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Sunday, February 28, 2016

God Bless You!

The Lord commands Moses to communicate a three-fold blessing to His people. 

“The LORD bless you and keep you; 
The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; 
The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-25). 
The blessing is directed to the entire congregation, rather than to any individual. It consists of three parts. The first phrase of each blessing announces God’s good intentions toward His people; and the second clause declares the benefit each blessing.  
  1. “The LORD bless and keep you.” - Bless (material wealth) and keep (protection from all that could oppose fullness of life). The Lord’s disposition toward His people is one of love, benevolence, and generosity. He is obligating Himself to the good welfare of His people. 
  2. “The LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” - Make His face to shine (indicative of pleasure) and be gracious (unmerited favor). The Lord’s temperament toward His people is one of joy and pleasure. Israel has God’s full and undivided attention. He moves toward them to show them unmerited favor. 
  3. “The LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace.” Lift up his face (an act of intimacy and affection) and give you peace. His love promises to overcome any hostility (cf. Lev. 26:40) His people may present to Him. 
God’s name upon Israel was their honor, their comfort, their safety, their identity, and the assurance of God’s covenantal relationship with them. He is not ashamed to be called their God.
Who God is for Israel is who He is for His church. Benevolent. Protective. Intimate. Like Israel, the church is blessed by God and blessed for God. 
He is good. He only does good.
Selah’s song communicates the precious truth of God’s love for His people:
“O The Deep, Deep Love Of Jesus”

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"Then the LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'If a man's wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him by sleeping with another man, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), and if feelings of jealousy overcome her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure—then he . . . " (Numbers 5:11-15a)

Can you imagine being at the mercy of a husband's jealousy and suspicion when you've not committed adultery—especially when your life is on the line, since the punishment for adultery is death? How do you prove that you are innocent?

In order to prevent women from being killed or punished because of jealousy or suspicion, without any proof of adultery, the Lord provided a way to test a woman's veracity. Imagine with me how nasty the tabernacle floor must have been as general dust mixed with the blood droppings from the various sacrifices. Add holy water to this and require the woman drink it. One of two things will happen: nothing or her abdomen will swell and her thigh waste away. Researchers conclude that guilty people produce stress enzymes which will interact with the concoction and will sicken the guilty person. Those who are innocent won't produce those enzymes and will therefore remain unaffected by the drink.

So, what does this mean for men? It means that men motivated by feelings of jealousy must be careful before they make any unmerited accusations. And what does this mean for women? Innocent women don't have to worry about being falsely accused and then punished. They can drink the concoction without fear. Guilty women, however, need to be very afraid!
This regulation protects women from baseless accusations. And this regulation teaches man that he must guard against acting on feelings alone; he must be very careful before he accuses his wife of adultery. Any accusations made must be made based upon facts/evidence. So this regulation is both weird and wonderful. 
Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Numbers 4:34-6:27
  • What does the numbering teach about individuals? 
  • Why does the Lord require that those with infectious diseases be quarantined outside of the camp?
  • What does adding the one-fifth to the restitution teach about sin?  
  • What purpose does the Nazarite vow serve?
  • Why does the Lord require those taking the Nazarite vow to do certain outward things?
  • What does this blessing teach Israel about God? About the Levites/priests?(Numbers 6:24-26)
Turning truth into prayer:
Ask the Lord to make you more aware of when you accuse or judge someone falsely based upon feelings alone and to help you live a life free of suspicion toward others.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Organized Ministry

Changing locations would require the help of every Levite in breaking down the Tent of Meeting and then reassembling it at a new site. 

The Lord dedicates Aaron and his descendants from all of the other Levites to minster as priests before Him in the sanctuary and to care for the most holy things. They were given the responsibility of packing up the holy furnishings and articles used for ministering in the sanctuary. No one but Aaron and his descendants were to view the holy things. They were to camp on the east side of the tabernacle in front of the Tent of Meeting. 
All of the remaining Levites were organized by clan and assigned tasks to make moving the Tent of Meeting simple and to ensure that God’s holy things were treated with respect.

The Gershonites were to camp on west, behind the tabernacle. They were given the responsibility of carrying the tabernacle and tent, its coverings, and the outer curtains. 

The Kohathites were to camp on the south side of the tabernacle. They were given the responsibility for the carrying the contents of the sanctuary: the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the articles of the sanctuary used in ministering, and the inner curtain. 

