Day 168#BCaD A Private Consultation

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Numbers 23

My youngest Edward is half way through his first year at secondary school, or as they curiously say in Cardiff, High School (!?). Anyway, most days I send him a message when I am on my way home from work to see if he is ok. Yesterday the reply came back, ‘I have some good news for you when you get home.’

Balak wants God to curse his enemies (don’t we all?). He is using Balaam as a go-between. They try three different vantage points and Balak is instructed to construct seven altars and sacrifice seven bulls and seven rams on each. This is an expensive consultation. Twenty one bulls and twenty one rams. Balak is showing commitment. Unfortunately for Balak, the message that comes from God is not the one that he wants to hear. So he does what we would all do; he keeps asking in the hope that the answer might eventually be different. It’s not.

If you had a private consultation with God, what would you say to Him? Perhaps more importantly, if God have a private consultation with you, what would He say to you?

What could it be? Exciting isn’t it? Your mind begins to race with possibilities. Something good has happened in school obviously. A prize? A successful audition or trial? A skiing trip? What could it be?

Sometimes I hear about people who have visited a fortune teller or spiritualist to try to contact somebody who has died. This was big business in the Victorian era. Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle was a huge exponent of it and there were huge sell-out rallies and meetings held all over the country. It has always struck me how the messages received from the ‘other side’ seem to be so illogical. If you know somebody who has died and they have a chance to contact you, what do you think they would say?

For me it is pretty obvious. They would not be trying to tell you that the key to the safe is behind the picture on the mantle piece or anything of that kind. If you think back to the victims on the il-fated  aeroplanes in the 9/11 attack, they reached for their mobiles with the intention of sending one message and one message only. ‘I love you.’

If a loved one is going to contact you they will say this,’Do not be afraid. Do not worry. You are loved. Everything is going to be ok and I can guarantee that. Trust me’

When I arrived home, in my mind Edward had been awarded a special medal by the queen for services to Gretta Thunberg or something. His news was that he had achieved 14/15 in his French test. Good news indeed. Well done Ed!

You can have a private consultation with God by the way. Any time you like. You don’t even need to sacrifice any bulls or any rams. He wants you to tell Him stuff. He wants you to tell Him what is on your heart. Not so much for His benefit but for yours. If you ask Him to speak to you, He will. And I know what He will say. ‘Do not be afraid. Do not worry. You are loved. Everything is going to be ok and I can guarantee that. Trust me.’

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=numbers+23&version=NIV

Day 167 #BCaD Who is Driving Your Donkey?

Numbers 22

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  1. Alliteration

Did you ever study Antony and Cleopatra? If so do you remember the famous alliterative speech of Enobarbus as he describes the Egyptian queen? You know it. “The barge she sat in like a burnish’d throne, burn’d on the water.” Well in today’s chapter we find out how Balak and Balaam end up going to Bamoth Baal. I’m not even joking!

Our nomadic Israelites, and don’t forget that there are over 600,000 of them, have set up camp on the river Jordan opposite Jericho. Balak is the leader in Moab and is horrified that the Israelites have decided to camp there. By now they have the reputation of being fierce warriors with a string of victories under their belts.

Balak does what anyone would do. He sends a message to Balaam son of Boer asking him to come and put a curse on the Israelites. Balaam asks God what he should do. God tells him that he can go but he can only say what God tells him to say because the Israelites are blessed.

Balaam sets off on his donkey but an angel appears (to the donkey) and blocks his path a number of times until the scared animal sits down. Balaam gets angry and beats the donkey. Then the angel appears to Balaam and tells him off for beating the donkey. He explains that the donkey was trying to save Balaam’s life by taking him on a safer route.

When Ballam meets Balak they go up to Bamoth Ball where there is a splendid view of the offending Israelite camp.

This is quite an unusual and welcome cliff-hanger because we won’t find out what happens next until Chapter 23. My money is on Balaam saying something really wise and  Balak making a paradigm shift*.

