EPISODE TWENTY THREE (June 14, 2018)


Our continuing Story finds Israel on the bank of the Jordan river, poised, finally, to enter the Promised Land. They had already defeated kings on the east of Jordan and had occupied enough territory for two and a half tribes. The tribes of Reuben,  Gad and half of Manasseh could keep this land only if all the able bodied men would fight with their brothers to occupy the land west of Jordan. After the time of mourning for Moses was over, they were ready to resume their journey. Joshua was accepted by the people as God’s successor of Moses.

Forty years earlier, Moses had sent out a band of spies, a man from every tribe of Israel. They had returned with glowing tales of the fertility of this land. It had taken two men to bring back one cluster of grapes (a taste of the fertility of the New Jerusalem?). Joshua had been one of the spies and I am sure he remembered it well. Of the twelve sent out, only two, Joshua and Caleb, had recommended they take on the oversized warriors of the land. Perhaps Joshua insured against a recurrence of this failure by sending out only two spies, and I am quite certain he chose the two very carefully.

In reconnoitering the land the spies entered Jericho. They found a place to spend the night with a prostitute named Rahab. She was possibly also an innkeeper whose house was built into the wall around Jericho. When their presence in Jericho became known, Rahab hid the men among stores on the roof of her dwelling. The king’s men searched but did not find them. Seems like the Jericho investigators were as expert in their work as some of our law enforcers seem to be today. 

Rahab was able to protect the spies by lying. We Christians sometimes wonder, Is it ever OK to lie? Rahabs lie turned out well for Israel. The Gibeonites deception was good for them and not so good for Israel. It seems the temptations to fudge the truth multiply In our culture. And carelessness with the truth seems to be rewarded. When a Pol, on the right or the left, opens his mouth you assume he is not being truthful. More than a century ago the famous Poet, James Russell Lowell wrote, “Truth is ever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne” I wonder how he would describe our culture today. If there ever was, or is, a time for believers to be totally and absolutely without any form of deception it is now!

The news of the coming of a people whose God was all powerful had struck a great fear in the inhabitants of Canaan. And Rahab expressed this fear to the spies and pleaded with them that since she had been kind to them, would they be kind to her and her family when they conquered Jericho. She was already convinced that God would do what He had promised. Her faith may have been stronger than that of many of the Israelites. She was graciously assured that her family would be spared. Interesting that they would be saved by placing a scarlet cord in the window of her dwelling.

As they camped along the Jordan river the children were probably asking, “How are we going to get to the other side?” Many parents probably also wondered, still not grasping God’s direction for the children of Abraham. They probably continued to wonder until the next morning as the priests carrying the ark of the covenant stepped into the Jordan river and the waters parted to form a passage to the far side.

God then instructed Moses to have 12 men, probably one from each tribe, to retrieve 12 stones from the river bed and set them up on the west bank as a memorial. One day the children will ask, “What do those stones mean to you? Then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.   .   .   .   . So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” (Jos. 4:6,70) It seems significant that while all Israel passed over the river, only the ark of the covenant, a symbol of God’ presence in Israel, was mentioned. The importance of this even and the importance of the memorial was that God was leading them which assured their success.

I regret that I have not kept a journal of God’s working in my life. I do have copies of most of the news letters we sent out during our years with Child Evangelism in Germany. They contain many memorial stones; arrival in Germany January 1955, Move to Berlin in May 1957, the rising of the Berlin Wall in 1961 (while we were living in Berlin), a clandestine visit in East Germany in 1963, an afternoon with the East German vopos (secret police), etc., etc. We should often look back on our lives, gratefully thanking God for the memorial stones, visible, or invisible, of His leading in our lives. That should keep you busy until I publish a continuation of The Story.

EPISODE TWENTY TWO (June 4, 2018)


I led you off on an unavoidable rabbit trail in episode twenty one. Now it’s time to get back to The Story. Israel had arrived at Mt. Sinai and probably spent some months, if not longer, there. It was obviously a time of preparation for their establishment as a nation. They received their constitution as well as a systematic theology which was to govern their lives. Their immediate goal now was to take possession of the land God had promised to make available to them.

Their faith in God should have been bolstered. He had lead them out of their bondage in Egypt. They were delivered from the Egyption army without lifting a finger (although I guess Moses did lift an arm to hold his staff over the red sea to annihilate Pharaoh’s army). And they should have understood that the God who provided them with the gifted craftsmen who erected the tabernacle would also provide able warriors to assure victory in battle.

