Deuteronomy 30: God will cut away the thick calluses on your heart…freeing you to love God with your whole heart and soul and live, really live.
Moses doesn’t have to see into the future to know what’s coming. After all, he’s led them for decades. When he describes the blessing and the curse that’s set before them, he speaks with authority about what will happen. They’ll rebel against God and travel the road of the curse. However, before Moses ever led this nation he followed God. Through the years he’s gotten to know the Almighty in ways that no other person of his generation has. Even as Moses speaks with authority about failure, he speaks with equal authority about the grace of God. This man of God is sure of this: when they turn back to God the Lord will be waiting to restore them. Clearly, though, there’s more than restoration here. There’s also transformation. The ultimate fulfillment of this promise will come with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. God, the Holy Spirit, will come to “cut away” that which handicaps people from fully loving the Lord. In that work of grace, his people will be set free to love God with their whole being. That’s the way to really live.
Take Away: The Lord not only delivers people from the slavery of sin. He also transforms them, changing them as deep as their very hearts.
How do the people of God live?
Leviticus 22: I insist on being treated with holy reverence among the People of Israel.
As worship instructions continue the rules concerning types of sacrifices are given. As God’s people they’re to bring unblemished animals when making sacrifices. If someone wants to give God something less as a freewill offering, okay – but it can never be an “official” offering. Even then, there are many limitations. We get lost in the rules and regulations and are in danger of missing the main point in them. The reason for the rules is that to do otherwise is to treat God with less than reverence. Understanding the reason for the no-sick-animals rule transforms my reading of the passage. That which I bring to God and that which I do in his Name is not to be second rate. There must always be an element of reverence in my dealings with God. One answer to the question, “how do a people of God live?” is this: with holy reverence toward God.
Take Away: How can I best treat the Lord with holy reverence?
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..
Holiness everywhere, all the time
Leviticus 19: Be holy because I, God, your God, am holy.
This phrase is a repeated in several other places in the Books of Law. Here, it comes just before a rundown of how to live that includes everything from “no idols” to “no gossip.” This command appears along with items like how to plant one’s crops, how to cut one’s hair, and a warning against getting tattoos. It’s intriguing to see this call to holiness from a holy God surrounded by all these mundane concerns. Clearly, the Lord wants his holiness to be found in the lives of his people and not just when the High Priest enters into the Holy of Holies or when Moses ascends the shaking Mount Sinai. As I see obvious cultural concerns along with universal moral issues all being thrown into the mix together and then am told that the underlying concern in all of it is holiness I realize just how wrong it is to confine holiness to a small area of the Tabernacle. God is calling his people to apply their relationship with him to not only how they conduct worship in the new Tent of Meeting but also how they live their everyday lives. That’s a message I need today. After all, part time holiness isn’t much holiness at all.
Take Away: Living a holy life has as much to do with what happens outside the church as it does what happens inside it.
The more things change the more they stay the same
Leviticus 13: The priest will examine the sore on the skin.
Here I am in everybody’s favorite part of Leviticus. I’m reading about clean and unclean foods, infections, woman’s stuff, and mildew. Frankly, it’ll get worse before it gets better. A quick peek ahead reveals a riveting chapter on bodily discharges. I can hardly wait! Of course, I’m kidding about these chapters being everyone’s favorite. I wonder how many New Year’s resolutions to read the Bible through have been shipwrecked right here in these chapters of Leviticus! Still, I’m taken with God’s interest in every part of their lives. This call to holiness reaches deeper than their making sacrifices for their sins or their being sure they show proper reverence to the Lord and his Tabernacle. When a person gets an infection he’s not only to deal with it from the aspect of personal hygiene but from a spiritual point of view too. Know what, this isn’t as far off the beam as one might think. A while back I went through two rounds of antibiotics trying to get rid of a sinus infection. Somewhere in the dreary days of the second week of that infection, I reminded the Lord that, while I knew there were lots of other concerns in the world, I wouldn’t mind his help in healing that infection. As I remember those unwelcome days in light of these chapters of Leviticus I’m reminded that God’s in play in the everyday bumps in the road of life. The specifics of dealing with some of those things has changed, but the basics haven’t changed all that much.
Take Away: The Lord’s interest in our lives goes way beyond our reading our Bibles and going to church.
Exodus 34: He didn’t know that the skin of his face glowed because he had been speaking with God.
Coming into the physical presence of God impacts Moses in a physical way. His face glows. I haven’t a clue as to how this works, but, apparently, it’s intentional on God’s part. Even though I can’t explain the “how” I think I may know the “why” of the shining face. When Moses comes down from the mountain the previous time, he finds that the people have cast off their faith. This time, God wants there to be something about Moses that grabs their attention; something that these who are at the kindergarten level of understanding God can grasp. Therefore, Moses’ face reflects the transcendent holiness of God. Even that’s a bit too much for them, so they ask that Moses wear a veil as he reports what God is saying to him on the mountain. Of course, preachers like me have been drawing from this story to remind people to “let their face show it” across the years and I do think God intends this. God’s people should have a “look” of inner peace, joy, hope, and, yes, holiness. Like Moses, we spend time in the presence of the Almighty and everything about us reflects that.