The Merarites were to camp on the north side of the tabernacle. They were given the responsibility of maintaining the infrastructure of the Tent of Meeting and carrying these pieces when they moved locations. 
These instructions reveal a number of truths about the ministry. 
  • No one person can do it all. Specific tasks are assigned to all of the Levites by clans. 
  • Confusion occurs when jobs descriptions are unclear. Each man from each clan knew what they were and were not responsible for; they were not responsible for the tasks assigned to the other clans. 
  • Disorganization disrupts forward-movement. Feelings are ruffled, tempers flare when well-meaning people fall all over each other to get the job done.  
  • Ministry has little to do with preference but everything to do with calling. Carrying the sanctuary articles may appear more spiritual, but without the assembly of the Tent, does it really matter? The Kohathites had to do only what they were assigned to do. 
The wisdom of God is once again manifest in Israel’s midst! 
Israel’s learning to move together as an organized community will prepare them to take the land of Canaan in an organized manner. 

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"Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death." (Numbers 3:10)

Representing God to man and man to God is a serious vocation. Many people desire the ministry. As my husband says, "Desire alone doesn't qualify for ministry." Paul states, "If any man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work (1 Timothy 3:1).” Paul then gives a list of qualifications. So desire must be coupled with certain qualifications. 

The Lord tells Moses, "Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death." I'm sure there were others in the camp who wanted the job, maybe for the glamour or to be close to the action. God's priestly calling, however, precludes self-appointed men or men interested in being a priest without being a Levite. The writer of Hebrews also affirms this: "And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was (Hebrews 5:4).”

The excitement of ministry draws many who don't realize the demands placed upon the home, family, and life. Such persons, driven more by earthly ambition rather than by heavenly passion, usually do more harm than good in the ministry. Though they may be good people with many commendable skills and giftings, that alone doesn't qualify them. They must be God-called. 

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Numbers 3:1-4:33 
  • What were Aaron's descendants given responsibility over?
  • Why are only Aaron's descendants allowed to see the holy things within the Holy and the Most Holy Place? 
  • What are they to do with the holy things as the camp prepares to move?
  • What will happen to the Kohathites if they violate God's instructions regarding the holy things?
  • To whom does God make responsible for the holy things?
  • What does this tell you about God?
Turning truth into prayer:
Pray for your church staff. Pray that the call of God would weigh heavy upon them and that they would depend upon God instead of their own gifts and ingenuity to fulfill His charge through them. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Mass Communication

God is the great Organizer. Creation reveals His organizational skills as He formed the heavens and the earth and then filled them with life. Throughout the process He created systems (solar system, ecological system, reproduction systems, biological systems) which He has sustained for thousands of years. 

The Lord gave Israel a number of systems during their first year while they camped at Mount Sinai: the sacrificial system, the Levitical priesthood system, sanitation system, dietary system, judicial system, social system, moral system, and Israel’s entire cultural ethos. New systems for a new people.  
Moving 2.5 million people through the desert requires another system. The Lord gives a system for that as well.
The Lord begins with a census, “Take a census of the whole community by their clans and their families, listing every man by name, one by one” (Numbers 1:2). He instructs Moses to designate one man from each tribe to assist him in numbering the whole community by their clans and families. The Lord has Moses create a banner for each tribe and positions each tribe in at a specific place  around the perimeter of Tent of Meeting. 
In Numbers 10 the Lord introduces an announcement system of trumpets. When two trumpets sound, the whole community is to assemble before Moses at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. At the sound of one trumpet the community prepares to move and at the sound of the second trumpet the tribes camping on the east are to set out. His subsequent instructions give other signals designed to communicate different instructions to the entire community. He organizes His people as an army ready to march forward from Egypt to the Promised Land, using His systems for discipline and direction.
Every system God gives shows His people His direction, reveals His care, and protects them from the chaos of the nation around them. His simple system of summoning and grouping His people works effectively for forty years as the community moves nearly fifty times in the wilderness. 

