Listening to Leviticus

April 12, 2018

leviticus

The Old Testament book of Leviticus can initially come off as a stale book of codes and regulations for a people and a time long removed from us. Because of its details and some repetition it can be a tedious book to read. But there is far more to the third book of the Bible than this!

Leviticus is an important part of The Story! It is set right after the Exodus and its purpose is to instruct Israel on how to be holy. Consider the events leading up to Leviticus. God had dramatically delivered his people from bondage. He had established a covenant with them—He as their God and they as his people. It was a watershed moment for the Hebrew people! Yet, they immediately violated that covenant. From the start it did not go well. There was a disconnect that had to be corrected. God is holy—so must his people be—set apart and uniquely his in heart, in worship and in behavior. So Leviticus offers God’s instructions on holiness in order to lift up Israel as his holy nation.

Outside of the Tent

The Leviticus narrative begins with God calling Moses “from” the “tent of meeting” (Leviticus 1:1). This “tent of meeting” was the pre-tabernacle place where God dwelt among his people. It was pitched outside the community to symbolize how God could not dwell among them due to Israel’s rebellion and breaking of the covenant (Exodus 33:7,9). At this point Moses was not even allowed in the tent—also signifying the unclean nature of Israel. They were all outside the tent in need of instruction and guidance on how to be a people who could approach the holiness of God. The book of Leviticus provides just this guidance.

How to be Holy

Leviticus offers three avenues of instruction to Israel on how to become God’s own people—holy and set apart for his purposes.

  • The first centers on certain rituals—sacrifices and celebrations designed both to honor God and remind his people of his grace and salvation. The first six chapters of the book detail several types of sacrifices, which both thank God for his blessings while also acknowledging sin and guilt before him. Later in chapter 16 the “Day of Atonement” is detailed—for the purpose of sin offering, but also again to remind Israel of God’s faithfulness and holiness. Then in chapter 23 God establishes several special days and celebrations to be kept and honored within Israel—all for the purpose of reminding them of his mercy and grace along with their place before him and within The Story. All of these events would continually place God at the center of daily life within the Hebrew community. These rituals were designed to lead his people to a higher appreciation and understanding of God’s place among them and their responsibilities to him. This was God giving them his calendar—how to order their life around him. There remains a great need for this now and listening to Leviticus demonstrates that.
  • The second is about those especially chosen to administer God’s gifts among his people—those called to be priests. In two sections (8-10 & 21-22) Leviticus highlights the purpose, place and character of those who would serve as intercessors between God and man. The overriding factor within this information is God’s call for his priests to maintain the highest moral character possible—demonstrated not just by the detailed instructions, but also by the failure of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. The dramatic end to their story served to illustrate how God would not tolerate his special servants compromising their call. This sent an unequivocal message to Israel that God’s call to be holy was not to be taken lightly by anyone, especially priests. His priests were to be the conduits through which his people could learn, grow and approach him. All of the rules associated with them may seem to us like overkill, but in order for Israel to reflect the holiness of God and truly be his people, the priests were a key component to making this happen. God only wanted the best from them—to honor their call among his people. Not by accident he asks the same of us—his priests—today (see 1 Peter 2:9).
  • The third avenue to holiness in Leviticus is the general call for all Israel to be pure. Within this is a call to be ceremonially clean, that is, free from elements that would contaminate and therefore create separation from God (such as contact with bodily fluids, skin disease, mold and mildew, skeletal bones, and eating certain foods—see 11-15). All of these prohibitions were not given arbitrarily. They protected Israel against disease and health concerns along with keeping them ceremonially clean before God. Any Hebrew contaminated could not come into the presence of God, so provisions were made for cleansing. It was another way for God to remind Israel of who he was and who they were called to be—not to mention his way of protecting them from devastating disease. Also within this overall call of purity was the challenge to be morally and sexually clean (see 18-20). No way Israel could be who God called them to be through immoral conduct. So detailed instructions were offered to guide them. Once again these instructions not only protect them spiritually but physically as well. It would still do us well to continue to listen to Leviticus in this regard.

Other instructions are given with the book—concerning taking care of the poor; social justice; and honoring God in all relationships—that would be key to Israel representing the holiness of their God within their community of nations. It all connected back to the holy nature of God and how he desired his people to honor, be led by, and embrace this holiness in their daily lives. It was to be their identity as they lived and settled among the nations. It would be the way they would bless the other nations and direct them to their God—the one true God. The reason for Leviticus was to make this clear and show them the way to accomplish it.

