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Leviticus your neighbour

No, it’s not a naughty word, nor is it the title of a film about the life of Nelson Mandela ;)

It’s the 3rd book of the Bible. It’s one of the bits with all the gory sacrifices and (seemingly!) obsolete laws and rituals.

This time of year, many Christians make resolutions and plans to read through the Bible in the coming year. It’s a commendable goal and regular bible reading (& study, in context, history and genre etc) is part of the life of anyone who is serious about knowing, believing in, trusting and living for God. However in an average reading plan, of a few chapters a day (8-15min) many people come unstuck somewhere around the end of January.

Why? Well there are many reasons; lack of discipline, lack of encouragement, overwhelmed by the task, or as is often the case… they hit the book of Leviticus and balk. The stories in the 1st book, Genesis give the background to all those Sunday School lessons with which many are familiar. Tales of Egypt and the amazing crossing of the Red Sea in the 2nd book, Exodus is an easy read, because, after all, most of us have seen the movie and we know the story. Right?

But the 3rd book… What on earth has blood, guts, and weird definitions of cleanliness got to do with the ‘golden rule’ and loving my neighbour and all that stuff Jesus spoke about? Curiously, the first time that is taught in the Bible is, in that same 3rd book, Leviticus 19:18, which says,

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (NIV)

Leviticus told the people of ancient Israel what it meant to be God’s people and how that showed up in their day-to-day life. All that blood mentioned, acted as a divider and separator. It represented a distinction in what required special care (through isolation and an ancient version of immunisation and quarantine) and what was a common everyday experience.

I have spent many occasions teaching through this 3rd book, Leviticus. I still haven’t done so to the extent that I covered off everything – especially some of the saucy parts that cause lots of arguments ;) Nevertheless it’s a book that I keep coming back to as a key part of grasping the religion of Israel and how their worship was understood and practiced. It also has some integral connections to Biblical ethics and a lot of things Jesus taught. If you’re embarking on a yearly Bible reading program, I encourage you to have another go at reading the book of Leviticus. There’s only 27 chapters, read 3 a day and you’ll knock it over in 9 days. Give it a shot.

If you’re still thinking or wondering about a plan to read through the rest the of the Bible, here’s a page with some links that might help out.

Bible Gateway Reading Plans

 
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Posted by on 04/01/2016 in Bible, Jesus, Reading, worship

 

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The Curlew Cried

bush-stone-curlew-australian-geographic

Three nights they heard the curlew cry.
It is the warning known of old
That tells them one tonight shall die.

Brother and friend, he comes and goes
Out of the Shadow Land to them,
The loneliest voice the earth knows.

He guards the welfare of his own,
He comes to lead each soul away –
To what dim world, what strange unknown?

Who is it that tonight must go:
The old blind one? The cripple child?
Tomorrow all the camp will know.

The poor dead will be less afraid,
Their tribe brother will be with him
When the dread journey must be made.

‘Have courage, death is not an end,’
He seems to say. ‘Thous you must weep,
Death is kindly and is your friend.’

Three nights the curlew cried. Once more
He comes to take the timorous dead –
To what grim change, what ghostly shore?

~ Oodergoo Noonuccal
from The Dawn is At Hand

 
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Posted by on 02/11/2015 in Poems

 

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Not all intentions are equal

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Constantly maligned, often verbally abused, bashed, beaten, left for dead, sold into forced slavery, framed and falsely accused by an employer, forgotten and taken advantage of by peers, … but then … in what would today make a regular (and predictable) plot line of a book or movie about the rise of the underdog, he arises, proves himself, gets promoted to prime minister and quite literally saves several nations. At the height of his success and newly received power he has the chance to face his childhood abusers and tormentors. Justice, as most would understand it, is at hand. But Joseph decides to turn away from the expectations of others. He does not allow his past to define and control him now or dictate his future. He will not be restricted by the expectations of others, especially the bullies.

The Joseph story has a strong emotional appeal. Those facing physical abuse, psychological manipulation, trauma, financial loss, unwarranted ill-deserved threats and intimidation find an alternate and uplifting perspective in Joseph’s words when he has the opportunity to confront his bullies.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” Genesis 50.20

The trap that snares modern applications of Joseph’s words is when God’s intentions are superficially equated with an abuser and tormentor. To say God “intends” someone to be abused to carry out his purpose maligns his character while simultaneously elevating the character of the bully.

