Monthly Archives: February 2014
Reality Santa Barbara is hosting a four-week class that I am teaching on studying and understanding the Bible. This video is the introduction. If you missed the first class, or are far away, but want to deepen your understanding of God’s Word, join in with us and watch the video! You can find the attached notes on our website.
Our church is going through a one-year Bible reading for 2014. We are just about to finish Leviticus, which historically, is when the most people stop the reading. It makes sense. You start the year with cosmic creation narratives, family drama, and faced-paced adventures in Genesis, then move into a climactic rescue of millions of people in Exodus, replete with miraculous displays of power. These book-ends are a gourmet of stories, and leave you with an expectation of greater sequels. But to your dismay, Leviticus opens with seven brutal chapters of bloody sacrifice, not sparing any details, and organized in bullet-points. After several chapters, you are mentally exhausted, and recite the remainder with the same enthusiasm of a tax planner reading a 1099 form. Is it any wonder how easily a reader can become dislodged from the rest of the Bible? It’s the Old Testament speed bump. But Leviticus (and other similar books) is not a hopeless endeavor if you know how to read it. And part of reading Leviticus, means reading it in connection to the whole story of the Bible. Leviticus, in fact, is a vital part of that story. Let’s step into it for a moment…
You may have enjoyed Genesis and Exodus, with their overwhelming escapades, but now the story that captivated your heart at the beginning is shifting into a different style, and it’s answering a conflicting question at the same time. A question that was left hanging ambiguously in the air at the end of Exodus: how can a holy God dwell among sinful people? The answer punches you in the gut with the opening chapters. The price of God’s dwelling is holiness; and since Israel had none, the cost of His dwelling was sacrifice. And so Leviticus 1-7 lays out detailed instruction for various types of animal sacrifice for any given situation.
Now the thought of animal sacrifice surely sounds barbaric to many people. Why would God need something so bloody and horrific? You may even say, “A benevolent God should just let it go.” Yet this is not what you would expect from any upstanding judge in a criminal court–especially if he’s trying a case that is particularly awful. Most decent people cannot turn a blind eye towards the evil around them; when the defenseless in their company are oppressed, they often cry out for justice! But the most glaring inconsistency with this is that no one is righteous according to the Bible (Rom 3). We cry out for justice, yet with the hope that we will be the lone exception (punish the wicked, but show mercy on me!). We know that if the Bible is true, we would not be able to withstand a trickle of God’s blazing holiness. This is what the Israelites must have felt like when Leviticus was first written. The indictment of our sin is incredibly costly. When you glimpse the mess in the opening pages of Leviticus, you are looking into your own heart.
I want to present to you another angle to the story. Consider that instead of being a barbaric act, those Levitical sacrifices are the merciful side of God piercing through our sin. That there exists a God who would rather spill the blood of animals than see people made in His image be destroyed is an act of compassion. In fact, God even makes allowance for the poor of the community (those who cannot afford the appropriate sacrificial offering) to bring a cheaper form of sacrifice: “Two turtledoves or two young pigeons,” or “whatever he can afford” (Lev 14:22). Let me summarize that one more time: God even provides the sacrifice for sinners who cannot afford it. And there lies the shadow of the greater promise…
What this means for you.
Do you ever come into a community of believers pressured to muster up enough enthusiasm to worship, yet feel increasingly like you have nothing good to offer? Do you ever feel like you’ve done all you can do just to get out of bed and show up? You may be the “impoverished” version of what Leviticus speaks of, which means that God mercifully accepts the little that you have. In heaven, desperation is greater currency than enthusiasm, and spiritual poverty is the food of God–he cannot deny it (Psalm 51:17). This, I believe, is what Jesus was referring to in the Sermon on the Mount when he opened with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). That’s why Christianity is a movement of faith, not performance. What this means for you is access to God despite your spiritual bankruptcy.
The good news.
