November 23rd, 2017

The God Who Never Blushes

Leviticus 18:3 “You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in Canaan, where I am bringing you” (NIV).

Observation: Thus begins one in a long list of chapters in which God detailed rules to live by, this chapter focused on unlawful sexual relations. No possible perversion of God’s ideal is overlooked; every kind of relationship abominable to God is forthrightly discussed, each being called defilement.

Application:  Apparently we have a God who never blushes. The unadorned language of this chapter ought to have at least caused Him to wince. But no, He apparently considered the horrifying practices of pagan nations surrounding His people and said, in effect, “Don’t even think about doing what you see them doing!” 

The list of prohibited intimacies is long: no Bob and sister, no Bob and granddaughter, no Bob and Rover, no Bob and Bob. He calls these “defilements.” Why would sexual perversions form the basis of defilement? Why would defilement not spring from the sordid gain of a shopkeeper using dishonest weights for measuring peanuts, or the deceit of a used-chariot salesman trying to hide weaknesses caused by a past collision? 

Why was sex so defiling? I may try to intellectualize the issue by saying that intermarrying degrades the gene pool to produce drooling idiots, but it doesn’t explain His objection to sex with animals. There is something deeper here, something far more important. I could make the claim that because God is so much bigger than I, He has the right to set all the rules; after all, He uses the phrase, “I am the Lord” with unnerving frequency in this chapter. 

The only way this chapter makes any sense at all is when I view God’s mandates through a bridal paradigm. He isn’t merely hoping to protect the gene pool; nor is He bullying in an area of life He designed to be most fulfilling. The reality is, He is a passionate lover of us created beings, and He is searching hopefully among us for an undefiled bride for His Son. God never lists His laws because He loves lists or because He loves laws; what He loves is me. What He is wildly ecstatic about is the idea that by living within the boundaries He proscribed, I would be considered undefiled and thus qualified to be part of the magnificent bride He is wooing for His Son.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, viewing You through the lens of a bridal paradigm breathes life into even musty passages like this one. I am overwhelmed by Your intention from the beginning of the Book to capture my heart even as I have captured Yours. Thank You.

November 22nd, 2017

White Hairs and Mildew

Leviticus 14:14 “The priest is to take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot.”

Observation: Leviticus 13 and 14 are unusually long chapters of minutely detailed instruction regarding skin diseases and mildew, how such problems were to be assessed, and what must be done about them. A priest was to examine individual hairs within a skin sore to determine whether a disease might spread (white hair) or heal on its own (black hair). Different kinds of mildew were treated different ways. Each priestly examination carried with it specific instruction as to how something once unclean could be made ceremonially clean again, down to such detail as which ear lobe, which thumb, which toe were to be sprinkled with the blood of a sacrifice or with oil or both.

Application: To the modern mind, the minutia in these chapters is mind numbing. Focused discipline is required to do more than skim these passages, but it might not have been so for a people who were impressed with the need to hear and obey God precisely. After all, these chapters follow chapter 10 in which Aaron’s two oldest priestly sons were incinerated by fire from God for not getting some details exactly right. So aside from the health benefits of this instruction, there may have been more going on here than a casual reading reveals. 

Think of the sheer scope of this activity. Instruction is couched in language addressing individuals: this hair, that article of clothing, the mildewed rock in the northwest corner of Steinmetz’s TV room. But there were literally millions of Jews. Imagine the scale and scope of priestly responsibility. One senses that God intended His people not to live their lives casually before Him. The unending sacrifices of doves and pigeons, of fine flour and oil surely taught them the need for atonement for such external afflictions as boils and mildew.

In their small daily sacrifices, the Hebrews were being groomed to one day recognize Calvary’s ultimate sacrifice. I, living on this side of Calvary, am too often guilty of treating it casually, as though I can take it or leave it without consequences. Given the busyness of life, Calvary can easily become one of a long list of things I briefly consider each week, on a par with tomorrow’s menu or the planned weekend test drive. How might I be transformed if I considered His sacrifice as seriously as a Jew considered white hairs and mildew?

Prayer: Lord, there are patterns everywhere in Your Book, patterns meant to inform and govern my lifestyle today. Cause me to keep the first commandment first all the rest of my days.

