also the priest who offered the sacrifice on our behalf. Now we can become a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.

Are you with me? Do you think that God still has rules for His priests? Shouldn't we be living like priests? Shouldn't we be holy? According to Leviticus priests should be considered holy, "because I the Lord am holy -- I who make you holy." Right? Here's how Peter says it:
13Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."