Monthly Archives: April 2015

Leviticus 27: Final Guidelines for Vows

Chapter 27 is a type of tagline after the conclusion found in chapter 26. God features these guidelines for personal vows and offerings after the conclusion as a reminder that these offerings are not given from command, but of the people’s free will.

What does this tell me about God:

  • God expresses his value for freewill offerings.

God could have viewed the people’s personal vow offerings as insignificant gifts. After all, God is the creator and owner of all things, so what is a personal gift from a human worth to Him? But God’s perspective is different. He expresses his appreciation for the people’s gifts by giving guidelines and weight to them. These guidelines ensured the people to also see their vows as significant, and to not approach these offerings with a willy-nilly attitude.

How can I live in light of this:

  • No thoughts: these parameters are specific to the Israelite freewill offering.

Other thoughts or questions:

  • I was confused about the idea of consecrating a gift for God, then redeeming it back.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary helped me unpack this concept. A person could make a vow to God, dedicating themselves, their property, or other people to be set apart for His use (as Hannah did regarding the birth of her long-awaited child in 1 Samuel 1). They could then offer a monetary payment in exchange for the dedicated item/person. In this way, they could redeem the item/person back, as each circumstance allowed, but still fulfill their personal gift to God. A redemption payment, or assessment, for an adult male equaled 50 month’s earnings. My commentary notes that this kind of equivalent kept people from making reckless offerings.

  • Verse 34 serves as a definitive marker, signifying the end of God’s list of expectations for His nation.

How did you feel about finishing the last chapter of Leviticus!?

Leviticus 26: Conclusion Warning

This concluding chapter of Leviticus wraps up the great expectations of the Holy God with a warning. Blessings will abound to a nation that keeps the covenant. However, correction and a curse lies in wait for the years the people rebel.

What does this tell me about God:

  • God’s conditional favor was a gift for the Israelites.

We are not familiar with conditions or boundaries to God’s favor, because we live in the new covenant of Christ (more on that later). We often think that conditional grace is selfish or one-sided. But that is not the case with God.

In Leviticus, God sets up parameters for his grace and provision: the covenant. Leviticus 26:3-13 reminds the people of the blessings available, indeed promised, for their obedience. The later verse of the chapter serve as a warning of the consequences, justly deserved, for the people who forget their God, ignoring his expectations and laws. This covenant, along with its curse/blessing consequence, was a benefit to the people. Every part of it ensured the people:

  1. Walk closely with their God.
  2. Live set apart lives for God
  3. Maintain healthy standards relationally, economically, and physically.

In short, God knew these things were the absolute best the Israelites could have. No other way of life would bring more fulfillment, safety, hope, joy, and purpose. The consequences awaiting a people who strayed from this covenant were arrows designed to point them back to a close relationship with their creator.

How can I live in light of this:

  • I am grateful for the new covenant.

As history reveals, the Israelites struggled to keep the covenant. Over and over again, they rejected God’s laws and fell into the curse promised in Leviticus 26. People were dragged off as captives, experienced famine, and other judgments for their sin.

Any covenant that hinges on human ability for righteousness will consistently swing towards brokenness. That is why God made a new covenant with humanity, hinging on the perfection of His Son Jesus. When we trust in His ability to keep the covenant in our place, we experience unconditional favor, freedom, and connection with our creator.

“For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” Hebrews 9:13-15

  • I should be grateful of God’s blessing in disguise.

I do not believe that God lavishes material blessings and wealth on those who follow Him closely. The Bible is clear that there is a spiritual blessing for the poor, the persecuted, the striving. These things themselves are gifts as they drive us closer to God. We often forget the greatest blessing we receive is not material or relational. It is not a sound mind or a healthy body. It is not a close family or a solid roof over our heads. It is intimacy with God.

God used correction and curses to turn the hearts of the Israelites back to himself; in this way, each curse was a blessing. The wars, famines, captivity, and destitution were the tools of return.

I don’t think that every time I face a difficult situation that God is using his mighty sovereignty to drive me closer to him. We live in a broken world and sometimes crap just happens. However, I do believe that every circumstance is an opportunity to seek a closer walk with Him, to plead for His help and proximity for comfort.

