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Posts Tagged ‘Moses’

One morning recently, I heard a soft knock on our front door. And there was our neighbour, holding something out to me.

‘I wanted you to have these’ she explained. ‘They’re my “first fruits”—and I like the whole idea of that!’

green-beans-2707996_1920I glanced down and saw around eight green beans in her hand. Not only does this lady produce a beautiful array of flowers around her unit but also a few vegetables, herbs and even some fruit. Her garden gives her much joy—a joy she was now sharing with us. And because I know my neighbour is very grateful to God for all she has and can still do, I understood her gift was a thanksgiving offering as well.

While those fresh, crunchy beans did not last long in our house, my neighbour’s words stayed with me, causing me to reflect on the whole idea of ‘first fruits’ and research it for myself. And as I did, I discovered that the concept stems from the belief that everything we have originates from God, the Creator of the universe. After all, Psalm 24:1-2 says:

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it, for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.

Then, in Deuteronomy 26 in the Old Testament, we find Moses reminding God’s people, as they were at last about to enter the Promised Land, to be sure to give God the first fruits from all their future crops. They were to bring these to the priest on duty, declare out loud how God had delivered them and their forefathers from slavery in Egypt and brought them to a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ (9), and place their offering before the Lord. Finally, we read in verse 11:

And you and the Levites and the aliens among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

So today, deliberately giving up those first fruits of our earthly endeavours, whether things we grow or other items we produce or money we earn, may still well be a great way of thanking God for all we have received. We may not present them to a priest, as in Old Testament times, although some churches still have a harvest festival which incorporates this idea. But as my neighbour did, perhaps we too can express our thanks to God and our joy in all we have been given, by passing on our own unique version of first fruits, thus blessing someone else as well.

Hmm—now that’s a challenge for me! Yes, I do give away a few copies of any new book I write when they first arrive fresh from the printer. But I also tend to cling onto what is mine because, after all, I worked jolly hard to produce it or earn it!  Yet I know in my heart any gift or ability I have is from God—and it is only by God’s grace that I write anything or have anything published. So why be so stingy?

I think that first fruits idea has a lot going for it, don’t you? And I hope I remember my green beans lesson for a long time to come.

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This past week, we celebrated a birthday in our family – my husband turned seventy.  Now that, as we all told him earnestly, is really old. It even sounds old – much older than sixty-something does! Now he definitely qualifies to be called an ‘oldie’ by his children and their generation – not to mention his grandchildren! Recently he joked that, having now reached his ‘three score years and ten’, his time could well be up any day. He is well aware of what Psalm 90:10 says:

The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

Sounds quite pessimistic, doesn’t it? Yet it’s true we will all face trouble and sorrow in some shape or form during our lives. We are all human – and we chose long ago to go our own way and forget about God. But it’s also important to look at the context of those words. In my bible, this psalm is called ‘A prayer of Moses the man of God’ and begins:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.

Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men,”

For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

To God, seventy or eighty years are nothing – God was and is and always will be. From God’s perspective, we don’t have long on this earth to make a difference here, to do what we were created to do, to live as God would have us live. So I think it’s important we all pray the words of verse 12 from this same psalm before we get any closer to our own ‘three score years and ten’:

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

It’s so easy for the weeks, months, years to slip away and for us not to take stock of where we’re heading in life, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I want to ‘number my days aright’, to live wisely, walking hand in hand with God, listening to that still, small voice within, doing what God calls me to do. Recently, someone commented that I should have started writing my novels years ago. For a moment that caused me to feel a little chilled inside and to wonder if perhaps I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere along the line. Would I have been able to touch more people and been used more of God, had I begun writing earlier? I suspect I needed to be the age I was, however, when I started. I don’t think I would have had the confidence to embark on such a journey any earlier, not to mention the life experience and understanding of people required. And I suspect I needed time to know God better and also acquire more of that ‘heart of wisdom’ mentioned in the psalm. I still do.

My husband has used his ‘three score years and ten’ very well, I believe – over forty of them in some form of ministry – and I hope I do too. But how about you – how are you travelling? Are you gaining that ‘heart of wisdom’?

Are you ‘numbering your days aright’?

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Between his shoulders

I love it when I discover some new pearl of wisdom in something I am reading – some truth that really resonates with me or makes me sit up and take notice.  I keep a journal where I jot down such things – and what a feast it is when I look back after several months and read them all in one go!  As I glance now through some recent entries, I notice quotes from many different sources – novels I am reading; the writings of fascinating authors such as Frederick Buechner, Annie Dillard, Thomas Merton; occasional lines of poetry from Mary Oliver and T S Eliot; snippets about writing from ‘The Soul Tells A Story’ by Vinita Hampton Wright and ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott; and of course many, many verses of Scripture that have impacted me in some way.

One would think that after all these years, I would have found and noted every verse of the Bible that particularly touches or encourages me.  Yet somehow God never ceases to surprise me with little gems that literally seem to jump out at me from the pages of my Bible, even though I know I have read these particular sections before.

One such verse in that category comes from Deuteronomy 33, where Moses is blessing the Israelite tribes before his impending death.  In verse 12, he says the following to the tribe of Benjamin:

Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.