November 21st, 2017

Burned to a Crisp

Leviticus 10:2 “So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (NIV).

Observation: Aaron and all his sons had been ceremonially consecrated as priests before both the Lord and His people. They were in a new temple in a new land, and a new order of worship had been instituted. Aaron’s two older sons decided on their own to perform a ritual contrary to God’s command, so He incinerated them. Aaron, seeing what happened, remained silent. Moses saw, too, and reminded Aaron of God’s earlier words: “Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored” (Lev. 10:3).

Application:     Doesn’t this seem a little harsh? Here were Aaron’s sons just getting started in the family business; one little mistake and they were burned to a crisp.  Whatever happened to on-the-job training? Aren’t mistakes to be encouraged so we can learn from them? Surely a good scolding and docked pay would have helped them improve. And what of Moses, this man of God with whom Aaron had been in close partnership these forty years, what of his unfeeling response?  Should he not have extended some brotherly, syrupy comfort over Aaron’s loss?  Couldn’t Moses have come up with at least an empathetic verbal hug such as, “I feel so sorry for you”? The implication, of course, would be that God was at fault for the boys’ deaths, but what can be done? He’s the one who writes the rules, and He seems to have been a bit inflexible. Moses said none of that. Instead, he summoned Aaron’s cousins to carry the corpses outside the camp, then turned to Aaron and his other two sons and told them, in essence, to get over it.  “Do not let your hair become unkempt, and do not tear your clothes, or you will die” (Lev. 10:6). 

Oh, how I want to resist personal accountability. Flesh longs to lay blame for my shortcomings at the feet of long-forgotten ancestors whose sins have been counted against ten succeeding generations. My ancestors have done me in! Or perhaps I have been touched directly by some of life’s harshness and I strain against the unfairness of it all. In the balance of my response hangs my eternal destiny. I have the choice to use pain as an opportunity to drill down deep into the heart of a God who Himself knew ultimate pain, or I can decide that He is unfair, and that I will run my own life from now on. He leaves room for no middle ground.

Prayer:  O Lord, thank You for showing me Moses’s right perspective. You are holy and countenance no disobedience. Thank You for what this must have taught watching Hebrews and for what it has taught me.

November 20th, 2017

Moving Off Dead Center

Acts 14:27 “They gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” (NIV)

Observation: Paul and Barnabas have been on a preaching circuit, the fruit of which was anything but neutral. The same message that moved many to Christ led others to plot the death of the messengers. In each city a similar division resulted: effective preaching backed by signs and wonders drew some to the Cross and enraged others. In Lystra, for example, listeners’ initial response was to rally ‘round the priest of Zeus who brought animals for sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:13). Not long after, the same crowd was inflamed against the preachers by out-of-town Jews, so they stoned Paul, leaving him for dead (v. 19).

Application:     In light of all that, Paul’s trip report to his church back home was almost comical: “God,” he said, “had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.”  Well, yes, that would be the “glass-half-full” way of reporting your stoning. Like the child who begins excitedly digging through the pile of stable offal under conviction that a pony must be in there somewhere, so is Paul’s report as he assesses the impact of their latest tour. Not everyone believed, but all were stirred to a response—even those who tried to maintain a center-of-the-road stance had to move to one side or the other.

No one in Paul’s crowds would be able to lean on ignorance of Christ’s claims as a defense against future judgments. What was it about his presentation that wrought such impassioned response from his listeners? Was it the decibels of his sound system or the just-right lighting? Perhaps it was the warm-up band or the slick PowerPoint his audiovisual team developed for each message. Likely not.  Paul summed his world-shaking message in one line of his report: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 22). Listeners already open to loving God loved Him all the more as Paul’s words tenderized their hearts. The offended ones were those who preferred to rely on their religious traditions for “doing church.” The idea of personal accountability to a suffering Christ was so offensive that they would stone a man and leave him for dead in the self-righteous name of their religion. 

See how stark are my choices? Blessing or curses. Light or darkness. Lukewarmness, that deadly middle ground cursed by Jesus in Revelation 3:15-16, is the religiosity of the day. I must be moved from that so in the end, based upon my response, I will know that His assessment of my life is just and true.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, keep me from the deadness of lukewarmness. Stir such passion for You in my heart that none who know me would doubt how I have responded.

