Deuteronomy 30:19-20

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Numbers 12-13

Numbers 12-13

The first real test within Moses’ own family came when Miriam opposed him in Numbers 12. For the first time, someone was directly questioning Moses’ leadership. There had been previous times when the Israelites had questioned God about why they had left Egypt only to endure the trials of their journey to the Promised Land, but they were not as personal as when Miriam questioned Moses’ actions. God made it clear to both her and Aaron that He had specifically chosen Moses to lead Israel, and that the decisions he had made up to this point in his life had all been approved by God. God spoke one-on-one with Moses on a regular basis, in a way that He did not speak with anyone else. So God took offense to the fact that Miriam was questioning the things Moses did. As a result He punished her with leprosy and made her endure its consequences, being set outside the camp for 7 days. But He also allowed her the time to heal and once again be considered as clean, not permitting the Israelites to proceed until her time was up. We must never think that we are too good or that we will not be punished for our sins just because of some role we may have in life. God did not give Miriam a free ride just because she was the sister of Moses. She had to endure the consequences just like everyone else.

At this point the Israelites were just south of the Promised Land, ready to enter and possess it just as God had promised. So God had Moses in Numbers 13 round up a group of “spies” to go into the land of Canaan and see what it was like. They were supposed to take everything into account and determine whether they would be able to inhabit it at this time, where they could go to live, and many other decisions that would have to be made once they got there. Most notably, Joshua and Caleb were included among the group of spies. Joshua has already been mentioned once in the book of Numbers as Moses’ assistant, now he is mentioned again as one of the men given this very large task of spying out the land.

The spies return after 40 days in the Promised Land and report back to Moses that it was basically all that they had ever heard. It flowed with milk and honey and had plenty of food. They knew that it was the land that God had promised them, and knew that it was everything that He had promised. However, many of the spies were frightened by the obstacles that they would have to face in conquering the land. They did not want to think about the fact that they would have to take this land away from some rather large people groups. But they forgot two important factors. One of these was the fact that the land was not the land of these various large people groups. They inherited the land after all of Jacob’s (Israel’s) family had left during the famine to go to Egypt. The land had originally been Abraham’s, Isaac’s, and Jacob’s. They were not taking it away from these other nations; they were just taking it back.

The second and most important thing that they forgot was the fact that they had God on their side, which is what Caleb and Joshua pointed out. The task placed before the Israelites was huge, and God knew that. But He had also promised the land to them, and He was not going to allow them to lose it after two years of preparing them for it. If God allowed these other people groups to conquer the Israelites at this point, then all He had done for them since they left Egypt would have been for nothing. But somehow, the Israelites had forgotten about God’s power and therefore questioned whether they would be able to gain possession of the land.

From this point forward in Scripture it is going to become really easy to be hard on the Israelites. It will seem as if they continue to forget about God’s power, and all that He had done for them in the past. From our perspective, it is easy to wonder how they could have missed it so many times and not learn from their previous mistakes. But we must remember that we are the same way today. We might not want to admit it, but we question God’s authority in our lives. We wonder if He will see us through the tough situations that come up. We forget about the ways in which He has protected us in the past. In many ways, we are no different than the Israelites. So instead of criticizing the Israelites for their mistakes, we need to pay close attention to their mistakes so that we will not make the same ones in our lives. Like Caleb and Joshua, we must always look to God for guidance and depend on His power.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Numbers 11

Numbers 11

The opening of Numbers 11 introduces one of the first major problems in Israel. After 2 years of physically being fed by God (which seems pretty great), they were becoming restless and tired of that daily routine. They complained to God about only having manna to eat each day, and they decided that they wanted some meat to eat. Now while it would be easy to sympathize with them over the few choices of food, we have to remember that manna was said to be the greatest tasting food on earth (not in so many words), and it was prepared by and delivered from God each day. So by saying that they were tired of it and ready for something else, something new, something better, they were in essence rejecting that which God had given them. He had a right to be angry with His people.

But this made life harder for Moses. He found himself caught between trying to listen to God and follow His commands and trying to appease the people. He had been set up by God as their ruler, and when they complained against God, their complaints were also against him. So he cried out to God in his time of need, something that we need to be sure and do when we find ourselves in tough situations such as this. It is not always our first choice to turn to God when we are angry at a situation in our lives, but that is exactly what Moses did. Now although his anger appeared to be directed toward God (and part of it probably was), it appears as if he was more angry at the situation he was in. He found himself in a position that he had not asked for, dealing with a people that were being inconsiderate of the gifts that they had been given, and wanting to continue to follow God, the one who had blessed him and the nation of Israel so much.

But the key in this whole situation was turning to God, going to Him for direction. Moses used his anger for something good, not giving up or having a pity party about the situation, but instead turning to God for direction. God heard His cries and gave him 70 men to assist him, becoming the elders of the camp. But while God helped Moses, He also taught the Israelites a lesson in trust. He gave them what they wanted, the meat, but He did so in a manner that would cause them to never want it again. Instead of giving them plenty, He gave them more than plenty, so much that they would grow tired of eating the meat. Sometimes God ends up giving us what we want, but remember that that is not always a good thing. Just like this situation, He later gave the Israelites a king, which did not turn out great for their country either. Sometimes, God will allow our desires to be met to show us that our desires our not always His desires, and what we think is good is not always what He considers to be good. We should never seek for our desires to be met over His. His will is perfect, and we should always be seeking after Him, trying to live a life in accordance with His will. When we fail to do so, we have to endure the consequences, which is what God was doing with Israel at this time.


Computer Crash

So you never realize how much you depend on your computer until you do not have it any longer. That happened to me last Sunday. After lying in bed that morning as we had a power surge, I did not realize what had happened to my laptop, but when I got back from church a few hours later, it would not come back on. I thought it might be something simple, because I had seen it act in that way before (the screen remaining blank). But after multiple attempts to get it going, I discovered that there might be something worse wrong with it. So I went home and got two other laptops, my old one from before the tornado that is extremely slow and has enough problems of its own and my brother's old/grandmother's new laptop. Between the two I had all the programs I needed, for neither had everything I needed to do my school work.

For the past 8 days, I have used those two laptops on a consistent basis and have had no problems. It was weird using other laptops, because it is so easy to get used to your own. But I managed and made it through the 8 days of not having my own computer. During that time, my computer was sent off to DELL. First, a friend of ours recovered the important information off of my hard drive. Then, DELL fixed my computer, and got it back rather quickly. I was quite impressed. Apparently the hard drive and motherboard were fried from the power surge. I am not entirely sure what happened, but those two parts were recorded on a form that came back with the computer.

So now everything is back to normal, and I almost have everything reloaded onto my laptop. It is almost like I have a new computer. I will be doing significant backups from now on, just in case. I discovered that I am very dependent on this piece of technology, which can be good and bad. It is good in that much of our lives revolve around technology now, and everything I need is on here. But it is bad in that as a result it can eat up a lot of our time. This is the first time, besides the tornado, that I have lost my computer. I hope to never have to go through this again.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Numbers 9:15-10:36

Numbers 9:15-10:36

The last half of Numbers 9 explains how God’s presence in the cloud worked for the nation of Israel. It gave them guidance on where to stay and how long to stay. As long as it rested at the tabernacle, they were to stay in whatever place they were, but as soon as it went ahead of them, they were to pack up camp and move on (toward the Promised Land). It seems like such an easy command to be able to physically see the presence of God and know exactly when to go and when to stay. It makes discerning God’s will so much easier. In some ways, it would be easy to be jealous of the Israelites for having this blessing. But it would also be challenging. I am sure that it was not easy to make camp all the time, and they probably woke up some mornings hoping that the cloud had not moved on because they just might not have felt like moving that day. Also when God’s will is so obvious, there is no excuse for disobedience. So while it would have been awesome to physically know where God was leading them, it was probably also hard. But the good news is that we can still be guided by God. It may not be by some physical cloud, but through His Word, those He has placed in our lives, and by the Holy Spirit, we can still discern God’s will for our lives.

Numbers 10 gave the Israelites the silver trumpets, which were to be blown to signal important events in their lives. One use for the trumpets was to signal when they were to set out, according to what the cloud was doing. But they were also used for the different feasts, for war, and for the different offerings. They would serve as a reminder of all that God had promised them. They would remind the Israelites of His promises, protection, guidance, and plans for their lives. This would help future generations understand the significance of the different practices of their culture.

After spending much of the book of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and the first section on Numbers (which was just around 2 years) in Sinai, the Lord is now leading them to a new place to camp. He has given them all of the different laws, instructing them on how to live life, how to work in the tabernacle, how to settle the land, and how to worship Him. Now, they are beginning to have to put many of these laws into practice. They had already built all of the pieces for the tabernacle and had begun living according to tribes around it. They had already instituted the sacrifices and celebrated the different feasts. Now they had to learn to use the trumpets, learn how to travel by tribe, and recognize when the cloud had set out to take them closer to the Promised Land. The rest of Numbers 10 shows them leaving under these new laws for the very first time, and they were careful to do it in the manner in which God had commanded.