It Worked!

The book that follows Leviticus in the Bible is Numbers. In Numbers 1:1 this is what we read: “The Lord spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting…” From outside of the tent to inside of it! Moses made the transition (as did all Israel). How did that happen? By listening to Leviticus.

Advertisements

A Marriage Theology

March 15, 2018

marriage-prep

In his first correspondence with the “church of God” at Corinth, the apostle Paul dives waist deep into the Corinthians marriage troubles. These were not typical marriage troubles—more like extreme marriage troubles, as in an extreme misunderstanding of what constituted holiness within a marriage.

Two overriding circumstances drive Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7—both are vital to understanding this text:

  • Apparently the Corinthians somehow had come to a conclusion that all sexual activity was immoral—even within marriage—that abstaining from sex even when married was the best choice to avoid defiling God’s temple, the body. This is what Paul first responds to (7:1—not to “touch” means not to engage in sex with), which provides the framework for the rest of the chapter.
  • “The present crisis.” It is crucial to realize that Paul’s answer to their marriage questions were framed by some type of urgent crisis—specific to that situation. The crisis is not identified for us. Some have speculated it could have been famine, persecution or some other challenging circumstance. Whatever it was, Paul makes clear it would be easier faced alone if at all possible. Perhaps if this crisis had not existed at that moment, his answers might have been different. There is no way for us to know, but this does have significance to unpacking this section of Scripture.

Moving into the text, it is vital to know how these two points inform and frame every bit of marriage theology Paul shares.

Enjoy the Marriage Bed (1-9)

Immediately Paul counters the idea that sex even within marriage is unholy. The extreme idea of the Corinthians that sex was somehow too dirty even for husband and wife was incorrect. Rather—couples have a responsibility to one another in this regard. They belong to each other in this way, so enjoy—do not withhold sex from one another. What they were promoting was not holiness—it was dangerous. Satan could seize it and create real trouble.

Understanding the nature of the flesh and of Satan, this was Paul’s best advice. He did not command it so, but conceded it. In his opinion the best practice was celibacy, but he knew not everyone shared that gift with him. (At this writing Paul was single, but he might not always have been so—Acts 6:10; Philippians 3:4-6.) To those who did not share this gift—the “unmarried and the widows” Paul advised them to marry rather than “burn with passion.” The overall point of this section—enjoying sexual relationships within marriage is a natural part of that relationship. While singleness may be preferable considering the current crisis, marriage is preferable to singleness if temptation and lust are the alternatives.

One note—the word rendered “unmarried” in verse 8 is only used by Paul in Scripture and only used here in this text—four times (verses 11, 32, & 34 also). He uses it to differentiate the unmarried from the widows (who obviously are unmarried). The meaning of the word for Paul would have likely included those who had been divorced. Our versions translate it using our broad term for all unmarried, but contextually Paul seems to use it in a different way, which would have included those divorced.

Christian Couples (10-11)

Out of the idea that abstaining from sex within a marriage might be a godly approach, some Christian couples apparently took it a step further to consider dissolving their marriages altogether. Paul speaks to this next. He references Christ’s teaching (Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12) to reinforce the marriage bond. Absolutely these couples should honor their marriage vows—no reason to consider divorce even under the current distress. Even if separation occurs—work it out or remain single. No drastic changes needed to occur considering the circumstances.

Mixed Marriages (12-16)

The next question Paul considers is the validity of marriages in which a Christian is joined to an unbeliever. Are these marriages sacred? Should a Christian remain in them? Paul answers in the affirmative—if at all possible—except in this situation he has no direct teaching from Christ to reference. Instead he offers his apostolic advice based upon the overall circumstance and what is best for the family. The presence of the Christian within this type of marriage brings a sanctifying aspect to the union—to the unbelieving spouse and to their children, if present. Like the leaven Christ mentioned—the believer could be God’s instrument to bring salvation to the rest of the family. So Paul instructs the believer to stay within that marriage. Of course the unbeliever may see things differently and abandon the marriage. If so, Paul advises the believer to accept that for the sake of peace. In this situation the believer is not bound to the departed unbeliever and would be free then to pursue remarriage.