Now that conjures up some wonderful imagery in my mind.  How about you?  It seems, from what I could find out, that this verse might be referring to the way shepherds used to carry a favourite or perhaps injured lamb slung across their shoulders – which is certainly apt enough.  But the picture that came to my mind is of a tall, broad, brave defender using his body to shield someone a lot smaller and weaker than he is from the advancing enemy. The intended victim is clinging on tightly, arms around his (or her) rescuer’s waist, head turned to the side and pressed firmly into the spot between the rescuer’s shoulder blades.  No one can touch him (or her) while this strong, courageous defender remains in place – he acts as a human shield who will do anything to protect the one holding on so firmly to him.

And then another favourite verse of mine comes to mind, this time from Psalm 32:7:

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I feel very comforted and secure in my ‘hiding place’ who is the Lord, protected and at rest ‘between his shoulders’.  I might be in the middle of a battle, but I can ‘rest secure’ as I lean against him.  After all, I know that he has my enemy’s measure, that he is much more powerful than anyone or anything that might come against me, and that because I am his ‘beloved’, he will never to grow tired of being my shield and protector, until he manages to bring me home safe at last.

May you too know that place of deep security, as you ‘rest between his shoulders’.

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A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of driving a good friend to the airport.  She was returning to Turkey to work that she loves, and the strong possibility is that her friends and family will not see her for another two years or more.  It was a bittersweet moment when the time came for all of us who had gathered there to say goodbye – our friend’s heart is in Turkey, but it is also here with family and friends.

As soon as she disappeared through the entrance to the customs check area, our by now slightly teary group dispersed.  However, a few of us decided to stay on and move to a spot alongside a glass wall where passengers can be seen as they pass through a walkway leading to their respective departure gates.  And almost before we had settled ourselves, there she was again, smiling at us and waving, then turning for one final backward glance before disappearing from view.  We tried to communicate with her in various ways, blowing kisses and gesticulating wildly. I noticed too how other passengers were coming right up to the glass and placing their hands on it in an effort to reach out to those on the other side one more time.  We were glad we had stayed for this final farewell – but it wasn’t the same as being able to communicate freely, to speak and touch unhindered by the barrier between us.

As I thought about this experience later, I realised that sometimes this is how it is between God and me.  God is always there, wanting to communicate and have a close relationship with me, but sometimes these barriers spring up between us – barriers that I either deliberately put in place or just allow over time to grow bigger and bigger.  I want to talk things over with God heart to heart – and I truly want God to speak to me ‘face to face, as a man speaks with his friend’, as occurred with Moses (Exodus 33:11).  I want God to be intimately involved with all areas of my life – but for some crazy reason I distance myself behind some barrier or another. It might be that I don’t want to let go of something I know is spoiling that communication – perhaps anger or unforgiveness or even lack of trust. Or it might be that I just allow myself to become too busy or too tired or too focused on my writing or too concerned about preparing for speaking engagements, until that loving voice gets more and more indistinct and that wonderful light of God’s presence dims.  I know God is there as surely as my friend was there smiling at us from behind that glass wall – but I can’t hear what is being said or feel that restoring, encouraging, comforting touch that I know I need.

I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to be alienated behind an impenetrable glass wall from the very one who breathes life and creativity and courage and strength into my spirit. There is a door in that wall, I believe – and Jesus is standing there.  He knocks on it, waiting for each one of us to open it and invite him in so we can relate deeply with him (Rev 3:20).

Is he there with you now, enjoying your company?

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It’s great, isn’t it, when we meet up again with old friends we haven’t seen for ages and the connection is just as warm and close as it ever was.  It’s like everything else falls away and we are once again appreciated essentially for who we are, irrespective of anything we have achieved in life.  The friendship is real, reaching across time and distance.  We feel valued, loved – and our hearts melt.

Last week I held the book launch for my third novel ‘Laura’.  One friend who attended has known me for around forty-five years.  We were at high school together, but lost track of each other for over forty years.  Then around three years ago, she managed to find me again – and our friendship has become even stronger, as we mutually support each other in our various endeavours.  In fact, she was the one who originally invited me to a holiday camp as a teenager where I discovered for myself how Jesus Christ loved me so much and gave himself for me.  At that camp, the best friendship of all began for me, as I came to understand what it really means to be a child of God and to be welcomed back with open arms into his family.  Just like the lost son in Luke 15 in the bible, I knew I had come home to where I belonged.

Many of my other friends who celebrated the release of ‘Laura’ with me have attended all three of my book launches in recent years.  They have hung in there with me, faithfully supporting me as I pursue my literary endeavours, cheering me on as I seek to bring my dreams into reality and do what I believe God has called me to do at this stage of my life.  They have stuck with me – and I am so grateful.  And whether my faithful friends know it or not, they mirror God’s own faithfulness and love to me – a love that will never come to an end and will see me through all the ups and downs, all the disappointments and successes of my life.  That is exactly what God promised thousands of years ago to Joshua:

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.  (Joshua 1:5)

Whatever happens, it is so reassuring to know that God is in it all with me for the long haul.  I will never be forsaken – and in turn, I don’t plan to forsake God.  I’m in it for the long haul too.  I truly want to be ‘God’s friend’, as Abraham was called, to the very end (Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23).

How about you?

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