Categories
ThoughtStream

A new place for old stuff

Blogging is work. Not hard work like digging ditches or building a building. But it takes no small amount of effort. Mainly I’m thinking of the actual physical part of typing out words. There is also the mental part of determining what to write.

That’s my explanation for why I don’t post more often to this blog. I have found out – like many other people – how time-intensive regular blogging can be.

So, I started another branch of the blog.

Actually, I’ve taken some of the content from this blog and I’ve created a new place for it. You can now find the sermon series I have been posting in the “Learn” category of this blog at its brand new home – NUMB3RS.SarcasticMonkeys.com. It makes sense for the series to have its own place. Now it does.

In the meantime, I’m trying to determine what content I really want to blog about here on the S-M Home. Most of the content I produce is found elsewhere. SO…for both of you that check in on this blog…thank you and I haven’t forgot you.

As a side note, I’m considering changing the look of this blog again. If I can’t produce content, at least I can make the old stuff look different.

Now head on over to the NUMB3RS blog. I’ve just posted the next chapter.

Categories
Learn

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.)

Categories
Learn

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.


Categories
Learn

Bloodlin3s, Bann3rs, and Battl3s

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

(Note: This is the beginning of a series on the Book of Numbers. For the reasons why I’m tackling this particular book, see my previous post (Numb3rs: The Intro).)

The book of Numbers is the fourth book of the testimony of Moses, and therefore the fourth book of our Bibles. Even though the English titles given to the books are not considered to be inspired and part of the actual revelation of God, in these first few books of the Bible they do give us a great picture of what we find in each book.

Genesis – Beginning of Life, birth of God’s people, beginning of relationship.

Exodus – Redemption and exit from slavery, renewal and rebirth.

Leviticus – Establishment of worship and deeper relationship. (Hebrew – title is “Vayikra”, from the first three words – “and he called”)

Numbers.

Major Themes in the Book of Numbers

Numbers = Quantity

When I think of numbers, I think of quantity, of large numbers. If there were six or twelve people making a journey through the wilderness, I think the book could have been called caravan or company. It’s easier to defeat a few or even one, much harder to destroy a vast army.

And the enemy would have you believe that you are alone. Worse, the enemy of your soul would have you be alone, to decide that relationship with the body of Christ is not worth having – all the better to defeat you.

Numbers = Description

Numbers are a way of describing our world. Our height, our weight, how many hairs on our head – these describe and define us. That is also true of the world of mathematics. Math is the process of using numbers to describe the world and its relationships. And in the Book of Numbers we have a description of God’s world, of God’s kingdom, and what it looks like.

Numbers = Process

The word numbers also makes me think of how things can be both simple and complex. I have a first grader in my house1 that is working with numbers, and things are pretty simple – addition, subtraction, skip counting by three. I have a tenth grader in my house that is working with numbers, and things aren’t quite as simple – exponential notation, logarithms. The church is a complex and ever-changing collection of personalities in the process of becoming one.

Numbers is the story of walking and warfare in the wilderness.2

Hopefully you can see that this story, taking place in rural Asia over 3400 years ago, has direct application to us in 21st century America.

The walking that we do is everyday life. The King James way to say “live” is “walk”, as when Paul says in Romans 8, “Let us walk honestly, as in the day.” So first, we can relate to the book of Numbers because it tells us about life.

Then there’s warfare. I know many people are probably tired of hearing about warfare, the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, and all that.

But, again, we know that for the Christian, there is an enemy who is trying to steal, kill, and destroy us. And so we relate to the book of Numbers because it tells us about the struggle of living on the battleground of the enemy.

The Hebrew title for this book is actually ba-midbar, or, “in the wilderness”. This is the story of what happens in the wilderness, and therefore, applies directly to us. We are in the middle, between bondage and beauty, following the promise, but not quite yet to its full realization. This book has quite a lot to say to us.

So let’s begin…

Numbers 1:1-3 (ESV) The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, 2Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. 3From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company.

To Succeed in the Journey…

I must declare my bloodline.

Before anything else could be done, the Lord spoke to Moses, Take a census. Why? Do you think God was confused? Did he lose track? Was he wondering where all these people came from?

The declaration is for my benefit. I must be positive of my standing in Christ. It is essential that I am able to trace my bloodline.

It’s amazing that many Christians can’t positively declare who they are in Christ. Can you imagine someone in the camp of Israel struggling with their identity?

I’m not quite sure. I hope I’m an Israelite, but sometimes I just don’t know. I’m afraid I’m not really part of Israel.

No, they had to be like Paul, who could say, “circumcised on the eighth day of my life, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew.”

