Delight, the Law and Leviticus

Highlighted Bible

We’re just around the time when many people have fallen off the rails with their Bible reading plans. Genesis was solid; Exodus started strong but by the end was getting challenging. And then, Leviticus. Laws. More laws. Very specific laws about every area of life.

For us, in our current context, these laws seem strange. They don’t fit with how we relate to God, nor to one another. So we tend to ignore them, which is so different than the psalmist who wrote, “I will delight in your statutes” (Psalm 119:16)—a delight which included Leviticus.

The psalmist knew Leviticus was good for him. He knew it was a means of relating to God, of identifying himself as one of God’s people, even as the Law inflamed his sin (Rom 5:20). He loved it, delighted in it, even as he knew it wasn’t enough to save him. It was a steward. A temporary restraint against even greater evils. A teacher, preparing him for the greater freedom to come. The freedom that ultimately comes through faith in Jesus, the one who fulfilled the Law not simply in precept, but in principle.

When we read Leviticus, we should read with this same kind of mindset. We should read it in light of the story that is playing out in Scripture, the story of God redeeming his people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We should read it in anticipation of the gospel. Without the gospel, Leviticus will crush us. But with it, we may truly be able to delight in all that God says through it.

Six marks of wisdom

Highlighted Bible

I’m trying something a little different this year. Along with my regular Bible reading, I’m trying to spend a few minutes each day working through Timothy Keller’s God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life, a devotional focused on the Book of Proverbs. For the last week and change, the book has been focused on how we become wise, and in it, Keller offers six positive characteristics—six marks of wisdom drawn from Proverbs 3:

Trust in God. “You can believe in God yet still trust something else for your real significance and happiness—which is therefore your real God” (22). The wise will find seek to identify their idols and turn from them.

Submit to God’s Word. “Modern people don’t question their right and ability to question everything. So everyone is living by faith in some ultimate authority. Proverbs calls us to make it God’s Word, not our reason and intuition” (23). The wise will ask questions of the Bible, to desire to understand it well, but they will also submit themselves to it.

Be Teachable. “Wisdom is seeing things through as many other eyes as possible, through the Word of God and through the eyes of your friends, of people from other races, classes, and political viewpoints, and your critics.” (24). Wise men and women are not content to exist in an echo chamber.

Be Generous. “The firstfruits of a crop were to be given to God and the poor even though it wasn’t certain how big the harvest would actually be” (25). The wise put their trust in God’s provision, not in the power of money.

Learn from Adversity. “…suffering is also a discipline for growth in wisdom. It can drive you toward God in greater love and strength or away from him into hardness of heart” (26). The wise accept adversity, suffering and difficulties, as a means of growth in godliness (which doesn’t mean that we grin and bear it, as some might think…).

Do Justice. “If you have things your neighbor doesn’t have, share them, because he or she has a right to the part of the world over which God has made you a temporary steward” (27). The wise know they are stewards and they are responsible to help all who are their neighbors—which Jesus defined as anyone in need—to flourish.

These are challenging characteristics. They are difficult for us, in part because they are so contrary to how we think—even as believers. There is wisdom in considering them; in doing so, even if we find legitimate flaws, we show that we desire the wisdom we seek.

If we have a risen Savior, we have the one thing we need

I’ve been listening to Bruce Shelley’s excellent Church History in Plain Language during my commute recently.[1. By the way, as far as single-volume primers on church history go, they don’t get much better than this one.] One thing this book makes clear is the importance of history repeating itself, especially when it comes to heresy. Heresies are formed, denounced, revived, and then the cycle starts again. The most frequent to crop up all concern the person of Jesus. Was he a created being, whether a human being or demigod? Was he a spiritual being who merely seemed to be a human? Did the resurrection really happen or was it a spiritual event in the hearts of his followers? You’ve probably read some of these in the searchings and doubtings of many popular authors, in fact.