Numbers 8:5-9:14

Numbers 8:5-9:14

The rest of Numbers 8 looks at the dedication of the Levites to the service of the tabernacle under Aaron. God wanted the entire nation of Israel to come out to lay hands on the Levites as they were being set apart for their special service at the tabernacle. In doing so, God showed the Levites the importance of their ministry, for these were the people that they were going to serve. He also showed the Israelites who it was that would be serving them in the tabernacle so that they would know that this tribe had been set aside for this particular service. No one from any other tribe was allowed to serve in this capacity. But the Levites would not serve in the tabernacle for their entire life. They were only allowed to serve from 25 to 50. After that, they were commanded to step down from their service.

Numbers 9 shows the Israelites celebrating Passover. God had previously given Moses clear instructions on what to do on Passover. He had also given Moses instructions on who was clean and unclean and what the consequences were for uncleanliness. This was all put to the test during this Passover, which served as a test for Moses and the Israelites to see if they were ready to actually follow the commands that they had been given. Two men who were unclean knew that they were not allowed within the camp, around the people, or in the tabernacle. So their question was how they were going to celebrate Passover. Moses knew that according to the commands given they could not, but God made an exception for this celebration. One month later, they would be allowed to participate in the celebration (a delayed Passover). God had already created the previous commands and could not go against those, but since it was also commanded that everyone participate, God made sure that they had another opportunity to do so. Failure to celebrate the Passover meant that they would forever be cut off from the people of Israel.

These two men recognized their uncleanliness (similar to recognizing the sin in our lives) and knew that they had to set things right with God. But at the same time they did not want to end up breaking another command because of their uncleanliness. Remember how we have seen on several occasions before that typically one sin will just lead to another, and it can become a cycle of sin. These two men realized those dangerous possibilities, so they sought out Moses to figure out what they could do, and God provided a way for them to still celebrate the Passover. God takes care of His children, and in a similar fashion, He still provides a way for us today. When we recognize our sin and want to turn our lives around, God gives us that solution as well, Jesus. It is far better to recognize our sin and seek forgiveness than to know what is right and yet fall into temptation and a pattern of sin. That is why in this passage these two men are seen as being more righteous than those who would break the Passover. These men are the ones recognizing their sin and seeking forgiveness whereas anyone who breaks Passover would be doing so after already knowing what was expected of them.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Numbers 7:1-8:4

Numbers 7:1-8:4

There is not much to be said about Numbers 7 for it is just a listing of what each tribe brought to the tabernacle on the day of consecration. They were all told to bring a certain amount of a certain list of items that lasted over 12 days (1 day per tribe). After these 12 days, the tabernacle was fully consecrated, and Moses went inside to speak with the Lord. This chapter continues to express how much God had organized the nation of Israel. What is interesting is that I discovered that many believe that this chapter actually chronologically occurred before Numbers 1-6. But the information provided in the first six chapters gave a foundation for understanding this chapter. Either way, this chapter shows when the tabernacle came into use so that all the duties that had been assigned in the first six chapters could be performed.

The opening verses of Numbers 8 explain the construction and use of the lampstand, which was previously discussed in Exodus when God gave Moses instructions on how to construct all of the different pieces of the tabernacle. So like Numbers 7, this short passage shows the completion of yet another one of God’s commands. It shows obedience on the part of Moses and the people of Israel.

I still feel as if I am struggling getting through some of these passages (Leviticus included). It is hard to figure out what purpose that they might serve us today in the 21st century when all of these practices no longer apply. We do not have to go to the tabernacle and offer sacrifices or carry out priestly duties as the Israelites had to. So at times I find it hard to understand what these two books have to offer. Another frustration lies within the fact that so many things are repeated, which makes it hard to keep reading. Numbers 7 contains 12 paragraphs that are almost identical (only changing the name of the man representing each of the 12 tribes of Israel). Then there are passages such as the opening verses of Numbers 8 that repeat something that I have already read.

But despite these frustrations and struggles there is one application that I keep getting drawn back to. The Israelites were not perfect people, as we will continue to see throughout the remainder of the Old Testament. However, there are times such as these two chapters where they exhibit obedience, even to God’s simple yet specific commands. When God told them how to make the different pieces of the tabernacle, they followed His instructions carefully and made it exactly as He had instructed. This should serve as a reminder to us to follow God even in the simple details of life. Obedience should not be an option for Christians. There were times (such as in these chapters) where the Israelites understood the importance of and demonstrated obedience.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Numbers 5:11-6:27

Numbers 5:11-6:27

The remainder of Numbers 5 looks at a case study over adultery. The process used in such instances (which involved sacrifices and cleansing water) is outdated, but it shows how serious God took cases of adultery. When a woman was found to be practicing adultery, there was a serious set of consequences for her. First, the sin was revealed (for she had been found out). Secondly, several knew of the instance, such as her husband and the priests. Finally, she would no longer be allowed to conceive children. God had made child bearing a blessing among His people, so to not be allowed to have children was seen as a curse on that person. This explains why women such as Sarah or Martha (John the Baptist’s mom) wanted children so desperately. Although they had done nothing wrong to prevent them from having children, they had remained barren. In their culture, they would have been looked down upon as a result. So not being allowed to have children was a serious consequence for women of this time. We all need something to grab our attention such as this. Sin has consequences, and if we are aware of the serious consequences that could come as a result of our sin, then I feel we would be much more careful in how we live our lives each day.

The Nazirite Vow is discussed in Numbers 6. This is the vow that Samson took in Judges, the reason why his hair was so long. Not shaving their heads was just one of the stipulations for those who took the Nazirite Vow. These men were another separation of the people of Israel who were committed to living a holy life before God. They were to be even more careful in how they lived their lives, for they had made such a strong commitment to God. They were to abstain from some practices that the ordinary people around them could do (such as not shaving their hair and not drinking any drink that came from grapes). While these two actions were not condemned in Israel, they were off limits for the Nazirites.

One similarity I see between this vow and our culture is that of fasting. In essence, these extra commandments were a form of fasting. By not being involved in these various practices, they were spending that time to focus more on the Lord. When we commit to a fast, such as abstaining from food, some type of drink, facebook, or anything else we find enjoyable in life (that is not sinful) for a set amount of days, we are separating ourselves from those different parts of our lives in an effort to spend more time in prayer and in His Word. Although we do not have anything similar to the Nazirite Vow, fasting is one way that we can express a similar type of commitment to God.

I will close this section with the closing verses of Numbers 6:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Numbers 4:1-5:10

Numbers 4:1-5:10

Typically I think of Leviticus being the book that contains all of the various laws that the Israelites had to follow. I do not typically place Numbers in this same category. Initially, I was expecting it to get back to the story of the Israelites journey to the Promised Land again, but these opening chapters have been more instructions regarding the tabernacle and the priests. Numbers 4 continues with the instructions given specifically to the tribe of Levi. Each clan within this tribe had been designated with specific tasks to perform at and around the tabernacle. These duties included watching over the tabernacle every time the nation stopped in a new place and how to set up or tear down the tabernacle every time they needed to move. There really is not any new application that I see in this chapter. It continues on the theme of obedience.

Numbers 5 opens with a reminder of what to do to those who are living in disobedience. Anyone who had been involved in an unclean action, thus being declared unclean, was not allowed to live within the camp. They were commanded to live outside the camp for the allotted number of days until they could be considered clean again. The reason that this is mentioned at the beginning of this chapter could be due to the fact that this command was being ignored. No one likes to be told what to do, especially a second or third time. But many times, that is what we need in life, just a simple reminder. It is easy to get complacent and not be as careful to follow the rules placed in our lives. So in one sense, this was just a reminder to the Israelites to make sure that they are following this command. But at the same time, the Israelites were preparing to move on toward the Promised Land, and God was making sure that His people were holy (or clean) as they moved forward.

God then instructed the Israelites on what to do after they had sinned. We have already seen from the book of Leviticus that one way in which they dealt with their sins was by offering sacrifices to God. This cleared things up between them and God, ending in Him offering them forgiveness. But God also wanted them to set things right with those whom they had wronged. Today, this can be seen partly through church discipline (when the person does not try to fix the broken relationship). For the Israelites, this restitution was more obvious. They were required to pay back in full whatever it was that they had done wrong, plus one fifth. This involved any sin that was committed against another. Therefore, if the act had involved money, $100 would turn into $120. Now this is a more modern look on the idea, but the idea of restitution for the Israelites served as a reason not to be caught up in that sin again. Think about if we had to pay back 100% plus one fifth of whatever we had done (whether that involved money, possessions, time, or anything else). I bet it would make us be much more watchful of what we say or how we treat others in life. We would be more careful in the choices that we make. It is easy to think that laws and commands just make life harder, but time and time again we hear that such guidelines are for our own good. This is a great example of how some commands can really be for our good and serves as a reminder to watch how we live our lives. Are we currently living a holy life before God?


Numbers 3

Numbers 3

The opening verses of Numbers 3 list the sons of Aaron, reminding readers of what happened to two of his sons when they did not follow God’s guidelines for the sacrifices. Because of their disobedience, they were killed, and God raised up Aaron’s other two sons to fill their positions. These other two men became the new priests of Israel under Aaron, and his descendants came from them.