Leviticus, it turns out, is not barbaric. It is dripping with compassion. For the God who cannot look upon evil, has found a way to look upon us–nay, to embrace us. And when Leviticus closes, you will be left with God’s empathy on your lips, yet still an empty stomach, for the blood of animals cannot wash away your sins–it can only cover them until the next sacrifice. But as you veer through the beginning stages of the story, some pieces come together, and you realize that Leviticus is also ushering you to a better sacrifice. One provided for in the New Testament, with the coming of the “Lamb,” when the Son of God Himself, no longer requiring sacrifices from afar, would come down to us, immerse himself in our lowliness, and offer His own blood as the sacrifice for our sins. This is good news. In Anglo-Saxon English, they referred to it as gōd-spell, which later turned into the word, “gospel.” The gospel is the good news that sinners have been embraced by God through Jesus Christ.
But as you can see, it’s only good news against the backdrop of horrible news. The price of our salvation is costly. God did not purchase us on sale–he paid the full price for us. He paid with his own son (Jh 3:16). So next time you read through the tedious bullet points of death and decay in the Old Testament, remember two things: your sin is costly, yet as Elvina M. Hall writes,
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.
It’s not always easy to be single on Valentine’s Day. Maybe for some people it is, maybe it depends on the year and some are harder than others. It hasn’t always been easy for me to be without a significant other come February 14th. During those times, I’ve tried many different methods to make it seem like I’m fine with my singleness, knowing all the while I would have given a whole lot to be anything but alone on that day.
After being in the church for enough years, I know pretty much all the right answers about singleness, marriage, God, and the like. God can and will fulfill all my desires, a spouse won’t make me happy or make all my problems go away, singleness is a gift, I can be content in the Lord now…the list goes on. But what do I do when I still long for a man to spend my life with, and no amount of self-talk, no matter how biblical it is, makes that go away? When I still feel alone and inferior to those in relationships, even when I know that I am complete in Christ? All of these truths are indeed true, but the more I look at myself I see that there has been a part of my heart that those truths have not yet touched. Because the fact of the matter is that while I know that a husband will not fulfill me, there is part of me that is still living as though he will. It’s not in a way that would draw attention or would cause people to notice (most of the time I don’t even notice it!). But around the holidays, or on Valentine’s day, there is that twinge in my heart that romance tends to set off—my heart longs for what other people have, and a little part of it really does believe that when I have it, things will be better and more fulfilling than they are now.
So I’ve tried to make myself content. I have actually tried to convince myself that I am content, while being well aware that it is not the case. I picture it like trying to keep one of those floaties under water (you know the ones you wear on your arms when you’re learning to swim). As long my hands are holding contentment in my heart it stays down there, but as soon as the hands come off, it shoots right back up to the surface and back to head knowledge. I have been trying to force contentment from my head to my heart and it just hasn’t worked.
I’m tired of trying to do that. I’m tired of there being this part of my heart that has not been transformed by the truth of God and what He says about me, and namely what He says about Himself. I want my heart gripped by His truth, especially when it comes to singleness, relationships, and who I am in the midst of that.
Just the other day I read an article written by a married woman talking about things she wished she had known while she was still single. She had some great things to say about singleness, what can be learned from it and what can be developed during it if people use the time well. But more than any specific thing she said, and what really got my mind racing was a stream of thoughts that went something like this,
“What if I actually took this advice and started living according to it?”
“What if I, and this generation of those who aren’t yet married actually lay hold of the truths that are taught to us by those who want us to benefit from lessons they have learned?”
“Rather than doing it my own way and then finding out they were right all along (that a spouse really doesn’t make things all better), and then trying to preach the message to those still single and who can learn from my mistakes, why don’t I just trust and actively walk in what they say?”
What would happen? I think a few things. One, I think I would experience more of God than I ever dreamed of, both now while I’m single and in a future marriage. Two, I think it would honor Him greatly. It would let Him be God, and would demonstrate a submission to His plan amidst my lack of understanding with what He is doing. And I’m pretty sure He loves when His kids trust Him. But how can I do that?
I know I can’t force biblical truths into my heart. It has to be a work of God Himself. However, there have been a few things in particular that I have been meditating on and praying that God would minister to my heart regarding who I am, and who He is that I would like to share.
1) God’s character is the same in seasons of blessing and fulfillment of desires as it is in seasons of waiting and exercising patience.
