Daily Bible: Leviticus 7-8

Lev. 7:2, They are to slaughter the guilt offering in the place where they slaughter the burnt offering, and its blood is to be splashed against all sides of the altar. (CJB)

Leviticus is just plain bloody. The blood of the guilt offering plays a dual role here. It is to be splashed against all sides of the altar, just as our guilt splashes across every part of our lives. The blood serves as a messy reminder of the omni-presence of our guilt. But there is a redemptive word here that is just as universal in scope. For there is no area of life his blood cannot cover, no place where our guilt is beyond the reach of his cleansing. The blood is splashed on all sides of the altar as a forerunner of the one whose blood flows freely in every direction.

The blood is a reminder of the totality of our guilt and the totality of his redemption.

Lev. 7:19-20, Meat which touches something unclean is not to be eaten but burned up completely. As for the meat, everyone who is clean may eat it; but a person in a state of uncleanness who eats any meat from the sacrifice of peace offerings made to ADONAI will be cut off from his people. (CJB)

Repeatedly throughout this part of Leviticus, the punishment for uncleanness is announced: and he shall be cut off from his people. As beings created in and for community, this is the most severe punishment. An Israelite could know no greater shame than to be cut off from his people because of uncleanness. But there is an inversion to this as well: being cut off from one’s people can easily lead to uncleanness.

In the biblical story, it’s telling that the evil one approaches Eve to tempt her only when she is isolated. The same holds true of the temptation narratives in the Gospels. The tempter confronts Jesus in the wilderness, with no one else around. And we know this to be true in our lives as well. The evil one does his best work when he can cut us off from our own people.

Lev. 8:30, Moshe took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood which was on the altar and sprinkled it on Aharon and his clothing, and on his sons with him and their clothing, and consecrated Aharon and his clothing together with his sons and their clothing. (CJB)

The ordination ceremony for Aaron and his sons helps us appreciate the special role of Jesus as the mediator of our sins. At 8:10-13, Moses anoints Aaron and his sons with oil, consecrating them and setting them apart for ministry. This, of course, is paralleled in the life of Jesus, who was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism. Much like the priests of old, this anointing serves as a consecration, an act of being “set apart” for service to YHWH.

But Aaron and his sons were later anointed again at 8:30, this time with both oil and blood. This shadows what will take place on the cross, as Jesus receives a crown of thorns and a striped back, nails through his hands and a spear to his side. This anointing by blood affirms what the writer of Hebrews would later say about Jesus as our Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14).

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Daily Bible: Leviticus 5-6

Lev. 5:11, But if his means are insufficient even for two doves or two young pigeons, then he is to bring as his offering for the sin he committed two quarts of fine flour for a sin offering…(CJB)

By now it has become clear that YHWH is greatly interested in accessibility. The mitzvot makes provision for both rich and poor. For the wealthy, the burnt offering is required. For those who are less resourced, doves and pigeons will suffice. (Luke 2:24 indicates that Joseph and Mary were part of the poor class, as evidenced by the pauper’s sacrifice of turtledoves and pigeons.) But even this is beyond the means of some in the sacrificing community. And thus, a gracious provision: two quarts of fine flour.

YHWH is truly no respecter of persons. Provision is made for both rich and poor, universal provision revealing the universal nature of sin. It is truly endemic to us all.

Guilt builds up even through inadvertent, accidental sin. How many times does the child cry, “But I didn’t mean to?” when being scolded for misbehavior? Leviticus is a hard word about how quickly, even innocently, our guilt can accrue.

Lev. 5:21-24, “If someone sins and acts perversely against Adonai by dealing falsely with his neighbor in regard to a deposit or security entrusted to him, by stealing from him, by extorting him, or by dealing falsely in regard to a lost object he has found, or by swearing to a lie — if a person commits any of these sins, then, if he sinned and is guilty, he is to restore whatever it was he stole or obtained by extortion, or whatever was deposited with him, or the lost object which he found, or anything about which he has sworn falsely. He is to restore it in full plus an additional one-fifth…(CJB)

Reparations are an important part of reconciliation. I write this on MLK weekend in 2018 as racial tension in my country continue to escalate in alarming ways. We are repeatedly reminded that for all of the progress of the King and the Civil Rights Movement, fifty years later we continue to be a nation deeply divided along racial lines. And much of the rhetoric today is devoid of humility and understanding, replaced with a cacophony of tweets and counter-tweets and an avowed hostility to political correctness, as if gracious speech was the real threat.