God then set aside the Levites for a specific purpose in the nation of Israel. God wanted that tribe to be the ones that assisted Aaron in his priestly duties. They were supposed to keep watch over the tabernacle and everything that was associated with it. In one sense they were guards, guarding the most holy place in Israel. They were to keep outsiders away from that area of the camp. It was an honor to be chosen for these duties, but at the same time, it gave them serious responsibilities. God expected holiness out of every tribe, but He expected a different kind of obedience from the Levites, in that He expected them to guard that which was most holy.

God then gave the different clans within the tribe of Levi even more specific duties. Again this showed the amazing organization that God had done in the nation of Israel. Not only did each tribe have its own purpose and place within the nation, but even within the tribe of Levi, there were specific tasks. Each of the clans had a different portion of the tabernacle to guard and keep watch over. No tribe or clan had the same duty within the nation of Israel, but it took all 12 tribes together to make that one nation function properly. In the same way, God has gifted all of us differently and has given us a body of believers to live life alongside of so that we can accomplish His purposes together. We each have our specific duties, and we are expected to carry them out through obedience. The culture, context, and situations may have changed since the time of Israel, but God has not changed. He is the same God, and He expects obedience from us just as He did from Israel. We too must look to what God has specifically given us to do and be sure to accomplish His tasks for His glory.

This chapter ends with a comparison between the Levites and the firstborns of Israel. I am not sure what the significance of this passage is other than it gives us insight into the nation of Israel? Instead of looking at all of the firstborns among the 12 tribes of Israel, God was planning on using the Levites for those purposes, giving them the blessings of the firstborn (for they were the ones set apart to work alongside Aaron and the priests. What is interesting is that the number of firstborns among the other 11 tribes almost equaled the number of male Levites. There was only a small difference of 273 men. God compensated for this difference with a price of five shekels per person. He then replaced all of the firstborns with the Levites, ultimately setting them apart from the rest of Israel.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Numbers 1-2

Numbers 1-2

After the book of law, the book of Numbers opens up to a census. God had given all of the Israelites a set of commands that He expected them to follow. Now, He wanted them to know how many people there were in the nation, arranged by tribe. Be careful not to think that God needed them to do this for His sake. God, being all knowing, knew how many people were in Israel. This process allowed the Israelites to organize themselves by tribe and obtain an accurate number.

The final tally came to 603,550 men (who could go to war). Now notice that the text says that this was the number of “men.” It could be argued that this “men” could have been a generic term for “people.” However, knowing that in their culture, only the men were the ones who went to war, it actually appears as if this number only accounted for the men in the country (not the women and children). So triple that number (assuming that each man is married with at least one kid), and you will notice that it is actually close to 2 million Israelites at this point. Now think back to the end of Genesis when Joseph brought all of his family down to Egypt. At that point there were only 70 people in the “nation” of Israel. During their time in Egypt, that number grew drastically, and now it is probably close to two million. God had truly blessed His children, fulfilling the promise that He had originally made to Abraham in Genesis 12. Again, recall that God had promised that Abraham would have a great family, later telling him that his descendants would number the stars in the heavens and the grains of sand on the beach. The point was that his descendants would be impossible to number. We know today that that promise was fulfilled through Jesus as well, when the Gentiles were grafted into Israel, thus becoming “descendants” of Abraham. So that promise to Abraham was still not completely fulfilled in the time of Numbers, but you the Israelites had to of been thinking about this promise.

The Levites were not included in this number, so the final number is greater still. God had intended for the Levites to work in the tabernacle, keeping guard over it. This marks the beginnings of the organization of the people. God was not only giving them the Law, by which they were to live, but He was also giving them clear instructions of how and where they were to live. He had a purposeful organizational scheme for their camp, placing three tribes each on the four sides of the tabernacles. Every time that they had to take up camp and move closer to the Promised Land, they also had a specific order in which they were to travel. This complex living scheme might seem pointless to today’s society. Why did it really matter? I think this shows that God is a God of order. He does not do anything without thinking it through, and He does not create chaos. I also think it shows that God expected His people to follow His commands, even the simple ones. Quite simply, God always expects obedience, even when we do not understand why.


Church Discipline - Part 4

Suggestions for Discipline

Knowing that His children are going to sin, although He desires that they all live a holy life, Jesus’ intention for discipline is that His children will keep each other accountable, which is why the first step of the process only involves the person who is in the wrong and the one who was wronged (possibly a close friend). Theoretically, the problem would be resolved between the two and no one would ever have to hear about or deal with that situation again. Repentance would be sought, forgiveness would be granted, and a relationship would be restored. If done correctly, the church itself would never hear about most situations that occur between the members of their congregation. Instead, the members would have been taught how to handle this situation in a godly manner amongst themselves, and each member would keep each other accountable on a regular basis.

In cases where it does not work out this easily, the church would have to be willing and ready to step in and get involved. If the situation could not be resolved, then a few others would have to be brought in to help. This is where the importance of a small group, such as a Sunday School class would be useful. Small groups within the church are supposed to give believers a group of brothers and sisters who they can depend on. They should look out for one another, providing for each other’s needs, such as their physical needs or spiritual needs. They should be trustworthy and ready to help at all times. When believers are plugged into a small group, they surround themselves with loving people who will lovingly walk alongside them in life. Discipline is part of love. The reason a parent disciplines a child is so that the child will recognize their mistake and choose not to make that mistake the next time they find themselves in that situation. In the same way, a believer should not be afraid to lovingly confront a fellow believer that they see living in sin. Likewise, that believer should recognize that their brother or sister is coming to them in love and not in a judgmental way. If people understood the point of discipline and demonstrated it in the correct way, then the church would never need to get involved.

Unfortunately, there would be those times in which the church would have to step in. On those rare occasions, the leadership of the church must be willing to consider the possibility of excluding one of their members. If they are practicing discipline effectively in their small groups, then this final step of discipline should not be a problem for that church. After the first two steps had been taken, the church would then bring the member who is sin before the entire congregation, outing their sin. If the member still neglected to repent of their sin, then they would simply be asked to leave the church, taking away their membership. At that point, the church would also need to make it clear to the congregation and to the sinful member that their intentions for kicking them out of the church are pure. They desire repentance, and until repentance is sought, they will have no dealings with that member. They should not completely break ties; however, pursuing that member in love. They should still be cordial when they meet them out in public, and they should be friendly, possibly paying them a visit or calling them one night. Just as they would seek the salvation of a non-believer, the church should continue to seek the repentance of a fallen brother.


The solution to this problem is not easy, and will not be resolved easily. The Church today must wake up and understand the importance of Jesus’ commands in Matthew 18. People need to get over their pride and fears associated with discipline and not allow it to interfere with their obedience to Jesus’ commands. The Church needs to return to what it was founded on in Matthew 18, using the last two thousand years of church discipline as an example. For the first time in the history of the Church, discipline is being neglected, and the Church will not grow if this sinful pattern continues. Church discipline is hard, and will possibly bring hard times on the modern Church, but discipline is also commanded by Christ and must be performed in the Church no matter how hard it may be to carry out. It is far more important to obey Christ’s commands than to shy away from them due to the fears of the world. If discipline is not brought back into the Church as a whole, then the Church will eventually fall apart due to the lack of accountability. Therefore, discipline should lovingly be used to keep believers in check so that the church may be strengthened in Christ.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Leviticus 26:14-27:34

Leviticus 26:14-27:34

The second portion of Leviticus 26 focuses on what would happen to the Israelites when they disobeyed the Lord. It is interesting that there is more space devoted to those who disobeyed than those who obeyed. That is because there were severe consequences for disobedience. If the Israelites did not uphold their end of the covenant, then God promised to not give them the blessings of the land. Instead, He would take those things away from them and punish future generations as well. However, God was still a God of forgiveness, and when someone came to Him seeking forgiveness, then He promised to remember the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If they turned from their wicked ways and decided to become obedient, then He promised to give them the blessings associated with the covenant.

This is seen throughout the remainder of the Old Testament. The books of history are filled with accounts of obedience and disobedience and a return to obedience. God’s blessings and cursings are scattered throughout all of the stories. In the times of the judges and good kings of Israel, the land flourished and they were the best among the nations. No nation could come against them, and they were continuously blessed. But in the days of rebellion and the kings who neglected to follow God’s commands, the land was overtaken by foreign nations. God removed His hand of protection from the Israelites and allowed them to suffer, hoping that the punishment would draw them back to Him.

The book of Leviticus closes with a system of vows. I am not entirely sure why these prices were used or what they necessarily meant, but I have found that it had something to do with a type of redemption. It had something to do with the sanctuary, and to me, it seems as if it could be some type of promise to God. I really do not know what this was used for, but I do know that the Israelites were commanded to do this, so God obviously found some importance in it. Basically, it sums up what this book was all about. God gave the Israelites a set of commands, commanding them ultimately to live a holy life, which comes through obedience. He expected them to remain holy before the other nations, thus living out a godly example before them. For the rest of the world was to be blessed through them. Although many of these commands might seem outdated or as if they no longer apply to us, we can take one very important truth from the book of Leviticus. We too are called to be holy before God, and as Christians we must live in obedience so that others can see Christ in us.


