Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Study In Contrasts, John's Gospel

Alright, business first:

I'm feeling as though I'm out here writing in the wilderness. I find myself calling out, "Anybody home?"

So. Are you?

I'm learning that I need to hear from you, my dear readers. Write On! Hit the comment button on the bottom of the blog, and let me know what you're thinking. Am I boring you to death? Were you interested at first and then gave up? Did you plan to read through and find yourself more and more behind? Let's talk!

(I have an idea to contrast the Muslim idea of changing the world with the Jewish taking of the Promised Land. I've heard so many talk about the Jews as being "just as bloody for God as the Muslims." Not true. Numbers clears that up. If you'd like to talk about that, I would. Let me know?)

Gotta confess. I don't know where the week went. I finished Numbers and last night, I started the Gospel of John. You can see the pattern, Old Testament book, New Testament book, OT, NT, all in order. Not too hard. The best part is that you don't have to carry around a little sheet telling you where you should be on this particular day. Works for me.

I've lost too many things in the last week (cell phone, keys, bike locks) to be worrying about a little piece of paper!

So. What do I get out of the first chapter of John?


In Numbers, the priests had a start date and an end date. No work before age 20 or after age 50. In John, our next priest is ageless (He already existed, in John 1:1-5).

In Numbers the priests were honored. In John, the priest isn't even recognized, let alone accepted. (John1:10)

In Numbers, we get the law. In John, Jesus brings us "God's unfailing love and faithfulness." (John1:17)

In Numbers, there was no end to the sacrifice. Day after Day. Week after Week. Once a day. Twice a day. More on feast days. The lamb, the bull. The blood, spilling, pouring, gushing. But never enough.

In John, "Look, There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world."

Jesus was ONE sacrifice, for all time. The HUMAN lamb. The sacrifice so perfect that no other sacrifice would ever be necessary.

A study in contrasts. Do you see how the New Testament is so much brighter when seen in the context of the Old Testament? It is as if the Old Testament is God in Sepia Tone. And the New Testament is God in the Land of Oz. Everything is in bright color. Clear. Visible. Unmistakable.

Tomorrow I turn 52. We're headed out on the boat for a day or two! My body wishes I were younger. But my soul longs to get old and be with the one whose perfect sacrifice gives me a future worth living. As Paul, to be here is good. To be with Him -- ah, that will be peace at last!


Sunday, June 24, 2007


I’ve had a busy week, but I’ve read through Numbers 27. How’re you doing? And by the way, am I the only poor slob out there who struggles with envy? Judging from your responses, I’m guessing so. You must be a pretty Holy audience. Wish I were so accomplished!

Today, rather than camp on a whole concept, I’d like to make some observations and derive some simple applications. Try these on for size:

In Numbers 24 the King of Balak asks the prophet Balaam to come curse Israel. This story is where all those “talking donkey” jokes come from. To be honest, I don’t quite understand why the Angel of the LORD stands in the donkey’s pathway. But I love this quote from Balaam. “I told you that I could say only what the LORD says.” And here is my application: Oh that I could be that wise!

As a speaker, it’s so tempting to add my own two cents worth at every opportunity. I like to wax eloquent, to sound clever and wise, to share my opinion whenever I take the microphone. But how much of what I say has any real value? I wish that I could learn to say ONLY what the Lord says, and nothing more. THAT would be discipline!

In Numbers 26, Moses takes another census of the Israelites. Isn’t it interesting that God absolutely KEPT his promise regarding those who would perish in the desert? The word says, “Not one person that was counted in this census had been among those counted in the previous census taken by Moses and Aaron…” When I was young, my dad used to say, “the most important thing a father can do is to keep his word.” My observation from this text is that God keeps his word absolutely – both his word to bless and his word to punish. In Numbers, God keeps his promise to punish the Israelites who won’t believe him. Does that tell us He will keep his promise toward those who don’t believe and trust in his Son Jesus? I think so.

I think it’s a picture of the punishment awaiting those who refuse to believe.