I must be able to declare – God is my father! I have been adopted, born-again of water and the Spirit of God.

1st John 3:1 See how very much our heavenly Father loves us, for he allows us to be called his children, and we really are! But the people who belong to this world don’t know God, so they don’t understand that we are his children.

Galatians 3:26 So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and now all the promises God gave to him belong to you.

Silence & Confusion Live Together.

My wife will tell you that. When I’m silent, she’s confused. Sometimes we’re silent because we’re confused. Sometimes we’re confused because we’re silent.

If you’re confused about your place in God’s kingdom, you won’t make much of a declaration, and if you do, it won’t be worth much.

And if you’re not able to declare who you are in Christ, you’re probably creating quite a bit of confusion to those around you.

When we are unable to declare our bloodline, when we are unable to persuasively declare – not only verbally, but by our actions! – who we are in Christ, then we will be confused about…

Confused about Place and Purpose

No progress was going to be made from Sinai until this ordering took place. How in the world were two million people going to make any progress as a mob?

How are you going to make progress in your life without first settling the question of who you belong to, whose you are, what you are in Christ?

Some people are embarrassed about their bloodline, because they’re embarrassed about who their parents, grandparents, or some distant relative was. Maybe their parents weren’t married. Maybe their grandfather was a criminal.

I should probably relate to that, since my mother was conceived outside of a marriage relationship. She never knew her birth father – didn’t even know she was adopted until she was 55. But that’s not where my bloodline began.

Other people are pretty proud of their bloodline. There were famous people in the bloodline. Perhaps their grandmother was a great artist, or their great-great-grandfather was a war hero. It doesn’t matter, because that’s not where their bloodline began.

If you trace it all back, quite naturally, we are of the bloodline of Adam, and that’s a pretty sad fact, because that means our inheritance is failure, bad character, and death.

Romans 5:12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.

There’s the confusion – I think I’m a Christian, but by blood, I’m a child of Adam. NO! Because only through Jesus Christ can we go back one step further. Our family tree doesn’t stop at Adam.

Romans 5:18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brought condemnation upon everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness makes all people right in God’s sight and gives them life.

Can you imagine Israelites not knowing their bloodline, not being sure who their father or father’s father was? God could. That’s why he told them not to intermarry with the pagan nations. He knew that once there was confusion in the bloodline, there would be compromise and complacency.

That’s what happens with us, when we forget who we are, when we forget who our Father is and we begin to act like the world around us. When we forget that we are children of the Kingdom and instead take our primary identity from our job or relationships or desires, suddenly, our life is about our job, or our friends, or our money, or our security, or our desires.

1st Peter 2:9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

Confused about Peace and Power

Then there’s the question of war. Not being able to answer the question of your bloodline doesn’t change your bloodline. But it leaves you unable to not only progress, but conquer.

There are too many Christians, still unsettled about their bloodline, unable to go forth to war, disabled from victorious living. The biggest reason is that they don’t even know what real war is. They’re still fighting themselves, and they take that for war. Your doubts and fears are not the war. The confusion you have created for yourself is not spiritual warfare.

Can you imagine someone in the camp of Israel…

oh, this is so hard! The Hittites and Jebusites don’t have to do this! My tent is drafty, the food is terrible, and you’ll never believe where I had to go to the restroom this morning! War is really hard!

Ephesians 6:12 For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.

What is my bloodline?

Am I simply child of Adam , or am I a child of God?

If you don’t know the answer to that question – if you aren’t convinced of the answer to that question – you will have an exceedingly difficult time in determining your place or purpose, you will struggle to attain peace or power.

Let’s move on…

Numbers 2:1-2 (NLT) Then the LORD gave these instructions to Moses and Aaron: 2“Each tribe will be assigned its own area in the camp, and the various groups will camp beneath their family banners. The Tabernacle will be located at the center of these tribal compounds.

I must display my banner.

My banner must reflect my captain.

Our banner is Christ. Nothing else is true if this is not true. The other things that come after are irrelevant and insignificant without this fact.

My banner must reflect my calling.

We’re each given gifts, talents, abilities, personalities, experiences, backgrounds which put us in a unique place in the Kingdom. Because of that, God has a unique calling on your life.

My banner must reflect my commitment.

Yet, while we each have a particular, specific calling, we also must not forget our relation to each other. We will have duties and tasks that won’t mean much directly to our calling, but are necessary for the overall good of the camp.

That’s not my ministry. That’s not my calling. That’s not my job.

A higher calling doesn’t exempt us from lower responsibilities.

What’s on my banner?

