Monthly Archives: August 2017

Numbers 1-9

Much like in Leviticus, we’ll see a sub-theme developing in Numbers: God is a holy God, and demands that His people be conscientious in their communing with Him (3.45). He wants them to be cognizant of their sin (5.8-10). He wants them to be aware of their fallenness and their helplessness (6.14, 21; 8.14). He wants them to approach Him with reverence and humility and complete and utter dependence. And when they so trust Him that they ARE conscientious and reverent, then they will act on that trust by obeying His word. This is their part in the relationship with YHWH. His part? When they demonstrate this trust in Him, He reveals Himself to them and communes with them. He is relational, and guides, protects, heals and cares for them (6.24-27; 7.89; 9.8). He makes His presence powerfully felt among them (9.15-23).

 

Again, I can’t help but compare this sort of reverential worship with our own casual affair. When we lost our concept of God’s transcendence, we were left with only His immanence. He is our buddy, and therefore is not particularly worthy of worship. This is evidenced by our preparation for worship, our approach to worship, and our flippancy toward worship in general. Our worship is more about performance and feeling good than it is existing in the cloud and the pillar of fire. Do we take pains to be this conscientious about our own sin before we come to Him? Are we mindful of the debilitating after-effects of our sin? Do we stand in need of His purification? Do we approach Him as the Just One, while we are the puny ones? I can’t help but wonder how powerfully we might be led of God if we were as conscientious about our approach to Him.

 

Sunday is on the way. There, you will physically go to engage in corporate worship with His people. How will you prepare for this? How will you make yourself ready to enter the presence of the living God? Will you be expectant of that Presence? What will be your attitude toward yourself and Him as you approach this day of worship?

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Leviticus 19-27

As we finish Leviticus, we notice that God drives home His special sub-theme in the book. Over and over again, He tells His people to be holy. Up until now, Leviticus is the “how” of worship—the attention to detail and preparation that God demands of His people. Now, as the author recaps many of the law and rituals, he is careful to include the “why” of worship—because God is holy. There are three reasons given in the text for why God’s people should take holiness seriously: He is their God (19.2), He rescued them (22.33), and He is making them holy (20.24, 28). He is the One Who brought them out of slavery, and therefore they are to be holy before Him. He is the God Who has protected and provided for them; therefore they are to be holy before Him. He is the One Who is separating them from the pagan nations, shaping and molding them into the people He desires—therefore, they are to be holy before Him. In effect, He is commanding them to do something that is impossible for them: be holy. They are human, and therefore are fallen and broken. They cannot be holy. It would take a miracle. And that’s what He provides: He separates them, He makes a distinction between them and the pagans, and He provides a pathway for them to grow in holiness in Him in the process of worship.

 

Yes, God cares WHERE you worship. He is still very interested in whether or not you contextualize your worship of Him with the rest of the corporate gathering in an actual physical location dedicated to it. Yes, God cares HOW you worship. He is still quite interested in seeing you prepare diligently for worship, and come before Him with serious reverence and awe. And God still cares for you to understand WHY you worship by working on you daily as an individual. You are to be distinct from the culture around you by trusting in His word, rather than your own. By this, I do not mean a strict separatism, as promulgated by fundamentalists. Rather, I mean that you are distinct from the pagan culture by trusting His word and His provision. If you trust His word, then you’ll approach worship the way He demands: physically, corporately, together with His community, diligently, contemplatively, and reverently. If you trust His provision, you will not be given to anxiety and stress about food, income, sexuality, family lineage, happiness or satisfaction. He is the source of all these things.

 

The pagans around you believe that worship should be about how YOU are made to feel in church, or in your “prayer closet” (which is what they say when they mean “skipping it all”). They want to you to believe that your destiny is in your own hands. They want you to believe that you can live and trust anything and anyone you want. But you are different from them because your trust is in God, not yourself. And that has real-world consequences in your life. That trust, when acted upon, results in different behavior concerning worship. It results in different behavior concerning your own satisfaction. It results in a different person—and over time, an even MORE different person. In this respect, God accomplishes in you what you could not accomplish yourself: holiness.