But I think what stood out to me this time around isn’t so much the nature of the heresies but their implications. All heresies leave us without hope. They’ve got nothing to offer because they leave us with a dead Jesus. A Jesus who isn’t really God doesn’t really have the power to forgive sin (and because of the redefinition of sin in these heresies, usually doesn’t need to). A Jesus who is a spiritual being only didn’t die at all. A Jesus who rose again only in the hearts of those who believed…  Well, you get the idea. We don’t have the thing we need: A rescuer.

And this is why we need the resurrection. This is why we need a real Jesus, one who is alive right now. Spurgeon put it well in All of Grace:

You are not asked to trust in a dead Jesus, but in One who, though He died for our sins, has risen again for our justification. You may go to Jesus at once as to a living and present friend. He is not a mere memory, but a continually existent Person who will hear your prayers and answer them. He lives on purpose to carry on the work for which He once laid down His life. He is interceding for sinners at the right hand of the Father, and for this reason He is able to save them to the uttermost who come unto God by Him. Come and try this living Saviour, if you have never done so before.

We have a reason to worship today and everyday because this is the Jesus we worship. A Redeemer who lives even now. Who makes intercession for us before the throne of God. Who is coming again soon to make all things new. We have a risen Savior, and because of that, we have everything we need.

What does it mean to be truly alive?

This is the question we’re all asking, all the time. There’s something that drives us to ask the question, whether we sit in a cubicle, working at a computer, teaching students, or wiping noses all day. And it’s a question that pretty much everyone is trying to offer an answer (often with some sort of product playing a vital role).

The problem is, though, whatever answers we’re offered typically miss something important. We want to know what it means to be truly alive because we know something is missing, yes. But that missing “something” isn’t simply a “thing.” It is a Person—God, our Creator and the one in whose image we have been made. And we are only ever truly alive when we are in a relationship with him through Christ. I love the way J.C. Ryle, the 19th-century Anglican bishop, explained this. He wrote:

So long as a man does not serve God with body, soul, and spirit, he is not really alive. So long as he puts the first things last and the last first, buries his talent like an unprofitable servant, and brings the Lord no revenue of honor, so long in God’s sight he is dead. He is not filling the place in creation for which he was intended; he is not using his powers and faculties as God meant them to be used. The poet’s words are strictly true— “He only lives, who lives to God, And all are dead beside.”[1. J.C. Ryle, Alive or Dead?]

As clichĂ©d as it may sound, this is why the gospel matters for the here and now. The gospel isn’t a mere “get out of hell free” card for when you die (and truly, to think about it in such a way at all borders on blasphemy anyway). It is a call t0 life and life in abundance (see John 10:10). A life of service—of worship—to the one who has paid all our debts and is making all things new. Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to describe it, can you?

The kind of fear that can’t sustain the Christian life

Crown of thorns on top of an open Bible

When was the last time you heard a sermon on hell? I’m guessing that, for the majority of you, it’s probably been a while. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your point of view. Generally speaking, I’m not uncomfortable with talking about hell. It can be helpful, even necessary at times.[1. Though I know the annihilationists out there would disagree.] But it depends on context. There’s a sense in which, for some, knowing what we have been freed from can lead to greater appreciation of what we have been given.[2. Again, annihilationists may disagree.] But if the goal is simply to scare people into believing in Jesus, we’re probably not going to be too successful in the long run. Why? Because the Christian life can’t be sustained by terror. It needs something more powerful. Matt Chandler (aided by Jared Wilson) makes this point well in To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain:

Most people coming to Christ fear hell and punishment for their sins. That’s a completely rational fear to have once you know the facts. And it’s a good fear. But it’s not the best fear to have in that moment of conversion, mainly because it cannot sustain the Christian life. We are not called by a spirit of fear into a spirit of fear but by the Spirit of grace into a spirit of love and power. This fear we ought to have of God is not so much terror as it is awe.

Fearing punishment for our sins isn’t wrong, but it’s not enough. Longterm obedience—life-long, fruitful faithfulness—flows from growing deeper in our joy and affection for our Creator and Savior. Awe is what we need. Let’s be sure to emphasize that, even when we need to talk about the consequences of sin.

