A Life of Holiness: Week 4 – Moral Holiness

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1And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God.3 You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. 4 You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. 5 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD. – Leviticus 18:1-5

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything.  You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies.  And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead.

Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.  Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1Corinthians 6:12-20

 

 

Chapter 18 of Leviticus is the dreaded chapter regarding sexual ethics that sadly, tends to get more publicity than perhaps the rest of the book. Personally, I would enjoy seeing more cardboard signs and posters citing chapter 25 in the lobbyist sectors of Washington, D.C. where it talks about how all debts are to be forgiven every 50 years and property returned to its original owners. Somehow, I don’t think our multi-million dollar corporations that built themselves gathering up local businesses would appreciate that kind of congressional move. I can dream though… Actually, chapter 18 and 19 go together to discuss the overall moral regulations of Israel, sexual ethics being the main topic of 18, while 19 covers the rest of the social gamut of prohibited behavior.

Sexual ethics are a really personal, powerful, and often complicated topic with people, which may be why there was a whole chapter devoted to them. I am certainly no expert and do not pretend to be, and in the wars fought over what is right or wrong, my opinion does not amount to much compared with the vast amount of scholarship and experience of others who have already pioneered these roads. I only bring the topic up because there is an entire chapter devoted to it, and to simply avoid a subject because it is controversial feels like a lack of integrity on my part in my efforts to walk through the book of Leviticus with you. Rather than go through, verse by verse, and extrapolate all the prohibited relationships, I think it may be more profitable to focus on two main points here: God’s introduction to sexual ethics as setting Israel apart from the rest of the world, and the similarities between the moral laws and the dietary laws as a whole.

The chapter on sexual ethics (and moral ethics as a whole) is introduced by God telling Israel that they are not supposed to act like everyone else around them. Not only are they not supposed to use the “well everyone else is doing it” excuse – they are not supposed to be found guilty of association. God makes it clear that it is not simply one group of people in the world or in their past (Egypt) they are not to imitate, but they are not supposed to imitate anyone else down the road in their future either (Canaan). Instead, they are to look to God Himself, and His rules as the way to base their life. In other words, when we are trying to figure out who we are and how we want to live in this world, we are not to look to our neighbors around us, but rather to our Heavenly Father – with the full understanding that the way He instructs us to live will most likely not fit in with the way everyone else lives.

Why would God do that? I have not been to the Northwest U.S., but I have several friends from the Portland area who have told me that there are signs in the city (which I found on google) stating “Keep Portland Weird!” Is that what God wanted from the Israelites? To have the world see them as simply weird? I don’t think so. While Israel, and we as Christians may often appear weird as a consequence of our beliefs and actions, I think God actually does something greater in asking us to be separate from the world – in asking us to be holy as He is holy. He wants the world to look at us, at the way we behave and relate to one another, and to see Him. He the world to see people who honor their bodies, and the bodies of those around them – not using them for their own profit or pleasure, but treating one another as the image of God in which we were made.

I believe this moral standard God calls us to reflects the same spirit of the dietary laws. Certainly, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, we are free to do as we please in our personal lives. Not everything we do is good for us though, and what we do to ourselves, we do to Christ, who has joined Himself with us when we accept His salvation and make Him Lord of our lives. When we dishonor ourselves, we dishonor God. What Israel did in their homes was reflected in the temple and what we do on our own time is reflected in God’s presence in us and in the Heavens. Why is God so picky about all these details in our life? Why does He not give us some space to just do our own thing without worrying about Him? He is not constantly looking over our shoulder with a checklist of things we do or fail to do. He is not trying to set us up for failure everywhere we turn. He was teaching Israel, and He teaches us today, that worshipping Him is far more than sacrificing livestock and resources at His altar. Worship is about living life in a way that brings Him honor, and paints a true picture to the world of Who our God really is, so that when they look at us, they see Him. That doesn’t mean we just all need to be nicer people. It means, when we are trying to figure out who we are and how we should live – we ask God and follow Him regardless of what anyone else says or whether we understand it all ourselves.