Leviticus 10-18

Continuing with His instructions to His people regarding how they should approach Him in worship, God presents Himself in this section as the One Who Provides. Because He is so holy, He is unapproachable by sinful human means. Therefore, because He loves His people, He provides a way for them to do so. He provides a means for them to recognize their unholiness in contrast to His holiness—and provides a method for stepping away from that uncleanness to approach Him. It should be assumed that the priests who mediate these methods of relational sanctification are particularly well-versed in them, and pious. It seems, though, that Aaron’s two sons did not take it seriously enough. Though the text doesn’t elaborate on what “strange fire” they offered in chapter 10, we are left with the only truly important information about this mysterious incident: they didn’t trust God’s provision, but decided to provide sanctification for God’s people according to their own method. In so doing, they were leading God’s people astray—they were essentially saying that it is possible to approach Him with unclean human hands. Throughout those readings, we also see that God provided healing for His people, including lengthy treatments for healing (13-14). He provided health (17), sexuality (18), and atonement and reconciliation (16).

 

We are tempted toward the same old lie that Nadab and Abihu believed: that our provision is essentially up to us…that our way of “getting it done” is just as good as God’s. Often, we have allowed ourselves to believe that our own legalistic path to holiness is just as effective as God’s method of working on us in the community of faith. We frequently believe that our work ethic and initiative is what provides for us, rather than the hand of God Almighty. Too frequently, we are tempted to provide our own sexual satisfaction according to our desires, rather than trust in the God Who created it in the first place and knows what we need better than we. The very definition of sin is a failure to trust in God. When we stop trusting Him in our day-to-day lives, we sin.

 

Are you trusting Him today? Do you believe that He has your best interests in mind? If not, exactly whom are you worshiping? Because the one true God cares deeply, and provides for all.

Leviticus 1-9

If the book of Exodus showed a God Who was concerned with WHERE His people worshiped, the book of Leviticus shows a God Who is concerned with HOW His people worship. He is as preoccupied with detail here as He was in the building of the tabernacle. The first seven chapters of the book deal with the specific sacrifices that the people were to offer. A careful reading of these chapters reveals a God Who quite a bit different than the one we Protestant evangelicals think we worship. The burnt offering and peace offering were designed to “make right” the rift that sin had caused between the person and God. The sin offerings delineated between accidental sin and intentional sin—along with the concept of restitution. The purification offering is particularly foreign to us: as Protestants, we have a tendency to over-emphasize the “forensic” view of justification that removes sin in one punctiliar moment of “not guilty.” From that moment, we prefer to think of sin as something that is “in the past.” But the ancient Jew understood sin as something that leaves a residue of sorts—not unlike the way a room smells for a couple of hours after you heat up fish in the microwave. The lingering effects of sin needed to be dealt with in a process called “purification.” All of these sacrifices together reveal a God Who was very big while His people were very small. Worship consisted of all the people gathering together; none of them came empty-handed, and all came diligently prepared to meet God in worship. Nobody just showed up; they prepared. Look at the detail associated with their sacrifices, and where they were to stand, and who was to do what. This God was not only “near,” but was also so Other that He was “far,” as well. He was completely mysterious, and inscrutable. He was majestic and mighty and awesome and terrible; He was nobody’s buddy or pal. He had very defined ideas of how a man should be developed for mediating ministry (ordination), and He demanded that such men spend time diligently preparing for worship—not just rolling in and hoping the Holy Spirit did something. The end of chapter 9 shows the end result of this type of worship: when the men of God prioritized God’s presence and prepared for His worship, they went into the tent of meeting and met with Him first—and then He met with His people afterward. It was a mighty display of power and majestic terror.