Stay Where You Are (17-24)

After answering their specific questions Paul offers some general advice to all of the Corinthians. Again, considering the overall context of the crisis, he suggests the best course is for everyone to remain exactly as they were when called by Christ. If married—stay married. If single—remain that way. Don’t try to abandon your ethnicity—nothing to gain in doing so at this point. He even advises slaves to not seek their freedom unless an obvious opportunity arises. From Paul’s perspective this was the least complicated situation from which each person could most effectively serve God. He stated this was his rule for all the churches, but he also knew not everyone would be able to keep it. Already in the text he has make exceptions and he will continue to do so.

Never Married? (25-35)

Now Paul addresses the “virgins” or those never married. Once more he has no direct word from Jesus to consider, so he offers his own judgment based upon the “present crisis” and encourages those never married to stay that way if at all possible. He realizes not all can accept this and once more allows for marriage (while again instructing those married to remain so), but foresees potential trouble for such marriages. This could mean the coming of persecution; the effects of a famine—whatever the crisis was—Paul thought it to be impending and being single with no dependents would be the best way to face it. Being single under these circumstances would also be the best possible way to serve God with “undivided devotion”.

To Those Engaged (36-38)

Some in the Corinthian church were engaged. What about them? Paul leaves that decision up to those in that relationship. If for reasons of conscience, age, or self-control, the decision to marry is made, so be it—marry. But if the decision is made to not marry, that too, is permissible. Couples should feel no compulsion—in such stressful times—to honor their engagement. Both are good, but being consistent, Paul concludes being single is the better option.

Christian Widows (39-40)

He concludes his marriage Q&A in the same manner. Christian widows would be best served to remain single—she would be “happier” is his judgment. He acknowledges their freedom to remarry, instructs them if they do so to only marry another Christian, but fortifies his instruction to remain single by speaking as one who has “the Spirit of God.” This was Paul’s way of putting the divine, authoritative apostolic seal on his teaching in this text. In his ministry Christ did not address all of these specific situations, but Paul, inspired by the Spirit of God has the authority to do so—creating a marriage theology consistent with and flowing from that of Christ.

Now?

As we go about applying these teachings to our own current situations, it is imperative that we understand their context of impending crisis. The takeaways for us remain: It is less complicated to serve God as a single person. Not all have the gift of celibacy. Marriage is holy and honorable including the sexual component—commit to make it work in every way. However if abandoned or widowed—the marriage bond is broken. Remarriage is possible, but don’t rush and if desired–find a good Christian mate. The overall goal is to make sure God is served first whether married or single.

 


God Isn’t Fixing This?

December 3, 2015

I rarely venture into politics or any type of analysis on national events. It mostly is a no-win situation with wide opinions and endless, usually unproductive debate. I love my country and feel blessed by the freedoms and privileges we enjoy. But I love my God more and realize that his kingdom is about much more than the United States of America. The truth is—that regardless of what happens here or what we become—his kingdom endures forever.

Fortified by that, I try not to be an alarmist concerning the course and future of my country. Nevertheless, I do feel concern as I see us systematically removing values and concepts reflective of God from our society. There are real and lasting consequences to this.

I see them in the latest tragic shooting in San Bernardino and its aftermath. Specifically I am thinking of the headline in The New York Daily News that proclaimed:

God Isn’t Fixing This!

The writer of the article—to me—seems to be using the shooting to mock politicians asking for prayer while making an appeal for gun control. The point? Since God is not fixing it, we need to by taking away guns.

I will let the gun control part of the article be discussed elsewhere.

My thoughts are on the headline. It creates questions for me like, “Why do we even expect him to fix it?” Or, “Why are we calling upon him now, when we have pushed him to the margins in almost every other way?”

Having pushed God out of the public arena means that we have also pushed out his values. What would an emphasis on “love your neighbor as yourself;” or “do not murder;” or “for where you have envy and selfish ambition; there you will find disorder and every evil practice;” or “hatred stirs us strife, but love covers all offenses;” or “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you;” or “learn to do good; seek justice; correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause,” (I could go on and on—literally) do for our societal narrative and behavior? It was said long ago of another nation and people, but it remains ever true:

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people. 

Even if someone is skeptical about the whole notion of God, it would be difficult to deny the positive impact his precepts would have on a society who has forgotten how to treat each other with respect and dignity; who politicizes everything; who exalts and celebrates the vulgar while minimizing and ridiculing the civil; who reward the loudest and most belligerent while ignoring those with no voice; who create and foster an atmosphere of hate and then somehow is shocked when it explodes onto the innocent.

Perhaps God is trying to fix it, but we simply are not listening.