Despite all that, when the time came for battle, their vision of God faded. They took their eyes off of God and they saw only the giants. The failure to deal with these giants cost them 40 extra years wandering in the wilderness before they gained access to the Land. I recall singing a song with the children that went something like this; “Get them out, look them gone, all the little rabbits in the field of corn. Envy, jealousy, malice and pride, they must never in my heart reside.” If our focus is on God these remain little rabbits.  But if we take our vision off God they become giants that need to be dealt with.

These four sins are closely related and if we conquer the giant of pride we will be able to control the others. I wonder if we ever will totally remove pride from out lives. I have struggled with it for more than 7 decades. Victory comes only as we focus our attention on the God who is the source of all our wisdom and strength. “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Pro. 3:6).

I find it difficult to understand after seeing God perform countless miracles on their behalf, that they would then fail to trust Him for their earliest victory; until I look back over my own life and realize that having experienced God fulfilling His promises over years, doubts continue to gather. Yesterday’s faith is not sufficient for today’s problems. Faith must be renewed each morning.

For forty years Moses had fulfilled all three offices; Prophet, Priest, King. He had spoken God’s Word to them, had interceded with God on their behalf and had faithfully led them. These offices would not be fulfilled again in one person until the coming of Messiah, fulfilling the prophecy of Moses, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen” (Deut. 18:15). This prophecy had no direct message for Israel, except perhaps to impress upon them that they are a part of God’s extended plan for this world and need to pay careful attention to their part.

But for us this prophecy of Moses has special significance. The three offices that Moses attempted to fill were perfectly fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He was the WORD who revealed the New Covenant. As our High Priest, after the order of Mechisedek (Heb. 7:17) “we have an advocate with the father” (I John 2:1) who “always lives to make intercession for them (believers),” (Hebr. 7:25). As king He is now the head of the church (Eph. 1:21), and after His next coming He will have “the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). That is genuine KINGSHIP!!!

This was a crucial time for Israel. The mantle of leadership was passing from Moses to Joshua. Moses had lead the people from Egypt to the border of Canaan but was unable to enter the promised land with his people. Some years earlier in their wandering in the wilderness they had arrived at a place with no water available. God instructed Moses to assemble the people in front of a rock and he was to “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water.” (Nu. 20:8)

And Moses and Aaron gathered the people before the rock but instead of speaking to the rock, as God had commanded him, Moses struck the rock twice with his staff. The rock did yield its water but Moses paid a heavy price for his disobedience. “Because you did not believe me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Nu. 20:12).

When they had reached the border of Canaan, God lead Moses up a high mountain and he was at least able to see all the land that the people would possess. He was apparently still in excellent health but he had accomplished all that God had ordained for him to do. “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he (God?) buried him in the valley in the land of Moab   .   .   .   . but no one knows the place of his burial to this day.” (Deut. 34:6).

Joshua was chosen by Moses, evidently with God’s approval, as his successor. God repeated to him the promises made to Abraham (Josh. 1:1-9) and he was assured that God would be with him as he had been with Moses.

EPISODE TWENTY ONE (May 26, 2018)


We ended episode twenty considering the furniture in the tabernacle as prophetic types of Jesus and His ministry in our dispensation (don’t put too much emphasis on that word). Among the many areas of His ministry we saw Him seated at the Father’s right hand as our advocate (Col. 3:1) interpreting our prayer’s to the Father. And we all acknowledge the importance of prayer, whether or not we fully take advantage of this huge benefit.

There is another activity often accompanying prayer that we rarely consider. And perhaps we should. You may have already discovered that the word “perhaps” is one I (too?) often use. I use it because I recognize the fact that I don’t have the final word on interpretation. You, my readers, perhaps few, have the responsibility to prayerfully consider what you hear or read from me or anyone, and compare it with The WORD. That is my prelude to the following discussion.

The activity is brought to our attention in Math. 9:14. Some followers (?) of Jesus came to Him and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus’ response was “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Math. 9:15) The Bridegroom has been long taken away but there isn’t a lot of evidence that His disciples are fasting.

I think the first reference to abstaining from food is when the Israelites had reached Mt. Sinai. God called Moses to meet with Him on the mountain and Moses was there for forty days without eating or drinking. (Ex. 34:28) On the day of atonement the people were instructed to “afflict” themselves, which may have included abstaining from food. (Lev. 23:27,29,32)

There are further calls to fasting when God’s special help was invoked. During the days of Esther a decree was declared in Susa for the destruction of the Jews. To intercede for her people Esther, now the queen, had to speak to the king but to enter his presence without being called could be a capital offense. She was willing to take this risk but before she did she sent word to Mordecai “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat for drink for three days, night or day.” (Est. 4:16) You know the outcome.

