Back to Balaam

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I’m reading the book of Numbers again, struck afresh by the humor, oddity, and warning found in the story of Balaam. Here’s what was going on way back when…

The Moabites were afraid of the Israelites. Balak the King summoned Balaam the Prophet, saying, “Come and curse these dangerous folks. They’re numerous and far too powerful for me. I’ll pay handsomely!”

Wisely, Balaam asked God about this deal and heard, “Oh, no you don’t. These are my blessed people, and you must not put a curse on them!”

When Balaam conveyed his response to the Moabites, they begged him anyway, promising more money. Balaam, wise once again, answered, “Your king could give me his whole palace filled with silver and gold, and I still couldn’t do anything that went against my Lord’s command.”

Eventually God told Balak to go ahead and go with those begging Moabites, but to be careful to do only what he, the Lord, commanded. Balak headed out the next morning, traveling by donkey. An angel, armed with a sword and visible only to the donkey, blocked the way. What follows is the best part of the story.

  • The donkey stopped walking.
  • Balaam beat the donkey.
  • The scene repeated two more times.
  • Then the donkey talked!

The beast of burden said, “What have I ever done to you? Why would you beat me three times?”

  • Did Balaam gasp in utter amazement? No.
  • Did he get on his knees and ask the Lord what in the world was going on? No.
  • Did he argue with the donkey? (Surely not!) Yes, that’s exactly what he did.

At that poing God finally let Balaam see the armed angel, gave Balaam instructions and allowed him to proceed. When the time came to pronounce a curse, Balaam blessed Israel instead (three times, in fact). Balak the King was plenty angry, but all the obedient prophet had to say to him was, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”

Look for the lessons in this crazy chapter:

  • Nothing is too hard for the Lord.
  • Obey God’s instructions, no matter how hard the pressure to do otherwise might be.
  • The Bible is not boring!

Do you have a favorite Old Testament passage? If so, I hope you’ll share it with me!

What’s on Your Plate?

Raise your hand if you’ve:

  • Already read the book of Colossians several times.
  • ‘Done a Bible study on it?
  • Heard countless sermons where the text is taken from that popular letter of Paul’s?

Then join me in being somewhat astonished that there’s always something new to learn there. Here’s what I read today:

“Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.’” (Colossians 4:7).

Now, I’m just guessing here, but since Paul saw fit to include that line in his letter, maybe Archippus was tempted to quit. Quit what? Who knows? But whatever it was, it was a task the Lord had given him, and one he was meant to complete. And, evidently, he needed a bit of solid encouragement and direction to do just that.

The work you have received from the Lord. What work have you received from the Lord? Ah, yes, we all take on tasks we shouldn’t, maybe out of pride or greed or simple American ambition-on-steroids. That’s a lesson for another day. I’m talking about work you know in your heart the Lord wants you to do. It might be a life’s work. It might be an afternoon’s calling. Some versions of Colossians 4:17 use the word “ministry” instead of “work” to describe what Archippus needs to keep doing. I believe all work the Lord calls us to do, whether lofty or lowly, is really our ministry. So, no matter what the task might be, don’t quit!

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A Chance to Die*

Why would anyone want to assign such a title to a book? Well, Elisabeth Elliot did just that when she wrote about the life of Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India in the in early 1900’s. Let me share a few highlights from that book with you, paraphrased for clarity.

First a provocative quote by the author, Elisabeth Elliott: “Could it be that our vision, both physical and spiritual, has been compromised by the compelling images we see on ever-present video screens?” Elisabeth described the hope of an “unbroken walk with God,” a concept garnering great interest during Amy’s time. I wonder how much we seek the same these days. “Dying to self” is a difficult and unpopular proposition, made more so, perhaps, by all the media around us lauding an indulgent life.

Here’s a bit of what Amy had to say on the topic, encouraging those around her to trust the One who takes over when we take the chance to die to self.

  • Death to self means dead to all one’s natural earthly pains and hopes, dead to all voices, however dear, which would deafen our ear to His.
  • Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.
  • “When faced with hardship, our Lord has been so kind about other things that we cannot doubt but that He will care for this too.”

Finally, quoting Bishop Handley Moule in “Thoughts on Christianity” as he defines dying to self: “To displace self from the inner throne, and to enthrone Him: to make not the slightest compromise with the smallest sin. We aim at nothing less than to walk with God all day long…It is possible to cast every care on Him daily, and to be at peace amidst pressure, to see the will of God in everything, to put away all bitterness and clamor and evil speaking, daily and hourly.”

These are deep and challenging thoughts for me, but, as Amy once said, “Becoming dead to self results in being alive to God.”

And that is a very good trade.

*Elizabeth Elliott A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael. Revell, 1987.

