Good Hous3k33ping

#4 in the Series, “Numbers in so many Words”

The book of Numbers is the story of God’s Kingdom – his warriors, his workers, his worshipers – and their progression in the wilderness.

In part one of this series, God instructed Moses and Aaron to count the warriors, to prepare them for the journey that was ahead. That was in chapters one and two.

In part two, we examined the circumstances they were in.

Part three, which covered chapters 3 and 4 of the book of Numbers, turned our focus from the warriors to the workers. We looked at both the rights and the responsibilities of being a worker in God’s Kingdom.

If you are married, or have been married – do you remember what it was like when you first got married? I’m not talking about the physical relationship, or even what the cooking was like – do you remember what it was like as you got used to the way each other lived?

  • One of you was messy; one of you was neat
  • one of you left lights on and cupboard doors open; one of you pushed in chairs and put the toilet lid down
  • one of you yawned without covering your mouth, wiped your nose with whatever was available, never used a napkin; one of you was always putting things back in drawers and throwing papers away
  • one of you left the bread bag untied, dirty dishes in the sink, wet towels on the floor; one of you organized the silverware drawer, the spice cupboard, the shoes in your closet
  • one of you would wear anything that didn’t smell too bad; one of you would iron your socks.

If you ever had a roommate, remember what it was like? And when you had disagreements about the way things were – how were those disagreements settled?

“I was here first” – “It’s MY house” – “I’m the man” – “I’m the boss”

In Numbers chapter 5, God reminds Moses, “I’m not living with you; you’re living with me.” It’s God’s kingdom, it’s God’s world…we’re just living in it.

The church I attend isn’t my church. It doesn’t belong to my senior pastor, or to the church board. It’s God’s church. “I’ll build MY church,” Jesus said. What he says to us is about HIS church, HIS body, HIS world, HIS kingdom.

So, we start chapter five with these words…

Number 5:1 The LORD gave these instructions to Moses:

Now, stop just a minute. Before we go any further, make sure you get that. “The Lord gave…”. These aren’t rules Moses makes up off the top of his head.  “The LORD gave…” Jehovah. The I Am. The God of wonders, the God of your deliverance. The One who gives breath and life.

Start there, and when the instructions seem hard to understand, when the commands seem beyond your ability or beyond reason, go back there. The LORD gave these instructions.

Don’t be one of those Christians. You know the ones. The ones who go by what they believe – yet their beliefs aren’t based on what God said, but what they think God should have said, what they think God would have said if He saw things their way, what they think is good luck for them to believe about God.

What did God say?

Numbers 5:2-4 “Command the people of Israel to remove anyone from the camp who has a contagious skin disease or a discharge, or who has been defiled by touching a dead person. 3This applies to men and women alike. Remove them so they will not defile the camp, where I live among you.” 4So the Israelites did just as the LORD had commanded Moses and removed such people from the camp.

This is not about skin disease, discharges or dead people. It’s about things that defile. It’s about sin.

About Sin

What does God want us to do about sin? Specifically, what do we do about defilement in the camp?

Deal

In all three segments of this chapter this comes across. When there is sin, it must be dealt with. This is not about what happens outside the camp. God’s not saying – go confront the heathen; go condemn the sinners and reprobates and wicked people out there somewhere. Deal with the things that defile in the camp.

We talk a good game, but we don’t confront sin very well.

Not me, brother. I’ll confront it.

No, not really. We’re good at gossiping about it. We’re good at belittling and making fun. We’re good at giving disapproving looks and talking to all our friends about it.

God said, “Remove them.” That means real, face-to-face, one-on-one, honest dialogue. This is a very difficult thing. We don’t want to offend – rightly so. We don’t want to presume – rightly so.

Face it – we’re afraid. We’re afraid of the reaction, afraid of the response. We leave ourselves wide open to some pain.

But what does God have in mind? What is his goal for us? Why are we to remove the sinful one?

For Restoration

This was not removal so that they would never return. It was removal for the effect of restoration. The camp wouldn’t be healthy, nor would these unhealthy ones get any better as long as they remained in the camp. They had to be removed in order to get better.

Remember that as long as they remained in the camp, they were warriors and workers, and if they were sick, they were infecting everything they touched, they were contagious to everyone they came near. They couldn’t be effective workers or warriors.

They needed to be removed for the good of everyone.

We’ve got the wrong idea about judgment. You probably know this Scripture from the New Testament – “Stop judging others, and you will not be judged.” (Luke 6:37)

But do you know this Scripture?

Romans 14:13 So don’t condemn each other anymore. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not put an obstacle in another Christian’s path.

And what about this one?

John 7:24 Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.

One more.

1st Corinthians 4:5 So be careful not to jump to conclusions before the Lord returns as to whether or not someone is faithful. When the Lord comes, he will bring our deepest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. And then God will give to everyone whatever praise is due.

Confront the sin, not the motives. Confront the plain and obvious sickness that is right in front of you for the purpose of restoration.

This is what the Corinthians refused to do. They refused to confront the sinful one in their church, so Paul had to confront the whole church. The entirety of 1st Corinthians chapter 5 is about this exact situation.

1st Corinthians 5:6 How terrible that you should boast about your spirituality, and yet you let this sort of thing go on. Don’t you realize that if even one person is allowed to go on sinning, soon all will be affected?

“Look, you can’t be in ministry right now. You’re not eligible to sing in the choir; you’re can’t teach a Sunday school class; you’re not able to be in a place of leadership. You don’t get to partake of communion. There’s a sin issue. Let’s get that cleared up, then we’ll take the next step.”

What do you get when you have a church that lets someone remain in the camp that is sinning? A sinning church. That’s an oxymoron. Either the sinner has to be removed, or God will remove himself.

Sin – deal with it.