Church Discipline - Part 3

Discipline Today

The neglect to discipline is not only inconsistent with the teachings of Scripture but also with the traditions of the last two thousand years. Now while it would be impossible to observe every denomination’s reasons for neglecting church discipline, R. Stanton Norman offers insight into what has happened to the Baptist church. He lays out four primary reasons as to why the twentieth century has brought about this neglect of discipline. First, the idea of individualism that permeated the thoughts of the twentieth century world has come into the Church. The idea of accountability has almost become a thing of the past, and people become quite upset when someone points out their faults. They immediately jump into a defensive manner not believing that anyone has a right to “judge” them. Instead of looking at the concerns of a fellow believer, they take the concern as an attack. This selfish individualism has destroyed the idea of accountability and has left the church wondering how to exercise discipline.

Secondly, Norman suggests that a “lack of respect for authority within the church” has led to a decline in discipline. Again, the influence of the secular world has crept into the life of the Church. The secular world in general does not respect the Church’s authority on any concerns, whether it be dealings with abortion and homosexuality or the institution of the Ten Commandments in public places. As a result, people within the Church have begun to question the Church’s true authority. This has helped contribute to the idea of individualism, and people do not want the Church to have any involvement when dealing with matters concerning their personal lives. Much like individualism, this lack of respect for the church has crippled the Church’s efforts to discipline properly.

Norman also suggests that conflicting denominational lines has also led to the decline of church discipline. When church discipline is actually practiced and taken to its furthest point, the expulsion of one of its members, it is too easy for someone to jump across denominational lines and begin attending church again as if nothing had happened. Too many times, each individual congregation is seen as “the church” rather than “a part of the Church.” People have forgotten that the Church is actually the larger group of believers, and if unity is not held between the various denominations, then when church discipline is practiced, it will not have a major effect on the individual. However, the problem can also be seen within a denomination as well. If someone is kicked out of one Baptist church in a community, they can go a few miles down the road and find another Baptist church just as easy. If churches are not communicating properly, then this second church may allow them to join their fellowship without knowing why they desire to transfer their membership. Unity is not only important within the small group of believers at an individual church, but it is also important across the Church as a whole.

Finally, the lack of accountability has also led to the Church’s inability to discipline. Again stemming from the individualistic nature of people today, no one wants to be held accountable to anyone else. However, this is one of the most important aspects of the Church. Jesus taught the importance of small group disciplining in forming His own small group of followers. Likewise, the founders of the church in the New Testament followed this example, taking the time to pour into a select group of believers. The early disciples met in small groups within their own homes on a regular basis for times of study and prayer. They lived life together and helped each other along in their Christian walk. Although the idea of small groups is still around today, the idea of accountability has been lost. These small groups may only meet to eat and study, but do they take the time to find out where each other is struggling in life and commit to pray for them? The beginnings of church discipline must start within this small group concept.

Assuming that these four reasons suggested by Norman are valid, it still does not solve the problem. These reasons show why the Church is unable to discipline, but if the Church is not willing to discipline, then what was mentioned above is worthless. Maybe part of the problem the Church is facing today is the unwillingness to discipline its members, afraid of what the repercussions might be. One fear the Church may have is the thought of their members leaving the Church and never coming back. Another fear deals with the possibilities of lawsuits and how to handle extreme cases such as those.

Many times the fear of the unknown keeps people from doing many different things in life. A church must not let fear be a hindrance in disciplining its members. If they are using discipline correctly, then they would be doing it with the mindset of helping their members rather than throwing them out to the side. There will be those times in which a person may never come back to the church, but that cannot be the concern of the church. The church must continue to reach out to that person in an effort to restore the relationship, but when someone makes it clear that they want no part in the church, then the church cannot feel as if they did an inadequate job at disciplining. Actually, the church did everything right in such a situation.

The biggest danger in disciplining members today is threat of having a lawsuit given against the church. Laney illustrates this possibility with a case between Marian Guinn and a Catholic Church in Collinsville, Oklahoma in 1974. Marian, a single mother who began attending this church, was taken in and cared for by several members of the church. When she was found to be in an affair with another member of the community, the church elders confronted her on her sin out of concern. They warned her of the dangers of the path she was taking and tried to help her overcome the situation; however, Marian did not heed to their advice and continued to take part in this man’s affair. The church then took matters one step further and told Marian that she would have to explain her situation before the church while they dismissed her from the congregation. It was at this point that Marian refused to adhere to their request and told them not to bring it before the church. Instead, she would move to another church and just anonymously tell the church that she was leaving. When the church would not agree to her terms and shared the case with the congregation the following Sunday, Marian filed a lawsuit against the church. Her claim was that the church had made an “invasion of privacy and [had a] willful intention to inflict emotional distress.” The case then went to court and the jury ruled in favor of Marian. Cases such as this are probably one of the greatest fears of churches today and the primary reason why discipline is not practiced.

The question that comes from this case is should the fear of being sued cause a church to disobey a command given by Jesus? Quite simply, the answer is no; however, in many people’s minds the answer is not that simple. When cases such as these are taken to court, the country and the world begin to see the negative side of the Church, and many become turned off by this negative publicity. In many ways it could hinder the Church’s ability to spread the gospel. So the Church has to be careful about how they handle these cases; however, if a church is following the guidelines laid out by Christ and will take the first two steps seriously, it may never come to the troubles of this final step.

The fears of actually carrying out church discipline are real, and may be the primary reason why it is not practiced in today’s churches, but as already noted, this cannot be used as a reason to disobey Christ’s commands. The Christian life itself is hard, and the idea of being persecuted may be a fear that many Christians have today. Persecution, however, is not a reason to give up on the Christian life and sit on the sidelines. Jesus commands Christians to live out their faith and carry the gospel to others despite the cost. In the same way, the fears associated with church discipline should never cause a church to neglect His commands. So the question that arises is what would discipline look like in today’s church?


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Leviticus 25:23-26:13

Leviticus 25:23-26:13

The rest of Leviticus 25 looks at the responsibility of the Israelite. As children of God, they were to look after those around them. They were supposed to care for and help their neighbors as well as their family members. In doing so, they were commanded to not sell their property to one another, not make other Israelites into slaves, and not allow a poor Israelite become slave to a foreigner in the land. As for their property, the land was God’s, and not theirs to sell to someone else. As for slavery, by making a fellow Israelite a slave, they would be taking advantage of their poor situation. By allowing them to become a slave to a foreigner, they were failing to help out their brothers in need. The point of this passage was to show the Israelites that they were responsible for each other. If someone was hurting financially, they were responsible for helping them out and should never take advantage of their poor situation. In the same way, we should never take advantage of someone’s misfortune. Let’s say that a fellow Christian was struggling financially and you had loaned them money. They were trying to pay you back and made an honest effort to do so. Would you expect interest on that payment? According to this Israelite tradition, asking for the interest would be taking advantage of the situation. They do have a responsibility in paying you back, but if they are making an honest effort at it, then we should not greedily ask for more. Even today, we need to be more loving toward one another, taking care of those around us who are hurting.

The opening verses of Leviticus 26 serve as another review of some of the commands that God had given them. He expected complete obedience, and part of that was recognizing Him as the one and only God, the only one worthy of worship. As a result, God promised to bless them. Notice that these blessing in life came as a result of obedience. Now this does not mean that hard times would not come. Even when we remain obedient to God, hard times will come because that is life. However, God did promise to bless those who obeyed Him. There is a list of some of the physical blessings He would give them, but those are not nearly as important as the other promise He gave them. Not only did He promise to meet their physical needs, but He also promised to remain with them. Through their obedience, He would dwell with them, living life alongside them, promising to keep His end of the covenant. Most importantly, He promised that He would always be their God (no matter what). Through obedience, they were showing them that they wanted to be His people. In the same way, we must live a life of obedience. This section of Leviticus ties this book in with Genesis and Exodus. We have seen how we are to remain obedient to God in these previous books, and now we see another part of that picture. To live a holy life, which is one of the major themes of Leviticus, we must live a life of obedience.


Church Discipline - Part 2

Discipline in 1 Corinthians 5

For some, this practice seems quite difficult to actually carry out. For various reasons, churches are afraid to actually follow this command and discipline their members. Paul encountered one of these situations in writing to the believers in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul addresses a problem in the Corinthian church where one of their members had committed a sexual sin with his father’s wife, presumably his step-mother. The Corinthian church had neglected to discipline this man adequately, and Paul appears to be more concerned over their failure to discipline than this man’s sin. Gordon D. Fee suggests that “the horror [in this situation] lies in the fact that there is sexual immorality among them, but they are taking no action.” This example that Paul uses stresses the importance of using church discipline. Those who neglect to discipline are only hurting themselves by allowing sin to reign in their midst, being too prideful to do anything about it.

So Paul commands the Corinthian church to “hand this man over to Satan,” which could mean one of two things. Blomberg suggests that this does not mean physical death; rather, it refers to the removal of the man from their fellowship. According to the formula laid out by Jesus in Matthew 18, such an action is not for the destruction and the humiliation of the man, but is to be used in order to cause the man to seek repentance so that he may come back into the fellowship. Fee further suggests that by handing this man over to Satan, it serves as a contrast to what he would have experienced within the church; instead of the loving environment of the church, he would have to endure the hatred of the world where Satan’s powers were at work. This may appear to be a harsh punishment for the man, but once again, this action is intended to be done out of love, in order that the man would see his errors and desire to ask for forgiveness.

