Change and clouds

I am not a fan of change. I like a set routine. Yet God has other plans.

Let’s look at what it was like to be an Israelite, travelling in the desert for 40 years. They had no map and no idea of where they were going. They were told that it was somewhere good, but they didn’t know how to get there because they didn’t know where it was. They were led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Numbers 9:15-23
15 On the day the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and it appeared like fire above the tabernacle from evening until morning. 16 It remained that way continuously: the cloud would cover it, appearing like fire at night. 17 Whenever the cloud was lifted up above the tent, the Israelites would set out; at the place where the cloud stopped, there the Israelites camped. 18 At the LORD’s command the Israelites set out, and at the LORD’s command they camped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they camped. 19 Even when the cloud stayed over the tabernacle many days, the Israelites carried out the LORD’s requirement and did not set out. 20 Sometimes the cloud remained over the tabernacle for only a few days. They would camp at the LORD’s command and set out at the LORD’s command. 21 Sometimes the cloud remained only from evening until morning; when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out. Or if it remained a day and a night, they moved out when the cloud lifted. 22 Whether it was two days, a month, or longer, the Israelites camped and did not set out as long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle. But when it was lifted, they set out. 23 They camped at the LORD’s command, and they set out at the LORD’s command. They carried out the LORD’s requirement according to His command through Moses.

Look at line 20 – sometimes they were there only a few days. Sometimes change came often. They never knew when it was going to happen. The most important part is that “They would camp at the LORD’s command and set out at the LORD’s command.” This is repeated in line 23. Anything that is repeated requires special notice. The Lord would command, and they would go – again, with no idea where they were going. They just followed the Lord.

We don’t hear any complaining from the Israelites about having to move so often and apparently so randomly. Sure, there was plenty of complaining about not having enough food that they liked.

Numbers 11:4-6
4 Contemptible people among them had a strong craving for other food. The Israelites cried again and said, “Who will feed us meat? 5 We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. 6 But now our appetite is gone; there’s nothing to look at but this manna!”

They’ve forgotten about how hard it was being slaves in Egypt. Now that they aren’t slaves, all they can think about is the great food that they ate – such variety, and free! They’ve forgotten that here in the middle of the desert, God is giving them food day by day.

Yet they don’t complain at all about having to pick up everything at a moment’s notice.

Numbers 9:22
22 Whether it was two days, a month, or longer, the Israelites camped and did not set out as long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle. But when it was lifted, they set out.

I find it significant not only that they stayed for as long as the Lord commanded them, but that they got up and moved immediately when the Lord commanded them as well. This is no simple task, remember. Not only did were they carrying everything they owned with them – there were no Winnebagos on this trip – but they also had to dismantle and carry the portable Temple – no simple feat. That was huge, and had heavy equipment. They had to carry all their clothing, their tents, their cookware – everything.

Anyone who didn’t follow immediately, who was slow in breaking down camp, would have been left behind. They had to move together in order to survive together. Every person was necessary.

Also, if they didn’t all move at the same time they would have missed the cloud or pillar of flame. It would have gone on ahead of them, not waiting for them to catch up. If they didn’t follow it, they would have most certainly been lost in the desert. They’d be on their own, without God, and that is truly lost.

Compare this unswerving obedience to the Lord in the story when Jesus called his first disciples to him, in Mark 2:16-20:

16 As He was passing along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother. They were casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen. 17 “Follow Me,” Jesus told them, “and I will make you fish for people!”18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in their boat mending their nets. 20 Immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed Him.

Note that Simon, Andrew, James and John left everything – their boats, their possessions, and their families – and followed Jesus “immediately”. He didn’t have to convince them. They didn’t have to think about it.

This kind of obedience is what is required. Some other followers of the Lord were hesitant, and they were told they weren’t fit for the journey. Pay special attention starting with verse 59 in the following section:

Luke 9:27-62
57 As they were traveling on the road someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go!” 58 Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” 59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” “Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.” 60 But He told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

When the Lord calls, we are to answer immediately, without question.

Change is hard, sure, but being left behind is harder. It is better to follow the Lord than be lost and on your own.

(All Bible translations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Driving out an unclean spirit

Then they went into Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and Jesus immediately went into the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to teach. The congregation was astonished at what he was teaching them because Jesus was teaching them as an authority, and not merely quoting other people like the scribes did.

There was a man in the synagogue who had an unclean (demonic) spirit. He yelled out “Leave us alone! Why are you bothering us, Jesus the Nazarene? Are you here to destroy us? I know who you are – you are the holy one of God!”

Jesus commanded the demon saying “Be silent, and leave this man!” Immediately the unclean spirit made the man convulse, then it shouted with a loud voice and left him unharmed.

Everyone there was amazed and they began to wonder among themselves “What is this message? He is able to command unclean spirits with authority and they leave!” News about Jesus then began to spread throughout all of Galilee.

MK 1:21-28, LK 4:31-37

Poem – voices in your head

Those voices in your head
that say “You’re no good,
– you aren’t doing enough,
– why even try?”

Don’t let them in.
They are door-to-door salesman
standing on your front step
banging on the door
ringing the doorbell.

They aren’t your friends.
Those people,
or those thoughts.

Don’t let them in.
Notice them, through the window,
through the peephole
and say “Go away!
I’m not buying what you are selling!”

The first disciples

The first disciples.

