Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Myth of Leviticus Difficulty

Far from being a lot of new rules for the Israelites to figure out, Leviticus takes things that God’s people are already doing and translates them into a new expression. When you read Genesis and Exodus, you can clearly see that people already have understanding about how to do much of this stuff already. For example:
  • They make sacrifices – Genesis 4
  • They have a sexual ethics code- Genesis 38
  • They understand what it means to be in the world but not of it in their economic actions– Genesis 23
  • They know which animals are clean and which are unclean - Genesis 7
So Leviticus is about taking things to the next level making them more beautiful and glorious.

Moreover, we appear to have assumed that Leviticus is a hard book, with loads of rules, 617 to be precise. But when you stack those 617 against the 307 you need to know, just to pass your driving test, suddenly, everything is set in perspective. And that 307 doesn’t include all the unspoken etiquettes of what you need to do in certain situations after you pass your test. And that’s just for driving a car!! Did you check your tyre tread before you last drove?

We have rules for governing how we run our houses or borrow money to buy them, rules about how to bring up our children, rules about how we interact at work, rules about how we go on holiday, never mind all the rules about crimes like robbing a bank, but when was the last time you found yourself saying “Too many rules – how am I going to get on with my life?”

When was the last time you thought: “I’m so grateful there’s a law against sexual relations with animals because I’m really feeling tempted that way...” Chances are. if you have never thought about that, then most of the Israelites who were given this law didn’t either.

Yes, the world of Leviticus is different, but it's probably no more different than visiting another culture, e.g. China. Yes, it's different, but it's also still very much the same. So think of Leviticus, not as a dry rule book, but as a tourist guide to another people who are different, but at root, just like you and me.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

11 Reasons Why Leviticus Overwhelms Us

There is probably no book of the Bible more ignored than Leviticus. It feels so alien.

But its alien nature is probably as much due to our unquestioned assumptions as any essential difficulty. Have a look at the 11 underlined reasons below, some of them are at best half-baked truths, others are plain crazy. How many of them have you unwittingly swallowed over the years?
  1. Simplicity = purity. There are a lot of seemingly irrelevant picky details in Leviticus.
  2. Here, God seems angry with the people and not like the nice Jesus we know, God isn’t angry with us anymore, so I don’t need to engage with this stuff.
  3. “Progressism” (C. S. Lewis called it “Chronological snobbery”) Like racism but with progress. Technological progress (iPhone 6 is better than iPhone 3 etc.) leaves us feeling that newer is better and that people who lived in the past were stupid because they hadn’t worked out how to make the Internet and they kept slaves. So because Leviticus takes place in the past, it is inferior and therefore has little important to tell us.
  4. When we open the Bible, we want God to say something relevant to our life today. We long for a rapid emotional connection. Easy when reading the Psalms, difficult when reading Leviticus, so we ignore Leviticus.
  5. We have a strange relationship to animals. Blood sacrifice is alien to us. We love to eat them, but we can’t bear slaughtering them.
  6. We are automatically suspicious of rituals, institutions and especially organized religion.
  7. We believe the only way to be authentic is in expressing our individuality and in being “original,” not in repeating rituals. (This is the essence of the consumer economy.)
  8. We think about our salvation primarily in individual terms, not in terms of a community.
  9. We think that God’s grace is to be experienced primarily as an inward / psychological reality, rather than an outward / community reality. One expression of this is that “modern” churches will more often climax their meetings with prayer ministry time, rather than communion.
  10. We assume that the trajectory of human history is from the physical to the spiritual, that we will shed all our physical forms. (This is a version of Gnostic thought, which at root is heretical.)
  11. Faith is first and foremost a private matter.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Notes on Ephesians 5:1-20

Big picture
  • Paul, writing this letter in prison and awaiting either acquittal or execution, draws on his Jewish heritage, using the same structure to teach the Ephesians as Moses used with Israel at Sinai in the book of Deuteronomy which was his parting address (esp. Deut. 33) – reminding them of all that God has done for them (Eph. 1-3) and how they should now live (Eph. 4-6) as they begin to play their part in the renewal of not just a land, but the whole world.
  • If you want to get a feel for what Paul is doing in Ephesians, it would be worth taking an hour to read the book of Deuteronomy and feel the similarities.
  • Paul speaks not as a master to slaves, wagging his finger, but as a father to his beloved children, charging them as he departs, to continue what he began and take it to the next level in scale and beauty.

Context of Passage: Christ defines how to walk in love (v1-2)
  • Moses told the Israelites to “choose life” (Deut 30:19) by walking in all of God’s law. Paul tells the Ephesians in view of all that God has done through Christ to “walk in love.” Walking is possible for all (assuming no medical complication), easy to do and a long haul activity, but it’s not glamorous and there are no earthly rewards for doing it (unless you’re a toddler doing it for the first time).
  • Christ is the definition and source of that love, not feelings, science or culture. What Christ said and did is the pattern we should follow.
  • Christ offered himself up to God above (Heb. 9:14) to give life to the world down below, restoring our friendship with God. But he also calls us to do the same (Rom. 12:1-2, 1 John 5), to crucify our self-centred agendas and offer ourselves up a living sacrifices (Matt. 16:24) walking in the footsteps of Christ our bridegroom, older brother and master so that we too can honour our Heavenly Father and give life to the world.

Walk as a giver, not a taker (v3-7)
  • Paul now follows with some examples of what it means to walk in love. The list is not exhaustive but a flavour of how God’s people should live.
  • Life is a mix of giving and receiving, but like Jesus, the Christian is to primarily receive from God (directly and through the church) and give to the world.
  • We stray into sin when instead of giving ourselves for the life of the world like Jesus did, we become takers, desiring and / or stealing what does not belong to us, or giving away that which is not ours to give. Sexual immorality, however consensual, is this kind of dark giving and taking of each other. Impurity is taking things into ourselves things that pollute. In the Old Testament, that was represented in things like bacon sandwiches, but now it is more the lies, empty ideas and distractions that lead us away from Christ. Coveting is desiring things we have no right to desire – like someone else’s...
  • “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks...”(Lk. 6:45) This kind of lifestyle leads to a way of talking that doesn’t reflect reality, instead, it reflects our mistaken belief that we are the centre of our (own) universe. It’s not so much a prohibition against all toilet humour (the Bible has toilet humour, see Judges 3), or of using “rude” words (e.g. Phil. 3:8) but it is to say that what you say should be worth hearing, not just filling air space, but wholesome, full of wise judgment, honouring God and benefitting to people.
  • Living as a taker not a giver is evidence that the grace of God is not at work within you, and if God is not at work within you, what confidence do you have that you will inherit eternal life, you’re just a fool – Like Jonah asleep on a sinking ship (See Jonah 2).
  • This is not a call for Christians to retreat from life and society, for fear of becoming “polluted.” Christ calls us to be in the world, but not of it. Love compels us to draw near to those who have no hope and share our lives with them, but do not knowingly tie yourself unwisely to relationships that will force you to compromise your allegiance to Christ. Engage with life as it is, and ensure you have regular retreat times to drink deeply from the fresh water of the Spirit as you fellowship with the Father and the Son in the community of the church as well as “in your chair.” Otherwise you could sleepwalk into some very painful scenarios.

Walk in the Light, as the Light (v8-14)
  • Being children of the light, means being like the moon, the moon has no light of its own, but it does give light to the earth. How? By reflecting the light of the sun.
  • What we see in Christ as he shows himself and by extension, his Father is what we are to shine forth to the world. This is our highest joy, privilege and duty.
  • Exposing darkness doesn’t mean deliberately going after wickedness and saying “Look!! Aha! I told you so!” It means that living like Jesus naturally brings all things into the light, both good and bad, so that you can see them for what they really are. In the dark, reality is distorted, some things look terrifying but are not, others are not dangerous, but become so and real threats and dangers cannot be assessed and then neutralised / escaped.
  • Light enables you to make good judgements and take action. You would never allow a surgeon to operate on you in the dark.
  • However rude our culture may declare making moral judgements to be, (irony being we ALL, Christian or not, are making judgements of each other ALL the time) it is part and parcel of growing in true Christian maturity. If you never make any judgements, you will remain immature and infantile in life, not just in your faith. The aim is to grow in making good judgements, full of grace and truth (John 3:19).
  • Darkness cannot resist light, it has to flee, evil may appear to triumph in the short term, we may have setbacks but light ALWAYS finally triumphs. Darkness has to flee or be converted.

Walk in service as you patiently await the fulfilment of promise (v15-20)
  • Rather than explain this section line by line, consider the parallels of Exodus 32. Moses goes up the mountain to meet with God, the people get impatient waiting for him to bring them the oracles of God, so they take matters into their own hands, and in the pursuit of happiness, fall into idolatry and all its associated evils including illicit sex, excessive drug use (alcohol, that is) and bawdy rock and roll.
  • The days are evil, God has made promises to you and me about this life and the next, but he won’t always fulfil them in the time frame we want. The question then will become will we wait for him to come through for us, or take matters into our own hands. Do you want the “man-made joy” of drunkenness that comes by taking matters into your own hands ahead of time or the true joy of the Spirit that comes from waiting patiently for God to be true to his word?
  • Don’t short circuit God’s purposes. Humble yourself and busy yourself in service to others as you wait patiently to inherit the promises he has given you. Yes, be honest and open about how you feel, but don’t overly focus on the thing you feel denied of, it will tempt you to sin, and make you annoying to other people. Rather, praise and thank God for all he has given you and busy yourself in the love and service of others.
  • If they wanted music, most people across the world and down history, would not be able to turn on the radio or MP3 player, they would have to sing to themselves. Sing to God and yourself as you go about your business (The Israelites would use Psalms 120-134 as they journeyed the road to the temple, they are good for the road of our lives too.) The songs we sing in our hearts are reflected in the words we speak to one another. If your heart is full of trivial / trite-cliché songs, you’ll be full of trivial / trite-cliché words for others. If you are full of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, you will be full of wisdom for others.

Selection of Questions to choose from / chew over:
  • How does the fact that Paul is writing these words like a father to children soon before his death, (like Moses in Deuteronomy) change the way you hear them?
  • What does it mean that Christ is the definition and source of love? How does that help you obey the command to walk in love and become a “living sacrifice”?
  • When you consider Jesus as the source and definition of love, how does that change the way you think about politically incorrect term of conquering the world for Jesus?
  • In summary, are you a giver or a taker in life? What are you giving to the world? What are you taking from it? What would Christ’s assessment of your life be?
  • What does it mean to live as Light and expose darkness?
  • Are you pursuing an infantile mindset by being “non-judgmental” or seeking to grow in a mature mindset, making good judgements that are full of grace and truth?
  • In which areas of life are you tempted to give up waiting for God’s timing and take matters into your own hands? How can you busy yourself with serving others so you don’t become ensnared or just a bore to those who have to listen to you?
  • What songs are going around your head / heart at the moment, are they benefiting you or others? If not, then what needs to change?