Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Standard for Discipleship.

cross_follow

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.

Luke 6:40

When planning the goals and high points of a ministry that is charged with making disciples of all nations, the clear goal of the task is given for us by Jesus Himself. Jesus shows us the maturity process in a simple explanation: “everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

Paul knew this. This is why He said simply to those he trained in ministry: “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Disciples grow to the level of maturity of those who disciple them. And disciples learn by doing what their teacher does. Nothing too complicated about that.

There are a couple of implicit requirements. The first (re-iterated to me recently by reading “The Trellis and The Vine”) is that disciples are not fully disciples until they are disciple-making disciples. The second requirement is that the disciple-maker was guard, build, and grow in his own spiritual walk above all else, since the goal is imitation of the teacher and hence THE TEACHER, Jesus Christ.

Again, this week has been consumed with thinking through advance planning thoughts for the coming year. And as I have done so, God has blessed me with particularly timely episodes from Jesus on the process of ministry and discipleship. Mill Creek can build a great discipleship map filled with programs, curriculum and experiences for the disciple. But we must not lose sight of the goal: to grow people to be like Jesus. And we must not bury the process in administrivia: keep disciples focused on imitating the spiritual maturity of those discipling them,

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How to handle demanding people.

jesus-praying-2 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

Luke 5:15-16

People can make demands on us. No where is this more true than in ministry. As the gospel grows and as ministry demands increase, the great temptation is to try and manage it solely by sheer personal charisma, skill, or administrative ability. That is always a bad move. People do not create ministry, God brings it. And God brings the capacity to deal with it.

Jesus modeled the proper first step towards managing demanding people. When the ministry encroached into uncontrollable territory, He simply headed away from it (for a time) to immerse Himself in His relationship with the Father. The secret then of handling the advance of ministry is to strategically make personal withdrawal into the presence of God. Jesus needed to pray, to nurture His soul’s communion with the Father. He set the example for how His followers and His ministers should be when the demands and challenges come our way.

I am thankful for this insight today. Mill Creek Community Church is in a time of challenging growth, even as resources (including staff and volunteers) are being stretched thin. It isn’t just the economy that presents the challenge. It is also the culture and the opportunity. Lots of strategic thinking has been spent on our next steps. I am all for it. In fact, there will be more to come. But I know my soul. And right now, it needs to follow Jesus in the wilderness for a short nourishing stay with the Father.

The last three days have been spent analyzing the past year’s ministry initiatives and looking toward 2010. And God has given me some ideas and thoughts there. But I think that for the rest of today (except for one scheduled people appointment) I am going to follow Jesus into a desolate place. It is a beautiful day for it, with two more inches of pure snow on the ground, a pot of Starbucks on the warmer, and this passage to bring perspective. Here I go…

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ministry responses can send mixed messages.

hand-and-stone

And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.

Luke 4:31-32

What makes this wild acceptance in Capernaum so amazing is the context in which the story is told. In just a few verse back (Luke 4:28-31) the synagogue in Jesus’ home town of Nazareth had tried unsuccessfully to publicly execute Him for His teaching there. He was rejected at home and accepted in Capernaum.

Jesus had announced His mission to the people who knew Him best on earth, His friends, family, and neighbors. He read Isaiah’s prophecy (see Luke 4:18-19) and announced that God had brought it to fruition right then and there with Himself. The crowd had doubtless heard Jesus before. He was thirty years old. He had faithfully attended Sabbath with these people since a child. It was probably not the first time He had been called upon to do the reading from the sacred scrolls. In fact, their first response was to remark on his gracious words (Luke 4:22). But Jesus went on to illustrate from the scriptures how the legitimate prophets had been rejected by the very people God had sent them to proclaim His message to, and He would be no different. That is when the atmosphere in the room went from cordial to out of control. I love how when they drove him to the edge of the hill at Nazareth intent on tossing him down and stoning Him, He simply, calmly passed through their midst and left them standing there in a rage.

Luke’s gospel has the authentication of Jesus' message take place after the Capernaum synagogue acknowledged His authority. It is at that point that demonic confrontation is met with rebuke and healing. And the people cannot get over His authority (Luke 4:32; Luke 4:36; Luke 4:42) so much so that they are the antithesis of Nazareth. Jesus’ hometown wanted Him to leave… permanently. These people wanted to keep Him from leaving altogether (Luke 4:42).

If Jesus received such a wild mix of receptions to His ministry, what should I expect today? Many reject Him, some as violently as His own home town did. Others can’t get enough and just want more and more of the gospel, of the teaching of the Word, of the work of the Holy Spirit, and of the joy of the Lord that attends all these things. Jesus revealed Himself to both groups of people, but stayed where the He was received as Lord and Christ. 

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Initiated into ministry

JesusBaptism Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

Luke 3:21-22

The baptism of Jesus served as a powerful validation of the person of Jesus. Luke gives us much historical detail to root the start of Jesus’ public ministry in historical data. In fact, Luke 3:1-2 anchors these events securely in known historical details that are easily verified outside of biblical sources. Those liberal scholars with an agenda against the text who want to consider the content of the gospels to be second or third century legend have to deal with the fact that Luke lived close enough to these events to be able to carefully show the “news headlines” of the time in which they began. And he is accurate.

It is at the baptism of Jesus that we get a clear trinitarian representation of the Godhead. God the Father validates God the Son as the Holy Spirit of God descends on him “in bodily form”. This is pretty dramatic stuff. All three members of the Trinity can be verified by the human senses in this account. Jesus can be seen, heard, touched. The Spirit of God is seen. The voice of the Father is heard.

The gospel of Luke is a treasure trove for presenting the gospel to the modern empiricist. These are tough accounts to dismiss. It is one reason why C.S. Lewis was “dragged into the kingdom kicking and screaming”. He became convinced that Jesus was Who He said He was by a thorough reading of the gospels. This was a man who was an intellectual agnostic and thoroughly trained in the analysis of ancient myth at the doctorate level. And Lewis was convinced that the gospels read like history. He was finally convinced that it would be logically inconsistent to dismiss Jesus as merely legend.