In Numbers 27, where the daughters of Zelophehad come to Moses asking for an inheritance in the Promised Land, God responds, “The daughters are right… You must give them an inheritance of land along with their father’s relatives.” Remember the context of this passage. Certainly this was not the season of women’s rights. They didn’t vote. They didn’t choose their own spouses. They didn’t have property rights. And yet GOD goes out of his way to establish the rights of women to inherit and possess land. It is the first of many indications that God values women. In the midst of a sometimes misogynistic church, that encourages me.

My last observation comes from Numbers 25, where some Israelite men get sexually involved with Moabites. In the end, these men begin worshipping the gods of Moab. Here is my observation: All through scripture, God admonishes his people to stay pure. In the New Testament, he tells believers NOT to marry believers. In the OT, God tells his people not to intermarry with the natives of the Promised Land. This story illustrates how easy it is for believers to be sidetracked. “Oh mom, I’d never believe like he does. We’re just friends.” But the Word is full of examples where believers become entangled in idolatry, when they abandon the principle of marrying within the faith.

It’s another one to share with your kids. Begin before dating is even in the picture. Talk about these examples. Help your kids see that no believer ever INTENDS to fall for an unbeliever. It happens when we aren’t careful to guard our heart, when we don’t commit to obedience and avoid every possible temptation. It isn’t easy.

It’s just essential.

So, did you see something I’ve missed? Bette

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Deadly Trap

Sometimes when you read the Old Testament, the thing you learn is something you already knew. Of course, that's because people haven't changed much since then -- and temptation -- well that's about as unchanging as death and taxes. So, today, I want to talk about something that is covered in several chapters of Numbers, beginning in Chapter 16:1, when Korah conspired with other levites against Moses.

What was their complaint? That Moses seemed to think he was of more value than the rest of the Levites. The root of their complaint was jealousy. The Korites and other members of the Levite tribe resented Moses and Aaron's positions of authority over them. They didn't like carrying the poles and tools and curtains of the Tabernacle. They wanted to minister to the Lord, to offer sacrifices, to work inside the secret place.

So how did Moses answer the charge?

"Now listen you levites! Does it seem a small thing to you that the God of Irael has chosen you from among all the people of Israel to be near him as you serve in the Lord's Tabernacle and to stand before the people to minister to them?"

What was he saying? "Isn't your job good enough? Why do you despise the position God has given you?"

The Levites in charge of the Tabernacle weren't satisfied. Instead of doing their own job well, they began to look longingly over at Moses and Aaron. They wished for the power, for the prestige, for their nearness to what God was doing. Think about it! When God spoke, he spoke with Moses. Under those conditions, it would be easy to begin to believe that you play second string.

Moses and Aaron always knew what was happening next. The Levites were nothing more (in their own eyes) than the moving team. They jumped when Moses told them to. In the next couple of chapters, Korah's rebellion is squashed, and the people of Israel begin to grumble against Moses... And eventually, God has to put the entire episode to rest -- which he does in chapter 17. God tells Moses to have each of the tribes inscribe a tribal leader's name on a staff, and then God says, "Put these staffs in the Tabernacle in front of the Ark of the Covenant, where I meet with you. Buds will sprout on the staff belonging to the man I choose. then I will finally put an end to the murmuring and complaining against you."

Whose staff budded? The one with Mose's name inscribed on it.

Okay, so God didn't want the Levites to envy Moses and complain against his leadership. He wanted them to be satisfied with their appointed position.

So, how does that apply to me?

That's easy. I'm not impervious to envy. for instance, in the world of writing and publishing, it's easy to look at other, more successful authors -- people who sell lots of books, or who have huge platforms and wonder, "why can't you spread a little of that my way Lord?" When I go to conventions, and the limos show up at the airport for the OTHER authors, it's easy to feel a little left out, to wonder if my little contribution to publishing is worth anything.

It's easy to forget that God chooses his servants, and, he chooses the good works his servants are to accomplish.

I'm not too different from Korah and his buddies. And I think God is asking me, "Do you dispise the work I've given YOU to do? Can you keep your head down, stop worrying about my other servants? Can you do what I gave you to do? Can you do it well, no matter who notices? With no accolades?

I don't want to let envy lead me to rebellion. How about you?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

My Rear View Mirror

Some of you know that I love to ride my bicycle.