Discipline in Church History

This formula given by Jesus and modeled by Paul’s ministry became the basis for centuries of church discipline. In the centuries that followed, the Church took the job of discipline seriously, and Laney points out that a process was even developed to reinstate those who had been kicked out of the church. Now while Jesus never gave clear instructions on how to go about reinstating someone who eventually came to repentance, it appears as if the early Church was on the right track in their tactics. They were not neglecting their duties to discipline the disobedient, and they were making sure that the person was truly repentant when they brought them back into the church. Overall it appears as if the first few centuries of the Church understood the importance of instituting discipline.

Then, in the Middle Ages, the Church decided that discipline should be a more private matter. They determined that when an issue arose, it should be handled between that person and the priest, not before the entire congregation. While they were correct in making this situation a private matter between two people, they were wrong in suggesting that it was the only way to handle the situation. They obviously missed out on the rest of Jesus’ commands in Matthew 18, where He commanded that the situation be brought up before the entire church when repentance was not sought. Furthermore, Jesus also seemed to suggest that anyone could fill the role that the priest was filling in the Middle Ages. There was no command that limited that role to a select group of people. Any believer who saw their brother stumble had the responsibility to confront him.

At the time of the Reformation, Luther was not as strict about discipline as Jesus had commanded. Although he did believe that discipline was necessary and that being cast out of the church was the final step, he did not emphasize the importance of private, small group discipline. Instead, he believed that discipline “should come from preaching the Word.” Calvin, however, made a much larger contribution to church discipline stating:

“As the saving doctrine of Christ is the soul of the Church, so discipline forms the ligaments which connect the members together, and keep each in its proper place. Whoever, therefore, either desire the abolition of all discipline, or obstruct its resolution, whether they act from design or inadvertency, they certainly promote the entire dissolution of the Church.”

Although Luther supported discipline in its simplest form, Calvin was the Reformer who made a point to keep discipline a central part of the Church. He understood that a church that does not practice discipline will fall apart. Rather than looking at discipline as a practice that would hinder the relationships between believers, he viewed it as a practice that would bring believers closer together.

Likewise, the Anabaptists understood the necessity of discipline, emphasizing the importance of using it to build one another up rather than destroying each other. From the time of Calvin to close to the twentieth century, several of the Protestant denominations held to a strict form of discipline. Anabaptists, Methodists, and Puritans alike supported a rigorous form of discipline. Until the twentieth century, discipline has always been a major part of church life. Laney states that “its neglect today is not consistent with the rigorous efforts of the past to correct sinners and maintain a pure church.” So the question that arises today is why discipline is no longer practiced. Granted, there are some congregations that still obey the commands of Matthew 18, but for the most part, the modern Church has abandoned the call to discipline its members.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Leviticus 24:1-25:22

Leviticus 24:1-25:22

The beginning of Leviticus 24 speaks about some of the customs that they were to have in the temple, specifically speaking about the priests again. But the rest of the chapter looks at some more commands that were directed toward all of the Israelites. For instance, God took the importance of His name seriously. Anyone who disrespected His name was to be killed. Think about if that law was still in effect in our culture today. Our culture does not take God’s name seriously at all. On just about any program on TV or any movie you might see, someone is disrespecting God or His name. We are caught in this act many times as well, probably without even thinking about it. We must take this command seriously. There is no name on earth like the name of God, and it deserves the utmost respect! This passage is a challenge, for me anyways, to watch how I use God’s name in my daily conversation.

The final command of this chapter is the “eye for eye” principle. Think about if this law was still used today. How different would society be? A good friend of mine has said many times before that “an eye for an eye will make the world go blind.” This is so true and fun to joke about, but maybe we ought to take this command more seriously. Now I am not saying that we should go out and hurt those who hurt us, for Jesus says in the Gospels to love our neighbors, and ultimately we should share the gospel with them. However, if we had this principle in mind in life, we might be more careful about what we say or what we do to someone.

Leviticus 25 takes the idea of the Sabbath and some of the feasts previously mentioned and puts them together. Just as they were expected to work 6 days and rest on the 7th, the Israelites were also expected to work 6 years, store up enough for the 7th year, and rest on the 7th year. This year became the Sabbath year, where the Israelites did not have to worry about their work; instead, they could turn all of their focus on God, celebrating all that He had done for them. Then, on every 49th or 50th year, the Israelites were supposed to celebrate the year of Jubilee. This year was a year in which slaves were freed, land was given back to its rightful owner, and the whole country was given a chance to start completely over. Think of the idea of starting over in life. There are times in which I am sure all of us would like to be given a second chance or wish that we could redo something in our past. God gave the Israelites this opportunity during the year of Jubilee, and He still gives us this chance today through salvation. This may not be an accurate comparison, but I can see some similarities between their year of Jubilee and our salvation. Mainly, I see the idea of starting over, and things being restored to their proper use. In salvation, we are restored back to God, for He no longer sees the sin in us but His perfect son.


Church Discipline - Part 1

Church Discipline

I recently wrote my senior thesis, my last paper for college! The idea for this topic came from a class that I took on Paul's epistles last year. The issue of Church discipline was brought up in that class, and it was one of the first times that I have ever thought on or considered this topic. I realized that I had never seen it practiced and wondered what it might look like if a church made a practice of discipline (if and only when it is needed). So I am going to post a little bit of my paper each day as I have done in the past with previous papers. There was supposed to be some Greek in this paper, but it does not carry over to this blog, so I attempted to transliterate it, but probably did not do a great job of that. Just look over those parts of the paper. Here is part 1:


One of the lost practices of the Christian Church is that of church discipline. Throughout the Church’s history, discipline has been instituted in many different ways, but since the twentieth century it appears as if the practice of discipline has been lost. The modern church tends to not institute church discipline, thus neglecting Jesus’ command to correct a brother who has fallen away. Jesus gave this command in Matthew 18, expecting His disciples and the future Church to conduct themselves in this manner. Paul appears to be enforcing this practice in 1 Corinthians 5, correcting the Corinthian church since it appeared that they might have been neglecting to discipline their members. History also shows how discipline was used and changed over the last two thousand years. In fact, J. Carl Laney traces its development from the time of Christ to the present day, showing how the modern church is really one of the first groups of Christians to neglect the practice of church discipline. The problem today, however, is knowing how to fulfill Jesus’ commands in the American society. For instance, if one member is forced out of one church, it is very easy for them to go a few miles down the road and begin attending another one. Furthermore, the Church is also plagued by the fear of possibly being sued if someone’s sin is revealed before the entire congregation. The problem the Church faces today is not only if church discipline should be instituted, but also how it should be carried out.

Discipline in Matthew 18

First, it is important to look at the formula which Jesus laid out in Matthew 18. The passage begins in verse fifteen with Jesus mentioning that this formula for discipline is used for ho adelphos sou, which means “your brother.” Donald A. Hagner points out that this means that discipline should happen within the community of disciples, which today would be the Church. Craig L. Blomberg further clarifies that such an instance does not involve a third party; instead, it should be a personal meeting between the concerned brother and the one who is caught up in the sin. Since these are the only two people who even know about the situation, it is better for it to be resolved between them without bringing in anyone else. In fact, Jesus takes it one step further in saying that it should be done alone (monou), which Hagner suggests means in private. Theoretically the problem would be resolved between them, and the next step of discipline would not be needed.

Jesus, however, knew that there would be cases in which this one-on-one meeting would not solve all of the problems. There would be those times in which a third party member would be needed to help resolve the conflict. It is important to understand that these one or two extra people do not have to be church officials. Their primary duty is to assist in being a witness that the situation is being handled properly as well as urging the person to seek repentance. Blomberg adds that the reason this step is added to the process “is to resolve [the] individual’s conflicts by involving as few people as possible.” Jesus had first clarified that the situation would best be resolved alone, between the two people. This would prevent others from knowing about the situation and spreading false information around. The conflict would be resolved, and repentance would be sought. By adding this step into the equation, more people know what has happened, but there is still a sense of privacy in that only a few people are involved. Finally, it is still closed off to the church at large and would hopefully be resolved by the end of this stage.

Jesus also knew that there would still be those rare exceptions where a person would not seek to fix the situation, and He commanded that only at that point should they be handed over to the church. Again, the point of this discipline is to fix a problem between two brothers, and that is best done in private, not before a large group of people. In extreme cases, however, this course of action must be taken. Therefore, Jesus offered the third step to this process in bringing it before the church. What is interesting about verse seventeen is that Jesus uses the word ekkleisia, which is translated as “Church.” This Greek word is the same one that is used throughout much of the New Testament when referring to the first century church. That specific organization of believers, however, had not yet been developed. So could Jesus be referring to what is known as the Church today? It appears as if He could have been. This passage makes it clear that those who confront this brother who has gone astray are fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, those with whom they would have already been associated with. In essence, that is what Jesus intended for the Church to always be, a group of believers who care for and look out for one another, a group that cares for others in hard times, rejoices with them in times of joy, and rebukes them when sin has entered their lives. So although the Church itself had not yet been officially formed, it is quite possible that Jesus was referring to it even in Matthew 18.

