Category Archives: Faith

Fewer Rules, Higher Standards

More on Leviticus (sort of).

Along with describing the rules of animal sacrifice, Leviticus shows just how much the Jewish people were required to do with regard to cleanliness, disease diagnosis and control of its spread, and also criminal punishment (see Leviticus 24:17-22).

Then Jesus comes along and turns much of that around. We are no longer required to make animal sacrifices to atone for our sins, or expect an “eye-for-an eye.” Instead, Jesus became that sacrifice, so it’s no longer necessary. That’s not to say we don’t have to ask for forgiveness or atone for our sins in other ways, however. If anything, what God requires for forgiveness is a bit more difficult. Instead of sacrificing an animal, we have to sacrifice our pride, ourselves. It’s a sacrifice of the mind and heart that requires (gasp!) humility.

Aside: Does that mean we give up who we are and become mindless automatons? Not remotely! God wants us to continually seek him out, ask questions, sometimes, yes, even struggle with him when we’re angry or frustrated. That’s how human relationships work sometimes. What we must never give up, however, is trust. Although we may not understand what God does (or doesn’t do), we have to trust that he knows what he’s doing, and will always have our best (and eternal) interests in mind.

Many of the laws laid out in Exodus (the Ten Commandments) and in Leviticus, include punishments that were based on a person’s actions, whether murder, thievery or adultery to name a few.

While Jesus told us to forgive other people’s sins (accepting the legal consequences of those sins, whether they be murder, stealing and the like is a different conversation), he also changed the standards.

No longer are we guilty of murder if we literally murder someone; we are guilty of murder when we hate someone. We ‘re no longer guilty of adultery if we sleep with someone other than our spouse; we commit adultery when we lust after another man’s (or woman’s) spouse.

Not only did he raise the standards, it’s also God’s way of telling us yet again (because he also states this many times in the Old Testament, too; the New Testament is just a bit more emphatic about it) that sin always starts in the heart, not when we commit the act. If we refuse to entertain sinful behavior in our heart and mind, we can’t act on them:

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” ~ Philipians 4:7-9 (ESV)

Next up: How the verse above can be misinterpreted.

About What’s Not Said

I’m reading Leviticus which is basically a manual of instruction for the Levites–the tribe of Hebrew priests.

A lot of it is repetition as far as animal sacrifices, when someone is considered “unclean,” and how to be cleansed. Some of it seems harsh, especially how women are treated with regard to their menstrual cycle, and how long they had to be sequestered after they gave birth. The time of sequestration also varied depending on whether they had a boy or a girl.

I have to remember, that was a very different time, and they didn’t know as much about hygiene as we do–much of which we take for granted today.

But I digress.

The Hebrews, before the Exodus were surrounded by people who worshipped false gods, many that made human as well as animal sacrifice.

Why God felt it wise to continue the animal sacrifice I can’t answer, but I trust that his reasoning was both important and logical for the Hebrews at that time.

Again, I digress.

Why did people sacrifice to their gods? What’s the first thing you think of? For me, in stories I’ve read and movies I’ve seen, people sacrificed to their gods in order to find some kind of favor.

In Leviticus 8, God requires sacrifices for forgiveness or thanksgiving (and animal sacrifice only. No human sacrifice, another stark difference with their neighbors). Leviticus says nothing about sacrifices in order to receive anything else such as wealth, status, children, and long life. I can’t help but wonder if that’s on purpose, as another means to set the Israelis apart from their neighbors–and to show that God can neither be bought nor bribed.

It occurred to me then that sometimes what’s not said is just as important as what is said.

Not My Tribe

We live in an era in the States where people have tribalized themselves. At first glance it’s not a terrible thing. That we seek to spend our time with those who share the same interests and points-of-view is a natural part of being human. We want to be loved, respected, and understood. Generally speaking, we’re terrified of feeling isolated, especially in a group of strangers who think, behave, and believe differently.

Unfortunately, we’ve taken that natural tendency to the point of seeing those of un-like mind as an enemy. We see those differences as a threat to our own world-view, perhaps even our very way of life. As such, we no longer want to simply separate ourselves, but destroy those who aren’t a member of our chosen tribe.

One of my pet-peeves is when people misuse scripture. Two misused verses in particular make me grind my teeth:

“…If God is for us, who can be against us?” ~ Romans 8:31b (ESV)

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” ~ Matthew 12:30 (ESV)

As to the first verse, there’s one word that people tend to gloss over: if. Some assume that they’re doing God’s work, and anyone who disagrees or actively fights against them, they are going against God and is therefore God’s enemy.

They often use the second verse to bolster their point of view, but they forget (or ignore) that Jesus is talking about himself. No follower of Jesus, or any other human can claim it for themselves.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” ~ Matthew 5:43-44 (ESV)

A scribe once asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. He responded, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” ~ Mark 12:29-31 (ESV)

When I see all this tribalism and hatred or contempt of anyone not within that tribe, I not only think of the scripture above, but ask myself how God sees it all. Can we really expect God to take our side over another? Would a parent take the side of one child over another when they fight to the point of calling the other child an enemy deserving of death?

God hates none of his children, and because he calls us to be like him, we must love our enemies, no matter what tribe they belong to (see Isaiah 56:3-8 and Galatians 3:28).

I Done Did It Again

I dove into another Twitter discussion with a few atheists about how God condoned slavery (specifically Exodus 21:20-21).

I initially tried to say that the Hebrew word used in those verses was “ebed” which translates to servant and/or slave, and that they were considered more indentured servants than slaves as we define them today. Yet the last part of verse 21 does say, “…since the slave is his property.”

Part of me wanted to argue against it, but I had to admit that yes, God did allow for the owning of slaves.

