Sunday, February 28, 2010

Day 58: Deuteronomy 22, 23 and 24

If you see your brother's ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to him. (Deuteronomy 22:1)
There is a popular philosophy that can be summed up like this: Look out for #1. This sounds more like an advertisement for natural selection than it does the basis for an ethical system. The biblical writers take a different tack.
The writer of Deuteronomy records God's admonition that rather than selfishly looking after our own interests, we are to care for our brothers and sisters. Our brother's sheep that runs away is our responsibility to return, even if no one's looking. We are not to hide behind plausible deniability, but to do the right thing.
It goes on to say if we find an ox running loose and don't know who owns it, we are to take it home, feed and care for it until we find out who it belongs to, and then return it. Although it might be easier to ignore the animal, or more advantageous to keep it as our own, that's not the way for one who claims a relationship with God.
I can't remember the last time I came upon a wandering sheep or ox. So how does this apply to a 21st century inhabitant of a major metropolitan area? Jesus put it this way: Do to others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12).
Seen any wandering oxen lately?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Day 57: Deuteronomy 19, 20 and 21

Is any man afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his brothers will not become disheartened too. (Deuteronomy 20:8)
In Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first inaugural address, as the nation was sinking into the Great Depression, he uttered these words: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Those words have been repeated over and over because of their profundity and for the comfort and assurance we are afforded by them.
Fear is contagious. Israel's leadership didn't want fear infecting the ranks of its volunteer army, so anxiety was a legitimate reason for being sent home. Better to lose one fearful soul than have panic spread to everyone else.
Fear can derail not only a nation's (or an army's) forward momentum; it can do the same to a church. So can negativity - one of fear's byproducts. That's why it's so important to speak positively. A careless word can do a lot of damage.
For he has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). That means fear doesn't get to tell us what to do. May our words, and the attitudes from which they are spawned, always move us forward and never hold us back.
Are your words an encouragement to those around you?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day 56: Deuteronomy 16, 17 and 18

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. (Deuteronomy 18:15)
The words spoken by the prophets were not necessarily predictive in nature. Most of the prophets' message was forthtelling rather than foretelling. In other words, most of what a prophet spoke was God's message for those to whom he was speaking. This is not to say there is no benefit for the 21st century reader of such prophecies, but that the message made sense to the people who were physically hearing it. It would be arrogant as well as naive to believe biblical prophetic messages were aimed specifically at us and not applicable to our grandparents or our grandchildren. To understand God's message for us, we have to understand the message as it was intended for its original audience.
In the first century, people read that God would raise up a prophet like Moses from Israel. The writer of Matthew went to great lengths to identify Jesus with Moses and reveal that Moses-like prophet as none other than Jesus Christ himself.
What characteristics did Jesus share with Moses?

Day 55: Deuteronomy 13, 14 and 15

There should be no poor among you. (Deuteronomy 15:4)
We lived for a time in suburban Washington D.C. on the Maryland side. Our nation's capital is full of homeless people. They make their beds at Union Station and near the White House (both obviously major tourist destinations), among other places. Every once in awhile, especially before a significant event, the Capital Police will push the poor out of these more visible locations, and relocate them elsewhere. After all, it doesn't look good for the most prosperous nation in the world to have all these street people huddled beneath dirty blankets in front of tourists and TV cameras.
Chapter 15 talks about the Sabbath year for cancelling debts. There should be no poor among you. It's not the poor this passage is aimed at, but those with plenty. Deuteronomy does not blame the have-nots for their lot in life. It charges those with much to care for those with little. Do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs (Deuteronomy 15:7,8).
This section reminds me of Proverbs 19:17 - If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord - and he will repay you!
When's the last time you looked the other way rather than connected with the poor?