Jesus began His ministry at a real time and a real place. And a supernatural event occurred in the midst of those real events. At a time thoroughly anchored in real space-time, Jesus began to preach the good news, heal the sick, call people to Himself, and the world has been changed. It is still being changed by Jesus because the story of the good news is still going forward. He is living in me and working in me and through me in a real time and place at this moment. He is doing so through His followers right now. His baptism only began the public transformation that has been ongoing for two thousand years.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Not your ordinary Jewish boy.

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For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:11

With Christmas eve upon us, this reflection on the birth of Jesus comes at no better time for me. The angels gathered Jewish shepherds on the hills outside of Bethlehem to announce the greatest birth the world would ever know. Why God chose to keep it with these humble sheepherders is part of the wonder of the story. Jesus came to the earth in a low profile, but He would not be any ordinary Jewish peasant boy. And just enough magnificence surrounded his entrance onto the world stage to let us know this.

The shepherds must have told someone about the angelic announcement and their visit to the new Savior. Luke was able to consider it a fact about Jesus’ birth and after enough investigation, he included it at the beginning of his gospel in order to show the nature of the Incarnation. There is both theology and imaginative wonder in this passage.

Today, we will begin Christmas celebrations. Their will be a few small presents to open. Should our prophesied snowstorm in the midwest be delayed, we will hold Christmas Eve services at church where my son and I will continue our tradition of a Christmas carol guitar duet. And we will celebrate the life that Jesus has brought us. He was no ordinary little Jewish baby. He is the Savior, Christ the Lord.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Reliability of the Gospels

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Luke 1:1-4

The prologue to the gospel of Luke thoroughly destroys the arguments of theological liberals that the gospel writers were fourth century papyrichurchmen bent on changing the Jesus story to fit their new religion. This is not the case. Luke uses clear, concise first-century Greek language to describe a historical and logical approach to the writing of his gospel account. He acknowledges that many gospels had been written (We have four extant gospels today), but that he had relied on what had been “delivered” (a technical term for direct transmission of oral accounts) from eyewitnesses and ministers of the “word” (shorthand for the gospel). These were undoubtedly the apostles with whom Luke had associated in the early decades of the church. And they were preaching the same things about Jesus which is why the synoptic gospels are so similar.

The motivation of the author of the gospel is clear. Luke assures his readers that he had followed things closely (literally “investigated”) for some time before attempting to write these things down. He kept notes. He was an investigative reporter on a mission to get the facts out. He also wanted to write an “orderly” account emphasizing some logical order to what Jesus said and did.

Luke has a goal in mind in his writing: that Theophilus might have certainty concerning what he had been taught. Notes on the NET Bible describe this word as denoting Luke’s desire for psychological confidence to come to the reader. He wants to encourage his reader in faith. This word assumes the truth of the report that he is writing. Nowhere is Luke offering conjecture or fable. He is writing out the researched and established facts of what Jesus said and did. There is no need for a team of egghead liberal scholars to cast colored beads for him to know what really happened. It was established by the eyewitnesses. Period.

So in the gospels I have an accurate record of events as they were believed and taught in the very first few years of the founding of the church. They constitute the facts as they were known and as they happened in the life of Jesus. There were too many eyewitnesses to the actual life of Christ alive at the writing to rebut any legend. Luke could not get away with lies, which is one reason why the gnostic gospels were so quickly rejected by the church. They came later and did not fit the facts of the eyewitnesses. Luke’s commitment to reporting these known facts is a hallmark of his gospel, and since he is synoptic with Matthew and Mark, it lends credibility to the accuracy of all the gospels.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Leviticus: the last word

Sinai07

These are the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.

Leviticus 27:34

I find this reminder a fitting way to end the book of Leviticus. I notice several things about the nature of Leviticus in this short seventeen word summary of the book. The first is the nature of the book. It consists of commands. The people of Israel did not negotiate these laws (unlike what gets done in the sausage-making legislative process in Washington). God simply spoke them and they became the legal code of the nation.

Secondly, we see human leadership as God’s spokesman. That was Moses’ job. He was a prophet. He simply delivered the message that God gave to Israel. And the role of Moses and of the priests is a major part of what was meant to keep Israel obedient to these laws and thus in proper relationship with God.

I must also mention the source of stable government for Israel under the Law. God was the source of it. God commanded Moses for the people of Israel. They did not have to wade through warped human reasoning to come up with the structure for their society. God provided it through His revelation. Theocracy in its biblical form is a remarkably streamlined and efficient form of leadership.

Fourthly, the relationship that God had was with a unique group of people: Israel. The nation had been chosen to bless the world, and God fully expected for the world to come to worship Him through Israel’s leadership. Provisions exist in Leviticus for this process. A holy God had chosen a holy nation to reach the world.

The final noteworthy comment has to do with the place that symbolized the law: Sinai. God had chosen to reveal Himself and His laws for the nation in an event on a mountain. This made a strategic historic point in the nation to look back on, much like any nation might look back at its founding. In this case, Israel saw Sinai as its birthplace as a nation under God.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Covenants & Self-Esteem

mirror But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.

Leviticus 26:45

The way that God words His promises (and threats) to Israel does not ring well in the ears of coddled Americans who have been fed a steady diet of self-esteem philosophy. God wants to see Israel succeed as a nation not for their good feelings exclusively, but for His great glory. He will reward them for faithfulness to the covenant (first part of Leviticus 26) and punish them for breaking His laws (the last part of the chapter). And when and if they repent from failure, He will restore blessings because HE MADE A COVENANT with their forefathers. That is the part the stings to those of us steeped in feel-good self-esteem thinking. Basically God is saying, “Thanks for turning to me. I’ll reward you because your grandparents made a covenant with me.”