A full parallel to Joseph, (as the saviour & redeemer of nations) is arrogant. The underlying principle is to respond in kind. The nature of torment and harassment is to dominate, manipulate and control through a façade of power (physical, financial, social). Those without self-respect, (like substance addicts who seek gratification in getting a fix by any means available), derive their own value through the debasement of others. Any, they can find.

Joseph’s brothers attacked and left him for dead (and later sold into slavery) to elevate themselves in the esteem of their father. They saw Joseph as a threat to their financial security and their control over their father’s wealth. The motivation is one of the oldest and most common: Bullying to gain/keep power for pleasure. Bullies, whether they profess to be Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Secularist, Communist, all have the same thing in common: a deviance that derives pleasure from inflicting suffering on those they can (try!) to dominate and control.

Joseph’s conclusion is not a trite escapist cliché. The mistreatment of those with depraved motives does not define him. It clearly took incredible strength of will, but Joseph chose not to surrender to his brother’s agenda. He suffered. It cost him immensely: emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, socially, financially and geographically. But whether he was to live or die, it would not be on their terms.

Many who defy the agenda of abuse, torment, harassment, bullying and intimidation don’t experience the same subsequent prosperity as Joseph. Their resilience will erode the bully’s agenda, pleasure and power. But Joseph is not defining himself by their downfall anymore than he is allowing their torment to control his outlook and purpose. He decides not to play by their rules. He doesn’t play their game at all. The pay off in Joseph’s case was a reward from Pharaoh – a temporal King of kings. A pay off today comes when I realise that the bully isn’t my King and doesn’t have the last say in my value, purpose and destiny.

I realise, all too painfully, after having relocated, 6 months ago, away from a source of deviance and loss, that this is too easy to say and much harder to live out. It takes courage and, well, old-fashioned intestinal fortitude (i.e. guts!). Maybe things will “turn out for the better”. Regardless, the flaccid façade of the bully will be deflated and another King reigns, upright and more properly, in their place.

 
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Posted by on 27/10/2015 in Bible, church, discipleship

 

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Forgiveness is possible after locusts destroy everything

This is the third of a 3-part note on the theme of forgiveness. After this I’ll move onto some other topics.
Part 1
Part 2
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after-the-locusts

In this post I touch on a similar idea to one I mentioned a few weeks ago when talking about the differences between forgiveness and trust.
(read more at “Tell it to the Church“, “The truth about trust” and “Forgiving the untrustworthy or trusting the unforgiving“)

When forgiveness is mentioned in the Church today, it can sometimes comes across a little trite. Not always! But, sometimes, it can sound like being a Christian (especially the minister or pastor!) means you must “forgive” and “accept” and accommodate everything about everyone. If not, you can get charged with being intolerant, impatient, being a stumbling block and all sorts of other misconstrued names.

Meg Guillebaud’s book, “After the Locusts” is a story of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda during 1994, and the following years of healing and forgiveness still taking place. Meg goes through the idea of practicing forgiveness and makes a distinction between that and trust and is careful to not fall into the trite and false idea of what it really entails for each of us.

Christian Forgiveness does not:

  • Say that it doesn’t matter
  • Pretend that we have not been hurt
  • Simply obeying a command to do so
  • Simply “forgive & forget”
  • Find an excuse for what has been done
  • Gain peace at any price (sometimes involves a conflict)
  • Leave it with God (i.e. in a way that avoids personal responsibility)
  • Always end in complete reconciliation (between the people involved)
  • Come without restitution

Christian Forgiveness does:

  • Begin with an understanding of what Christ has done
  • Refuse to take revenge (c.f. Romans 12:19)
  • Require an act of the will, not just a feeling
  • Face reality (it is very often painful, but necessary)
  • Accept and forgive ourselves
  • Recognise God’s love and His justice go hand in hand

So it may be that “locusts” have attacked and destroyed your life. That doesn’t mean, as a Christian, you are expected to just shrug it off, absorb and ignore the pain and hurt. As a Christian, if you do that, you’re trying to do something that only Jesus can, did and should do. Nor should you be damning others for not doing so. Forgiveness is a decision – but is it not a choice to be naïve and ignorant or to overlook an offence. It is a means to refer something to a higher and more powerful figure who can address the problem fully and justly.