Photo: geralt via pixabay.com

 

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Under His Wings (A Month of My Mom)

 

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May is the month of Mother’s Day, and I’ve decided to have Mom as my guest blogger for the entire month. ‘Hope you’ll comment on her wise words. I’ll be sure to pass them along to her!

When the religious leaders of the day asked Jesus to state the greatest commandment, he replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

The Pharisees had added to the commandments God gave Moses, tacking on so many rules and regulations that the list was almost impossible to remember, let alone obey. Of course, this made the religious leaders seem pious and powerful. Then along came Jesus, who condensed the commandments into two simple statements. Love God. Love your neighbor. In essence, Jesus robbed the leaders of their power and, as you can imagine, they hated him for that.

Jesus didn’t return their hate. He even said, when they sought to kill him, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Luke 13:34). Jesus longed to take care of his people. He still does. He longs to take care of you and me, even with all our imperfections. Picture God as a mother hen and us as his chicks.

  • Some of us stay fairly close to him but often think about wandering off. There’s a bit of something we want to explore over near the barn.
  • Some of us are just pecking away in the dirt, drifting further and further away and feeling pretty proud of our independence.
  • Some of us are almost out of earshot altogether.

When a dangerous storm comes up, a mother hen will call her chicks home and gather them under her wings to protect them. The ones nearby, the strutting independents, and the far off ones all get the same shelter, the same care.

Sometimes we’re like those chicks. We’ve fallen short so many times that we doubt God could care about us. We may be going through such sad, confusing, or painful times that we can barely hear God’s call. We just don’t know where to go for help. Here’s where to go—under his wings. The book of Psalms reminds us of that fact over and over:

“Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8).

“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 36:7).

“I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed” (Psalm 57:1).

I think perhaps this one is my favorite:

“He will cover you with His feathers and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Psalm 91:4).

God longs to cover each of us and shield us. We haven’t wandered too far away to hear his voice. We just need to stop and listen.

House Rules Revisited

Last February, a local MOPS group asked me to talk about the house rules Steve put into place when our children were small. I’ve written about those rules in previous blogs, but thought this might be a good time for a review. Before you take a look, and hopefully click on a few of the links to past blogs, let me reiterate the most important part of what I told those young moms:

These rules, sometimes with a tiny bit of tweaking, apply to us as adults every bit as much as they apply to the children in our lives. So, if you have no kids, have no fear, this blog is still for you! And as we all spend more time at home with our families, perhaps this will serve as a helpful review.

Don’t argue when it doesn’t matter: https://smoothersailing.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/400/

Be happy for what you have, and if you fuss, you lose: https://smoothersailing.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/bhfwyh/

 Obey the first time, and be kind: https://smoothersailing.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/halfway-there/

Pray for someone every day: https://smoothersailing.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/pray-for-someone-every-day/

 Don’t hit, and be respectful (of others, of our Lord, and of your own body.) https://smoothersailing.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/the-final-three/

Got a favorite? A rule you’d like to add? Please take the time to comment.

Flex or Die OR Old Fruit

I learned a lot from our kids’ youth leader a couple of decades ago, but here’s the line that pops into my mind the most:

“Flex or die.”

That’s what Mike used to say when he and his crew were headed out to a service day or a mission trip or even just a fun outing. He wanted them to remember that the unexpected almost always happens. You can bend, or you can break.

How flexible are we? How well do we handle the unexpected, the uncomfortable, or even just the simple change of direction that life can bring? Following Jesus requires a good bit of flexing. We may plan our ways, but he directs our paths, and those paths don’t always go where we expect them to go. For one thing, what he calls us to do today may not even remotely resemble what he’s going to ask us to do next. That brings me to another wise person, Sharmon Coleman, leader of Proven Way Ministries. Here’s what she asked recently:

“Are you serving last season’s fruit?”

I’ve taught math, run a small wholesale bakery, and raised funds for clean water. When in the middle of each of those endeavors, I thought what I was doing might well be what I would do for the rest of my life. In each case, the Lord gently showed me otherwise. I lived in Houston for decades in a house I thought would be my home forever. Wrong.

Hopefully, I’ve finally learned to reign in my assumptions. So, for example, while I’m doing a fair amount of writing and editing these days, I realize there may be a new calling, a new assignment or passion, just aroung the bend.

Yes, there is a place for persistence. But we also have to be ready to flex, to let the Lord take us where we never thought we’d go. The key, in this issue and in all of life, is to stay ready to do our Lord’s will, to follow where we believe he is leading, holding all things with an open hand.

Are you ready to flex? I pray that you are, and that whatever this present season holds for you brings joy to you, glory to God, and blessings to those around you!

photo by Alex Loup via Unsplash