Splish Splash

Day 58

Prayer for the day

Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvellous things.

Scripture for the day

Numbers 17-19, Mark 6:30-56

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink. At least, not a drop in these passages. It’s incredible how many times we see water in the Bible, used both as a symbol of fear and a symbol of purity. The Israelite people, in general, feared the water, because of its mythical power as well as because of its actual power. Water is unpredictable and dangerous. It can be used to wash, but it can also kill.

In the book of Numbers, water is used to purify from contact with death. Interestingly, the one thing that can be terrifying and deadly can also cleanse from death (symbolically). In fact, from two symbols of death (the wildness of water and the ashes of a burnt animal) comes life (purity).

Jesus likewise turned the tables for water. The Sea of Galilee is a scary place in a storm, wild and unpredictable. Instead of fearing with the disciples, Jesus takes another tack. He exercises divine command over the water and strides toward the disciples, who understandably think they’re seeing something dead, as only dead things would dwell with this deadly water. Jesus shows them life in the midst of death.

Numbers and Mark both point us to the presence of life conquering the presence of death. They both show that God, in His divine power, is able to overcome even the most terrifying thing: death, and give life in its place.

What is your water today? What is the thing that causes the greatest fear and consternation? Are you afraid of death?

Most people are. But we serve a God bigger than water, ashes, and the grave. Thanks be to God.

Prophets Without Honour

Day 57

Prayer for the day

Our help is in the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Scripture for the day

Numbers 15-16, Mark 6:1-29

It is a dangerous thing to speak for God. God sometimes asks those who speak for Him to do some fairly unpleasant things and say some fairly unpleasant words. There are rarely times when a prophet is popular, and this is clearly evidenced in our two passages today.

In Numbers, a group rises up against Moses, claiming he’s intent on doing them harm instead of good. They seem to claim, though they never say it, that Moses is the one leading them astray, insinuating that Moses does not speak for God, as he claims. This is extraordinarily audacious as these Israelites have already seen the power of God against their enemies and even against themselves.

Nevertheless, they attack Moses’ integrity and his design for them. And so he challenges them to a duel, before God. The repercussions are severe. Death, plague and destruction come from questioning the servant of God, and ultimately, questioning God himself.

In the Second Testament story of Jesus returning to his hometown, we have a very different outcome. In the first story, people disbelieved the power of God, and they saw it up close. In Jesus’ story, people wanted the power, but they disbelieved the messenger, and they didn’t get to see it up close. Jesus cannot perform miracles for them, cannot heal them, not because of a lack of power, but because of their disbelief. The repercussions are equally serious, though different in kind.

We should always view those bringing a message of God with discernment. I’m not trying to insinuate that we should not. However, we should do our best, unlike both the Israelites and Jesus’ hometown folk, to receive a message from God, and its messenger, with due attention and care. God still does speak. It is up to us how we treat the speakers, and up to God to determine the repercussions.

Life and Death

Day 56

Prayer for the day

I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost; search for your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.

Scripture for the day

Numbers 12-14, Mark 5:21-43

The subject of life and death and how much control God exercises over the two has been debated for millennia. In the two passages for today we see God in charge of life (Jesus raising and healing) and God in charge of death (all the spies but two perishing, and a curse on those who will not enter the promised land).

We are often tempted to believe either that God is responsible for all life and death directly (God creates and destroys with impunity) or that God plays a hands-off game (God allows life and death to happen naturally). What seems most clear in these two scriptures is that WHEN God desires life or death, that’s ultimately what happens.

This is not to dogmatically assert either one or the other, but to encourage care and concern. God is ultimately the author of life and death according to the scriptures, and however life and death are brought to bear, each can be seen as a glorifying act.