The success that Israel enjoyed clearly was held by God. They would be expected to follow the Law and keep God’s commands. But they were only getting blessing from God, not from their obedience alone. It was not formulaic. It was spiritual. It all depended upon God, which is why He got the glory. And they were to realize that they would be content in being a people who lived for His glory.

So God is not really into handing out trophies for our performance. The same is true for me. All I am is a result of the redeeming work of Christ. I get no credit. God gets the glory. My purpose is to bring glory to Him!

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Responsibility for the poor.

street dude

If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.

Leviticus 25:35-36

God did not want Israel to be a nation of abusers. They needed to remember their own history. They were at one point in time poor dispossessed slaves in Egypt. They came from something and were given everything by the gracious hand of God. They were reminded to never turn a blind eye to poverty as a result.

The responsibilities as described in these two verses are clear. First, they were to see the poor as family. Now, it could be that this only applied to extended family members, but I think “brother” here is meant to describe Jewish identity. They could not ignore the plight of a fellow Jew. This poor man was family. Secondly, they were to offer hospitality to the poor and not allow them to become totally homeless. That is what the phrase “support him as though he were a stranger and sojourner” means. It is Middle Eastern culture. It was unthinkable to turn a traveler away. The same was to be true of the poor. Of course, without that knowledge, we might be tempted to be OK with ignoring the needy, since American culture believes more strongly in stranger danger than in opportunity to care for them (and for good reason).

Thirdly, the hospitality was meant to be a personal investment. Relatives were to open their homes to the poor. If there was no family left, the responsibility fell to neighbors to take in the poor and support them. Fourthly, nobody was to profit from someone else’s poverty. There was to be no outlandish rent charged to them. There was to be no taking of interest in a load or exorbitant profit in a transaction. All financial concerns with the poor were meant to get them back on their feet.

The final observation here is that all this was done out of fear of God. There was a spiritual dimension to caring for the needs of the poor. It was not done to get attention to good works. It was not done because the eradication of poverty was the responsibility of government. It was done out of love and respect for God and His law. God made it clear that He expected obedience in this area as a marker of the sincerity of relationship with Him. He went to great lengths to instruct His people to care for the poorest among them out of relationship with Him.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sometimes obedience is deadly serious.

So Moses spoke to the people of Israel, and they brought out of the camp the one who had cursed and stoned him with stones. Thus the people of Israel did as the LORD commanded Moses.

Leviticus 24:23

nocursing This is the first recorded instance of punishment for a capital offense in Israel recorded in Leviticus. The crime? Blaspheming the holy name of God. It was a crime of passion. Two men were fighting (evidently arguing) in the camp, and one of them cursed the name of God in the altercation. This probably happens like 18 times a minute in America. But Israel was a theocracy in a different relational economy with God. This was a crime punishable by death under the Law.

Moses brought the offender into custody and brought the matter before God before any action was taken. God responded with revelation (most of this chapter) detailing the reality of the offense and what constituted a capital crime. He also clearly elaborated on the punishments to insure that Israel did not become partial in the administration of this sentence.

And the pattern in Leviticus continues. As God reveals more of the Law, Israel responds in a step of obedience. This obedience was deadly serious. The people stoned the offender. And the result was serious. A man died for his disrespect for a holy God. If this happened this way today, what would American conversation be like? I am not advocating that we do this, just wondering out loud what different people we would be if we were executed for casually and irreverently taking God’s name in vain. Kind of gives the OMG acronym a threatening feel doesn’t it? Personally, I find the pause when I think over this to be very spiritually healthy.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Your Feast Days

breakfast feast

These are the appointed feasts of the LORD, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them.

Leviticus 23:4

It is my error to assume

that dull religion is following You.

You bring joy and gladness to me

Celebration is more what You want from me.

 

Holy convocations are called

to celebrate the soul enthralled

with Who You are, what You do in me

Feast days rejoice in the grace You bring.

 

Forgive my glum view of ritual attention

and fill me with a joy that is wild with affection

I want to feast with You my Lord,celebrating at Your side

for at Your right hand are pleasure that leave me forever satisfied.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Two motivations for holiness.

"So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the LORD. And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the LORD who sanctifies you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD."

Leviticus 22:31-33

blocksGrace3

God appeals ultimately to His person as a grounds for Israel living holy lives as His unique people. The reason we should worship and obey God is because He is the LORD. Period. Holiness is grounded in the person of God. But there are two unique things that God had done for Israel that are given as reminders for observing the law out of relationship with God.

The first motivation is the very holiness of God. He should not be treated any other way because He is holy. We cannot “profane his holy name” and except that any subsequent “worship” we offer in pure ritual will mean anything to Him. He is holy, and He sanctifies us to His service and worship. He expects holy living in us as a result. A holy God cannot produce unholy worshippers. That is completely out of the question.

The second motivation is that which comes from God’s grace. God appeals to His gracious dealings with Israel. He did the sanctifying. He did the delivering during the Exodus. The reason that Passover was the big event in Jewish history was because God was gracious. And it is that event that is brought to their attention in this call to holiness. If I really understand that kind of grace that God gives me, I am moved to worship and obedience. Grace to an undeserving sinner brings joy and peace and motivation for all of life.

Lord,

Thank You for this reminder of Your holiness and grace. I need it now. Help me to keep it before me in the decisions of my day. Help me not to lose sight of how wonderful You are in Jesus. I recognize all that you have done for me in Your mercy, love, and grace.

Amen

Friday, December 4, 2009

a holy priesthood

aaron You shall sanctify him, for he offers the bread of your God. He shall be holy to you, for I, the LORD, who sanctify you, am holy.

Leviticus 21:8

Aaron, his sons, and the generations of Levites that would serve the Lord in sacrificial service were uniquely called and set apart by God to God’s service. All of Leviticus 21 contains specific instruction for the life details of sanctification that were called upon by those in God’s service in this way. The list is long. The reason is stated in this one verse: “for I, the LORD, who sanctify you, am holy”.