Jesus was standing by the Sea of Galilee while the crowd was pressing close to hear him speak the word of God. He saw two boats at the edge of the lake. The fishermen were washing their nets on the shore. He got onto the boat that belonged to Simon (Peter) and asked him to take the boat out a little way into the water. He then sat down and resumed teaching the crowds from there.

When he had finished the lesson, he said to Simon (Peter), “Take the boat out further and have your crew put down the nets into the water.”

“Master,” Simon (Peter) replied, “we have fished all night and caught nothing, but because you asked me, I’ll do it.”

They put down their nets into the deep water and they caught so many fish that the nets began to tear. They signaled to their partners on the other boat (James and John, along with their father Zebedee) to come over and help. They filled both boats so full of fish that they began to sink. Everyone was amazed at how many fish they caught. Simon (Peter) was so overwhelmed that he fell down on his knees before Jesus and said “Go away from me, Lord because I’m a sinful man.”

Jesus told him “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will be catching people!”

Then they brought the two boats to the shore. Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John left everything – the boats and other workers, even Zebedee, the father of James and John – and began to follow Jesus.

LK 5:1-11 (MT 4:18-22, MK 1:16-20)

Philip and Nathanael.

Also in Galilee, Jesus found Philip and said to him “Follow me!” Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Simon (Peter). Philip found Nathanael and told him “We have found the One that Moses and the prophets wrote about! He is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth!”

Nathanael exclaimed “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

“Come and see for yourself,” Philip answered him.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching him he said “Here is a man without guile, a true son of Israel!”

“How do you know anything about me?” Nathanael demanded.

“I noticed you under the fig tree before Philip called to you.”

Nathanael replied, “Teacher, you are the Son of God, the king of Israel!”

Jesus asked him “Do you believe this just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see even better proof than this. Mark my words, you will see heaven open and the angels of God traveling back and forth between me and heaven.”

JN 1:43-51

My way or the High Way

Remember the phrase “My way or the highway?” What if the “highway” is really the High Way – the way of God? Let us consider these words from King Solomon’s book of Proverbs.

Proverbs 19:21
Many plans are in a man’s heart,
but the Lord’s decree will prevail.

Proverbs 20:22
Don’t say, “I will avenge this evil!”
Wait on the Lord, and He will rescue you.

Proverbs 21:31
A horse is prepared for the day of battle,
but victory comes from the Lord.

It isn’t what we want, it isn’t what we do. God is in charge. We can plan and prepare, but it is the Lord who delivers.

Fair wages

In the third chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, we read about John the Baptist chastising some people who came to be baptized by him. He felt that they weren’t repentant – that they were not turning away from their lives of self-serving behavior. They were selfish and self-centered – they didn’t care about other people or about God. He felt that they shouldn’t be baptized because to them it was just something that everybody else was doing. Essentially, they wanted to get baptized by him because it was fashionable, like the latest dress style.

He said in Luke 3:8 that they needed to “…produce fruit consistent with repentance.”

What does this mean? If you are truly repentant, if you’ve really changed your ways, your actions change as well. You don’t continue to live in a selfish and self-serving way. Not being repentant is like an alcoholic saying that he’s going to get clean, and right after he goes to his first AA meeting, he goes to the liquor store. This is a sure sign he isn’t changing his ways – he just says he is. John wants people to really change. He won’t go through the motions of baptizing them unless they really are ready to live in a changed manner.

Some of them were startled, and asked him what he recommended them to do. This is in Luke 3:10-14 –

“10 “What then should we do?” the crowds were asking him. 11 He replied to them, “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He told them, “Don’t collect any more than what you have been authorized.” 14 Some soldiers also questioned him: “What should we do?” He said to them, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or false accusation; be satisfied with your wages.”

Ok, so the first part is easy – share what you have. If you have extra, share it with someone who has nothing. But then the next two kinds of people who ask, what do with do with that? How does their situation apply to us?

Sure, you’re probably not a tax collector or a soldier, but notice that both of these replies are about money. Only take what you are expected to take – nothing more, whether it is money you are collecting for someone else (in the case of the tax collector) or money you are collecting for yourself (in the case of the soldier.)

Probably the most easily understood example is with the soldier. Say you are at a job where you feel that you are doing all the work and the manager is getting away with doing nothing. You get paid less than she does, but she gets to sit in her office all day and play games on the internet and works on her book she’s writing. You might be mad about this. Maybe you’ve thought about reporting her to upper management. Maybe you’ve thought about sneaking in some of your personal chores while on the clock. She does it – why not you?

The difference is that you can’t fight fire with fire, and because of the covenant you have made with God, you shouldn’t act like this. You have to act better than she does. Goofing off on the clock isn’t the right thing to do – and even though she is doing it, that doesn’t mean you should. Reporting her will only make you look like a snitch, and might get you in trouble. But more importantly, it isn’t in line with what God expects of you.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-48 –

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

We aren’t expected to mirror the world – we are expected to be better than it. When bad things happen to us, we aren’t to be lowered by them, but to rise above them.

Ministry in Galilee

After Jesus found out that John had been arrested, he returned to Galilee filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea in the area of Zebulon and Naphtali.

This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah who said “Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali, along the sea road, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles! For everyone who lives in darkness has seen a great light, and for those who live in the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”

News about him spread through the entire area. He was teaching in the synagogues there and was praised by everyone. From that time on he began to preach the good news of God saying “The time is at hand and the kingdom of God has arrived! Repent and believe in the good news!”

MT 4:12-17, MK 1:14-15, LK 4:14-15