When Ezra prepared to lead a group of Jews to repair the temple in Jerusalem He and his fellow captives “fasted and implored (prayed to) our God” (Ezra 8:23), for safe travel. Nehemiah’s prayers to God for the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem were accompanied by “fasting” (Neh. 1:4). Daniel and his friends voluntarily limited their intake of food which was not exactly fasting but it involved personal discipline which is a vital part of fasting.

When the disciples experienced difficulties in casting out demons Jesus’ response as recorded in the King James Version was “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Ma. 17:21) However both the NAS and ESV omit “fasting”. The same with Cornelius in Acts 10:30.

The Holy spirit directed the leaders In the church in Antioch to “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands of them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2,3) Their ministry produced believers in many places and many churches were founded. “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” (Acts 14:23)

In the Old and New Testaments fasting and prayer were offered during times of special needs and other times as well. Why does it not get more encouragement in Scripture? Perhaps (I can’t seem to hide my fallibility) to use it as the Pharisees did as a badge of honor. Or to think it would bring some special favor from God.

The practice of fasting has no special benefit, except perhaps a physical or health one. I think its primary benefit is its contribution to help us discipline or lives. There is probably no desire we have stronger than the one for food. Fasting aids us in controlling that desire which helps us to exercise discipline in other areas of our lives (like exercise, recreation, diet, work,etc.) And it helps us focus our attention on some special need without being side tracked by household or other responsibilities.

Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade (CRU), who experienced 30 day fasts, stated “Combining fasting with prayer can result in a spiritual atomic bomb that pulls down spiritual strongholds and releases the power of God in your life and the life of your church, its pastors, its leaders, and its members.” (Google search) He lists Christian leaders who practiced and encouraged fasting, among whom were John Wesley, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards. Charles Finney, Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones and others. During the Great Awakening days were set aside for prayer and fasting. Prayer and fasting were a part of the life of the Russian Christian Dissident, Alexander Ogorodnikov, who suffered greatly in the Gulgags.

I suspect we have allowed our Christianity to become too comfortable. Perhaps (can’t seem to avoid it) a little discomfort would help us to focus our attention on why we are here and what should occupy our minds, our mouths and our hands. Think about it!!

EPISODE TWENTY (May 20, 2018)


The end of episode nineteen left us at the front gate of Moses’ tabernacle. It was an amazing structure erected by craftsmen who had been gifted by God’s Spirit. The plans had been given by God to Moses and in the construction of the tabernacle they were meticulously followed. This tabernacle represented God’s presence to Israel. His presence would have been with Israel with or without the tabernacle but God, aware of the weakness of this bunch provided them with this symbol.

Entry was gained into the tabernacle by way of the brazen altar. The problem of sin must be dealt with before entry was possible. The required sacrifices were made and then the priests, representing all of Israel, could enter. Inside the first room of the tabernacle were three articles of furniture which were symbols of God’s provision for them. The ultimate answer to all their needs, and ours as well, is Jesus Christ and the tabernacle and all its furnishings beautifully illustrate who He is and all His provision for His people.

As the priest entered the tabernacle, to his left would be the lampstand. It was crafted with pure gold, consisted of 6 branches and 7 cups. Certain of the priests were tasked with keeping the cups filled with oil and burning 24/7. You recall that light was the first thing God created. And Israel had already experienced its importance, escaping the darkness of the plague in Egypt, and enjoying the pillar of fire as God lead them out of Egypt. The lampstand was a symbol to Israel of God continual guidance into the promised land and beyond.

And the lampstand also has its special significance for us. At the very beginning of His ministry Jesus affirmed “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12),  Further, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4). As a result of the fall, Adam plunged us into darkness, but Jesus came to turn the light back on. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the  blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7). To “walk in the light” is to acknowledge that what Scripture informs us of Christ is true. He did die on the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of all who believe. And He continues to illuminate our path as we “acknowledge him in all our ways.” (Prov. 3:6).

Across from the lampstand is the table of Shewbread. It was fashioned of special wood and overlaid with pure gold. Certain of the priests were tasked with placing bread on this table. There were to be 12 loaves, representing God’s provision for all 12 tribes. God will not only illumine their path to Canaan but will provide all that they need along the way.

And as God also provides light along our walk He also provides nourishment for us. Early in His ministry he presented Himself as “the bread of life.” (John 6:35) It is probably not without significance that nearly every people group has some kind of bread in their diet. Jesus’ statement, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,” (John 6:54), seems somewhat grating to our ears. But our digestive system is the best illustration of Jesus’ contribution to our lives. We partake of food and that food is turned into energy. As we avail ourselves of all that God has for us in Christ, this is turned into spiritual energy and we are able to “walk in the light.”

