Worldviews, Worship, and Wineskins

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Reading Leviticus and Old Testament Law: the Problems of Relevance and Human Rights

This post is specifically for my church family as we read through the Bible together this fall.  Sometimes it has felt as though we are drinking water through a fire hydrant!  Reading at this pace is a challenge and it often feels impossible to stop and meditate.  But one advantage is to be able to see recurring themes and points of connection more clearly.  If you see a prophecy in Deuteronomy, and its fulfillment comes at the end of 2 Samuel, you will recognize it more easily if the readings are only days or weeks apart rather than months or years! The first five books of the Bible are sometimes known as the “Books of the Law.”  Depending on your point of view, law can be tedious and boring in modern and ancient literature alike.  Leviticus is a challenging book!  The pace of the narration grinds to a halt as God continues his dictation of laws to his covenant people, gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai.  If you aren’t bored to tears by the slowed pace, you may be shocked by the seemingly harsh judgments against those who might break God’s law.  I wanted to post this note in hopes that it would remind us of truths that God has revealed in other parts of the Bible. That way we are practicing good interpretation; we will use scripture to interpret scripture and let the Bible speak for itself. IsaacsacrificeDOMENICHINO16

Types of laws: Throughout the first five books of the Bible, God gives three general types of laws: Civil, Moral and Ceremonial.  You can see examples of each in Leviticus.  For an example of a civil law, see chapters 13 and 14 which outline laws of hygiene.  You can find an example of moral law in chapters 18 and 19.  Some of the ceremonial laws are given in 23 and 24.  Why is this part of the Christian Bible?  Why should we read it?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  In light of this New Testament declaration (which concerns the Old Testament and New Testament alike), we know that God would have us to gain something from Leviticus.  But what??  What does the grain offering prescribed to the ancient Hebrews at the foot of Mount Sinai have to do with Jesus’ church after the cross??  Aren’t we free from the law?
Yes, we are free from the Law.  The entire book of Galatians, Hebrews and long portions of Romans are dedicated to describing, at great length, how and why we are freed from the Old Testament law.  But there are universal truths behind each law that are useful to understand.  Some are easier than others to discern.  What do we gain from reading them?  A deeper understanding of God’s relationship with his covenant people and his design for human flourishing.  For example, the theme of the entire book of Leviticus is “holiness”.  The word “holy” is used in Leviticus 76 times in 27 chapters. (A quick comparison with the other Books of the law: in Genesis, the word “holy” is used 1 time.  Exodus: 46 times, Numbers: 35 times, Deuteronomy: 11 times.)  We aren’t bound by the laws in Leviticus, but we can see that the universal principle of “holiness” is terribly important to God.
This becomes apparent when we consider the nature of the sacrifices.  Many types of sacrifices for different occasions are outlined.  How many of them have something to do with atoning for sin or ceremonial cleansing?  All except for one: the fellowship offering described in chapter 3.  What can we learn from this?  For thousands of years God has been in the business of making a way for us to have fellowship with him!  There is even a sacrifice prescribed for unintentional sin!  God is so holy and pure he cannot dismiss sin with a wink, yet he still desired relationship with his morally bankrupt people.  The sacrifices and some of the rituals clearly foreshadow Jesus’ final sacrifice at the cross as well.
What about the human rights problems in Leviticus?  Capital punishment is an activity that some people today find disgusting. Most people today are sickened by slavery and many actively fight against human trafficking.  How come we see these two activities condoned in Leviticus?  Isn’t this problematic for the Christian faith?
Yes.  Enemies of the Christian and Jewish faiths, many of them under the umbrella of “progressivism” use passages such as Leviticus 18 and 19 as leverage for their anti-religion agenda.  How can we take the Bible seriously when it condones slavery? Can we really believe that the God who allowed people to sell their children and execute people by stoning and burning is the same God who sent his son Jesus to teach love and forgiveness?  Haven’t we as the human race moved past such draconian, stone-age practices?
Paul Copan, in his Book “Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God” answers these and other difficult questions with scholarly expertise.  You can purchase it by following this link: http://www.amazon.com/God-Moral-Monster-Making-Testament/dp/0801072751/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412456629&sr=1-1&keywords=paul+copan+is+god+a+moral+monster   (I also have a Kindle version if you wish to borrow it.)  If you don’t find enough depth in this post, I highly recommend Copan’s work.
For now, let’s go back to what we already know about what God has said in scripture:
1. God created everything. (Genesis 1:1).  As such, he is the creator of absolute truth, morality and humankind.  He is the author of right and wrong, which stands independent of the changing winds of cultural taste.  He is the sole owner of every human being, and apparently feels within his rights to destroy every last one of us if he so chooses (remember the flood! Genesis 6 – 9).  By contrast, our cultural preferences and legal systems are man-made, temporary and subject to change with the new moon.