Other thoughts or questions:

  • I appreciate Leviticus 26:40’s nod toward generational sin: “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers…—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant…” (vs. 40-42)

God is reminding the people that their sin is not just about the bad things they do. It is about the sin-nature at work in their very lives, passed on through generations like a hereditary trait. When we come to Jesus for salvation, we do not make a list of all the bad things we do. Rather, we confess our very nature as sinners, which the Holy Spirit then replaces with a new nature, enabling us to have that unconditional relationship with God.

When has God used a tough situation as a blessing in disguise in your life?

Leviticus 25: Sabbath and Jubilee

Leviticus 25 introduces two unique concepts that remain significant (and still unique) for our world today: rest and redemption.

What does this tell me about God:

  • God is both systematic and extraordinary.

God commanded the sabbath year to be observed every 7 years, allowing the land and the people to rest from work and production. God promised an extra-abundant year for the 6th year, every rotation. This abundance would provide for the year of rest, and for the year of starting over (the 8th year). God reveals his consistency with the promise of seasonal provision. Participating in the 6th year harvest must have been a humbling experience for the Israelites, seeing the abundance of harvest compared to the last 5 years. God certainly deserved the credit for sustaining the Israelites through this foreign practice of rest. In fact, that is one of the purposes God ordained for the Sabbath year: to remember that God is the provider, not man’s efforts.

  • God is the owner, provider, and ultimate sustainer of everything.

The year of Jubilee, happening once in 50 years, was a call to celebrate, restore, and proclaim freedom for the people and the land. In this a special sabbath year, the people were to return to their clans, reclaiming the property God had originally assigned to them. Imagine the family reunion!

People who had fallen on hard times would have sold themselves into slavery. The year of Jubilee was a blessed occasion where all debts were canceled, all properties restored (except those within the cities), and all slaves set free! No other civilization that I know of has ever had or has today such a total-redemptive concept among its people.

How can I live in light of this:

  • I should be intentional about God-honoring rest.

Studying Breathe, by Priscilla Shirer, alongside Leviticus, has greatly helped me understand the concept of Sabbath and rest. Shirer reminds me that sabbath is not about kicking my feet up, taking a load off, and zoning out. True rest is about recognizing God as the creator and provider, and finding satisfaction in His work in and through and for me.

  • My perspective of time, space, property, and stuff can shift from “mine” to “His.”

This is a tough one for a Wyoming-born gal. We are “self-made people” here in the West. As a culture, we tend to avoid asking for help, and gravitate to pride in our accomplishments. The Jubilee was set up to remind the people that ALL property and people belong to God. He makes us stewards of His space and stuff, but I should never adopt the mentality that “I worked for it, I keep it.”

Sometimes, this means I leverage my stuff for God’s kingdom: using our home hospitably, offering to give rides in my car, etc. Sometimes, this practice means I freely give away my possessions. We credit God for the over-abundance of baby clothes we have received through hand-me-downs in our community. And as soon as our babies have grown out of a size, we passed the entire lot of clothes on to someone else in need. We could have stored the clothes for future children, but we are trusting God for that kid too, and hoping to help other babies and mommas in the meantime.

If I live Jubilee in my day to day life, I will be listening to God, whom I recognize owns it all, to stay in touch with what He wants to do with it.

  • I need to repeatedly acknowledge my roots.

“It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan.” Leviticus 25:10.

I think the Bible is clear that our “clan” in Christ is the believers who we call brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of God. We can honor this Jubilee concept by sharing the stories of our “roots” to those around us. Does my family know my testimony? Could my kids trace back their spiritual heritage? Have I expressed my gratitude to the one’s who shared the love of Jesus with me initially?

Other thoughts or questions:

  • How many times in their up-and-down national crises did the Israelites actually celebrate Jubilee?

How do you observe rest and restoration in your life?

Confessions of a Missions Trip Junkie

Adventurous missions“You have been tagged in 39 new photos….”

Facebook notified me of new pictures displayed online, apparently with my face participating somewhere in the frame. My amazing friends and students of our college ministry were spending their Spring Break serving inner city Dallas, Texas. My husband was leading this missions trip, while I stayed home with the kids. For the first time in several years, I was not elbow deep in soup-kitchen meals, clean-up jobs, and VBS planning. Still, they graciously included my name in all the pictures so I could stay updated and add my investment through prayers.