Day 54: Deuteronomy 10, 11 and 12

And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you? (Deuteronomy 10:12)
One thing I like about Deuteronomy is how it encapsulates the entire forty-year wilderness experience into 34 readable chapters. When reading Exodus through Numbers (espeically Leviticus), it's easy to think God is all about rules and regulations, but Deuteronomy boils it down to what's really important: What does the Lord ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heartand with all your soul, and to observe the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good (Deuteronomy 10:12,13)?
And did you catch that last part? ...for your own good? It's important to remember that God's laws are good for us. God created us to live in loving relationship with him and with people. When left to our own devices, we often abuse our freedom and end up hurting other people, sometimes to the point of damaging those relationships - even unintentionally. But obeying God's laws preserves and can even restore them.
Have you ever damaged a relationship by neglecting God's laws? Was it worth it?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day 53: Deuteronomy 7, 8 and 9

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. (Deuteronomy 8:10)
The Israelites would soon be inhabiting a land to which they were connected only by DNA. Although they had never set foot in Canaan, their ancestors were buried there, and Abraham had legally purchased property therein ensuring an inheritance for his children and his children's children in perpetuity.
The houses in which they would live and the vineyards from which they would harvest were not of their own making. Others had labored to build the cities and plant the gardens. Moses didn't want his followers to take these things for granted. He wanted them to give credit where credit was due, and to express their thankfulness to God.
During this economic downturn ending the first decade of the the 21st century, those of us with jobs are perhaps more aware of how much we have to be thankful for than any time in recent history. But things are bound to improve - they always do. And when we are all breathing a little easier, and not constantly wondering if ours will be the next job lost, let's think back on this difficult time, be thankful for what we have, and remember to thank God for all the good things in our lives.
In fact, let's pause to say, Thank You, right now.
For what or for whom do you need to give thanks today?

Day 52: Deuteronomy 4, 5 and 6

If from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him. (Deuteronomy 4:29)
Our premise when we began reading at the beginning of the year was that these writings came to their complete and final form sometime during the Babylonian exile. I asked you to put yourself in the place of a Jewish expatriate. Things haven't been particularly rough in Babylon; you've settled down, raised a family, and even been relatively prosperous, but something inside you is longing to go home. When your parents told you about Jerusalem they got a far away look in their eyes that made you vow to return there one day if you ever got the chance.
Now there have been rumors that your fantasy may soon become reality. A new king has decreed that whoever wants may return to Judah and settle once again in the homeland. To prepare, the priests have been reading stories from Israel's beginnings, stories of enslavement and escape, stories of a people returning to the Promised Land - the very land of your childhood bedtime tales.
The stories even explain why Judah was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and exiled to Babylon seventy years ago. It was Judah's unwillingness to obey the first commandment: You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3). But in these more recent stories, there is a promise made: Even if you've been scattered among the nations, If from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him.
It was a reminder that Yahweh would not be trifled with, and a promise that Israel would not be forgotten. Many years ago your ancestors left Egypt and journeyed to Canaan, but because of their disobedience the Jewish people were driven out of their Promised Land. You vow that if you ever see Jerusalem you will not make the same mistakes made by your parents and grandparents.
What lessons have you learned from family mistakes?

Day 51: Deuteronomy 1, 2 and 3

It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road. (Deuteronomy 1:2)
Just a parenthetical note, that's all. Apparently common knowledge - It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road. It was from Kadesh Barnea, the southern entrance to Canaan, the spies were dispatched to survey the Promised Land. It was at Kadesh Barnea the people balked at going in and taking what was rightfully theirs.
It takes a lot of effort to squeeze an eleven-day journey into forty years.
The people who followed Moses out of Egypt were not prepared to follow him into Canaan - not once the cold reality of battle and hardship pierced the fog of their naive expectations. They were slaves, not soldiers, and they needed to grow up if they were to ever claim their inheritance.
There may be times in our lives when it seems things are taking longer than they should, when we take inventory of our lives and insist we should have come further and accomplished more. Those are the times we need to remember that God alone knows how far we've really come and the battles we've fought to get from where we were to where we are now.
The straight-line distance from where we started to where we end up may not tell the whole story of how far we've come.
How's your journey going?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day 50: Numbers 34, 35 and 36

