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The Classroom of Humility

“Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). We remember Moses as God’s chosen leader for the children of Israel to bring them out of Egyptian bondage and through the wilderness to the edge of the Promised Land. But what was Moses’ occupation? For forty years before appearing in front of Pharaoh, he shepherded flocks in the desert. Moses’ time shepherding flocks in the desert prepared him to lead God’s people, shepherding them through the wilderness where they faced harsh physical conditions and threats from enemies. In the harsh climate of the deserts of the Middle East, the shepherd cared for the flock making sure they found water, food, and shelter, as well as protecting them from potential threats. Moses’time as a shepherd prepared him for the role that God chose for him to deliver and lead Israel. In the same way, however, Moses’ time in the desert herding sheep and goats formed his character: “Now the man Moses was very humble.” How so? The climate of the desert is incredibly harsh. Temperatures can fluctuate as much as eighty degrees; the scorching heat of the sun can give way to the cold of the desert night. Water and food are not found in ready supply; the sheep and goats rely exclusively on the shepherd to find them sustenance. The desert presents the threat to a flock of enemies, both four-footed and two, that the shepherd must protect them from. These are the brutal conditions faced by the shepherd in the desert. His life and that of his flock faced imminent dangers within its wild expanse. The desert served as God’s classroom in the Bible. God takes people into the desert to teach them and build their character. One of the principal lessons that He imparts to them in the desert: humility. There are no “self-made individuals” in the desert. Lone rangers cannot exist there. You cannot overcome the harsh and threatening conditions by yourself. It humbles a person. Moses spent forty years in the desert, and he learned this lesson well. He understood the need for decisive action in leading the children of Israel, but he also recognized his need to take advice and rely on others. He was humble. He learned the lesson of the desert: one cannot survive alone. Community is essential. The lessons of the desert often fly in the face of the rugged individualism we honor in our Western culture. That individualism often spills over into our spirituality where we view things Asus and God. Such attitudes are absent within the spirituality of the Bible. God still leads us into the wilderness to teach us humility and the foolishness of self-reliance. He used Moses mightily for His purposes and glory because Moses learned humility. Do we allow Him to build the same character within us by leading us into the desert?

Father, in every place You lead, may I learn to rely upon You and others. May I never become arrogant or self-reliant in anything I do. May I always recognize my dependence upon You and those around me. Amen
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First Fruits

“You shall count seven weeks; begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the festival of weeks to the Lord your God, contributing a free-will offering in proportion to the blessing that you have received from the Lord your God. Rejoice before the Lord your God—you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female slaves, the Levites resident in your towns, as well as the strangers, the orphans, and the widows who are among you—at the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and diligently observe these statutes” (Deut. 16:9-12). Moses outlined for the Israelites the ordinances of the Festival of Weeks (Shavu’ot or Pentecost). This festival commemorated the harvest seven weeks and one day(50 days hence Pentecost)after the first Sabbath after the festival of Unleavened Bread. The festival was to be a celebration marked by a free-will offering, an offering “in proportion to the blessing that you have received from the Lord.” The festivals and rituals that God gave to the Israelites served as reminders of His participation in their daily lives. Agriculture did not depend upon the farmer and his ingenuity or the luck of the weather; rather, God, Himself, blessed and provided for the daily needs of the people. The rituals and festivals functioned as reminders of God’s nearness and called upon the Israelites to give thanks, to rejoice. The Israelites celebrated Pentecost not only within their families but with their communities. Three groups of people are specifically identified as participating in the celebration of the festival—strangers, orphans, and widows. These three groups lacked a legal advocate within ancient Israel, which is why God often describes Himself, the just Judge, as the defender of these three groups. In the midst of the celebration, God calls on the Israelites to remember those on the fringes of their society and to bring them into the festivities. The basis for this action: “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt.” You were once an outcast, someone at the bottom of the social world, so remember and bring those at the bottom of your world into your celebration of the Lord’s blessing. Do we see God’s provision and care in every facet of our lives? Do we celebrate it and remind ourselves to rejoice at His provision? Do we share our blessing and bring into our celebration those on the fringes of our society? This was God’s expectation of the ancient Israelites when they celebrated Pentecost. He expects the same from us.

Father, thank You for Your daily provision in my life. As a sign of my Thanksgiving, may I share Your blessings in my life with others. Amen.