This is new territory for me. Since Highschool, I have spent many years chasing the next adventure for God’s glory. Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, Bahamas, Africa and many local excursions never satiated my craving for traveling with the gospel in hand. Each trip has broadened my perspective of the world I live in, the God I serve, and the connection between the two. Traveling has helped me shed the shell of American-Christianity. Exploring new cultures provokes a greater understanding of God’s unconditional love, no longer defined by my environment.

But this year, I stayed behind. Disappointment morphed into delight as I saw the same things happening in me during my time at home. I was able to serve my two beautiful babies with the consistency they thrive with. Participating through prayer for the missions’ participants renewed my understanding of God’s work and the power of a petitioning warrior in the background. Even without the exhilaration, rush, and crazy community of traveling on a missions trip, I still experienced God’s grace and supernatural intervention in my life. That week at home, mundane and regular, was still an adventurous discovery of God’s grace:

  • Learning to mirror God’s faithfulness in the small tasks.
  • Grasping that a faithful day at home is not a small thing, but a very very big adventure pieced together by small moments of frailty and trust.
  • Choosing to see that pushing a stroller during a prayer jog is just as deeply motivating and connecting in my walk with God as driving a van full of students to share the gospel on a beach during Spring break.

Final thoughts:

If you haven’t traveled with the gospel in hand, please go! Take advantage of the life changing experience, whether you are 4 or 40 or 84. Glorify God, expand your perspective, and stretch beyond your limits of what you think God can do in and through you.

However, if you, like me, have become so accustomed to mission trip adventures that your new “out of my comfort zone” is now the act of simple faithfulness at home, get on board! Stay home. Pray hard. Rediscover the beauty, power, and spiritual momentum gained from simplistic faithfulness. Don’t use it as an excuse for disobedience or laziness. Rather leverage your calling for deep gospel change, in your own heart first, then for the hearts of those around you.

Be it a bike or surf board, minivan or missionary airplane, the bed of a truck or my own two feet, God bless the vehicle of adventure and may it ever drive me closer to you.
In faith and faithfulness,

Finding 5 Minutes with God…And Loving It! (the Leviticus study continued with chapter 24)

5 minutes with God

I woke up today pretty groggy and exhausted. My little boy has a lingering cough that wakes him up at all hours of the night. His cough is loud and sharp, frightening his twin sister in the crib next to him, causing screaming fits at all hours of the night. So what do I do, for all hours of the night? Lots of home-made saunas in the bathroom and vapor rub massages. I’ll admit I enjoy the bonding time, I’m just not crazy about the foggy brain the next morning.

Foolishly choosing Facebook scrolling over Bible reading, I stumbled upon a challenging article. I was defaulting to mindlessness, but God intervened with encouragement! (Isn’t that what we’ve been learning all along in Leviticus… God is personal, intimate, and all about relationship with His people).

The article is titled, “FOR WHEN YOU ONLY HAVE FIVE MINUTES TO BE IN THE BIBLE.” The author encourages women not just to fit in what you can, but actually enjoy it!

“If I found an abandoned dollar on the ground, would I pick it up? Of course I would! I wouldn’t leave it behind, just because it isn’t a hundred. If I had an opportunity to spend five minutes with one of my heroes of the faith, would I turn it down? No way! I would take it and enjoy every second of it… So, why do I act differently when it comes to my time in the Bible? Why do I portray by my actions that nothing is better than something? “

“For a long time, I felt that if I could not have a long, deep time in the Bible each day, it wasn’t good enough. So, paralyzed with the feeling that I wasn’t giving God my best, I gave Him nothing. This lack of time in the Word led to guilt and feelings of inadequacy.”

 I was incredibly challenged by this perspective. In writing this series on a study through Leviticus, I have often been intimidated by the book. In fact, that’s a big reason many people don’t study Leviticus. It feels like a huge undertaking, one that I often don’t have time for.

To be sure, there are some chapters that I chose to put 2 or 3 weeks work into unpacking and applying to my life. I thoroughly enjoyed researching Leviticus 23’s festivals. Digging deep into that heritage was not just a chore; it touched me deeply with God’s love and sovereignty. And I spent almost 3 weeks studying it, praising God the whole time.