God is a giver, He is generous, He is kind, He is all-knowing and all-wise; He knows what is best for us. Why is it that I can rejoice so easily in seasons of blessing and not in seasons of drought? Why is it that I can be so thankful when I am getting to walk in my dreams but can’t muster up the same fervency of thanksgiving when He is still calling me to wait?
I have found that when I dwell on His character, my perspective changes. God is intimately acquainted with all my ways (Ps. 139:1-3), He is sovereign over every detail of my life (Matthew 10:29-31), and He is working things for my good that I be conformed more and more to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29). So if God is having me wait for something (even something that I really want), is it the best possible thing for me right now? It is because He is so loving that He is having me wait for it! If the God of the universe is working things in my life with my best interest in mind, why should I begrudgingly accept His “wait” rather than rejoice in it?
Consider this quote by Andrew Murray,
If we but saw our God in His love, if we but believed that He waits to be gracious, that He waits to be our life and to work all in us—how this waiting on God would become our highest joy…
I want that truth to mark my life. I can’t say it always does, but I want the knowledge of God’s character to change the way I view waiting for Him. Not only that, but He is using my very circumstances to form me into the woman I desire to become. Right now He is allowing me to grow into the woman that will, Lord willing, get to walk forward in desires of being a wife and a mother some day. Many of us have big dreams of who we will become and what we will do with God and for His Kingdom. We have desires, longings, and hopes (all with the best intentions) to be the best man or woman of God we can be, as well as the best future spouse we can be.
But I often forget that He is forming us into those people right now. He is uses the every day, the mundane, the not-so-exciting, to shape us in ways that quick blessings could not accomplish. That truth has given me so much freedom; I can look at the seemingly mundane and truly rejoice that He is growing me now into the woman that will get to walk forward in the dreams He has given me when He says it is time.
2) We are seen by the One on whom we wait.
You are not invisible to the one that you are waiting for. God sees every time you obey Him, every time you hurt and feel alone, every time you cry out to Him asking Him to meet you. Every time you sacrifice for Him, every time you trust Him. He sees all of it, and He LOVES when His kids look at Him. He loves catching our eye when we fix our gaze on Him, when we don’t understand but tell Him that we trust Him anyways. He loves when we really mean that. He sees us and we are safe exactly where we are.
3) God could never disappoint His people.
I often end up disappointed or unsure at where God has me in life. While I may be disappointed in a moment for not getting what I want or what I think is best for me, God continues to remind me that He is the best story-writer in all of creation. Each of us are getting to play a part in the greatest story ever written. And God is using our desires, passions, longings and dreams for a spouse, family, or anything else, to write that story. We, as His children, will not be disappointed by the ending.
4) God is ALWAYS good.
Similar to #1, God doesn’t change. He is always good, always faithful. I believe that we can experience that goodness even more when we wait for Him and trust Him. In that time we see Him as good simply because of who He is rather than what He gives us. How purifying is that! Andrew Murray writes on the goodness of God as we learn to wait,
At our first entrance into the school of waiting upon God, the heart is mainly set on the blessings with which we wait for. God graciously uses our needs and desires for help to educate us for something higher than we were thinking of. We were seeking gifts; He, the Giver, longs to give Himself and to satisfy the soul with His goodness. It is just for this reason that He often withholds the gifts and that the time of waiting is made so long. He is constantly seeking to win the heart of His child for Himself. He wishes that we would not only say, when He bestows the gift, “How good is God!” but that long before it comes, and if it never comes, we should all the time be experiencing: it is good that a man should quietly wait. The Lord is good to them that wait for Him. 
Which leads me to #5…
5) Every need and desire we have is and will be fulfilled in Christ.
A husband will not fulfill me. My dream-job will not fulfill me. The perfect family or home will not fulfill me. The perfect ministry opportunity will not fulfill me. Christ is the only one who can and ever will make me whole. I have to confess, it doesn’t always feel like that. But that is a truth I am going to lay hold of by faith…that is, until I live with the man that teaches me that he really doesn’t fulfill me ;) I want to trust that I have full access to God now by the power of the Holy Spirit; no less than I will when I am married, or walking in my passions, or in a dream job. And if He is the one who has created me for Himself, then He is the one I am going to run after, here and now. And when He calls me to run side by side with a man, what I am running after will not have changed: God is and will always be the goal.
Please run with me.