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"Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to number by their divisions all the men in Israel twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army . . ." "You must not count the tribe of Levi or include them in the census of the other Israelites. Instead appoint the Levites to be in charge of the tabernacle of the testimony. . .." (Numbers 1:3,49,50)

Soldiers or Priests. Which of the two is more exciting, boring, safe, dangerous, noble, etc.?
God calls both, and both are needed. Each job has both benefits and drawbacks:
  • Soldiers risk their lives on the frontlines, while priests stay back and intercede on their behalf.
  • Soldiers share war stories about exploits, both wins and defeats, while priests stand in the gap in the background. (Joshua led the army and fought the Amalekites, while Aaron and Moses remained in the background interceding on their behalf (Exodus 17:9ff).
  • Both soldiers and priests know God's power and presence, but they experience that power in different ways.
In 1 Corinthians 12:7, Paul makes clear that the differing gifts divided in the body are given by the Holy Spirit as He wills. In the same way that the Lord called some as soldiers and some as priests, so He now selects some for public ministry and some for private ministry. To some He gives speaking gifts, and to others He gives serving gifts (1 Peter 4:11). Every gift and every calling brings with it both opportunities and limitations. When we are called to one thing, we cannot do another. Envying the job given to another communicates a lack of trust in God and a lack of contentment in His gifting. 
Great joy comes when God's people discover their gifting and walk in their calling. In the Olympics, runners run in assigned lanes. Crossing lanes brings disaster and disqualification. In the same way, pushing to be what one is not, envying gifts one does not have, or seeking positions for which one is not equipped is “lane-crossing” that brings disaster and may even bring disqualification.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Numbers 1:1-2:34
  • What does this assignment do for each tribal leader?
  • What do these instructions tell you about God and His relationship with His people? What does it tell you about their relationship with one another?
  • Why are the Levites excluded from the census?
  • Why were the Levites to remain encamped closest to the tabernacle?
  • How were each of the tribes or clans indentified as they camped around the tent of meeting?
  • What was the significance to the tent of meeting's position in regards to the twelve tribes?
Turning truth into prayer:
Thank the Lord for the gifts He has given you and for the calling upon your life. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hostile Environment

The Creation Era chronicles man’s choice to follow his senses instead of adhering to God’s Word:
  • Adam and Eve choose tasty fruit over walking with God. God comes after the rebellious pair. He covers their nakedness and promises to redeem them.
  • The entire world, save Noah and his family, prefer to live according to their fleshly appetites, marry as they please, and live corrupt lives. They refuse to respond to 100 years of Noah’s sermons of coming judgment and perish in the flood.

The Patriarchal Era captures the lives of four men as they struggle to live by faith in a world blind to its Creator. 
  • God conforms an idolater into a prophet and a man of faith (Abraham). 
  • He provides a wife for a bachelor and gives him twin sons (Isaac). 
  • He wrestles with a schemer and bends his will to His (Jacob). 
  • He sends a savior ahead into Egypt to sustain His budding nation during a world-wide famine (Joseph). 
The Exodus Era details the LORD’s rescue of a stubborn people from slavery and their journey into the wilderness where He meets their every need. He gives them good laws, gracious provision, His glorious presence, and mighty protection as He guides them from Egypt to the Promised Land.
Such a rich heritage with a God who is good, patient, and merciful. And they are hostile toward God? 
God makes to this rebellious people a scandalous promise, “I will put my dwelling place among you,and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (Leviticus 26:11). His manifest presence is contingent upon their obedience to Him. 
The Lord warns Israel that their continued disobedience and hostility toward Him will provoke Him to respond to them with hostility, “If in spite of these things [sudden terror, wasting diseases, poor harvests due to drought and famine] you do not accept my correction but will continue to be hostile toward me, I myself will be hostile toward you” (Leviticus 26:23-24a). 
The blessings that He promises in Leviticus 26:1-13 communicate His desire to lavish good upon His people. God, by His very nature, isn’t hostile; He is so pure, however, that He cannot tolerate rebellion in His presence. He simply responds to the continued hostility of His people.
Solomon comments on the hostility of man toward God, “The foolishness of a man twists his way, and his heart frets against the Lord” (Proverbs 19:3, NJKV). Rebellion causes people to brood and become hostile toward God instead of coming clean before the Lord. God’s people must guard against a heart of foolish rebellion.

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"If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit."  "But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you . . .." (Leviticus 26:3-4,14-16a)

Congratulations! You've made it through the book of Leviticus. Leviticus reveals the holiness of God. And, because humanity is self-destructive, it reveals the need for boundaries and regulations. It is simple, really. 