*A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in basic concepts and experimental practices. (I know you knew this but my editor is fussy).

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2. Donkey

When we read about a donkey in the bible we think of Mary’s journey to Bethlehem and Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It is the humble beast of burden. A symbol of everything ordinary, functional and unpretentious. In modern times it would be the difference between arriving in a Limousine to arriving in a [insert make and model of your neighbour’s car here].

The important point is that Balaam is intent on his journey but is not in tune to the fact that God wants him to go a different way. Jesus talks about a scorpion and an egg. He says that a child may want a scorpion to play with because it looks interesting but the parent knows that it is dangerous and rightly says no. The child doesn’t understand the decision and is disappointed but the parent is right. It’s the same here. Because we have free will we can go in any direction but not all directions are good for us. Not every direction is one that God wants us to travel on.

When we look back at our lives, can we see where God has nudged us in the right direction? Perhaps there was a job that we wanted but didn’t get? Perhaps there was job that we didn’t want and we ended up getting it !? Anyway, I hope that you feel that where you are now is where God wants you to be. If you don’t feel that then perhaps it is time to check where your donkey is going and who is really driving it?

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3. Self-Discipline

One of the challenges of being an independent adult is that you have to regulate your own behaviours. For example you get to choose what to eat. Latest research shows that over 50% of people have not decided what to eat in the evening until at least 4pm on that day. People ask themselves what they fancy tonight and then go to a shop and get whatever has taken that fancy for that evening. Or they even order from home via Deliveroo or Ubereats. As self-regulating adults we are constantly thinking about what we should and shouldn’t eat, what is good for us, what is bad for us, what is going to make us ashamed of ourselves, what is going to leave us feeling hungry and unsatisfied. And that is just food!

Jesus tells us not to worry about what we eat and drink but trust in God and do your best each day.

Ok. I’ll try it. I shall try to worry less and trust more. You coming with?

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Numbers+22&version=NIV

Day 166 #BCaD Help!

Numbers 21

1 Where do you go when you feel down?

Where do you go when friends aren’t around?

Here’s the thing: The Israelites continue to travel through hostile lands on a journey towards the promised land. It is not easy. Sometimes they are allowed to pass through, sometimes they are attacked. Sometimes they win but sometimes they lose. There are good times and bad but God is in charge. The people struggle with this. They complain about the lack of water, the lack of food, the violence and the anxiety that a nomadic existence brings. When will they arrive? When will everything be ok? We want to go back to the good old days but they were not that good either. What is the answer?

God is angry with the complaining so he sends poisonous snakes amongst them. Some die. God tells Moses to make a snake out of bronze and to lift it high on a stick. Anyone who looks up to the bronze snake is saved.

2 Our Journey

Sometimes Old Testament stories seem strange to us but at other times the powerful parallels and resonances with our own lives are worth thinking about.

Perhaps we are all on a journey. Perhaps we have to navigate our way through good times and bad. Perhaps we should not direct our energies on complaining but on having faith and remembering who is ultimately in charge. We were not promised a bed of roses on the journey. The Israelites are heading for a promised paradise and so are we. Where there will be no more sadness no more tears no more pain and no more death.

The snake-bitten had to look up to be saved. They had to actually do something to demonstrate their faith. It’s not difficult to look up is it?

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things will be gone forever.” Revelation 21:4

This great song reminds us of the psalmist’s message that we should look to the hills (up) from whence cometh our help.

 

Back to the question; Where do you go when you feel down?

God knows what you are struggling with. Life is not easy but we were created to be living things not dying things. Then look up. Look to Him and He will help.

 

3 Quite Interesting

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Caduceus – Depending on who you speak to, it may well be that the medical symbol of a snake and a stick originates from this passage in the bible. Others think it has its origin in classical mythology. See if you can spot it on uniforms and ambulances etc. . .