Because of the close association that those who rebuke their brother and the one who was being rebuked would have, the separation was intended to be harsh. Jesus commanded the Church to cut the unrepentant brother off from the Church itself (or group of believers). If after these previous three steps, no course of repentance was sought, Jesus’ final command was to remove them from the fellowship. Once again, He did not intend for this to hurt the unrepentant brother as to drive him away from the Church forever; instead, it was intended to draw him back into the fellowship. In the first century there was not a church on every corner, and to kick someone out of the church left them with nowhere else to turn. They could not just hop over to the next church on the street and move their membership. The only other option left for them, if they did not want to repent and be brought back into the church was to join the Gentiles and tax collectors, those viewed as the lowest in Jewish culture. Therefore, by placing them in a group such as these, the intention was for them to see their sin and desire to be brought back into the church.

It is important to understand that when Jesus laid out this series of instructions, He did so out of love. The reason He commanded that only one person pull this brother aside in private was to not completely humiliate him in front of the entire congregation. If the two of them could work out the differences and move on, then there was no need for anyone else to ever know what happened. That situation would be left between the two of them and God. The only reason the next two steps were even mentioned were for the rare cases in which the sinful brother refused to repent and set things right. Jesus was serious about sin, and He did not want any of His children to stray and fall back into their old ways, but He was also loving, giving them that opportunity to ask for forgiveness.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Leviticus 23:15-44

Leviticus 23:15-44

The next feast mentioned is the Feast of Weeks. This was 50 days after Passover, and many believe that this is what was being celebrated in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. “Pente-” means five/fifty, so you can kind of see where that word came from in the Greek. Anyways, this feast is all about the first fruits and the start of something new. It correlates well with what we see in Acts 2 when Peter preaches and 3000 people are saved afterwards. They are in essence the first Christians (after the disciples and women that followed Jesus). They could be viewed as the first fruits of the Christian movement. How appropriate that God would choose to send down His Holy Spirit on Pentecost, or during the Feast of Weeks.

The Feast of Trumpets does not get much explanation, but it is an interesting feast. On the first day of the seventh month, which may or may not be the Sabbath, the Israelites were to drop everything and have a day of rest. It seems to follow many of the rules that the Sabbath did, and could serve as a reminder of God’s provision. We do not have to wait until the Sabbath or until we are at church to worship God. We can do it any day of the week. It is also a preparation for the Day of Atonement, which is three days later. This is another “Sabbath-like” day, but it has so much more meaning, for the Atonement is made for all the people of Israel to cover their sins. Furthermore, it shows that there is punishment for working on this day, being removed from the people of Israel. Not five days later, there is yet another feast, the Feast of Booths. This week long feast celebrated their rescue from Egypt and served as another reminder of God’s protection.

We still celebrate Christmas and Easter today, but I think it would be neat if we had some celebrations such as these that marked other significant events in life. Nothing is greater than the story of Easter, where God conquered death and offered us salvation. But there are also personal victories that we all experience in life. Do you celebrate the day you were saved, if you remember what day that was? Do you celebrate days in which God protected you from some specific situation? Do you celebrate days where God provided for you in some way or gave you instructions on going a certain direction in life? These spiritual markers should be remembered. Just as God did not want the Israelites to forget the times in which He provided for and protected them (such as the Exodus), He does not want us to forget either. By marking those dates down, they will always serve as a reminder for us, and then, years down the road when we are struggling with something new, that day might come up and remind us that God is still in control. If you do not already, think about marking down certain dates in which you have specifically seen God at work. Use those dates as moments of reflection and celebration. We might not have feasts like the Israelites did, but we can still praise God for who He is and what He does for us.


Kansas Report 2 Day 8

The last day of our trip was the drive home, and as I said yesterday, it was another eventful ride home. It did not snow on us on our way home, although we did encounter a steady rain at times. But there was one very scary moment during our trip home. We had traveled for around 4 hours and had arrived in Kansas City, ready to take our first break and get something to eat. We had our GPS programmed to take us to a restaurant for lunch, but we never made it there.

We were driving down the interstate when our leader yelled out in shock and asked that we pull over immediately. Those of us who were not paying attention to the road at the time were shocked and wondered what had happened. She then told us she just saw a wreck and that we needed to help this person. So we pulled over and noticed that the car was still running and there was someone inside. She slowly climbed out of the car, a nervous wreck. We brought her to our van and sat and talked with her for a while. We found out that she had lost control in the rain, apparently on the road above us (for we were under a bridge). She had come off that road, down the ramp (not an exit ramp) and almost entered into the traffic below. Amazingly, her car was not damaged and she was not hurt. She needed to get to the airport, so we offered to take her there. But she did not want to leave her car, so she drove and we followed to make sure she got there safely.

Obviously our lunch plans were put to the side at this point for her safety was far more important. We had her number and kept in touch. As we got close to the airport, she called thanking us for our help and told us that she was fine now. So she went to board her plane, and we left for lunch. We knew it was God at work that we were at that spot at that moment. Our leader saw the wreck, offered to help this woman, and was eventually able to share the gospel with her. We continued on our way home and made good timing. We were outside St. Louis when we stopped again for supper in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri.

We ended up finding a random restaurant that was really good and had the opportunity to communicate with this lady we met again. We looked around this old city for about an hour (again going to another random church to see inside). As we got back on the road, ready to make the final push home, our leader sent a text to that woman. She had said earlier in the day that she thought she was going to die, so we let her know that we believed that Jesus spared her life. Our leader then asked if she could call her and talk to her sometime. The lady did not respond for a while, and we wondered if that had scared her off. But several minutes later, she did respond and said she would love to talk. So our leader called the next day, after we gotten home, and shared the gospel with her. Although she did not receive Christ then, our leader is staying in touch. The lady still wants to talk about this and our leader may have found a church in her area that she could attend.

It is amazing how God works things out when we remain obedient to Him. This situation reminds me of the importance of always living a life that is centered around the gospel. No matter the situation, the gospel should ALWAYS be at the forefront of our minds. It is the greatest news in the world, and we should never hesitate to talk about it. I may no longer be in Hays, but that does not mean that my work for Christ stops. I can serve Him here in Jackson as well. Most of the time the ride home from a trip such as this has the feel that the trip is over. As a result we do not always look for those opportunities on that last day. This instance reminds me that the "trip" is never over. Our work is 24/7, whether we are at home, on vacation, or on a mission trip such as this. We must spread God's word and always be on the look out for these opportunities.

So as you might have gathered we did arrive home safely that night. I then turned around and traveled for another hour to get home for Easter. Now, a week and a half after the trip, I am still praying for those we met in Hays. Please pray for the Challenge students as they continue to serve God on their campus, sharing the gospel with their fellow students. Pray for Cheryl and Linda in particular, two people we met along the way who are not Christians. Cheryl is the girl one of our team members spoke with on Thursday. Linda is the woman mentioned above. Pray for Li, the Chinese student who is trying to get involved somewhere. Pray that Challenge will offer him a place to get plugged in. Thanks for your prayers while we were in Hays, but please pray for the harvest. The work is not done there, and I am so glad that Challenge is there to spread God's word daily!


Monday, April 12, 2010

Leviticus 22:17-23:14

Leviticus 22:17-23:14

The rest of Leviticus 22 reviews the sacrifices, and again this seems to just be a repeat. There are a few additional conditions mentioned, but basically it reminds the Israelites to bring their best to God. They were not to cheat Him out of their best sacrifice by sacrificing a deformed animal. Part of living a holy lifestyle is giving our all to God and not just part of our lives.

Leviticus 23 introduces some new material, looking at the different feasts that the Israelites were to celebrate throughout the year. The most important one, which was not really a feast, was the Sabbath. Every seventh day, the Israelites were commanded to rest, to do no work. This was to help them focus completely on the Lord and not on the busyness of their lives. Just as God took a day of rest to look at His creation, we too should take that day of rest to focus entirely on Him. He is the reason we are alive and can work on those other six days. At the very least, we can give Him one day in which we focus on Him rather than on the things of this world that can easily bog us down.

The first feast mentioned in this chapter is Passover. On this day, God expected His children to remember the protection He had given them when they left Egypt. Now the generation being spoken to in Leviticus was the very generation that had once been slaves in Egypt. For them, this feast had personal implications. It was a way for them to express their gratitude to God for delivering them from the Egyptians. But God also wanted it to be a reminder to future generations of His provision. The purpose of this feast was to bring glory to God for the way that He had protected His children in the past and His promise of protection in the future.
The next feast is about bringing the first fruits of the land to God.

Because God had blessed them in having all that they had, He expected the first of their crops (or anything else) to be given back. This is similar to the idea of tithing. Everything that we have in life is a gift from God. We have done nothing to deserve it, for it is only because of Him that we even had the opportunity to obtain it. The least that we can do is give a portion of it back to Him. For the people of Israel, they were supposed to give the first part of it back, whether that be animals, crops, or anything else in life. So when thinking about tithing today, I think a good practice would be to make the tithe the first “bill” that we pay. Now we should not view it as a bill or an obligation, although it is commanded. Instead, our tithe should be something that we give joyfully back to God. But by making it the first “bill” that we pay, we hold to the idea of the first fruits in giving back the first portion of what we have earned.