“If you follow My decrees, I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people. But if you will not listen to Me, I will bring upon you sudden terror.” God clearly describes the blessings of obedience and the consequences of disobedience. 

The temptation to see these regulations merely as a legalistic set of rules misses the point entirely. Leviticus makes believers aware of the awesome holiness of God and the high cost of sin. The writer of Hebrews says that every transgression receives a just penalty (Hebrews 2:2). Because of this just penalty, honest believers see from Leviticus that they would soon go broke buying rams, lambs, and doves to make atonement for sin. 

The great blessing of the Gospel is that acceptance before God is not based upon the continual offering of my sacrifices or my continual attempts at perfect obedience. Rather, it is based entirely upon the finished work of Christ (the once-for-all payment for sin). His righteousness grants me standing before a Holy God and frees me from slavish obedience to the minutia of rule-keeping. In Christ, I enjoy the blessings; apart from Him, the curse would rest on my head (John 3:36). 

While believers may not experience the ultimate of separation from God, those who walk contrary to Christ's clear leading will experience the fruit of disobedience in this life. Those who abide with Him enjoy the blessing of His presence, His peace, and His power on their lives.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Leviticus 26:1-27:34
  • What does God promise to those who obey Him?
  • What does He promise to those who will not listen and obey God?
  • What makes a man/woman hostile toward God?
  • How are those who are disobedient described?
  • Why does God not allow the firstborn of animal be offered to the Lord?
  • What does it cost a man to redeem items dedicated to the Lord?
Turning truth into prayer:
Thank the Lord that the curse of sin and its just penalty are borne by Christ so that I may experience His blessing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Object Lessons

The stories of the Bible abound with object lessons designed to teach God’s people enduring truths (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6)The Book of Leviticus contains two object lessons that reverberate throughout the entire community. 
The first object lesson is recorded in Leviticus 10 when Aaron’s sons offer profane fire to the Lord, and fire from the Lord consumes them. What a warning to every priest in every generation!
The second object lesson occurs in Leviticus 24 when a son of a mixed-marriage couple (an Egyptian father and Israelite mother) quarrels with another Israelite and curses the God of Israel. Those who hear his blasphemy bring him to Moses for sentencing. Moses seeks the mind of the Lord. The Lord responds by sentencing the son to death by stoning. The entire congregation, plus the strangers in Israel’s midst, stone the blasphemer to death. Sounds pretty harsh at first blush, but blaspheming the Name of God is a serious action against God and against others!
This scene reveals a number of truths:
  • The Laws given to Israel must be obeyed by everyone, including the strangers in Israel’s midst.  
  • The Name of the Lord is holy. He is good and only does good; therefore, those who curse Him deny His goodness and seek to diminish His glory before others.
  • God deals with sin harshly because what one “gets away with” affects negatively everyone in covenant community. Left unaddressed, this man’s blasphemy would affect his peers and eventually others would mimic his behavior (Eccles. 8:11). 
  • Those who enjoy the covenant blessings of God must honor His Name. 
People think they can “get away” with negative behavior that appears to have no real or immediate punishment. God grants such object lessons to demonstrate that all sin is serious and worthy of death, and through these object lessons He warns those who are tempted to tread the same path. 

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"In this year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property."  (Leviticus 25:13)

Perhaps one of the most memorable scenes in cinema occurs when William Wallace of Braveheart is stretched out to die. His final word is the cry, "Freedom!" The desire for freedom resides in the heart of every person, but the reality of that freedom is elusive. Culture, government, obligations, and sin—especially sin—enslave hearts, minds, and bodies. Freedom remains an unrealized hope. 

The children of Israel were commanded to set aside the fiftieth year, the year of Jubilee, as a year of freedom. Inheritance lands that had been sold to pay debts returned to rightful families. Houses that had been taken or foreclosed returned to their original owners. Those who had been enslaved to pay off debts were set free. 

This freedom came at a costly sacrifice. In order to obey God, those who had taken the lands had to release them. Those who had received slaves had to watch them go free. It was a faith commitment. The year of Jubilee also meant that landowners did not work their lands; farmers did not work their fields; and vinedressers left their vines untended (25:11). It requires faith to believe that God will really provide, not just for one year, but for three years. Faith took seriously God's promise that the land would produce enough for three years (v. 21). 