 

How did we get here as Christians? How did we get to the point where we forgot Who God truly is? We have rejected the biblical teaching of a great and terrible God Who has every right to make demands of us—and we have constructed Santa Claus in His stead. Our God is a buddy Who hangs out with us—He’s our copilot as we navigate ourselves through life. His place is Sunday, if we have the time—and He is always gentle and nice and never very demanding. He respects that we have our own schedules that may keep us from being in His presence with His people, and He loves for us to just “come as we are” without any preparation or sense of reverence or duty. Our God is ourselves, and He is harmless and sweet—and as ineffective as we are.

 

The real God is the YHWH of the Old Testament, and the thundering God of the New Testament. He is the Creator in the pillar of fire and the cloud. He is the Presence that makes me fall onto their faces. He is terrible and beautiful and powerful and just, as well as loving. And think about this: He cared a GREAT DEAL about the geographical location of the place of worship—in other words, the LOCALITY of worship…and He cared a GREAT DEAL about how His people prepared for that worship and sought His presence. Until we put away our false gods of inner adequacy and security and return to YHWH, we will not see His presence in our midst. Until our men and women of God are on their own faces before the Creator, prioritizing His presence, He will not visit us in the same fashion. Until we care about WHERE and HOW we approach His worship, we will continue to worship ourselves, and not the God Who protects, provides, redeems, and sanctifies. The book of Leviticus is one of the most convicting books of the Bible because of the stark contrast between their view of God and sin and our own. It is worth our study, for sure.

 

We will be reading Leviticus in a mere three days here; but a slower, more careful reading can yield more. I translated Leviticus and wrote several devotionals about it—specifically, the offerings—a year ago and you might find this helpful in understanding ways that Leviticus is relevant to our lives today. For a more detailed treatment of the theology underlying the sacrifices, as well as how we might correct our own modern concept of worship, you may click the following links and read.

Leviticus 1

Leviticus 2

Leviticus 3

Leviticus 4

Leviticus 5

Leviticus 6-7

 

Exodus 37-40

The book of Exodus closes with a narration of all the “excellence” that God demanded in His place of worship being put into action. The artists and craftsmen finished their work, and it was detailed, excellent and beautiful. The place of worship wasn’t just some nondescript box in which to stand and sing a couple of songs. It was the place where God dwelled in their midst. It was to be excellent and beautiful. The people of Israel were not pragmatic about this; practicality had nothing whatsoever to do with their work. They were committed to a concept that many of us have long forgotten: all art is doxological. Their commitment to excellence and beauty was an act of worship more significant than standing and singing Chris Tomlin tunes. Moreover, we read in 40.33 that “Moses finished the work.” God had given His people a task to do, and it was a detailed one. They completed that task, which meant that they trusted in His word and demonstrated that trust by obeying it. The very next thing that happened: “the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (40.34-35). Did you catch that? When the people trusted God’s word and executed it to His specifications, His presence descended on them in a powerful and memorable way.

 

We long for God’s presence in our lives. But when we use that term, mostly what mean is “a God-granted feeling of adequacy and confidence that I will get through this day.” We don’t truly expect to meet with the living God in a powerful way in time and space like the Israelites did in Exodus. My question is this:

 

Why not?

 

If God doesn’t change, and still powerfully visits His people, then what exactly are we doing in “worship” each week if we are not meeting with Him? I would submit to you that we are approaching “worship” in some way other than the Israelites. We don’t truly expect to meet God, and—as we learned in yesterday’s readings—we don’t truly have a God, in many cases. He is more of a pal or a Santa Claus than He is God Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth. We don’t really see His transcendence—His “God-ness.”

 

But what if we did? What if we began to trust in the same God Who is in this scripture? What if we approached His worship in the same spirit of reverential obedience as the Israelites? What if we prioritized His worship ahead of our own individual pursuits? What if, when we got there, we gave Him what belongs to Him—which is everything? What if we gave Him that portion of our income called His tithe? What if we gave Him our abilities, our gifts, our talents? What if we pursued His worship with the same attention to detail and excellence that the Israelites did? What if we were as entranced by the beauty of creativity as we were the chord changes in a Hillsong set?

