Friday, December 31, 2010

Recollections of My 2010 Reading (Part 1)

Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees tells the story of a boy who went up a tree and never came down again--he moved about from tree to tree living and loving there. A lot of people like Calvino, so maybe I'll have to try another of his books. This one disappointed.

My best read of the year was Paul E. Miller's A Praying Life. It very nearly revolutionized my perspective and approach to prayer. Three things Miller did for me: 1) he made prayer more accessible for me; 2) he helped me understand the truth of "whatever you pray will be answered" passages (eg., 1 Jn 5:14-15); and 3) he helped me see prayer's proper place in parenting. I've written more on this book elsewhere.

Sara and I read Skid, by Rene Gutteridge, together. The third book follows a third Hazard family sibling, Hank, as he is employed by an airline to test the customer service of their flight attendants. His Christian faith carries him--and the rest of the crazy passengers--through a hilarious set of circumstances on his first flight. Not a book I'd pick up myself, but an entertaining one to read aloud to your spouse. We equally enjoyed the first two books, Scoop and Snitch.

Malcolm Muggeridge's Jesus: The Man Who Lives was written by a journalist who loved Jesus, and who came to love him as an adult. The book is, in a sense, a gospel, albeit not a divinely inspired one. It is also a commentary on the gospels, one that provides new perspectives throughout. A good read.

Anna and I read the first three Narnia books together. For the most part, I do not tire of reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, or The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Charles Williams, member of the Inklings and thus a friend of both Lewis and Tolkien, wrote some bizarre novels that drop the partition between our world and the supernatural. The Place of the Lion--I'm not sure what to say. I think I understood All Hallow's Eve a little better when I read that a few years back.

I'm always interested in what other people like to read, especially when it's a person I greatly respect, like Eugene Peterson. Take and Read swelled the list of books on my wish list.

I read Kevin DeYoung's short Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will as teaching prep. Helpful and liberating, though I'm not sure his case is completely air tight.

One of the books Peterson recommended was Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz. The story takes place after a nuclear holocaust sends civilization back to the dark ages. Through the centuries, the Church helps and hinders the rebuilding of society. Some interesting themes. Read my review.

I loved Dashiell Hammet's Red Harvest. A good detective story with a lot of great lines. Read my review.

Speaking of detective fiction, that's exactly what P. D. James does in Talking about Detective Fiction. It was fun to read her opinion of some of the great mystery writers, like Doyle, Christie, Chesterton, and Sayers. Among other things, she corrected my misperceptions of Sherlock Holmes.

I re-read Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy during my devotions this year. There's a reason this book is a classic. Read previous comments.

Herman Wouk's A Hole in Texas was disappointing. There's a reason it was only a dollar at the dollar store. (I'm surprised it wasn't on sale.) Read my review.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Response to Four Recommended Articles

My senior pastor sends articles my way, as do other friends. Usually I read them.

Today I quickly read 4, and I thought I'd respond to them.

"Deeds Done in Darkness" reports the recent imprisonment and torture in Afghanistan of Afghan Sayed Mossa (or Said Musa). Imprisoned in May for conversion to Christianity, no amount of international pressure of any kind has brought about any change in his situation, until Sayed got a letter out. Now he's in a "safer" prison, at least. Our brother in Christ, 45, needs our prayers, as do his wife and 6 kids. He is not alone; the Lord is with him.

Brilliant author, mathematician, and agnostic Jew, David Berlinski responds to questions in "My Life, So Far," an article in Outreach Magazine that I can't seem to locate online. While most of his statements are cogent and logical, I fail to see why "Even if I was persuaded of the truth of [God as Creator and Jesus as His Son], I couldn't break that historical tradition [of being committed to the suffering body of Jewish people]." I though reason was his guiding mechanism, but apparently tradition occasionally slips into that role.

In "Sam Harris Believes in God," Sam Harris, one of the "new atheists," apparently believes in some kind of religious experience and self-consciousness. But he does not believe in the Christian God, whatever the title may mislead one to believe. For all this article's excitement about its find, Harris's beliefs seem little more than Eastern mysticism, which isn't too surprising since he spent much time in India and Nepal to study with Hindu and Buddhist teachers.