Select some towns to be your cities of refuge. (Numbers 35:11)
These closing chapters of Numbers deal with boundaries to define tribal allotments, boundaries to prevent land from osmosing from one tribe to another, and boundaries to protect innocent people accused of murder.
People who think Old Testament laws are harsh must not realize the lengths to which these laws go in protecting the accused. Customs often demanded the death penalty for injuring someone or even simple theft. Biblical laws introduced the idea that the punishment must fit the crime. An eye for an eye was not cruel; it was a limit placed on punishment to protect the defendant.
Another example of these limits is that a person could not be executed on the witness of only one person. The biblical laws stated that testimony in a capital case must be corroborated at the very least by a second witness.
Likewise, cities of refuge were set up to protect the life of a person who accidentally killed someone. Sometimes vigilantes would hunt down and execute the offender. Even though the death may have been accidental, the defendant might be executed before getting to tell his side of the story.
Harsh? Maybe not as harsh as some would believe.
Considering Jesus' admonishment to have compassion on the prisoner (Matthew 25:34-40), should we be surprised that same compassion would be extended to defendants prior to conviction?
Is anyone fearing for his life, or maybe his dignity, while awaiting your verdict?

Day 49: Numbers 31, 32 and 33

The Reubenites and the Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. (Numbers 32:1)
Two and a half tribes (Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh) got to looking around on the east side of the Jordan, came to Moses and said, Gilead been veddy veddy goood to me. (Okay, this is an extremely obscure Saturday Night Live reference from the 70s.)
At first Moses was incensed, thinking these three tribes were abandoning the rest of the nation just as they were about to cross the Jordan to drive out the inhabitants of the land. This didn't set well with Moses until they assured him they would participate in the battle campaigns for Canaan, and then return to their wives and children in Gilead.
While Moses eventually gave his blessing to the request of these three tribes, it really didn't end well. There was never a strong connection between these transJordan tribes and the rest of Israel. As we continue to read, we will find the references to them are few and far between.
Do you have any distant family members with whom it would be good to reconnect?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day 48: Numbers 28, 29 and 30

If her husband forbids her when he hears about it, he nullifies the vow that obligates her. (Numbers 30:8)
This passage speaks to the seriousness of keeping one's promises, and how important it is to keep from making vows rashly.
At first glance, it might seem this passage is demeaning to women, who can have their vows overridden by their fathers or husbands; however, that's not the point. The purpose of this regulation is not to be condescending to women, but to protect them. On the other hand, it also protects husbands and families from being burdened with debts racked up by non-worldly wise wives and daughters. These are not the arbitrary restrictions of a woman-hating God, but the sheltering embrace of a benevolent parent.
As an example of another biblical writer's honor and respect for successful businesswomen, see Proverbs 31:10-31.
Have you ever made a promise and later wished someone could get you out of it?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Day 47: Numbers 25, 26 and 27

The men began to indulge in sexual immorality with the Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices of their gods. (Numbers 25:1,2)
This is the second installment of Balaam's story. I never really understood why, from the reporting of Chapters 23 and 24, that Balaam would have been sentenced to death. After all, he didn't curse Israel. Then I gained some pertinent information. Even though his name is not mentioned again until his death in Chapter 31, many biblical scholars think Balaam was behind Moab's last ditch attack - namely the seduction of the Israelites.
On the surface, this speaks to the determination of Moab to defeat the Hebrew people. Balak felt threatened by Israel, and when a frontal military assault (Plan A) proved impractical, he attempted a side door (Plan B) attack through his agent (Balaam). When that was also unsuccessful, Balaam apparently discovered where the men of Israel were weak, and attacked them via their sexual appetites (Plan C).
For a spiritual application, Satan possesses this same dogged determination to interfere with our connection to God. Just because he is blocked on one front doesn't mean he will give up. That's why we need to be honest about our weaknesses, put on our spiritual armor and take guard every day.
Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed (James 1:14).
The front door to your heart is probably locked and well-protected. What about the back door?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Day 46: Numbers 22, 23 and 24