I extrapolate a simple principle to think through this morning: God deserves to be served for Who He is. And because the defining characteristic of God is His holiness, and that is what He desires to achieve in us, it would follow that those who serve Him must concentrate on recognizing His holiness. They should be the first to be set apart to Him. They should be willing to be His completely. Holiness is not so much about haircuts or clothing styles as it is about the character of God coming through the person of the servant set apart to Him.

God sanctifies me (and really all Christians) to His service. He has set His seal upon us in the form of His Holy Spirit Who resides within us. He has equipped up with gifts and a calling to share the gospel with our lives. We are called a “peculiar” people, and in a sense we are all to live out the holy calling as Christ’s ambassadors. Could there be any more important task?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Relationship with God: motivation to holy living

two lanes

Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you.

Leviticus 20:7-8

Holiness is a two-way street. And this passage captures that truth well. God asked Israel to commit to relationship through Him through the covenant of the Law. They were to do so primarily through the motivation of worship. If they truly were God’s people and loved Him, they would do as He said for them to do. They would consecrate themselves and they would be holy because they would want to please God. That is a fine and wonderful reason to be sanctified.

We set-apart ourselves to God only if He first does something for us. A convicted man cannot find the graces of his judge be merit of his charms. Only the judicial decision can ever create anything better for him than his crimes deserve. And the same is true with us. We have sinned against a holy and just God. And only if He makes a move toward us can we move toward Him. That is exactly what the last phrase of this passage told Israel: “I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” They would be helpless in holiness if God had not decreed a righteousness for them out of the relationship with the Law that they would enjoy. They obeyed, but it was God Who made them holy.

Lest I forget this truth, God repeats this truth throughout the Old and New Testaments. The scriptures I could cite would be more than I could list right now. The New Testament makes it clear that I “work out” my salvation, making holy living a personal choice. But I can’t do that unless God first saves and sanctifies me. He makes me holy and clothes me in the very righteousness of His Son. So I am moved to holy living because Jesus is my Savior and I have a relationship with the Father through the Son. I am enabled for this task not because I am so good, but because God has sanctified me and given me truth for holy living in His Word. The Bible continuously shows me the choices that I must make that are pleasing to God. God makes me able to come to Him. But I must still choose to come to Him. God makes me able to live a righteous and godly life, but I must still make the right choices to live that life in Christ. I must allow Jesus to live in me if I am going to live a holy life.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How to love my neighbor.

love_thy_neighbor

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Leviticus 19:17-18

There are three insights into social relationships that I think are interesting to talk about from this passage. The first has to do with the words that are used to describe relationships with other people. The concepts of brother and neighbor are used interchangeably in this context. I think the idea is that my obligations to other people are closer than I think. Of course I may be tempted to deal more fairly with a family member than with a stranger, and the point is I must apply myself in relationship with both. I cannot hate my brother. I should not sin against my neighbor.

The second insight is that sins on the social scale affect my walk with God. If I am not right with other people due to wrongs I have done to others, I am not right with God. The warning against striking out against brother or neighbor points out that sin will result. And this is just after a LENGTHY section of Leviticus has detailed the multitude of sacrifices meant to deal with sin issues. The point is not missed. Any sin is a serious matter. God sees sins against people as sins against Him as well. As a counselor, I often have to help people deal with the effects of how the hurt they have put on others has hurt their relationship with God. They have also hurt themselves. This is true stuff.

The third insight is the role of love. It is what defines our relationships with others. Since I would not hate myself, I should not hate my neighbor. Since I love and serve God, I should love and care for my neighbor. And Jesus made it clear that any person is my neighbor when He told the tale of the Good Samaritan. Jesus was bold enough to say that love defined the true two great commandments. The first was to love God. The second was to love my neighbor as myself. So this is no light obligation or minor suggestion. It defines the heart of all my relationships.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Culture does not dictate morality.

right-way-wrong-way1 You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.

Leviticus 18:3-5

This is the prologue to what has to be the most personally impacting part of the book of Leviticus. This entire chapter covers the subject of sexual holiness. Much of what passes as common sinful practice in human society is detailed here. The painfully sinful and abhorrent practices are prohibited including incest, multiple partnerships, polygamy, adultery, idol worship that included sexual activity (Molech worship included infanticide for sexual or fertility favors from the god), homosexuality, and bestiality.

The list is dark. The sad thing is that these issues still pervade human culture. Ask any pastor or counselor and we can tell you that even among Christians, the damage is often done in these sexual activities that destroy and hurt people deeply. God can forgive and grace can transform, but these are real issues. The key is to not let the culture dictate morality. In this little prologue, God reminds Israel of the spiritual impact of obedience to Him. They would be tempted to look to their past experience in Egypt to set the moral and sexual standard. That would be a wrong  choice. They would also be tempted to let their future home in Canaan dictate their moral choices. That would be equally wrong. Culture does not set my moral compass. God does. And I find that most fully in the revelation of His statutes. By the Word of God, I can know what is right to do sexually (monogamous marriage for life… sex only in marriage) and I will truly live by their instruction. These days with epidemic sexual disease that may literally be true.

Current culture is becoming more and more desensitized to the very issues raised in Leviticus 18. Every sexual deviancy is now the fodder of comedy routines and sitcom snickers. Our culture has marched relentlessly downward in rejection of God’s Word and God’s will for moral standards. Porn is everywhere, even the punchline of primetime TV. The result is that sexual deviancy is now considered some kind of human right, as long as consenting adults are doing the deviancy, and sometimes even if they just can’t help it.