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To Hear and To Do

“Then he [Moses] took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they [the children of Israel] said, “Everything that the Lord said, we will do, and we will hear” (Exod. 24:7; emphasis added). This event occurs after Moses has been on top of Sinai and received the covenant from the Lord. When he comes down to the people and reads the covenant to them, they respond “we will do, and we will hear.”The phrases “to hear” and “to do” appear frequently within the Bible: “And now, Israel, listen unto the laws and statutes which I am teaching you, to do them, so that you will live, and enter and possess the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, gave to you” (Deut. 4:1; see also Deut. 5:1; 6:3; 7:12). Elsewhere we read, “Only, if you will certainly listen to the voice of the Lord your God, to keep and to do all of these commands, which I am commanding you today” (Deut. 15:5). The context of these passages indicates that the biblical authors drew a connection between hearing God’s word and doing it. In fact, that was their definition of obedience: to hear and to do. Often when we say that we “hear” someone, it does not necessarily translate into action. In fact, the phrase, “I hear you,” can serve as our response meaning a certain level of inaction. Yet, within the Bible, obedience required action, both parts were necessary. To not hear and do meant for the writers of Scripture that judgment was imminent. The author of Kings identified the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel as due to their disobedience: “Because they did not listen to the voice of the Lord their God, they transgressed His covenant and everything He commanded Moses—the servant of the Lord; they did not listen and did not do” (2 Kings 18:12). Failure to listen and do resulted in Israel transgressing the law of the Lord. In the New Testament, Jesus also emphasized our hearing and doing. He compared those who hear and do His words as like one who built his house upon a rock; while the one who only hears but does not do, he is like one who built his house on the sand (Matt. 7:24-27). Paul likewise states that it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous, but the doors of the law who will be justified (Rom. 2:13). Do we spend time listening to the word of God? And do we translate what we’ve heard into action? If we are going to obey as the Bible intended, then we must both hear and do.

Father, as I seek to draw closer to You, may I obey You by hearing Your word and doing it. May Your name be glorified through my obedient action to You and Your word. Amen.

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Measure for Measure

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. … For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:37-38). How often do we find ourselves speaking for God? Have you ever thought about it? Often when we set ourselves as God’s mouthpiece, we usually place ourselves as the judge. It feels good sometimes to sit in a place where we can look at the world around us identifying and parsing all the wrongs. But Jesus called upon his followers to adopt a different posture: don’t judge, for in the manner you judge, you will be judged (Matthew7:1-2). Jesus believed that every person bears the image of God (Genesis1:27), and therefore, each person has infinite value and worth. At the same time, you and I are more like each other than either of us is like God, so Jesus concluded in the way I treat you, God will respond to me. In the manner I judge, I will be judged. In the manner I am merciful, I will receive mercy (Matthew5:7). And, in the manner I forgive, I will be forgiven. When we look at the world through Jesus’ words, there is no room for us to position ourselves as speaking for God, the Judge. I know that I need mercy; do I, therefore, demonstrate the same mercy I hope to receive? Do I want to be judged as I judge others? James, Jesus’ brother, echoes his brother: “Do not speak evil against one another. … He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge, He who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12).Do I have the capacity to save a life or destroy it? Am I worthy of judging another like myself? Jesus and James both taught that our job is not to sit in judgment of our neighbors, but rather be merciful and forgive, especially if we hope to receive mercy and forgiveness. Think about that a minute. God will treat me that way I treat others. How would that change how we treat others? Would that motivate us to be more compassionate and merciful, less judgmental? Such action may, in fact, profoundly impact our communities and the world around us.

Father, forgive me as I have forgiven. Be merciful to me as I show mercy. And, may I always err on the side of mercy in judgment. Amen

