Struggling with Leviticus...and Holiness

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 9:26 AM

Right now our Old Testament Life Journal readings are coming from Leviticus. Starting in the second half of Exodus and running through Leviticus, Numbers and portions of Deuteronomy, we read what appears to mostly be trivial details about the Tabernacle and rules for the Israelites, with an occasional short narrative thrown in.

I have to confess that early in my Christian journey, when I started reading these pages, I felt so bogged down. In fact, these can be the kinds of things that cause many of us to stop reading our Bible. Until we get over into Deuteronomy and then into Joshua do we start to again read narratives that seem more interesting as they tell ongoing stories in the life of the Israelites.

Starting with the Ten Commandments, given for the first time in Exodus 20, we read of more and more rules. We read of God giving Moses very explicit plans for building the Tabernacle. Then a few chapters later we read Moses giving the same explicit plans to the Israelites. Why does this get repeated twice? Why so much detail about different kinds of offerings? And in Numbers we get to all the counting of the Israelites. Does any of this mean anything to us today, with the New Testament and our commitments to Jesus Christ?

I'm certainly no expert, but I know God has given us the whole Bible and told us, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives." (2 Timothy 3:16 NLT2) In other words, God says there is value and purpose in all that we read, and when we ignore or dismiss any portion of the Bible, maybe because we don't understand it or don't like what it says, we are not taking Scripture seriously. Some portions of Scripture may be more pertinent or more timely or more important for salvation, and Scripture always has to be read in context, but all of it has value and is here because God desired for us to have it.

So, what do we make of all this "stuff" in Exodus - Deuteronomy? Well, for me, today's reading in Leviticus helps me gain a lens through which to read and understand a lot that's being reported here.

Leviticus 11:44-45 (NLT2): "'For I am the LORD your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. So do not defile yourselves…. For I, the LORD, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy.'"

Let's look at two words that God uses in this passage. The first is "consecrate." The Hebrew word here literally means "to be set apart" (i.e., from that which is common or unclean). The second word is "holy," and it has the same root word as "consecrate," which literally means "separateness, withdrawal." God is telling the Israelites to separate themselves apart from all that is common or ordinary or unclean to become like God: separate and unlike anything or anyone else. The Bible develops this idea of holiness by showing that God is love, absolutely just, full of mercy, etc., which clearly goes beyond anything we human beings are consistently capable of being and doing on our own, because of sin in our lives. Yet, God lifts holiness up as the goal for every person who seeks God, and it is an important lens for reading some of these passages we've been looking at.

In the Old Testament (or Old Covenant), God provided ways for Israel to be forgiven of these sins in order to be different from all the other peoples around them. He offered them sacrifices they could perform - giving up something of value to them to seek to be made right again with God. That's why God is so particular about the quality of the sacrifices. An animal must be unblemished with no defects. Other offerings must be of the highest quality and the first of the harvest. Forgiveness and holiness never come cheap - there is always a cost. But when we start taking this cost for granted, when we fail to offer God our best, we aren't taking seriously what He has done for us. We start living like everyone else - we are no different from everyone else!

In the New Testament (or New Covenant), God provided an even more profound way to forgive us of our sins. Instead of constantly offering sacrifices every time we sinned, God offered the one, full, complete sacrifice for all people for all time. Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, who was unblemished by sin in any way, became our sacrifice. And because He was God, His sacrifice was sufficient for all time for all people. This in itself is amazing, and for Christ followers this put an end to the need for ongoing animal or grain sacrifices. But God took it a step farther - when we trust Jesus and put our faith in him, his Spirit comes to live in us, to work to change us from the inside out. Rather than living a legalistic life of obeying the rules or Law of the Old Testament (where we often start doing it just to gain God's favor, rather than to live in a manner that is pleasing to Him), God's Spirit transforms our heart so we want to live as Jesus lived, to be separate and different...and holy. Interestingly, the New Testament term for Christian is "saint," and in the Greek it carries much the same meaning as holy - set apart for God.