This chapter ends with a warning (Leviticus 18:30) and a strong admonition to keep the charge that God gives to not practice the sexual activities prohibited here. I find that principle timeless. Sexual purity strengthens our character, our commitments, our relationships, and most importantly, our relationship with God.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

The cost of sin.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

Leviticus 17:11

tabernacle from above

Someone or something had to die when sin entered the world. Human beings lost a lot in that transgression. God made it clear to the Israelites that they needed to remember the cost of sin with the regular sacrifice at the altar. And this also affected certain dietary restrictions. To remember the cost of sin meant not eating the blood of any animal ever. It meant practicing a form of slaughter that drained as much blood from the animal as possible. All this was meant to show a regular appreciation for the atonement that took place at the altar. A calloused view of blood meant a disregard for relationship with God.

This prohibition was important enough that it was the one thing about the Old Testament Law that the early church felt compelled to remind Gentiles. All people should respect that blood is offered in atonement of sin (Acts 15:20). That regular reminder in the Jewish diet was really a form of regular worship. It acknowledged that sinners needed a sacrifice.

I see the wisdom in that reminder, and it is one reason why the New Testament church should at least regularly observe the Lord’s Table. It is in the symbols of the bread and the wine that we remember the cost of our sin, the sacrifice of our Savior, and the blood that was shed for the remission of sin. My sin is a costly mess. It literally cost God the ultimate sacrifice. Regularly remembering that is healthy for my soul.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Atonement Day

“And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins." And Moses did as the LORD commanded him.

Leviticus 16:34

goat head The regulations for the Day of Atonement were strict and demanding. You can quickly see that the priests worked hard, and the high priest was tasked with huge responsibility to make sure that God’s requirements for this vital yearly sacrifice were kept fully. At issue was the spiritual health and forgiveness of the entire nation. Obedience to this was crucial for God’s blessing and for spiritual progress to develop. God could continue His relationship with the struggling nation if they would offer the sacrifices for atonement of all their sins for that year.

But the levitical system was limited. A sacrifice for this event was made every year. In addition to that untold sacrifices for sin and guilt offerings were made day after day throughout the year. The altar was a bloody place that was constantly busy with the work of repentance, confession, sacrifice, and commitment.

This one day of the year all that halted for one special set of sacrifices that was meant to atone for all the sins of all the people. It was a day to celebrate fellowship with God through His willingness to forgive. As such, it became the high point of the Jewish Year, the start of a new year for the nation with God. Our atonement gives us a fresh start as well, only the affect is for a lifetime and not just the next twelve months. For that I am truly thankful.

Lord Jesus,

I thank You for being the final, complete, last sacrifice for sin. I can do nothing or offer nothing beyond what You have done. I trust in Your forgiveness and I experience it. Of all the things that I have right now for which to be thankful, this is the most significant.

Amen

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

ewwwww!

"Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst."

Leviticus 15:31

hands over eyes This is not a chapter that I think will ever find its way into a Sunday morning scripture reading. It is not good sermon fodder either. The content of the chapter is more fitting for a health class than anything else. It has to do with bodily discharges for both men and women. That was already too much information. But this chapter goes into detail.

There are details about the types of discharge that lead to making one ceremonially impure and details about the types of offerings made for cleansing the condition. Why did God care about this? Because He wanted His people to take seriously their relationship with Him at all levels. Nothing was trivial when it came to approaching Him in worship. Hence these regulations were meant to pull their thoughts toward God.

The point was that worshiping God was a holy business. And these bodily regulations kept the focus squarely on God and the worship of Him in reverent holiness. This kept them from defiling the place where His presence would dwell among them. If I remove my tendency to see the “gross-out” factor in this chapter, and view the requirement as a call to holy thinking, I see the point. God is to be reverently worshiped. That is the point of this unusual chapter.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Twice cleaned

washed hands And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.

Leviticus 14:20

The Law provided detailed help for the priests in determining the impact of the spread of a wide range of infectious conditions. There were a variety of skin diseases thrown into the leprosy category. There were also mold conditions within a dwelling that would render it unlivable and unclean. The priests were trained in the proper diagnosis of these conditions. And they did not offer any healing. They did offer a response if God should chose to heal the individual.

In the case of the leper, he was supposed to show himself to the priest who would then begin the process of determining if the leprosy had indeed stopped its progress. Jesus referred lepers that He had completely healed to this procedure. It restored a condition of ceremonial cleanness to the leper so that participation in the life of worship and the society of God’s people could continue. Jesus advocated this practice when He completely healed lepers (Matthew 8:4). It was the way in which the society knew beyond any doubt that God had worked.

So a leper was twice cleaned when God healed him. He was cleansed of the ravages of a disease, and He was purified for worship of the Lord. This required God’s work, his cooperation, and the work of the priest. But in the end, his physical and his spiritual life were no longer those of a misfit or outcast. The physical disease was symbolic of a greater spiritual problem. Both of those issues were met by the Law. And the result was that the holiness of God was magnified. No physician could take credit for the healing when ultimately the priest would determine the man’s readiness to be united to God through the worship at His altar. God got the glory through the physical healing and the spiritual restoration. Sadly, until Jesus, we do not see many Old Testament accounts of this happening. There is the story of Moses’ sister Miriam being struck with leprosy and eventually being healed (Numbers 12:15). There is the story of Naaman (2 Kings 5). It took Jesus to truly make lepers whole.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Unclean

The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean.' He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.

Leviticus 13:45-46

begger

Outside the camp

I am unclean…

rotting corpse of dead sin

still clinging to me.

What I am

is in need of cleansing;

Who You are is the One Who dares to touch me.

I am unclean

and You are the Holy One;

if I am to be clean

then I have to accept Your healing touch…

for You will make me clean again.

And then… I can go home.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The poor can’t be kept from God.

2Pigeons

And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.

Leviticus 12:8

The provisions in this short chapter of Leviticus have to do with the restoring of a woman to the covenant community after the birth of a child. Much of the ritual purity practice had to do with blood, and since blood was shed in the birth of a child, a period of ceremonial uncleanness resulted from that birth. The woman needed to fulfill the law in that regard. Then, after the “days of her purification” were complete, she could go to the priest and offer a sacrifice that was meant to restore her to full community with God and His people.

