Saturday, May 26, 2012

When a Donkey Speaks, You Better Listen!

Today's Reading:
  • Numbers 22:21 - 23:30
  • Proverbs 11:12 - 13
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Numbers 22:21 - 23:30
Our last reading left off with Balaam ready to journey to meet the Moab king.  Balaam road a donkey for the journey, but God was angry that Balaam was going and wanted to remind him of that fact.  Therefore, he sent an angel of God to block the road. 

Balaam did not see the angel of God, but his donkey did.  The donkey refused three times, and each time the donkey refused, Balaam got angry and beat the donkey.  I laughed when I read what happened next in verse 22:28 -- the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak!  Can you image if an animal suddenly started to speak to you? 

The donkey spoke to Balaam and asked why Balaam had beat it three times.  I would imagine that Balaam would have been shocked to have it speak, but instead Balaam simply replied that the donkey had made him seem a fool.  The donkey and Balaam continued to converse, until Balaam finally saw the angel of God that was blocking the way.

When Balaam saw the angel, he fell to the ground and announced his sin.  Balaam told the angel he would return home then if that was God's will.  Instead, Balaam was told to go to Moab but only to speak the words that the Lord would give to him.

Balaam met with Balak, and Balak was angry that Balaam had not come sooner.  Balaam told Balak that he has come, but he did not have the power to just send a curse onto those people.  He would only speak what the Lord told him to say.

Balak took Balaam to oversee some of the people and send down a curse.  Balaam ordered for seven alters to be built and called for animals to be sacrificed at those alters.  Then Balaam went to converse with the Lord.  Balaam returned with a message to Balak, a message that stated that these people were sons of Jacob, and they were blessed, not cursed.

Balak was angry, and took Balaam to a second spot.  Once again, Balaam ordered the alters and the sacrifices.  Once again, the Lord told Balaam that the people were not to be cursed.  Balak then decided to take Balaam to a third place to see if it pleased the Lord more to curse the people from there.  The reading ends as the alters are being built.

Balak apparently didn't understand the Lord very well.  When the Lord tells us not to do something, that instruction is final.  The Lord is not going to change his mind if we approach from a different direction, or if we try another line of reasoning.

I wonder if Balaam will stay strong against Balak, or if he will give into temptation. 

Proverbs 11:12 - 13
12  It is foolish to belittle one's neighbor; a sensible person keeps quiet.
13  A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.
 The message here is quite simple -- don't gossip against people.  Don't belittle them behind their backs.  Be sensible.  And if you can't be sensible with your mouth open, then just be quiet.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Balak Sends for Balaam; What Do Our Words Say About Us?

Today's Reading:
  • Numbers 21:1 - 22:20
  • Proverbs 11:9 - 11
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Numbers 21:1 - 22:20
The Israelites continued their journey to the promised land.  Along the way they defeated the Canaanites and the Amorites.  Next, the people of Israel were up against the Moabites.

Balak, the king of the Moabites, was afraid when he knew the Israelites were headed for the lands of Moab.  So he sent for a man named Balaam to curse the Israelites.  Balaam would see visions in the night, and so when the king's messengers came to ask his help (with a very large sum of money as payment), Balaam told them to stay overnight so that he could receive a message.

Night came, and Balaam was told by God that the Israelite people were blessed and should not be cursed.  Balaam was not to return with the Moabites.  Upon hearing this message, Balak would not relent.  Instead he gathered an even larger payment and sent to Balaam, begging him to come.

Once again Balaam told the messengers to stay overnight while Balaam received his message.  This time, God told Balaam to go with them -- but only do what God tells him to do.

That is where the reading ends today.  I am anxious to find out what becomes of Balaam.  Will he stay true to God's word, I wonder?  Or will he give into temptation and face the consequences?