Living for God means our lives are markedly different from those who don't. For all God has done for us, especially through Jesus Christ, we desire to give Him our best in every way, including our gifts and our lives. We become "living sacrifices" for Jesus Christ, and I guarantee you any life that is lived that way will be strikingly different from the lives of others. We are still called to be holy. "But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, 'You must be holy because I am holy.'" (1 Peter 1:15-16 NLT2)

So, in these passages in Exodus through Deuteronomy, God is showing us just how important holiness is. He goes into great detail, He repeats things, He sets out significant punishments. Maybe today we don't need all the details to live holy lives, because in Jesus Christ we have the Holy Spirit living in us, but we need to know it's important - in fact, vital to the life Jesus has called us to live. And it's one of the biggest criticisms of Christ followers today - our lives often seem no different from anyone else. Where's the holiness?

In the journey with Jesus there is always a tension between knowing God as friend who loves us very much and desires a personal relationship with us, and being filled with awe and reverence and wonder and gratitude for who God is and all He has done for us. In some ways, it's the tension between Christmas and Easter. Christmas tells us God is with us and on our side, while at the same time Easter shows us the power of God to overcome death and tells us there is a horrific cost for our sins, and only the Holy One, Jesus Christ, could pay that cost for us for all time.

God is with us, but because God is holy, He also calls us to be holy. Both are important. Both matter. And the Bible affirms and demonstrates both throughout its pages. And with Christ, holiness is more than an impossible ideal - it's the life he calls us to aim for, with his help!

The Bay Area, NASA and God

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , | Posted On Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 10:21 AM

Do you ever wonder if God has it out for you? I know it feels that way sometimes. And over the last couple of years it's felt that way for our Bay Area. The Rita evacuation was hard on a lot of folks. Then Ike hit, doing major damage across our area. The economy tanked, and the oil industry is struggling. Now, the 2011 national budget comes out, and NASA, and especially manned space flight, appear to be facing another blow.

Of course, no one really knows what the 2011 budget means for the Bay Area. It hasn't gone through Congress yet, and states like Florida, Alabama and Texas have a lot at stake with the manned space program. But all this week discussions that were going on quietly across the area the last few months since the Augustine Commission have been coming out into the open as people wonder/worry about what will happen.

It's a legitimate concern. I don't work for the Chamber of Commerce, so I don't have the exact figures, but I know thousands of folks in this area are directly and indirectly affected by NASA and the Johnson Manned Space Center. I'm sure we have hundreds of folks here at Gateway connected to the space program one way or another.

I'd like to tell you, "Don't worry. Be happy... Everything's going to be OK because God's going to do His thing and make it all work out so that we all live happily ever after." But, honestly, that's more of a fairy tale. God is not our magic Genie who snaps His fingers and fixes every problem we have.

The reality is, we don't know what's going to happen right now. We don't know what it's going to be like a year from now or five years from now or ten years from now. But you know what? We didn't know before this budget came out, either. The future is always waiting to be written, and the choices we make today make a big difference how that story will unfold. But, I do know Who is ultimately writing the future, because He is already there and going with us into as it unfolds.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be concerned or that we shouldn't be prudent in our planning. As a church, Gateway will have to watch this very closely. But I keep getting drawn back to a Scripture Jesus spoke:

“'That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, "What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?" These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.'" (Matthew 6:25-33, NLT2)

To me, this isn't a "Pollyanna - don't worry, be happy" scripture. What it says to me is that in the midst of whatever is going on - good or bad - God still cares about each of us and our lives. He has a plan for our lives that has ultimate and eternal significance. He's always known what would happen - there are no surprises for God. He never promises a problem-free life, but He does promise to go with us and give us everything we need to live our lives with purpose and hope and peace.

It's an old cliche, but I'll say it anyway: "I don't know what the future holds, but I know Who holds it." My ultimate faith isn't in my job or NASA or the U.S. government but in God. Even when I don't feel it, He's with me and loves me and will see me through. That's a choice I have to make and remember every day. I'm going to seek first His Kingdom and trust Him to walk through this with me. I hope you'll join me!