Tag Archives: Numbers

Done: The Chronicles of Narnia Now struggling with sadness Yet coupled with optimism

Time and again I am frustrated with how to manage all the thoughts that get tangled up in my brain after I finish reading a book, but that tangle is multiplied by seven after finishing the series, The Chronicles of Narnia,by C. S. Lewis.  I am left with sadness of the end, yet that is coupled with the optimism.

At the same time, basically, I have finished reading the Old Testament book of Numbersand the New Testament book of Revelations.  Maybe that has multiplied the tangled mess in my head.

I know I have said it before, but reading fantasy literature is difficult for me with all the invented names the authors introduce.  My dyslexic brain is so wired to read language that fits into my paradigm of spelling and meanings, that stepping into the fantasy world of unknowns slows down my reading and therefore complicates my ability to stay connected to the storyline.

Now add to the storyline of the seven chronicles the Biblical timelines of the Old Testament, the New Testament and then the future as outlined in Revelations and this brain is almost fried, if I may use a vernacular.

BUT.  And I do mean all caps BUT, the reading continues to fuel my understanding of God. I am more and more convinced of the reality that where I live here in the Midwest of the United States, a North American country of the globe we label Earth is just one tiny speck in a universe that God has established.

AND, yes an all caps AND, the speck in the universe that I am is as exciting and delightful as any speck might be anywhere in the vast unknowns—as long as we are part of God’s loving world filled with Grace, Love, Mercy, and more Love.

In one respect, I am thankful that I read the chronicles in the way the stories were packaged rather than in the order they were actually written.  I like order. And even though the chronicles always remind readers that today’s earthly definition of time and Narnia’s concept of time do not match, keeping the sequence of the stories in order helped my dyslexic-and probably obsessive-compulsive tendencies-aided in my comprehension.

That is a lengthy introduction to the tangled thoughts that are bouncing around in my head, but I beg your patience as I begin trying to sort out some of my thoughts.

1.  The Chronicles of Narniais much more than juvenile literature.  The truth that Lewis presents how to treat others just as they want to be treated—whether human or animal—is critical and I am thankful that it is the underlying theme for each of the adventures.

Loving one another as one wants to be loved is absolutely critical.  That rule of life has, is and always must be the measure of all actions whether in personal relationships, in community neighborhoods, in business decisions, in national and international decisions, even in decisions on how we treat the other living beings co-existing with us.

If every decision was made based on that principle, how could decisions have negative affects?

2.  The Chronicles of Narniaalso illustrates the basic sins of humanity that return over and over in literature and in our daily life, especially greed and power.  Lewis’ characters clearly identify the negative effects of the sinful behaviors in vivid descriptions of the characters’ features and faces, not to mention their actions.

The images literally caused me to shiver as the story took a turn for evil and challenged the forces of good.  I get the same reaction when the news shares some terrible event or even quote something or someone who is operating from the premise of greed or power over the well-being of others.

Reading the Old Testament book of Numberswas challenging because I could not comprehend the need for the itemized explanations repeated over and over for how to make sacrifices, nor for the different degrees of sacrifices or offerings for this or that purpose. Confusing.  Unnecessary.  Unmanageable. Of course, those descriptors come from the 21stcentury after God sent Jesus as the final blood sacrifice.

Which again brings up the discussion of timelines. As I read through the New Testament book of Revelationsalong side ofNumbersandThe Chronicles of Narnia, I had to face the fact that we continually need to be taught how to keep our life focused on God and the true commandments that Jesus taught during his ministry:

                  Love God.

                  Love one another.

As much reading as I am doing these months, I can turn almost any literature into a theological discussion on how to live the Christian lifestyle and how that combats all the evil in our lives.  I also can see though the various written words how essential it is to live in our current timeframe by those very commandments so that we are able to transition into any other realm at any time. 

When I read the final chapter of Lewis’s The Last BattleI wanted to scream, “NO!”  Over and over I wanted the story to continue and for the Eustace and Jill to return to their lives in England without any loss of Narnia.  

I wanted to scream, “NO!” that the evil ape Smith was just misleading all the creatures of Narnia.  

I wanted to scream, “NO!” that the donkey Puzzle was clever and the ape was dangerous trying to manipulate Puzzle.

I wanted to scream, “NO!” to Tirian as he drew his sword trying to fight against the impossible number of Calormenes.

But the lesson would have been lost if Lewis’s story had not continued to the surprising conclusion as each one of the Narnian squad entered the Stable door.

Then as the last chapters began to conclude the chronicles, the glory of Aslan pushes the reader forward, into a realm of new possibilities.