Finally, John Ortberg ("Tis the Season to Be Attentive") thinks Dallas Willard is on to something when he suggests that much of what pastors do is actually counter-productive to what their goal is, the spiritual formation of their congregations. Maybe, Ortberg suggests, if we would put less time and effort into services and planning, and more time and effort into hanging out with people, that would do the trick. Perhaps. But I grow increasingly wary of calls to chuck corporate worship, or to chuck anything that might have the smell of tradition on it, in favor of something new and innovative. There's probably a middle ground here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Memorizing Scripture

Memorizing Scripture is a good way to hide it in your heart (Ps 119:11) and to meditate on it day and night (Josh 1:8; Ps 1:2). It's also an effective weapon in combatting temptation (cf. Mt 4:1-11). And what if one day, as in other countries, the Bible is taken from us? Memorized Scripture will become a rich treasure.

If you are looking for a Scripture memory plan, I offer you mine as an example.

I use 3x5 note cards. On one side I write the verse to be memorized. On the other side I write the Scripture reference in the upper left-hand corner.

Three to four times a week (during my prayer time at the church), I pick up the stack of cards, reference side up, and work through a few of the cards. I read the reference, quote aloud the verse from memory, and flip the card and read the verse as it's written. Then I place it on the bottom of the stack, reference side down.

When I get through the stack--and I know that when I come to a card that is reference side down instead of reference side up--I shuffle the cards for the next run-through.

At the top of the stack every day are the new verses I'm learning and the verses I misquoted when I last had the stack in my hands.

Each time I finish working through the stack, I add 2-3 new verse cards. They always stay on top of the stack, as well as the 2-3 verse cards I added last time. Just under these cards are the verses I misquoted last time.

So here's the "order of events" when I work through my cards:

  • Quote new cards (usually 5-6) and set them to the side
  • Quote misquoted old cards from last time (hopefully none; sometimes as many as 5)
  • Quote several old cards (cards quoted correctly go on the bottom of the stack; cards misquoted are set aside)
  • Quote misquoted cards from this go-around and place them on top of the stack
  • Quote new cards again and place them on top of the stack

What Verses to Select
The fun is in picking out verses to memorize. I have selected verses for a whole host of reasons.

--Select verses to help you combat particular temptations. (I memorized Mt 6:25-34 to help combat anxiety and Prov 14:29 to combat anger.)

--Select verses that you think you should know. (Recent examples for me include 2 Cor 5:21 and Acts 4:12.)

--Memorize whole chapters, 3 verses at a time. (For me Ps 33, Ps 103, and Heb 11)

--Memorize verses that strike you during a sermon or your devotional time. (This is how I've selected many of them, like my newest 3: Dt 8:2; Jn 21:18-19; Rom 14:17.)

--Memorize verses that are formative to your thinking about some aspect of theology. (For me, Eph 5:18 and Jn 7:37-39 for my thinking on the filling of the Holy Spirit, and Rom 6:8-13 for my understanding of our relationship to sin as Christians)

--Memorize verses that encourage you. (Lam 3:21-23 has ministered to me countless times.)

--Select passages that you find beautiful. (2 Sam 1:17-27, to me, is a beautiful lament and eulogy to Saul and Jonathan.)

--Memorize passages that help aim your life in the way it should be aimed. (Ps 27:4)

--Select passages that give you perspective when times get tough. (Mt 5:11-12; Rev 2:10; Acts 5:41)

--Memorize Scriptures that are just fun to know. (1 Kings 20:11; Jud 14:18)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2 Christmas Videos

The digital story of the nativity is fun to watch. (My friend Phil put me on to that one.)

The Hallelujah Chorus at a Philadelphia Macy's store is awesome to watch. It sends shivers down my spine.

Monday, December 20, 2010

5 Christmas Traditions

Tradition is scorned in some circles. Tradition in the church is scorned. “The only reason they do it that way is because that’s the way they’ve always done it.”

