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Grace plus grace
Leviticus 20: Set yourselves apart for a holy life…I am God who makes you holy.
Which is it? Am I holy because I consecrate myself to God or is it because he works in my life making me holy? You know that the answer is simply, “both.” The Lord works on both sides of this issue while I’m in the middle. He makes it possible for me to share in his holiness through his living in and through me. He also makes it possible for me to accept his gracious offer to fill my life, creating in me the capability to choose him over myself. On one hand, there’s God, ready and willing to “make” me holy. On the other hand, why, there’s God again. He makes it possible for me to say “yes” to this gracious offer. I’m in the middle. If I refuse this grace-filled offer, I open the doors to the possibility of all the horrible things described in Leviticus 20. If I accept it, if I take advantage of this grace plus grace offer, I open the way for God’s life – his holiness – to be lived out in me.
Take Away: The Lord not only makes me holy; he makes it possible for me to want to be holy in the first place..
The Day of Atonement
Leviticus 16: In the presence of God you will be made clean of all your sins.
Built into the Law given in Leviticus is a special annual event called the Day of Atonement. Both priests and people are to prepare themselves for this event by fasting. The High Priest is to follow a precise ritual and on this day only he is to enter the most sacred part of the Tabernacle, the Holy of Holies. Here, in the Presence of the Lord his, and the sins of the whole nation, will be cleansed. Once this is done a great celebration of thanksgiving takes place. I find it interesting that after all the sin offerings with all the shed blood that there remains the need for a specific encounter with the Almighty for their sins to be wiped out. In this I see that, in the end, these ancient Israelites rely, as I do, on the grace and mercy of God. As this High Priest in his colorful and strange garb prepares to enter the most holy place on the face of the earth, I think of my own approach to the Throne of God. When the Priest comes in humility the result is cleansing from sin. It’s also that way for you and me. We approach the throne humbly but in expectation of receiving grace, mercy, forgiveness, and cleansing. It’s only in the presence of God that we are made clean of all our sins.
Take Away: When all else is said and done, we rely on God’s grace and mercy.
Exodus 40: …the Glory of God filled The Dwelling. Moses couldn’t enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud was upon it, and the Glory of God filled The Dwelling.
As Moses finishes the work God gave him to do, God moves in. Moses, through the God-given skills of the faithful workmen did what he could do. Moses led the project, the people funded it, and gifted men acted in obedience in preparing this place of worship. At this point they’ve done all that they can do, and the result is an impressive, lavish, and portable Worship Tent. Of course, that isn’t enough. Unless something else happens all they have is a fancy museum. Then God moves in. He fills the place with his glory – with himself. Now they really have a place of worship. A couple of things come to mind here. First, we do all we can do but it’s never enough until God moves. The best singing and preaching, the finest facility, the “best laid plans of mice and men” fall short without God. Second, we see an example of prevenient grace here. God not only graciously moves in, doing the “divine side” of this effort, but it was God who gave Moses the plans in the first place and enabled the people to do the “human side” of this project. It’s God who gifted the workmen. It’s even God who worked things out so that the Egyptians gave this nation of slaves the very items needed for the building of the Tent of Meeting before they ever left Egypt. Here’s a picture of God working on both sides of the issue. As always, in him we find grace, grace.
Take Away: We are recipients of grace all the way through.
You’ve got to be kidding!
Genesis 44: God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives.
“God was behind it”?? Joseph, you’ve got to be kidding! This was a bad series of events. You’ve been sold into slavery, lied about, imprisoned, forgotten – and God was behind it? What school of theology did you attend anyway? Do you really believe God would send you into such difficult circumstances? God only sends nice things into our lives – you know, “God is love,” “Name it and claim it,” “Health and wealth” — that sort of thing.
Uh, what’s that I see? It’s a shadow that looks a lot like a cross. The cross…God was behind it…saving lives.
Never mind…I get it.
Take away: God will do whatever is necessary to bring grace into the world and into our lives.
Jacob reaps what he has sown
Genesis 29: Why did you cheat me?
If not for poor Leah being caught in the middle this situation’s quite funny. Jacob, that “heel grasper” who cheated his rather dim witted brother and lied to his nearly blind father, has met his match in his uncle Laban. After working for seven years for the hand of the beautiful Rachel he ends up with her sister Leah instead. He doesn’t even realize what’s happening until, if you catch my drift, “after the fact.” Again, poor Leah is caught in the middle and I can’t help but feel sorry for her. Still, there’s a feeling that Jacob’s getting what’s coming to him. Finally, the cheater experiences what it’s like to be cheated. He ends up with both sisters as wives, and when their maids are added in, he has a small harem. Anyone who reads about the rivalry and competition that develops out of this arraignment can never come to the conclusion that polygamy is a good idea. Their lives are a real mess. However, even as this silliness plays out I see God’s hand at work. The Lord takes the cheating and scheming and ill-advised multiple marriages situation and turns it on its head, working through human failings to keep the promise he made to Abraham. Even as I read this story and shake my head at its folly, I see God’s grace at work.
Take away: God can work through even silly things to accomplish his will.
Jacob’s stairway vision
Genesis 28: God was in this place – truly. And I didn’t even know it.