We go through this process when we gather around the Lord’s table. As we eat the bread and drink the wine we need to be much more aware that this is nourishment to improve the quality of our lives.

The final article of furniture was the Altar of Incense. It was also fashioned of a special kind of wood and overlaid with pure gold. The priests also had the responsibility to keep it stocked with special ointments that emitted a special aroma into the room. This should have been an illustration of the obedient offering of worship to God as He continued to guide them. Their worship of God, however, became very sporadic.

Incense is often used as a symbol of prayer. In the tabernacle, which was a picture of Christ, He is presented as the “advocate” (I John 2:1). Who “is the propitiation for our sins.” (I John 2:2). At God’s right hand He intercedes with the Father on our behalf. Which informs us and appeals to us to understand the importance of prayer. Prayer is a little like the weather. We talk about the weather but are unable to do anything about it. Prayer, on the other hand is what we talk about but are able to do something about. Prayer times are usually not the best attended sessions in our churches. I wonder what our churches would be like If we were truly serious about our prayer lives. Could we, perhaps, get a little more serious about it?

 

DETOUR (May 3, 2018)


I am already a little late with Episode Twenty. Have been a little under the weather and kicking my brain into gear has been a little tough. And it will be delayed a little longer since I am flying to Seattle to spend a few more wonderful days with my (step) granddaughter.

Since my last entry I have given some additional thought to the first sentence of inspired Scripture. “In the beginning God created the heavens and he earth.” (Gen. 1:1). It is a very simple sentence but the significance of what it claims is staggering. And coming at the very front of God’s revelation lends more importance.

If you get this right, many of the problems that philosophers have struggled with for centuries sort themselves out. “Where did I come from?”  is solved immediately. The questions about why we are here, what is our goal, and the questions about evil, existence after physical death, etc. are dealt with in the subsequent verses. I accept that initial statement as eternal truth and find it exceedingly satisfying.

On the other hand, if you get this wrong your understanding of the entire universe and our presence in it is thrown into unsolvable confusion. After Millenia of intense study, philosophers have produced only “theories”. Some time ago in one of the books I was reading there was reference to an item that had appeared in The Scientific American (or something similar), It was a comment from a respected scientist. He stated there were only two possibilities to explain the origin of our universe. One was spontaneous generation and evolution. The other was Creation by God. His choice was evolution because he did not want to believe in God. I think most decisions made about our world are not based on the evidence, but are matters of personal choice.

I think our government operates on the same principle. Decisions are made on the basis of political idealism and not on truth. Which, as Longfellow stated many years ago, (truth) is on the scaffold while falsehood is on the throne.
Troubling, isn’t it?

EPISODE NINTEEN (April 20, 2018)


It is impossible to even imagine the incredible difficulties the Israelites encountered on the trek from the Red Sea to Mr. Sinai. There were 600,000 men, probably as many women and even more children. The logistic problems were astronomical. But they arrived after about 3 months of travel and camping out at the foot of Mt. Sinai permitted some recuperation.

This was also a time of preparation and instruction on how they were to live following the new beginning initiated In Egypt with the Passover. Moses received personal instructions from God which he then passed on to the people. The initial instruction was in the form of ten commandments that God Himself had etched in stone. The first four governed their relationship to God and the rest described what their relationship to one another should look like. Jesus actually summarized the ten commandments in His response to a question asked by one of the Scribes: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” {Mk. 12:28). “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mk. 12:29-31}. If this is our experience we will have kept the ten commandments.

To love the Lord like that is easier said than done. Nearly every morning (should be every} I pray, “Lord, help me to love you like that!” To do that demands full concentration. And, of course, if we truly observe the first (to love Him) then the second – to love our neighbor as ourselves – is relatively easy.

Our problem is that there are too many distractions in our lives that distract our concentration on loving God. A word that characterizes our culture {and, unfortunately, seeps into the church) is “carelessness”. We are careless in how we dress, careless in our stewardship, careless with grammar, careless in our manners, and other careless acts adinfinitum.

I can hear you mumbling under your breath. “What do you expect from an old coot who was part of the coat and tie crowd that once occupied church pews. I confess we were much too legalistic in our concerns. And I find myself often in a service cravatless. But allow me to be a little upset over dirty jeans. And there are things more important than grammar, manners, etc. But as we think of the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves we need to review Paul’s advice to the Philippians “in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Do you think that is easy? It takes deliberate concentration which few of us are willing to pursue.