In the spring, usually before summer weather starts, I work hard to increase my weekly mileage. It isn't easy riding in "iffy" weather. Yesterday, I rode a fast twenty miles trying to beat the rain. And I noticed the most unusual thing. Looking in my rearview mirrow (attached to my sunglasses) it seemed that all the great weather was behind me. In my mirror, the sky was blue with fluffy white clouds. Ahead, all I could see was a dark low-lying sky. It was cold and windy, and I kept wondering why I was riding AWAY from the good stuff!

The same thing happened to the Israelites in the book of Numbers. (In chapter 11) While they were in transit, they made the mistake of looking in their rear view mirrors -- and all they saw were the good things they left behind in Egypt. They missed the vegatables, the meat, the fish, the melons. And at the same time, they began to scorn the manna -- the white stuff that God sent onto the ground every night -- which was his provision for them in the wilderness.

"And day after day we have nothing to eat but this manna!"

God's anger blazed against the people there -- he sent fire among them and destroyed the outskirts of the camp. And some of us would think he over reacted. Seems a little over the top, eh?

But remember these are the same people who cried out for deliverance from their slavery. The same people who lived through the plagues. Who left Egypt wearing the jewelry belonging to their masters. They walked over the dry ground at the bottom of the Red Sea. They saw Pharaoh's army drown.

These were the same people who had this promise, "I have come to rescue them from the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own good and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey..." (Exodus 3:8)

You see this account is written about peole who were BETWEEN. They were between the slavery and the promised land. They'd been rescued, yes. But the good stuff was still to come. Does that sound familiar? So, in the hard place -- the desert -- they got to romanticizing the comfort of their old homes. "Oh yeah, slavery wasn't so bad, was it? I didn't mind, considering all the melons we got to eat!"

The lesson here is that God wanted his people to be patient for the goodstuff. To remember their deliverance. To be thankful for his provision even in the BETWEEN places.

He wants that of me too. To be patient while waiting for the good things he promises me. To remember his mighty deliverance in my life. To be thankful always for his provision in the middle, in the BETWEEN places.

Okay. I can do that. I can choose gratitude and patience. And when even gratitude seems impossible, I can ask for him to make me willing to be willing... Sometimes that's where I have to start. How about you? Where have you learned to be grateful in the BETWEEN places? Bette

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A new book; A new look

I've finished Luke's Gospel account, and though perhaps I should blog on the resurrection, I'm going to pass -- except for a few comments. Here goes... In Luke 24 Jesus is seen alive (after his crucifiction) by no less than fourteen different people. Now considering the importance of the resurrecion -- Jesus' overcoming the grave proved his claim to be God -- it impresses me that this many people saw him alive after his death. Other gospel accounts mention even more first hand witnesses. So, my question comes down to this; If I wanted to completely debunk Jesus, I'd only have to come up with his dead body. Why didn't anyone do that? It should have been easy. There should have been hundreds of volunteers, eager to track him down. Why not? Perhaps because there was no body to be found?

I started the book of Numbers last night, finishing in chapter 3. (I typically read the Bible before bed). Most folks feel like the book of Numbers (the fourth book of the Old Testament) is right up there with the top three boring books of the Bible. I probably wouldn't disagree. But last night, I discovered something new. Naturally, God's accounting (numbering) of the people serves several purposes.

1. It stresses the importance of Geneology. These family records were kept with remarkable accuracy up to the time of Jesus' birth. Luke's gospel gave us a detailed record of Jesus' family history from Joseph (his adoptive father) all the way to Adam. They confirm Jesus' roots in the tribe of Judah -- a prediction from the Old Testament. In Numbers, we see the beginning of this kind of accurate record keeping. God is preparing a way to confirm his Old Testament prophecies.

2. The instructions in Numbers gave order to the movement of what some authorities say may have been more than 3 million people. By placing the people in clans and giving them the same camping positions -- day after day -- around the Tabernacle, the ordeal of breaking camp and moving out was changed from total chaos to organized mobilization -- not unlike a modern army. Numbers gives us a picture of the practical nature of God's instructions.