And, my personal readings once again intertwine. Remember, my personal reading has been included Revelations, which is filled with the wonderment of the New Jerusalem in vivid descriptions.

Why, I ask, did I find myself binge reading The Chronicles of Narniaalong side the year-long Bible readings?  As I said, now that I finished the chronicles, I am experiencing a sense of sadness, but it is coupled with optimism.

My brain is afire with thoughts, but then the final pages of The Last Battleand the chapters of Revelationsseem to be racing together to tell me one of the most wonderful truths that I have yet to experience:  Life with Jesus as my savior leads to life eternal in a world so unbelievably beautiful that there is nothing to fear.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear loving, gracious, merciful Father

As the words of your servants

Unveil the mysteries of our earthly lives,

May we shed all the fears

that clutter our lives

Muddling the beauty of life around us.

Lead us through the Holy Spirit

Who teaches us through the words

Of Holy Scripture written so long ago, 

but also of gifted writers since those days.

Open our hearts and our minds

So that we may take the words

And open our hands to serve you

In any way that we can 

So others may learn the promises

Of The Word shared by Jesus.  –Amen

Just a P.S. Words are powerful and I continue to read even when the ideas, the genres, and the timelines cause my brain to go into overload.  How often I find myself needing to step away and let my thoughts just float around before they fly out the fingers on the keys.  May God’s words enlighten me through the Holy Spirit so that my words are God’s tools.

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Sorting out Numbers: So many rules to know!

Continuing with the year-long reading plan, I have been reading the Old Testament book of Numbers.  Actually, I am reading the study notes first because the text of Numbers is frustrating to me.  I just do not get all the rules and regulations that the Lord placed on the Israelites.

Well, I said it and the walls have not fallen down around me and no lightening struck me or even near me—except the lightening that filled the sky these past couple of weeks with storm after storm after storm. I suppose it is safe to say that I am not enjoying the text of Numbers.

I wonder how the Israelites ever felt that they were living the faithful life with all the rules that Moses and Aaron shared with them.  I cannot imagine remembering each detail and maintain my daily life with all the different offerings, rituals and rules that was required

Here were the twelve tribes still wandering around the wilderness, living in tent cities with all the supplies needed for daily life along with all the livestock and all that were part of their livelihood, too.  And then Moses and Aaron kept bringing them more rules.

No wonder that the people became cantankerous. Today’s world is so far removed from the nomadic lifestyle that it is difficult if not impossible to relate to the demands upon the tribes.  Yet, I want to find a sense of connectedness to this book.

During my college years, I was living in transition. I began in the dorm, along with many others who were strangers to me (and in the 1970s we did not have coed dorms so there were only females in my dorm).  I lived in a strange land.  I had new responsibilities to care for myself.  I had to walk to strange new places, and I had to learn new rules and new boundaries.

Certainly the transition was far different that the Israelites exodus from Egypt, but I was leaving the safe haven of my home to begin a new life that would lead me to an entirely new setting for my life.

As a farmer’s daughter, I had learned the rules that my parents established for our family.  We attended church faithfully, we went to school doing the best we could, and we did the chores that taught us responsibilities as well as how to manage our future lives away from our childhood world.  I knew what was expected; I knew what I had to do; I knew what I wanted to do, too.  I left for college equipped for the unknown I was stepping into.

Maybe I should understand what Numbers is telling me. Maybe I should know the fears of the people.  Maybe I should know that trusting God made life in the wilderness less fearful.  

Certainly the book makes my life seem so much simpler and safer than those ancient days of traveling through the wilderness.  But the mental fear of those years in college might be similar to the fears of the Israelites.  

One had to trust the lifestyle in which they lived, especially in community with each other and with all those people on the move.  In my own life, whenever I moved from one location to the next, I needed basic rules or guidelines in order to step into a new community.  I learned that it takes a year just to know the basic culture of the community.

During the ancient exile narrative, the rules and the regulations made the journey doable.  With Moses and Aaron sharing the words of the Lord, the people struggled but continued onward to the Promised Land.

The doubts and the fears had to be addressed and often lead to dissension and tension—even rebellion.  The results were not good, but those who faithfully listened to Moses and Aaron continued making the journey.

Our lives, today, must also follow God’s law. We are just blessed to have the New Testament to simplify the complex lifestyle of the nomadic culture the earliest Israelites experienced.  

Christians today must follow God’s commandment, too, but we know that Jesus provided us just two commandments:  Love God.  Love one another.  

