Romans 14 talks about not letting the small differences of opinion about the right and wrong way to do things separate us as believers. Paul gives many examples – what day of the week is the holiest day, wether or not to eat meat, and so forth. The crazy thing is that we still get stuck here today. We have all these denominations that split the christ following church because one group believes it should worship on Saturday and another says they’re wrong, they should worship on Sunday. Others say drinking wine is a horrible sin, while others don’t see the problem as long as it’s in moderation. Some churches believe any music with a drum set is from Satan, and others use a rock bank to lead worship. We divide ourselves with petty differences, and I believe this weakens us. Paul urges the church to put aside these small squabbles and love each other so that the church doesn’t become and obstacle to others coming to know Jesus. Sadly, in many ways, we, the church of Jesus, His followers, are that obstacle because we don’t love those who think differently. We look down our noses at the unmarried couple with their children. We avoid even looking at that guy with all the tattoos and piercings. We raise our eyebrows at kid who dresses all in black and sits quietly in the back row. And we yell angry, unkind words at people leaving bars at night telling them that God doesn’t love them and they’re going to hell. We wonder why the world hates Christians. But, in our zeal to do what we think is right, we alienate those hurting people around us because it’s what WE think is right – not what GOD thinks is right. And sometimes what we think is right is the very thing that keeps us from making the impact that God would like us to have. All in all, LOVE. Jesus didn’t care if that person was pierced, tattooed, dressed all in black, screamer-band listening, motorcycle driving, smoking, or drinking. He LOVED them anyway. By letting our opinions about what is right and wrong split us as believers, we give the enemy small victories, weakening our effectiveness, and shoving people who could have believed back into the darkness with our judgment. And I’m guilty of this sometimes, too. But I’d like to think that I’m becoming more open about remembering that the only thing that matters is JESUS. Do you love Jesus? Then that’s all that I should worry about. God will sort out the rest. LOVE one another – no matter what seemingly strange or weird things seem to separate you. Jesus loves you (and them), no matter what. If we are to be Christ-like, we must love no matter what, too.
Isaiah 45:3…I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name. It’s funny how little phrases can stick with you. I’ve heard over and over how God knows the names of the stars, the hairs on my head, and all that, but I thought it interesting that God uses that phrase as part of His name. He doesn’t just say, “I know your name” or “I call you by name.” Part of His name is actually, “The One Who Calls You By Name.” So, what’s the point? Well, whose name do you know? Do you know the name of the girl who scanned your groceries or pointed you to the aisle where the popcorn is hidden? Why do stores put name tags on their employees? Why should it matter to them? Our names are important. Knowing peoples’ names creates a bond, even a small one, that helps us to connect and feel more friendly towards people (generally speaking). When you go to a hotel and the staff uses your name, they are trying to make you feel comfortable so you’ll want to come back. At the grocery store, if you strike up a conversation with “Maria” who is scanning your groceries you’d be surprised at how much you nicer the experience is. You can make her smile by using her name and talking. If you find out your servers name and speak to him or her like a human being, using his or her name, you’ll be surprised at how that makes them feel appreciated. Names are important. God in the one who calls us by name. We know the names of our friends and family. If a person is important, we learn his or her name. We use name tags, too, when we don’t know people but want to feel friendlier towards them. In ancient times people believed that names had power. Some cultures even gave themselves two names – one was public and the other was secret. God knows our names. He knows the name of every person on the planet. There is not one person that is less important whose name He has forgotten or doesn’t know. He believes that we are important enough, He loves us enough, to know our name. And not just to know it, to use it. He doesn’t say, “Hey you!” He says, “Amanda,” or whatever your name is. Names are used to express endearment, discipline, excitement, to get our attention, and so much more. How amazing that the God who made everything and everyone knows my name! And, He thinks that’s important enough to make it part of His name.