3. Numbers provides an introduction of a critically important Biblical principle. REDEMPTION. In Numbers 3:40, the Lord tells Moses to count the firstborn sons in Israel, older than one month. (Firstborns, remember, belong to the LORD) Then, he makes this statement. "The Levites will be reserved for me as substitutes for the firstborn sons of Israel; I am the LORD... (45) The Levites will be mine; I am the LORD. To redeem the 273 firstborn sons of Israel who are in excess of the number of Levites, collect fifve pieces of silver for each person... So, Moses collected redemption money for the firstborn sons of Israel."

Even in this boring Old Testament book, we begin to get a picture of redemption -- that is God's willingness to trade item A for item B in order to BUY BACK. Because all the firstborn of everything belong to God, he offers a way for the people to buy back their firstborns -- that is by trading them for the Levites, and by paying for each firstborn OVER the number of Levites. The Levites (who spend their lives in priestly service) then belong to God (who is satisfied by the redemption) and the firstborn of other tribes are able to continue their lives -- with wives and children and obligations.

It is one of many early pictures of substitution -- in this case Levites for Firstborns. And it is an important principle preparing God's peopel to understand the death of an animal as a substitute payment for sin.This sin payment (also an Old Testament picture) prepares us to understand Jesus' Death in payment for our own sin.

So, even in the first three chapters of Numbers, we see God reaching out to his people, trying to help them understand who he is, what he demands of them, and most important of all, to understand his remarkable provision for their eternal life.

Whodathunkit? All of that in Numbers? What did you see?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Is that all there is?

I've read through Luke's Gospel through chapter 23; and I find the timing of my reading and my life converging once again. You see this week, my life hit a bump. I had a disappointment, a conflict -- a problem that has caused much sadness, and loss of sleep. I don't take these things lightly.

And here I am reading about Jesus trial, the very event that would bring an end to his life. When I might be tempted to slide into hopelessness over a broken relationship, I read about people who faced a despair deeper than any I have ever known. Jesus' friends faced the end of something too, the loss of hope. The end of Jesus' life signaled the end of promise. Had they been tricked? Had they been fools? Were they second guessing their own wisdom in following this strange, but powerful man/god?

When things look bleak, it's tempting to ask, "Is that all there is?"

In chapter 23, verse 3, Pilate asks Jsus, "Are you the king of the Jews?" And Jesus answers, "It is as you say." Then TWICE Pilate makes it clear that he finds NOTHING in Jesus worthy of death. (verse 15). And he offers to flog Jesus and release him.

Instead the people ask for Jesus' death.

Even in his last hours, Jesus evokes a miriad of responses in the people he contacts. The crowd wants to kill him. One criminal wants to make fun of him. The other asks for mercy. The captain of the Roman soldiers (managing the execution) finds himself convinced that Jesus was innocent. Even after Jesus death, Joseph, a member of the Jewish high council, risks claiming the body -- to wrap it, and lay it in a tomb.

Imagine for the moment, going to bed on the night of Jesus death. Wouldn't you be asking yourself? Is that all there is? What do we do now? Remember that his friends hadn't read the whole book. They didn't see ressurection Sunday coming (though they'd certainly been warned).

The same is true for me. Today, this relationship looks hopeless. I don't see how it can ever be restored. I'm frustrated, misunderstood, accused. Parts of me don't even want to try to fix it. I'd like to bury it and move on.

But the message of Jesus' death is this: What you SEE is NOT what you get. Tomorrow is a new day. It has new potential. A new story. A new resurrecton. God can see what you cannot. He has a plan. A new answer, that you cannot possibly see from here. So in the words of Nicole Nordeman, "Hold on, He's right behind you. Hold on, Love will find you."

It's easy to remember the Ressurection Sundays -- the marriages saved, the children healed, the churches restored -- but don't forget those answers while you face the darkest days. Don't allow yourself to be lost to the despair.

Whatever dark Friday you may be facing. Hold on, Love will find a way! Bette

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Upside Down Kingdom

Not everyone responds to these blogs online. Recently, one of my friends questioned me by email. "How can you just skip over the passage that said, 'if you have two coats, give one away?' How can we Christians live so comfortably in a world that so desperately needs our help? How can I justify all that I own?"

Tough questions, yes?