In the First Testament account, God can seem an awful tyrant, willing death and destruction all over the place. However, in so many ways, God is a God who allows people to experience the natural (and supernatural) repercussions of their actions and desires. God gave so many of the Israelites what they desired: a return trip to Egypt (that is, death). Even in the midst of this death, however, God gives grace and mercy. Joshua and Caleb, and the children of the Israelites, are not only spared but given life, a life that will move into the promised land, a life that will prosper. God is not simply a tyrant, nor is God simply the gift-giver. God is complexly both the Lord of life and death and the gifter of life and of death.

Jesus heals and raises in the Second Testament, but there is death here as well. The lesson in both of these stories is not that God is actively trying to kill us all, nor that God will preserve us all. The lesson, I believe, is one for us. Our actions are not consequence-free…life and death happen. God, however, is not hands-off. God sometimes intervenes, sometimes does not, but always cares, always perseveres in His love for His people. And it is in this love and care that we can place our hope.

ain’t too proud

Day 55

Prayer for the day

Happy are the people whose strength is in you! whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

Scripture for the day

Numbers 9-11, Mark 5:1-20

Every day as I drive home from work there is a man who walks between stopped cars at the red light. He has a small, hand-made sign that says “homeless…need food.” People stopped at the light suddenly find much interest in their dashboards, their phones, their purses, or anything else, in order to avoid eye contact with the man. Some windows are rolled down, and a reluctant dollar is passed.

Begging is not pretty.

It’s difficult for those who have to do it, and uncomfortable for those on the receiving end. Yet as uncomfortable as we can be with someone begging of us, God seems to have to endure it all the time in the Bible.

In the First Testament story today, the people are tired of eating plain old manna (the super-naturally abundant, God-given source of nutrients without which they would die) and so complain to Moses. They beg him for something different, for some meat. They whine and complain about their lot in life, and how miserable they are, how much better off they were as slaves in Egypt (short memory!).

In the book of Mark, another begging story confronts us. A man is possessed by many demons, and the demons (THE DEMONS!) beg Jesus not to send them to the abyss where they belong, but into a herd of pigs.

In each of the cases, with whining and begging, amazingly, God answers. God responds. He responds to the Israelites with distaste and anger, but also, with provision. Incredibly, God gives them what they’re begging for. With the demons (again, THE DEMONS) Jesus gives them what they ask.

In the end, neither really gets what they NEED. They beg, but they beg for things that will not ultimately satisfy them. In the story of the Israelites, the meat brings plague with it. In the story of the demons, the pigs they inhabit run into the water and drown.

So what’s the point? That God will give us whatever we want?

I don’t think so. I think the point of these two is less about what God will give and more about the spirit with which we ask. You’ve doubtless heard the phrase “be careful what you wish for.” These two stories exemplify that principle perfectly. Before we ask, let’s do the hard work of determining whether or not we actually know what it is we’re asking for, and whether we’re willing to brave the consequences that come if we get it.

Lamps and Stands

Day 54

Prayer for the day

Sing to the LORD, you servants of his; give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness. For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, his favour for a lifetime.

Scripture for the day

Numbers 7-8, Mark 4:21-41

The Bible is full of light. Not simply full of truth, but of talk about light. In the beginning, God creates light. A few days later, He creates the sun, moon, and stars. He provides light to the people of Israel in the pillar of fire. Early in the Second Testament, Jesus is referred to as the light. Later on (at the end, actually) when heaven descends to earth and God makes His dwelling with humanity, we will have no need of the sun, because the glory of God will provide our light.

Light is important in the scriptures, both actually and as a metaphor.

In the book of Numbers, God commands that the lamps are to be set up so that they cast light before the lampstand, that it would be visible. Was this to show off the beauty of the stand, or to provide light, or for some mysterious reason known only to God. We don’t really know, and it doesn’t really matter. What is important ist he God commanded the lamps to be set a certain way and that Aaron was to obey, even in this small way. The lamps and the lampstands represented God’s care for the life of the people (the various carvings could be interpreted to represent life and fertility). The light was to shine as a reminder of God’s provision.