Proverbs 11:9 - 11
  With their words, the godless destroy their friends, but knowledge will rescue the righteous.
10  The whole city celebrates when the godly succeed; they shout for joy with the wicked die.
11  Upright citizens are good for a city and make it prosper, but the talk of the wicked tears it apart.
Words, words, words words -- Proverbs reminds us many times over that words destroy.  You should be able to tell the difference between the godly and everyone else by the words they use.  The words of the godly person should not be filled with deceit, lies, bitterness and gossip. 

So I have to wonder, am I distinguishing myself with my words?  Are my words godly?  Are the wise and filled with love?  Or are they full of bitterness, are they used to attack others -- either to their face or behind their backs? 

Words, words, words words ... your words say so much about you.  So -- what are you really about?  Do your words show you to be godly, or do your words show you to be godless?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tears in a Bottle

Today's Reading:
  • Psalm 56:1 - 13
  • Psalm 57:1 - 11
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Psalm 56:1 - 57:11
Psalm 57 is another Psalm where David is crying out for the protection of the Lord.  He shows his faith in the Lord to rescue him and praises the Lord.  Psalm 56 is another psalm of David, and this one really stuck out to me. 

This psalm really deals with the result of sorrow bestowed upon us by men.  David talks about how these people are plotting against him, gossiping about him, attacking him, and spreading lies.  Regardless of all that these people have done to him, David is putting his trust in the Lord.

The following verse is written twice -- once in verse 4, and once in verse 11:
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?  What can mere mortals do to me?
 There are so many good verses in this psalm.  Another one is verse 8:
You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
I have to mark this psalm down so that I can return to it later.  It really is a beautiful reminder that the Lord is there, collecting your tears.  When the whole world seems to be against you, in the end it doesn't matter -- for the people of this world are mortal, and our relationship with God is eternal.  What can mere mortals do to us?

Verse 11 sums Psalm 56 up perfectly:
For you have rescued me from death; you have kept my feet from slipping.  So now I can walk in your presence, O God, in your life-giving light.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Births of John the Baptist and Jesus are Foretold by Gabriel

Today's Reading:
  • Luke 1:1 - 25
  • Luke 1:25 - 56
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Luke 1:1 - 56
I started reading Luke with the expectation that the reading would begin with an account of Jesus (his birth, his baptism, etc) but instead, Luke opens up with the story of how John the Baptist was conceived. 

The parents of John the Baptist were Zechariah, a priest, and Elizabeth -- a relative of Mary, mother of Jesus.  Both Zechariah and Elizabeth were getting old, and the couple had been unable to have children, yet continued to serve the Lord. 

Zechariah was serving the Lord in the temple when Gabriel, the Lord's angel, appeared to him.  Gabriel told Zechariah that his wife would soon give him a son.  This son would be named John, and would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth.  John would be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah.  John would turn people towards the Lord and prepare people for the coming of the Lord. 

After Gabriel told Zechariah all of this, Zechariah's response was one of doubt.  He asked Gabriel how he could be sure of this -- after all, him and his wife were old.  Gabriel rebuked Zechariah for his lack of faith, and as punishment, Zechariah would be mute until John was born.

My reading for today technically stopped here, but I didn't want to stop, so I kept on.  Next, we told how Mary received Gabriel and was told of the pregnancy.  She was to name the baby Jesus, and the Lord would give Jesus the throne of his ancestor David and would be called the Son of the Most High. 

When Mary asked how this was to happen, she was told that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and therefore the baby would be holy and called the Son of God.  Gabriel then tells Mary that her relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son.  That surprised me, because until then I was unaware that Mary and the mother of John the Baptist were related.  I tried to find out what their exact relationship was, but my version only says relative.  My study bible notes that the KJV says "cousin", but that the Greek term actually written was more general, so the word "relative" was chosen instead for this translation.  Regardless, they were related.

Mary then visited Elizabeth,  We are told that as soon as Mary arrived to greet Elizabeth, the baby inside Elizabeth jumped and filled her with the Holy Spirit, causing her to prophecy.  She told Mary that she had been blessed above all other women, and the child inside her would be blessed.  The reading then ends with Mary praising the Lord, in Psalm-like fashion.

