Monday, February 28, 2011

February 28 - Numbers 6:1-5

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
When either men or women make
a special vow, the vow of a nazirite,
to separate themselves to the Lord, 
they shall separate themselves
from wine and strong drink ... [and]
All the days of their nazirite vow
no razor shall come upon the head ...
Numbers 6:1-5 
Question: What do Samson (Judg 13:5), Samuel (1 Sam 1:11), probably John the Baptist (Luke 1:13-15), and maybe even Jesus (Mark 14:22-25) have in common?
Answer: They were Nazirites.
Before we get into the possibility of the New Testament Characters -- Jesus and John -- being Nazirites, let's remember what these ascetic people were:
  • They were set apart "TO the Lord." A vow was taken which made them God's -- rather than belonging to themselves or to their families.
  • Parents could set them apart for this role and responsibility from their childhood. For example, part of Samuel's infertile mother's promise to God was to set apart her child if and when God opened her womb.
  • They didn't drink strong drink. In other words, they approached this vow soberly.
  • They didn't cut their hair. To the world, this was an outward sign of an inward vow. Part of Samson's strength, you may remember, was figuratively in his hair (though literally in his faithfulness), and when he allowed his hair to be cut it represented his infidelity to God and his vow.
Some wonder if hairy, wilderness prophet, John the Baptist, was a Nazirite. After all, the angel who proclaimed his birth said, "he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb." John's very faithful Jewish parents would have undoubtedly understood this description in the light of being a Nazirite.
Others wonder if Jesus himself was a Nazirite. They site first the identification of the Christ as a Nazerene -- yes, he came from Nazareth, but could it also mean he'd taken this ascetic vow? They also site his upper room promise: "Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25).
My job today is not to try and convince you of Jesus' or John's long-haired status. My job is to invite you to consider you vow to the Lord. A next step in your faithfulness and mine does not have to involve teatottling or longer hair! But what kind of commitment might God be calling you and me to?
In Christ's Love,
a guy who could probably be convinced
to give up strong drink (Starbucks Coffee) for Lent  

Sunday, February 27, 2011

February 27 - 1 Peter 2:5

God is building you,
as living stones, into his spiritual temple.
What's more, you are God's holy priests,
who offer the spiritual sacrifices that
please him because of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:5
Under the Old Covenant -- see Numbers 3:10 -- the Lord said to Moses, "any unauthorized person who goes too near the sanctuary must be put to death."
Under the New Covenant -- see 1 Peter 2:5 -- YOU ARE the sanctuary. You are the spiritual temple. And you are "God's holy priests."
This is a HUGE contrast. Why the dramatic difference? Christ!
Jesus Christ is a very different kind of high priest. He confers priesthood and royalty not on the basis of birthright, but on the basis of faith. He invites -- Hebrews 4:16 -- to "approach the throne of gracewith boldness" rather than with fear. And he promises that in this faith-inspired approach, we will "receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
In Christ's Love,
a priest
(and not because I went to seminary,
but because he invites us all to be one!)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

February 26 - Numbers 2:3,10, 18, 25, 17

"The divisions of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun
are to camp toward the sunrise on the east side
of the Tabernacle, beneath their family banners ...
"The divisions of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad
are to camp on the south side of the Tabernacle,
beneath their family banners ...
"The divisions of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin
are to camp on the west side of the Tabernacle,
beneath their family banners ...
"The divisions of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali
are to camp on the north side of the Tabernacle,
beneath their family banners ...
"Then the Levites will set out from the middle
of the camp with the Tabernacle.
Numbers 2:3,10,18,25,17
Exodus began a long journey toward the Promised Land ... until they halted at Mt. Sinai.
Leviticus was a detailed list of instructions for living in that Promised Land.
Numbers resumes the journey.
And today's lesson tells them how.
Think about this: 3 tribes on the north, 3 on east, 3 on the west, and 3 to the south. What shape does that make? A cross!
We could talk about the logic and efficiency of clustering the tribes into smaller units for communication, administration and disciple ... but ... I think it's much more interesting to think that fifteen hundred years before Christ's crucifixion, God's people were moving about the desert in the sign of a cross!
In Christ's Love,
a guy who loves God's subtle winks 