Let’s go on…

Numbers 5:5-10 Then the LORD said to Moses, 6“Give these instructions to the people of Israel: If any of the people—men or women—betray the LORD by doing wrong to another person, they are guilty. 7They must confess their sin and make full restitution for what they have done, adding a penalty of 20 percent and returning it to the person who was wronged. 8But if the person who was wronged is dead, and there are no near relatives to whom restitution can be made, it belongs to the LORD and must be given to the priest, along with a ram for atonement. 9All the sacred gifts that the Israelites bring to a priest will belong to him. 10Each priest may keep the sacred donations that he receives.

While we must deal with sin in the camp, we must also deal with our sin. “If any…betray the LORD by doing wrong to another.” When we sin against someone else in the camp, we betray – the LORD. The word here is this…

No Deal

We don’t get a discount just because it’s us. “You know me. That’s just how I am.” Sorry, God doesn’t accept those coupons.

What’s God looking for here? Why is he insistent on our confession?

For Restitution

God takes care of His children. And he wants His children to take care of each other.

We give our children an allowance. We’re happy to provide and to teach them through the allowance. But we don’t want them stealing from each other. If they did, they would have to make restitution. It wouldn’t be enough to say, “Sorry. I shouldn’t have taken that dollar.” Give the dollar back, plus interest.

If you stole money from a bank, you’d be a thief, you’d be a felon. You’d be in trouble.

Why would harming the Body of Christ be any less serious? Make it right. If you’ve been stealing from God by not tithing, make it right. If you’ve been robbing your Christian brother in any way, make it right.

Sin? Deal AND No Deal. Deal with it, but there will be no deals.

Which brings us to the rather fascinating third and best part of this chapter…

Numbers 5:11-31 And the LORD said to Moses, 12“Say to the people of Israel: ‘suppose a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to her husband. 13Suppose she sleeps with another man, but there is no witness since she was not caught in the act. 14If her husband becomes jealous and suspicious of his wife, even if she has not defiled herself, 15the husband must bring his wife to the priest with an offering of two quarts of barley flour to be presented on her behalf. Do not mix it with olive oil or frankincense, for it is a jealousy offering—an offering of inquiry to find out if she is guilty.

16“‘The priest must then present her before the LORD. 17He must take some holy water in a clay jar and mix it with dust from the Tabernacle floor. 18When he has presented her before the LORD, he must unbind her hair and place the offering of inquiry—the jealousy offering—in her hands to determine whether or not her husband’s suspicions are justified. The priest will stand before her, holding the jar of bitter water that brings a curse to those who are guilty. 19The priest will put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has slept with you, and you have not defiled yourself by being unfaithful, may you be immune from the effects of this bitter water that causes the curse. 20But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority and defiled yourself by sleeping with another man”— 21at this point the priest must put the woman under this oath—“then may the people see that the LORD’S curse is upon you when he makes you infertile. 22Now may this water that brings the curse enter your body and make you infertile.” And the woman will be required to say, “Yes, let it be so.” 23Then the priest will write these curses on a piece of leather and wash them off into the bitter water. 24He will then make the woman drink the bitter water, so it may bring on the curse and cause bitter suffering in cases of guilt.

25“‘Then the priest will take the jealousy offering from the woman’s hand, lift it up before the LORD, and carry it to the altar. 26He will take a handful as a token portion and burn it on the altar. Then he will require the woman to drink the water. 27If she has defiled herself by being unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse will cause bitter suffering. She will become infertile, and her name will become a curse word among her people. 28But if she has not defiled herself and is pure, she will be unharmed and will still be able to have children.

29“‘This is the ritual law for dealing with jealousy. If a woman defiles herself by being unfaithful to her husband, 30or if a man is overcome with jealousy and suspicion that his wife has been unfaithful, the husband must present his wife before the LORD, and the priest will apply this entire ritual law to her. 31The husband will be innocent of any guilt in this matter, but his wife will be held accountable for her sin.’”

Ordeal

This is probably more relevant, for most of us, more of the time.

Um…no. I’ve never really had to do the Bitter-Water Test.

Think of it this way – there are definitely times we are in the wrong, and we have to be removed for a season and/or restitution has to be made. There is obvious sin we must deal with and not play with.

But isn’t it more often that either – a) we’re innocent, or b) we’re not so innocent, but there’s no real proof or witnesses against us?

The Bitter-Water Test was an ordeal.

There is a long history of similar tests in history – of firewalking or being made to drink deadly poisons or reaching into boiling pots of liquid. They are all different from the Bitter-Water Test in this one thing – this was something prescribed by God. As you read the record of Scripture it becomes clear that this is a very clear picture of something greater that God wanted us to see.

We are the bride, not always spotless, not always pure. And the bridegroom could rightly have put us in the place of ordeal. In fact, he had to. Whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament, God is the same. He is Holy, He is Pure, and even spiritual adultery must be dealt with.

Why?

For Revelation

The truth must come out. God won’t hide sin, and he won’t let it be hid. It must be dealt with. But accusations and suspicions cloud the picture. The Accuser stands nearby, but cannot be given ground.

Here’s the good thing – Christ, the bridegroom, took our place. He drank the cup. Of course, there was sin, but it was our sin.

Matthew 16:21 (Message) Then Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was now necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, submit to an ordeal of suffering at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and then on the third day be raised up alive.

Isaiah 53:11-12 After this ordeal, he will see satisfaction. “By his knowing [pain and sacrifice], my righteous servant makes many righteous; it is for their sins that he suffers. 12 Therefore I will assign him a share with the great, he will divide the spoil with the mighty, for having exposed himself to death and being counted among the sinners, while actually bearing the sin of many and interceding for the offenders.”

Life puts us through the ordeal. By virtue of being alive, we are sometimes made to drink some bad water.

If we’re guilty, then we deserve it. Jesus took our punishment – there’s no reason to go through an ordeal because of our sin. If we’re guilty, the ordeal will destroy us. If we’re innocent, the ordeal will reveal Christ.