Most of all, the year of Jubilee meant freedom. Imagine the joy of the father who has been enslaved in order to pay a debt as he returns to his wife and children. Imagine the parents as they welcome the boy who had grown to manhood paying off a debt. Freedom!

Sadly, the Scripture never records the children of Israel actually celebrating a Jubilee year. In fact, the Babylonian captivity was a 70-year rest for the land to enjoy its Sabbaths, of which the children of Israel had robbed it (2 Chronicles 36:21). Because they did not believe God's promises, they did not obey His commands. Unbelief drives disobedience. 

Though God has never demonstrated anything but goodness toward His people, Christian history reveals an incredible mistrust in the promises and character of God. While not a New Testament promise, the heart of the year of Jubilee—freedom—can be a reality for the New Testament believer. Paul says "Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty."The Bible says that it is for freedom that you've been set free. Genuine liberty today comes not from politicians or political parties, but by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Real freedom is appropriated by faith and is available to every child of God. For the Christian, every year can be a year of Jubilee as he/she sets others free by practicing forgiveness. 

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Leviticus 24:1-25:55
  • Read John 6:35, 48, 51; 8:12, 9:5. What does Jesus' declaration tell you about who He is for us before God?
  • Leviticus 24:10-23 contains the second narrative portion in Leviticus. What does this story tell you about God? About His people and standards?
  • What does obeying the regulations regarding the land Sabbath require of/from the children of Israel?
  • What does God promise to do for those who obey the land Sabbath/the year of Jubilee regulations?
  • How does the Lord regard the land and the people's relationship with the land?
  • What does the year of Jubilee do for the people or allow the people to do?
  • Why is it important to God that the children of Israel aren't enslaved?
Turning truth into prayer:
Ask the Lord to show you where you are not walking in liberty, where you're held captive in your personal life, or where you are holding others captive by not offering forgiveness.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What’s On Your Calendar?

Celebrating birthdays reminds each person of their entry into family. Annual events such as Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving remind families of past events that impact their present well-being and connect families to the greater community of celebrants. 

The Lord requires Israel to set aside days on their annual calendar to commemorate His relationship with them as individuals, families, and community. These annual events are intended to remind them of His activity on their behalf in the past and to establish their personal and communal identity. 
The Sabbath (Leviticus 23:4), celebrated weekly, was to be a day of blessing, of rest, to remind Israel of creation, God’s goodness, provision, and their redemption from Egyptian slavery (verse 43). 
Certain feasts or celebrations were to be held at a specific location in Canaan and attended by all the males in Israel. (Jerusalem became that central location during the Kingdom Era):
The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:5-14). This celebration begins on the first month of the year with the Passover and a sacred assembly where no work is to be done or unleavened bread eaten and followed by another seven days where no unleavened bread is to be eaten. These feasts commemorate Israel’s departure from Egypt.
The Feast of Harvest/Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-22). Seven weeks after the Passover begins the season of harvest where people present the first fruits of the harvest to the Lord along with a sacrifice. This feast acknowledges God’s provision. 
The Day of Atonement and The Feast of Ingathering/Tabernacles (Leviticus 26-32). On the tenth day of the seventh month of the year Israel must hold a sacred assembly for the annual atonement of sin, the Day of Atonement. Five days later begins the Feast of Tabernacles which lasts for a week. The people are to build temporary “booths” and live in them for that week to commemorate the wilderness wonderings and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. 
Why does the Lord instruct Israel to establish these feasts/celebrations as annual events on their calendar?
  • People are prone to forget the past.
  • Celebrations give parents opportunities to teach their children about the Lord and their heritage. 
  • Celebrations bind the hearts of individuals to the greater community and build national identity.
  • Celebrations acknowledge God’s goodness and provision and man’s gratitude to God.

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"The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies." (Leviticus 23:1-2)
Today's reading deals with regulations for the food of the priests and the order of feasts for the people. The feasts detail times of celebration for God's people, because God loves celebrations of His goodness. As the feasts are considered, one detail becomes obvious. God's directions for His people and their feasts demand faith.

In 23:9-10, "The LORD said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them, "When you enter the land I am going to give you and reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest".'" Do you hear the faith involved in these words? The God of heaven plans for His people 1) to enter the Land, and 2) to reap the harvest. The idea is never "if," but "when".