Leviticus calls for an a generous commitment to reconciliation, a forerunner to the call for “ministers of reconciliation” in the New Testament (2 Cor. 5). Under Mosaic law, this required the restoration of that which was stolen or extorted, plus an additional 20%. And while I suspect my Christian friends will be quick to point out that this particular command is found in the Old Testament, can we not affirm the importance of this generous commitment to making things right as “the fulfillment of the law” (Gal. 5:14)? Against such things there is no law (Gal. 5:23).

Lev. 6:11, “Whatever touches those offerings will become holy.” (CJB)

Holiness is the intrinsic quality of God; He alone is sinless, perfect, transcendently other. But it is his prerogative to impart holiness, to imbue us with his immutable character. Our sin — no matter how great — cannot sully his reputation or mar his beauty. His holiness is the cleansing agent, eradicating our sin and making us new, whole, alive where we had only known decay. In this word about the offering yielding holiness, we find seeds of the Gospel, for in the self-sacrifice of Jesus, a path to holiness emerges for us.

Hebrews 10:10, And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

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Daily Bible: Leviticus 3-4

As I said in the last post, there is gracious provision supplied by God at the beginning of the “holiness code” we find in the book of Leviticus. A Christian reading of these texts is usually filtered through Paul (or, perhaps more precisely, a particular way of reading Paul) and often leads to easy reductions, such as, “The old covenant was all about law while the new covenant is about grace.” Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is that kind of statement wildly off base — it completely overlooks the tremendous grace God repeatedly extends to Israel, while also overlooking the harder teachings of Jesus relative to discipleship — it is actually theologically harmful. Perhaps I’ll write more about that sometime.

For now, it’s enough to note the merciful provision supplied by God. Again, as I noted in the post about chapters 1-2, you get the idea here that God can work with almost any sacrifice. A variety of different offerings are found throughout Leviticus and these offerings are “for” a variety of different purposes. But taken as a whole, they undoubtedly point to a gracious law-giver, one who provides detailed instructions for these offerings because he (1) takes sin very seriously but also (2) because he wants us to understand the lengths to which he is willing to go to remove the stain of sin.

To that end, a careful reading of Leviticus 3-4 leaves us with a great awareness of the power of blood. Our minds will rush to the old hymn, “There’s Power in the Blood” and rightly so — the sacrificial system prescribed in Leviticus ultimately points beyond itself to the atoning death of Christ, the Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). But Leviticus also affirms the blood’s power to restore community. Sin — failure to image God — not only impairs one’s relationship with God, but it also damages our relationships with one another. It has been well documented that the Ten Commandments are ordered along the lines of commands regarding right relationship with God (#1-4) and commands regarding right relationship with others (#5-10), in keeping with the great teaching of Jesus about love for God and love for others (Matt. 22). We should not forget that the command to love your neighbor as yourself was first found in Leviticus.

Sin is regarded as such a threat in the Scriptures because it disrupts the shalom of God’s creation. God decrees his creation to be “good” as everything dwells in right relationship. But sin mars this good creation, perverting it, warping it into a sub-standard world far removed from God’s original intention. By the end of Genesis 3, creation has been subjugated by humanity’s rebellion and the balance of the Scriptures delineate God’s mission to reconcile his creation back to himself.

The shalom of creation is restored through atonement, one of the primary themes of Leviticus. Thus shalom is restored between God and man in the redemptive work of Christ. Sin and its penalty have been removed by the blood of Jesus, which cleanses us of all sin (1 John 1:7). But the power of the blood extends to also restore shalom between you and me. Leviticus points to this with the provision of peace/fellowship offerings as well as offerings for sin. And Jesus reinforces this by calling us to be a forgiving, reconciling people (Matt. 6:14-15; 2 Cor. 5).