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Disappointed with God

Do we allow ourselves to be disappointed with God? To give voice to our frustrations with Him? For many of us, even the thought of being disappointed or frustrated with God smacks of arrogance or a lack of faith. “God is always good; how dare we express disappointment with Him?” we reason. Yet, the biblical authors routinely expressed their frustrations and disappointments with God. Such honesty expressed the depth of their faith. Jeremiah often reflects the gambit of emotions regarding his relationship with God. In two instances, he articulates these emotions using the image of water. In chapter 2, he describes God as “a fountain of living water” (2:13) referring to the flowing water of a spring, which brings life and vegetation wherever it flows. Within the climate of the Middle East, Jeremiah notes that God is like a flowing spring of living water bringing life-sustaining water to lands and people that can suffer under the summer heat. Several chapters later, however, Jeremiah describes God much different: “Why is my pain unending and my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, You [God] are like a deceitful brook to me, like waters that fail (literally, unfaithful waters)” (15:18; emphasis added). The topography of the landscapers the landscape of Israel with canyons that descend from the hills towards the coast in the west or the Jordan Valley in the east. As rain falls in the hills, gravity brings the water down these canyons, which means that during the rainy season these canyons will have water in them from which animals and humans can drink. When the heat of summer arrives, the water in these canyons evaporates making them dry stream beds. A weary, thirsty traveler wandering through this landscape will see water in these stream beds only to find them dry. Jeremiah uses this image of the deceitful stream bed that had water but when the traveler looks for it finds none to describe his feelings about God. On the one hand, Jeremiah feels that God is a source of living, life-giving, water: a never-ending spring of faithful water. On the other hand, he finds himself disappointed with God and feels that Heis a deceitful stream bed with unfaithful water. It doesn’t matter if Jeremiah’s latter description accurately describes God. What matters is that Jeremiah feels this way about God and expresses his disappointment with God. Do we allow that kind of honesty with ourselves towards God? Do we have a view of faith that enables us to be brutally honest with our frustrations and displeasure with God? The biblical authors did; in fact, that was a dynamic part of their faith. God often receives greater honor in the voicing of our honest frustrations than in dishonest praises. The Bible certainly encourages us to praise God in the midst of difficult and hard times, but it also encourages the honest expression of our frustrations and disappointments with God. And the expression of both is equally the voice of faith. In our personal lives and in our communities of faith, we need to allow both to be heard as part of our expression of our journey with the Lord.

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Common Spirituality

Have you ever wondered who was the first person mentioned in the Bible to be“filled with the Spirit?”The answer may surprise you. It wasn’t a leader like Moses or David. Nor a prophet like Samuel or Isaiah. Not even a priest, like Aaron. The answer: Bezalel, the artisan tasked with fashioning the vessels for the tabernacle in the wilderness: “I have filled him (Bezalel) with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts” (Exodus31:3). We generally do not think of a craftsman as being a very “spiritual” position. Our idea of being “spirit-filled” usually pertains to spiritual gifts and actions. Rarely do we see the common and ordinary parts of our lives as places where God’s Spirit can fill us. But biblical spirituality means living an ordinary life of extraordinary obedience to God. Bezalel was an artisan, a craftsman. How often do we see God’s Spirit as a dynamic partner in our creativity? We often focus upon God’s Spirit as empowerment for a witness, anointed preaching, teaching, or worship. Yet God filled a craftsman with His Holy Spirit, into whom He breathed divine creativity. Should not our lives as Spirit-filled people be marked by such creativity? Everyone knows the story of David’s confrontation with Goliath. David credited God with his victory, yet what did David do? He threw a rock in a sling. Something that shepherd boys did every day to corral and protect the flock, or simply to pass the time. David had probably thrown a thousand rocks in his slingshot during his days herding his family’s flock. And, quite frankly, had he not, he most likely would not have been successful when he faced the Philistine. This does not take away from God’s glory, but it teaches us something very valuable: our faithful preparation of ourselves in the common, ordinary tasks in our lives provides a foundation for God to build upon to bring glory to Himself in our lives and circumstances. Bezalel, a craftsman. David, a shepherd. Both of them prepared themselves for their tasks in rather common and mundane ways. Who would ever think about a craftsman being Spirit-filled, or a shepherd throwing a stone as glorifying God? But because both prepared themselves during the commonness of their lives, God’s Spirit partnered with their common abilities in a moment of time to bring God the glory. And that’s the core of biblical spirituality.

Father, help me today to be diligent in the tasks set before me so that they might be used for Your glory. Holy Spirit, animate my mind and life with Your divine creativity. Amen

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A Time for Mourning and a Time for Joy

 ‘You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness’ (Psalm 30:11)

In John 16:20, Jeremiah 31:13, and throughout the Bible, stories of harrowing sadness are shown to result in triumph and even ‘joy’. This transition from ‘mourning to joy’, is just one of the divine characteristics of God the Redeemer… the God of Israel. This seemingly impossible conversion from overwhelming grief to celebration is perhaps most exemplified in Israel’s annual upholding of Yom Hazikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut. Beginning the evening of May 7th, Israel’s Memorial Day is ushered in to honor and mourn the loss of the many fallen soldiers. This commemoration was recently expanded to also include civilian victims of terrorism as well. However, the very next day is the celebration of Israel’s Independence. In its first years as an autonomous nation, Israel celebrated its day of Independence with a memorial for the thousands who perished in the War of Independence in 1948 and has kept this sequence ever since, resulting in a seemingly contrasting day of mourning and day of celebration.