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Numbers+21&version=NIV

 

Day 165 #BCaD Wholeness Wholly Attending

Numbers 20

  1. Who said the Book of Numbers was boring?

Firstly Miriam dies and is buried. That’s not boring.

Then the ever grumbling Isrealites complain to Moses and Aaron that they have led them to Kadesh in the desert of Zin where there is nothing good to eat and not even enough water. Can you imagine a whole society being displeased with their leaders? Nor me.

Moses asks God what to do and God tells him to strike the rock with his staff. In a dramatic and miraculous public display, Moses strikes the rock and out pours water. Enough for them all to drink, people and cattle alike.

Moses asks the local King of Edom if they can pass through his land. The King of Edom says no. Twice. So they have to go another way.

God is not pleased though. He decides that it is time for Aaron to give way to his son Eleazar. Moses takes the father and son up a mountain where Aaron to gives his son the clothes from his back. Once done Aaron dies. Moses returns to the people with Eleazar as the new Aaron. The traditional 30 days of mourning is observed in honour of Aaron.

2. Drink While You Think

Edward and I are great fans of Disenchantment. Like so much of Matt Groening’s work it rewards the observant viewer. We find ourselves watching season 1 repeatedly, often finding something new or realising with great satisfaction, a fresh insight into the plot. And again like in so much of Matt Groening’s work, the pithy one-liners can be deep, rich and profound. One of our many favourites is,Screenshot 2019-01-25 at 12.44.34.png

“Why are there so many dead things floating in the “Elixir of Life”?

Probably a thought that could keep us going all day!

3. Thinking

We have all seen the tea towels and painted bits of wood with the message, ‘Sometimes I sit and think and sometimes I just sit.’ Old but good. Can you stop thinking? I bet you can’t when you are lying awake at night worrying about not getting enough sleep.

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Today we are going to think about thinking. It sounds strange I know but have a read of this from D H Lawrence and let’s give proper thinking another try.

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Day164 #BCaD

Numbers 19

Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

In this chapter we learn about the importance of hygiene. Especially when you have been handling dead bodies.

Seriously though, many of these types of passages which describe ritual cleansing remind one how important hygiene must have been in those times. We probably cannot undo our knowledge and understanding of germs. From infancy we have been bombarded with warnings about germs.

We have seen magnified images of germs and dust mites. We know the science behind our immune system and the potential threat of viruses and bacterial infections. They didn’t. It just makes me wonder if chapters like this, came about in order to keep the Israelites clean and more importantly alive.

What is a Heifer?

A heifer is a female cow that has not yet given birth. A virgin cow if you like. In this chapter a red one is burned so thoroughly that only ashes remain. These ashes are then used by the community as part of the purification process. I am not entirely sure if there is any science behind this one! Perhaps it is just for us to wonder at and be glad that we don’t have to go to the trouble of doing it!?

Lessons for Us in the Here and Now

There is a good deal of water used in this chapter. Holy water. It is used not only to wash in the traditional sense but also to bless or purify. It is bathed in, poured from vessels and sprinkled over things. In many parts of the Christian church, holy water is still used extensively. Sometimes the priest even has a kind of holy pastry brush which he or she dips into holy water and sloshes over a sometimes unsuspecting congregation! This is one of those chapters that is quoted in justifying such behaviour 🙂

But seriously, let us remember to wash regularly. Even more seriously, let us remember to regularly wash away any sense of guilt that we may harbour. We may get dirty again but then we can wash again. As human beings it is impossible to stay spotless all of the time. That does not mean that we should give up trying to be clean. God offers us forgiveness through His son Jesus. This forgiveness is on tap (good pun).

We can access it every day. Every hour. Every moment. Let’s get clean.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=numbers19&version=NIV

 

 

 

Day 163 #BCaD

Numbers 18

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=numbers+18&version=NIV

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The Responsibilities of Leadership

  1. Rewards

In this chapter God sets out what he expects from the tribes of Israel, especially the Levites. God describes the responsibility of leadership as a ‘gift’. But there is no such thing as a free lunch. Yes there are rewards but only in return for hard work. Hard work both in terms of the physical toil of looking after the temple but also the emotional toil of being responsible for others and making decisions for their wellbeing.