Is my life aligned under the leadership of Christ?

Am I following the leading of my own lusts, desires, hopes, dreams, or am I following the call he has placed on my life?

Am I committed to convenience or am I truly committed to the Kingdom of God?

Romans 8:14-16 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family – calling him “Father, dear Father.” 16For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children.

The identification of banners and bloodlines set us up for the battles that are ahead.

What is your bloodline? What’s on your banner? Are you ready for battle?

———-

End notes

1 That just shows how long ago this series began. My “first grader” is now a sixth grader and her math is much harder.

2 This definition – and many of the thoughts in this entire series – come from a commentary by an author I only know as C.H.M. His commentary is the only one that discusses the themes and ideas of numbers at any length. (Yes, I’ve read Matthew Henry, but that’s completely different.)

Categories
Learn

Numb3rs: The Intro

I’m not known as a decider. I’ll leave that title to former President Bush. The usual scenario when I’m in a restaurant with friends is to listen to everyone else order, then I’ll eventually make up my mind about what I’ll have.

Many people can look at a menu and narrow their choices quickly by eliminating what they don’t like. I like too many things. Chicken, beef, seafood, pasta…sure, I’ll have some of that.

When it’s time for me to preach or teach, I have the same problem. It’s not that I can’t think of anything to preach about. There are too many choices. There is much that God wants us to hear and many ways to say it. There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible and, as Paul said…

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”*

All Scripture. That’s too many choices.

Many pastors/teachers/preachers have this same problem. That’s why many of them use sermon series. My pastor does it all the time. Yours probably does, too.

But, I’m not the lead pastor. I don’t have 3 or 4 weeks at a time to do a sermon series. As a staff pastor, I preach whenever. That’s usually not very frequently. A Sunday night here, a Wednesday night there. Hardly ever on a Sunday morning.

That left me with the same frustration every time I had the opportunity to preach – what do I preach on? What will be the text? What will be the subject? It seemed like I spent as much time figuring out what the text would be as I did preparing the rest of the sermon.

The solution was to start preaching a series. That’s what real pastors do. The key would be in selecting a series that wouldn’t conflict with all the other series that would likely pop up during my series. It couldn’t be something common or ordinary like “Life’s Healing Choices” or “Lifestyles of Generosity” or “Fear” or “Worship“. It needed to be something that my pastor wouldn’t likely do a series on.

The book of Numbers. I’ve never heard a series on it. It’s briefly mentioned if someone ever does a “Through the Bible” series. But no one goes through Numbers verse-by-verse. Too many names. Too many verses that have seemingly nothing “useful”, as Paul said it would.

Try to preach through Numbers, and what will you do when you get to passages like Numbers 26? It’s chock-full of stuff like the 5th verse:

The descendants of Reuben, the firstborn son of Israel, were:
through Hanoch, the Hanochite clan;
through Pallu, the Palluite clan…

Gripping. Inspiring.

And frightening if you would actually try to do a series on it.

Naturally, that’s what I decided to do. Any time I am able to preach on a Wednesday night – which is called a Bible study night at my church – I teach through the book of Numbers. The names, the genealogies, the censuses, the Levitical rituals…everything, verse-by-verse.

The series – Numb3rs, in so many words – began on November 9, 2005. This coming Wednesday – November 4, 2009 – I’ll be preaching part 20, as we begin Numbers chapter 19. There are 36 chapters in Numbers, so I still have some time before I have to pick my next Wednesday night series.

In the meantime, I decided to post the text of the entire series here on SarcasticMonkeys. There isn’t much commentary or teaching based on the book of Numbers, so I thought this might be interesting. I won’t post it all at once, because I need to go back through it and make it readable for the web. I’ll also need to try to make appropriate attributions for the things I stole referenced from other sources – if I can remember where I got them.

This kicks off a new section of the site where I hope to be posting the some of the things I’ve taught or preached that others might find useful or interesting. Enjoy.

[Updated: 11/01/09 – As if to illustrate the point that my opportunities to preach are tenuous at best, I found out this morning – as Pastor told the congregation – that he invited a guest speaker for Wednesday. I guess Part 20 will wait. Such is the life of a staff pastor.]

* 2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT courtesy of YouVersion.com

Bobby Kingsley

(See yesterday’s post for an explanation.)

Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley had always loved children. It was not the love of the idea of children. Theirs was not the case of a couple who wanted to have children, but were prevented from doing so. No, they loved children through experience. Two years after the wedding their first child, a daughter, was born. Two boys followed within the next three years.