In the book of Mark, Jesus warns the disciples and those around him to allow their light to shine. He states that no one lights a lamp and hides it away. Its purpose is to illuminate, to banish the darkness, and to show what was hidden.

Jesus’ exhortation and the talk of light in Numbers both show us that God is desirous of things remaining open, not hidden. That God desires people to be open and honest, to spread the light of the good news of Jesus so that it will banish our falseness and our hidden doings. We are to live as people of the light, illuminating the darkness around us.

Let us live as light.

Good Fruit

Day 54

Prayer for the day

Happy are those whom you choose and draw to your courts to dwell there! They will be satisfied byt he beauty of your house, by the holiness of your temple.

Scripture for the day

Numbers 5-6, Mark 4:1-20

The Parable of the Sower is one of the most memorable parables Jesus ever told. Its simplicity and profundity, mixed with its humble character, make it easy to remember and hard to forget.

In the parable, the sower spreads seed and it falls where it falls. A number of external factors influence the growth of the seed into a plant. Jesus explains this parable to the disciples, showing them that the seed is the word of God and the soil represents the different people to whom the word comes. The condition of the soil and its environment are the determining factors deciding whether the seed will bear fruit or not.

Jesus likens us to this soil, speaking of the conditions by which we may bear good fruit that comes from being in contact with the word of God.

The people of Israel had similar teaching and instruction from God, though it may be less apparent. In commanding the unclean to leave the camp, God was trying to ensure through Moses that the camp remain pure, and that any distractions or outside influences would be minimized. God does this not because He is angry with people who are ceremonially unclean (it’s often not their fault, after all) but because God knows what this uncleanness can lead to. God, and God in Christ, knows that our soil is finicky. We are limited in our ability to hear well, to allow for good growth, to bear good fruit. We are easily distracted, easily led astray, and we easily fall into the patterns which would strangle and kill the seed.

Purity is easily snatched away from us, and God, in His wisdom, tried to prepare the people of Israel, and us, for the inevitable distractions that would come. The parable of the sower illustrates clearly the danger we are in. Let us then fix our eyes, our focus, all of our attention on the sower.

All in the Family

Day 53

Prayer for the day

Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; save your servant whose trust is in you.

Scripture for the day

Numbers 3-4, Mark 3:20-35

The teaching of Jesus on family has to be one of the hardest to swallow, particularly in light of the cult of family that we are seeing across North America. Everywhere (particularly in the church) the family is being extolled as God’s highest and best plan for people. While this sounds lovely, it certainly does exclude those to whom God has extended the call of celibacy, or other non-platonic habitation. It can be extraordinarily difficult for those outside traditional norms to come to grips with the western familial ideal.

This actually connects better with the words of Jesus. Jesus is quite clear, not that he hates his mother or his brothers, but that the kingdom of God, the kingdom he serves and inaugurates, is not a kingdom built on family ties. It is not a kingdom where who you’re related to will get you certain favours or position.

The kingdom is a kingdom where only your father matters. If God is your father, then each person who also claims God as father is your brother or sister. The kingdom definition of family expands beyond dna and bloodlines. It calls us to belong to a family larger than our family, bonded with ties stronger than our blood.

The Israelites got a glimmer of this ideal when God was determining for them who would serve and how, in the tabernacle. The story in Numbers is not simply a story of enumeration, but the story of an evolving, emerging family, broad as the nation itself. Each member of this family was assigned a task by God. Some tasks were more difficult, and some deserving of more honour, but none was earned. Each was appointed by the Father, and each was important and incredibly valuable. In the economy of God and His people, there were only essentials. Each had his/her job to do, and each job fit within that economy exactly to the specifications of the God who designed it.

Our family, the worldwide Family of God, is a family that is less concerned with bloodlines and more concerned with where we fit in the economy of God and His people. You, my brother or sister, are needed. You are vital. You belong. As do I. What a sigh of relief.