What have I done to make you beat me these three times?
You have made a fool of me. (Numbers 22:28,29)
I love this story. We have the Israelites camping on the Plains of Moab (north end of the Dead Sea - east of the Jordan River opposite Jericho), which is where they will stay until Joshua leads them across the river. While they are camped there, Balak King of Moab sees their military strength and decides on a preemptive strike, enlisting the help of an internationally renowned diviner named Balaam.
When Balaam gives in to Balak's demands, he protests that he cannot do anything counter to what God tells him. However, that doesn't mean Balaam served Yahweh God of the Israelites. To Balaam, Yahweh was just another tribal god who could be manipulated by magic arts.
Even though Balaam was warned not to curse the people of Israel, he still didn't take seriously the power of Yahweh. The image of his donkey reading him the riot act always makes me smile. Say it with me: Wil - il - il - bur - ur - ur! I think the dialog should have gone more like this:
Donkey: What have I done to make you beat me these three times?
Balaam: You made me look like a fool!
Donkey: You look like a fool, all right, but I didn't make you look that way.
Have you, like Balaam, ever misunderestimated God?

Day 45: Numbers 19, 20 and 21

Bring . . . a red heifer without defect or blemish. (Numbers 19:2)
The red heifer was different from all the sacrifices detailed in Leviticus. First of all, the red heifer was not sacrificed; it was slaughtered - outside the camp - nowhere near the bronze altar. Second; sacrificial animals were males; the red heifer was female. Third, sacrificial animals were not burned whole; the red heifer was.
The finished product, for which the ashes of the red heifer were the main ingredient, was cleansing water. This water was specially formulated to restore a person's ritual cleanness after that person came into contact with a dead body. This was a gift of grace, allowing a family member to minister to the deceased, knowing that their own cleanness could be restored.
Hebrews 9:13-14 explains how, as the ashes of the red heifer cleanse the ceremonially unclean allowing them to continue in relationship with the community, the blood of Christ cleanses us from our uncleanness allowing us to live in relationship with God.
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can make me whole again? nothing but the blood of Jesus
O precious is the flow that makes me white as snow
No other fount I know; nothing but the blood of Jesus [1]
Does your relationship with God need restored?
[1] W/M: Robert Lowry - published 1876 - public domain

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Day 44: Numbers 16, 17 and 18

Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord's assembly? (Numbers 16:3)
How could Moses be so misunderstood? He didn't have a self-serving bone in his body. He had left the luxuries of Pharaoh's palace to defend the nation of Israel. He had placed himself between God's wrath and the people, interceding for them on more than one occasion.
What precipitated this uprising? Was it the failed incursion into the Promised Land, or the resulting defeat at the hands of the Amalekites and Canaanites? Or was it the Sabbath breaker whose execution was ordered by Moses (speaking for the Lord, of course)? Or was it something completely different?
Basically what we have here is one of the most tragic business meetings in church history. Democracy is a beautiful thing, but works better when those in the majority lobby for the good of the assembly rather than for their own selfish interests. So much for getting out the vote.
If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God (1 Peter 2:20).
Have your best motives and efforts ever been misundertood?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Day 43: Numbers 13, 14 and 15

We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt. (Numbers 14:4)
Obviously, in spite of their complaint, the problem here was not the lack of a leader, but the lack of followers. Of the twelve spies sent into Canaan, ten saw only the problems, while Joshua and Caleb saw the possibilities. And, as usual, the naysayers carried the day.
When I stand before the judgment bar of God, I pray that I'm not counted among those who stopped the forward momentum of the church because they thought their glasses were half empty.
The Israelites wanted to choose a leader who would take them, with their tails between their legs, back to Egypt. In other words, they were looking for someone who would take polls and follow majority rule. That's not leadership. Leaders don't let a group turn tail because of fear; they confront that fear and find one way or another to move the group forward.
Sometimes we don't realize our greatest opportunities may be disguised as our biggest problems.
What are the greatest needs surrounding you? How does God want to use you to make things better that he might be glorified?