1st Peter 4:12-19 (HCB) Dear friends, when the fiery ordeal arises among you to test you, don’t be surprised by it, as if something unusual were happening to you. 13Instead, as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah rejoice, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory. 14 If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 None of you, however, should suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a meddler. 16 But if anyone suffers as a Christian, he should not be ashamed, but should glorify God with that name. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God? 18 And if the righteous is saved with difficulty, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner? 19 So those who suffer according to God’s will should, in doing good, entrust themselves to a faithful Creator.

So what are you going through? Dealing with sin? Going through an ordeal because of sin, perhaps even the sin of someone else, that is affecting you?

Let Christ be revealed in you.

———————————————————————————

Originally presented on August 23, 2006.
All Scripture taken from the New Living Translation.

Willing Work3rs

#3 in the Series, “Numbers in so many Words”

The book of Numbers is the story of God’s Kingdom – his warriors, his workers, his worshipers – and their progression in the wilderness.

In part one of this series, God instructed Moses and Aaron to count the warriors, to prepare them for the journey that was ahead. That was in chapters one and two.

In part two, we examined the circumstances they were in – specifically, that God was living among them as they lived in Him. This was accomplished by trusting in His promises, faith that He was with them and would go with them. Hopefully, you can see the connection between them and us.

Like us, they would fail. Like us, they would follow other gods. But, like us, they experienced God’s patient forgiveness.

In chapters 3 and 4 the focus turns from the warriors to the workers.

Recognition of a Special Tribe

Numbers 1:46-49 The total number was 603,550. 47But this total did not include the Levites. 48For the LORD had said to Moses, 49“Exempt the tribe of Levi from the census; do not include them when you count the rest of the Israelites.

Ever feel special – and you don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing? “You’re special.” Yeah? How do you mean that? I imagine that’s how the Levites felt.

Christ is the fulfillment of all the foreshadowing we see in the Old Testament. What was symbolic in the Old Testament became reality in Christ. As we look at the Levites and why they were special, it applies to us as well, in our relationship to Christ. (Of course, not everything is symbolic, so don’t go overboard and try to apply everything. Some things just were what they were, with no symbolic references attached. Yes, that’s complicated, but true.)

The Reason They Were Chosen

Why were the Levites special? Let’s eliminate the false reasons, the things that did not make them special..

Not because of Natural Goodness

The Levites were special because they descended from a mild, meek, gentle, good guy. Genesis describes him as being far from that..

Genesis 49:5-7 Simeon and Levi are two of a kind—men of violence. 6 O my soul, stay away from them. May I never be a party to their wicked plans. For in their anger they murdered men, and they crippled oxen just for sport. 7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; cursed be their wrath, for it is cruel. Therefore, I will scatter their descendants throughout the nation of Israel.

Maybe this is punishment. Maybe this is the bad kind of “special.” Maybe my sin has finally caught up with me. Moses was from the tribe of Levi. He killed a man, just like Levi had done.

But they also did something of even greater significance…

They Chose God

Exodus 32:25-29 When Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control—and much to the amusement of their enemies— 26he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the LORD’S side, come over here and join me.” And all the Levites came. 27He told them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Strap on your swords! Go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other, killing even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” 28The Levites obeyed Moses, and about three thousand people died that day. 29Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Because of this, he will now give you a great blessing.”

There were two parts to this story, the first part more important than the second part, though we often skip the first part. The first part was this…choosing sides. Am I on the Lord’s side?

Ever been asked to do something, and you don’t know if you should or shouldn’t? We want to see the task. We want to know who else is going. Who’s going to be there? Will it be fun? Will I have time? Will it conflict with my priorities?

On many Friday nights we have volleyball and basketball at the church. Before any game begins, the teams have to be decided. Who is going to be on which side?

The success and failure of many games are decided in that first selection. You know if you have the really good players, chances are better that you will win. If you’re stuck with the kid who is afraid of the ball…well, you’ll have to be satisfied with the camaraderie of the night, and not worry so much about winning and losing.

After you surrender your will, obedience is automatic. If you are a servant, if the master wants you to stand silently by until he calls for you, you don’t say, “This is boring. What if I just see what’s on T.V.? I’ve got some things to do, I’ll be right back.” Once you say, “Not my will,” going to the cross is assumed.

1st John 3:9-10 Those who have been born into God’s family do not sin, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.

So…the promise was…you will receive a great blessing.

The Rights They Obtained

Exempt from War

Number 1:45 They were counted by families—all the men of Israel who were twenty years old or older and able to go to war.

Were they really exempt from war? For now, let’s just say that they were going to fight a very different war.

Eligible for Service

Numbers 3:5-10 Then the LORD said to Moses, 6“Call forward the tribe of Levi and present them to Aaron the priest as his assistants. They will serve Aaron and the whole community, performing their sacred duties in and around the Tabernacle. 8They will also maintain all the furnishings of the sacred tent, serving in the Tabernacle on behalf of all the Israelites. 9Assign the Levites to Aaron and his sons as their assistants. 10Appoint Aaron and his sons to carry out the duties of the priesthood. Anyone else who comes too near the sanctuary must be executed!”

They obtained the privilege of ministry in and around the Tabernacle. Other than the priests, they came closer to the Holy of Holies than any other group. They would even handle the Holy things.

When you put aside your will for the will of God, He is able to put you aside for His special purposes.

He wants each of us to come closer, to not only accept His grace, but also to accept the opportunity to live in service to Him.

One of those facts of life we learn early – with privilege comes responsibility.

The Responsibilities They Gained

Substitution

Numbers 3:11-13 And the LORD said to Moses, 12“I have chosen the Levites from among the Israelites as substitutes for all the firstborn sons of the people of Israel. The Levites are mine 13because all the firstborn sons are mine. From the day I killed all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, I set apart for myself all the firstborn in Israel of both men and animals. They are mine; I am the LORD.”

