Chapter-a-Day Numbers 23

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Balaam answered, “Don’t I have to be careful to say what God gives me to say?” Numbers 23:12 (MSG)

In my vocation, I’ve had the experience of presenting the results of surveys, resesarch projects, and assessments to many different clients and every level of an organization. It’s always fun when the results show satisfied customers, improvements in service performance, and strong overall results. When the news is not so good, however, it can be rather stressful. o one likes to hear bad news. But when the data reveals an outcome that the client will not be happy with, there’s not much I can do.

I identify with Balaam as he presents the results of his conversation with God to his client, Balak. What’s funny is that Balak’s response is the same as I get when I present data the client doesn’t like.

  • “Somethings got to be flawed in your methods.”
  • “Go and check it again. You have to have missed something.”
  • “Redo the survey. Call more customers. This can’t be right.”
  • “Kill the messenger!” (thankfully, I’ve never actually heard this one spoken, I’ve just sensed that my client was thinking it a few times)

I’m sure you can pay people to say what you want to hear, but the truth is a precious gift. When you know exactly where you stand you have an opportunity to make tactical decisions based on reality. Balaam was doing right by Balak to tell him the truth about God’s Message.

Speaking truthfully and honestly about what we know and/or feel can be difficult. However, when it’s done consistently and done well it may reap huge rewards for both the presenter and an audience who is open and receptive.

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Chapter-a-Day Numbers 22

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The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your trusty donkey on whom you’ve ridden for years right up until now? Have I ever done anything like this to you before? Have I?” Numbers 22:30 (MSG)

C.S. Lewis’ classic tale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, has always been one of my favorites. There is a scene early in the story when Lucy’s elder siblings, Peter and Susan, are convinced that their sister is lying to them about her mysterious trips through the wardrobe into the magical land of Narnia. At their wit’s end, they have a conversation with the Professor about their sister’s odd behavior. To their amazement, he decides that their sister is telling the truth.

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious she isn’t mad. For the moment then, and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

The children come to learn that the Professor was correct. They refused to accept their sister’s story because it didn’t fit inside their comfortable definition of reality.

Along the journey, I’ve come to realize that we often place God in a box in our minds. It’s a neat little box. It’s dimensions are those which we define based on our comfort level and our experience in the journey. The problem is that an infinite, omniscient and omnipotent God never seems to consistently fit neatly inside a box we create in our finite minds and limited experience.

In today’s chapter, we learn that God had made himself known to a man named Balaam. Balaam was not one of “God’s people.” He was not one of the Israelites coming up out of Egypt. Nevertheless, it is clear that God had revealed Himself to Balaam and used Balaam (and Balaam’s donkey) to accomplish His purpose. 

Balaam stands as a reminder to me that God can work in and through whomever He wishes in order to accomplish His purpose. The way God works, and those through whom He chooses to accomplish His will, do not always fit within my comfortable definition. Like Susan and Peter, I am constantly finding that my faith and wonder must expand as God reveals Himself to be and to act in ways that are exceeding, abundantly beyond all that I can think or imagine.

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Chapter-a-Day Numbers 21

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God said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it on a flagpole: Whoever is bitten and looks at it will live.” Numbers 21:8 (MSG)

I was in the car on a business trip yesterday. The client was talking about a young man in their office who was in trouble. In the conversation my client said, “I think the boy protests too much.” It struck me that the client turned a well worn Shakespearean line, but I wondered if she had any idea where the line came from. I’m guessing she could not tell you where the line came from.

In a similar manner, I’ve been amazed once more as we’ve journied through the ancient books of Leviticus and Numbers how many ways God’s Message still influences our everyday lives and culture in ways we don’t realize. In today’s chapter, God tells Moses to make a little art project, sculpting a snake and attaching it to a staff. Those who looked at it were healed.

How many times have we seen the medical symbol of a snake wrapped around a staff on the sign of a doctor’s office or an ambulance? Did have any idea we were looking at a symbol that came directly from Biblical history?

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Chapter-a-Day Numbers 20

There was no water there for the community, so they ganged up on Moses and Aaron. Numbers 20:2 (MSG)

I am so spoiled with the basic necessities of life. Water is a staple. Water is everywhere. I flush without thinking about the luxury of having running sewers. I wash my face, shower myself, and wash my dishes without even thinking about it. I can even water my lawn and have the luxury of spurning the water in the tap to drink a bottle of “better” water.

For ten days in 1993, the Des Moines area was without water as floods overtook the Water Works. I remember living in an apartment with two young children. Ten days without showering. Ten days without flushing. Ten days of filling jugs at water stations and hauling them back home to cook and bathe. Ten days is nothing. Ten Days is a blip on the time line. But, we still talk about it like we were martyrs. How quickly people grumble when you take away a basic necessity of life. Ask Moses and Aaron. They know.

Around the world, millions of people live without access to clean water every day. In fact, in Africa alone more people than the entire population of the U.S. are without this basic necessity. For the last several years, Wendy and I have supported Blood:Water Mission, whose goal is to help communities in Africa dig wells so that they can simply have clean water.

Today, when I shower, wash, and drink, I’m going to think of the people of Israel who grumbled as they ran out of water wandering in the wilderness of northeast Africa. I’m going to think of the millions of people in that continent and around the world who can still grumble these many thousands of years later.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 19

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“Anything the ritually unclean man touches becomes unclean, and the person who touches what he touched is unclean until evening.” Numbers 19:22 (MSG)

“Wash your hands,” we are told incessantly from the time we are young children. We are told to do it before we eat, after being outside, when we’ve been around someone who is sick, and when we are preparing food. It’s a matter of hygiene, but even the most menial of daily tasks carries with it a spiritual word picture.

Things that make us sick, both physically and spiritually, have a tendency to spread their ill effects. We can either become fanatical about avoiding anything that might make us dirty, or we can learn the self-discipline of washing ourselves of those things which may make us sick.

Throughout God’s message, water is used a physical word picture of spiritual cleansing.

  • God cleansed the earth with a flood.
  • Israel walked through the water of the Red Sea when escaping Egypt, and then those who enslaved them were washed away in the waters.
  • Ritual cleansing and washing was prescribed in the laws of Moses for anything that made people “unclean” both physically and spiritually.
  • Jonah tried to rebel by escaping God’s call over water, then was carried through the deep to the place of obedience.
  • Baptism, literally defined as plunging forcefully, is prescribed as a public sign of their spiritual transformation for anyone who has cleansed their hearts by placing their faith in Him.

Jesus washed His followers’ feet, then told them to do the same for one another. The word picture is clear. We are expected to follow Jesus’ example. We are to walk through this world and actively love others in tangible ways. The journey carries us through some dark and dirty places. It is important that we are regularly cleansed and refreshed by one another. Otherwise, the dirt may pile up and have gravely ill effects.

Today, as I wash my hands, I’m reminded of the deeper meaning of being cleansed.

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Chapter-a-Day Numbers 18

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Make sure that God’s portion is the best and holiest of everything you get. Numbers 18:29 (MSG)

When I was a child it was a weekly customer for my family to dress in our “Sunday best” for church. Dad would put on a suit, mom a dress, and the four chidren would be dressed in our “nice clothes” for our weekly trek to Sunday School and worship. I can remember that blue jeans were an absolute no-no.

Somewhere in my high school years there was a shift in thinking. As I read God’s message seriously for the first time I realized that God was much more interested in the condition of my heart than in my Sunday wardrobe. I felt it hypocritical to dress up on the outside for church in a show of impressing God and others. What did God care if I dressed up my body if my heart was in rags?

I remember attending a different church one Sunday. I wore jeans to the service. At that time it was considered disrespectful by many people to do so. An older woman sitting in the pew in front of me turned around to introduce herself during the “meet and greet” part of the service.

“I noticed you’re wearing jeans,” she said with a smile and a wink. “Don’t worry,” she added. “It’s doesn’t matter what you wear. We’re just glad you’re here.”

Years later I still don’t really care about what others wear to church. It has been a long time since I put on a suit to attend a regular Sunday service. In fact, I would stand out if I did so. I wonder, however, if the pendulum has swung too far the other way in our hearts. I wonder if we have lost sight of the truth that God wants the best we have to give. Instead of giving God the first and best, we give God our leftovers. Perhaps our relaxed attitudes on the outside have translated into relaxed attitudes about the inside.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating going back to a Sunday morning fasion show. It’s not about the clothes. It’s the attitude and condition of the heart that is still the critical question in my mind. I want God to get the best of all I have to offer, not a portion of the leftovers after I’ve squandered the rest of my time, energy and resources.

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Chapter-a-Day Numbers 17

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Moses walked into the Tent of Testimony the next day and saw that Aaron’s staff, the staff of the tribe of Levi, had in fact sprouted—buds, blossoms, and even ripe almonds! Numbers 17:8 (MSG)

God is a God of life. God is a God of redemption. God is a God of resurrection.

In God, old and dead things sprout new life.
A barren staff bears fruit.
Nothing is impossible.

Today, I’m comforted in this reminder.

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Chapter-a-Day Numbers 16

Cover of "Harry Potter and the Philosophe...
Cover of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone

Aaron grabbed the censer, as directed by Moses, and ran into the midst of the congregation. The plague had already begun. He put burning incense into the censer and atoned for the people. He stood there between the living and the dead and stopped the plague. Numbers 16:47-48 (MSG)

The last Harry Potter movie comes out this weekend. Wendy and I are excited to see it and the last few days, while I’ve been on the road, I’ve been listening to the first Harry Potter book over again. It’s amazing to me as I listen again just how much of the story is foreshadowed in the early chapters, and how many key characters are subtly revealed. It’s part of what makes the series of stories so great. The fairly short and simple first installment is actually a brilliant foreshadowing of the much larger, complex story. I also happen to believe that all great stories are a shadow of the Great Story.

I admit, I don’t always get why God did things the way they happened in the ancient stories. I do know, however, that the circumstances and stories were the very early chapters of a much larger, epic story about the relationship between God and humankind. Like the early chapters of any great story, these ancient stories foreshadow and become a living word picture of God’s plan to redeem humanity. In today’s chapter, sin has brought about a plague on the people. Aaron, the high priest, runs to make atonement for the people. He “stood between the living and the dead and stopped the plague.” There is no better word picture of the role of a priest than this. A priest stands in-between and makes atonement.

A priest is a mediator, and in that moment Aaron foreshadows the much larger plan of God: that He would send His one and only Son, Jesus, to become the mediator, the priest, and the ultimate sacrifice to atone for the totality of sin of all humanity once, and for all.

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man, Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 2:5 (NIV)

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:19-20 (NIV)

“Unlike the other high priests, [Jesus] does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” Hebrews 7:27 (NIV)

Jesus, as He hung on the cross, became the fulfillment of the word picture Aaron provided over a thousand years before: Jesus hung between the living and the dead and stopped sin’s plague.

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Chapter-a-Day Numbers 15

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God spoke to Moses: “Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them that from now on they are to make tassels on the corners of their garments and to mark each corner tassel with a blue thread. When you look at these tassels you’ll remember and keep all the commandments of God, and not get distracted by everything you feel or see that seduces you into infidelities. The tassels will signal remembrance and observance of all my commandments, to live a holy life to God. I am your God who rescued you from the land of Egypt to be your personal God. Yes, I am God, your God.” Numbers 15:37-41 (MSG)

Part of my job is to coach people to improve the customer service they deliver on the phone. Most often, the road to improvement means developing behavioral habits which have not been part of a person’s natural conversation. He or she must remember to say certain things inside their interaction with the customer.

To help people remember, I will often encourage them to use a mnemonic device – a visual aid that reminds them to say the appropriate phrase. For example, if people forget to thank customers for holding, I encourage them to put a small sticky note by the hold button on their phone with the word “thanks” written on it. When they reach over to hit the button, they see the sticky note and are reminded to thank the customer for holding.

These types of devices work. Visually seeing something that reminds us of something we’re supposed to do can help us remember. Even God knows that, and gave instructions for the people to sew tassels on their garments to remind them of God’s commands.

Small reminders can help us with much larger matters of faith, obedience, and spiritual discipline.

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