I learned a lot today in 56 short verses -- less than a chapter in the Gospel of Luke.  It still amazes me that the bible can continually teach me so many things in such a short time frame.  When I started Luke, my thoughts were that I'd pretty much have a rehash of what I've read so far in Matthew and Mark.  Right off the bat I saw that I was wrong.  And I'm thankful for that.  It's exciting to learn all the little things that I otherwise wouldn't know, like Mary and Elizabeth being related, or Zechariah being struck mute for not believing the angel.  I can't wait to learn more!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Moses and Aaron are Forbidden to Enter the Promised Land; Obedience to the Lord

Today's Reading:
  • Numbers 19:1 - 20:29
  • Proverbs 11:8
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Numbers 19:1 - 20:29
I knew that both Moses and Aaron died before reaching the promised land.  I thought that was because of the judgment against that entire generation to die in the wilderness.  It turns out, however, that Moses and Aaron earned their own judgments for disobedience to the Lord.

In chapter 20 we are told that the people of Israel arrived in Kadesh, which was a camp in the middle of the wilderness of Zin.  There was no water there, and once again the people began moaning familiar phrases (why did you bring us here to die?!) to Moses and Aaron.  The two brothers went to seek the Lord's presence for an answer on what to do.

The Lord told Moses and Aaron to speak to the rock in front of the people, and water would pour forth (20:8).  The people were gathered, but instead of speaking to the rock and demonstrating the Lord's power, Moses instead shouted angrily at the people.  He said: "Must we bring you water from this rock?" (20:10).  Moses then struck the rock twice, and the water gushed out.

I was shocked when I read this, for this really was serious disobedience.  The Lord wanted Moses and Aaron to show His power to the people, to speak to the rock and bring forth the water.  Instead, Moses and Aaron gathered the people, yelled at them, struck the rock instead of speaking to it, and attributed the water to their power, instead of the Lord's. 

This is another example of when God slams a door on someone.  Moses and Aaron, for their serious disobedience, were to die in the wilderness and never enter the promised land.  What a horrible price to pay for their sins.

God forgives us of our sins through Jesus Christ, there is no doubt about that.  But I firmly believe that does NOT mean that you will escape being corrected for your sins.  Let's say you commit murder, and your heart is truly repentant, and you take that to the Lord for forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  You will be forgiven, you will not face an eternal judgment of hell for the offense.  But that doesn't mean that you won't face man's death penalty for your sin.  Likewise, if God has promised you something, yet you fail to obey what He has ordered you to do, God might shut that door for you.  It doesn't mean you're not forgiven, but it might mean that your path forward towards what you are working for vanishes completely.

Chapter 20 saw the deaths of Miriam and Aaron.  I assume that I will soon be reading about the death of Moses also, as well as the deaths of an entire generation of people, all held back from the promised land for disobedience to the Lord.  The Lord loves us and forgives us, but we can't forget that we must be also obedient to the Lord, especially when He has told us exactly what we need to do.  We must follow the path he has set for us.

Proverbs 11:8
The godly are rescued from trouble, and it falls on the wicked instead.
With the judgment imposed upon Moses and Aaron in today's reading, it might seem to some that God didn't rescue them -- that instead He let them fall.  I don't believe that at all, because the Lord still rescued Moses, Aaron, Miriam and all of the Israelite people from the land of Egypt.  He led them out of slavery and He met their daily needs; despite all their moaning, disbelief, lack of faith and disobedience.

The Lord will still rescue us from our troubles, but not always from our disobedience.  It's an important distinction to continue to make, one that I want to continue to remind myself so that I remain obedient to the Lord.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, According to the Gospel of Mark

Today's Reading:
  • Mark 16:1 - 20
  • Psalm 55:1 - 23
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Mark 16:1 - 20
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome were the first to approach the tomb of Jesus after the resurrection.  As they walked to the tomb, burial spices in hand, they wondered amongst themselves how they would manage to roll away the very large stone that covered the entrance to the tomb.