Service

Numbers 3:14-38 The LORD spoke again to Moses, there in the wilderness of Sinai. He said, 15“Take a census of the tribe of Levi by its families and clans. Count every male who is one month old or older.” 16So Moses counted them, just as the LORD had commanded.
17Levi had three sons, who were named Gershon, Kohath, and (and the Italian brother) Merari.
18The clans descended from Gershon were named for two of his descendants, Libni and Shimei.
19The clans descended from Kohath were named for four of his descendants, Amram, Izhar (Yits-hawr), Hebron (keb-rone), and Uzziel (ooz-zee-el).
20The clans descended from Merari were named for two of his descendants, Mahli (makh-lee) and Mushi. These were the Levite clans, listed according to their family groups.
21The descendants of Gershon were composed of the clans descended from Libni and Shimei. 22There were 7,500 males one month old or older among these Gershonite clans. 23They were assigned the area to the west of the Tabernacle for their camp. 24The leader of the Gershonite clans was Eliasaph son of Lael. 25These two clans were responsible to care for the tent of the Tabernacle with its layers of coverings, its entry curtains, 26the curtains of the courtyard that surrounded the Tabernacle and altar, the curtain at the courtyard entrance, the cords, and all the equipment related to their use.
27The descendants of Kohath were composed of the clans descended from Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. 28There were 8,600 males one month old or older among these Kohathite clans. They were responsible for the care of the sanctuary. 29They were assigned the area south of the Tabernacle for their camp. 30The leader of the Kohathite clans was Elizaphan son of Uzziel. 31These four clans were responsible for the care of the Ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the various utensils used in the sanctuary, the inner curtain, and all the equipment related to their use. 32Eleazar the priest, Aaron’s son, was the chief administrator over all the Levites, with special responsibility for the oversight of the sanctuary.
33The descendants of Merari were composed of the clans descended from Mahli and Mushi. 34There were 6,200 males one month old or older among these Merarite clans. 35They were assigned the area north of the Tabernacle for their camp. The leader of the Merarite clans was Zuriel son of Abihail. 36These two clans were responsible for the care of the frames supporting the Tabernacle, the crossbars, the pillars, the bases, and all the equipment related to their use. 37They were also responsible for the posts of the courtyard and all their bases, pegs, and cords.
38The area in front of the Tabernacle in the east toward the sunrise was reserved for the tents of Moses and of Aaron and his sons, who had the final responsibility for the sanctuary on behalf of the people of Israel. Anyone other than a priest or Levite who came too near the sanctuary was to be executed.

Here is a short list of how the responsibilities were broken out:

Levi — |
|Gerson – Outer Coverings (Curtains, Coverings, Cords)
|Kohath – Inner Curtain, Holy Items and Utensils
|Merari – Structure (Posts, Pillars, Pegs, Frames, Bases)

As you look at their instructions for service – and think about God’s purposes and plans for your life – notice these elements:

Clear

The only question that ever had to be answered was, “Whose side are you on?” We make our lives very complicated by trying to follow our own will – it’s always changing! Where do I live? What do I do? How can I get more money? How can I get more time? How can I get more relaxation? How can I…listen to God?

Just keep the primary question and answer in mind. Whose side are you on?

Critical

This was a mobile community. It was critical that the camp be movable.

But this was all about more than a camping expedition. The point of all this was the Promised Land. If they were going to successfully navigate what was ahead, it was going to take more than what they could all do together. The presence of God among them would be essential. Nothing would be more important. Nothing – not the enemies ahead, not the dangers ahead, not the hardship or toil – nothing would be more critical to insuring their safe arrival in the Promised Land than to have the presence of Jehovah among them at all times.

Coordinated

Pegs were important. It’s easy to lose sight of that in year 19 of holding the pegs.

We go back and forth between being responsible and being a busy-body. If we’re responsible for the curtains, then we need to leave the posts alone. God doesn’t need us to keep tabs for Him. However, we need each other, so we can’t say, “that’s not my job.”

1st Corinthians 12:27 Now all of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.

Christ-Centered

Everything pointed to the Messiah. As we said, the Tabernacle and the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant and everything that was there looked ahead to a time when God would live in human hearts because of the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

Everything about the Levitical service was about the presence of God. Everything about our service is about the presence of God, which all points to Christ. If it’s not about Christ – then it has no meaning.

“Church stuff?” No. God-stuff. It’s all about Him.

1st Corinthians 10:31 Whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, you must do all for the glory of God.

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.

Colossians 3:23-24 Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 24Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and the Master you are serving is Christ.

Constant

They were Levites. From birth until 30, they were preparing for service. From 30-50 they were serving directly. And after 50 they served those that were serving directly.

Who are you serving? What is the quality of your service? Do you sense its importance? Do you feel connected? Are you committed for the long haul?

(For a full explanation of this series, see the Series Intro post. All Scripture references in this post are taken from the New Living Translation.)

Post that as a W.

Spent the last few days at the Southeastern University Leadership Forum. This a phenomenal event, originated by former SEU president Mark Rutland and continued under Chancellor Tommy Barnett.

Tommy Barnett

The Forum is an intimate conference of only about 700 people. The size is largely dictated by the small SEU chapel which hosts the three day event. This makes it very different from larger events, such as Catalyst or Willow’s Leadership Summit. There is VIP seating in the first few rows, then reserved seating in the next few, but the fan-shaped auditorium is only about 12 rows deep, so you’re not far away even at the remotest point.

When you combine this intimate and exclusive setting with some world-class speakers, you have a winner, and this year’s Forum was definitely another winner.

I hope to break down what I learned from each speaker in subsequent posts. (Though with my track record in blogging, I wouldn’t bet on it.) But I want to make sure to write about the highlight of the 3 days, and what everyone had been pointing to, the appearance of the 43rd President of the United States and his wife, George W. and Laura Bush.

The format of the Forum is that each speaker has anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or so to speak. Both Laura Bush and the former President were listed as speakers, so I had wondered exactly how long they would actually be there.