Numbers 27:5-7So Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord replied to Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You must give them an inheritance of land along with their father’s relatives. Assign them the property that would have been given to their father.” One of the men who had died in the wilderness only had daughters. When land was being doled out among the tribes, it generally went to the men of the tribe and their sons. But this man had only daughters, and because of that, they would get no land. So, the decided to petition Moses to have land assigned to them. And, God said that they were right and that in the future, any man who died without sons would have his inheritance go to his daughters and so on. A couple of cool things – first, they were brave enough to ask. It’s not clear to me if their father died of natural causes or was one of the men who was killed in one of God’s plagues or what, but whatever happened, they came and asked. And God gave them what they asked for, and in the end, it benefited all the women in Israel. Sometimes we need to remember to ask. Be brave enough to come and ask. I tell my students all the time that if they don’t ask me, I don’t know they need something. Granted, God knows what we need before we ask, but He wants us to come to Him and ask. It helps us remember that we need Him and can’t do it on our own. In a book I read by a woman who used to be an anchor at CNN, she says that the worst thing someone can say is “no.” And what does that hurt? So, I try and remember to be brave enough to ask. It doesn’t hurt anything, and there’s a good chance that you will get what you ask for. But you’ll never know if you don’t ask. Second, their request gave women some ability to own land. That doesn’t seem very important, but in a society that was so male-centric, women didn’t get land or property. She lived with her father, then with her husband or his family. If she had sons, she lived with them if her husband died. But, if a man only had daughters, his name would die out and his daughters, traditionally, got nothing to survive on. This request changed all that. God said that if a man died without sons, the inheritance should go to his daughters. If he had no daughters it would go to his brothers, and so on. I think this is part of the law that Ruth called on when she asked Boaz to redeem the inheritance of her husband. Anyway, God loves the daughters as well as the sons, and changes the law to give them a way to survive if there was nobody left to care for them. God’s good like that.
Numbers 26:51,64-65So the total number of Israelite men counted in the census numbered 601,730…Not one person that Moses and Aaron counted in the census had been among those counted in the previous census taken in the wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, “They will all die in the wilderness.” The only exceptions were Caleb, son of Jephunneh and Joshua, son of Nun. I don’t know about you, but when I picture the Israelites following Moses around the desert, I picture a handful of people and a bunch of sheep. A couple of tents and the tabernacle. But that’s nowhere near what it must have been like. Imagine all the people who watched the Superbowl in the stadium. Most stadiums hold between 70,000 and 90,000 people. Now imagine 6 or 7 stadiums packed full of men (the census only counted men over one month of age… so it doesn’t even take into account all the women and infants!). All those thousands upon thousands of people were wandering around the desert following one man… Think of how crazy the city of New York is, all those people going all those places. Imagine all of them living in tents following the leadership of one man. That must have been one sight to see. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to grasp quite how arduous and chaotic that might have been at times. No wonder God laid out specific rules about how things were done! I also find it interesting that when this second census was taken, not one person was still alive who had been counted in the last census – except Joshua and Caleb. I wonder if they got frustrated because they were entering the promised land as old men instead of strong young men capable of doing much more? Or did God keep them strong so they could really enjoy it? It took 40 years to come back to the promised land, but God kept His promise and they were allowed to enter.
Numbers 25:11Then the Lord said to Moses, “Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest has turned my anger away from the Israelites by displaying passionate zeal among them on my behalf. So I have stopped destroying all of Israel as I had intended to do in my anger. Right after Balaam blesses Israel in front of King Balak, Israel goes off and is seduced by the Midianites. Some of the men sleep with the Midianite women and soon Israel is feasting with them and worshiping Baal. God is furious! I would be, too. He just finished blessing them, and they go off and, literally, sleep with the enemy. So, He tells Moses to execute anyone who was part of leading Israel astray. As Moses and some of the people are weeping in front of the tabernacle, some man has the nerve to bring a Midianite woman into his tent – right in front of Moses! Phinehas sees this and is so upset that he grabs a spear, chases after the man, and thrusts the spear all the way through the man and the woman! Because of this act of passion, God stops the plague and does not wipe out Israel. Passion. That’s something we don’t have a lot of these day. Well, we have passion for politicians, cars, jobs, sex, TV shows, celebrities, money, and a lot of other things, but do we have passion for the things of God? When we see things that make God sad, are we moved to do anything? When we see things in our own lives that make God sad, are we moved to do anything? Do we have any passion left for Him? I’m not saying we should go out killing those people who do the wrong thing. That wasn’t the point of God’s statement. It was because Phinehas displayed passionate zeal on God’s behalf that Israel was saved. How can you show passionate zeal for God? Well, I think that varies from person to person, but certainly living a life of worship for God is a good place to start. Praise Him – yup, you can do that… you might look a little silly, but you can do it! Try singing along to worship music in your car. There’s music out there that can appeal to you no matter what your musical taste is (there is everything from gospel to christian rap and heavy metal). Make the lyrics a prayer from you to God. What else? You can help others. Maybe this means you serve at your church welcoming people to the service, or maybe it means that you work in the nursery. Maybe it means listening to that guy in the cubicle next to you who is going through a really rough time and encouraging him and being kind to him. Maybe it means playing on the floor with your kids instead of watching that TV show you love. It means something different to everyone. It’s doing what God would want you to do – loving other people, being passionate about the things that God is passionate about. Passion without fear. I doubt Phinehas was thinking about what people thought of him when he killed the man and the woman. He was obeying God. He was passionately upset by what people were doing to disrespect God. His obedience and his love for God saved hundreds of thousands of people. We may never know the extent of our obedience, our passion, but I have no doubt that there is a ripple effect that goes farther than we imagine – here and in heaven.
