Final Instructions

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By: Joshua Strader

Our family lives in the sleepy area of Cottontown.  Our boys, Gabriel (5) and Alistair (3), love to frequent our shady back yard where our play set can quickly convert into a space ship and even the smallest acorn or fallen tree branch can be imagined into any infinite number of playful objects.  With the weather getting warmer and sunnier, we find our family spending more and more time outdoors together.  Each time I hear our kids ask excitedly, “Can we play outside?!” I smile to myself as I anticipate the fun world of imagination we’re about to enter.  As they sprint out the door (often with their shoes half on!), I catch them each time to remind them of some important instructions.  “Stay well clear from the road.  Watch for cars.  And don’t walk down to the creek without Mommy and Daddy,” I’d remind them.  Though they always seem annoyed by the delay of our instructions, I know they realize their importance and appreciate the sentiment of our care for their wellbeing.

In the story of Deuteronomy (meaning “second law”), Moses gives the Israelites some final commands and reiterated instructions before blessing them to enter the land promised to them generations before…

“If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering…”  (Deut. 30:16)

Though they were both excited and anxious, the Israelites needed those final words of reminder before they experienced the fulfillment of God’s promise.  Without adherence to His instruction and guidance, God new that it wouldn’t take long for the Israelites to find themselves in perilous danger.  It was as if God evoked a caring parental voice saying, “Don’t run so far ahead of Me that I can’t see or protect you.”

We all need reminder, don’t we?  We need to remember that the God’s commandments aren’t purposed for our hindrance, but for our protection and prosperity.  Only through our obedience to what God has commanded can we fully delight in the blessings He has bestowed and avoid the entanglements that so easily destroy.  It is how we demonstrate our reciprocated love and appreciation to God’s gifts (John 14:15).

So let’s remember the blessing of God’s commands and head out to the back yard.  Oh, and don’t forget your shoes!

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Better Off Without God?

By: Becki Manni

Numbers 20:1-13

This week’s readings sound like we’ve heard it all before. Yes, once again the Israelites are grumbling and complaining. For Moses it must have felt like Chinese Water torture to hear the same accusations, critiques and complaints over and over and over again. As any mother or father of a preschooler can tell you – they are relentless in their demands and expectations that those demands be met NOW. The Israelites so often sounded like preschoolers in their irrational demands for their own way NOW.

I heard this week that this type of complaining…questioning why they left Egypt, why were they brought to this desert to die, or why they didn’t have all the comforts of their hovel in Egypt … was really an indictment against God. They were in essence telling him that they were better off without him, that their lives had been better in slavery than they were as the free, chosen people of the Most High God. No wonder, Moses fell on his face so often! I’d be scared out of my wits to stand next to someone challenging Almighty God so cavalierly. Who did they think they were? Well, who did I think I was when at the age of 18, I basically told God the same thing.

You see, my teen years were rocky, really rocky. I decided that if my life circumstances were a representation of how Christian families lived that I wanted no part of it. I literally told God, thanks for the whole sacrifice-on-the-cross thing but if this is the best you can take care of me, I’d rather do it myself. Yep, just like Korah and his gang, just like those who grumbled about the lack of water at Meribah and just like they did at Mount Hor.

So why didn’t God open the earth and swallow me? Why didn’t he send poisonous snakes to bite me? Why didn’t he discipline me as he did the Israelites? Because he is a patient, faithful God who continued to woo me until I finally realized 10 years later that I wasn’t better off without him. I needed him and wanted to become one of his chosen people. God offered the Israelites the same opportunity to accept his authority as their God. He gave them 40 years in the desert to realize life wasn’t better without God. He was patient and faithful and full of unfailing love and they finally began to learn to trust him as he moved them into the promised land.

We must all come to this realization, this place of surrender. Our lives are worthless without our surrender to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We live as slaves in a land full of false idols and yet God continues to try to teach us how to be his chosen people. Are you ready to surrender and leave Egypt? Are you ready to trust God to lead you to the promised land? Are you ready to let God teach you to live with him in his kingdom? Stop complaining and start trusting the only one who can actually give you life everlasting.