But let’s backtrack a minute, to set the scene.

It was a dark and stormy night, as Snoopy might say, and the heavy rains continued this morning. We had been told that security would be tight today, and that we would need both our Forum badge and our driver’s license to get into the chapel.

Waiting in the rain

The first session started at 8am, with the doors opening at 7:30, so we arrived about 7 am to stand in the rain and wait for the doors to open. We wanted to be sure to get some good seats for the eight of us that were attending from Faith. (I should explain that when I say “we”, I mean myself and Rich Fimbel. I had ridden with Rich from the hotel.)

The main road in front of the University had been closed to regular traffic and there was definitely an increased law enforcement presence on campus.

At our lunch break, in contrast to the other days, we were told that we had to take all our belongings with us, since security would be sweeping the chapel in anticipation of the Bush’s arrival. We were also told that the same would be true at our 3 o’clock afternoon break.

Of course, taking our belongings meant that we couldn’t save our seats, so I made sure I was back from lunch early enough to get near the front of the line again.

They didn't really like us to take pictures.

I was able to re-secure our seats…about 9 rows back, on the right hand side, on the aisle. There really weren’t any bad seats.

At the 3 o’clock break, which came at 3:05 p.m., we were informed that we wouldn’t have to take our belongings with us after all, and that we had until 3:30 p.m.. That announcement was quickly corrected to say that the break would only last until 3:15. That was difficult, since it didn’t leave us any time to actually do anything. No one wanted to be shut out of the chapel when the Bushes arrived.

Thinking back, it’s interesting, because I don’t remember hearing the sound of any sirens upon their arrival. This was probably because the SEU jazz band was busily entertaining us as we came back from the break.

I stepped out into the lobby to watch as the SEU students lined the sidewalk leading up to the chapel’s side door to welcome former President and Mrs. Bush. I could tell someone was entering the side door, so I hurried back to my seat in time for the actual entrance.

Looking from the lobby

The presence of additional security along with the Secret Service was immediately apparent, as two or three agents took up their posts at each side of the front of the stage. Other Secret Service personnel could be seen around the chapel. I could see a Sheriff’s deputy and one or two other agents in the sound loft at the rear of the chapel. You could feel the energy rise in the room.

As the band played, we could see the top of Laura’s head as she entered the side door. There was an immediate, loud, thunderous standing ovation which lasted for a minute or two. The band finished their song, then launched into a spirited rendition of “In the Mood”.

What the crowd was in the mood for was what they got after about a minute as POTUS #43 entered the building to another raucous standing ovation. The dreary and rainy afternoon had suddenly lit up inside the chapel.

After the band finished, Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God and former guest on the BibleQuizPodcast, introduced Mrs. Bush by reading the two paragraph bio printed in our program. She then launched into a prepared speech that lasted roughly 40 minutes.

She recounted her role as an educator and promoter of reading programs for children. She talked about what she did as First Lady. Then she talked about the changes that took place after 9-11. The first part of her speech was nice, but mostly generic. She caught us up on how the family was doing, where the girls are, and how they enjoy being private citizens in Dallas.

The most memorable part of her speech was the end, as she recounted September 11, 2001. She was in Washington, D.C. that morning, on Capitol Hill. As the planes hit the Twin Towers, she was moved to Senator Ted Kennedy’s office, where she watched the Towers fall. It was interesting that Kennedy and Mrs. Bush spent this time together – political rivals sharing a critical and confusing moment. She said she was comforted by having Sen. Kennedy there, and that he seemed to be trying to ease her mind by providing small talk as the situation developed.

She ended her speech by recounting the famous “first pitch” thrown by then-President Bush at that October’s World Series. She told how nervous she was, and how proud she was of how her husband performed.

After yet another standing ovation, she was escorted to some comfortable “interview” chairs by Joyce Meyer, who had been one of the Forum presenters. Meyer started by saying she had twelve questions to ask in fifteen minutes.

Her first question was, what did Laura miss most about being the First Lady? Her quick reply – the chef.

Meyer then pointed out that during Laura’s telling of 9-11 and the World Series game, she saw tears from George. Laura replied that she had never given that speech with him in the room. This was more than a rare event – this was the first time the two of them had been presenters at the same event.

The rest of the Meyer-Bush interview was very good, but I don’t remember much of it. Laura did seem a little tired, and I wondered when and where she had started her day.

As Meyer escorted her from the stage, Tommy Barnett got up and simply said, “Help me welcome the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush!”

This, of course, brought a very long and loud standing ovation.

I expected him to go to the podium and give his own speech, but Bush immediately went with Tommy to the interview chairs where for the next hour they had a very lively, informal, candid and informative discussion. I was very surprised with how open and relaxed Mr. Bush seemed to be.

There were several standing ovations during the talk, and Bush would quickly motion for everyone to sit down and cut it out, once telling us, “You’re wasting time!” Barnett assured him that he was speaking to a very receptive, supportive group.

We were forbidden to use cameras – either still or video – and I sat there desperately wishing I could use one to capture the moment and be able to remember what was said, because the candor was quite remarkable. Mr. Bush explained that he insisted on no TV cameras being present because he wanted to be able to relax and not have anything he said be used for political purposes. After the Bushes left, Barnett remarked that we had been given a rare privilege and that the former President had entrusted us with his honesty.

(I guess I should mention that I’m not writing this post for attention, and I certainly wouldn’t want to upset anyone at SEU or the Bush family. I’m not media, and, even though this blog is public, I don’t expect many people will actually see it. This is simply my recollection of what I’ve experienced, intended for my circle of family and friends.

However, I did disobey…sort of. Here is a clip, not of them speaking, but of the setting as Laura was being introduced.)

Here are some other highlights from the Barnett-Bush conversation…

On the responsibility of the President:

“Make tough decisions” and don’t demean the Office of the President. The Office of the President and the respect and dignity of it was very important, and continues to be important as an ex-President. Former presidents continue to have a responsibility to uphold that dignity. (I wondered if this was a subtle dig at a certain former Arkansas governor. Or perhaps even a former Georgia governor.)