God is concerned about both the horizontal and vertical dimensions of our lives. This theme is found in Leviticus and repeated throughout the Scriptures. The commands help us live in right relationship, not only with God, but also with one another.

Posted in 2 Corinthians 5, God, Gospel, Jesus, Leviticus 19, Love God, Love Others, Scripture, Sermon on the Mount, Theology | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Daily Bible: Leviticus 1-2

I’ve decided to start this year by reading the book of Leviticus. For the past couple of years I’ve referred to Leviticus as “the daily Bible reading killer” and it’s mostly true: many a New Year’s resolution has been foiled by the tedious commands of Leviticus. I guess that’s what drew me to open up my Bible last night and begin in the very place where my own good intentions have so often run aground.

Leviticus has often been referred to as a holiness code, protocol for maintaining relationship with God. These commands (mitzvot, in Hebrew) are given to help Israel fulfill the call to image God in the world. But even more specifically, Leviticus is anti-assimilationist literature. It is a call for God’s people to be a contrast people, a display people, a wholly uncommon people pledged to YHWH in fidelity and obedience.

So I thought I’d blog my way through as I read Leviticus to start 2018. Here are some random thoughts on Leviticus 1-2:

Lev. 1:1, ADONAI called to Moshe and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. (CJB – The Complete Jewish Bible)

This truth belongs right up front: this is a word from the Lord. No matter how tedious or insignificant these commands might seem to us — and they surely seemed at least somewhat bizarre to ancient Israel, too, I’m guessing — they are rightly understood as emanating from God.

And this is worth remembering as we read. To my way of thinking, the specificity here is proof that these commands were divinely given. We wouldn’t care about all this business about burnt offerings and grain offerings and do this with the blood and do this with the guts and so on. But God seems to care greatly!

Lev. 1:4, He is to lay his hand upon the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. (CJB)

How odd, to find grace even here, in the sacrificial system that we frequently appropriate merely as a contrast to what we experience in the New Covenant! And yet, there it is, in plain sight. God graciously gives step-by-step instructions in order that his people might experience atonement — a male without defect to foreshadow the Son without sin. And as we read, God seems to make allowances for all kinds of sacrifices: bulls, goats, birds, grains, drinks. Maybe the point is that almost any sacrifice works for God. Just bring him what you have and he’ll make it work. This is grace.

Lev. 2:13, You are to season every grain offering of yours with salt – do not omit from your grain offering the salt of the covenant with your God, but offer salt with all your offerings. (CJB)

Why? What’s the point of this command? Why must the grain offering be seasoned with salt? According to scholars, later Jewish thinkers distinguished between mishpatim (rationally derived rules governing behavior) and khukim (those mitzvot that may seem arbitrary or even irrational). Mishpatim make sense to everyone, like murder as being considered morally reprehensible. But khukim, like wearing tefillin or abstaining from certain foods, require greater faith. So perhaps this is one of those khukim rules that simply requires greater faith.

But I think the answer might be simpler. At the beginning of Leviticus 2, instructions are given for bringing a grain offering before ADONAI. As the grain offering is presented, the priest takes a handful of flour and throws it upon the altar as a reminder portion. “But the rest of the grain offering will belong to Aharon (Aaron) and his sons; it is an especially holy part of the offerings for ADONAI made by fire,” (Lev. 2:3).

I think this command is for the benefit of the priests.

The salt is to be added to the grain offering because the offering is eventually given to the priests to eat. Salt makes the grain offering taste better, plain and simple. God’s intention seems to extend beyond simply receiving an offer to appease himself. No, he requires that salt be included in the offering as a way of extending blessing to the priesthood.

In this, we see further affirmation of a deep biblical truth: God is the Creator of pleasure and enjoyment. Some Christians seem to believe that enjoyment is the playground of Satan. And to be fair, the kingdom of hell profits greatly by peddling pleasure. But God not only created us with pleasure receptors, he also created a world filled with delight for us to experience. So he commands his people to throw a little extra salt in the grain offerings for the benefit of his priests.

In a taste test, 9 out of 10 priests prefer salted to unsalted grain offerings.