A Lighter Look at Leviticus

by: Rob Still

Dear HFUMC Family and Friends,

Our scripture readings this week are deep into the books of Leviticus and Numbers.
The context is that God was literally forming a new culture among His people. They had been slaves for over 400 years in Egypt. Now, they needed divine instruction in the ways of God for everything from morals to hygiene.
It is understandable that a modern day reader could get bogged down in all the details of the many, many rules and regulations concerning everything from mildew to murder.
So in an effort to bring a little levity this weeks content, I offer Uncle Robbie’s Crib Notes and Running Commentary for the following scripture readings:
Leviticus 14 – Cleanliness is next to godliness.
Leviticus 15 – Clean up after yourself.
Leviticus 16 – I’m so glad Jesus is now both our high priest and our “scapegoat” (read Hebrews 5 again!).
Leviticus 17 – “There is power, power, wonder working power in the precious blood of the Lamb!”
Leviticus 18 – Sex is only for marriage between one man and one woman.
Leviticus 19 – Do the right thing, don’t do the wrong thing. Be fair and don’t cheat.
Leviticus 20 – Live a holy life. Don’t pollute yourself.
Leviticus 21 – Being a priest sounds like a very difficult job based on this job description.
Leviticus 22 – No defects allowed.
Leviticus 23 – The Sabbath Day is to be a day of complete rest, a day when you humble and discipline yourselves. You must not do any of the work you normally do.
Leviticus 24 – An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Happy reading friends! I pray the Holy Spirit will illuminate his word and brighten your spirit as you study the very words of God.
The Lord be with you!
Rob

Lessons Learned and Relearned

By: Becki Manni

Exodus 18:13-27

As we look at the story of Moses and the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt we see reflected in the actions and reactions of those involved, many of our own highs and lows, fears and foibles. We see Moses’ desire to serve and please God and his struggles as he leads this new nation. We see the slave’s pain and yearning to be free juxtaposed against their pride, fear and insecurities. We see God’s mercy so freely given and His patience severely tested yet He remains so unfailingly faithful.

And over and over we read of lessons learned and relearned. Reading through these chapters I often begin to think, “Really”? How often does God have to prove himself to you for you to finally understand? Then I run across the lesson Moses has to learn again and again in Exodus 18:13-27 and I realize I’m suddenly looking in a mirror. I’ve had to learn and relearn this same lesson so many times in my own life and yet God is always patient, kind and merciful as He once again applies the pressure needed for me to stop and pay attention.

Moses’ father-in-law has come to bring his family to him as they are traveling through the desert. Moses spends a great deal of time detailing all the amazing things God has done for His people in the past year. He describes how God intervened each time there was a struggle and how He illustrates his ability to deliver for his chosen people. Then they worship together this sovereign God who provides all.

Yet, within twenty-four hours, Moses has forgotten the multitude of lessons learned of God’s sufficiency and is once again trying to do it all on his own. He is overwhelmed trying to meet all the needs, answer all the questions and settle all the disputes for all the people. How many times have I found myself on this same merry-go-round? How many times has God had to get my attention by applying the needed pressure so that I once again stop running long enough to realize my pride in thinking I can get it all done on my own for Him.

God doesn’t want to see me accomplish anything for him because all my measly efforts are as dirty rags soaked in sin and pride. He wants to show me how amazing, creative and powerful he is when I just obey and get out of the way. No, God doesn’t want me to sit lazily on the sidelines and wait for miracles. Yes, he wants me to partner with him by doing the little I can do and witnessing the greatness he can do through me. He also wants me to invite others into the circle to participate rather than trying to do it all on my own.

This recently became crystal clear yet again as I learned I had to have surgery to replace my arthritic, right shoulder. Suddenly, as it says in verse 18:18, “the work is too heavy for you, you cannot handle it alone.” I have to ask for help, I have to swallow my pride, I have to delegate tasks and share the joy of serving Him. And once again I learn as it says in verse 18:22, “That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.” The church stepped up and carried the load just as God intended. People served extra shifts at the consignment sale, volunteers arranged for missions lessons and opportunities, and Easter outreach was accomplished.

Once again I got to see how amazing, creative and powerful God is when I just obey and get out of the way. Are you letting the “tyranny of the urgent” rule your days? Are you trying to do it “for” God rather than “with” him? Obey, get out of the way and watch how amazingly creative our God is in getting his work done through you.