On leadership:

Great leaders set aside their egos and serve something greater than themselves. You shouldn’t serve a political party, even though the political parties are important and necessary. Once you are elected, you have to set aside self and what you want in order to achieve the greater good.

Other thoughts and quotes:

He talked about his early life, and how he wouldn’t have been President or probably even alive if he hadn’t quit drinking. He had – like most alcoholics – insisted that he was in control of it, even though he wasn’t. Laura had confronted him, and he was eventually confronted by his own logic.

He talked about his mom and dad and how “unconditional love enabled me to take risks in life.”

When asked who his favorite President was, he told how there is a place where every President hangs the portrait of the President that most influenced them. He drew a laugh when he said that “obviously, I have conflicted feelings.” He said, “the portrait of the 41st President hangs in the place of honor in my heart,” but that one of the 16th President, Lincoln, physically hangs in the place of honor. He admires Lincoln because when he wrote that “all men are created equal under God”, he was speaking with moral conviction, that he had a vision and looked beyond the moment. He remarked that Lincoln’s vision was remarkable, that it was quite remarkable to say such a thing back in 1863.

Bush said that a leader – that the President – “must have a set of principles that you won’t trade for popularity.” He thinks the President must be willing to “take the heat” and “give other people the credit.”

One of the most interesting parts of his hour in the interview chair was his retelling of his perspective of 9-11 and his thought process of that day. He said that everything changed for him that day. From that day forward his overriding purpose was to promote freedom throughout the world.

He said that on 9-11, the first plane he chalked up to a mistake, the second plane was an attack, but when the plane hit the Pentagon, that was a declaration of war. He said the real problem with this war is that “the farther you get away from the moment” the reasons you went to war in the first place fade from peoples minds. They forget why. Then, as you make decisions to protect and defend, people misunderstand because they have forgotten why you made the decisions in the first place.

He said when a terrorist was caught – the C.O.O. of the Taliban – and he was assured that this man had vital information, and if we got it, thousands of lives could be saved – the C.I.A. assured Bush they could extract the information. Bush said he first asked his team of lawyers, “What’s legal?” When they told him what could legally be done, he ordered it to be done. Thousands of lives were saved. But later, political opponents forgot the importance and want to stop the same methods.

He also talked about some of the tough talk he used in regards to the terrorists and nations who sponsored terrorism, such as, “Dead or Alive” or “hunting down” the terrorists. He explained that he had four audiences that he was speaking to at the same time: the country as a whole, the enemy – who were using the lives of innocent people for their own twisted ends, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan – who deserved to be free and needed to know that there is a big difference between desiring to be free and actually taking a step to be free, and our military.

The interview meandered between the public and the personal, between the development of his faith in Jesus Christ and his portrayal in the press. He talked about foreign policy and China and how it’s important that we stay away from unilateral agreements which diminish America’s voice, and insist on bilateral negotiations where we can push for freedom.

Bush also said that he wouldn’t second guess the current President, because he didn’t like to be second-guessed when he was President, and he believed in doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. He said that he was proud that in campaigning he never resorted to name calling.

Bush talked about his dad and how much he learned from him. He said, “I was the most prepared person to ever be elected President. I didn’t have the best resume, I was the best prepared.”

There was applause as the former President talked about his younger brother, Jeb, former governor of Florida. He said he wished Jeb would run for president, but really didn’t think he would. He expressed admiration that Jeb had his priorities straight and that he wouldn’t run because he was concerned for his family.

Some of his final comments were about peace in the Middle East and how much he thought it was dependent on democracy and freedom being established in the Middle East. He knows that some poeple think he is naive, but he firmly believes in freedom. “I believe women will bring democracy to the Middle East.”

I’ll repeat my feeling that it was a very remarkable afternoon. Both Bushes are preparing books to be released this fall, so I’m sure most of what they were saying was from that material, but former President Bush was very likable and engaged. He is 63, and you could sense his continued passion. I was also struck by his intelligence and good humor. Many times he referenced names and places, with many difficult pronunciations. Never did he slip, as the media and comics like to portray him.

Once, in telling the story about meeting Russia’s Alexander Putin, he told about traveling to Slovenia, and how he was glad the press hadn’t asked him during the election if he knew where it was, because he couldn’t have told them. It was funny and typical.

The Putin story was very interesting. He told how nervous and anxious Putin seemed at their first meeting. Putin was addressing Bush about the Russian debt and Bush interrupted him to ask, “Is it true that you have a cross that your mother given you that was blessed in Jerusalem?” By answering the question, Putin was disarmed and able to relax. Bush said that their relationship later got harder, because the increase the value of oil seemed to change Putin.

Bush also told about talking to the leader of China about religion, warning him that every time they talked, he would talk about religion and religious freedom. He said he asked the Chinese president – whose name I can’t remember – if he wouldn’t rather have a nation where its citizens lived up to the principles in the Bible.

It was a fascinating discussion. When it was over, the Bushes and their entourage waved goodbye and the Forum was quickly over.

If you were there and want to add your thoughts, please comment. The Lakeland Ledger also filed a story and a couple of pictures, even though media was not allowed inside.

Haves and have-nots

#2 in the Series, “Numbers in so many Words”

The book of Numbers is the story of God’s Kingdom – his warriors, his workers, his worshipers – and their progression in the wilderness.

In part one of this series, God instructed Moses and Aaron to count the warriors, to prepare them for the journey that was ahead. That was in chapters one and two.

Before we leave the warriors and turn our attention to the workers, I’d like to spend a moment examining…

The Circumstances They Were In

Let’s pick up the story in the next-to-last verse of chapter 2.

Numbers 2:32 In summary, the troops of Israel listed by their families totaled 603,550.