I can answer in a couple of ways. First, in the passage I mentioned last time, the context indicates that Jesus is speaking to a man who has NOT YET come to faith. And, in his present condition, this man's abundant wealth was somehow keeping him from coming to belive in God, and the person of Jesus. The passage doesn't tell us how. Was it his love for stuff? Was it his concern for maintaining the stuff? Was it his passion to accumulate MORE stuff? All of those things can hang us up, can't they?

And the other passage, (the one my friend mentions, the give away your coat section) has an entirely different context -- one that brings us to today's blogging item. The UPSIDE DOWN KINGDOM.

In Luke 22:25 Jesus says, "In this world, the kings and great men order their people around, and yet they are called 'friends of the people.' But among you, those who are the greatest should take the lowest rank and the leader should be like a servant. Normally the master sits at the table and is served by his servants. But not here! For I am your servant!"

Jesus is saying here, (and it is emphasized in many other passages) that this new Kingdom, the one he is ushering into place will be very different than the kingdoms of the world. In the world, leaders expect deferential treatment, limos at the airport, free perks, goody bags with diamonds and cash. But in the kingdom of God, leaders must be servants. They must lay down their own lives to serve those they lead.

This is only one of the many many ways that the Kingdom is UNLIKE the world. We'll probably cover dozens more in the months to come.

Still, this is tough information. For me, I think of this in my writing life. I bring it to my publishing life. I tried always to bring it to my drama team at church. I remember it every time I speak at a retreat. The leader is the servant.

In practical ways, it means that I come to listen more than speak. It means that I try help retreat coordinators both ahead of time, and at the retreat location. It means that I serve the women I speak to, by listening and caring and praying with them about their concerns and struggles. It may mean that I maintain a relationship with a particular woman even months after I leave their retreat. I tried to meet the needs of my drama team, by praying with and for them as we worked together. In the publishing world, it means that I tried to serve my editors and marketing staff by knowing them as individuals, praying for them, sending encouraging notes and always saying thanks when it was appropriate. No matter how it happens, these words from Jesus mean that after I work and work and work as a leader, I must continue to lay down my life and serve some more.

It's not the world's way. It's not the way the Queen of England behaved on her last trip to the US. It isn't the way presidential candidates want their speaking tours to go. It isn't the way of Hollywood. It isn't the way of publishing.

But when you enter the kingdom of God, things are turned upside down.

What things do you do as a servant leader? And in the years you've served in the kingdom, what ways have you seen the kingdom is upside down compared to the world? Are there ways we still need to apply this servant leader principle in the Kingdom of God? Have we failed you in some way? Let's talk! Bette

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Individual Dealings

I've made it through Luke 18. How are you doing? You can see that on some days, I make great strides and others -- well, I'm always in the WORD, but I don't always make much progress. Still,over the last few chapters, I've been thinking about Jesus' dealings with people.

I find myself struck by his remarkable ability to see into the real needs of people. No matter how many people clamored after him, begging for favors, asking for information, even trying to trick him, Jesus responds in entirely unique ways to each. He's not a One Answer Fits All kind of guy. With his disciples, he tells story after story, trying to make them understand the principles of the kingdom. With ten lepers seeking healing, he sends them on their way -- without any apparent intervention. Only after they head off, do they find themselves miraculously healed. With children, he blessed them, letting them come just as close to him as the adults did. When a religious leader came calling, Jesus really challenged him. It seems that money owned the man, rather than the man owning money. Jesus advice was to give it all away. (By the way, this fellow is the only one to whom Jesus gave this instruction) It seems that Jesus knew THIS MAN would only be TRULY free when money no longer held him.

So, that leads me to a couple of questions: If Jesus was so creative at reaching and touching people, why do Christians sometimes get stuck in a One Answer mode? Why do we sometimes feel that every interaction with the unchurched, or the non-believer must unfold in a carefully prescribed way?

On the other hand, if you have just begun wondering about Jesus, have you asked HIM to help you understand him in a way that makes sense to you? Does that seem reasonable? I mean if Jesus was who he said he was, then he's probably still trying to explain heavenly principles to those who want to understand. If you're interested. Ask him. See what happens! Bette