2. Models of Leadership

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Do you hate the idea of ‘hot-desking’? I think most people do. Especially if you have worked through an era in which superior working spaces and one’s very own office were things that were the trappings of the more successful.

If someone said to you,’I want you to be in charge,’ what would you say? Perhaps you might say,’What’s in it for me?’ What would be on your list?

  1. A Pay Rise
  2. My own office
  3. A personal assistant (an attractive one)
  4. Health Insurance
  5. Pension Plan
  6. A Company Car
  7. Private toilet
  8. More Holiday
  9. Loads of gadgets
  10. Power to hire and fire
  11. Second home
  12. John Lewis expense account to furnish it
  13. Holiday home for your exclusive use
  14. Membership of Wimbledon
  15. Debenture at Wembley
  16. Unlimited clothing allowance
  17. Private Jet

The list is quite easy to write and could go on indefinitely! One thing is blatantly obvious. Everything on the list benefits me but has little benefit to anybody else.

Do you get the impression that Donald Trump relishes all the trappings of being president? I do.

As humans we have a natural tendency for self-preservation and even self-promotion. When it comes to leadership, we must temper that tendency. God gives us the perfect model for leadership in the person of Jesus. His words and actions outline how to lead and serve at the same time. Revolutionary then and revolutionary now.

As for me and my house, we believe that the responsibility of leadership is about making sure that everyone is ok. Leading AND serving.  For the many not the few.

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3. Humility

The taller the willow, the lower it bends. It’s not necessarily the easy or weaker option. It often takes great strength of character and an unshakable foundation of values.

 

 

 

Day 162 #BCaD

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Numbers 17

  1. Can We Trust Our Leaders?

What a pertinent and relevant question? The Israelites have just witnessed three entire families swallowed up by the ground and two hundred and fifty men burned to death outside the tabernacle. They want to know if this is God at work or some evil force. ‘Can we trust our leaders?’they ask. Moses yet again has to prove to them that it is God at work.

All the leaders, all twelve of them, are asked to place their staffs into the Holy tent. The staff that flowers by morning is the one that belongs to God’s favoured leader.

In the morning it is the staff that belongs to Aaron that has sprung into life with buds and leaves and flowers and had even produced almonds!

I wonder if Donald Trump were to leave his staff in the tent over night, how it would look in the morning?

It might be tempting to ask Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to do the same.

Unfortunately, we have to make our own minds up about our leaders. We have to examine them, scrutinise their words and actions and come to our own conclusions.

     2. By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them

Just as Aaron’s staff flowered and bore fruit, Jesus says that it is by people’s fruit that you should judge their worth.

Matthew 7:

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them.Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Paul adds:

Galatians 5:22-23:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. 

People often ask me, people sometimes ask me, somebody asked me once,* do you have to be a Christian to be a good person? They say/said,’I know lots of good people who are not Christian. There is a simple test that you can take as to how you measure up. All you have to do is insert your name into the following passage and see if the statement is true. Ready?

Here we go:

[your name] is patient, [                 ] is kind.

[                    ] does not envy, [                    ]does not boast, [                    ] is not proud.

[                    ] does not dishonour others, [                    ] is not self-seeking,

[                    ] is not easily angered,  [                    ] keeps no record of wrongs.

[                    ] does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth.

[                   ] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

[                    ] never fails.                                              Corinthians 13;4-8

If you scored 100% please would you lead this country? Please?

If not, please would you lead the USA? Please?

Please?

     3. The Israelites Ask, ‘Are We All Going To Die?’

Yes.

*Flanders and Swann

Day 160 #BCaD

 

grace-family.jpgNumbers 15

  1. Grace Before Meals

Do you say grace before you eat? When I was growing up we said grace before our evening meal together. We all said it aloud. I think it went like this:

‘Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.’