Reading all the chapters in Numbers wears me out. There are so many specific directions on how to live, where to set up camp, what to sacrifice, when to sacrifice, what is an appropriate offering, and the list continues.

My transitions in life are much more manageable and far less fearful because I know that God provided us the instructions for a simple life that can fit into any culture, any location, any setting whether at home, at work, or on even on vacation.

I am free from making sacrifices because Jesus was the final sacrifice.  I am free to love God and to love one another without any restrictions.  I can confidently know that God is with me and life is good when I accept Jesus’ sacrifice for me and agree to do all that I can for anybody that I can in any way that I can.  That is love.

I continue to work through the reading plan, and I will finish Numbers.  I know that there is so much more to learn; and while reading the New Testament book of Revelations, I see a world so beautiful that I have no fear of the final life transition that is ahead.

Join me in prayer:

Dear loving Father,

Thank you for your patience with me,

Waiting for me to understand the Word.

Thank you for the lessons shared

      from the Old Testament,

So we can appreciate the efforts of your faithful.

Thank you for the words of the New Testament

     That have proven to make life love-filled.

May we understand the old, old stories;

May we demonstrate the new commandments;

And may we share with others the value

     of loving one another as you love us.  –Amen.

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Why practice thanks?

given on Sunday, November 3, 2013:

         November is here!  No one seems to understand why I dread this month, and that might be why I am discovering a shift in my attitude.  Thank goodness, because I needed a change.

Maybe living around so many enthusiastic deer hunters is part of it.  Maybe it is watching all the fun a Halloween event can be.  Maybe it is the anticipation of the Christmas holiday.  Maybe it is all the birthdays that have developed in the middle of the year.  Why it might even be due to the winning season of the Chiefs and the Mizzou Tigers!

Whatever it is, thank goodness!  I needed to broaden my joy into and through November.  I need to say thanks for giving me a month back to live to the fullest.  I need to practice giving thanks.

Why practice thanks?  Why do Christians need to give thanks to God?  Giving thanks to God, and I dare say to others in our lives, too, is a discipline.  When one disciplines oneself to practice any behavior, that practice becomes internalized in such a manner it takes no thought or effort to carry it out.

Consider what our world would be like if people did not practice certain behaviors or routines.  Think about driving—what if we did not follow the basic traffic laws?  What if we did not practice courtesy on the roadways?  What happens when we make mistakes such as pulling out in front of someone?  Would our lives be safe?  The courtesy we practice on the roadways allows flexibility among drivers who make mistakes or protects us from those who are aggressive.  Aren’t we thankful that almost all drivers do practice courtesy while on the roads?

Still, why does God expect us to practice gratitude as Christians?  The scriptures share various stories about giving thanks, and sometimes it is difficult to identify why we should give thanks.  The story today of the Israelites coming out of Egypt struggling to survive in the desert, wanting a change in the diet of manna that God was providing may seem far-fetched to us, especially right here in the breadbasket of the nation.  Yet, the Israelites were whining and not giving thanks.

How often does that happen in our own lives?  We have everything that we need, but we whine when we do not get what we want.  We watch friends getting more wealth or more stuff than we do, and we whine.  We ask God why do they get it and not us.  Do we stop and practice thanksgiving?  Do we stop watching what others are getting and doing and say thank you God for what we have?

Two of the very reasons I have long dreaded November are now turning into the very reasons I can give thanks to God:

  1. The loss of the green colors and the leaves on the trees signaled the cold, dreariness of winter that I shudder every time I think about it.  Yet, practicing gratitude, I can shift my thinking.  I love the colors of fall and the crispness of the cooler evenings.  The smell of wood burning delights me even when it drifts across my nose as I let the dogs in and out.  The rain this week seemed to provide a glossy finish to the leaves shining in the trees and the ones piling up on the bright green grass.  Thank goodness I can see God’s splendor in this early November day.  Thank you, God, for the delight of nature’s brilliant display.
  2. Over the years, November has signaled loss.  Too many family members seemed to die.  The worst calamities seemed to occur in November—the fire in our woods, the encephalitis Dad developed, and even the assassination of JFK.  But now November has signaled new life with birthdays to celebrate—a sister-in-law, a granddaughter and a grandson, a stepson not to mention an uncle and a cousin and who knows how many more.  I can even add an anniversary to that.  Thank goodness I have learned to see the gains of November.  Thank you, God, for the joy of life rather than the sadness of losses.

My manna from heaven may not be the little beads of nourishment that the Israelites woke to find in the mornings.  My manna is discovering that there is more joy in life than the negative.  Learning to practice gratitude is a discipline Christians need.  The outcomes are so important and can demonstrate to others one more value to living a God-centered life.