Stop for a moment and think about that number. 603,550. That’s the size of the army now moving through the wilderness. Did you know that the number of U.S. troops deployed around the world, in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and other troubled areas – total – is only about 350,000? Did you know that countries like France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Japan…none of those countries even have 300,000 active troops, much less that number of active troops that are deployed.

Think about the resources that these countries pour into sustaining their troops. Billions of dollars are used to provide food, clothing, and essential supplies just to live, with more for weapons and artillery necessary to fight.

But these 600,000 – along with their families, women and children not eligible to fight – look where they are and what they have.

They are in the wilderness, cut off from their homes, their gardens, their farms. In the wilderness, not only without food, without water, without the ability to raise corn or wheat. They didn’t pass a WalMart or Target on the way. They couldn’t run to Publix for a gallon of milk or even stop somewhere for a glass of water.

What did they have?

This army had no supply lines coming from the rear. There were no allied nations to provide a forward base of operations, no friends on which to rely, no transports to meet them at the next stop.

And, where was the next stop? They had no global positioning system, no accurate maps, no satellite imagery.

What did they have?

600,000 troops, over three million people total, moving through the wilderness, without a plan, without experienced military leaders and commanders. They didn’t have any West Point graduates, they didn’t have any military intelligence, no four-star generals, just an 80-year-old ex-sheep-watcher and his brother.

I know you may have seen Cecil B. DeMille’s movie, so when you think of Moses you think of Charlton Heston. But when I read the story I think Dick Van Dyke and his brother, Jerry. Yeah, that’s Moses doing a pratfall over a boulder and Aaron playing a banjo.

What did they have?

No storehouses, no warehouses, not even a garage or a pod. When they found water, or were given bread and meat – what they got today wasn’t good for tomorrow. When they stopped for the night, there was nothing left, not even a single crumb for the next day. Each morning they would start from scratch. Each morning was another scramble for bread, another gathering of provision.

Where were they? In the wilderness. And what did they have?

Centuries later Paul would write to the church at Corinth.

1st Corinthians 10:11 All these events happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us, who live at the time when this age is drawing to a close.

Their Connection to Us

Paul couldn’t have been clearer. ALL these events happened to them as examples for US. Why? Because…

We are the Habitation of God

This is one of the most remarkable things of all, and something that we sometimes take for granted. Of all the people in the earth, of all the tribes, and nations, this homeless, helpless, band of refugees making their way across the wilderness – this was the group of people with whom God chose to live.

He made His home – His habitation – with them. Not with the rich in Egypt, not with the powerful of Assyria, not with the intelligent in Babylon – he lived with the children of Israel.

Why not Egypt? Why not Assryria? Why not the others? What was so special about Israel?

Before we answer that, remember that the answer applies to us, too. God has made His habitation with us, and when I say “us” and “we”, who do I mean? The Church, His Church, that group of individuals that belongs to God and have been identified as His Church, the Church that Jesus said He would build.

  • Just because you attend a particular church or are part of a certain denomination, don’t think for a minute that you’re automatically included. Even if you attend the same church I do.
  • Just because your grandmother was a good Baptist, or your family have been devout Catholics as long as you can remember, or some other family member was a pastor, minister or missionary – don’t assume that you are included in His Church.
  • Just because you know who God is and what He did for you, that doesn’t mean you’re in.
  • When it’s all over, plenty of people will be saying, Lord, Lord, we were part of Your Church, and He’ll say, I don’t think so.

Because God doesn’t make His home with everyone. His habitation is with His church.

Ephesians 2:20-21 We are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We who believe are carefully joined together, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also joined together as part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

So, let’s go back to the question: why? Why us? Why not everyone? Why isn’t it enough just to be a good person? Why isn’t it enough just to go to church, to be kind to animals, to live in America, to vote for the right people or put the right bumper stickers on your car?

What was it about the children of Israel that made them so special? What is it about us that makes us so special?

One more thing before I answer that question.

We Were Created to Live in Him

Key to understanding why He now lives among us is to recognize that His original plan was that we were to live in Him.

Genesis 1:27 So God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them.

We were patterned after God himself.

He Created us with Intelligence, so we could know Him.

He created us with Emotion, so we could Love Him.

He created us with Will, so we could Choose to Obey Him.

Don’t get ahead of me, because I know you know what happened. We soon failed to know Him, to love Him, to obey Him. But before that, before Adam doubted the personal Word of God, before Adam chose to follow His lust rather than God’s love, before Adam and Eve took the path of willful disobedience, before that…

It was perfect. They walked with God. Their intelligence, emotion, and will rested perfectly inside the sphere of God’s Keeping, inside the place of His Care, inside the place of His Strength.

When they were IN Him, their intelligence was enlightened, their emotion was enkindled, their will was energized.

Adam and Eve enjoyed personal fellowship with God. They knew God personally, and that knowing produced love for him, which in turn caused them to act cooperatively according to his will.

That’s why everything was perfect. It wasn’t their surroundings. It wasn’t their circumstances. What made everything perfect was that they were perfectly submitted to God.

However, rather than continuing to live in that place of perfect submission to His will out of a perfect love that knew and was known perfectly – they began to doubt God’s Word. Then they gave their emotions to fear and lust and envy and greed, and, finally – they chose to disobey. In other words, they sinned.

And in that moment – in what was the worst and most cataclysmic moment in all of eternity – all of creation changed, and the earth knew death, and humanity was ruined.

And do you know what the most startling thing was about that moment? If you had been a fly on the wall, or a bug on a nearby tree and had watched the entire transaction take place, the most noticeable and amazing thing you would have noticed would have been – that nothing seemed any different.

The sky was still blue, the grass was still green. In fact, if you had been Adam and Eve, you wouldn’t have realized it at first either. Nothing seemed different. There had been no bolt of lightning, no thunderclap or earthquake or volcanic eruption.

See? I didn’t die! I wasn’t destroyed. In fact, I seem – better. In fact, yes, I feel better! My intelligence? Intact – no, better! I see things as they are. I see you as you are, and, oh, by the way, you’re naked. Oh! I’m naked, too!