Slave-shackles-Does-the-Bible-condone-slavery
2. The form of slavery in the Old Testament was not the same type of slavery we normally think of in our culture today.  With the abolition of slavery less than 200 years behind us, we naturally revert back to a despicable form of slavery, which was permanent, degrading and hopeless.  By contrast, Hebrew slavery was temporary, compassionate and hopeful, as seen in Exodus 21:2 and Leviticus 25:39-46.  What about the foreigners that they enslaved?  They were likewise to be treated with compassion, as seen in Exodus 21:5, where slaves had a legal option to stay with their masters if they chose.  Slaves were allowed to own their own property, and potentially to purchase their own freedom.
Does that make sense of Exodus 21:20-21?  Apparently slave-owners could beat their slaves savagely and be free of legal wrongdoing.  If you are like me, you will find it hard to have a warm fuzzy about that law.  But consider again that we are judging from within our own cultural context into a culture that had only just been freed from hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt.  Beatings were commonplace.  Moses, their leader chosen by God himself had personally killed a man with his own hands!  The ultimate resolution of this problem is that it is God’s word that prevails…not our personal preference.  
Does that mean that we should re-institute slavery as a modern civil structure?  No way!  As New Testament followers of Jesus, there are no second class citizens, as we see in Ephesians 2:11-22 and Galatians 3:28.  Paul also encouraged slaves to purchase their freedom if they were able (1 Corinthians 7:21).
3. What about Capital Punishment?  Sexual deviants, blasphemers, and witches were equally condemned to public execution, usually by stoning, sometimes by burning.  What are we to make of this?  Can God still be good and order the death of an adulterer?  By today’s standards, perhaps half of our population would be condemned!
In order to gain some perspective and clarity, let’s look at three priorities that God has clearly demonstrated: His own reputation, the moral hygiene of his covenant people, and the natural order.
Priority #1: God’s reputation!  As owner of all of humanity, God is concerned that his people know Him as He is.  Knowing who God is and what He is like is an essential part of human flourishing.  As such, when his name and reputation are slandered, or anything that lessens his greatness in the eyes of his people was subject to swift and decisive correction! (Leviticus 10:1-3 and 24:10-23).  Ouch!  Can we reconcile this with the God we see in the New Testament?  Check out Acts 5:1-10.  Ananias and his wife Sapphira lied to God and were instantly killed by the Holy Spirit.  Can you see the parallel?  In each case, a covenant had only just recently begun.  In each case, someone tested the author of the covenant; God.  His reputation was at stake!  These were precedent setting events.  God had the obligation to maintain his reputation, even at the cost of human life (which he owns anyway.)
Priority #2: the Moral Hygiene of God’s People!  Many of the laws we see in the Old Testament seem puzzling: Exodus 34:26–don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.  Leviticus 19:27–don’t trim your hair or beard.  What can we make of these strange commands?  Look at the bigger picture: God was removing Israel from Egypt (a pagan nation) and bringing them to the land of Canaan (a pagan territory).  The surrounding cultures were rife with all types of witchcraft, demon worship, child-sacrifice, ritual prostitution and nature worship.  God’s priority of keeping his people separate from those influences comes out in many of his laws.  Why?  It goes back to God’s reputation (which the pagan worldviews undercut) and human flourishing (which pagan practices stunt).  God was so concerned about the cultural purity of his people that he sometimes used capital punishment as a deterrent.  Is there a modern-day application for that universal principle?  You tell me…
molech
Priority #3: Rebellion Against the Natural Order!  Leviticus 18:21, You are not to make any of your children pass through the fire to Molech. Do not profane the name of your God.; I am Yahweh.” Leviticus 18:22, “You are not to sleep with a man as with a woman; it is detestable.”  Leviticus 18:23, “You are not to have sexual intercourse with any animal, defiling yourself with it.”  A few of the Old Testament Laws prohibit activities that may have been pagan in practice, but also go completely opposite of natural design.  As such, they are a rebellion against the one who designed them.  Again, God is concerned about His reputation, and the moral hygiene of His people.  The category of sin in those verses bleeds into the other priorities already mentioned, as we see in the verses which follow: “Do not defile yourselves by any of these practices, for the nations I am driving out before you have defiled themselves by all these things…I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 18:24, 30).
*A quick word on homosexuality and the church today*  This is a front-line culture war issue.  The church has a bad reputation in the world’s eyes because many denominations have maintained a biblical stance on homosexuality, which stands in contrast to mainstream culture.  Open Door Church will stand on the Bible, in spite of cultural pressures.  However, we will strive to keep homosexuality in perspective: it is not the only sin.  It is not the worst sin.  We are committed to being truthful about sin of all types, and learning to love sinners of all types.  Expect us to do both less than perfectly.