But Christmas traditions are stilled viewed in a positive light. They are anticipated with fondness, at least at our house.

I credit Sara with establishing many of our traditions. What follows are some of our Christmas traditions. I wonder what some of yours are. Please feel free to hit the “comment” link at the bottom of this post and type in one or more of your Christmas traditions that you cherish.

Decorations. Of course we put up the tree and put out many of the other decorations. I typically put up the tree with the help of some of the kids. Sara then puts on the lights and beads. Then everyone hangs the ornaments. Other features of this special day include special snack food, like cheese and crackers and salami, or Panera bagels and cream cheese, maybe some cookies, maybe some special drink. We also play Christmas music, and invariably one of the Veggie Tales Christmas CDs is in the mix. The kids sometimes wear their Santa hats, and usually White Christmas is put in the VCR at some point later in the day.

Carols. Each evening (with a few exceptions) between Thanksgiving and Christmas we gather as a family in the living room with only the Christmas tree lights on. Each person selects a Christmas carol, and we sing one verse of each carol together. We conclude with prayer. A simple tradition, but we all love it.

Lights. A few days before Christmas we load up the van after supper and head out to look at Christmas lights. Sara supplies us with popcorn and insulated cups of hot chocolate. Our route usually includes the house in Emerald Lakes with 80,000+ lights and the owner dressed as Santa in his driveway. The past couple years we’ve made our way down to Zanesville to the United Methodist Church with the light display synced to the music on an AM station. We always end with the giant Santa and reindeer and the giant wreath downtown. Another simple tradition that we all look forward to.

Christmas Eve Service. 6pm every Dec. 24th finds us at Northside for a simple service. The first half of the service consists of 5 Advent readings, written by Pastor Ryan, punctuated with Christmas carols. The second half of the service includes a video meditation on Christmas, a lighting of candles, and the congregation singing "Silent Night" to the accompaniment of a single guitar, which concludes the service.

Pancakes. Every Christmas morning, Pastor Ryan and his family make pancakes and other breakfast items for whoever comes to the church between 9:00 and 11:00. My kids wouldn’t dream of missing it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

9 Ways to Worship Christ This Christmas Season

1. Send a Christmas card to someone you know is lonely.

2. Sing some Christmas songs to the Lord.

3. Attend an extra Christmas service, on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.

4. Give a check or gift certificate to someone you know is struggling financially.

5. At your family gathering or staff party, single out someone you tend to ignore, and engage them in sincere conversation.

6. Visit someone in the hospital or nursing home to wish them a Merry Christmas.

7. Invite a neighbor to church.

8. Write a thank you letter to the Lord.

9. Meditate on John 1:1-18, and pray your response.

Answers to Christmas Numbers Quiz

See the quiz here.

1. 10

2. 2

3. 3

4. 6

5. 34th

6. 8

7. 3

8. 7

9. 6

10. 24

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Numbers Quiz

1. How many lords a’leaping did my true love give to me?

2. How many sizes too small was the Grinch’s heart?

3. How many of Santa’s reindeer have names that begin with “D”?

4. How many sides does a snowflake have?

5. On what street did a Santa Claus miracle take place?

6. How many thousands of dollars did Uncle Billy lose in It’s a Wonderful Life?

7. Besides Jacob Marley, how many ghosts visit Ebenezer Scrooge?

8. How many swans a’swimming did my true love give to me?

9. On which day of January is Epiphany celebrated?

10. How many days are on an Advent calendar?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What were you doing 2 weeks ago?

Pastor Johnson was beaten by 20 men. Here's the report from Voice of the Martyrs:

On Dec. 2, more than 20 Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal group attacked Pastor Johnson in Udayanagar, near Bangalore, India, accusing him of trying to convert people to Christianity. Pastor Johnson was leaving a prayer meeting at a believer's home when the extremists surrounded him and asked him why he was trying to convert people. "They simply started to beat him up," VOM contacts said. "The pastor's plea that he had just come on an invitation for a prayer ... simply fell on deaf ears." VOM contacts said the extremists then dragged Pastor Johnson to the Mahadevapura Police Station, continuing to punch him along the way. The extremists also reportedly beat him right in front of the police station, and police officers watched without saying a word or doing anything to stop the assault. At last report, the pastor was still in custody. Pray that God will heal this pastor's physical wounds and minister to him during this challenging time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where's the Line to See Jesus?