The one way to truly live

When I was younger, I believed there was only one way to fulfillment and happiness. One way to truly live. It was what I was taught in school, what I read in books, and what I saw on television. What was it? Being “true to yourself.”

This is the idea that happiness comes when you are the master of your own destiny. Fulfillment comes when you’ve figured out what you were always to do; when you’ve embraced the identity you’ve always felt was yours. I believed this for years. For my entire life prior to 12 years ago. And this is still how so many of us live, trying to create an identity, accumulate enough stuff, and be whatever we want to be for as long as we can before we shuffle off this mortal coil. The problem is, it’s a trap, promising life, but leading to death.

And if this is what it means to truly live, I think I’ll pass.

Thankfully, there is a way—a better way. A true way. But it is radically different than in being true to yourself the way our culture understands it. It’s praying, “I see, believe, live, when thy will, not my will is done.”[1. Valley of Vision, “The Divine Will,” 14.] It is denying ourselves. It is trusting God’s will ahead of our own, and not putting our feelings on too high a pedestal, for we know they are not entirely reliable.

That is the way to truly live. To, by God’s grace and the Spirit’s help, continually take our desires and lay them down before Jesus, the one who died to redeem us. To admit our weaknesses and imperfections—to turn from our sin and recognize that God’s will is better than our own. To rely on him more each day, as we see that his love for us surpasses even our love for ourselves. That is the one way to truly live. It’s how I want to live more every day.

Lord, help me to continually see that I only truly live when “when thy will, not my will is done.”

What praying together means

are my prayers too small?

Conferences are always an interesting experience for me, even more so now that I’m attending as an exhibitor. They’re a chance to hang out with people I rarely get to see and to learn how God is at work in churches around America and beyond.

This past week, I was in Minneapolis for the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors. While there, I was speaking with a pastor about our respective ministries and lives, which includes the immigrant experience. As we spoke, I mentioned that one of the big concerns I’ve got is the visa renewal and status adjustment process. I’m on a temporary work visa here, which means that there is an expiry date coming. With that comes a number of questions, including:

  • Do we want to stay? Do my employers want me to?
  • What are our options for adjusting our status?
  • Will we even be approved after we figure out what to do?

This man understood, without needing any specific examples. He had been through it himself. So, he did the most important thing he could: he asked if we could pray together.

So we did. Right there, in the exhibit hall, at my booth.

And it was great. It might have been my favorite moment of the entire four days, in fact. It was another reminder of how important it is for God’s people to pray together. Personal, private prayer matters, without question. It is where the majority of our prayer life should be spent. When we pray, we come in praise and adoration, we are often holding out a need, and we are trusting him for the results.

But when we pray with someone else, it says something additional: that we are not alone in this. We are not carrying our burdens alone, but others will bear them with us (Galatians 6:2). Praying with a fellow believer, even one who we may not know well (or hardly at all), says, “In Christ, we are family.” That is a beautiful thing—it is a wonderful gift. I’m thankful I was reminded of this in a quiet moment in an exhibit hall. May the Lord give you an opportunity to be reminded of it as well.

God’s plan from the beginning

Twelve years ago this month, I bought my first Bible. I didn’t buy it because I was looking to understand the Christian faith or anything like that. I bought it because I wanted to knowledgeably make fun of my friend, Adam. Instead, I found myself captivated by the Jesus I saw in its pages—a Jesus who taught with authority, who had power over demons and to forgive sins. A Jesus who made extraordinary claims about himself, even claiming to be God himself!

I was amazed at this Jesus, one I’d never truly heard of before. Ultimately, my desire to mock my friend’s beliefs were a part of God’s plan to bring me to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Twelve years later, when I study the New Testament, I still find myself amazed at all Jesus did to rescue humanity from sin and death. I’m even more in awe when I consider how this was God’s plan from the very beginning:

Throughout the Old Testament, we see glimpses and shadows, pictures and promises, of God’s rescue plan. But at a moment no one expected, the shadow gave way to substance, and God’s only begotten son came into the world, born as a human being. A baby boy named Jesus; the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

Rejoice in this good news, friends—and behold the Lamb, who was God’s plan from the very beginning.