But here’s the thing. When we choose to study through a book, we can easily make it an academic exercise instead of an intimate conversation with our loving Father.

On busy days when Shane and I are apart, I still make time to send him a phone call or a text message. Even though it is short, 5 minutes of connection still provides a healthy dose of encouragement, perspective, and warmth to my heart.

Today, I only have 5 minutes. Naps and a shower are going to win over cracking open my thick commentary. But I am connecting with God, discovering His character, and embracing my own role in this story together with Him. It might not be a feast, but it certainly whets my appetite for more.

Here’s how my brief study through Leviticus 24 spelled out:

What does this tell me about God:

  • God desires fellowship. It is an integral part of His covenant.

The bread was to be always before the Lord, right in front of the veil covering the inner sanctuary. God invites the priests to share a meal with Him, to stay daily in fellowship with Him.

  • God’s name deserves reverence and careful regard.

The young man who cursed God’s name after a fight deserved death. My Bible’s study notes comment that a persona’s character was deeply rooted together with his name. God’s name, and identity, is not just something humanity gets to throw around like an insult, or even an exclamation, in a fit of anger or poor judgement.

  • God values justice.

I find verses 17-22 fascinating. I suppose the “eye for an eye” rule would deter the people from these sins. However, history shows us that the Israelites took what God meant for righteousness, and turned it into means for one-upping each other.

For instance, the principle God set up in Leviticus 24 seemed to become distorted over time, becoming more about selfish justice than God-honoring righteousness. We see this when Jesus challenged this rule in Matthew 5 when He encouraged His disciples to turn the other cheek.

How can I live in light of this:

  • I should value fellowship with God.

As I mentioned above, even 5 minutes is enough time to prioritize my relationship with God (though, not always my theological study of His Word). He deserves more of all of my time. But I must remember the truth behind Leviticus 24: He invited the priests to share bread with Him. My “bread” is Jesus Christ, and through Jesus’ sacrifice, I have access to fellowship with God in spite of my sin. Even 5 minutes can be enough to express my gratitude for that.

  • I can revere the name of God in my daily habits.

We might find the punishment in Leviticus 24 harsh. After all, we hear God’s name used in vain all the time: on tv, at the store, in our own homes, sometimes even from our own mouths. The names of God and Jesus have become “less” offensive than many foul-mouthed expressions. I tend to lose my own feelings of justice and being offended upon hearing it. Of course, “taking the Lords name in vain” goes so far beyond just using it as a cuss word. However, today I am challenged to redefine my understanding of how to revere the name of Jesus.

  • I can promote justice and righteousness in my own heart, rather than judge it in others.

Jesus’ reminder in Matthew 5 was about keeping your own heart in the right mindset: in this instance, going the extra mile in humility. Instead of always looking for other people’s mistakes, and using them as a springboard for my own self-confidence, I am convicted that I must first pray for revival in my own heart.

Other thoughts or questions:

  • Why did God require continuous light? (verse 2) [Answer: God provided the first fire, if it went out, that meant the people would have to re-light it with their own fire. This has so much significance to whether or not we value heavenly provision or our own.)
  • What is the significance of 12 loaves of bread (verse 5)? Why not 7, like other things mentioned in Leviticus? [Answer: they represented the 12 tribes of Israel; symbolizing everyone was included in the fellowship with God.]
  • What exactly does verse 11 mean when referring to “blaspheme” the Name?

How did your 5 minutes with God impact your day today? If you had more time for your study, could you provide some insight into my “other thoughts and questions” section by commenting below?

Leviticus 23: There Ain’t no Party like a God-ordained Party

Studying Leviticus gave me a new perspective on observing of Passover, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter this spring. Though the big holiday season ended barely a week ago, I am still musing over the significance of each holiday and what they represent in my life today.

Leviticus 23 begins with instructions for the sacred assemblies: on a weekly basis, the sabbath, and on a yearly basis, other festivals.