Forgiveness is not simple. It is not trite. But it is possible, even after your life has been ransacked. Whether by locusts or by heartless, gutless, uncaring buffoons.

 
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Posted by on 27/09/2015 in discipleship, Gospel, Theology

 

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Christians who do not forgive other Christians are not Christian

This is another edited repost and is the 2nd in a 3-part note, following yesterday’s post on bitterness.

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At first the title sounds a little self contradictory. That’s a little like forgiveness. It contradicts our default self. Especially when the person we could forgive is another Christian.  So often in Churches today, people are harbouring hostility towards each other for the most trivial things. Unrealistic expectations and unreasonable demands turn into spiteful hatred. Instead of showing patience and compassion to someone having trouble, the default mode is to treat that as an inconvenience and then punish them for upsetting your default mode of selfish existence.

The familiar words of Jesus … “by this shall all men know” contradict our default mode of selfishness. Self interest takes precedence and our priorities must be preeminent. Someone gets in our way, slows us down, interrupts us or doesn’t act towards or respond to us in the way we want them to (i.e the way we think we are entitled to be treated) we insist on our rights & entitlements. We may not say it exactly, but the attitude is, “I demand you listen to me”, “You have no right to offend me”, etc.

When instructing Timothy, Paul said:

“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
1 Tim 1:5-12

The Christian gospel message has a consequence of faith that produces love, else our faith (that we pretend to have) is not “sincere”.  As John said:

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
1 John 2:4

This fills out the gospel. It is not limited to Jesus’ death for my sins & forgiveness. It is also about being introduced to a community through which I demonstrate that forgiveness towards others. The gospel emulates Christ’s incarnation. He became flesh, dwelt among us and revealed God to us through his life and obedience to God’s will. As the Father sent Christ, he on-sends us: The call of Christ is to “wear” (i.e. incarnate) the gospel as an act of service in and for Christ to extend his kingdom.

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
1 John 4:12

A lack of forgiveness results in bitterness and is indicative of spiritual death, disbelief & disobedience. Christians who do not forgive each other are not Christian at all.

 
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Posted by on 24/09/2015 in discipleship, Gospel

 

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Christians aren’t immune to battling bitterness

REPOSTED from 2008 – A pertinent self-reminder, after also being “ripped off” that there are better options than bitterness. This is the first of 3 posts on the topic of forgiveness.
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Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” Hebrews 12:14-17

Contrasted with the great “cloud of witnesses” mentioned throughout Chapter 11, Esau represents the antithesis of faith. Each person mentioned in Chapter 11 knew to approach God in faith realising that it was otherwise impossible to please God. Esau, rejected God out of anger and bitterness, and result was a life of waste and regret.

It started with a dumb decision prompted by tiredness and exhaustion. In the field at the point of complete exhaustion and hunger he begs his deceitful conniving brother to give him some food. In exchange, Jacob rips him off by stealing his inheritance rights, giving Esau the modern equivalent of a cold Junior Burger. Jacob of course follows through with his coup (with his mother’s help) and deceives Isaac into conferring the full inheritance.

Esau’s reaction: anger towards his brother for deceiving him, anger towards his mother for helping Jacob, anger towards his father for not detecting the rort and ultimately anger towards God for not overriding the result of his mistake and stupidity.

Esau’s response: is to dwell continually on the mistreatment (forgetting it was his own fault that started the chain of events) and he became bitter. Turning to a life of immorality and unholiness he is no different to the teenager who takes to drugs, illicit lifestyle, mutilation or suicide. They engage in destructive behaviour, isolate themselves and spiral into an unrecoverable despair.

Forgiveness is the vaccine to prevent the “root of bitterness”.

First there must be the forgiveness of God through Christ – made possible by Christ dying for our sins and overcoming the ultimate despair and defeat proffered by Satan.

Second there must be the forgiveness of others. Bitterness is better prevented than recovered from as Hebrews 12 indicates – see to it that you don’t fail to obtain the grace of God and become defiled by the root of bitterness.