Isaiah 43:10b-11, 25There is no other God; there never has been and never will be. I am the Lord, and there is no other Savior… I – yes, I alone – am the one who blots out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again. I don’t think you can get much clearer than that! God is God and there is no other like Him. There is no other Savior (not money, not stuff, not a job, not a politician) but Him. But this last bit is so awesome! He blots out my sins for HIS own sake and NEVER thinks of them again. He doesn’t forgive me for my own sake. Sure, He loves me and wants me to be able to be with Him, but forgiveness comes because He loves me, not because I love Him. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to be good enough or nice enough or pretty enough to get Him to erase my sins! And He will NEVER think of them again. I wonder if there are times when we (I’ve done this) are reminded of a sin in our past and ask God to forgive us for it for the millionth time and God is sitting there going, “Child, I have no idea what sin you’re talking about!” There is another verse that says that He forgets our sins. Our infinite God has a short memory when we ask for forgiveness. He doesn’t keep an account of all the things we’ve done wrong so He can throw them back in our faces (although the enemy would love for us to think He does). Once we are forgiven, it’s like it never happened. God forgets. I wish I could forget as easily! So, I try to remember that once I’ve confessed a sin and God has forgiven me, it’s done. Yes, the enemy will occasionally remind me of the stupid things I’ve done in the past, but I can remind myself that God’s forgotten about it, and it’s been erased. There are sometimes chains and bonds that need to be broken before I can be truly free, but if God can forgive and forget, shouldn’t I?
Isaiah 41: 9-10, 13, 16b, 17For I have chosen you and will not throw you away. Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand… I am holding you by your right hand – I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, “Do not be afraid. I am here to help you.”… And the joy of the Lord will fill you to overflowing. You will glory in the Holy One of Israel…. When the poor and needy search for water and there is none, and their tongues are parched from thirst, then I, the Lord, will answer them. I, the God of Israel, will never forsake them. I know that’s a lot to read and it’s a bit all over the place, but the messages here are so sweet. 1. I am chosen by God. He will not throw me away! The Almighty Infinite Creator of the Universe and all the incredibly, beautiful things in it, has chosen me. Out of all these things, He thinks I am the best! He won’t toss me away. He loves me passionately and I am exactly what He wanted! 2. There are so many bad things going on these days. I hate watching the news because it’s so depressing with people hurting each other, rape, murder, child abuse. My heart hurts, and I wish I could hide. I fear for myself sometimes and for my children. With the economy and our finances the way they are, I fear for our ability to provide. If I were to sit down and think about it, I could think of so many things to be afraid of. BUT, God says not to fear. No worries. He is bigger than any problem, more powerful than any criminal, more resourceful than any economy, and certainly smarter than anyone in power or “control” today! I loved reading these verses because they are such a beautiful reminder that I am not alone, that I have a strong, protective God who is watching out for me. 3. This was pretty cool – it isn’t until the people are thirsty, and not just a little thirsty – parched, that God comes to help them. I think that sometimes I search half-heartedly for what I want, but that’s not good enough. Getting what I need then can give me the impression that I can do it myself. Searching for water and finding small puddles to mitigate my thirst puffs me up because then I think, “hey, I found water. I can do this!” God waits until I am parched, there is no water to be found. I can’t do it on my own. I can’t provide for myself. I realize I am well and truly stuck. THEN, I am ready to understand that only God can do what I need him to do. God steps in and reminds me that He won’t forsake me or leave me to die. But He will wait until I stop trying to fix the world myself. For example, John and I are in a tough financial place right now. We’re tithing and trying to be as obedient as we can be. And God promises to provide, to bless us, and to help us… so why aren’t things getting easier? Why aren’t the boys healthier? Why is there sometimes more month than money? And, I think, to some great degree, we aren’t parched. We’re tired and exhausted (literally, some days), but there have been small puddles in the desert. We have hope, but we’re not parched yet. When we are, when our tongues are sticking to the roof of our mouth, when there is nowhere left to turn, the God will come. He will answer. He will not forsake us. Maybe that time is close. I sure hope so. And until then, we cling to the promise that He will keep His words and that He will not leave us or forsake us, that He will bring blessings. He will open then a river in the desert, and a spring where there was no water before. Yeah God!