Friday Night Mystics: David Brainerd

DavidBrainerd

1718 – 1747

For his few, troubled years, David Brainerd’s life left an indellible mark on his generation.  In the intervening years, his reputation and life’s work have been somewhat underrated, perhaps overshadowed by his friend and associate, Jonathan Edwards.  Brainerd’s main contribution was in his pioneer missionary work to Native Americans, but he is most remembered today for his personal prayer journal.  This firebrand burned so brightly and hotly for the Lord that he worked himself to an early grave, spending his last weeks in the home of Edwards.  He finally succumbed to Tuberculosis and consumption on October 9, 1747.

David Brainerd’s diary was reproduced for posterity, to his relucant acceptance, only after much pleading on the part of Edwards.  Below are two exerpts:

“I thought the Spirit of God had quite left me; but still was not distressed: yet disconsolate, as if there was nothing in heaven or earth could make me happy.  Having been thus endeavouring to pray — though, as I thought, very stupid and senseless — for near half an hour, then, as I was walking in a dark thick grove, unspeakale glory seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul.  I do not mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing; … but it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God, such as I never had before, nor any thing which had the least resemblence of it.  I stood still, wondered, and admired! …  My soul rejoiced with joy unspeakable, to see such a God, such a glorious Divine Being; and I was inwardly pleased and satisfied that he should be God over all for ever and ever.  My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellency, loveliness, greatness, and other perfections of God, that I was even swallowed up in him; at least to that degree, that I had no thought (as I remember) at first about my own salvation, and scarce reflected there was such a creature as myself.”

“I knew not what to say to my God, but only lean on his bosom, as it were, and breathe out my desires after a perfect conformity to him in all things.  Thirsting desires, and insatiable longings, possessed my soul after perfect holiness.  God was so precious to my soul, that the world with all its enjoyments was infinitely vile.  I had no more value for the favour of men, than for pebbles.  The LORD was my ALL; and that he overruled all, greatly delighted me.”

Everyone Worships Something

We were made to worship. Everyone worships something whether they realize it or not. Even people who don’t subscribe to any particular religion with a formalized system of worship…they worship too. Want to know what you worship? What is the first thing you think about when you wake up? What do you spend your spare time on? Where does your expendable income go? That is what you worship.

“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” So says the Westminster chatechism. If this statement is true, men and women attain their highest human potential in an ironic fashion: by the willful abnegation of self and exaltation of another.  This is true worship.  This is where the irony of the human condition is most clear: we are most fully human when we abdicate our perceived right to self-worship, and spend ourselves worshiping God.