When they arrived at the tomb they were surprised to see it was open, and a man (an angel) clothed in white told them that Jesus wasn't there -- he had been resurrected, and they were to find and tell the disciples that Jesus would go ahead of them to Galilee.  

 The disciples did not believe the women.  Later, Jesus appeared to two of His followers and they also told the others and were met with disbelief.  Finally, the Lord appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating.  He rebuked them for refusing to believe in the resurrection and commanded them to preach the Word to the entire world. 

Right before the close of the book of Mark, there is a quote from Jesus that caught my attention: (16:17 - 18):
These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe:  They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages.  They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won't hurt them.  They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.
These are strong promises for fellow believers in Christ.  Casting out demons, speaking in tongues, snake handling and healing are all things that believers in Christ can do.  It doesn't say that some believers in Christ can do these things, it doesn't say only priests can do these things -- no, it says anyone who believes will be able to do these things.  I have yet to read anything (besides this short excerpt) about gifts of the spirit. I can't wait to read more about the topic.

I have finished the second book of the New Testament and am happy to move on to the book of Luke in my next reading.  It's always so exciting when I get to crack open a new book of the Bible.  And the Lord has risen, Amen!

Psalm 55:1 - 23
In this psalm David talks about how hurtful it is when a friend turns against you. David says that he can handle enemies and arrogance from enemies, but not when the offender is was a close companion.

Do you ever notice how the people we love have more power to hurt us than anyone else?  These are the people we let into our lives and into our hearts, and therefore betrayal by them burns us deep inside.

David was suffering at the hands of his enemies, and at the hand of those he used to call friends.  At one point in the psalm, David says (5:6-7):
Oh, that I had wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest!  I would fly far away to the quiet wilderness.
No matter how much sorrow and hurt we face in this world, we are different from those who are not believers -- we have perfect peace and utter rest awaiting to greet us when our life ends.  Gone will be all the sorrow, hurt and hate.  Peace, tranquility, happiness, praise and worship will fill us instead.  So praise the Lord now! For that is the future of the believer in Christ.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Plague Kills 14,700 Israelites; Aaron is God's Chosen Leader

Today's Reading:
  • Numbers 16:41 - 18:32
  • Proverbs 11:7
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Numbers 16:41 - 18:32
In my last reading in Numbers, those who stood with Korah were blazed to death with a fire, and Dathan and Abiram, together with their houses, possessions, and family were literally swallowed by the earth.  

That show of power apparently wasn't enough for the Israelite people.  The very next morning they were once again coming up against Moses and Arron, accusing them of killing the Lord's people.  The Lord had enough, and began to instantly bring a plague upon the people.

Once again, Moses and Aaron tried to intercede the Lord's wrath, but the Lord wasn't going to back down this time.  So Moses commanded Aaron to go and burn incense amongst the people to purify them.  We are told that Aaron stood between the dead and living, and then the plague stopped (16:48).  In that short amount of time, however, 14,700 people died in the plague.

The Lord then instructed Moses to gather a staff from each of the twelve tribal leaders.  The staffs were placed in the Lord's presence within the Tabernacle and left overnight.  When Moses returned, all staffs were the same save one -- the staff of Aaron.  That staff had sprouted, budded, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds (17:8).  With that sign from the Lord, no one could deny that Aaron was God's chosen leader, and Levites held a special position in care of the Tabernacle.

I wondered what almond blossoms looked like, so I will close this section with a picture:


Proverbs 11:7
When the wicked die, their hopes die with them, for they rely on their own feeble strength.
I am thankful that my hopes are eternal, not mortal.  I don't have to rely on my weak, mortal strength; for the Lord will provision me with a glorified, eternal body that is strengthened by faith in the Lord Almighty.  Thank you, Lord!