The reason for the festivals came to life for me after reading this paragraph from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology:

“Israel’s festivals were communal and commemorative as well as theological and typological. They were communal in that they drew the nation together for celebration and worship as they recalled the common origin and experience of the people. They were commemorative in that they kept alive the story of what God had done in the exodus and during the sojourn. They were theological in that the observance of the festivals presented the participants with lessons on the reality of sin, judgment, and forgiveness, on the need for thanksgiving to God, and on the importance of trusting God rather than hoarding possessions. They were typological in that they anticipated a greater fulfillment of the symbolism of the feasts. It is not surprising that each of the major feasts is in some way alluded to in the New Testament. On the other hand, the festivals could become meaningless rituals and were subject to the criticism of the prophets ( Isa 1:13-14 ). (emphasis mine; Source)

After reading through Baker’s expose on the festivals, I wrote up a comprehensive list of each festival, when it was celebrated, and how its significance has shifted for a New Testament believer. While I would love to share that with you, I found the exercise so helpful to my understanding of this Levitical history, that I would highly recommend you do the same! (Let me know what you discover in the comment section below).

For now, I will stick with the simple objective I hold for every chapter of this study:

  1. What does this tell me about God?
  2. How can I live in light of this truth?
  3. Other thoughts/questions.

What does this tell me about God:

  • God set up reliable and repeatable occasions for the people to have direct access to God as a group.

Once a week, God gave the people a boundary in which to do no work, focusing instead on rest and meeting together to worship God.

I just began a study by Priscilla Shrirer titled Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath. Shrirer reminds us that the structure God imposed on the Israelites was a gift! Rather than being in bondage of busyness and constant work, God provides, no, He mandates room to meet with God and rest. Not only does this gift provide downtime for the people, it also reminds them to have a right perspective of who the provider is (Deut. 5:15)

The festivals also provided this opportunity to rest, gather, and meet with God.

  • Through Passover, God ensures His people will remember how the Lord spared the Israelite first-born during the final plague in Egypt (Exodus 12).

God knows humanity can be forgetful and narcissistic. The Passover festival kept the focus on God as the hero and ultimate rescuer of Israel, as well as the all powerful God who brought the terrible plagues to Egypt.

  • The Feast of the Unleavened Bread stood as a reminder of God’s call for the people to clean out the sin in their lives.

The whole week immediately after the passover, the people of God completely avoided yeast, even removing it from their homes. Avoiding yeast became a symbol for God’s call for the people to avoid sin.

In the New Testament, Paul compared the Corinthian church to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, encouraging them to remove the influence of an unrepentant member of their church:

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
  • God deserves credit for our provisions.
God used the Feast of First Fruits, Pentecost, and Feast of Trumpets to mark His provision during the harvest season. He reminded the people his worthiness for the credit and worship during this time.

How can I live in light of this:

  • I should remember that God is the hero and Savior.

In many ways, Easter is a way that Christians commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice to spare us, in the same way the Israelites celebrated passover. In fact, on one special passover, Jesus gathered with his disciples for his last supper. Jesus is now referred to as our passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7) reminding us that He has fulfilled the purpose of the young animal’s blood shed that the Lord’s judgement might “pass over” us.

  • I can set up specific seasons to purge both my home and my heart.

While we (Christians) are not commanded to observe the feast of unleavened bread, I still like to observe the principle that God ordained: to not allow ungodly influences and sin grow unchecked like a batch of yeast. Recently, I tackled a big project of cleaning out our guest room (the catch-all). In the process, I prayed and repented of sin as God brought it to my attention as I cleaned. I have written more about this type of purge here.

  • I should thank God for His provision.

Many Americans perceive Thanksgiving as a time to recognize God’s provision. In addition to celebrating the physical nourishment God provides, I also believe He calls us to give Him credit for the spiritual harvest we see in our churches and neighborhoods.

In John 4, Jesus says

“Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest. The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life, so the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap what you didn’t labor for; others have labored, and you have benefited from their labor.”

In the Kingdom harvest, we can celebrate with new souls who accept Christ as their Savior, even if we did not directly share the gospel with them (or have them join our church, etc.).

Other thoughts or questions:

  • I had many more realizations while studying the festivals of Leviticus 23, and Baker’s comparison to the events and ideals of the New Testament. I won’t share them all here, but I challenge you to look further into it.

How can you celebrate, worship, and remember what God has done in your own life?