This paradox is at the heart of the Israeli spirit. Throughout Memorial Day there are vigils held, a moment of silence kept as an air-raid siren rings out for citizens to take pause, and a veil of somberness seems to fall over the whole country. The State of Israel’s creation was through war, and every subsequent year that has passed since its inception, 18-year-old Israelis have been mandatorily conscripted to the Israeli Defense Forces; Thus, the country lives in a constant state of mourning for those who lost their lives fighting for the country’s establishment and those who have perished fighting for its protection and maintenance. As of 2018, the estimated number of fallen active-duty Israeli military personnel had reached 23,645 since the War of Independence.

It is customary for Israeli school children and families of fallen soldiers to visit the grave sites of recently deceased soldiers. The casualties of those who have given their lives in service to Israel and its security are honored for their ultimate sacrifice. However, unlike many other countries, there is no promise of a coming solution to Israel’s existential threat or foresight to a future where mandatory conscription will no longer be necessary. With this reality in mind, the country and its people must internalize this existence with every passing year as the death tally increases. However, there is something miraculous in the hearts of mourners here, and there is an eternal joy that follows every day of mourning. At sunset on Yom HaZikaron after a day of tears and vigils, the whole country erupts in celebration to subsequently rejoice in the nation’s independence. Fireworks light up the night sky, family gatherings commence with barbeques and bonfires, and Israeli flags adorn every street-corner, vehicle, and pedestrian. The flag, which only 24 hours prior, symbolized sacrifice and somberness, is now a symbol of victory and hope. Like the turning of a page, the spirit of Israel ‘turns from mourning to dancing’.

As the hands of feet of Yeshua, CBN feels the call to serve every affected population in Israel during these times of remembrance. Through food parcels and psychological counseling, CBN invests in the well-being of victims of terror in the Southern region of the country. Through monthly support, and the establishment of an integrated residence for lone soldiers in Jerusalem, CBN cares for those who are actively serving their country. CBN will neither forget the sacrifice of those who have died in bringing about the prophetic establishment of the state of Israel in its biblical homeland nor forsake those who bear the brunt of this sacrifice in modern times. We also vow to never let this difficulty deter our efforts to celebrate the great nation we are proud to serve through aid and prayer and support those who have served Israel with their lives.

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Challenged to Trust

“Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commandments. … Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in His ways and by fearing Him” (Deuteronomy 8:2-6). Do we allow God to challenge us to trust Him? As Moses gave his final instructions to the children of Israel, he reminded them of God’s provision for them in the wilderness. He also identified that God led them in a manner that tested them to see if they would obey Him regardless of the circumstances. Does our faith allow that God can place us in trying situations to see if we will obey Him no matter what? It is very easy in our world to allow the things in our lives to distract us, or to allow circumstances and situations to overwhelm us. In those moments, do we focus more on the distractions and circumstances than on trusting God and walking in his ways? God taught the Israelites to trust Him and His provision throughout their wilderness wanderings. He provided, but not always immediately or in their timing. He wanted to know if they would keep His commandments. The temptation to sin often begins with the question of the serpent: “Has God really said?” It entices us to take matters into our own hands, do things in our own way, or reject God’s prohibitions. The essence of biblical faith is believing and trusting God despite the circumstances, to choose to obey Him regardless of distraction or difficulty. The reality of the Bible is, however, that sometimes God places us in those situations to see if we will obey regardless of the challenges around us. Do we allow God to challenge us to trust Him? Do we truly believe that no matter the circumstances that He remains by our side and while we may feel pressed, stretched, and at our breaking point, He will never allow us to be crushed? And our circumstances become the opportunity to build and show our trust.

Father, in whatever circumstances I find myself in today, may I demonstrate my trust in You by obediently keeping Your commands and walking in Your ways. Amen.