Friday Night Mystics: King David’s Sacred Romance

Here is a working definition of a Christian Mystic: someone whose soul is wedded to the pursuit of intangible joy in the presence of God.

David, King of ancient Israel is the week’s feature. Many of the psalms give us very personal insights into the rollercoaster-ride that was David’s prayer life. Many read like a love letter, and it’s no wonder!

God describes His relationship with His people using a number of metaphors: Father to son. King to subjects. Master to slave. Even Mother to infant! (Isaiah 49.15) The picture found in many eschatalogical passages (scripture concerning the end times) is that of a groom to his bride. God wants your affections.

David understood this affection without having the New Testament to guide him. Have a look at Psalm 63:

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.

So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.

My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be give over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.

But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.”

Supremacy of Jesus

“Jesus Christ stands alone, unique and supreme, self-validating, and the Holy Ghost declarees Him to be God’s eternal Son.  Let all the presidents and all the kings and queens, the senators and the lords and ladies of the world, along with the great athletes and great actors–let them kneel at His feet and cry, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!'”  A. W. Tozer

It’s Time to Kill that “Soulmate” Myth

This post will start off sounding really cynical to some of you, but please hang out until the end, because this is an important idea to grasp if you want to succeed in romance.  First let me tell you what I’m NOT trying to say.  When I was fresh out of high-school, I experienced something very common for people fresh out of high-school: a breakup.  I had moved far away from my girlfriend and the distance was killing it.  Not only that, but all of the dramatic life changes that people experience at that stage were killing it.  Many of you have been there.

I have a dear aunt who was newly divorced at the same time.  We commiserated often.  She listened to Sarah McGlachlin and we mourned our losses.  It was foolish for me to consider that our pain was similar: she had three children and well over a dozen years from her ex-husband.  I had teenage infatuation and a few months.  But my aunt was gracious to me.

One day she commented something to this effect: “At least you still believe in true love.”  To which I responded, “I’m not sure I do believe that.”  It was a foolish thing to say, in retrospect.  I had no idea what I was talking about.  But my views on love have changed since then, and I’m glad to report that this post is NOT a polemic against romantic love or even a cynical rant against the saccharine emotion that Hollywood tries to pass off as love. Those are good things that are too-often understood in distorted ways.

Take Jerry Maguire, for instance.  In the climactic scene typical of romance movies, Jerry confesses his feelings for Dorothy with the unforgettable line, “You complete me.”  This is the downfall of popular beliefs on romance.  The pressure that was placed on Dorothy at that moment was a burden too great for any mere mortal to bear.  It is unfair.  We aren’t made to complete each other or to find completion in any human relationship, not even marriage.

That’s why the myth of the “mail-order” soulmate needs to die.  The idea that somewhere out there is your perfect match who will share all your interests, laugh at all your jokes and put up with all your baggage without any fuss is setting people up for failure.  Soulmates like that are earned over a lifetime of heartbreaking compromise, sacrifice and plain old hard work.  Not predestined in the stars.  They are cultivated intentionally, not granted automatically.

I think this is one reason that so many long-term relationships never lead to marriage and so many marriages fail: Person “A” doesn’t “complete me” a-la Jerry Maguire, therefore, he/she must not be my soulmate.  Time to look for my soulmate in Person “B”. Obviously that is a sweeping generalization, but one that I believe has real traction in our romance-infatuated culture.

There is an underlying spiritual dysfunction that is associated with the soulmate myth.    In a world that has very little use for God, the impossible pressure to “complete me” has been taken off God and placed on human relationships, especially romantic relationships.  This is idolatry, plain and simple.  So not only are we setting ourselves up for failure by placing too much pressure on our romantic counterparts, we are robbing God of the deep, soul-adoring worship that He deserves.  I may have just lost some of you who aren’t concerned with religious affection.  (Dorothy from Jerry Maguire might say, “You lost me at idolatry.”)  But I’ll stand by my claim: what human relationships can never attain in terms of emotional satisfaction, a “sacred romance” will.

