Stages of Life

Scripture Focus: Numbers 33:1-2
1 Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. 2 At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey

Reflection: Stages of Life
By Erin Newton

Every life is marked by its stages. Stages of growing up. Stages of learning hard lessons. Stages of joy. Stages of grief. Stages of community and relationships. Stages of loneliness and isolation. Each stage has importance of its own.

The author of Numbers details the mile markers for each place the Hebrews went. Most landmarks are simple place names. They started here and went there. A handful of verses include more details, indicating more than a routine pitstop.

From the few verses that elaborate, we mark specific stages: the flight from Egypt after Passover, passing through the Red Sea, a water crisis at Rephidim, the death of Aaron at Mount Hor, and the plains of Moab where they were called to take possession of the land.

These events were important. Each event presented a new crisis whereby God would reveal his power and sovereignty. Other events, however, are not mentioned. This is a partial list, a reminder of a handful of important moments.

Throughout our lives, we look back and take stock of our life stages. Many of us talk about our childhoods and how each experience shaped us. Some talk about their lives by the stages of their child’s development. Some describe their life by their education, career, or achievements. Each stage anchors the ups and downs of life.

Why would God ask Moses to record these stages? Some of the events were already recorded in other books. Why should he remind the people again? Because something big, something hard, something terrifying was about to happen. The next step in their journey was a difficult path and remembering earlier stages gave them hope and assurance that God was with them.

It is good practice to take time and look back on your life. Mark the moments that feel life-altering. Rejoice in the stages you knew God was working. Be free to mourn the stages when God felt silent.

Many of God’s beloved saints went home last week and we mourn their loss. We feel the void in their ministry. Each of our lives are made up of a unique set of stages. We risk comparison but that is not God’s call. One faithful pastor reflected, “We only have to be faithful to the gifts and energy we have—to walk in the good works God has prepared for us to walk in. No one else’s.” (Chris Hutchinson) 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him, all you peoples.
For his loving-kindness toward us is great, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Hallelujah! — Psalm 117

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 33 (Listen 4:53)
1 Corinthians 7 (Listen 6:09)

Read more about The Sojourn of Sanctification
The desert sojourn is a transforming experience for Israel and this process of sanctification can be mirrored in the lives of modern believers.

Read more about Sojourn of Grace
Asaph’s Psalm 78 is a poetic filter through which to view Moses’ detailed record of the Israelites’ travels in the wilderness.

Sojourn of Grace

Scripture Focus: Numbers 33.2
2 At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey.

Psalm 78.10-11, 17-18, 32-33
10 they did not keep God’s covenant 
and refused to live by his law. 
11 They forgot what he had done, 
the wonders he had shown them. 

17 But they continued to sin against him, 
rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High. 
18 They willfully put God to the test

32 In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; 
in spite of his wonders, they did not believe. 
33 So he ended their days in futility 
and their years in terror. 

Reflection: Sojourn of Grace
By John Tillman

Asaph’s Psalm 78 is a poetic filter through which to view Moses’ detailed record of the Israelites’ travels in the wilderness. The geographical mapping of their physical wanderings lines up next to the spiritual map of their wavering faith. This poetic trip Asaph offers as a parable, a metaphorical reading of the historical events.

God saves them.
They slander him.
God leaves them.
They cry out for him.

Asaph is not interested in hiding the flaws of the past but in praising God. (Psalm 78.4) You won’t find Asaph eloquently defending past sins so that descendants can have pride in their heritage. Quite the opposite. Asaph calls the people stubborn, rebellious, and disloyal. God, however, is patient, blesses them, and saves those who turn to him.

Asaph is upfront and direct about the failures and sins of the generations before him. His purpose is for future generations to be more devoted to the Lord, not go back to the ways of the past.

Idealization of the past and idolization of past leaders and historical figures is a problem in every culture. In Christianity, this idealization and idolization keeps us from seeing the full beauty of God’s grace and mercy as he worked through flawed systems and people.

When we imagine Moses as the perfect lawgiver, how can we expect God to use us lawbreakers? We cannot do so unless we lie to ourselves about our own holiness and become like the Pharisees.

When we imagine David as the ideal, benevolent king, judge, and warrior, how can we expect God to use us to provide justice? We cannot do so unless we lie to ourselves about our capacity for justice and become selfish, abusive dictators like David at his worst moments and like most of his descendants.

We, like the Israelites, are on a sojourn of grace. Part of God’s grace is that we don’t have to deny our past nor go all the way to him at once. God honors the sojourner and guides us to himself, step by step. Even when we misstep or fall back, he will be faithful to us.

We have not arrived. Like Aaron, who climbs a mountain to die, and Moses, who will soon do the same, we may not finish the journey. We will suffer as we leave rebellions behind us. We will, step by faithful step, navigate towards being more faithful and more reliant on God.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord when he comes, when he comes to judge the earth. — Psalm 96.12

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Numbers 33 (Listen – 4:53)
Psalm 78 (Listen – 7:12)

Read more about Blessings of the Dispossessed
May we sojourn humbly in faith. May we enact justice and peace. May kings come to us, recognizing a source of God’s blessings.

Read more about The Blandness of Hell
Those who go to Hell, do so on their own. God lays no hand upon them—merely pushes the door open for them.

The Blandness of Hell

Psalm 78:11
They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.

Reflection: The Blandness of Hell
By John Tillman

Hell, to C.S. Lewis, is a bore.

In his work Seeing Hell through the Reason and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, Douglas Beyer admires Lewis’s improvement on the typical portrayal of Hell as more interesting than Heaven.

“One of Lewis’ remarkable achievements is that his writing reverses this [the portrayal of Hell]. His vivid imagination pictures Hell with less fire and torture and more dreariness, boredom, and grayness. He makes us see it as not only a place suitable for the Hitlers and Charles Mansons of this world, but a distinct possibility for ‘respectable’ people like us. He does this without making Hell the least bit interesting. Heaven, on the other hand, is a place of rich variety in contrast with the dull monotony of Hell.”

Hell is not only monotonous in its blandness but is not designed for the human mind. Beyer continues:

“The saved go to a place prepared for them, while the damned go to a place never made for men at all. To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being in earth; to enter Hell, is to be banished from humanity.”

Hell is a place of stagnation and sameness. Heaven is a place of creativity, art, celebration, and love. Hell is merely selfishness made manifest in the extreme.

Those who go to Hell, do so on their own. God lays no hand upon them—merely pushes the door open for them to enter and politely allows them to close it behind.

“The doors of Hell are locked on the inside,” C.S. Lewis says in The Problem of Pain:

“I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of Hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man ‘wishes’ to be happy: but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved.”

“The blessed,” Lewis concludes, “forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free.”

In Heaven, we are drawn closer to God and there find joy and the communion of the saints. In contrast, Hell is a place of self-exile in which the only thing to grow closer to is the misery that we brought with us. When Sartre said “Hell is other people,” he was too broad. Hell is our self alone.

Prayer: The Greeting
Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out. — Psalm 65.3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 33 (Listen – 4:53) 
Psalm 78,1-37 (Listen – 7:12)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 34 (Listen – 2:59) Psalm 78,38-72 (Listen – 7:12)
Numbers 35 (Listen – 4:41) Psalm 79 (Listen – 1:50)

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Read more about Choosing Hell
All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice, there could be no Hell. Those who seek, find. To those who knock, it is opened.

Read more about The Gospel is an Uprising
Christ portrays himself as a violent thief, breaking into the house of the strong man, Satan, destroying his defenses, and plundering his possessions.