Take Away: “If you’re happy and you know it then your face will surely show it.” – Children’s Sunday School song
Exodus 3: You’re standing on holy ground.
Out in the wilderness Moses finds himself in the Presence of the Lord. It’s instructive to note that Moses didn’t go out to that place on a spiritual retreat in an attempt to find God. Instead, the Lord finds him, getting his attention in a unique, unforgettable way. It’s the Lord who calls out to Moses as he called out to Adam and Eve in the Garden and as he will call out to the boy Samuel many years hence. Moses is shocked to hear his own name being called out from that burning bush and he instinctively draws closer. However, the Lord stops him, telling him to remove his shoes because he’s now on “holy ground.” Obviously, it’s the Presence of the Lord in that place that makes, what would otherwise be just dirt, into something sacred. In many cultures today, shoe removal is an act of respect or reverence. The command that Moses remove his sandals isn’t a brand new idea to Moses; it’s just that he’s in a holy place and at first, didn’t realize it. It should come as no surprise that the Lord likes to come into our lives in unexpected ways! He’s been doing that since the very beginning. At first, I may miss what’s happening altogether but as soon as it dawns on me that God has come close, I’m to reverently respond; realizing that, what I thought was common has been sanctified by his presence.
Take Away: Where ever I encounter God that place becomes for me, holy ground.
When God’s had enough
Revelation 18: The Strong God who judges her has had enough.
The actual God has had enough. It takes a lot to arrive at this place. A lot of God’s grace has to be rejected. A lot of his patience has to be wasted. As we’re reminded by the writer of Hebrews, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” All heaven cheers this act of Judgment, not because of vengeance, but because of righteousness. For a righteous, pure, holy God to be who he is, ultimately, the end of all that is unrighteous, impure, and unholy must come. It’s not as though there haven’t been opportunities to turn around. I can say with confidence that there’s been at least 2000 years. At some point the patience of God will be exhausted. I want to be standing on the right side of things when God has “had enough.”
Take Away: For the Lord to be righteous, pure, and holy, sooner or later all that is unrighteous, impure, and unholy must be defeated.
The “rest” for the people of God
Hebrews 4: The promise of “arrival” and “rest” are still there for God’s people.
In the Old Testament story of the people of God we read of their deliverance from Egyptian slavery. By God’s hand they triumph at the Red Sea and not long after that come to the Jordan River with the promise that this is to be their land of rest. Once they possess Canaan they’ll be home at last. However it doesn’t work out. The people refuse to trust God and, because of that, are sentenced to a lifetime of wilderness wandering. The writer of Hebrews uses that sad story to tell his readers that the Lord calls his people to a “rest experience” in their relationship with him. After deliverance from sin, there’s a “Jordan River” crisis in which believers are to trust God to give them rest from the inner struggle and freedom to love him with all their heart and soul and mind. The failure of the people of Israel is a real possibility for the believer: to doubt the extent to which the Lord can deliver his people from the bondage of sin. To fail here is to turn back to the wilderness and to experience the spiritual journey as a constant struggle with failure and sin. To believe God and trust him with all of one’s life is to cross the Jordan and enter into a deeper spiritual life of freedom and liberty. “The promise of ‘arrival’ and ‘rest’ are still there for God’s people.”
Take Away: The Lord not only forgives our sins – he also delivers us from that sin.
Dressing like a Christian
Colossians 3: Dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you.
For many people the phrase “dressing like a Christian” dredges up a lot of old guilt and maybe resentment. We were raised in church traditions that stressed externals and the weight of that emphasis fell especially on the girls and young women. Looking back, I feel somewhat charitable toward those who stressed such things. I think, by and large, their hearts were in the right place. After all, they wanted to live holy, clean lives and our personal holiness ought to be evident even in the clothing we choose to wear. However, the years have pretty much proven that traveling that road leads to the city of legalism which is quite distant from the city of love and grace. In this passage we’re told that there’s a wardrobe that’s appropriate for God’s people but it has nothing to do with how much or little skin is shown. God’s people are to be characterized — “clothed in” — “compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.” We’re to be known as “even-tempered, content…quick to forgive.” The absolute necessity for all followers of Jesus, Paul says, is the “basic, all-purpose garment” of love. He emphasizes love by saying, “don’t leave home without it.” So, there I have it. My Christianity isn’t seen in what I wear, but it is seen as these positive characteristics are on display in my life. It was easier to focus on “covering up” but such an emphasis totally misses what it really means to dress like a Christian.
Take Away: Christ should be seen in our lives, not so much by what we wear, but by the display of Christ-like characteristics.