That isn’t to say that romance isn’t a good thing.  That isn’t to say that there is no place for romance in healthy marriages.  To the contrary: without romance, intimacy and bedrock commitment, marriages will wither on the vine.  Every time.  But the elevation of romance to the end of all relational emotion is detrimental to our thinking.  Here’s why:  God designed the marriage relationship as an means to an end, not an end itself.  In other words, He didn’t invent marriage just so we could get married, there is a purpose to it.  Besides procreation.  Besides sexual fulfillment.  Besides companionship.

God designed the marriage relationship to be a reflection of the relationship he desires with us.  In the New Testament, the church is called the “bride” of Christ.  It’s brilliant, really.  Sheer genius.  God uses a universal human institution as a relational metaphor, so we will understand just what He is getting at.  He wants an exclusive commitment.  He wants adoration.  He wants emotional closeness.  He wants us to grow in our understanding of him over the long-term.  He wants us to work hard to not offend Him!  He wants our relationship to bear fruit.  He wants to be our soulmate.

So if we kill the soulmate myth, where does that leave marriage?  Does it lessen the emotional impact of romance?  Just the opposite.  What could be more romantic than realizing that your closest human relationship is modeled after an eternal, all-powerful being who literally died just so he could be with you?  What could have a more powerful aphrodisiac effect than knowing that the person who stretched out the heavens and laid down the foundations of the earth wants–no, COMMANDS you to make love to your spouse (1 Corinthians 7.3-5)?

The effect of killing the soulmate myth DOES take the pressure off of your significant other to be and do for you what only God can be and do.  Soulmates aren’t assembled on some conveyor belt, ready to go, right out of the box.  I’m convinced that God isn’t waiting for you to find THE ONE, but one of potentially dozens.  Although He does know which one you will choose–which poses several more questions about free will and God’s sovereignty, none of which bear addressing right now.  All of that to say, when you and your romantic interest decide that you are in it for the long-haul, be prepared to do the work and build your own soulmate.

Robbing God of the Worship He Deserves

The surest way to rob God of the worship He deserves is to beat yourself up over sin that is already confessed and forgiven.

This is Conviction.

Suddenly, for a moment, the heart and mind are in perfect unison.  The mechanism for “knowing” that God gave us is temporarily so highly tuned that there is no mistaking the truth.  In that moment, time stands still and everything that is real and pure and worthy stands in high contrast against the counterfeits that Satan has forever employed in his quest to snare man.  Food.  Sex.  Money.  Power.  Knowledge.  Notoriety.  All Frauds.  All good, in their proper place, yet their combined worth, when compared to the weight of glory in knowing the Holy one is less than tissue.  Their power over the heart is consumed in a flash, ignited by the tiniest spark of truth from the Holy One, who forever speaks truth.  And IS truth.

When this moment finds you, grasp it with all that you are.  Do not smother the spark of truth, but stoke it, for it will not last forever.  This moment is a mercy, a brief chance to see the world through the eyes of God, without the foul influences of our weak and deceived hearts or of Satan.  Soon, the moment will end and the minutae of everyday life will fight for our affections.  The thing is to bank the tiny flame with all of the kindling you may find, while the moment lasts.  Act on it.  Be decisive.  Be aggressive.  Commit to a lifestyle that reflects this new, Godly reality which esteems the unseen things more highly than the seen.  Anything less amounts to rebellion against the highest authority in the universe.  “Today, if you hear his voice: Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on that day at Massah in the wilderness where your fathers tested Me; they tried Me, though they had seen what I did.  For 40 years I was disgusted with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray; they do not know My ways.’  So I swore in My anger, ‘They will not enter My rest.'”

A Few Lines About God.

 

Unstoppable. You have such power. Like a deluge in the pass. Let me be swept away.

Masterful. A virtuoso in your field of one. All creation resonates with your song. Let my life ring clear and pure.

Humble. You do not shout your greatness into dull ears. But your whisper can break granite hearts.  Let me be broken.

Love. You are father to the orphan, husband to the widow. Your wild and furious ardor chases the unworthy and makes us whole.  Let me love like you do.

Dear God,

Let me be caught in the vortex of that ultimate spiritual paradox: to apprehend you and yet find myself hungry for more!

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