 

The result would be nothing short of spectacular. We would truly be His people, and He would be our God. To prioritize “right worship” in this way would be an example of trusting God, which is the theme of the Bible.

Exodus 31-36

A very interesting concept is introduced into today’s readings, and it’s a concept often overlooked in many circles. We meet Bezalel and Oholiab, and these are unlike any other characters we normally study in Sunday School. They are artists. They create stuff that has no practical use, other than to look beautiful. In this respect, they replicate, on a microcosmic level, the creative act of God Himself, Who created and then admired it, proclaiming it “good.” Note that God associates the concept of being “Spirit-filled” with intelligence and artistic creativity (31.1-11, 35.31). We Pentecostals love to speak of being “filled with the Spirit,” and often we are inconsistent on how that is manifest. Many neo-Pentecostals and charismatics believe that being filled with the Spirit is a work of sanctification in one’s life. We classical Pentecostals believe that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is evidenced by speaking in tongues, and is for evangelistic service. We often speak of being “filled with the Spirit” synonymously, which is sloppy theology. I want you to notice that God associates being “Spirit-filled” with two human qualities that we routinely marginalize in our movement as unimportant: intelligence and artistic creativity. The abilities to artistically create and to process knowledge to arrive at conclusions are God-given. Moreover, you might well notice the level of detail in the creation of these artifacts that the Lord mandates: they are of no practical use whatsoever, but He is quite specific when He describes details, colors, dimensions, etc. He is a God of excellence in craftsmanship, as well as creativity. This goes back to the first two chapters of Genesis, in which we find two different accounts of the same creation. In the first chapter, God is the Creator—the Artist. The Hebrew בָּרָא is used to denote this. The second chapter pictures God as a craftsman—more like a trim carpenter than an artist—and consumed with excellence. This is denoted by the Hebrew עָשָׂה.  We see both of these elements of God’s attributes in the construction of the tabernacle. Elsewhere in the readings, we also see that a good shepherd has a burden for his own people (32.11), while a bad one makes excuses for his own weaknesses (32.24). We also note that prioritizing right worship is associated with victory in all aspects of life (34.24). But the overwhelming sense from these chapters is that God loves art, and is the Father of excellence.

 

If God is the Father of excellence, the devil is the origin of mediocrity. It has always been thus: God creates—and Satan twists and perverts that creation in some sense. Because of this truth, Christians should value excellence, and should pursue excellence. Reading of all the men and women using their skills in pursuit of excellence as a form of ongoing worship (35.29) should be inspiring to us. These men and women put their skills to work for the purpose of worship: they prioritized “right worship” ahead of their own individual pursuits, and then devoted their very best efforts to produce something excellent and beautiful. Compare that with the prevailing attitudes in our movement today.

 

We MIGHT go to church; it depends on how we feel when we wake up that morning. It depends on whatever else we have prioritized as “important” in our lives, relative to “church.” When we get there, we are as likely to show up empty-handed as we are to stay home. The concept of giving God what is His (after all, He calls it “My sacrifice” in 34.25) seems distasteful to Americans, who don’t want to think of “money” when they are thinking of “worship.” Though we have skills and abilities that were given to us by God, we assume that those are for our “jobs.” We have those skills so that we may support our families, or so our assumptions go. If we have something left over, we’ll grudgingly give that to God—but not in the same sense of excellence that we would give our work. After all, we could get FIRED at work if we are not on time, dressed appropriately, behaving professionally, and producing excellently. THAT’S the place for our excellence and loyalty—our paying jobs. Church is the place for our mediocre efforts, if we do anything at all. This is the American ecclesiology, and it should come as no surprise that we are in sharp decline as an influence in this culture. We don’t truly see “right worship” as a priority, and we are comfortable giving God mediocrity—if anything at all. He is not a very big God, after all, to the American evangelical. Why would any of our “lost” friends be inspired to worship Him?