The poorest of the poor might have trouble offering a lamb (which was the required offering). God freely allows that this is a hard sacrifice for the poor and allows them to substitute two turtledoves or pigeons instead. This is exactly the situation that the parents of Jesus found themselves in (Luke 2:22-24). Jesus entered the poorest of Judean homes. When the time came for Jesus to be presented at the temple, his humble parents brought the sacrifice of the poorest of the poor.

It moves me when I consider that when God gave this command to Moses so long ago, He knew that He would send His own Son into a home that would be directed by its provisions for the poor. God could have come into a more well-to-do Jewish home. He could have been born into better circumstances. But he came to nearly the lowest economic position. Simple peasants welcomed the King of Kings into this world.

God provides for the needs of the poor. The law is full of provisions out of concern that Israel not create a society that trampled those in poverty. But God also made those provisions such that the poor had something to offer to Him. He expected them to sacrifice. He made provisions in the agricultural dictates that allowed the poor to work and glean grain. He provided a means for the poor to find dignity, respect, work, and respect as human beings, even in their poverty. There were no handouts, just the offer of understanding, hard work, and the means to have basic needs provided for by caring neighbors.

In worship, the poor were invited to join in the celebration. They were given the chance to offer what they could, to praise the God of the covenant, and to equally participate in its observance. They were brought into worship because God wanted them there just as much as anyone else. He desires that all men worship Him, great and small, rich and poor, because His glory is worth celebrating.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

the standard for holiness.

For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

Leviticus 11:45

animal_phylum_chart As a gentile, most of what I read in Leviticus 11 reads strangely to me. All the laws about what is clean or unclean to eat must have been overwhelming at first when Moses began explaining them to the people of Israel. The detail is excruciating. But the standard is not arbitrary. It ain’t all about about types of fish or tasty animals! The reason that Israel was asked to follow dietary laws was rooted in the character and holiness of God. By doing so, they were worshiping God. They were committing to being uniquely holy because God is uniquely holy.

When God is the standard for holiness, anything He asks of us to be like Him is not arbitrary. It finds a clear focus in Him. The goal of the dietary law was not health or nutrition. It was relationship with God. Everything in the law was meant to draw the people into a deeper relationship with Yahweh. The call is to “be holy, for I am holy”.

The New Testament picks up on the standard behind the levitical code. It calls Christians to that same clear standard. So the principle behind the law compels me to build my relationship with the Lord in a proper way. There are clear appeals to the wording in this verse in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:7). If God is the standard, than what He calls us to do is important. The New Testament makes it clear that the call to holiness is not external obedience only, but internal change. Peter calls us to follow new passions, and Paul explains that holiness shows itself in the avoidance of immorality. But the internal and the external components of the call to live to God’s standard of holiness are important to understand. They constitute a compelling and challenging call.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Dramatic Judgment

nadab&abihu

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.

Leviticus 10:1-2

This could not be any more dramatic. This episode occurs right after God has accepted the consecrated work of Aaron and his sons as priests.This incident was a painful variation from normal pattern of obedience that had been Israel’s story up to this point. At the end of chapter nine fire comes out from God to consume the sacrifice (showing His approval). The very next set of verses in chapter ten show fire coming out from God to consume the priests! I think God was not happy!

Why? What had Nadab and Abihu done that warranted such extreme and immediate judgment? There are three possible explanations for their actions which are simply called “unauthorized”. They were offering incense before the Lord. They may have used coals that were not from the prescribed source. They may have offered the incense at the wrong time of day. It is clear that this was not unintentional, but a deliberate violation, which has led some scholars to suggest that the command in Leviticus 10:9 that the priests avoid wine or strong drink points to the fact that they came before the Lord in a drunken state, making a mockery of their priestly duties. Again, all three show a deliberate disregard for the holiness of God, and dramatic judgment is the result.

God will be taken seriously. That is the point of the text. And if He is not, human beings who disregard Him will have to deal with the consequences. To obey Him brings blessing and awesome power at display among His people. To disobey Him brings judgment and awesome power is displayed then as well. Either way God gets glorified. He is glorified in both reward for obedience, and judgment for sin.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

a cycle of relationship

Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.

Leviticus 9:22-24

There is a cyclic pattern to the book of Leviticus that is seen in its completion in this passage. It looks something like this:

The cycle in Leviticus

First, God issues a series of commands. In this case, it was all the detailed description of sacrifices at the altar along with the consecration of the priests. Then there is an opportunity for accompanying obedience where Israel follows the commands. The text is detailed in both the command stage and the obedience stage to carefully show how Israel followed the Lord. This pattern actually began at the end of the book of Exodus with the tabernacle construction. Thirdly, God blesses the obedience of the nation. He makes Himself known in some great way. We see this at the end of Exodus as well, when God’s glory fills the tabernacle. Here, fire from the Lord consumes the sacrifices made by Aaron and his sons. The final piece of the cycle comes together with Israel worshiping God for who He is.

I believe the general principles still remain for us today in terms of relationship with God, We obey God’s commands as He clearly shows them in scripture. The teaching of the Word of God is vital to this process. When we obey, God blesses us, not necessarily in terms of physical prosperity, but with a clear demonstration of His person and His power (I have personally seen this at Mill Creek through the Greater Impact campaign… we have already seen tremendous work in hearts and lives with our steps of obedience as a church. It will only continue.) And the result is that God is worshiped. He is worshiped in understanding His commands, in obeying them, in His blessing to us, and as we offer praise back to Him. This is a beautiful thing.

What still remains to seen is exactly where God is going to take Mill Creek over the next three years. The details may be dynamic, but His sustaining hand and mighty power are going to be the constant experience. Do we need anything else? We will continue to sacrifice. He will continue to bless that obedience. And lives will be changed. Our worship becomes very real and very visible… just as it was for Israel.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Consecration

image And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him to consecrate him.