Kansas Report 2 Day 7

The last day that we spent in Hays became known as our "led by the Spirit day." Basically, if anything came up during the week that we would need more time doing was reserved for Thursday. After a long day in the basement on Wednesday, we knew that we would need part of Thursday to finish things up. So on top of several more Walmart runs that day (we went there a lot during the week), we finished up the basement.

During the morning we finished painting all of the doors (changing them from a pale pink to white), touching up any white spots left on the walls, putting all of the furniture back (rearranging some of it), putting the office back together (including building a new book case for the office), and cleaning up the entire basement. There was a planned second family dinner that night along with a time of hanging out and sharing what God had done during the week with the Challenge students that night. This celebration was to take place in the basement, which meant that we had to get it done. By 5:00 we were done, which meant that we spent 2 days on the project, but it was a lot of fun and great to see it all come together.

That afternoon, we had two less members working, for two girls out of group went back to campus. One of them had met a nonbeliever on the floor of the dorm she was staying in. This girl wanted to talk to someone about the gospel and Christianity. So she spent most of the afternoon with this girl and one of her roommates. The other member of our team was with them some, and then spent a lot of time in prayer for them. It was great to see God working even in the final hours of our time in Hays.

So by supper time, we had accomplished a lot during the day, and it was time to spend our last night with Challenge. Everyone came back over to Carin's house for a Vietnamese dinner. I am picky about my food, but am usually willing to try new foods. I cannot say that I love this food choice, but I did find some food that was not too bad to eat. Even so, it was a great time to hang out with everyone, closing out the week. After supper we went down to the basement, and the Challenge students love the new look. It was neat for us to see people in the basement hanging out, the people were the final dimension of our project. It was good to see it all complete. We spent time talking about the week, what God had done, what God had taught us. We then spent some time in prayer as a large group, and then it was time to leave.

However, we discovered that we had one last project to take care of before we called it a night. Crosspoint had a planned Easter egg hunt on Saturday and needed help stuffing a bunch of eggs. So we went with several of the Challenge students to the church to help fill over 800 eggs. We then played one last game and left. We went to Burger King to write some thank you notes for all of our hosts, who really did sacrifice a lot for us during that week. I cannot imagine hosting someone for an entire week. I have done it for a weekend before, and although it is fun, it does mess up your normal routine. I am so thankful for all the students who took the time to host us. We then filled up the gas tank (for we were almost on empty), so that we could head out early the next morning, and went back to campus.

Our time in Hays was over, but the trip itself was not. We still had one day left, the trip home. It was the day that I probably expected the least out of. But I was so wrong, for God had something bigger planned. Last year the trip home was more exciting than expected for we ran into a snow storm. This year it was a little different, but I will have to get to that story tomorrow.


Leviticus 20:1-22:16

Leviticus 20:1-22:16

In our culture, child sacrifices are probably not something people are ever faced with, but during the time of the Israelites, it was apparently something that happened for God gave them commands against it. It would be easy to toss this passage aside, viewing it as irrelevant for today. Yet within this passage God says that He will also punish anyone who views such a practice and does nothing about it. I recently wrote a paper on church discipline, which deals with one believer correcting a fellow brother or sister for their wrong doing. It is not in a judgmental way, realizing that they are just as sinful. Rather it is to be done in a loving way, so that their brother or sister can be restored into their fellowship. In both instances, God finds it important for us to look out for one another, not allowing a brother or sister to live in a continual state of sin. If we see someone sinning, it is our responsibility to go to them in love. In Leviticus 20, failure to not follow this command received the same punishment for actually living in that particular sin.

The next section of Leviticus 20 is pretty much a repeat of Leviticus 18, describing unlawful sexual relations. It is a reminder that God intended for one man to be with one woman, and any other relation is wrong. Adam and Eve were set forth as the example, and God actually lays out the laws behind that relationship in these two chapters. The rest of the chapter once again reminds the Israelites why they should keep these commands, much like Leviticus 19. God declares Himself as holy and tells the Israelites that they too should be holy.

The focus shifts in Leviticus 21, going back to the priests. God begins a long discussion on how the priests, those set apart from the rest of the Israelites, are to live. They too are expected to live a holy life, and there is in a sense more responsibility on them since they are the spiritual leaders of the nation. They set the example for the rest of the nation, and if they break God’s commands, what example would they be setting? The laws that God outlines cover many different areas of life, ranging from uncleanliness to how they should act in the holy place to what they are allowed to eat. God chose Aaron and his family in particular to serve Him in this role. As a result, He expected Aaron to respect that calling by remaining obedient. Although we do not have priests in this fashion today, we can learn something from their lifestyle. The world looks to us, the Christians, seeing how we act each day. When we neglect to obey God’s commands, we are setting a bad example before them which might turn them away from Christianity altogether. It is our responsibility to live a holy life in obedience to God, showing the world who we believe in and living out that confession.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Kansas Report 2 Day 6

We got up really early on Wednesday knowing that we had a major project ahead of us. We had spent some time earlier in the week getting ready to paint the basement, but we had not made major progress. So we knew that we needed to get to Carin's as soon as we could. That morning we went to Semolino, a coffee shop in Hays, for breakfast. We arrived at Carin's somewhere around 8 and began painting. We started with the largest room first and soon realized that it was going to be harder than we expected. Some of the walls had a rough texture that was hard to paint over, so we had go back and put another coat on later in the day. Even after that, however, we still had to look for white spots. It was easy to miss spots on those walls. The smoother walls went a lot faster thankfully, and we began to make good progress by the middle of the day.

By lunch, we had finished much of the main room and had even begun painting the TV room, which was slightly smaller. There was food left over from the night before, so we all cleaned up so that we could eat. We ran out of paint multiple times; we got a bad estimate about the amount of paint needed from the guys at Walmart. So we waited for some other members of our team to get back before we ate. That is when the accident happened. Our fearless team leader came down the stairs (where we had one of the tarps laid out) and attempted to step over one of the wet paint spots. In the process she hit her head on the ledge above and got a serious cut. A nursing major on the team jumped up immediately to help. She did a great job and eventually took our leader to the hospital to get some staples. Thankfully, everything turned out fine, and we were able to continue on with our paint job. But while half of our team was gone to the hospital, the rest of us worried about what was going on.

We went ahead and ate and then got back to work while they were at the hospital. We finished the main room and the TV room and were able to move on to the office. The office was small, so only a few people could work in there anyways, which worked out nicely. By the end of the work day, close to 5, we had finished all the painting. We knew that there would be some spots that we missed, but we still had Thursday to touch those up. So we cleaned up and got things back in order, considering it a successful day of painting.

That night we had some free time and enjoyed spending a night on the town in Hays. First we went to downtown Hays and just looked around for a while. Then we went to Gella's and got a really good meal. Our team last year was introduced to this restaurant by some students, so I suggested we go there to eat at some point, and I think everyone enjoyed it. That was our biggest meal of the week. After supper we walked and drove around Hays for a while. We went into about three different churches randomly, a Baptist church (well it was locked), a Methodist church, and a Catholic church. The inside of these last two churches were beautiful, and we even got to listen to the Catholic choir practice for a little while.

We then just drove around for the rest of the night. I was driving, and we came up with a crazy idea. One of the team members suggested we just see where the road we were would take us. So we just set out, not turning at all. I drove for a good 10-15 minutes on this road alone before I gave it up to someone else (I had been driving a while before this as well). They drove for awhile longer, and then a third member of the team took over. After close to an hour of driving altogether, we decided to turn around and head back to campus, which was easy since it was a straight shot. We had arrived in a random town called Gorham when we decided to head back. While on the road, we had no idea where we were or where we were going. We knew that we were either headed for Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri, or Oklahoma. So when I got back to the room, I had my roommate look it up. We found the road that we had traveled on, some highway, and realized we had been headed home, running parallel to the interstate that led to Missouri. That was the end of a really long, busy, eventful day, and our next to last day in Kansas.


Leviticus 19

Leviticus 19

After listing several series of laws, God reminds them of the reason that they are to keep these laws. They were expected to be holy before Him. He declares Himself as holy in this chapter and tells them that they are supposed to live in the same way. The New Testament expands this idea when it tells us to mimic Christ. We are supposed to live our lives as Christ would, which is very similar to what God commanded in this chapter. He also reminds them of a few of the laws He had already given them.

The rest of the chapter focuses on the second greatest commandment, loving your neighbor. God lays out several commands, looking at various situations, which show the Israelites how to love and respect one another. For instance they were to not go back over their fields once they had harvested, leaving what they missed to the poor (so that they would have something to eat). Also, God expected them to deal fairly with their neighbors. They were not to steal or bear false witness or hate or spread rumors about their neighbors. Our lives are to reflect Christ, and if we do not treat our neighbors properly, what message does that send them? We must remember that they are watching us, and if they see us mistreating fellow believers or mistreating non-believers, then they are going to receive a bad image of Christianity. So we must be careful as to how we live, making sure that our lives are lived holy before God and before man.