Giving thanks may not be one of the acts of piety that John Wesley identified, but even Moses and all the examples of faithful leaders from the Bible knew that showing gratitude to God was critical to maintaining a faithful relationship with God.

For the Israelites, the sacrificial rituals became the religious practice that kept them faithful to God.  The sacrifices were highly structured and the gifts were the first, the finest crops or livestock that could be given to God.

The strict rules that the Israelites followed placed the importance on the gift worthy enough to thank God.  The Old Testament tells story after story of sacrifice that the faithful provided as proof of their obedience to God.  The stories also share examples of when sacrifices were not worthy.  In those stories, the failure to provide thanks with the best gifts or to be deceptive in the giving illustrates how destructive impure gratitude can be.

The New Testament reveals the story of God’s sacrifice to us.  With his gift of his son, he strips away the need to demonstrate gratitude in such ritualistic manners.  No more do we offer sacrificial lambs on an altar because God sacrificed his own son so that we may be forgiven our sins.  What an act for which we can be thankful!

Because God offered his Son, we are not exempt from Christian practices.  In fact, because we do not have to offer the tangible evidence that we believe in God and that Jesus died for our sins, our practice of thanksgiving should be central in our lives.

Practicing thanksgiving each and every day keeps us focused on God.  Giving thanks to God, to one another, to family and friends, even to clerks or service providers keeps us positive.  We show the joy that we experience in our lives because we are God-centered.  We see each worker, each person with God’s eyes and we thank God by our actions of Christian love.

People know us by the radiance in our face, by the twinkle in the eyes, by the hugs we share, by the giving we do, by the words of thanks that we give.  These are the results of practicing our faith.  When we keep our lives God-centered, our perspective of who is in control is kept in check.

Here is the challenge for November:  Practice thanksgiving each and every day of the month, of the year, and in the years ahead.  You will see a difference in your life.  You will see a difference in the lives of those around you.  You will witness the shift from loss to joy in your life.  A life filled with thanksgiving is a life filled with God.

Dear Gracious God,

These November days signal the end of a season,

         but thank you for the glory in the colorful leaves.

These November days may be colder and blustery,

         but thank you for the warmth of our homes.

These November days are filled with excitement,

         as hunters prepare for a new season, too.

These November days are filled with anticipation,

         as families look forward to celebrations.

 

As we awake each morning this November,

         keep us centered on giving thanks.

As we arrive at work each day this November,

         let us share our thanksgiving with others.

As we sit down at our tables this November,

         hear our prayers for the blessings we receive.

As we close our eyes each night this November,

         thank you for another day filled with life.

 

Thank you, Gracious Father, for Novembers.

May we practice thanksgiving to the glory of You.  Amen.

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Breaking Sin’s Code: The Leaders

given on 2nd Sunday of Lent, February 24, 2013

Let’s continue tackling the question of how to break sin’s code or, in a slightly different approach, figure why God decided to break sin’s code?  Unlocking the secrets or solving a mystery takes time, and we are now over 2,000 years since Malachi prophesied that God had run out of patience.

Last week the process began with a look at the chronological layout of the Bible.  In doing so, the timeline indicated that Malachi is indeed the last book of the Old Testament and Matthew/Luke have the first entries for the New Testament.

Malachi was written about 400 years before God sent the Messiah.  What happened in between Malachi’s prophecy and the birth of Jesus?  Did sin have such a grip on humanity that it took that long?  Or was there enough faithful people that God was not fully convinced that a Savior was the answer?  What clues are there to sort all this out?  Is there a secret to unlocking sin?  Is there a reason it took so long to prepare for the birth of Jesus?

Remember that Malachi has four chapters and four main points.  Last week the first point was made when Malachi said that God had loved his people even when they were disobedient.  In the first chapter, God explains his love is like that of a child to the parent and that the parents deserve respect.

As he states this, the chapter transitions into looking at the priests who were responsible for leading his children to live a faithful life.  The second major point Malachi delivers is God’s displeasure with the disobedience of the priests.

From Malachi 1:6-14, readers are given a clear example of how the priests have failed to show disrespect towards God:  making sacrifices using the worst quality of offerings rather than the best (sick, aged or injured animals).  The second chapter develops God’s displeasure with the priests as Malachi continues the prophecy:

“Now I am giving a warning to you priests. Listen to it. Honor me with all your heart,” says the Lord who rules over all. “If you do not, I will send a curse on you. I will turn your blessings into curses. In fact, I have already done that because you have not honored me with all your heart.”