The grace of God only comes through Christ – thus our final remedy, restoration and redemption is through him. Education and counselling is helpful and can identify the symptoms or perhaps the cause event(s) of bitterness and they can help begin healing – Jesus can inspire and provide complete redemption. This prompts the author of Hebrews to say in Hebrews 12:3 – “Consider Christ”, he who endured the ultimate hostility was able to say from the cross, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

 
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Posted by on 23/09/2015 in counselling, Gospel, Jesus

 

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Forgiving the untrustworthy or trusting the unforgiving

the secretary

One of recurring themes of the Older Testament or first part of the bible (written before the time of Jesus) is found in the way the writers and speakers referred to Moses’ character creed of God found in the book of Exodus 34:6-7.

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Both supporters and opponents to the Bible have said much about what this means and implies about the character of the God of the Bible. One thing both will agree upon is that this is a particular reference to the unfolding story of the nation of Israel. As Israel’s story develops, forgiveness is one of the major features displayed by God towards the people he rescued from slavery in Egypt. Also, as a people group or nation, they were held to a higher standard of accountability as the ones who represent God.

When Jesus arrived on the scene, he taught how this applies to all people who follow God. If they represent him, they will experience his forgiveness, but will also have to live by a standard of justice and fairness. A standard, when they become mature enough, they will be expected to apply to each other. If you are going to be a God follower and enjoy the benefits of forgiveness, then you need to lead the way in integrity and honesty.

Jesus is quoted as recommending his people be indiscriminate in their forgiveness towards each other. He is also quoted providing a summary of how to be fair in addressing and dealing with each other’s failures and indiscretions. (mentioned in the last two posts.) Both of the quotes are simple and brief. They aren’t meant to be exhaustive processes but provide overarching principles.

Integrity requires that indiscretions be dealt with openly and publicly, not ignored or handled secretively. Forgiveness does not equate to fully entrusting someone who has not proven trustworthy. But how does this framework deal with trusting people upfront, i.e. those that haven’t (yet?) knowingly wronged you? Should you trust them? Is everyone to be trusted until proven untrustworthy along the same line of innocent until proven guilty?

This is especially relevant in a Church or Christian context. Is it healthy to have a slightly cynical attitude or suspicious concern towards a Christian leader until you get to know them better? For many people who have been hurt and betrayed by ruthless, dishonest leaders slight cynicism becomes overriding bitterness and hatred. This kind of distrust is found in other areas of life as well, for instance the endemic hatred of politicians or disrespect for police. Trying to come up with some superficial version of a solution only entrenches people in their bitterness and pain and makes others vulnerable to being exploited by the next corrupt leader. But there might be an indicator that can warn you off and help you avoid a dangerous situation.

This is found in a quote from Peter, one of Jesus’ followers. When describing trustworthy leaders who represent Jesus, Peter mentions they are “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock”. He goes on to mention “God opposes the proud.” There’s the warning sign. If you encounter a leader who thinks he’s above everyone else, then, as I’ve said before, “Get out of dodge!

In an interview to become pastor of a church, the leader (or secretary) of the group said to me, “My name is *Barry, I’ve been a Christian longer than you’ve been alive. What are you going to teach me?
At the time, I was a little nervous about the interview, but it did cause some alarm bells to start ringing. I should have run away from that job as fast and far as I could!

Sometime later, when, as the Pastor of that Church, I was explaining why I had ‘told the church‘ about the sinful actions of an ex-member who had been harassing and threatening my family, that same leader shouted, “You should have asked me first. I am the secretary and I am more responsible for the welfare of this church than you or any other pastor.

The alarm bells were screaming! But it was too late. This leader was being the opposite of what Peter was describing. In his mind, he, not God, was the most important person. He epitomized the reason that many people continue to leave Churches with hurt, hate and distrust of proud, arrogant and dishonest leaders.

He displayed the opposite kind of character Moses recorded in Exodus. He was a roaring lion seeking to devour anyone who stood in his way. So while I may forgive him, I certainly cannot and will not trust him. His behaviour and actions do not represent God and I do not need to allow him to affect my view of God’s character. I can take the anxiety he caused through his actions and commit that to God, who will not hold him guiltless for his injustice. The lion will become impotent.

wetsecretary*not his real name

 
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Posted by on 30/08/2015 in Bible, church, leadership

 

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