 

 

* Bible verses cited in order: Mark 12:31; Matthew 5:21-24; James 3:16; Proverbs 10:12; Matthew 5:44; Isaiah 1:17; Proverbs 14:34

 


Put Some Clothes on Already!

February 10, 2015

Yesterday I checked out one of my favorite news websites. I go there regularly to be informed about world events–unfortunately it is usually not very good news. Yesterday the bad news was accompanied by something even worse–a picture of the revealed backside of an aging pop star!  Her Grammy “outfit” (meant to shock, no doubt) was all about exposure. I don’t know if I was more aggravated by the picture or that the news site posted it.

News? Really?

Of course it is all about eyeballs on their site and clicks on their ads. Both the site and the pop star mutually benefitting from all of the “exposure.”

But when are we going to get enough of this? Celebrities spilling out of their scant clothing; publically exposing private parts; “leaking” sex tapes; etc.–all to generate a little buzz and keep themselves somehow relevant? That is all sad enough, but when it starts headlining news sites next to the latest bulletin about terror threats?

Enough. Put some clothes on already!

I have two young daughters. I really do not want them influenced by this kind of behavior. It is not to be celebrated. It is not cool. It is vulgar. It objectifies women. It is not freedom. Rather it is a symptom of slavery to sin.

I said it. It is sinful.

It is misguided. It takes the beauty of God’s creation and corrupts it.

It damages girls because they can grow up thinking this is acceptable and how they should dress if they want to be attractive. It damages boys because it trains them to view girls as little more than objects on display.

Is there a chance we can rediscover modesty?

Modesty by definition is about drawing undue attention to yourself. Certainly exposing flesh qualifies. In New Testament times it was more about extravagant dress–elaborate hairstyles and way too much bling. In that context we find this teaching:

What matters is not your outer appearance–the styling of your hair, the jewelry your wear, the cut of your clothes–but the inner disposition. Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. (1 Peter 3:3-4 MSG)

Maybe we will reach some kind of tipping point as a culture–where exposure becomes overexposure and enough will be enough. I don’t know.

In the meantime, let’s work to emphasize the value of what God delights in by demonstrating and teaching that gracious, gentle inner beauty to our young people.

Yep, I am getting older and this bothers me.

What is ironic is that the pop star with the missing material in her costume is exactly my age. She should know better.

Put some clothes on already!

 

 


Sex and Food

December 2, 2014

The little first generation church in the ancient city of Ephesus was (to borrow a current not-so-ancient phrase) a “hot mess.” Unhealthy leadership created the situation. They were promoting “controversies rather than God’s work” according to the Apostle Paul. He was well acquainted with this church and her leaders (see Acts 19-20) and sent his “son in the faith,” Timothy, there in an attempt to repair the damage brought on by those who “have wandered away” and “turned to meaningless talk.” We can read all about it in 1 & 2 Timothy.

Part of the mess these “certain men” created included unhealthy ideas about and manipulative use of two of our most human desires–sex and food. “They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods” is exactly how Paul stated it (1 Timothy 4:3). Their motive in doing this–as detailed in 1 Timothy–is likely not surprising. They sought power, control and… money (which brings power and control). What might be surprising is that they used unhealthy approaches to sex and food to gain it.

Or maybe not.

Upon further review there seems to be quite the pattern within just the New Testament alone of sex and food being used to create other messes in both the Jewish and Christian communities. Just run these (not exhaustive) references: Matthew 12:1-2; 19:3; Acts 6:1; Romans 14:2-3; 6; 1 Corinthians 5; 6:12-13; 18-20; 7:1-40; 8:1-13; 10:23-33; 11;17-33; Ephesians 5:31; Colossians 2:16;21-23; 2 Peter 2:13-14; 18 & Jude 4.

While each of these contexts certainly are different they do illustrate how sex and food have repeatedly been the targets of folks (as we say in the south) “up to no good.”

Sex and food. Both are powerful human desires. Both were created by God as healthy and good–blessings for us to enjoy. Yet both remain targets of corrupting influences that appeal “to the lustful desires of sinful human nature” (2 Peter 2:18) rather than to God’s wonderful design for these gifts. According to God:

  • Sex is to be fully enjoyed and explored within the context of marriage (Hebrews 13:4). It is how a man and woman become “one flesh” in the sight of the Lord (Matthew 19:4-6).
  • And food? All food is to be viewed as a gift from God. We are to accept it with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:25-26).