This warning leaves no room for misunderstanding.  God is not happy and he blames the priests for not preserving the behaviors his people who were to be obedient and respectful children.

The prophecy is a warning, but it can also provide clues to unlocking sin’s code.  Malachi certainly does not sugarcoat the warning, as the description of the priests’ curse is graphic:

“Because of what you have done, I will punish your children. I will smear the guts from your sacrifices on your faces. And you will be carried off to the dump along with them. You will know that I have given you a warning. I have warned you so that my covenant with Levi will continue,” says the Lord who rules over all.

Pretty nasty, but look at that last verse again.  There is another clue—the covenant with Levi.  What is the covenant with Levi?  That started a new search to find what that covenant entailed.

Breaking codes is not easy and this clue seems to be a mystery even to the theologians and Bible experts.  Covenants are not unfamiliar because the Old Testament uses them in a variety of settings.  The most familiar is the covenant with Moses as God delivers the Ten Commandments.  In the New Testament, the old covenant is replaced with the new covenant—simply to love one another.

Yet beginning with a Biblical concordance, the covenant with Levi is not listed.  Instead the explanation can be found only by looking up Levi, which leads to Levites.  Complicated.  Therefore, to simplify the mystery, one might be tempted to say there is no covenant with Levi.

Unfortunately the covenant is complicated and not stated in concrete terms.  The experts indicate that something happened in which the tribe of Levi was originally given land, but in a takeover, they lost the land.  Levi and his subsequent offspring became known as Levities and were given the responsibility of serving as priests.  No longer did they have dominion over land, instead they were assigned cities over which they were to serve as the priests.

Reading the Old Testament book Numbers gives more insight into the covenant with Levi, and if looking through the genealogy of Jesus, as listed in Luke, the Levite relationship is maintained.  The connection was important to the Jewish people, even though our culture may not see it as a key to maintaining a relationship with God.

Regardless of the ancient history, the Levites were assigned to maintain the religious teachings, the worship, and the sacrifices at the temples in the Jewish territories.  They became the defenders of the relationship with God, the peoples’ faith, and even the tabernacle itself.

When Malachi shared that God was displeased with the priests, he was displeased with leadership, with education, and with preservation of faith.  No wonder God was angry.

Malachi 2:5-7 explains God’s relationship with Levi, therefore his offspring the Levities:

“My covenant promised Levi life and peace. So I gave them to him. I required him to respect me. And he had great respect for my name. True teaching came from his mouth. Nothing but the truth came from his lips. He walked with me in peace. He did what was right. He turned many people away from their sins.

“The lips of a priest should guard knowledge. People should look for true teaching from his mouth. After all, he is my messenger.

When God saw that the priests were not fulfilling their responsibilities correctly, His anger surfaced in the next verses:

But you have turned away from the right path. Your teaching has caused many people to trip and fall. You have broken my covenant with Levi,” says the Lord who rules over all. “So I have caused all of the people to hate you. They have lost respect for you. You have not done what I told you to do. Instead, you have favored one person over another in matters of the law.”

Sin was winning!  God was angry.  Malachi was making sure that everybody knew what was going on and what needed to be done!  If the leaders could not keep sin away, how could the people?  Maybe another example could help.

The responsibility of the priests is to maintain the purity of the sacraments.  Certainly the manner in which they handled the sacrifices was wrong, but another issue shared in Malachi deals with marriage.

The men of Judah (a territory) were divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying pagan women.

Why?  A touchy question, but as always, the issue needs to be viewed through the filter of culture.  The Jewish marriages were sacraments.  What was happening was men just tired of their wives and divorced them and married pagan women–ignoring commitments within the Jewish faith.

God’s anger was first directed toward the priests as they were not maintaining the covenant with Levi, not preserving the sacraments as they were trained, not leading the people to preserve their commitments within the faith.  What a mess!

Have we broken sin’s code?  Not yet.  Maybe we have cracked open the problem, but we have not found the solution.  Malachi has more to share with us.  There is more to explore and to understand.  And there still is the 400-year delay before God’s savior will be born.  Sin still is winning, and now, 2,000 years later we confront sin, too.  Is sin still winning even today?  We need more work to break sin’s code.

Dear Patient Father,

We hear Malachi’s warnings.

We read to understand the warnings.

We evaluate the message in his prophecy.

 

Speak to us today.

Use words we know well.

Make sure we understand.

 

Lead us with Your commandment.

Let us model our faith in You.

Open others’ eyes, hearts, and minds

to Your endless love.  –Amen

 

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