The closing verses of Leviticus 19 list a bunch of miscellaneous laws, but that does not mean that they are any less important. Some of these laws connect into some of the topics discussed previously in the book, and they all serve as a reminder of how the Israelites were expected to live. I know it seems as if I keep repeating myself in saying this, but they point to living a holy lifestyle before God. After many of these laws, as well, as many laws mentioned previously, God concludes by saying “I am the Lord.” It is as if He is saying that you should follow this (sub any command mentioned) law because I am your Lord. I think that is exactly what He means. We should desire to follow His commands because of His status over us. He is our Lord, He is the one who has saved us, and He deserves our obedience. So even today, when we look to any of the commands mentioned in Scripture, we should desire to follow them because of who God is.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Kansas Report 2 Day 5

We spent a second day on campus doing many of the same things that we had done on Monday. Instead of going to class, however, we all spent time doing other things on campus. We split up into three groups and focused on three different tasks. There was always one group at a table giving out information about events for Challenge. Another group was always prayer walking while handing out flyers. And yet another group was always pulling a wagon filled with free drinks to give out to students on campus. We spent our time both before and after lunch meeting with students, and were able to have many good conversations in the process.

At lunch that day, we once again ate with some Challenge students. I had some good conversations with some of them, one of which involved scripture memory. It was great to be able to talk with fellow brothers about spiritual issues. We even committed to working together on some memorization, keeping each other accountable. After lunch, we went back out to campus to finish up giving out all of the flyers and drinks.

That afternoon we had some free time, which is always needed in a busy week. Then we got ready for a dinner with core team of Challenge. They meet each week before Challenge to discuss the various events going on within their group. We attended their meeting were able to bounce ideas off of one another. They asked for our observations so far, and we were also able to tell them about some of the people we had met during our two days on campus. There was one guy that a few of us met who said he was a Christian but not involved in a church at Hays. So we were able to give the Challenge students his contact information so that they could find a way to get him involved.

After our meeting, we went to Challenge (not to be confused with their group name). On Tuesday nights, they meet at Crosspoint for a worship service. We opened up the evening with a dramatic reading of the gospel while Sam gave a quick introduction about our group. He told them who we were, where we were from, and why we were in Hays. It also gave him a great opportunity to share the gospel again, explaining how it affects our lives. After the service, we had a cereal bar downstairs. We ate and hung out for a while, but had to head out early. We all needed some rest, because we were planning on getting up early the next day. It was time to paint Carin's basement.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Leviticus 17-18

Leviticus 17-18

After discussing the importance of the Day of Atonement, God gives the Israelites commands on the importance of blood. Several times in Leviticus 17, it is mentioned that blood is life. God had made blood precious in their culture, not wanting them to kill anyone. The spilling of blood was associated with death, so if anyone or anything was killed, then blood was spilt. As a result, they had to make a sacrifice for their actions, handling the situation in the proper manner. This is another idea that has lost its significance in today’s culture. We still respect life to a certain extent, but I do not feel as if we pay as much attention to the importance of blood or link blood to life. If nothing else, this chapter shows the importance of life. Although it is talking about animals here, we can apply it to our lives. Life is precious, a gift from God, and we are not to decide who shall live and who should not live. That decision is left up to God, for He is the one who knows the number of our days. So part of living a holy lifestyle before God is respecting life.

The beginning of Leviticus 18 serves as a reminder as to why the Israelites should obey God’s commands. They are not the Egyptians or the Canaanites, for they are expected to live differently from them. God held them to a higher standard, and they were commanded to live in obedience to Him, the one who had protected them from the hands of the Egyptians and would give them their land back, taking it away from the Canaanites. So He continues with His lists of commands by moving back into more commands regarding sex.

God explains what sex is not, giving them a listing of situations that should not even be considered. Out of this listing, the one our culture deals with the most today is homosexuality. However, some of these other examples could apply today as well. God stressed the importance of this act being between a husband and his wife and no one else. Neither the husband nor the wife was to pervert this act by finding another partner. God reminded them that the Egyptians and Canaanites had perverted the act of sex, and He expected His people to live better than them. They were His children, and they were to be holy as He is holy, so participating in these sinful acts would not be acceptable. In fact, He told them that if they did any of these things, they would be cut off from the land and from the people of Israel (a common punishment for breaking almost any of the laws in Leviticus). Once again, it is clear that God’s intention for these laws was to make His people a holy nation.


Kansas Report 2 Day 4

The next morning, on the first day of the school week, we all got up and got ready to go to class. Some of us, like me, only went to one class that day, while others went to a few. It was great for all of us to get an experience of what class is like on a secular campus. While some classes are not taught that much differently, others come from a completely different viewpoint. Take the sciences for instance. They are not taught from a Christian viewpoint on a secular campus like they are at Union.

The rest of the day on campus was spent prayer walking and eating. When we were not in class, we got in small groups and prayer walked the campus. I know some of us had the opportunity to spend several hours in prayer that day, and it was a perfect day to be outside. We were able to see God's creation along with the campus and just pour prayer into that dark campus. For lunch, we ate with Challenge students. During that time, one of the students brought a random girl to the table, told her about Challenge, and introduced her to our group. He had never met this girl before, but he just found the confidence to introduce her to their group in hopes that she might hear the gospel and get involved. It was so encouraging to see the boldness he had in that moment.

That afternoon was spent at Carin's house, prepping to paint their basement, where all the students hang out. We moved all of the furniture to the middle of the rooms and began taping the walls so that we could paint later in the week. Then, that night, we attended some of their small groups. The girls went to Vision Groups which are for freshmen and transfers. In the fall they are led by upperclassmen as they get accustomed to the campus and spend time in the Word. In the spring they have more large group times as they study God's word together, and a new group of leaders is chosen from them for the next year. The guys went to the Men Impact Groups, which are small groups for upperclassmen. There are also Women Impact Groups that meet at some other point in the week, but no one attended those during our time in Hays. It was great to see how they were small group focused in their ministry. I believe that small groups are crucial to ministry and that we all need to be involved in one in some form or fashion. It is a great way to look out for one another, encourage and care for one another, and hold each other accountable.

The rest of the night was spent just hanging out with some of the students and our roommates. It was hard to believe that the trip was already half way over at this point, but there was still a lot more that happened on the second half of the trip.


Leviticus 15-16

Leviticus 15-16

So as to not go into great detail about the different situations that are discussed in Leviticus 15, I will just say that this chapter stresses the importance of holiness. It continues on the theme of the Law in that someone is either considered to be clean or unclean. Uncleanliness means that someone has been involved in some type of sin. They must wait for a specific amount of time and go through some specific course of action to be considered clean again. Specifically, this chapter deals with a group of sexual sins. One major point that the chapter raises is the importance of holiness, which is one of the major themes of the book. Although our culture is drastically different than that of Leviticus, these laws can still apply to our lives. We no longer have to through these different customs and sacrifices, but we are still called to be holy. So it is important to understand what God had commanded of the Israelites, knowing that He expects the same kind of obedience from us as well.

Leviticus 16 begins with tragedy: Aaron’s two sons, who were also priests, had died. Apparently they had entered into the Most Holy Placed, where they had been commanded not to enter. The consequence God had given them for this action was death. So God reiterates this command to Aaron and the priests, reminding them to never enter behind the veil. Instead, He will make His presence known to them when He desires to. He then goes into a discussion about the Day of Atonement, and the significance that that day would have for the nation of Israel.

Living under the Old Covenant, there was not a once for all sacrifice for the Israelites. Therefore, they had to continuously sacrifice to the Lord in order to receive forgiveness for their sins. The Day of Atonement helped them in that it was an atoning sacrifice for all of their sins. On the tenth day of the seventh month each year, Aaron would enter in the Holy Place to meet with the Lord, offering to Him a sacrifice for his household as well as the nation of Israel. This served as a reminder to the Israelites that God was still in control of their lives, and that He was the one who had protected them in the past and would continue to protect them in the future. It also reminded them that He was taking care of their sins, and their sacrifice was a way of paying for what they had done.

Thankfully we no longer have to go through this process. Because of the New Covenant, which came through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we no longer have to make several sacrifices to cover all of our sins. His death was a once for all sacrifice. One way to think about it is this: Jesus fulfilled both Aaron’s role in offering a sacrifice to God and the sacrifice’s role in being that sacrifice. The Day of Atonement was completed with this sacrifice as well, for it only needed to be done one time. Now, 2000 years later, that one sacrifice is still covering our sins. It is so much easier for us today, but we must be careful not to lose sight of its importance. In some ways, it may be better if we still practiced some Old Covenant laws just so we would be reminded of their significance. Now do not get me wrong, for the New Covenant is so much better and was God’s plan all along, but we must never forget how much easier it is for us or lose sight of its importance in our lives. Yes God has made it easier for us, but it cost Him greatly, for it cost Him His son. This is why we celebrate Easter each year. In one sense, it is our Day of Atonement, where we can reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, not losing sight of its significance. It also reminds us of His resurrection, in how He conquered death, making it a onetime deal.