If you did run those earlier scripture references then you already know this was not the sex and food message many heard in those early churches. In somewhat of an oversimplification-both were either overly restricted or overly indulged. Neither approach helped anyone–except those “certain men” using them for their own agendas. They prospered in the messes they created, but the churches did not. (If you think Paul had nothing for them–check out what the Apostle Peter thought in 2 Peter 2. Wow.)

Sex and food? How is that going for us now? Anyone still out there trying to control and direct our attitudes and actions toward them? Do they continue to be used to further ungodly agendas? What kind of messy consequences continue as a result?  Anyone profiting from these consequences? And just what kind of reception does God’s message on these two get?

Sex and food. Most of us are not going without them and our desire for both can lead us to enjoy them in God’s healthy context or consume them in our own lusts.

I guess it all depends upon what sex and food message we are hearing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Anyone Tormented Lately?

August 28, 2013

But that good man Lot, driven nearly out of his mind by the sexual filth and perversity, was rescued. Surrounded by moral rot day after day after day, that righteous man was in constant torment (1 Peter 2:7-8 MSG).

Move over Lot, you should be having company.

Contextually, Peter was referring to Lot being in those notoriously wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. How wicked were they– say compared to the present time? I cannot say. A conjectured comparison is not what this post is about.

Recently though, that statement by Peter crossed my mind and prompted me to consider if anyone is feeling today what Lot felt then?  Has there been any torment going on in our souls about the moral rot that surrounds us?  This is what this post is about- morality or lack of it.

I realize this is not a popular discussion. It is loaded with all kinds of loaded opinions and passionate presuppositions. Post-modernism does not easily lend itself to any kind of moral conversation. it seems to break down too quickly into divisive rhetoric which then becomes counterproductive to any constructive dialogue.

But even with the challenges– shouldn’t we be having this conversation?

Do we really want Miley Cyrus (who is just the latest performer to “shock” us) and the pervasive entertainment industry to define the moral standards for our culture? (To a large extent- they are, BTW) We cannot run or be afraid to address what is playing out before us. If indeed the moral rot embedded in our culture bothers us– then shouldn’t we feel compelled to speak out?

But not with signs, picketing, angry shouts, hate-fueled language and slander. Go back a couple of paragraphs to the counterproductive point. I don’t think that has really gotten us anywhere. So what to do? Here are my thoughts:

  • “Be shrewd as snakes”- This quotation is from Matthew 10:16. Jesus gave this advice to his disciples before he sent them out on a mission to “the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus not only gave this advice, he lived it (as well as the equally important second part). Christ engaged people where they were without creating unnecessary barriers. He did not use hate-language or angrily confront the lost sheep. He sought opportunities to dialogue and present kingdom alternatives to prevailing morality (see John 4:1-42). He told penetrating stories that made people think and reconsider choices they had made.  Make no mistake– he spoke truth, but in love. Also make no mistake- our moral failures tormented him. That is why he became flesh and why that flesh was bruised and pierced.  This is how he became personally engaged in our conversation. We can learn volumes from him on how to become personally engaged in our current cultural conversations.
  • “And innocent as doves”- Hypocrisy undermines any credibility Christians have in a discussion of morality. Moral rot my torment our soul, but if we participate in it– we simply have no place in the conversation. There was no guile in Jesus. He had no hidden agenda or secret sin. He did not posture or manipulate. He was authentic, compassionate, and innocent. So must we if we are to have any voice in the overall cultural discussion.

It also has to do with those kingdom alternatives. We simply cannot just rail against and not offer something healthier. Authentically and joyfully living out Jesus is that healthy alternative. The Sermon on the Mount; heaven’s values revealed in the parables; the heart of Christ embedded in his people; these will go a long way to counter moral rot.

I guess it could be worse, though. What if this moral rot is not tormenting our soul? What if it doesn’t bother us at all?

 

 

 

 

 

 


Divided We Fall

August 22, 2013

Seems many of us these days have forgotten the “united” part of the United States.

I cannot ever remember a more divisive time than the one in which I now live.

Everything has been politicized– race; gender; sexual orientation; reproduction; health care; marriage; personal income; religion; education; gun ownership; retirement; even the weather.

A desire to work through issues with constructive dialogue and mutual respect has been replaced by angry accusations, pandering and partisan politics, irrational and irresponsible behavior and sometimes, violence.

It has become all about “getting mine” regardless of the long-term consequences.

It is increasingly dividing us as a nation– and divided we will fall.

More than ever then, it is to God and his kingdom to which I seek refuge.

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mt. Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.- Psalm 125:1-2