P.S. – Chapter 19:17-18 says it is also immoral to hold a grudge… perhaps we need some posters and lobbying about that one as well.

P.P.S. – Leviticus 19:14 says you should not make fun of deaf people (who can’t hear you) or put stumbling blocks in the path of blind people. (These Israelites must have been some naughty people if that had to be specifically written in their lawbook.)


 

A Life of Holiness Week 3: Holy Worship

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Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.
– Leviticus 10:1-3

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28-29

Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. – 1Corinthians 14:26

When it comes to church, most of us understand the concepts of “respect”, “reverence”, and even “awe”. However, most of us throw up our hands in confusion when it comes to the concept of “holiness” in worship. Most of us have a sense that our worship should be pleasing to God but without a good idea of what it means to have holiness in worship, we all too often fight over details like: seating, appropriate dress, music styles, and who is allowed to participate and/or lead in the worship service. While these things may be important because most people have strong opinions about many of them, I am not sure that any of them adequately address the issue of holiness.

The first worship service struggled with holiness as well, although there was no seating, the clothes to be worn were given to the leaders, there was little music mentioned (and it would have been played and sung in the popular style if any at all) and the leaders were hand-picked by God and all from the same family. However it ended with two of Aaron’s sons, newly ordained priests, being utterly consumed by the fiery presence of God. What was the reason for that? They used their own coals to burn incense rather than the prescribed coals and incense holders from the Tabernacle.

Why should it matter what coals were used or which incense pan held the perfumed offering to God? Well, the utensils from the Tabernacle had just been consecrated – that is, spiritually purified and set aside for worship. Why didn’t Nadab and Abihu use the Tabernacle items? We don’t know. Perhaps they liked their own better. Maybe their brothers took all of them and did not leave them any to use. These are not likely since their would have been plenty of coals to use after burning two rams and a bull. Instead we may find a clue in pagan worship practices.

In almost every pagan religion, you as the common worshipper have the sole responsibility of persuading the god you worship to pay attention and bless you. Therefore you bring your own stuff to the shrine or temple and the pagan priests tell you whether or not the offering was acceptable and what else you can do to earn your blessing. In other words: it’s all about you and what you can do. Worship of YHWH, the true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was always worshipped in community with specific directions because true worship is all about God, not us.

Paul reminds us that Christian worship may contain a number of different things: singing, teaching, special revelations, speaking in tongues, and interpretations (and this is not the exhaustive list) but that whatever we do is to help us all worship God together, not just some of us. While many churches point out that praise bands with fog machines in the sanctuary do not typically help people over 60 worship, especially if they are required to stand for 30 minutes at a time, fewer churches actively consider the needs and gifts if their infants, toddlers, and grade schoolers in worship. God never set an age limit for worshipping Him – either at a low or high end.

More importantly though, holy worship is done in a community of Christians not by yourself in your own comfort. Certainly we can praise God and pray to Him in private, but Holy worship is done showing love both to God and our brothers and sisters in Christ in community. In other words, our Heavenly Father appreciates our little trinkets we give Him, but rather than us competing for His affections as individuals, what really warms God’s heart is when all His children come together to offer one big gift of worship. Nadab and Abihu tried to get God to bless them on their own terms and were consumed because God wanted them to take their place in the bigger picture He was painting. Don’t be left out because things are not perfect or convenient or always comfortable for you, but rather join together with the body with all your gifts, needs, scars, and imperfections, as we are all together washed in the redeeming blood of the Lamb and our worship is made acceptable and pleasing to God.

A Life of Holiness: Week 2 – Priests

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Then Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood from the altar and sprinkled them on Aaron and his garments and on his sons and their garments. So he consecrated Aaron and his garments and his sons and their garments.