Day 42: Numbers 10, 11 and 12

Moses and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife. (Numbers 12:1)
Moses enjoyed a special relationship with God, and others not only took notice of it, but became envious. Miriam (Moses' sister) is an important player in the exodus story: She saved Moses' life when he was just an infant, looked after him even after he was pulled from the Nile by Pharaoh's daughter, and led the women in a song of deliverance on the heels of their Red Sea crossing.
Only someone we love can betray us, and such a betrayal is a painful wound. Miriam was apparently the impetus behind this attack on Moses, although his African wife was clearly not the real issue. The problem was that she felt like Moses was getting more of the attention than he deserved. She wanted to share the limelight. Notice how, rather than defending himself, Moses left the response to God.
After God schooled her about how Moses was no ordinary prophet, she was afflicted with leprosy. The fact that Aaron was not gives us a hint that Miriam was the ringleader of their little rebellion. Aaron pleaded with Moses to intercede for them (I wonder if he was sincerely thinking about his sister or worrying about his own potential punishment). Moses prayed for them and God answered his request.
Have you ever experienced the sting of betrayal? Did you exact your pound of flesh, or did you have the good grace to leave vengeance to God?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Day 41: Numbers 7, 8 and 9

They may assist . . . but they themselves must not do the work. (Numbers 8:26)
If you read Chapter 7, you probably join me in being thankful there were only twelve tribes. Am I right?
Chapter 8 includes Israel's blueprint for aprenticeship, career, mentoring and retirement. Notice that Levite men could start working at age 25. After a 25-year career, they encountered the Levitical retirement requirement. But they didn't move to Florida to play shuffleboard the rest of their lives. They retired to teach.
They may have initiated the age old mentoring formula: 1) I do; 2) I do, you help; 3) You do, I help; 4) You do.
Who mentored you? Who are you mentoring? When you hang up your spurs, who's going to take your place?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Day 40: Numbers 4, 5 and 6

The Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die. (Numbers 4:20)
Like Leviticus, this section impresses upon the reader the holiness of God. The Kohathite clan (one of three family lines descended from the sons of Levi) was being told: We're getting ready to move out. It's your job to pack and carry the Ark of the Covenant, but you're not allowed to look at it or touch it. Sounds like a disadvantage to me. They were charged with packing and carrying not only the Ark, but all the holy furnishings and implements of the tabernacle.
Special instructions were given regarding the Ark of the Covenant. They were to take the curtain the separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (between the Ark of the Covenant and the Altar of Incense, along with the Table and the Golden Lamp), using it as the initial covering of the Ark. They would take the curtain and (probably walking backward) drape it over the Ark. Over that went two more layers of coverings: one rainproof and the other ornamental.
Why the drama? Was God being picky? On the contrary, this was to highlight the holiness of God and the special nature of anything (including not just things, but also people, tasks and events) dedicated to his service.
Are you giving the things of God the respect they deserve?

Day 39: Numbers 1, 2 and 3

Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. (Numbers 1:2)
Many find Leviticus difficult to read with its instructions for endless sacrifices and observances. Upon its conclusion, those who don't know better might breathe a sigh of relief... until they start reading the census in Numbers 1. The first (and last) chapters make Leviticus look like Disneyland.
We've spent the last half of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and now the first portion of Numbers camped at Mt. Sinai. Twelve months have passed since the Israelites left Egypt. Chapters ten through twenty-five cover highlights spanning the next 39 years, including fascinating episodes recounted from wilderness travels. But truth be told the last ten chapters of the book (including a second census) can again get a little tedious.
What's the point? That brings us back to the above verse. As I write this, the United States is preparing for another census. We would be wise to remember that our country is not just one homogeneous group of people who look, act and think alike, but a nation of individuals. While Ancient Near East cultures were more about the group (clan, village, etc.) than they were the individual, the writer of Numbers reminds us right from the start that the Israelite community is comprised of clans, families and individuals - and every story is important.
What does it mean to you to know you are part of something bigger than yourself?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Day 38: Leviticus 25, 26 and 27