Does that mean he condoned it, though? It could be argued, certainly.

So then comes the next question. If God allowed for and condoned slavery, does that mean slavery isn’t bad? It’s a question that deserves an answer. I think I got a glimpse after thinking about it more last night, but that’s a discussion for another time, because I need to do more research (although you’re always welcome to give your own thoughts in the comments. I would love to hear them).

Part of why I like discussing scripture with agnostics and atheists is they challenge my thinking, force me to study scripture more, and try to understand the background and context of that particular book or passage (because context does matter, sometimes more than the words themselves). After all, I’m supposed to know God’s Word so I can defend it (see previous entry Defend Yourself!).

I often use Twitter to both practice that defense, and discover where I lack knowledge and wisdom.

In this particular discussion, I discovered I lack quite a bit. But that’s not only okay, but good! Few people change their thinking on Twitter anyway, so I don’t really lose anything by losing an argument, or fail to convince someone to my way of thinking. Plus the anonymity helps.

My motive is to learn what I don’t know.

Do I hope my opponents gain a little more understanding, and perhaps even change their mind eventually? Of course, but I don’t expect it.

Speaking of studying, I have to write five devotions based on certain chapters in Psalms before June 26, and I don’t even have the first one written yet! I did start, but I couldn’t get my most recent Twitter implosion out of my head. Now that it’s out, maybe I can concentrate on writing the devotions and get them done in time.

The Seventh Deadly Sin

In today’s society (especially this month), it’s all about pride. Pride in your skin color, your heritage, and culture. Pride in your sex, your gender (for those who consider them separate), and who you’re attracted to.

The seven deadly sins are: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride.

Why is pride on that list, especially since society expects us to celebrate every kind of pride imaginable–believing it to be a virtue?

Humans are a rebellious lot, and rebellion against God is our favorite. The first and easiest way is through hubris: in believing we know better than God. “He’s too far away to understand. He doesn’t care. Look at all the evil in the world that he does nothing about. He doesn’t exist anyway, so everything is up to us to create or destroy however we see fit.” Etc., etc.

The first sin in the Bible began with the temptation of pride: “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat [the fruit], and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5, NLT, emphasis mine)

Almost every evil deed (including our own) can be traced through a seed of pride.

Taking the spiritual out of it, there are other, worldly consequences of pride.

When people embrace pride, they lose all humility. As such, they believe they are perfect, and have nothing left to learn. They become haughty, and few people like to spend time with a “know-it-all” (I am certainly guilty of this).

They also start to see others as less than them. Less smart, less beautiful. In extreme examples, less human. Anyone who has a modicum of historical knowledge knows the consequences of dehumanizing a certain group of people.

Prideful people often see others unlike them as the enemy that must be destroyed. At the very least ignored or silenced, because how dare anyone question their beliefs or opinions?

How often have people harmed themselves or others accidentally, because they believed they could do something without taking a step back first and asking, “Can I really do this? Should I do this?”

Humility, on the other hand is acknowledging that no one is perfect, including themselves. Humble people tend to self-reflect (without being self-absorbed). They are more inclined to seek out new knowledge, new people, are less judgmental of others, and are willing to test their assumptions. Above all, they are willing to change their view and apologize for being wrong if enough facts to the contrary come to light.

Imagine what society would be like if people embraced humility instead of pride.

“Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” ~ Proverbs 11:2 (NLT)

“Do not love the world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” ~ 1 John 2:15-17 (NLT)

Perfectly Ordinary

A while back I saw this meme:

I understand the complaint, but at the same time, the cartoonist didn’t research into artwork of Jesus from around the world. He instead concentrated on European artwork. Following are several I found with a cursory Internet search.

From the Democratic Republic of Congo:

Korea:

Mongolia:

Philadelphia, USA:

I don’t know who painted this or where the artist is from (if you do, please comment), but I think it’s gorgeous:

While most agree Jesus was of mid-eastern descent, no one knows what he looked like. The Bible makes little mention of his physical appearance (with some notable exceptions). Many, however, attribute Isaiah 53:2 to Jesus’s appearance: “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

The notable descriptions of his appearance in the New Testament are during his transfiguration in Matthew 17:2: “And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.”

His resurrection in Matthew 28:3: “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.”

And his return in Revelation 1:13-15: “and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.”

All those descriptions never mention his skin or eye color, how tall he was, his build, or if he had any distinguishing features as he grew up and started his ministry.

In other words, he looked like everyone.

That different cultures would weave him into their own, and artists would depict him with their own ethnic features is a beautiful thing. Because God doesn’t care about our physical features, neither should we care about Jesus’ physical features. It’s all irrelevant anyway. What matters is the heart and soul.

That’s how he would want it, I think, because he didn’t come to earth to save only the Israelites, mid-easterners, Europeans, or anyone else of a specific ethnicity or nationality.

He came to save all of us.

Undisciplined Devotion

Once again my church offered an opportunity to write several devotionals for Lent. This time focuses on the book of Mark. Because I have so much reading and editing to do, I chose to write only four (I usually pick five or six).

I’m not one to set aside time for devotions, whether it’s reading the Bible, other devotionals, or scriptural studies. My faith suffers a little for it, but it’s never been enough to change my ways.

The main reason I like to volunteer to write devotions is it forces me to read and study. Even more than that, it forces me to discover how it applies to me, so the reader can apply it to his/her life also. Writing devotions requires study, but also introspection and humility.

Laying one’s heart and shortfalls on a page for hundreds of people to read is never easy. It’s a 300-word journey from ignorance to wisdom. Even more importantly, it should end with a focus on God, not the writer. A difficult task for someone as prideful as me. So much so, this time I’m tempted to tell the editor to add Anonymous to my devotions instead of my name. I want God to shine through the words, not me.