 

Moses then said to Aaron and his sons, “Cook the meat at the entrance to the tent of meeting and eat it there with the bread from the basket of ordination offerings, as I was commanded: ‘Aaron and his sons are to eat it.’ Then burn up the rest of the meat and the bread. Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting for seven days, until the days of your ordination are completed, for your ordination will last seven days. What has been done today was commanded by the LORD to make atonement for you. You must stay at the entrance to the tent of meeting day and night for seven days and do what the LORD requires, so you will not die; for that is what I have been commanded.”

 

So Aaron and his sons did everything the LORD commanded through Moses. – Leviticus 8:30-36

 

“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” – Exodus 19:6

 

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; – 1Peter 2:9

 

 

After the initial 7 chapters of Leviticus that discuss the sacrificial rituals for various purposes, chapters 8 and 9 tell us about the great ordination ceremony that took place for the new priests (Aaron and his sons). Chapter 10 describes the aftermath of that ordeal – and ordeal it was, for making a home for a Holy God in a world beset with sin is no easy or simple task. It was only God’s love and faithfulness to His promises to Abraham that prompted Him to give the Israelites the opportunity to worship Him and enjoy His presence at all. Amidst what can easily be read as a very gory depiction of a bloodthirsty God, we need to remember that. God could have left the Israelites in Egypt to work as slaves and to suffer eternally in bondage to sin in death. Likewise, the opportunity to assist Israel in worship of God was a gift and not to be taken lightly.

 

After an extended ceremony in which an two offerings were sacrificed (one for sins and one for consecrating the priests), the blood of the second sacrifice was dabbed upon the priests, specifically on their extremities, or vulnerable areas according to Ancient Middle Eastern ideas: their earlobes, their thumbs, and their toes. No other time do we see blood put on people in worship, for it is typically used to cleanse the altar. The reason is because the blood is for more than just forgiving sins – it is to claim the persons themselves as Holy unto the LORD. They are no longer just people… they are instruments of the sanctuary.

 

This does not happen immediately. After the anointing ceremony, these priests-in-the-making must stay in the outer courts of the temple for a week. They are not yet elevated enough to go into the inner chamber where the priests officiate, and certainly not the Holy of Holies, in which only the high priests ventures and only one day per year. There they sit in silence and humility – simply soaking up God’s presence. This is the first lesson of priesthood and perhaps the most important: learning to live in God’s presence. They are called to be holy, not just publicly, but with every ounce of their being. They are called to live with God.

 

Seven days marks a time of transition. It is the time Genesis accounts for the creation of the world from nothing. It is the time from birth to circumcision, and naming for male children. It is the time given newlyweds to transition from being two persons to being “one flesh”. It is also the time allotted for mourning the loss of loved ones. (All according to ancient Hebrew practices) What we see here is the process of new birth, where ordinary, sinful initiates are “born again” into priests, called to live in the realm of Holiness, and to lead the rest of their people into that same presence of God. What an awesome calling!

 

But what about those of us who live and work outside the temple, outside the church? What does this have to do with us? In Exodus, God told Israel that He was calling all of them to be priests for the world… a city on a hill… a lighthouse over dark waters. Each and every member of the nation was to be a priest for those outside of Israel, outside of God’s people. Peter reminded the church of that in his letters to the early Christians, letting them know that just because you are not an officially ordained pastor, preacher, teacher, evangelist, scholar, or any other servant of the Church, does not let you off the hook for being a priest to those who do not yet know God. We all must undergo our own cleansing by the blood of Christ, the perfect sacrifice, understanding that as His blood touches us, we not only are cleansed, but are marked and set aside for God’s use: to live in God’s presence now, and forevermore. We are instruments of His Holiness, His will, and His mission to bring the world to worship Him and walk with Him, and we do that by going first, and leading by example.

 

 


 

A Life of Holiness Week 1: Spring Cleaning

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“If anyone sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify, and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity; or if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean wild animal or a carcass of unclean livestock or a carcass of unclean swarming things, and it is hidden from him and he has become unclean, and he realizes his guilt; or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort the uncleanness may be with which one becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and realizes his guilt; or if anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that people swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these; when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation [1] for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.” – Leviticus 5:1-6

“THE fog comes