A St. Louis local artist, Becky Kelley, has released a Christmas song, entitled "Where's the Line to See Jesus?" that has become an Internet hit.

It may be destined to become one of those overplayed over-sentimental songs, like "Jesus, Take the Wheel" and "Watch the Lamb," but when you hear it the first few times, it's kind of cool.

While the song is good, the video is slightly creepy, but see what you think.

Bible Notes: Num 14; 20

Because of the Israelites’ refusal to enter the Promised Land, the Lord told them that they wander in the desert for 40 years, and that no one over the age of 20 would enter the Promised Land when that 40 years came to an end--no one except Caleb and Joshua, that is.

But when the Lord makes this judgment in Numbers 14, aren’t there 3 other exceptions--Moses, Aaron, and Miriam? Or does the Lord mean they won't enter, either?

As it turns out, none of the 3 of them did enter the Promised Land. Miriam dies at the beginning of Num 20, and Aaron dies at the end of it. In Num 20, Moses also seals his own doom when he strikes the rock God told him to speak to. So the formal reason Moses and Aaron don’t enter the Promised Land is the matter of the rock.

Did the Lord have Moses and Aaron (and Miriam) in mind, too, when he said in Num 14 that no one would enter the Promised Land?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sports Radio Evidences a Righteous God

I recently discovered sports radio. I am not an avid sports fan, but when political radio depresses me, and when music radio seems banal and dry, from time-to-time sports radio provides a spark of interest.

When I first started listening, one thing I noticed right away was how consuming and important sports seems to be on sports radio. Why? Because that’s all they talk about. Even the news is sports-related news. It’s like nothing else in the world matters. When a particular show can talk about Monday night’s game for a solid hour, and then each show after that, with it’s own particular sports commentator, does the same thing, it (over-)emphasizes the importance of the game.

I heard one expert a couple days ago talking about how critically important 3 recent NFL games were to the post-season setup. “Critically important!” Yet in a few months, this season with its Super Bowl winner will take a back seat to the anticipation and talk and prophecies of the coming season.

Sports radio over-inflates--excessively--the importance of sports. That was my first discovery.

More recently I’ve been struck by the unique morality of the sports world. There’s a right and wrong in sports, but it’s unique to sports. It’s not the same as right and wrong in the political world or the right and wrong of the Bible (though there is some overlap). Let me give you some examples.

ESPN Radio's Scott Van Pelt hesitated to accuse an NFL team of being “the Q word,” which he indicated was “blasphemous.” The Q word, I presume, is “quitters.” And note that the word Van Pelt used was “blasphemous,” a word with religious connotations. Quitting generally doesn’t rank as blasphemous in the everyday world, but it does in sports.

Another sports show host recently "preached" about how the quarterback on any given team must take up the mantle of leadership, and he must lead by his example. This "sermon" came because of the recent escapades of a few quarterbacks which fell far short of the moral standard that this show’s host perceived to be in place.

Friday night I listened to another host analyze statements by Cam Newton, the Auburn quarterback who was awarded the Heisman trophy Saturday night. Cam and his father are under investigation for allegedly soliciting money from Mississippi and possibly other colleges in exchange for Cam playing for them--a decided legal no-no. Friday night’s host took apart some statements Newton made in an interview, analyzing each statement, holding each one up to the light of credibility, to see whether the guy was believable or not. It was what many preachers do with the word of God from the pulpit. They examine, exegete, and exposit it, word by word, line by line.

The Cam Newton flap has been interesting in terms of sports morality. The religious leaders, excuse me, the sports show hosts, range across a spectrum of opinions. "Nothing’s been proven, so love the guy and laud him," some say. Others lament the cloud and fear the possible shame thrown on the Heisman award if allegations against Newton prove true.