I hadn’t planned to go off on this rabbit trail but I think the Lord lead me, or perhaps I just stumbled on it. You decide!

Back to Sinai. You recall when Moses was on the mountain receiving instruction, the people grew restless and demanded Aaron give them a god. Perhaps they thought it should be with a capitol G, but what they wished for was only with a small g. When Moses returned and heard the worshipping of one other than Jahweh, he grew angry and flung down and destroyed the commandment stones. But undeterred, he climbed back up the mountain for a second edition. Moses had reluctantly accepted God’s call to leadership but he gave himself fully to the task.

In addition to the commandments and much more information of how the children of Jacob were to conduct themselves, Moses was also given intricate plans for a tabernacle that was to be a symbol of God’s presence with His people. The plans were given in intricate detail which were to be followed meticulously. The author of Hebrews reminded his readers that Moses was instructed by God, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain” (Heb. 8:5) And the obvious reason was that the tabernacle, like so much of the Old Testament looked forward to the coming of Christ and His relationship to the new covenant.

And in the tabernacle we have a beautiful and detailed picture of Jesus Christ. Just outside the entrance was the brazen altar. On this altar the animals were sacrificed which would procure forgiveness for the sin of the people. Just as our entrance into eternal life is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

More to come!!

 

EPISODE EIGHTEEN (April 13, 2018)


We ended the last episode of “The Story” writing about the Gospel. We will pick it up again with this episode. We wrote briefly about the importance of the Passover. It provided redemption for Israel and the sparing of the lives of those behind the blood sprinkled door. But that was only part of its significance. “The Lord said to Moses ad Aaron in the land of Egypt, this month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.” (Ex. 12:1,2).

In other words, the Passover in Egypt was the beginning of a new history for the people of God. After describing its celebration, and then the actual experience of it by the people, it would be referred to at least 4 additional times in chapters 12 and 13 of Exodus. It would be celebrated yearly by Israel throughout their history, It is still celebrated by Orthodox Jews.

Not only was this event, the sacrifice of a lamb, the beginning of life for Israel but our response to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God results in the beginning of life for all of us. Our sinful history is obliterated by the blood of Christ and our lives, like those of the Israelites, will now be directed by our Lord. And similar to Israel’s experience, our lives are not filled only with milk and honey, But God remains faithful and I can’t recount the times I have reminded God (actually primarily myself) of His promise “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (I Cor. 10:13).

The Passover ushered in a new life for Israel. They lost no time in taking flight from Egypt. The Egyptians were happy to see them go and continued to shower them with gifts. They must have left with many wagons to contain their wealth and the goods that the Egyptians had given them.

Soon after their departure Pharaoh had a change of heart and his army set out to pursue them and return them to Egypt. But God, true to His promise to lead them out of Egypt, again came to their rescue. He provided a cloud to guide them by day which turned to a pillar of fire to guide them by night. When they arrived at the Red Sea the cloud spread darkness over the Egyptians so they could not continue their pursuit. God instructed Moses to stretch his hand over the sea and God provided a highway through the waters and the Israelites arrived safely on the northern shore.

God had provided the parted waters solely for them to cross. When they had arrived safely on the other side, the path was no longer needed. Moses again stretched out his hand and the waters returned to their normal flow. Unfortunately for the Egyptian army they had also taken advantage of the path through the sea and were in the middle of it when the waters returned to their normal flow.

The Israelites continued on their journey to Mt. Sinai. I suppose progress was very slow since there were so many, including thousands of children, considerable live stock and many wagons holding all their possessions. Among their possessions were also the bones of Joseph, fulfilling his request that they would also be interred in the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph’s father, Jacob. And God continued to lead them with the pillars of cloud and fire. And He said to then, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of he Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer” (Ex. 15:26).

However, they did not always listen diligently or do what was right. They were not far into their journey and they began to murmur. But God faithfully lead them, providing water along the way, and food (manna and quail). And God would later remind them “I have lead you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.” (Deut. 29:5).

They arrived at Sinai “on the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt” (Ex. 19:1). They had been traveling for about three months. Most of that journey was through desert where food and water was scarce. God had protected and preserved them which should have been a great encouragement to them in their future conquest of and settlement in Canaan. Unfortunately, this was not the case. They continued to grumble and disobey God’s rules. But God forgave them over and over and continued to stand by His promises. You remember God’s covenant with Abraham. Usually both sides of a covenant would walk through the covenant sacrifice but in this case God walked through alone.

Israel would find Sinai an awesome place. Stay tuned!