 

The above paragraph stands in stark contrast to the way that God instructed His people. He was the Provider of their income, so they prioritized HIM over their occupations—which were seen as a means of providing for the ministry of worship. They gave God their very best—whether it was a freewill offering, the tithe, or making finely detailed things as God gave command. They appreciated excellence, and they loved beauty. God’s truth was never distinct from His beauty, and the ability to learn, know and communicate was valued. They were truly a people governed by God, and as such they couldn’t WAIT to get to the tabernacle and worship and serve Him.

 

When we lost sight of God’s transcendence (His “other-ness”), we made Him our Buddy. And when we did that, we lost all reason to worship Him.

 

Where are you in this rubric? Is God “God” enough for you to give Him your best? Do you do that with consistency, passion, and creativity? Or does He get what is left over after you have earned the money that was His to give you in the first place? If you want to see God cast out the sinful “nations” in your life—the enemies of sin that He is driving out, bit by bit—you should begin prioritizing “right worship.” Go back and re-read 34.24. You don’t have God’s victory without truly being God’s. Maybe it’s time for us to return God to His mighty throne, rather than the “buddy” car seat next to us.

Exodus 25-30

Though it seems we’ve moved into the “boring” part of Exodus, bear with me: there are significant lessons to learn about our God and what He expects of us in this section, as well as Leviticus. In today’s readings, God gives some very specific instructions to Moses about how to fund the sanctuary of the tabernacle. He also gives instructions about how to construct the table of bread, the golden lampstand, the tabernacle itself, the bronze altar, the court of the tabernacle, the ordination of priests, the manufacture of priestly garments, the altar of incense, the census tax, the bronze basin and the anointing oil and incense. These elaborate, costly and beautiful aspects of Jewish worship were not evolved from human practice: they were ordained and commanded by God Himself. What does this tell us about Him?

 

First, it tells us that He cares very much about the physical space of worship. He did not allow the Israelites to worship Him any old place they chose. He had a special place in mind; a place that needed to be constructed and cared for over time by people of God-given skill (28.3). He cared so much for this place, in fact, that the level of detail with which He designed this space was intricate. The physical locus of worship was to be the centralized place for the corporate gathering of His people, and He wanted to make sure that Moses got it right.

 

Second, He expected that the manufacture and upkeep of this space would be the responsibility of His people. He expected them to fund it, though He Himself was the provider of their income (25.1, 30.16). It was His will that His people bear the responsibility for His house of worship.

 

So He gave His people money and skill, and expected that they would prioritize His house of worship as a responsibility.

 

American evangelicalism has often veered into a sort of docetic definition of worship—the individualist belief that one can “have church” in the donut shop or the bedside by oneself, or watching a service online, or the Pizza Hut parking lot. While it is true that one may meet God anywhere, that does not constitute “church.” He has not changed since Exodus; He still very much cares about the physical place of worship. That is why He gave us the local church—the only manifestation of the universal Church in our time and place. It is still His will for His people that they voluntarily come to a physical place, united of worship of Him.

 

And it is still His will that they bear responsibility for that place. We fund what is important to us. In a world of limited resources, we always make sure to make our house payment and buy our groceries before anything else, right? God—the Provider of all of our income—expects that we willingly bear the responsibility for His house of worship. We have a financial responsibility to the local church, just as all of His people always have. In addition to this, we have been given skills—abilities and talents that are designed for the church. Though our culture teaches us that our jobs are our first priority, the fact is that God provided our jobs to finance our ministries. Our skills belong to God through His church; He provides what we need when we need it.

 

In what ways are you willingly valuing the physical place of God’s worship? He instructed His people to do so in Exodus, and He hasn’t changed. If the physical plant of the local church is important to Him, shouldn’t it be important to you and me too?