And I like to think that our obedience to God functions the same way. God gives some command, some khukim, and our knee jerk response might be, “Why? What’s the point?” But is it possible that God simply intends for my obedience to bless someone else, just like the ancient Israelites blessed the priests by seasoning their grain offerings with salt? Isn’t that possible, even likely?

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Newness of Life

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

My friend’s father, a longtime educator, says he would often begin each new semester by holding up his gradebook to show the class that it was empty. Of course, this motivational tactic drew attention to the uncharted territory of the semester ahead, the empty gradebook representative of each student’s fresh start. In essence, my friend’s Dad was asking his students, “Where do you want to go this semester?” Whether you were an “A” student or a “D” student, the blank gradebook was both a new opportunity and gospel microcosm. The old was gone; the new had come.

Today we embark on a fresh journey into a new year. It is the season for resolutions and goals and people posting about their “word for 2018.” And buried within each of these is gospel hope, the hope of true transformation, expressed by Paul as “newness of life” in his letter to the Romans (Rom. 6:4). This is the universal human hope for saints and sinners, losers and winners. No matter our station, we all want one thing: new life.

That’s why this is one of my favorite times of the year. Are you grateful for a fresh start? Were you glad to see 2017 slip away? Did you embrace 2018 with open arms and a glad heart? Even if last year was a banner year for you, you’re likely inspired by the fresh opportunity the new year represents. Whether it’s an empty gradebook or a new calendar, this is the season for imagining the uncharted territory for the year ahead. Where do you want to go in 2018?

Let me make an appeal for including some spiritual intentionality as you plan for the year ahead. What is your spiritual direction for 2018? How can you maximize your Kingdom impact over these next twelve months? Is there one Word — a Christian virtue? an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit? — that you’d like to be written upon your soul this year? Perhaps these kinds of questions could lead us into the new life for which we all seem to be yearning.

Here are a few simple suggestions for walking in newness of spiritual life in the year ahead:

  • Choose a new translation for your daily Bible reading. Most of my Bible reading over the years has come from one of two translations: the NIV and the ESV. And you probably have a preferred version as well. But preferences can breed unhelpful familiarity, at least when it comes to hearing a fresh word from God. I have a friend who chooses to read the entire Bible each year, with an important twist: each year, he chooses a different translation. One year, he’s reading the New American Standard; the next, he reads the Good News Translation. According to him, this is an invaluable practice for spiritual growth. Rather than glazing over the more familiar passages in his “preferred” translation, reading from a different translation allows the text to “speak” to him in a new way each year. And I’ve found this to be true in my own devotional life as well. If you tend toward a word-for-word translation (like the NASB or the ESV), try a more idiomatic rendering like the NLT or a paraphrase translation like The Message. Conversely, if you prefer the more contemporary translations like the NCB or the CEV, you’ll probably discover new treasures in the “regal” tones of the King James Version or the New Revised Standard Version. This year, I’ll be reading from The Complete Jewish Bible during my devotional time, a translation I’ve grown to appreciate in the last year or so.
  • Mix up your Bible reading. Let me say this up front: if you’re fired up about your chronological daily Bible reading, just move on to the next bullet point. Because I don’t want to do anything to discourage you. But I also know that more people have read the book of Genesis in the month of January than any other time of year…and likewise, most of those same people abandon their daily Bible reading somewhere in February as they try to slog through Exodus and Leviticus. So if you’ve read this far, let me propose that you begin your 2018 Bible reading not with Genesis, but with one of the Gospels. There are four Gospels for a reason; I suggest reading one each season. After you finish reading through one of the Gospels, then go back and read an Old Testament text. Try reading Exodus and Hebrews simultaneously. Read Psalms 96-98 and Daniel before reading Revelation. Spend a month working your way through the wisdom literature of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and James. The point is…mix it up a little.
  • Commit to regular prayer journaling. A friend of mine convinced me of the importance of journaling a few years ago and in retrospect, I wish I’d started sooner. For starters, it helps me remember to pray. I’m much more likely to pray about things once I write them in my Moleskine, particularly the things other people ask me to be praying about. But the act of putting pen to paper is also an important part of the benefit in journaling. In our culture of busyness, physically writing in a journal is impossibly impractical. It’d be so much easier to just open up a digital file and type away, but that’s part of the point. Writing in a prayer journal is my daily act of resistance, my way of saying no to a culture that always demands more movement, more frenetic activity. Writing — not typing — forces me to slow down, to be still, and to recognize the limitations of my own mortality. This is the gift of journaling.
  • Commune with God holistically, wholeheartedly. What I mean is…don’t limit your spiritual life to Bible reading and bow-your-head-and-close-your-eyes praying. Get up and go for a walk and look for God. One of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson, says, “We need the ‘Emmaus walks’ where our eyes can become opened,” (Luke 24:31). We are more than rational beings, so our commitment to God must include much more than Bible study. And we are more than simply relational beings, so our commitment to God must include much more than reciting to Him our prayer requests. Make time to meet God in the movement of your days, not simply in the more quiet, reflective moments. As we used to sing, our God, He is alive. So get up and get moving and spend time walking with the living God (Rom. 6:4).