Leviticus 8:12

You choose to use me

a man who by nature is unholy

set apart now for Your glory

and certainly I am unworthy

 

But You choose to set apart

my life, my hands, my heart

so that I can do my part

to proclaim how great You are

 

Israel saw the oil drip down

from Aaron’s beard to the ground

and understood how profound

divine consecration turned a life around

 

No oil drips from my head

Your Spirit saturates my soul instead

and as I yield to what You have said

You seal and sanctify what You have led

 

Undeniably this is always a mystery

in a heavenly, daily, real life calling to be holy

set apart to live the gospel story

of redemption, salvation, and Your glory

 

Monday, November 9, 2009

The doctrine of the atonement is Most Holy.

bound lamb 3 This is the law of the guilt offering. It is most holy.

Leviticus 7:1

This is one of thirteen times in the book of Leviticus where the phrase “most holy” has described a practice for the priests and the nation. God wants to get the point across that certain attitudes must accompany the worship the nation offers to Him. When it came to the sacrificial system, the guilt offering was of highest priority. It was this offering that was meant to recognize and atone for guilt before a holy God.

Holiness is serious business. It is not something we should take lightly. It really is not a thing to joke about. We are dealing with the reason that death entered into the world. Humanity chose to sin, and with sin came death. That pretty much settles the question of “why” an awareness of the “most holy” nature of the guilt offering was needed. This was the most important need in any person’s life: to be made right before God.

It was this awareness of the extreme holiness of the guilt offering that became a point of comparison in the New Testament book of Hebrews. There the work of Jesus is contrasted with the work of the priests. And it is in chapter six of Hebrews that we are reminded of the ramifications and judgment of not taking the work of Jesus seriously. It is because what Jesus did is “most holy” that we cannot treat it with contempt (Hebrews 6:6). It is impossible to have contempt for the atonement on the cross and be a Christian. That is why we need to pray for the souls of those who would deny Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice or want to make the basis of our justification anything other than the cross of Christ. Even if they call themselves theologians. To declare what is “most holy” as evil, barbaric, or divine child abuse, is to have contempt for what is “most holy”.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Repentance and Restitution

AMCULT-JUSTICE GAVEL …if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt. And he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the LORD a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent for a guilt offering.

Leviticus 6:4-6

This passage deals with ways in which human beings have sinned against other human beings. It focuses on property and transactions. The passage explains that the following kinds of things are serious sins among people: deceiving for financial gain, robbery, oppression of the poor or needy, claiming a valuable lost item for yourself without due process, or in any other way hurting someone and gaining personally from it.

The principles for dealing with these issues involved first of all a willingness to repent of the wrong done, secondly, a readiness to make restitution (20% was the suggested interest value to add to the restoration), and finally offering a significant guilt offering before the Lord to make atonement for the sin. This recognized the personal, societal, and spiritual impact of these crimes and dealt with them accordingly.

When we sin against others there are impacts. We are weakened as people. The sinner is made worse by his sin, which is why repentance is a good start and restitution a good act. It makes an effort at confronting fallen natures and stirring them toward something good. The hurt that is done to the other person can never fully be taken away. We cannot eliminate it. But a fair and uniform system of compensation (120% value is a great start for tort reform!) can go a long way toward society being impacted by restoration and restitution to the victim. Of course, the biggest need is spiritual. The reason the pain or the oppression or the loss occurred in the first place was because a sinner acted on sinful impulses and sinned like sinners do. To find forgiveness with God as well as restitution with society helps set the person on a new ground of forgiveness. He cannot make restitution to God, only to man. But God can grant forgiveness, and that grace changes hearts.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Responsibility: the down side

If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the LORD's commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity.

Leviticus 5:17

going down Perhaps one of the reasons the book of Leviticus suffers from a lack of reading is that it constantly reminds us of the down side of being human. It shows us the tremendous drag on holiness that sin can be. We see just how much we are unable to live as God intended for us to live. Verses such as this one tend to bring us down. Any sin, even one that is initially unintentional leaves us bearing guilt before God and responsible before Him for our sin that separates us from Him.

But there is an up side to this down side. It is the realistic understanding that as sinners we are in NEED of God to do something for and with us. We have to deal with sin in our hearts with practical understanding. Sin drives us to an awareness of the greatness of God and when He offers forgiveness, we marvel at the wideness and depth of His mercy and sustaining grace.

We live in sin and with the consequences of sin every day. We cannot get away from it. It is the water in which we swim. It is the air which fills our lungs. Sin is environmental. But God is bigger. In Leviticus there were always clear instructions for the sacrifice. God always had a way to deal with the down side. So for every moment where we are sinned against, we see He grace. For every moment where we blow it, there is an offer for mercy and forgiveness. For every disobedience, God is ready to receive our repentance and obedience. There is responsibility before Him. We are responsible for accepting our offense. We are responsible for coming to Him. And God brings grace.

In this way, even in the worst of our human experiences and actions, God is glorified. We find our life changed for the better. We find forgiveness. It is all what He has totally provided. We just accepted and followed. God gets the glory in His grace. Amen!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

forgiven

priests at the altar

And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven.
Leviticus 4:35b

You cannot escape the fact that holiness is a major theme of the book of Leviticus. The entire sacrificial system was set up by God to create a means of fellowship and a way for sin to be dealt with in Israel. God is holy. We are not. Something has to happen to provide a means to relationship with Him. Chapters 4 and the first half of chapter 5 describe the details for what is called the “sin offering”. The conditions for this sacrifice had to do with the nature of the sin. It was “unintentional” – a natural outworking of human fallen depravity. Sometimes we just sin because we are sinners. It is what we do. We are naturally skilled at it. But that sin puts us at odds with a holy God.

The second condition for offering the sin offering was that the individual becomes aware of his or her guilt in the unintentional sin. Either the offended party makes them aware, or they eventually see the disastrous results of personal depravity for what they are. The guilt checks them from really moving forward with God. They need forgiveness.