November 19th, 2017

Hot-Hearted Pursuit

Acts 10:33 “Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us” (NIV)

Observation: Cornelius was a Roman Centurion who loved God. Generous to the poor, faithful in his prayer life, he had been visited by an angel who honored Cornelius for the richness of his life and told him to send for Simon Peter. The angel gave Cornelius Peter’s name, the name of the homeowner with whom Peter was staying in another city, and directions to the house. As Cornelius’s friends headed for Joppa to call Peter, God was at the same time giving Peter a vision designed to make him instantly responsive to Cornelius’s request for Peter to come and share the Gospel.

Application: Everything about this story was designed to fan the flames of a heart hungry for more of God. A Gentile worshiper saw and heard an angel clearly enough to act without question. Peter changed a core tenet of his theology based upon a single vision (although it was repeated three times, apparently for emphasis). When Peter arrived four days later at Cornelius’s house, he found the place already packed with Cornelius’s family and friends, all of whom expected Peter to show up and tell them the things of the Lord. This last point seems most astonishing because it carries the greatest risk of embarrassment had Peter not come. But Cornelius’s confidence in God was so great that he risked all credibility on the expectation that the Jewish apostle would break fundamental Jewish taboo to come to the home of a Gentile.

Can I see myself in these men? When was the last time I was so desperate to plumb the depths of God that He sent an angel to show me how? When did I last obey instruction given so clearly that I had to risk laying aside all I believed in a certain area simply to act in obedience to the Holy Spirit? And if willing to take such risk, how prepared am I to expose my journey to those closest to me? Cornelius was a man whose heart burned to know God, and he was willing to risk his reputation and his standing among friends in pursuit of God. There is always more of Him to be known. I can spend a lifetime in hot-hearted pursuit only to find I have touched just the edges of His personality, His emotions, His love for me. To the longing heart He delights to reveal more of Himself; in the cry of my heart for intimacy with Him, I finally become One with His own heart’s longing.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, forgive my complacency. Forgive me for every tendency to think I have You figured out, and my theology right. Blow the sides out of my small heart, that it might be enlarged by You.

November 18th, 2017

Masks

Exodus 33:15 “Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here’” (NIV).

Observation: Moses had come off Mt. Sinai to the devastating scene of Hebrews worshiping a golden calf. In fury, God told Moses to lead the people away from Mt. Sinai, to continue toward the land He had promised them. God Himself would no longer journey with them, but He would provide an angel to clear the land of enemies before the Hebrews’ advance. God’s decision to remain distant was for their own benefit, He explained, because “you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way” (Ex. 33:3). To this, Moses begged for God’s continued presence, saying, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”

Application: What an astonishing change had been wrought in Moses’s heart.  When he had first encountered God at the burning bush, Moses had been terrified; now he would rather risk death than lose God’s presence. Not even the promise of an angelic escort could satisfy the desperate longing of Moses’s heart for God to remain near. In fact, his longing was so deep, so heart-felt, that God relented, saying, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name” (v. 17).  

Moses had become a bold, confident lover. He had gone deep into God’s heart and refused to find satisfaction in anything less, even though in this instance the “anything less” was an angel commissioned personally by the God of the universe. Moses got it. He had moved beyond the fear and obedience of his earlier years, and had developed a heart that burned for the presence of God. 

Sadly, the fire of God’s heart is a stark contrast with what I have too often settled for: something far less than an angel. I have been callously contented with scant crumbs from beneath His table when His heart’s desire is for me to enjoy His full banquet. I have been contented with so much less than the fulness of His presence, believing that I “had it all” simply because I had walked an aisle in all sincerity. I have too often been content with “church,” rather than committed to press in to His manifest presence. I was glad He masked enough major expressions of my rebellious heart for me to be acceptable to a larger company of believers who also wear masks, all the while knowing that I was dry and lifeless inside. With a massive, purposeful heave, all such pretense and shallowness can be pushed aside; God’s whole intent has been to transform my heart, not just my behavior; to show Himself as so lovely, so beautiful, so desirable that I will be devastated by anything less.