Friday, February 25, 2011

February 25 - Leviticus 26:3

If you keep my ... commands
Leviticus 26:3
Today centers around one word: Consequences.
My kids always hated that word. But it's oh-so-true. There are consequences to our actions.
That's what God tells us. Under his Old Testament Covenant, he gave a wonder list of IF-THENs. Actually it was wonderful ... IF we followed. It was harrowing ... IF God's people did NOT.
The New Testament/New Covenant is surely different. But sit for a minute today with how seriously God takes obedience and sin ...
3 "If you keep my laws and are careful to obey my commands,
I will send the seasonal rains [and] the land will then yield its crops ...
3 "If you keep my laws and are careful to obey my commands,
4 I will give you peace in the land, and you will be able to sleep without fear.
3 "If you keep my laws and are careful to obey my commands,
9 "I will look favorably upon you and multiply your people
and fulfill my covenant with you.
3 "If you keep my laws and are careful to obey my commands,
12 I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people.
14 "However, if you do not listen to me ...
15 and ... break my covenant by rejecting my laws ...
16 I will punish you.
14 "However, if you do not listen to me ...
15 and ... break my covenant by rejecting my laws ...
16 You will suffer from sudden terrors [and] wasting diseases ...
14 "However, if you do not listen to me ...
15 and ... break my covenant by rejecting my laws ...
17 I will turn against you ...
14 "However, if you do not listen to me ...
15 and ... break my covenant by rejecting my laws ...
19 I will break down your arrogant spirit ... 20 [and] all your work will be for nothing ...
14 "However, if you do not listen to me ...
15 and ... break my covenant by rejecting my laws ...
24 I will be hostile toward you, and ... 25 will send armies against you ...
14 "However, if you do not listen to me ...
15 and ... break my covenant by rejecting my laws ...
27 And in spite of this, if you still refuse to listen and still remain hostile toward me,
28 then I will give full vent to my hostility.
14 "However, if you do not listen to me ...
15 and ... break my covenant by rejecting my laws ...
32 I myself will devastate your land [and] 33 I will scatter you among the nations ...Your land will become desolate ... 34 Then the land will finally rest and enjoy its Sabbaths.
14 "However, if you do not listen to me ...
15 and ... break my covenant by rejecting my laws ...
38 You will die among the foreign nations ...
41 Finally, when I have given full expression to my hostility ...
42 Then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, with Isaac, and with Abraham ...
44 I will not utterly reject or despise them while they are in exile ...
45 I will remember my ancient covenant with their ancestors ...
46 These are the laws, regulations, and instructions that the LORD gave to the Israelites through Moses on Mount Sinai.
in Christ's Love,
a guy who wants the green, not the red
(that's the way I liked my chili in New Mexico too)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 24 - Leviticus 25:9-10

on the tenth day of the seventh month
—on the day of atonement—
you shall have the trumpet sounded
throughout all your land. And you shall
hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim
liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.
It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return,
every one of you, to your property
and every one of you to your family.
Leviticus 25:9-10
God knows ...
He knows how live in this world causes us to be upside down.
We're blessed to live in a land that doesn't have this problem ... but throughout too much of human history, people have fallen so far behind financially that they sell their homes and their inheritance. They even sell their own children and their own lives into slavery. Too many of God's children are upside down to the extreme.
Therefore, God had knew he had to set up ongoing seasons of justice, proclaiming liberty to this broken world's captives. Therefore, every fiftieth year, he said it is time to start all over again and turn things right side up again.
What's upside down in your life? Finances? Family? Priorities?
You don't have to wait for your 50th birthday ... or 100th ... or 150th. Any day can be the time that you claim as "the year of the Lord's favor" (Lk 4:19).
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to first
thank God for all the things
that are right-side up in my life
(and then start praying for all the things
I've let turn upside down)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

February 23 - Leviticus 23:3

Six days shall work be done;
but the seventh day is a sabbath
of complete rest, a holy convocation;
you shall do no work:
Leviticus 23:3
Don't you just love holidays?
It's a day to slow down ... find a new routine ... spend time with family ... and break bread with people you love.
The whole 23rd chapter of Leviticus is God's invitation to slow down ... find a new routine ... spend time with family ... and break bread with people you love.
But notice how he starts. He invites us to do that every week!
The Sabbath is a slow down. It is a regular, one-day-a-week, new routine. God crafted it to be spent with family. It was designed around breaking bread with people you love.
It was also designed to be a "holy convocation." God wants to be part of our routine, part of our life.
The question is: How do you use your Sabbath?
In Christ's Love,
a guy who feels both captivated
and guilty by the call to Sabbath

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February 22 - Leviticus 19:9-35

do not ... do not ... do not ... do not ... do not ... do not ...
do not ... do not ... do not ... do not ... do not ... do not ... do not ...
do not ... do not ... do not ... do not ... do not ... do not ... do not ...
do not ... do not ... do not ... do not ... do not ...
Leviticus 19:9-35
Today is one of the few places that match unbelievers stereotype about the Bible. Have you ever heard someone say, "The Bible is just a bunch of rules?" Well, if you read Leviticus, it might just seem like it is.
For the first half of this covenantal book, we were told about the sacrificial system for the forgiveness of sins. Now, "the people are instructed on how to live as a forgiven people." History calls this "the holiness code," and while, yes, it was a lot of do's and don't's, it was mostly a list of how to stay safe (holy) in a world of danger.
If anyone tells you that the Bible is a rule book, tell them, "In places it seems that way. But we'd do better to remember that Jesus simplified all of it to one four-letter word: Love." In fact, in Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus told us to "love the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind ... and ... love our neighbors as ourselves."
By the way ... to point us away from rules and back to love, Jesus was quoting this very chapter with all the "do not's" (as well as Deut 6:5) ...
"Do not seek revenge.
Do not bear a grudge against anyone.
Rather, love your neighbor as yourself."
Leviticus 19:18
Isn't it cool how Jesus goes to the middle of a bunch of rules and reminds us that's it's all about love.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who loves finding a pearl
in the midst of passages about not eating swine

Monday, February 21, 2011

February 21 - Leviticus 16:8

[Aaron] is to cast sacred lots to determine
which goat will be sacrificed to the Lord and
which one will be the scapegoat.
Leviticus 16:8
Did you know that a "Scapegoat" was Biblical?!!
On the Day of Atonement, the priest was to take two goats. The first was to be sacrificed to cleanse the people for their sins (You've heard of that pattern repeatedly by now.) But the second goat, as another translation renders it, "will carry the sins of the people [in]to the wilderness." More simply put, the second goat will carry our guilt away!
Now, our natural tendency is to focus on the goat -- after all, we all like animals and we've all been somebody's scapegoat. But quit focusing on the goat! This lesson is an absolutely powerful symbol of how God hopes we'll deal with guilt!
I deal with people all the time who know in their mind that they've been forgiven -- that's the first goat -- but in their heart, they can't let go of the guilt. They feel dirty, stained, haunted, unworthy, and ashamed.
Therefore, God said, tie your guilt to a goat and watch it wander away from you. Step by step, know that when you have been forgiven, your guilt can disappear totally into the wilderness!
(And by the way, don't disappear into the wilderness again and again trying to hunt it back down!)
It's gone.
You're free.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to eSCAPE
rather be a scape

Sunday, February 20, 2011

February 20 - Psalm 51:7

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Psalm 51:7
I am a leper.
I don't have spots on my skin, but I do have black spots on my heart.
When King David in Psalm 51 confessed the black spot of his adulterous, murderous affair with Bathsheba, he chooses a metaphor from the cleansing of a leper. That old Jewish ritual -- Leviticus 14:5-7 -- went like this:
  • A person with a skin disease with present themselves to the priest.
  • Two wild birds were their offering.
  • The priest will sacrifice on of the birds and drain his blood into a pot of water.
  • While the second bird is being washed in the first birds blood, the priest will use a hyssop brand to sprinkle the unclean person also with blood.
  • Then the priest sets the live bird free. As it flies away, it symbolizes that the unclean person is free too. 
A broken and contrite David wanted his spirit to soar again like a bird. Therefore, he cried, "Give me a branch. Sprinkle me with blood." That's the invitation of the Gospel too. The cleansing branch is the cross and from it we have been sprinkled with His blood. 
Christ chose to be the sparrow who died for us. But then, with the resurrection, he was also the sparrow that flied away free. We can fly too, for "just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might [fly] in newness of life" (Acts 2:24).
In Christ's Love,
a guy (who along with the cat and Mary Louise)
caught a bird in our house a few weeks ago.
We thought he was dead.
But as soon as we took him outside, he flew away free.
Let's not play dead any longer! 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February 19 - Leviticus 11:2-4

Give the following instructions to the Israelites:
The animals you may use for food include those
that have completely divided hooves and chew the cud.
You may not, however, eat the following animals ...
Leviticus 11:2-4
Kosher laws! They had the biggest impact on me when I sat down with a Rabbi for lunch.
In Old Testament times with unsterile clay pots, the lactic acid in milk would make the meat spoil quicker, promoting disease. Therefore, meat and dairy weren't supposed to touch.
That eliminated half the menu for the Rabbi. He ordered salad with neither meat nor cheese.
While ordering, he explained that there are basically three kinds of Jews (and not being an expert, I'm going to totally over-simplify this, but ...) The orthodox still follow the Old Testament laws precisely. The Reformed have a much more modern understanding of which laws they will follow or not. The Conservatives are somewhere in between.
Today, most Conservative and Reformed Jews do not keep Kosher. Why? Because they understand that in an ancient context, eating foods like pork was frought with risks and filled with disease. Now with refrigeration, that law, they say, is unnecessary.
My Rabbi-friend was a thoroughly logical, modern, conservative Jew. But he still kept Kosher. Why? Because every time he cooked, ate, or ordered from a menu, he had to think about God.
When was the last time -- when you cooked, ate, or ordered from a menu -- that you thought about God?!
"Sometimes we keep God's laws," he said, "not because they make sense, but because our intentional faithfulness focuses us on Him."
In Christ's Love,
a "Rabbi" who's going
to shave his beard
any day now 

Friday, February 18, 2011

February 18 - Hebrews 4:15

For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who in every respect
has been tested as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:15
In my Bible, chapter 9 in Leviticus is entitled: The Priests Begin Their Work.
It says, "7 Then Moses said to Aaron, 'Come to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering ... to purify yourself and the people. ... 12 Next Aaron [offered a] burnt offering. ... 18 Then [a] peace offering.
"After that," continues the story, "Aaron raised his hands toward the people and blessed them."
Though the term "high priest" isn't used until a book or two later, look at what Aaron did for the people. Now ask yourself: Wouldn't you like a high priest who's job it was to purify you?
Israel waited for generations for that high priest, their Messiah. You have him with you already and always! Not only did Jesus raise his hands to purify you -- stop, look at the cross, and see his hands raised ... Yes, not only did he raise his hands to purify you, but he understands your weaknesses and loves you anyway.
In the name of our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven, your heart is purified, your hope is secure, and joy is real ... and possible.
In Christ's Love,
a priest who raises his hands in blessing
and hopes you see ... not me ... but Jesus

Thursday, February 17, 2011

February 17 - Leviticus 5:15

When any of you commit a trespass
and sin unintentionally ...
Leviticus 5:15
We all sin. As Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, we all have sinned and we all fall short of the glory of God.
We sin intentionally and unintentionally.
We sin in our thoughts, words, and deeds.
We sin by what we've done and by what we've left undone.
We sin.
Aren't you glad that God forgives what you do intentionally, unintentionally, through our actions, and though our failures? Aren't you glad that God justifies us by his amazing grace?
Today's devotion is simple: While a little confession right now wouldn't be a bad idea, mostly give thanks for God's unlimited generosity.
In Christ's Love,
an unintentional mess
who is intentionally grateful

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February 16 - Leviticus 2:2

After taking from it a handful of the choice flour and oil,
with all its frankincense, the priest shall turn
this token portion into smoke on the altar,
an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord.
Leviticus 2:2
I am glad that God asked me to be a young(ish) Christian pastor rather than an old Jewish priest. (This is especially true after reading Leviticus 1!)
In the first chapter of Leviticus, whenever there was a burnt offering, bulls would be slaughtered, "5and Aaron's sons, the priests, [would] offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar ..." Now, I may have enjoyed splashing in the water when I was four, but I'm glad that I'm not called to slaughter bulls and splash blood as an adult.
Leviticus 2, however, makes these rituals sound a little more appealing. A little olive oil and fresh bread smell pretty good. So does frankincense. So does a barbeque for that matter. Leviticus 1, 2, and 3 call all of these offerings "pleasing odor[s] to the Lord." 
Now, you and I can be a pleasing odor to the Lord too! In fact, in 2 Corinthians 2:15, Paul tells us that we are the aroma of Christ to God ... among those who are perishing."
Our world is filled with people who don't know God or peace or hope. When we live our lives in a wonderful and fragrant way, those who are perishing may just want what we have. Therefore, the best evangelism often isn't preaching at the unsaved, but living our lives in a joyful, honest, righteous, gentle, sweet-smelling way.
How do you think that smells to God? Paul says it is "the aroma of Christ to God"!!!
In Christ's Love,
a guy who'd rather smell good
than smell something good