Jacob – that “heel grasper” has lived down to his name. He, with this help of his mother, fooled his father, Isaac, into granting him the precious blessing that rightfully belonged to his brother. Now, he’s paying for it by having to get out of the country before Esau can get his hands on him. Alone in the night he has an unexpected encounter with God. In spite of his failure and lack of character God graciously renews to Jacob the promise he made to his grandfather, Abraham. Jacob awakes from his dream and says, “God was here, in this place – far from home, when I have done nothing but wrong, and when I am not thinking of him at all – he was here all the time.” Jacob is not only on a long journey in distance, he’s at the first step of a spiritual journey that will take decades. This “heel” has heard from God and while there’s still more wrong than right about him this “stairway vision” marks the beginning of that spiritual journey. The story of Jacob’s spiritual journey is more entertaining than most, but it does remind us of our own stories. I am glad today for God’s grace – his unexpected, unearned, promising, and patient grace.
Take away: Thank God for grace.
Genesis 6: God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.
Human beings have been removed from the Garden but they take their sin with them. Immediately, grace begins to flow, an unending river of good will toward these broken creatures. Sadly, the response is to reject the grace and push the Grace-Giver away. The crowning achievement of all God made has degenerated into a self-absorbed, God-ignoring shadow of what might have been. This “free-will” business isn’t working out and like radical surgery is sometimes needed to battle cancer, the Lord makes the painful decision to prune away all the foulness so that humanity will get another chance. For centuries the number of people who chose to respond to God’s grace has dwindled. Now, one righteousness man is left. If humanity is to be saved, it’ll be through him. The focus of the universe is on righteous Noah. We won’t see everything depending on just one man again until the Lord unleashes the eternal solution to the fallen condition of humanity. That will involve a willingness, not to build an ark, but to go to a cross.
Take away: The story of Noah is more about humanity getting a second chance than it is about judgment.
Genesis 3: God put a mark on Cain to protect him.
The murderer has been confronted and has confessed. The sentence is banishment to a hostile world. From now on he’ll be an outsider, apart from the family (it’s not a nation yet) God claims as his own. Cain is crushed by this sentence and already feels the icy grip of loneliness on his life. Not only that, but he knows he’s getting off with a sentence lighter than he deserves. He senses that the proper penalty for murder is death. In addition, he realizes that other people know it too. God may be banishing him, but he imagines other men hunting him down and taking his life that justice might be done. What the Lord does in response is, at the same time, one of the great mysteries of the Bible and also one of many great acts of mercy. Cain’s marked in some way that says to all he encounters “This man is under God’s protection, leave him alone.” I have no idea of what that mark is, in fact, I can’t imagine how it works. However, I do know it’s a mark of mercy and I have a very good idea of what mercy looks like. It looks like the Lord forgiving me of my sins rather than condemning me as I deserve. It looks like hope instead of fear. It looks like Jesus on the cross of Calvary.
Take away: Thank God for the “mark of mercy!”
Life in the middle
Titus 3: Stay away from mindless, pointless quarreling over genealogies and fine print about the law code.
Since Paul’s somewhat critical of the average resident of Crete I assume that his warning to Titus here isn’t based on some natural tendency of Titus to get caught up in trivial matters. It seems to me that Paul thinks that the people of that island do share this tendency and if he isn’t careful Titus will get bound up in it too. Paul wants Titus, and all believers, to focus on the big picture. The Lord has graciously and in mercy reached out to us in our sinful state to establish us in a new relationship with him. He stepped into this world and knowing full well that we don’t deserve it, loved us anyway and went to work transforming our lives. Now, we’re made new, cleaned up by Jesus, recipients of God’s gift of himself to us. These are the things we’re to think and tell about. We’re to let others, outsiders, have the corner on worrying about the minutia of the law. They’re welcome to it. After all, if such things provide salvation, the Pharisees and Sadducees would have been Jesus’ best friends. Paul tells Titus to “put his foot down” and insist that the business of the Church is declaring Jesus and to provide evidence of what he does in people’s lives by being “bighearted and courteous,” law-abiding citizens. On one side of us are those who are “ordered every which way by their glands.” On the other side are those who focus on debating the finer points of the Law. Here in the middle, we just live for Jesus, telling our story to all who will listen.
Take Away: It’s easy to major on the minors – but to do so is to fail to live the life to which the Lord calls us.
The secret to evangelism
Colossians 4: Make the most of every opportunity.
Believers aren’t supposed to create closed communities of the faithful. Rather, we’re to live right out in the open, rubbing shoulders with those outside the faith, making friends, sharing in their lives. I don’t think this means that believers are never to “retreat.” After all, Jesus at least attempted to get the disciples away from the crowds sometimes. Still, he always went back to them, loving them, and, apparently, liking those who weren’t his followers. Paul urges the Colossian Christians to not only stay involved in their community but to make the most of that involvement. Interestingly, his directions for them aren’t as evangelistic as you might think. He describes “making the most” as being “gracious in your speech” and tells them that their “goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation.” Apparently, our influencing others for Christ doesn’t necessarily start with a “spiritual conversation” at all. Instead, it starts with friendship, respect, genuine interest. In fact, Paul specifically warns them not to “put them down” or “cut them out.” In light of these instructions, becoming a “friend” to someone just so we can tell them about Jesus is off the table. My seizing the moment starts, instead, with my making some genuine friends outside the body of believers. Then, I make sure I’m always gracious in my conversations with them, wanting the best for them. Real friendships are the secret to evangelism.
Take Away: For church people it’s a big challenge to make good friends who are outside the church. Still, it’s a key component to evangelism.