It’s quite formal isn’t it? And you can probably guess that, as a small child, I was just thinking that ‘Bounty’ was a chocolate bar and was forever wondering how that all fitted together since we never had a Bounty bar for tea!

Saying grace before meals is important though. It does two important things. Firstly, it reminds us that God has provided food for us and helps us not to take that fact for granted and secondly it reminds us of others who do not have enough to eat.

In this chapter we see God reminding the Israelites to give thanks to God for food and drink. We hear this phrase again – ‘a fragrance pleasing to the Lord.’

We went to a dear friend’s house for Sunday lunch yesterday and she was explaining how she hadn’t cooked for a while and how lovely it was to smell delicious food in the house again. I am a signed-up member of Slimming World.What that wonderful institution teaches you, amongst other things, is to really enjoy and savour the food that you can eat. I love that. If you throw food down your throat as you are doing something else, you hardly notice that you have eaten and will probably try to eat something again pretty soon afterwards.

As we move into Advent, let’s remind ourselves of the pleasure of food and drink in a wholesome and appreciative way. Grab a recipe book, make a shopping list, cook something, give thanks for it and savour it.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Numbers+15&version=NIV

2. Stoning

A man found gathering wood on the sabbath is stoned to death.

3. Tassels

The Israelites are commanded to sew tassels of blue chord onto the corners of their garments. This is to remind them not to have lustful thoughts. Worth a try !

Day 159 #BCaD

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Numbers 14

The People Rebel –

  1. Those Were The Days!

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=numbers+14&version=NIV

Do you ever find yourself longing for the ‘good old days’? Simpler times? If you do, I wonder which time of your life you are thinking of in particular. It is worth taking a moment to reflect upon what made those times preferable to now.

Allow me to give you an example. I really enjoyed being 17 years old. There was something about the excitement of becoming an adult and the feeling that the future was full of opportunity. Would I want to go back to being 17 if I had the chance? No. Living in the UK or more specifically South London at that time was not great. There were violent protests, strikes, hatred, crime, vandalism, anger and riots. Things are better now in these respects. They are. It’s just that a part of your brain blocks out the negative and retains the positive memories. That is why people have a second child; they block out the pain of childbirth and the sleep deprivation. I have even heard parents say they miss their children being babies. WHAT !? This simply cannot be true. On any level.

In this chapter we see the people longing for the good old days of being captive in Egypt. They have forgotten how miserable they were under Pharaoh and they have forgotten that they are on their way to the promised land. It is the uncertainty that is getting to them. Yes it was horrible in Egypt but at least they knew where they were!

We can relate to these feelings can’t we? We too are travelling towards a promised land and sometimes the older you get, the more serious a prospect it becomes. Then you long for the old days when it didn’t seem so serious or indeed so close!

Have you ever had a health scare? When you make an appointment at the doctor’s and in the days leading up to that appointment your mind starts creating negative outcomes? Or waiting for results – one of the hardest things to endure sometimes. It’s the waiting that is the most difficult bit. Even if the news is bad, at least you know and your mind can begin to process it.

So what do we learn from the Israelites today? We learn to have faith in God’s ultimate plan for us. If we believe in God and that the Bible is ‘God-breathed’ we therefore MUST believe that God loves us. If we believe that God loves us then we MUST believe that He has a plan for us, however difficult things get.

To combine two popular phrases, ‘God wins in the end, if He hasn’t won yet, then it’s not the end.’

2. The Old Testament

If you get a chance to listen to Malcolm Duncan’s talk on ‘Did God Appoint Donald Trump?’ (link below) you will hear him explain how he used to prefer the parts of the bible concerned with Jesus and how he learned that the Old Testament is relevant and compelling as well. I used to think the same.

3. Did God Appoint Donald Trump?

Over to you Malcolm: