Week 11: It’s God’s mission

Readings for the week: Psalm 34, Numbers 16-28, Hebrews 1-8, Psalm 35  Listen to these passages

Opening Prayer:

 Dear God, thanks. Seriously. Thank you.  I don’t always say it and sometimes I get lost in all the busyness or frustrations. But you keep sticking with me, and keep me going when I feel like stopping. Give me eyes to see your goodness this week and to be a person who shares your goodness with others.  Give me ears to hear what is true and to trust those you’re working through. Give me wisdom to know what’s wrong and to respond in obedience to your calling. Thanks for all you’re doing and for all you’ve done. Keep with me this week and may I keep with you. Amen.

  1. Psalm 32
  2. Reading through Numbers 16-28

Who’s in charge, here?  Can we talk to the manager? Where do we need to go to file a complaint?  Questions as old as time. And they generally come out of a place of frustration. The service isn’t what we expected. The product failed to perform. The show didn’t live up to reviews.

Our will isn’t satisfied. Maybe for a good reason. Maybe just because we like to complain. Maybe because our expectations didn’t fit reality.

Maybe because we like being in control.

Finish this sentence, “If I was in charge…”  What would you do better?  At work? At Church?

Israel was filled with people, and the problem with being around people is always, you guessed it, the other people.  God can be pretty patient. Divinely patient we might even say.

But even God has his limits.  God gives freedom, but this isn’t a willy-nillly, do whatever you want and to whom sort of freedom. It’s a freedom to find hope and community in an enlivening way, a way that is intended to bring people from a place of darkness to a place of promise.  It’s the freedom of a good diet and consistent exercise. Sure, it may take work, but a work-free life was never the promise even in the garden. What it leads to is better than a freedom of sitting around on a couch eating potato chips (“to everything there’s a season…”).  It leads to health, productivity, sharing, community.

God is patient with human frailty and human insecurity and even human sin. Surprisingly patient. What he tends to get angry about is when people start telling him he is wrong about what he’s doing or how he’s doing it. Maybe not directly, but by creating division or not being obedient. And sometimes directly.  People get to thinking they know what is best and even when God is very clear about what he wants done and who he has chosen to get it done, people have some comments to make about.

Sometimes, it’s just ignoring the laws God established. Those have reasons, but we’re not always told them. Just listen! God says.

Sometimes, it’s thinking that it’s time for new leadership when things aren’t happening as grandly as we’d like.  Just listen! God says.

Key point: It’s not their mission or your mission. It’s God’s mission. God is in charge.

At this point, those in leadership are clapping their hands and saying, “Yeah! You tell them!”

Hear that again. God is in charge. It’s God’s mission. The task of obedience is for the people, for the leaders, for the prophets, for the kings, for the servants, for the wealthy, for the poor.

A king wants to have Israel cursed. A prophet is sent. He can’t do it. God is in charge. Balaam, by the way, is one of those great characters who we find every so often in the Bible. They’re not part of the people of God, but God is doing a work in them or through them or about them. We’re not told all the stories of God’s work. And he works outside the narrow vision of the main events.  Keep your wits about you when saying what God can do or who he can use.

The chosen ones of God start thinking they’re actually in charge.  They act in ways that don’t fit God’s calling. God doesn’t say, “Oh well, that’s just Moses getting grumpy, but he’s the one I picked.” No. Moses himself serves at God’s mercy, and when Moses doesn’t obey, he can’t be trusted anymore.

Even Moses. Who might possibly be in the running for the “most holy person besides Jesus” in the whole Bible award.  You who are leaders, you’re not immune to right criticism. Even all you’ve done, isn’t enough when you’ve gotten off the path of God’s obedience.  If God says talk to the rock, don’t hit it.  God is not just interested in the result. His holiness is about the method, the act, the approach, the whole context.

The message is be obedient. Don’t get caught in complaint. If you’re a leader, don’t resist correction or truth. Just because you have a title and maybe even a calling, doesn’t make you always right. Sometimes unexpected truth can come from the mouth of someone lowly if they are being obedient.  That’s the way of God.  God works among the lowly and unexpected.