Sadly, the generation who heard these words did not enter the Land and did not reap the harvest. Their spies walked its valleys, saw its cities, and even brought out its fruit; yet because they did not believe God, they did not enter into the Land. Faith is always the key.

The real question with God is never "if"; when He speaks, His word is sure and His promises are true. His promises and plans are stated as if they've already come to pass; they simply await the appropriation of His people. When His children embrace His promises, confess them as so, and act as if what God has said is more true than their circumstances indicate, then He moves Heaven and Earth to keep His promises and show His power. He never doubted that they would have the land--He had created and prepared it for them. All His promises were offered--and accepted--in faith.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Leviticus 22:1-23:44
  • Why does God require the same thing from the priests that He requires from the people?
  • What does the wave offering represent?
  • Why are annual celebrations so important to God? Important to the people?
Turning truth into prayer:
Praise to God reminds us that all that we have comes from Him. Praise is reflective and anticipatory. Thank Him for specific provisions He has made for you in the past and for His gracious provision in the future.

Monday, February 22, 2016

God and Community

Who am I? What thinking person has not asked that question?

You are who you are based on your relationship with others. Your family, birth order, gender, ethnic group, etc., all form your identity. You are whose you are. Relationships shape personal identity. The people group with whom we lived in Africa, the AmaNdebele, say, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” This statement means that a person is a person because of the people. 

“I am the LORD,” “ I am the LORD your God,” declares the Lord more than fifteen times as He instructs His people on how to live in community with one another (Leviticus 19). Their identity with one another--as wives, mothers, fathers, husbands, employers, employees, poor, rich, etc.--all depends on their relationship with the LORD. That relationship is the core of Israel’s identity personally and communally. 
Only after Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree do they separate themselves from each other, fear exposure, and cover themselves with leaves. Sin affects their relationship with God and with one another; it changes community. 
Sin enslaves the heart to “self” so that in every relationship man faces, he asks, “How does this relationship build me up? Satisfy me? Affirm me? Hurt me? Diminish me? Define me?” The epicenter of all sin-based relationships is “me.” Self-focused people break down community while God-focused people build community. 
These instructions reveal a number of truths about community, including:
  • Self-focused people abuse relationships and break down community.
  • God-focused people honor relationships and build community.
  • Self-focused people act out of bitterness and revenge.
  • God-focused people respond in love and righteousness.
It is no wonder, then, that when Jesus identified the two great commandments, He drew from this passage in Leviticus to declare, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). 

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"Do not practice divination or sorcery. Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 19:26,31; 20:6)

Tucked away in these regulations are a series of commands that may seem strange to modern secular Americans. These verses deal with consulting mediums, seeking guidance from the dead, following divination, or being involved in sorcery. They seem strange to us because our secular way of life discounts any supernatural activity, but to much of our world today, as to Israel of old, the spiritual world is a real and frightening place.

Africans, Asians, and many S. Americans live in a world where the ancestors speak and quide their lives. Divination - using mechanical means to discern direction, such as read tea leaves, palms or casting bones guides them through the maze of day to day life. Mediums and spiritists are humans who employ familiar spirits to get in touch with the dead and offer direction for the living.

Fascination with mediums is growing as people conduct seances and call psychic hotlines. What is wrong with these practices? The real danger behind these practices is not, as the secularists might think, that they don't work; the real danger is that they do. In many cases many do get in touch with the spirit world. The Bible is clear that two things happen in this involvement:
  1. They will not hear from the true God.
  2. They actually communicate with demons.
Thus they get false counsel from the one Jesus called "the father of lies."

These verses warn us that the choice is clear. Opening ourselves to the spirit world defiles us (19:31) and causes us to prostitute ourselves to false gods (20:6). We receive counsel then from the father of lies who has come to kill, steal, and destroy. On the other hand if we choose to listen to the true God and His Word His counsel always leads to life and peace.

The wisest choice for the child of God is to flee from encounters with the spirit world and to learn to live in the Word and receive God's counsel.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Leviticus 19:1-21:24
  • How does holiness manifest itself in someone's life?
  • What do these regulations teach you about man? About God?
  • What does keeping God's commandments communicate about God to other nations?
  • What are some ways that people in the U.S. flirt with or outright engage evil spirits?
  • How does God differentiate between the priests and the other men of Israel?
  • What does this differentiation tell you about God?
Turning truth into prayer
Ask the Lord to show you where you are opening yourself up to the spirit world.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The In-between People of God

“You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices” (Leviticus 18:3). Moses spends the following twenty verses unpacking “their practices” by addressing sexual relationships. He completes his message with an explanation, “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled” (Lev. 18:23).