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Gleanings

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 23:22; see Lev. 19:9). Farming is tough. Farming in the ancient world was incredibly tough. A farmer had to plow his field, most often with oxen; then he sowed the seed into the broken-up earth. He then prayed for rain because if the rains didn’t come within about a week, the seed he sowed was useless and would not produce a crop. After the rains, he waited, letting his crop grow. Then came the time to harvest. Having toiled in his field under the scorching sun, sowing seed in the hopes of a growing crop, he receives the reward for his hard labor, prayers, and patience. And then he is told to leave the edges of his fields unharvested and not to pick up whatever fell during the harvest. These—the edges of his field and the gleanings—belong to the poor and the foreigners. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? The farmer worked and toiled. He labored. The field belongs to him, and so does its crops. Yet God required that Israelite farmers leave the edges and the gleanings for the poor and foreigners. We know that ancient Israelite farmers did exactly as God commanded. The story of Ruth and Naomi demonstrates this. Naomi instructed Ruth to gather the gleanings, which she was permitted to do and did. The Bible often challenges our me-first, ego-centric, I-pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps culture. Biblical spirituality assumes that I am my brother’s keeper. One of the fascinating things about the law that God gave Israel was that in very practical, everyday activities, God called upon the Israelites to demonstrate their obedience to Him. He concludes the law of the gleanings with the statement: “I am the Lord your God.” You mean I demonstrate God’s lordship in how I care for the poor and foreigner in my midst? Yes! We show our relationship to God in how we treat others, especially those who are less fortunate and outcast within our society. God blessed the work of the farmer by sending rain in its season so the crops would grow. In response, the farmer left portions of his field and harvest to those who had no claim to it. Do we look at those in our culture who have no claim to what is ours and say, God has blessed me, so what I have I share with you? We proclaim God’s lordship in our generosity to others, especially the poor and foreigners.

Father, all that we have comes from Your hand. Thank you. May we proclaim Your lordship and our love for Youby showing generosity to those in need. Amen

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The Blessing of Rain

In Genesis, the Spirit of God rested above the waters during the formation of the Earth, for millennia the Lord has provided the Israelites and his children with the blessing of rain for their prosperity, and through water, we are baptized into the Holy Spirit. It is no coincidence that water is often used literally and metaphorically throughout the Bible to describe our most vital spiritual resource and to communicate the dire need when there is a season of actual or spiritual drought. It is no surprise that many Believers in Israel have been praying for rain this winter, as Israel was projected to reach desperate drought levels should it endure another dry winter, as it has since 2016. Thankfully this winter has been one of abundance!

For the first time in 3 years, the water levels in the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Kinneret, have surpassed the ‘red line’, and water levels have risen over 2 meters since the beginning of this year’s rainy season. Other reports show that this month has been the rainiest April in Israel in over 20 years! These numbers sound encouraging to anyone whose country often faces drought, as they know how vital rainfall is to crop cultivation, daily usage, and the overall health of a nation’s citizens and wildlife. However, for Israel, this is an even more vital necessity.

Because Israel has historically not been able to rely on its neighbor-countries for either technology-sharing, import or export trade, this small country has had to work industrial wonders to becomes self-sufficient in desalination and processing their own limited fresh water. Israel leads the world in water recycling, as it treats and reuses almost 90 percent of its wastewater, which is mostly pumped into agricultural irrigation. However, there is still a large reliance on rain catchment and natural freshwater sources. The largest freshwater source is, of course, the Sea of Galilee, and it is the beating heart, which fuels Israel’s underground aquifers. The major increase in rainfall in the North of the country was seen by many as a God-send, after numerous years of carefully regulated consumption for agriculture and personal usage. People across the country have celebrated this blessing of rain, and it has raised the question of how to be an even more resource-conservative nation in the future.

In this season, as the end of the Passover celebration comes to a close this weekend. Jews across the world remember God’s faithfulness to bring them out of slavery in Egypt, and must, therefore, remember Moses proclamation for what they would find when they reached the Land of Israel. Moses declared that the Israelites would not be delivered to a land like the land of Egypt, which they irrigated by hand and foot, “But the land, where you go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinks water of the rain of heaven […]” (Deuteronomy 11:11). Therefore, the symbolism of rain in Israel can never be divorced from its divine roots. It is with this promise that every rainy season that touches Israel is viewed as a covenant between the Jewish people and their faithful Creator. With this promise, please help us pray for a continued blessing though to the end of this rainy season in Israel, and continued prosperity for Israeli technological and agricultural development in the future!

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