God’s Covenantal Relationship

by: Joshua Strader

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20  ESV)

Genesis or “origin” (as the word signifies), is a book of new beginnings.  It chronicles the beginnings of God’s creation, humankind, our broken sinful state, the formation of God’s people and something else significant—God’s covenantal nature.  You see, since the beginning of God’s story, He has always evidenced His deep desire to live within intimate relationship to His people.  But God doesn’t desire just any kind of relationship.  He desires a kind of relationship that can only be experienced with and through Him—one that is sealed by the elements of promise, fulfillment and symbolism.

Immediately after the Flood, God established His first covenant with Noah.  “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you,” said God.  “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you…I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of covenant between me and the earth,” (Genesis 1:9; 12-13).  Generations later, God again hinted at His hunger for covenantal relationship with Abram (later named Abraham) who was promised to be the father of many nations and kings (Genesis 17).  In both instances, God’s deepest desire to be one with His children was made evident by a covenant that included three parts: a command, a promise and a sign.

In the case of Noah, God’s command was for him to be fruitful and again fill the earth with his descendants.  God then promised to never again destroy the earth before He consummated the covenant with the sign of a rainbow.  In Abraham’s story, God promised to make his descendants into a great nation with their own land and an everlasting relationship to God as His people.  God commanded Abraham to leave his family’s land and become a foreigner in a separate land he would trust God to show him.  God then sealed the covenant with the institution of circumcision.

This Holy Week, we are again reminded of God’s covenantal nature through the actions of His Son, Jesus Christ.  The same motif that had begun in Genesis was again made visible in Jesus’ commencement of the Last Supper.  He took the bread and the cup, gave thanks and gave it to His disciples commanding them to do the same in remembrance of Him.  The elements represented not only His body and blood (which would be given for the promised atonement of sin on the cross), but as a final symbol of God’s eternal covenant made visible in fullest expression through Christ.

As we commemoratively follow Jesus’ final steps to the empty tomb this week—let us do so with an important remembrance:  God desires a relationship with us.  He gave His one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him shall live with Him in an everlasting covenantal relationship.  What was first made manifest in Genesis was completed on the cross.  The commitment God made through that covenant will never fail (even if we do!).  And that is something worth celebrating this Easter!

“I do not know God”

by: Damaris Allen

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8

I had to read through this passage several times and each time I am struck by something. On the surface the instructions found here seem easy enough; love one another.  But love is not easy. What does that look like? How does loving one another play out day to day?

And then there is the even harder truth to deal with “Whoever does not love does not know God.”(1 John 4:8)

I can’t help but be drawn back to Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

 When I am impatient, I do not know God. When I am unkind, I do not know God. When I am envious or boastful or arrogant, or rude, I do not know God. When I am irritable or resentful, I do not know God. When I rejoice in wrongdoing, I do not know God.

Take a moment to digest that.

I don’t know about you, but I could easily list for you times I have done all of these things, most of them this week. The car in front of me isn’t moving fast enough and suddenly I’m impatient. I gossip with a friend and before I know it I am rejoicing in wrong doing. I am busy and sleep deprived and suddenly discover that I am easily irritable. I could go on and on. I love God, but in those moments I take over and I loose sight of who He is in my life and the life of others. I am consumed with what I want and I stop being a reflection of His love and grace.

In those moments I do not know God, I only know me.

 

The Word of God is Alive

by: Rob Still

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight; everything is uncovered and exposed before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:12 -13

The Bible expresses the very thoughts, intentions, desires, nature, character and essence of God. It’s God’s story, and it’s our story.

The word of God reveals His loving heart. The Holy Scripture is not like any other collection of writings on the planet. It is unique, it is a supernatural book.

When we read the word of God, illuminated by the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are changed. It awakens our spirit and feeds our soul.

It’s transformative. The word of God convicts us of sin, inspires faith to rise up, imparts wisdom, guides our decision-making, and comforts us in times of trouble.

We are designed for relationship with God and one another. In a healthy relationship, we grow in knowing, understanding and ultimately loving the other. We know God through His word and His presence.

We need to take in the word of God on a daily basis just as we need food, air and water on a daily basis. When we do that, then the word of God will become quite alive, active and powerful in us.

Read on my friends!