Israel is like the creamy filling in the middle of a cookie, with Egypt in her past and Canaan in her future. Moses warns her not to follow the ways of either people. Then he commences to explain what he means by talking about the defilement of both people. Eighteen sexual prohibitions in one single chapter! Sexual sin defiles people personally and communally. 
What do these prohibitions reveal about sexual sin, community, and defilement? 
Since the Fall men struggle with self-control in the area of sexual appetite.
  • Men lacking in self-control will abuse even the relationships most near to them. 
  • Men will struggle to view women as complementary and covenant partners. 
  • Men completely given over to their sexual appetites slake that appetite in the most dishonoring and unnatural ways. 
  • What a man does personally always affects the community; therefore, one man’s sexual sin always impacts the lives of others (other men’s wives, daughters, nieces, granddaughters, as well as other women’s sisters, daughters, nieces, mothers, etc.).
Since the Fall women struggle with identity in the area of sexuality. 
  • Women want to be wanted and valued. They often use sexual attraction to dull the separation from God that sin has caused. 
  • Victims of sexual abuse may experience the love of Christ and the wholeness He brings into the relationship.
  • Sexual sin and sexual abuse defiles women. Women are more than objects to be desired sexually.  
These prohibitions teach both men and women the value of covenant and the value of sex within marriage. God isn’t against sex. He is against any sex that hurts others―and sex outside of the bounds of His plan always hurts others. 
Christ-followers in every generation are in-between people. We live in a fallen world where relationships are based on consumerism (where people are used like products to make us feel better and lessen our pain of separation from God) instead of covenant (where both lay down their lives for the good of the other). Such “in-between” people build covenantal communities to create safe places in which everyone may thrive. 

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"He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites--all their sins--and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert." (Leviticus 16:21-22)
Leviticus highlights three celebratory days for the people of God:
  • Passover
  • Feast of Tabernacles
  • Day of Atonement
Of these three the Day of Atonement is by far the most significant. Passover remembers deliverance from Egypt, the Feast of Tabernacles remembers the traveling in the wilderness, and the Day of Atonement addresses sin. On every other day of the year the high priest dons the ephod and the breastplate, enters into the Holy Place, and performs the sacrifices associated with his calling.

On this day, however, he puts on only the simple white tunic, takes a bull, incense, and two goats. On this day alone he enters into the Holy of Holies twice. The first time he enters he enters with the blood of a bull for his own sin. The second time he enters with the blood of one of the goats for the sins of the people. This blood of this goat he sprinkles on the mercy seat, where Holy God promises to meet with sinful man.

What does the blood say? The blood testifies to the death of the guilty for the broken law. Beneath the mercy seat rests the Law which has been broken by humanity. The blood on the mercy seat says that the price for sin--death--has been fully met. Sin is atoned by blood as Israel identifies with the goat and the goat becomes Israel's substitute. The day is not over. The priest now confesses the sins of the people over the live goat and sends it away signifying that the sin has been removed from the sinner and borne away.

The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur pictures the wonderful promise of full redemption. While the blood of bulls or goats could never take away sin, the Father, in mercy, provided atonement through the spotless Lamb, Jesus Christ.
  • In His death He becomes our substitute, bearing our sin.
  • In His burial He becomes our scapegoat to take away our sin.
  • In His resurrection He becomes our victor, granting not only forgiveness but life.
And whereas the high priest had to enter every year on behalf of the people the Lord Jesus entered once for all so that He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25).

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Leviticus 16:1-18:30
  • Read Hebrews 4:16; 10:22 and describe the believers entry into the Holies of Holies.
  • Why does the Lord makes such a big deal about eating meat with the blood?
  • What does sexual sin do to the children of Israel?
  • Why does God gives instructions about sexual sin after He gives the regulations regarding the Day of Atonement?
Turning truth into prayer
Thank the Lord that Christians have boldness to enter into the very presence of God through faith in Jesus Christ.