These are just a few suggestions for experiencing “newness of life” in 2018. May the next twelve months bring us closer to God and closer to one another.

Posted in Devotional, Discipleship, Faith, Friends, God, Gospel, Prayer, Quotes, Scripture, Spiritual Disciplines, Theology | 2 Comments

Best Songs 2017

This year, instead of a list, I give you a playlist.

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The Limitations of Our Resolve

I simply love this time of year. Sure, Charlie Brown was right; the commercialization of the holidays can be disheartening — and probably even dangerous to our souls. But the holiday season also prompts many to reflect, ever so briefly, on the birth of Christ, whose birth is hailed in the scriptures as “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” I don’t think it’s any accident that the good will we experience during this season (often called “Christmas cheer” or “the Christmas spirit”) just happens to coincide with more people thinking about Jesus than any other time of the year.

And for similar reasons, I also love the end of one year and the beginning of a new one. As 2017 winds down, we inevitably cast our gaze back over the past 12 months and we do something quite rare: we reflect. Our devotion to technology and entertainment and social media greedily laps up all available space, time previously given to acts of reflection. Look around the next time you stop at a red light or stand in line at the grocery store and count the number of people on their phones. Even if only for a half-minute, we take every opportunity to prostrate ourselves before these handheld altars. Believe me, I know how preachy all of that sounds, but it’s the truth: we are largely an unreflecting people.

But the end of the year creates a natural platform for looking back and, just as importantly, for looking ahead. This is the time of year that we make goals for ourselves, resolving to cross some things off of that bucket list or to lose those pesky 15 pounds. For a moment or two, we allow ourselves the gift of transcendent vision, to imagine our lives not as they are but as we would want them to be in the year to come. So we sign up for guitar lessons; we join a gym; we renew our passports and begin planning that trip to Australia. And I love all of this, because this type of reflection is purposed and intentional. It is reflection aimed at transformation. And I believe any time we are thinking about transformation, we are walking on holy ground.

The problem with most resolutions, however, is simple: we lack resolve. We want to learn to play the guitar, but we don’t want to build time in our schedule to practice. We love the idea of losing weight, but we’d rather hit the snooze button than get up and go to the gym. Nearly all of our attempts at transformation are predicated on our strength, our determination, our will power.

But true transformation is not simply a matter of will power.

True transformation is ultimately a matter of God’s power.

Again, I know how preachy that sounds. (I see some you rolling your eyes.) But this is one of the truths I hold most dear; I believe it with all of my heart, because it is my story. Transformation is God’s business. When your strength wears out (and it will), you recognize your complete inability to transform yourself. When your resolve wavers (and it does, quite often), you understand the limitations of your own determinations. We have limited power to transform because of the limitations of our resolve and our determinations. Our transcendent vision is grounded by earthly flesh.

But true transformation emanates from without, not within. This news is announced from on high with angelic host and the glory of the Lord: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And this was the purposed intention of God, to intersect earthly flesh with divine power. To what end? Transformation. The Christian scriptures reflect on God’s transformative power: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 

In the year to come, may we all experience the transcendent power of true transformation. To God be the glory.

Posted in 2 Corinthians 5, Christmas, Culture, Devotional, Faith, God, Gospel, Jesus, Scripture, Theology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment