Tag Archives: leviticus

The Dead Tell No Tales (nor do they stand on their head)

“When they heard this, they praised God.  Then they said to Paul: ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law.'” Acts 21:20

To put this verse in context, James and the elders were requesting that Paul demonstrate his bona fides, his street creds, by showing some observance of the ceremonial law.  Evidently some of Paul’s teachings were being twisted to discount the law.  In a cultural context talking down the law was like talking about yo’ mama.  Paul wasn’t talking down the law, but wasn’t emphasizing it as much as some of the “ol’ timers” would have preferred.  Of course Paul could have set them straight, but he realized that Kingdom relationships aren’t about being right, they’re about being reconciled.  Paul also realized that the law was powerless under the New Covenant.  It wasn’t irrelevant, just powerless, so he decided that this wasn’t a mountain to die on.  In his incomparable style Matthew Henry addresses this passage this way, “It [the law] was dead, but not buried; dead, but not yet deadly.”

When you get right down to it, the law has always been powerless.  In and of themselves laws have never made anybody do anything.  Anyone at anytime can chose to either obey or not obey a law, but the law doesn’t “make” someone exhibit a certain behavior.  Even threatened punishment can’t force someone to obey any given law.  It might cause a potential law breaker to reconsider, but ultimately obeying, or disobeying, a known law is a choice.  Sometimes laws are broken as a result of ignorance or inability, but still the law was powerless to dictate behavior.

Laws only have the power granted by those that obey them.  A law can be passed that requires everyone to stand on their head for two hours everyday (absurd, I know, but work with me here).  Some would obey willingly and some begrudgingly in order to avoid punishment.   Others would intend to obey, but would fail due to inability (this would be me).  Others would decide to blatantly disobey and refuse to do it just out of rebellion.  Another group might weigh the cost of punishment and decide it’s too ridiculous to obey such a ridiculous mandate and risk any penalties.  Regardless, the “Stand on Your Head Act of 2012” would hold no power.*

Let’s take a look back in the Old Testament at Leviticus in general and chapters 23 and 24 in particular.  Rule after rule after rule regarding worship.  Did these rules and regulations cause the Jews to be “worshipping” people?  Only as far as they did worship.  If anything, the law resulted in them being legalistic.

So, why was the law necessary?  For one thing, it kept humanity from killing itself.  Earlier I stated that laws don’t cause behavior, but they do give some people, that might otherwise be “knuckleheads”, a chance to reconsider ill-conceived intentions.  From that perspective enough people chose to obey the law that we didn’t kill each other to the point of extinction.

Also, the law gives us a point of reference, a measuring stick.  It reveals that I “fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:33).  Taken out of context that’s bad news.  Without the ellipses it’s “hellfire and brimstone.”  But that’s only half of the verse, half of the story.  “And” is one of my favorite words.  “And” comes after the ellipses.  Not “but,” not “although,” not “however,” not “except.”  All of those erase what comes before.  “And” means that what comes after is meaningless, cheap without what comes before.

We “fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” (emphasis mine)

We all fall short, but without the measuring stick of the law we would never know it.  More accurately, we’re dead and without the law we wouldn’t know it.  In the words of Mister Henry, we’d be “dead, but not buried; dead, but not yet deadly.”  If you don’t bury a dead body it stinks up the place.  Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good or sick people well.  He came to give dead people life.  Some of us have been brought alive with a brand new self, but we drag the old dead carcass around with us.  Others are dead, but because we ignore the law we don’t know that we’re dead.  At best having that much dead, decaying stuff around stinks up the place.  At worst death breeds disease and more death.

Without the point of reference the law provides we have no idea how much we have to be thankful for.  Without knowing that I’ve “fallen short” I have no idea how precious is the price of my redemption.  When I start smelling the stench of death in my life it’s the law that helps me identify what it is that stinks and needs to go.  It’s the redemption that came by Jesus that leads me to bury it.

It’s the law that reminds me that I was meant to bring glory to God.  It’s the redemption of Jesus that compels me to do it.  And worship washes away the stench of death.

That’s why worship.

*Every analogy breaks down at some point and the “Stand on Your Head Act” breaks down in that in the context of Jesus and the law none of us are capable of standing on our heads because without Jesus’ redemption we’re dead.  Dead people can’t stand on their head, duh.

Jumping the Worship Shark – Part Deux

…continued from yesterday.

Throughout scripture the terms used to describe worship seem to transcend time, space, posture, attitude, etc. The concept or worship remains elusive throughout the OldTestament. At times it took the form of scheduled observances, i.e. “The Lord’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations – My appointed times are these: For six days work may be done; but on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation” Leviticus 23:2&3. These are “worship” as noun.

There are also feasts such as The Passover or The Feast of Unleavened Bread. These are the action verb of worship. Sometimes the priests offered sacrifice on behalf of Israel as passive spectators and at other times God’s chosen people were active participants, “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses…” Exodus 12:1

In Joshua’s “farewell speech” we see worship as lifestyle, “as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” It is in “lifestyle worship” that the Israelites seem to be the most schizophrenic. I won’t list them here, but there are myriad examples of God’s Chosen putting on and taking off their t-shirts with pithy phrases. Let it be sufficient to say that the Israelites were just like everyone else in lifestyle…only more so. When they were religious they were more religious than anyone else, but when they were secular they were more secular everyone else.

In Psalm 2:11, “Worship the Lord with reverence,” we see worship begin to reveal itself in a new light. The word for worship (Abad) in this verse implies to be worked or slaved to a state of exhaustion. Whatever owns or enslaves our resources, attention, thoughts, heart reveals what we worship. And, it will wear us down till there’s nothing left. Reverence (Yir’ah) can be associated with awe that consumes one’s attention, sometimes to the point of terror. The question for us to answer is, “what do we want wearing us down and consuming our attention?”

As an aside, being in the presence of God always leads to one of two inevitabilities: either worship or judgment (death). That should produce some awe that will consume your attention to the point of terror. There is no middle-ground here. “The fear (same word translated at “reverence” in Psalm 2:11) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.” But, being in awe or reverence of God is also the beginning of wisdom, the knowledge that He is loving and just and gentle…well, there just aren’t enough adjectives.

Anyway, it’s in Psalms, most of which were written by the greatest worshipper on Earth, that we begin to see what worship is. But, it’s in the New Testament, in the New Covenant, that worship reveals itself fully. It’s in the salvation of Christ that reverence for God moves from being consumed with terror to being overwhelmed by the tsunami of His love. It’s when we are brought back to life in His resurrection, after realizing our death that we are God’s glory.

There is another distinction in worship between the Old and New Testament. In all of the feasts and festivals (some of which I listed earlier) of the Old Covenant the worshippers (people) came to the temple. Under the New Covenant the temples come together in worship (“Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in You?”, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own.” I Corinthians 3:16 & 6:19 respectively). There’s that implication of worshipping or bringing glory to whatever owns you.

To my thinking, this means that the idea of meeting together on a particular day at a particular time to renew our minds, refresh our spirits, recharge our batteries and rejuice our emotions to simply survive another week is inefficient at best and completely ineffectual at worst. It’s what consumes us during the week that defines worship. Simply coming to church in the hope of plugging into some spiritual outlet for a few hours just isn’t going to cut it. We need to recognize that we are temples of the Holy Spirit who is in us. We have the power source, the everlasting battery, in us. But, if we’ve been getting our “juice” from other sources (the other things in life that we allow to own us) it actually inhibits our ability to draw on this infinite power.

The inverse to weekly corporate worship as a source of energy is true. Ultimately, if Christians have been in a state of worship throughout the week, loving “the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”, then when the “Temples” all gather together an overwhelming, awe inspiring corporate expression of that state of worship can’t be contained. When two or more, who have been in a private state of worship, are gathered in the name of the Originator of that worship, then the Origin and Originator of that worship is there. Worship begets worship. I’m not going to pretend to understand it. All I am able to do is testify to the magnificent mystery of it all.

This individual, private, upper-room, continual attitude of prayer, this little light of mine type of worship always results in a kind of spiritual critical mass when combined with like individuals. The outward manifestation of individual worship starts an uncontrollable chain reaction that culminates in a mushroom cloud of corporate worship that can no more be contained and harnessed as could a nuclear explosion.

Why don’t more churches experience this type of critical mass? Why do one third of those who regularly attend church feel that they experience the presence of God less than half of the occasions that they attend church (according to Barna research http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/35-worship-tops-the-list-of-important-church-based-experiences)?

It’s because the meaning of “worship” has been a casualty of the worship wars. It’s because we, as Christians, have been deceived and lied to about what why we were created.

We are created, we have our being, our very existence is for one over-riding purpose: to bring glory to God. John Piper, in his book “Let the Nations Be Glad” does an excellent job of laying out biblical texts that reveal God’s zeal of His own glory. Here are just a few…

“God created us for His glory: ‘Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.’ Isaiah 43:6-7”

“God forgives our sins for His own sake: ‘I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.’ Isaiah 43:25”

“Jesus receives us into His fellowship for the glory of God: ‘Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.’ Romans 15:7”

“God instructs us to do everything for His glory: ‘So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.’ I Corinthians 10:31; cf. 6:20

“Everything that happens will redound to God’s glory: “From Him and through Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:36

So, here we are again. Back at the question, “what is worship?”

Worship is a being verb.

Consider it…don’t miss the nuance. God created the universe for His glory; chose Israel for His glory; God led Israel out of Egypt for His glory; God sent Jesus for His glory; Jesus performed miracles for His glory; Jesus suffered, died and lived again for His glory; Jesus gives us life through His resurrection for His glory; Jesus will come again for His glory; in Him we have our being for His glory.

There it is: “for in Him we live and move and have our being”…for His glory.

We are worship. We bring glory.

The question for us Christians is, “to whom or what do we bring glory?” Just because something, or someone, is created for a purpose doesn’t always mean that the purpose is fulfilled. Are we worship that brings glory to God or to something else? Are we worship that attracts those around us to God or distracts them to something else? Or worse, are we attractive worship or repulsive worship?

When we are cut off in traffic, what type of worship are we? When the cashier at McDonald’s gets our order wrong, what type of worship are we? When we see a homeless person who could use a sandwich and coffee, what kind of worship are we? When a young girl is struggling with the option of abortion, what kind of worship are we? When the teenage boy down the street, who we allow to annoy us with his sub-woofers, continues to make poor life decisions, what type of worship are we? When the elderly lady across the street, who we think complains too much, could use her lawn cut, what type of worship are we?

In short, are we worship that attracts people to the Savior or repulses them?

For that driver, forgive because you were forgiven. For that cashier, offer an encouraging word for the difficult day they may be having. For that homeless person, make an extra sandwich when you’re making your own lunch for the day. For that young girl, offer to help raise that precious, unborn child in the way that she should go so that when she is grown she will not depart from it. For that teenage boy, remember what it was like for you at that age make yourself available to walk the difficult road of adolescence with him. For that lady, what’s one more yard on your to-do list, anyway?

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Be worship…and then stand awestruck when you see what corporate worship can be when two or more have been gathered in His name throughout the entire week.

And, just as being worship results in corporate worship, corporate worship encourages being worship…but I’ll let you write that story on your own.

That’s why worship!

Beware the Third Mile

My Running Shoes
My Running Shoes

“Nadab and Abihu, however, fell dead before the Lord when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him in the Desert of Sinai.” Numbers 3:4

I love to run. Well, more specifically I like to run after the first mile. The first mile is hard. It takes discipline to get started. The second mile is better, but I still feel like I’m plodding along. During the second mile it takes discipline to maintain pace.

Then the third mile…ah, the third mile. I think of it wistfully with longing in my heart. I guess that’s when my runner’s high kicks in. My stride lengthens, my shoes lighten, feet gently padding the ground in tempo to the music that pulses from my iPod. It’s as if I’m gliding across a sheet of ice without any effort…a sublime experience to be sure. Sometimes I feel like I could close my eyes and just float along.

(By the way, you can follow my progress as I train and see what I’m listening to on my iPod by checking out the sidebar to the left. Near the bottom you’ll find my running stats and a list of songs I’ve listened to recently.)

Anyway, the discipline of the third mile is to not let my pace get away from me. When running distances longer than four miles a good pace for me to run is between twelve and thirteen minutes per mile. Yeh, I know it’s not terribly fast…actually it’s more like jogging. Sometimes it seems like I can maintain that pace indefinitely. I’ve made it over twelve miles at that pace.

But, if I don’t discipline myself during the third mile, then the fourth mile is like dying. And, anything longer than four is like death. During the third mile my heart relishes the feeling of freedom; basking in the glow of endorphins. But, my head sends out dispatches saying, “Whoa there big fella’. You ain’t built for speed.” If I don’t heed the warnings twelve minutes per mile slips to eleven minutes per mile which quickly becomes ten minutes per mile. Once I even made it to 9’51” per mile. Guess which mile it was. Yep, mile three. Guess how fast mile four was. I don’t know. I had to stop at about four and a half because I thought I was going to vomit.

Nadab and Abihu had seen God do some incredible things. They were some of the privileged few who saw God and lived to tell about it (Ex. 24:9-11). Later, they saw God himself participate in their inaugural sacrifice by sending down fire from heaven to burn the offering (Lev. 9). The complete story of what happens next is in Leviticus 10, but I’m using Numbers 3:4 because its curtness gives it more impact. By discipline they made it through miles one and two (Ex. 24). God privileged them to experience mile three (Lev. 9). But, they didn’t understand that God didn’t ordain them for that glory. They weren’t built for that kind of “speed”. They were intended to be witnesses to glory, not to be glorified. Glorification is God’s place. There was nothing inherently wrong with what Aaron’s boys were doing. Except that they were trying to take God’s place and create their own glory. And everything is wrong with that.

Then like so many of us in leadership do, they ran beyond God’s authority. They believed, like we often do, that just because there is blessing in what God is doing through us that He is sanctioning what we are doing on our own. God’s blessing isn’t necessarily endorsement of what we’re doing. Sometimes God reveals something amazing to us, a vision of what can be…a glimpse of what He can do, what only He is supposed to do. And, then we try to recreate it like we had something to do with the original. It’s as if we actually say to the Creator of the Universe, “OK, Big Guy. We’ll pick up where you’ve left off.”

Whoa! Wait a minute! That’s exactly backwards. We don’t pick up where He leaves off, He picks up where we leave off. We don’t continue where He ends, He continues where we run out. We don’t complete Him, He completes us.

As spiritual leaders our job is to follow God. Beware of the third mile. Are you wondering why mile four feels like death? Reflect on mile three to see if you ran too fast. Praise God for letting us chase His glory, but don’t run past it trying to make it your own. Running past his ordination for us is death. Do only what you can do and allow God the glory of doing what only He can do.