While having children by natural birth was very fulfilling to the Kingsleys, they knew they were made for more. They eagerly pursued the avenue of adoption. A girl from South America was first, followed by another from the Pacific Rim. From the outset there was no distinction within the Kingsley household between “natural” and “adopted” children. All were loved, disciplined, nourished, appreciated, and respected. It was understood and unquestioned – they were a family.

A family that grew even larger when Mrs. Kingsley delivered yet another daughter and, shortly afterwards, the paperwork was finalized for the adoption of a boy from Eastern Europe.

Four girls, three boys, two very proud, and very satisfied parents. Of course, it takes more than love to pay the bills, but Mr. Kingsley had succeeded in business, so finances were never a concern. And even with all the demands of young and growing children, time had never been much of a factor either. Mr. Kingsley was fond of saying, “There’s always time to do what’s important,” and the strength and attitude that was evident in their home seemed to prove him right.

That strength and attitude would be tested most severely.

Of all the Kingsley children, Wally, the eleven-year-old, and third of the Kingsley clan, was the one who could brighten any mood. Perpetually sunny in disposition, quick in thought, compassionate in relationships, Wally was not only the peacemaker in sibling squabbles, his ability to bring a smile and his lack of self-preoccupation invited the admiration of his younger brothers and sisters, and the protection of his older ones.

Unfortunately, their watchful eyes didn’t see the car that crushed Wally’s bicycle as he rode to a friend’s house. The driver never stopped and the Kingsleys would never know precisely what happened. They only knew the result.

Even in their courtship, both Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley had decided that, when their time came, they would be life-givers. It was on each of their driver’s licenses. A real discussion , then, wasn’t even necessary in Wally’s case, only signatures on a form. As hard as losing a child was, the Kingsleys’ grief was lessened, if only slightly, by knowing that other children would live as a result. The strong and kind heart of their child would power the life of another.

Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley met Bobby several months before Wally’s accident. Orphaned at birth, left at the front door of the local firehouse without a note, Bobby was without any clue to his background or his lineage.

The system had cared for Bobby in the twelve years since. Cared is probably overstating what Bobby had experienced. “Tolerated” or “kept” might describe it better. Bobby had never caught the eye or the heart of any prospective parents. He had been carried along by the bureaucracy, existing, but not belonging.

Despite the lack of warmth and affection that nourishes and sustains any young child, Bobby was relatively well-adjusted, even hopeful. He had experienced more than his share of disappointment and rejection, pain and loneliness. He lacked any real knowledge of what a loving family could be like. Not knowing what he was missing, it was said, Bobby missed it less.

It was shortly after the Kingsleys met him for the first time that Bobby’s kidneys began to fail. The medical professionals disagreed on the cause, but were certain of the prognosis. Bobby needed new kidneys. He was put on the list.

Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley normally sought to adopt a child as an infant or toddler, but felt inexplicably drawn to the case of this pre-teen with daunting medical needs. They had a vision to meet the great need of children from other countries, but felt compelled to touch this child from their own community.

They hesitated. Then came Wally’s accident, and suddenly tragedy and opportunity intersected to make their decision for them.

Bobby could be taken off two lists at the same time, gaining two titles – organ recipient and son.

Only hours after losing one son, the Kingsleys would participate in the possible gain of another.

They never thought of Bobby as Wally’s replacement. Just as they had loved each of their children specifically and independently, they saw Bobby through an exclusive lens. This was simply making the very best out of the very worst.

The surgery went better than any of the medical team had hoped. The unusual step of replacing both of Bobby’s kidneys was an unqualified success. Rather than rejecting the transplanted organs, Bobby’s system responded vigorously. It seemed that he was almost instantly cured of whatever had caused his original condition. Recovery would be brief.

The grief of the Kingsley family was more prolonged. The loss of Wally was profound, piercing. Those feelings of emptiness were mixed with the hope of gaining Bobby. In time, the children were introduced to their potential sibling, and Bobby and the Kingsleys became acquainted.

In the next twelve months, the Kingsley clan gradually regained their footing, and the addition of Bobby to the group was another step to healing. Even the youngest Kingsley sensed a bigger purpose, as if it was all calculated in advance.

From Bobby’s perspective, it was nothing short of overwhelming. Having never known the benefits of belonging, he was given a wonderful taste of what it would be like to be a brother, a son. He liked it. He couldn’t wait to be known, not just as Bobby, but Bobby Kingsley. It was all miraculous, too good to be true. But if Bobby ever doubted the reality, he only had to touch the scar that signified the sacrifice and provision he had received.

It was exactly a year to the day of Wally’s accident – coincidentally – that papers were signed, and it was official – Bobby Kingsley, the newest , if not the youngest, Kingsley child. A bittersweet day, to be sure.