Prayer: O Lord Jesus, You have radically transformed my heart. I am ravished by Your glances in my direction. Cause me to throw off literally every thing that gets in my way of responding to You.

November 17th, 2017

Paying My Own Ransom

Exodus 30:12: “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted” (NIV).

Observation: God was in the midst of establishing patterns for the Hebrews’ spiritual lives. After much detail, the text shifts to the matter of a national census, and God mandated that every person pay a ransom for his own life at the time of being counted.

Application: What’s going on here? The uncreated God of the universe, the One who already owns everything, expects to extract a ransom from each of His subjects? That isn’t the way I thought this was supposed to work. I thought He was the sacrifice, that it was He who had come to be a ransom for many.  Today’s verse seems to contradict that, to turn on its head everything I understood about the Gospel. 

This doesn’t seem fair. After all, a census was God’s idea; the people didn’t volunteer for it. Then, He demanded a half-shekel penalty as ransom. This sounds like a fund-raising bazaar in the school gym, where, to raise money for a worthy cause, I can send a friend to jail from which he can gain release only if enough money is given. While the one jailed may not have actually volunteered, he at least knew the rules when he entered the room. Besides, it’s all done in good humor, and the prisoner is glad to provide ransom for his freedom. 

But isn’t the point of Christ’s story that He came to pay for me a ransom I could never pay for myself? Didn’t He come to be my redemption? The only way this command in Exodus makes any sense is to see it through the lens of a lovesick God whose passion is to fill heaven with voluntary lovers of His dear Son. He embraced the Cross from the beginning and declared within Himself a willingness to give everything he had for my purchase. 

Yet I too often behave like an egocentric actor at the close of a stage production, taking accolades from the throne room, happily receiving flowers tossed my way as somehow well deserved. “Yes,” I think, “I hear the angels’ applause, thank you very much.” The thought occurs that mine was indeed a boffo performance; see what a wonderful price God Himself was willing to pay? But when the last curtain call has ended, when I am no longer the focus of the stage lights, my final review will not consider just His awful sacrifice, but mine, as well. The old man must have yielded completely to the new; death of all that flesh holds dear is the only ransom acceptable to Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, in Your commitment to me is a call for me to wholly die to self. The ransom You require for my life is far more than a half-shekel; it is everything I have, everything I am. Stir within me the zeal to respond to Your matchless love.

November 16th, 2017

The Ultimate Bouncer

Exodus 23:22, 27 “If you listen carefully to all that he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation that you encounter.”

Observation: God was speaking, downloading to Moses the laws by which His people were to live, and promising to set an angel over the nation to bring them into the Promised Land. Finally, He said He would be an enemy to their enemies if they would but listen to Him.

Application: This passage is enough to arouse envy in all who read it. If I listen and obey, He assigns to me the biggest bodyguard in the neighborhood. Not only will this angel guide and protect, he will take on every opponent, every enemy, spreading terror and confusion into their hearts.

I may be reading a bit simplistically. I yearn to see myself as beneficiary of the ultimate bouncer. In fact, I have called upon him in the past. But whom did I think I was addressing when I petulantly hoped that the driver who cut me off would be caught in a speed trap or when I wished financial reversal on the competitor who just landed the client I had eyed? I am, after all, the righteous one, aren’t I? Don’t I have God on my side? 

But this thinking misses the heart of the Gospel. In the same chapter where God promises to be my enemy’s enemy, He also tells me to treat my enemy kindly: “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you, be sure you help him with it” (Ex. 23:4-5). Huh? Is God schizophrenic? Does He care more for fallen donkeys than for my vindication? 

I am missing the deeper way God looks at these things. His coming to earth was all about a lovesick God finding a bride for His Son. In demonstrating love for those who hated him, He taught me to love those who hate me. It’s about Jesus’s prying open the locked heart of a wounded girl so she might have intimacy with Him forever. Yes, He would clear enemies from the land of His beloved, and He has indeed gone ahead to prepare for me a place unimaginably good. But I will not gain entry into that privileged place in His heart by directing tanks over a stack of enemy corpses. In my devotion to Him, my heart will be tenderized to the point of blessing my enemy by helping even his fallen donkey.