What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops? (Leviticus 25:20)
Why is it so hard for us to trust God? In my fifty plus years there have been times I have been faithful to God and times I have been unfaithful. There have been times I trusted him and times I did not. But I can say with certainty, there has never been any waivering with God - God has always been faithful; God has always been trustworthy.
The Israelite people suffered from that same lack of trust. Even though God had assured them that he was their provider (they'd seen it with their own eyes), they felt all the responsibility of providing for themselves rested on their own shoulders. God had shown himself to Abraham as Yahweh-Yireh (God my provider in Genesis 22:14), a story treasured by all Abraham's descendants. Traditionally, as this word was being delivered to the people, they were eating their fill of quail and bread every day (including the Sabbath when they were restrained from gathering manna). They had a ready example of God's faithfulness to provide.
And yet whether it's the odd Israelite out collecting manna on the Sabbath, or planting crops in the seventh year, or David counting his fighting men, or us worrying about our bills, lack of trust seems to eclipse even our supposed lack of resources.
How will you show your faith in God's provision this week?

Day 37: Leviticus 22, 23 and 24

Tell Aaron and his sons to treat with respect the sacred offerings the Israelites consecrate to me. (Leviticus 22:2)
When we bring our tithes and offerings and present them to God via the church, it's good to know that those monies are not taken for granted, but appreciated and stewarded with respect as sacred. Congregations have many of the same bills as do families. They have to pay for water and for trash removal, the light bill and building maintenance. As corporations they also have to pay for unemployment costs and salaries.
As I have shared in other venues, some of us are dreamers and visionaries, and some of us are nuts and bolts kind of people. That's by God's design. We can be thankful for those business minded men and women who watch over our facilities and finances to make sure we'll be ministering and dreaming well into the years ahead.
Take comfort that God-ordained and equipped stewards are treating as sacred the gifts you bring to the church. It is a holy calling.
Are you a dreamer or a nuts and bolts kind of person? Or maybe somewhere in the middle? What does that say for where you should be serving in your home church?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Day 36: Leviticus 19, 20 and 21

Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:2)
I used to dread this verse as an impossible command, a requirement with which I could not comply.
In his book Rebuilding the Real You, Pastor Jack Hayford invites us to receive this verse as a promise, rather than a threat. He illustrates how a child may inherit a receding hairline, big feet, or a cleft chin from a parent. God is our parent, and God is holy. Holiness is in God's DNA (so to speak). As his children, that DNA is our inheritance. We don't have to scuffle and scheme to be holy; we simply have to receive what, because of our parentage, is rightfully ours.
Do you look like your Father?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Day 35: Leviticus 16, 17 and 18

On this day atonement will be made for you. (Leviticus 16:30)
Chapter sixteen is where we find instructions for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). This was the one day of the year when the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place (the Holy of holies), to make atonement for the nation's sins. Yom Kippur, the most important day of the Jewish calendar, is the tenth and final day of ten days of repentance beginning with Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah falls in September on the western calendar.
The writer of Hebrews refers to the Day of Atonement and its trappings as copies of the heavenly things (Hebrews 9:23). In other words, the Old Testament sacrificial system was as close as they could come to Christ's saving work on the cross for a people living in pre-Incarnation times. God's heart for reconciliation didn't just begin with the coming of Christ. He has always been working to reconcile humanity to himself.
We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus once for all (Hebrews 10:10). Unlike the offerings brought by the Old Testament priests, there was no need for Christ to sacrifice himself year after year. The cross, while absolutely necessary, was also completely sufficient to bring reconciliation between God and mankind.
What difference does it make to you that Christ's offering of himself was a once and for all sacrifice?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Day 34: Leviticus 13, 14 and 15