Hope out of a hard question from Jesus

An open Bible being read

The other day, I read a particularly convicting question from Jesus:

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say,” he asked (Luke 6:46). I can only imagine the thoughts that ran through the minds of his original hearers. How long was the list each was coming up with? What did they feel when they began to examine themselves?

Take a second. Sit with that question for a while. Maybe it’s just me, but this is a question that makes me really uncomfortable. I can’t help but think of the ways in which I struggle to obey Jesus (and it almost always comes back to sharing the gospel with others). I actually spent a good chunk of Saturday thinking about this question from the perspective of writing a list of failures.

There’s something helpful and necessary about examining ourselves, of course. Paul encouraged us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5). We should not assume we’re running the race at our best when we might be running hobbled. But sometimes when we make our lists, when we examine ourselves, we can turn what we see into a task list. We determine our next steps and set out to accomplish them.

Or not, which is more often the case.

Then despair sets in. And we give  up.

In thnking about the question further, I started to have a different response. I stopped making my list—rather, I stopped trying to turn it into tasks that I can manage. Instead, I found myself thinking about the man who cried out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

And this became my own prayer to God. To stop trying to create tasks for myself and first deal with my heart. My weakness in evangelism is a heart issue, as are a host of other sins and areas where I’m slow to be obedient. So I can’t just tell myself, “Evangelize harder.” I need Jesus to deal with my heart first. To help my unbelief.

And so that’s what I’ve been doing as I’ve been thinking about this question of Jesus’. And in doing so, I’m starting to feel a little more hope that things will change. I can have hope because I know the One I am asking is good. He gives all that I need (and more). He wants me to obey him in all things, and by his grace and through his Spirit, he will give me what I need to do so.

How can we embrace the sort of life we’ve been called to?

Hope statue in New York

There are times when I want to bless people’s hearts in my heart. This may make me one of history’s greatest monsters. it happens almost every time I see someone in a bookstore who picks up a book of a certain genre. A book adorned with the author’s beautiful and award winning smile. The eyes have a mild look of crazy about them. And a promise is given, often of achieving your best life sometime in the not too distant future.  Also, a Bible verse may or may not appear in the pages of said book.

This is when it happens. But I suppose it’s better than me slapping the book out of their hands, isn’t it? Maybe?

I wish people didn’t buy these books. I wish stores didn’t sell these books. And I wish more pastors spoke out against them. Why? Because these books don’t help us love Jesus more. They don’t tell us the truth. They tell us we’re to look forward to the good life now, when Jesus says, we should expect trials.

Hardship.

Opposition.

Maybe even persecution.

For “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

While we probably shouldn’t be seeking these things out, we should expect them to come eventually. After all, this is the sort of life we’ve been called to. And God will test “you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10). As Spurgeon once wrote,

“I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” This has long been the motto fixed before our eye upon the wall of our bed-chamber, and in many ways it has also been written on our heart. It is no mean thing to be chosen of God. God’s choice makes chosen men choice men.… We are chosen, not in the palace, but in the furnace. In the furnace, beauty is marred, fashion is destroyed, strength is melted, glory is consumed; yet here eternal love reveals its secrets, and declares its choice. So has it been in our case.… Therefore, if today the furnace he heated seven times hotter, we will not dread it, for the glorious Son of God will walk with us amid the glowing coals.

That last line is what makes all the difference to me. It’s not enough to say that we’re chosen for a life such as this. It’s not enough to say that we should expect trials and difficulties. What makes us bear it—what makes us embrace it—is not knowing this. It’s knowing that Jesus—”the glorious Son of God”—is walking with us through it all.


Photo credit: New York 2016 via photopin (license)