On the one hand, Newton is as righteous as anybody in the sports world--he excels at his sport and wins games. But violating NCAA rules? That’s almost as wicked as winning is righteous.

What do I take away from all this? You cannot get away from morality, from ethics, from a sense of right and wrong. Even in the supposedly amoral world of sports, there is in fact morality. There is right, and there is wrong.

Why? Because it’s in the warp and woof of humanity. We are a moral people; that is, we all hold to some form of morality, no matter how perverted it is. And we carry that sense of right and wrong into whatever fantasy world we create for ourselves. And in that world, our sense of right and wrong finds expression. To an athlete, it is a sin to quit. To an environmentalist, it is sin not to recycle. To an American liberal, it is a sin to speak ill of homosexuality. The moral code may be different from world to world, but there is a moral code.

This ultimately points to a Creator, and a righteous one at that. We have a sense of right and wrong because we were endowed with it at our origin, at our genesis.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"In the First Light" Great Christmas Lyrics

Lyrics by Bob Kauflin

In the first light of a new day
No one knew He had arrived
Things continued as they had been
While a new born softly cried.
But the heavens wrapped in wonder
Knew the meaning of His birth
In the weakness of a baby
They knew God had come to earth.
As His mother held him closely,
It was hard to understand
That her baby not yet speaking
Was the Word of God to man.
He would tell them of His kingdom,
But their hearts would not believe
They would hate Him and in anger
They would nail Him to a tree.
But the sadness would be broken
As the song of life arose
And the First born of creation
Would ascend and take his throne.
He had left it to redeem us,
But before His life began
He knew He´d come back not as a baby
But as The Lord of ev´ry man.
Hear the angels as they´re singing
On the morning of His birth
But how much greater will our song be
When He comes again to Earth,
When He comes to rule the Earth!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Some Favorite Christmas Renditions

This is a repost from last year (with a new addition at the end).

Here are some of my favorite new Christmas tunes this year. (At least they're new to me.)

Warning: All these links take you to youtube to hear the songs.

Mandisa's rendition of "Children, Go Where I Send Thee." I've not really heard her before; she's powerful, and this arrangement is fantastic.

Casting Crowns' new arrangement of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Wow! How this new tune and chords improve this familiar song!

The lyrics of Downhere's "How Many Kings" are fantastic. Lyrics like:

Cause how many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Another good one is Sarah McLachlan's haunting "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

And here's a fun one that's not new to me, but it may be to you: "I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas," by Yogi Yorgesson.

Another by Sarah McLachlan: "What Child Is This? (Greensleeves)"

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Philippians 1:4

always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, (ESV)

Going back to 1:3 to get a running start into 1:4, note the inclusive words: “I thank my God in ALL my remembrance of you, ALWAYS in EVERY prayer of mine for you ALL making my prayer with joy.” The believers in Philippi bring a smile to Paul’s face and a lift to his heart. He always prays for them “with joy.”

People are a pain to put up with sometimes. I’ve heard pastors joke that ministry would be great if it weren’t for the people. Then there’s the rhyme,

To live above
With the saints we love
O that will be glory!
But to dwell below
With the saints we know
Well that’s a different story.

But there are people who are a great joy as well. Sara and I were recently talking about various people at our church who are an encouragement to us in a variety of ways, a lot of them because of their joyful partnership in the ministry of the church.

Imagine you’re at the grocery store, and clear at the other end of the aisle you see someone you know enter. Some people you know, the moment you see them at the end of the aisle, they will bring a lift to your spirits. They are a delight and have a heavenly effect on you.

Then there are others you know who drag you down emotionally. They are complainers, always focused on their problems. If they haven’t yet seen you at the other end of the aisle, you are so tempted to hurriedly scoot to another aisle to avoid detection and depression.

Thank the Lord there are people like the former in our lives.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Celebrities in WWII

On this 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, I picked up A Patriot’s History of the United States, by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, and read some of their account of WWII.

To see pictures of that grim day, click here and here.