Prayer: Lord, there is yet so very much I must learn about my own heart. You are showing me the heart of a Bridegroom who desires that none should perish; tenderize my heart so I can be part of that redemptive process.

November 15th, 2017

His Deepest Longing

Exodus 17:2 “Moses replied, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?’”(NIV).

Observation: The Hebrews had recently begun what would be a forty-year odyssey of desert wandering. Having satisfied their need for food, they then quarreled with Moses over lack of water. Moses ultimately drew a fresh spring from pure rock by God’s command, but he first addressed their attitude by establishing equivalency between him and God: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put God to the test?”

Application:     Moses clearly cast the issue at hand in terms the fleshly person can never understand: a challenge to a leader God has set in place is a challenge to God Himself. Everything within me strains against this reality. I naturally want to be my own man, but God calls me to live not in the natural, but the supernatural. Moses understood equivalency. Set in by God, knowing he had God’s mind in the matter, he rightly discerned that criticism of his leadership was criticism of God.  

The instant I gain a modicum of authority over a spouse or employee, I seek to bring them into conformity with my agenda. “It’s for their own good,” I say. “I’ve been given this authority or that responsibility, so I must wield it, and they must yield. I only have their best interests, or the firm’s, or the family’s, at heart.” The truth is, I am driven by my own imagined best interests. 

Christ never used His authority to direct His flock. Rather, He became a servant to the point of laying down His life for me. He wasn’t seeking to be right; He was seeking a bride. The father heart of God passionately searches the earth for those who would be voluntary lovers of His Son. There will indeed come a time when He will reign as King and Judge, but this time is not yet that time. 

To prepare me for that day, He has placed me in a crucible. He puts me in a place of fear between the sea and Pharaoh’s army, and then sits silently on His throne through seasons of my hunger or thirst. I cry out, but the heavens are as brass. All the while, His deepest longing is that I would trust His bridegroom heart to protect me and to provide all I need. His heart is ravished by my love, immature though it may be. The Hebrews didn’t begin to grasp the depths of His love for them, so they complained. How fully do I grasp His love? Have I entered into such a place of intimacy that I know in advance that He will meet every need?

Prayer: O Lord, when I consider Your beauty, I am undone. In that moment there is no doubt, no lingering question of Your commitment to me. Take me afresh into that place of deep knowing of Your love.

November 14th, 2017

How Awl-ful

Exodus 21:6 “He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life” (NIV).

Observation: Moses had just received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.  The people’s attention was riveted toward the mountain where God was manifest. They had seen lightning flashes, heard thunder and a heavenly trumpet, and the mountain began smoking. Responding to their fear, Moses told them not to be afraid; God was testing them, he said, but He would be with them and would keep them from sinning. Exodus 21 then begins by saying, “These are the laws you shall set before them,” and plunges into a litany of arcane rules about slavery.

Application:     Imagine what it must have been like for the entire nation to witness God’s manifestations on the mountain. Their eyes must have widened in wonder, mouths agape, bodies quivering from fear. Had there ever been a more riveting moment in all of human history? 

Now that God had their attention, how did He use it? By making them slog through obscure instruction about how slaves could win their freedom, and how to mark them if they choose to belong forever to master, wife, and children. Take them before the judge, then stand them against a doorpost and pierce their ears with an awl. Ouch! How “awl-ful.” But notice it is the servant’s choice to be pierced. If so motivated by love for his bride to be willing to go through the procedure, he voluntarily submitted to the process. Indeed, he asked for it. He knew in advance the required payment to have his bride forever. 

See how in God’s earliest laws He foreshadows Christ and His sacrifice? For love of His bride, He would willingly be pierced. He would willingly go before the judge and be nailed to a cross as symbolized by the same doorpost on which Passover’s blood was smeared. For love of His bride, He would carry forever the marks of piercing in His side. 

This is a God who so loves His children that He surrenders His divinity to become a man forever, then lays down even this life in search of voluntary lovers. He will paint other pictures later in the book to show His love for the Hebrews, and for me. But I ought to remember this first one; it contains the whole Gospel.

Prayer: O God, my soul groans with added understanding of Your immeasurable sacrifice for me. Remind me, Lord, each time I use the word “awful”; remind me of Your piercing.