How embarrassing! But that shows my emotions are working, too. In fact, there’s a flood of new emotions I’ve never felt before. I have feelings I can’t describe.

And my will? Still strong. Stronger than ever! Better than ever! I’m not tied down like I used to be. I’m making my own choices, blazing my own trail, doing my own thing. Nobody has to tell me what to do anymore, no, sir!

I’m a new man – intelligent, impassioned, and independent!

We commit the most hostile and rebellious acts possible, daring and defying God, and we mistake the silence of the heavens as consent.

Sin Takes Us From Our Natural Habitat

Emperor penguins aren’t so nimble in the Sahara and I wouldn’t bet on a hippopotamus in a race up a rocky cliff. Penguins and Hippopotamuses are phenomenal creatures. Even out of their element, they have power.

Man, even in sin, is a phenomenal creature, capable of many, many things. Sin didn’t make man lose his powers. He’s still intelligent, still emotional, still able to choose. It’s just that now, in sin, he’s out of his element.

And the intelligence that was able to know God, can’t; and the emotion that was able to love God, doesn’t; and the will that was able to choose God, won’t.

But since that’s what we were created to do, since our Intelligence demands to Know and Be Known, and our Emotion yearns for an Object of Expression, and our Will requires a Governor – and our God isn’t available – we find…

Other Gods

Three idols from the Old Testament are representative of our continual push to find satisfaction for our souls…

Baal

– who was a deification of Nature, specifically of the most amazing thing in Nature, which is the ability to produce and reproduce. The intelligence that is searching for God latches onto this, extolling Nature as worthy to be god, everything that is natural to be true and right and good.

Moloch

– was a god of cruelty, before whom little children were sacrificed. But in the warped understanding of our godless emotions, lust is equal to love and nothing should stand in the way of my happiness.

Mammon

– was the god of wealth, easily worshipped, since the golden rule is that he who has the gold rules, and what could be better than everyone submitting to my will?

David caught the irony of it all, the ironic part being that all around us are the clues, the signs, the road markers, the billboards, that the One, True God is active and alive and at work – and we – the ones He specifically created to know and love and choose Him – we can’t see Him; we can’t hear Him; we don’t feel him; we can’t sense His nearness to us.

Psalm 115:4-8 Their idols are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands. 5 They cannot talk, though they have mouths, or see, though they have eyes! 6 They cannot hear with their ears, or smell with their noses, 7 or feel with their hands, or walk with their feet, or utter sounds with their throats! 8 And those who make them are just like them, as are all who trust in them.

Why?

Man is always like his god.

Adam and Eve wanted to live naturally, do what they wanted, and make their own way. They weren’t satisfied with what they heard – they wanted to see and experience what was hidden.

They not only got what they wanted, they became what they chased – natural, lustful, confused, naked.

Only when they heard again the voice of God did the reality of their decision come to clear focus. But what could they do?

I Can’t Go Back By Trying Harder.

What happens when you “fix” the problem? What happens when you finally do what you know you should? What happens when you quit the habit, when you make amends, when you start doing what you know you should? If it’s just you trying to fix the problem, nothing happens. Just as Adam and Eve couldn’t fix their problem with fig leaves, we can’t fix ours by working on our weaknesses.

——-

We have three specific questions that we haven’t answered yet.

1. How do we get back into the presence of God? Once we’ve sinned, how do we fix it?

2. Why was God only with the children of Israel and why is He only in His Church? Why does He seem exclusive?

3. What did they have? In the wilderness, how did they make it? What did they have?

Compassion: God Offers; We Trust

When sin has separated us from God, the only way back is by His compassion. He loves you, and invites you back. Then it’s up to you to trust Him.

God offered compassion to Israel, they trusted Him, relationship restored.

God offers compassion to you. Do you trust Him? If so, relationship restored.

What’s restored? You are. Your intelligence is once again able to know Him; your emotions able once again to love Him; and your will is once again able to choose to obey Him. You are able to live once again in His image.

Colossians 1:12-14 always thanking the Father, who has enabled you to share the inheritance that belongs to God’s holy people, who live in the light. 13 For he has rescued us from the one who rules in the kingdom of darkness, and he has brought us into the Kingdom of his dear Son. 14 God has purchased our freedom with his blood and has forgiven all our sins.

Isaiah 30:18 But the LORD still waits for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the LORD is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for him to help them.

We still need His compassion everyday, because the one thing that hasn’t been restored is the earth. The Garden of Eden is gone. So, even though we can once again enjoy the relationship that Adam and Eve once had with God, we can’t do it in a perfect world like they had.

We, like the children of Israel, are in the wilderness. The wilderness can’t provide joy or anything that will satisfy.

What did they have in the wilderness? Just this: God’s offer of compassion. And they trusted.

1st Corinthians 10:1-5 I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, what happened to our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. God guided all of them by sending a cloud that moved along ahead of them, and he brought them all safely through the waters of the sea on dry ground. 2 As followers of Moses, they were all baptized in the cloud and the sea. 3 And all of them ate the same miraculous food, 4and all of them drank the same miraculous water. For they all drank from the miraculous rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ.

This world is a wilderness for your soul. You can’t find satisfaction here. That’s why relationships haven’t satisfied you. That’s why your activities haven’t satisfied you. That’s why the parties haven’t satisfied you. That’s why retirement hasn’t satisfied you.

Is anything too hard for God? No.

If you have sinned, what should you do? Trust Christ.

If you have accepted His offer and now belong to His Church, what should you do? Trust Christ.

Do you need provision? Trust Christ.

Do you need companionship? Trust Christ.

Do you need help for your mind? Trust Christ.

Do you need help for your emotions? Trust Christ

Do you need strength in your will? Trust Christ.

If God is in the equation, no other factors are necessary. If God is not in the equation no other factors are sufficient.