Interesting to me as I read was the number of actors who were quick to enlist:

Major Cecil B. DeMille, director of The Ten Commandments and The Greatest Show on Earth, signed up for the reserves.

Van Heflin, Academy Award winner, joined the army as an artilleryman.

James Arness, Marshal Matt Dillon in TV’s Gunsmoke, served in the army, was wounded at Anzio, and was awarded a Bronze Star.

Eddie Albert, Academy Award winner, was wounded at Tarawa and also earned a Bronze Star for rescuing wounded and stranded marines from the beach.

Don Adams, alias Maxwell Smart (Get Smart), served in the Marines and contracted malaria at Guadalcanal.

Charlton Heston, actor (The Ten Commandments, Planet of the Apes, Ben-Hur), was a radio operator on B-25 bombers.

Art Carney, alias Ed Norton on The Honeymooners, incurred a shrapnel wound at Saint-Lo.

Ernest Borgnine, star of McHale’s Navy, had already served in the navy 12 years before WWII and was discharged in 1941. He reenlisted that same year when America entered WWII and served another 4 years.

Desi Arnaz, husband of Lucille Ball, alias Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy, was offered a commission in the Cuban navy, where he could safely patrol the Caribbean. He refused and chose to enlist in the U.S. Navy instead, but was rejected because he wasn’t a citizen. But he could be drafted, and he was. He failed the physical but still ended up in the infantry, where he injured his knees. He finished the war entertaining troops.

Lee Marvin, Academy Award winner and star of The Dirty Dozen, assaulted more than 20 beaches in the Pacific with his marine unit, and after one battle, only Marvin and 5 others out of 247 had survived.

Walter Matthau, actor, earned an impressive six Silver Stars as an air force gunner.

Jimmy Stewart was the first major American movie star to wear a uniform in WWII. He flew more than 20 combat missions and eventually rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the United State Air Force Reserve.

--Most of this information was culled from A Patriot's History, 597-598, and supplemented by Wikipedia.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bible Notes: Num 16:12-14

Talk about spinning a story! Dathan and Abiram accuse Moses with … Well, just read it straight, and I’ll explain it.

“Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey …”

These lines reek with untruths:
  • They look with fondness back on Egypt? They were in slavery, and a miserable slavery at that! (See Exodus 1-14.)
  • Moses was there to kill them? Moses, by means of his intervention with the Lord on a few occasions, was the instrument of their continued survival!
  • Moses wanted to make himself prince? Moses preferred not to be the sole leader! (See Num 11:11-15,29; 12:3.)
  • Moses hadn’t delivered on the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey? Well, that was true, but that wasn’t his fault. That was the people’s fault! They were the ones who refused to go into the Promised Land when the spies brought back an unfavorable report.

Friday, December 3, 2010

How many "had"s can you get in one sentence?

"Sherman had had what would now be called a nervous breakdown and had had to give up his command in Kentucky."

--Bruce Catton, Grant Moves South 90

Bible Notes: Num 16

The amazing story of Numbers 16 in a nutshell …

Korah (a Levite) and his friends Dathan and Abiram, along with 250 thugs accused Moses, “You’re making yourself a king. In God’s eyes , no one’s more special than anyone else.”

Moses answered, “I didn’t put myself in charge; God did. And he’ll show you in the morning. And what are you complaining about? Hasn’t he exalted you, Korah, and your fellow Levites when he called you to minister at the temple and to be a bridge between him and the people? Tomorrow, every one of you bring a censer with fire in it to present to the Lord. Aaron will, too. Then God will show us whom he chooses.”

Moses sent invitations to Dathan and Abiram, who were not Levites. They wouldn’t come, but they did send a message: “You’re a bad man. We had it good in Egypt, but you’ve led us into poverty.”

Then Moses was angry. So was the Lord. He told Moses and Aaron. “Leave! I’m going to destroy this whole nation, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”

But Moses and Aaron begged him not to. God backed off a bit, but he was still determined to deal with the instigators. So, since Dathan and Abiram wouldn’t come to him, Moses--and everybody else--went to them. But they didn’t get too close.