You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean. (Leviticus 15:31)
This is, I'm afraid, a rather difficult reading pertaining to infectious skin diseases, mold and... discharges. Let's bring it up to date.
A while back, some people I know were quarantined in their apartment because of viral pneumonia - complete with a sign on their door and everything. The health department hadn't gotten a handle on the infection and didn't want it spread to the schools where the kids attended.
When's the last time you heard about meningitis spreading through a college dormitory? With all those kids living in close contact, that's one of the health concerns of the 21st century... a fertile breeding ground for germs and disease.
Here we have the account of thousands and thousands of people traveling through the wilderness in close community (anything infecting one member could easily spread to others). Two things which scared any Ancient Near East people were leprosy and mildew. Infected people could not cohabit with healthy people, and infected homes could not be inhabited at all. So in a sense, once these two things got rooted in a group of people, they very effectively broke community. God's all about community.
What other infections could break their God-given community? The worship of false gods? Immorality? Gossip? Resenting those in leadership?
That was then - this is now.
What infections can break our worshiping community? Should we be any less careful in preventing their spread today?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Day 33: Leviticus 10, 11 and 12

Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today? (Leviticus 10:19)
After the tragic deaths of his sons Nadab and Abihu, Aaron and his two younger sons were not only not permitted to take the day off from their work, they were forbidden to show any sign of mourning at all. Later in the day, Moses found out that a sin offering had been completely consumed by the altar fire, along with a burnt offering, even though the sin offering was specifically supposed to be eaten by the priests. Aaron defended himself and his sons by reminding Moses that they had been faithful to carry out their duties that day in spite of the loss they had endured.
It is probable the three men did not eat because of their grief over the deaths of Nadab and Abihu. They did not display their mourning by taking off work, or by tearing their clothes, but they may have been too burdened or heart-sick to eat.
Having heard Aaron's explanation, Moses was satisfied that the digression was birthed out of sincere hearts, and not an offense against God.
Have you ever hurt so bad you didn't know how you could go on, but your responsibilities wouldn't allow you to stop?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Day 32: Leviticus 7, 8 and 9

If anyone who is unclean eats any meat of the fellowship offering . . . if anyone touches something unclean and then eats any meat of the fellowship offering . . . that person must be cut off from his people. (Leviticus 7:20,21)
Whenever I read this passage, I have to admit, the thought comes to me: God is so strict. I mean, being excommunicated for what basically amounts to not washing your hands?
But maybe the attitude problem isn't God's. Maybe? What am I talking about? Maybe the problem is mine. Could it be that I don't take seriously enough God's holiness and his desire for me to reflect that holiness?
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best, but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness (Hebrews 12:10).
Is there anything in your life that God calls sin, but you've dismissed as insignificant?

Day 31: Leviticus 4, 5 and 6

If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally... (Leviticus 4:2)
When Leviticus uses the phrase sins unintentionally, it might be better rendered as wanders away into sin or does wrong. Ignorance of the law was no excuse. If someone (or a group) engaged in actions or behaviors and only later found out those things were infractions of the law, he was (they were) still guilty. The real difference between the sin offering and the guilt offering was that the sin offering was for more general sins, while the guilt offering included restitution for harming or injuring another person.
Whether between persons, or between humanity and God, these laws are for maintaining relationship and restoring that relationship once it has been broken.
An interesting component of this passage is the concept of community sin. Too often we think of sin as only an individual's offense rather than allowing for the idea of sin shared by the entire community.
Are there sins for which our communities (neighborhoods, congregations, ethnic groups, genders, countries, etc.) need to repent? How can we encourage or facilitate repentance on a community-wide level?