Mealtimes were always the best times at the Kingsleys, No better food could be served than what was prepared by Mrs. Kingsley, but it was more than food that made mealtimes special. Mealtimes were a time to laugh at the stories of the day, a time to look in each other’s eyes, a time when connection became the most real.

In the years following, as the family grew yet again, those family dinners bonded them ever closer. There was one more baby, a boy, to close out Mrs. Kingsley’s child-bearing years, followed by twin – yes, twin – girls, orphaned by a terrible east African civil war, now adopted into positive American civil bliss. Then the grandchildren began to arrive.

It was the empty place at the table that created the difficulty.

Of course, there was never any physically empty place at the Kingsley table. Space was too precious for that. The emptiness was felt, if not seen. No matter how many other Kingsley children and grandchildren made their place at the table, the emptiness was real and tangible. It was the place their brother should have occupied.

No one could explain why he rarely did.

In the days after his adoption, Bobby had quickly meshed into the fabric of Kingsley life. He enjoyed everything about it. Even discipline was administered with genuine compassion and charity. That’s what he loved most. They really cared.

That’s why it was only a little unusual when he started asking if he could spend the night back at the orphanage. Surely he just wanted to share the new attitude and sense of belonging he had discovered with some of the kids he left behind.

It wasn’t long before everyone realized that there must be more to it. Nights became weekends, that quickly became weeks. And each time he returned, Bobby acted less like a son, more like an orphan.

How could a twelve, now thirteen, then fourteen year old boy decide where he was going to live, who he would listen to? And why, having experienced the love, belonging and close-knit unity of a family, would he choose the cold loneliness of the orphanage?

The excuses were varied, if not predictable, until at last the excuses stopped being offered. Instead, there was silence. And the empty place at the table.

Every once in a while, their paths would cross, Bobby and one of the other Kingsleys, though the younger ones didn’t recognize him, and couldn’t know that the man with the prematurely graying hair and slight limp was one of their own. They might make the connection if they caught sight of him on the fringes of the annual family reunions, held – not by coincidence – on the anniversary of a very special day. Even Bobby wouldn’t miss that day.

But he would miss most everything else about being a Kingsley.

Married for over sixty years, sharing life, love, tragedy, loss, and great joy, it surprised few people who really knew them when Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley passed away within a few hours of each other.

At the reading of the will, the room was abounding with Kingsleys. Their family had grown quite large, and Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley had planned on generously blessing each family member at their passing.

Their testament mentioned each by name, from the youngest to the oldest. In most cases, there was included a favorite story about the family member, along with the qualities Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley had most admired. There were many tears, but many laughs as well. It was as if Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley were still there, with the rest of the family gathered at the old mealtime table.

It was almost incidental when the endowment of material possessions was finally mentioned. Almost. For nothing that they had known of the Kingsley patriarch’s generosity and financial acumen prepared them for what was to come.

They were rich. Each and every last one of them. From the youngest great-great-grandchild – for the record, Emma, born only three weeks before and, actually, the only great-great grandchild – to the oldest daughter, they had all become instant millionaires. Multi-millionaires, to be more precise, who, if they followed the advice handed down to them as well, would eventually approach billionaire status.

One name was conspicuously absent, a fact not lost on anyone that were present.
He stood near the back of the room, moving little, saying nothing. At the beginning of the evening he was hopeful, but not expectant. He hadn’t seen any family member, much less the parents, in the few months preceding their deaths, but the scar was still there, the one that reminded him of the first gift they had ever given him. He was hopeful for one more.

But as the night wore on, and the names were read, and everyone swam in the rich sea of family memories, it occurred to Bobby that perhaps he had already missed the real inheritance. When he finally heard his name, he couldn’t help but hold his breath.

“…and to Bobby. We still love you. You heard us say, there is always time to do what’s important. We were wrong, because now there is no time for us to know you as our son. We wish you had joined us for dinner. It was more than a meal.”

Illustration Post Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning I will be posting a short story. It was an illustration that I originally wrote for the sermon last night. I am doing a series on the book of Numbers and last night we were in Numbers 9:1-14.

The illustration turned out to be quite long, turning into a short story, which I’ve decided to post here.

The basic idea I was trying to illustrate was this: what is it like when someone says, I like God, I just don’t like the church? Or, I’m a Christian, but I don’t have to go to church for that.

In Numbers 9, God makes it clear to the Israelites, if you don’t partake in Passover, you have no place in the congregation, and if you have no place in the congregation, you have no part in me.

Check back tomorrow.