Dathan and Abiram and Korah and their families came outside and stood on their porches in defiance. Moses announced to the crowd, "If God himself hasn’t chosen me, then these men will die a natural death, but if the earth swallows them up, then you’ll know that these guys are messing not with me, but with God himself.”

The earth complied. It opened, swallowed the trouble-makers, their wives, their children, their homes and possessions, and then closed up again. The crowd was terrified and quickly scattered.

What of the 250 thugs? While they were presenting their fiery censers, God presented his fire in the opposite direction, and all that was left were 250 censers.

Did Israel finally get it? Ha ha! That’s a good one! The next day they accused Moses and Aaron of killing some good people. The Lord responded by renewing his threat to decimate the nation, and he started a plague on the camp’s outskirts that quickly began claiming lives.

At Moses’ direction, Aaron grabbed his burning censer, and ran quickly to the spreading plague where he placed himself between the living and the dead, “and the plague was stopped.”

Total casualties: 14,700

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bible Notes: Num 12

This chapter of only 16 verses is chock-full of interesting tidbits.

#1 Miriam and Aaron complain about Moses! As if he hasn’t got enough trouble with the few million Israelites and their complaints.

#2 Two complaints are specified. The first is about his wife. They don't like her because she's a Cushite. This complaint isn’t addressed by the Lord. I’m guessing that we are to view this first complaint negatively, since the other complaint is rebuked and judged.

Here’s a question to follow up on, though? What of this marriage to Zipporah? (I assume that’s who’s meant.) Does this violate God's law, or at least reveal poor judgment, when God was concerned about the Israelites marrying the peoples around them?

Lev 21:7 gives instructions for priests who marry, and Lev 21:13-15 instructions for whom the high priest may and may not marry.

But this whole law in Lev 21 is for the priests, the "sons of Aaron." This brings us to a point of chronology: Moses was the brother of Aaron, and he was given this law in Lev 21 after he married Zipporah.

#3 The second complaint is more serious. They attack his special position as the leader of God’s people: “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?”

This is the sin Aaron and Miriam get rebuked for. Their complaint is: “Moses isn’t any more special than us.” God’s rejoinder may be surprising: “Yes he is!” And the reasons God gives (detailed in 6-8) set Moses apart from just about everyone else in the human race besides Christ.

This ambition strikes me as akin to the devil’s. Aaron and Miriam are part of the leadership team of this nation. God had spoken through them. But it wasn’t enough. Being in the top 5 of a few million wasn’t enough. They wanted to be number 1.

Being “the signet of perfection” and “an anointed guardian cherub” wasn’t enough for the devil either (Ezek 28:11ff.). He wanted to ascend higher than God and be like him (Isa 14:12-14).

There’s a story of a holy man whom the demons were struggling unsuccessfully to tempt into sin. None of the traditional temptations worked. Finally in disgust the devil took over. “Watch and learn, boys.” He whispered into the old saint’s ear, “Your brother has just been made bishop.” And a spark of jealousy ignited in the old man’s heart.

#4 Moses was the meekest man on all the earth. That’s what verse 3 says. In other words, of the some 2-3 million Israelites, the one person over the age of 20 who didn’t want the job of leading the nation was the one person who had the job.

Moses wrote Numbers, didn’t he? How is it he wrote this verse? You would think the meekest man in all the earth would have the meekness not to record that point, and in truth, because of his meekness, not believe that he was the meekest man in the first place. Humble men see their own pride far more easily than do proud men. At this point, I think this verse may have been inserted--by inspiration of the Holy Spirit--by someone else later. Perhaps Joshua.

#5 Miriam is judged. When God is done rebuking Aaron and Miriam, he leaves, and Miriam is leprous.
  • Interesting that Aaron isn’t judged, too.
  • Interesting that Aaron begs Moses for help, and not the Lord directly. I thought the Lord spoke through him as well as Moses.
  • Moses does pray to for Miriam with all sincerity, and she is healed, but she has to remain outside the camp for 7 days.