If we get it wrong, if we keep pressing into disobedience, he turns to discipline and correction. Sometimes by closing doors.  Sometimes by getting a donkey to tell us what is right.

It’s not fun for you or fun for the donkey, who just wants to do the work without having to speak out when things have gone wrong.

In short: follow God’s rules, talk to the rock, listen to the donkey.

What are God’s rules for you? What’s your rock? Who’s your donkey?

  1. Reading through Hebrews 1-8

While we take our time going through the narratives of the Old Testament, we’re flying through the books of the New Testament. Like with Romans, we will travel through the book of Hebrews in just 2 weeks.  Like with Romans, there’s a huge amount of theology and exhortations along the way.  That said, as part of the New Testament, Hebrews is fairly unique.

For instance, we don’t know who wrote it.  Probably not Paul, though he’s sometimes given credit in writing it. The book itself doesn’t say. That has led to a lot of informed guesses over the centuries, beginning as early as the 2nd century.  It seems the authorship was probably known to someone, but they didn’t tell others.

That it reflects apostolic teaching is clear. That’s why it’s included in the New Testament. But who put it together?

Given how much it addresses Jewish customs and assumes a lot of understanding of Jewish backgrounds, it was likely written by a Jewish Christian to a majority Jewish audience.

A popular suggestion is that Barnabas (the sometime companion of Paul) wrote it.  Or Apollos.

Another name that arises in connection with the book is Priscilla, who we already encountered at the end of Romans and we’ll read more about in Acts and elsewhere.  She and her husband Aquila were teachers. The order of names in Biblical times often indicates who is more important, so it seems she wasn’t just a helper to Aquila, she was the one with more power or education or wealth. They were a team, still. Priscilla and Aquila were given the task of teaching teachers, like Apollos.

So, this is a book she could have written. But, again, we don’t know.  We’re not told.

What we are told is that the Old Testament isn’t left behind and the New Testament isn’t a brand new beginning or really even a separate religion.

The work of God in Christ is in accordance with what came before, but it’s not just commentary.

There’s something significant about Jesus, who he is, how he fits into the Law and the Prophets, how he brings to fullness that which came before, establishing a new pattern in the present, and leading people into a new future, one in which the Spirit empowered people are called to new life, now and into eternity.

We can be sure of our salvation, because Jesus didn’t leave anything left–other than following him.

That means we don’t have a set of religious tasks to do as our primary goal, but instead are called to live in hope, trusting Christ for all things, and in this trust living like it in our daily lives.  Wherever we’re at.

We’re called to live in a new way because Jesus forged the way. How we live reflects the hope we have, and the hope we have reflects what we trust.

If we trust God, in the work of Christ, we will live lives of love, reflected in how we treat others, and how we respond in the challenges or temptations we face in life.

Jesus fulfills the Law, he brings in the purpose of the Law and gathers us together as part of this renewed People of God.

While the imagery of “high priest” and sacrifices and all the rest is pretty foreign to our contemporary experiences, these passages still have much to say as we think about our own guilt, our own ability to make things right.

Should we just give up because we’re lost? No! Christ has already done what is necessary.

Do you believe it?

Join the communion of men and women from all the centuries, from all over the world, who have found a new hope in Christ. Enter the rest God gives. Draw near to God. God invites you into his presence.

5. Psalm 35

6. Respond

If you’ve fallen behind in the readings or having started year, don’t worry.  Reading the Bible isn’t a limited time offer. Jump in this week, and catch up with what you’ve missed in future years.

Also, I highly encourage you to share your thoughts with others in your family, or immediate community. Talk about this stuff! 

And, since I sometimes feel lonely, share your thoughts in the comment section.

Talking about your thoughts and questions is a very important part of the reading goal. Writing out our thoughts can help us remember what we read and keep our minds on the passage. It also is very helpful to share as we learn from each other. Even our questions or confusion can bring us together, as we highlight what others may have missed or address what a lot of us are also wondering.   Don’t feel like you have to say or write a lot, or feel pressure to be profound. Respond with honesty and openness.

Just jump right in where you’re at, knowing that Christ invites you to respond without pressure or anxiety. It’s a journey not a performance.