Another interesting observation was that societal status changed the requirements for this sin offering. At the top of the list was the unintentional sin of a high priest. There the sacrificial animal was an expensive bull. But there were different requirements for the nation as a whole, or for individuals who had sinned unintentionally. Lesser expenses were involved by the type of livestock offered. There were also different requirements based on the type of unintentional sin. The point was that God was not harsh and unrelenting, but understanding in the way He dealt with people who by nature sin so much they don’t always know they did it. God’s grace covers the “oops” factor.

For me, as I read this, the important thing that keeps coming out in every detailed episode of the type of sin and accompanying sacrifice was that GOD FORGAVE THE REPENTANT HEART. These simple five words are profound: “…and he shall be forgiven”. God will completely forgive. He offers a way back. He reaches out to the one who will return. He knows we are dust. He forgives. He provides a way for relationship with us despite our very natures. That is love that abounds to sinners. And that love is here in the harsh little book of Leviticus. Even as the blood of the sacrificed animal drips from the altar in each episode, the love of God forgives the sinner. How much more do I know this in Christ, Who gave Himself for me so that I might be a forgiven sinner as well? The phrase “…and he shall be forgiven” applies to my heart as well. It is the promise that truly brings me peace, perspective, and joy. It comforts and strengthens my heart… daily.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Communion with God is messy.

And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering and kill it at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and Aaron's sons the priests shall throw the blood against the sides of the altar.

Leviticus 3:2

sacrifical lamb Chapter three of Leviticus is all about the peace offering. The ESV Study Bible gives a great summary of what this peace offering was all about: “This offering achieves and expresses peace or fellowship between an offerer and the Lord. The ritual as a whole symbolizes a communion meal that is held between the offerer, the officiating priest, and the Lord. In OT times such meals were a means of affirming a covenant relationship (Gen. 26:28–30). Generally speaking, then, this offering was a time to remember and reaffirm the covenant relationship between the Lord and Israel (cf. 1 Cor. 10:16–18; 11:23–26). As with the burnt offering, there are various specific motives for offering a peace offering, ranging from petition to praise. In this chapter, though, the entire emphasis is on the procedure for the offering, with a special focus on the burning of the fat.”

The peace offering was one in which the person giving the animal in sacrifice was allowed to eat of the sacrifice. There were prohibitions (Leviticus 3:14-16) and God was given the best part since “the fat” does not mean just fat, but also the meat around it, which any gourmet is going to know is the most succulent portion. But this offering symbolized a shared communion with God by the worshipper. As such it was a unique offering.

But even this fellowship had reminders of sacrifice. The priest would lay his hand on the head of the offering before killing it. And the blood of this animal was sprinkled against the sides of the altar. Even in fellowship, there is a reminder of our need for atonement. Blood is shed on the altar. Just yesterday, in observance of the Lord’s Table, I spent time with my church family celebrating communion. And looking into the cup, I was reminded of my Savior’s sacrifice that brought me peace and fellowship with God.

Peace with God must come with sacrifice. Sinners are loved by God, but atonement and forgiveness come with a certain messiness. In the Old Testament, the slaughterhouse of the levitical worship system reminded Israel of their redemption for fellowship with God. At certain seasons, the channel of blood running out of the temple was flowing with this sacrificial stream like a small crimson river. And the dying Lamb of God is always recognized by believers today when the common cup and loaf are shared.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

unleavened

roasted grain No grain offering that you bring to the LORD shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey as a food offering to the LORD.

Leviticus 2:11

Most commentators take a mild stand on this prohibition for the grain offering. The reason: the text does not really say why. But I think that there is precedence based on symbol. The first has to do with history, the second with a generality.

Starting with Israel’s history, we know that the generation that first received the revelation of the levitical system was the same generamatzahtion of the Exodus from Egypt. The whole vivid reminder of the sacrificed lamb with blood on the doorposts… eating unleavened bread in haste…all of that was fresh in their minds. So offering a grain offering without leaven was consistent with thanking God for His deliverance.

Generally, leaven is also symbolic of the corruptive influence of sin. Jesus used the metaphor this way (Matthew 16:6-12), as did Paul (1 Corinthians 5:6-8, Galatians 5:9). It would make sense that God would set up these sacrifices in this way and that the people would see this prohibition as instructive.

So in the picture of the grain offering is a prohibition that reminds us that even the smallest of sins are destructive to our relationship with God. We should take holy living and obedience to God seriously.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Without blemish.

altar_of_burnt_offering If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD.

Leviticus 1:3

I will spend the next five weeks or so working through Leviticus. I have to admit that it is the most difficult part of the Bible for me to study through. But it is worth the effort, because the holiness of God is one of the very clear themes. And even though the responsibilities of the Levitical system are no longer a requirement since Christ’s final atonement, they are instructive on the nature of God, and the nature of our commitment to Him.

There were a wide variety of offerings that were part of the worship of God by Israel, and it is important not to confuse them when reading this book. The ESV Study Bible has this excellent chart to keep them in perspective (click on the table for a larger version).

5 major offerings

The main requirement for the burnt offering was that it be a male from the flock “without blemish”. God was not going to take the second best, or something that no one else would have been satisfied with as a gift. God wanted the best. And He is owed that in our worship. So many times I am tempted to give Him my leftovers and blemishes today. One reason that I feel compelled to cultivate the habit of getting into His Word within the first hour of my rising in the morning is that for me, that is the most unblemished part of my day. I am at my most alert (most mornings), most optimistic, and most receptive. It is also the quietest part of my day because I have made the effort to wake up a good hour before the rest of my family. And the dark early morning has become the time that I offer in worship to God. I do not regret it.

Lord, Here I am at this unblemished time. Please show me the importance of offering to You the best that I have. In the thick of my busy, insane schedule and demanding ministry I am often tempted to just find the leftovers for You. I know that is not what is best for us. Train me to be holy in my time and in my commitment. I want Your to get the best, the all, the offering of this life. Amen.

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