Story So Far, Week 7

We’ve made it to the last day of week seven, so give yourself the customary pat on the back for getting this far. We’re now half way through Leviticus with only one week remaining and we’re getting toward the end of Luke.

I posted earlier this week an image about the most read books in the world, and the Bible tops that list. The question I asked was how many people have read the Bible–the whole Bible? It may be the most circulated book by a mile, but that isn’t the only thing that matters. I want the Bible in the hands of the people, but I want its bindings creased. I want you to open it and read it and love it. Having read half of Leviticus you’re probably in a small percentage of readers. Maybe in these last seven weeks you’ve read more pages of the Bible than you have in your life. Fantastic.

This isn’t to say that you’ve now earned some badge of honor. But God’s Word is a beautiful thing and it is of great value to have spent this time with it. Even if you’re not seeing God work through you in his Word yet, he will do so. He who has planted these seeds will continue to tend them.

So keep out carving time out for the Lord. Spend time with him in study and prayer. Learn at his feet and follow him. We’ve had many challenging words from Jesus to that point. I like his imagery about salt, and how it loses its value when it loses its saltiness. Let the Bible flavor you each day. Be salty.

If you want one piece of homework, one little activity, try going without salt for a few days. I’m not saying put your salt shaker away. Do that, but more than that I mean don’t any eat food that has salt as an ingredient. I suspect it wouldn’t take long to develop a better appreciation for salt and a better understanding of Jesus’ words. Salt preserves, but it also flavors. As disciples of Christ we are the salt of the earth, and what we are endeavoring to do in reading all of Scripture is great preparation for that seasoning process.

More Than Thou Shall Nots

Too often we reduce the moral imperatives of our faith into “thou shall NOT” statements. We shall not steal, kill, nor covet. And that list could go on and on. It is easy to think about what we are not supposed to do, but if we stop there we are left with a very shallow understanding. If we’re only called to not do certain things, then we are left with little idea of what we’re actually supposed to do. But the Christian life is not summed up by sitting on our hands. We are called to act.

We could look throughout Luke to see what Jesus calls us to in obedience to him. This obedience is a response of love, it is how we show love to him. But instead of quoting from Luke, read this example from Leviticus:

“‘If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.” (Leviticus 5:1 NIV)

The law was not concerned only with not bearing false witness, but in the people standing up to testify. It may seem mundane to you, and maybe it is because I watch too many crime shows, but this sounds bold to me. We don’t always want to speak up and stand out. Sometimes it is for our personal benefit to keep our mouths closed. But we have a responsibility to speak truth. Again, we can’t be content to understand the expectation of us to cease just at not bearing false witness. It goes beyond. Just as the golden rule isn’t: Do not do to others what you don’t want them to do to you. Rather we have the difficult, challenging call to do for others as we want done to us.

Humility and the Wedding Feast

Luke 14 includes a parable about a wedding feast where Jesus teaches us to not seek out a place of honor for ourself, instead seek a humble position. The judgment on the proud is that they will be brought down, and the humble will be raised up. Jesus says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Christians are called to be humble, just like Christ who humbled himself. We hear that lesson often, but how do we do it? Have you faced a time at work when you felt like you had to exalt yourself to gain the attention of superiors? Do you worry that if you don’t seek credit and put yourself out there to be noticed someone else will? How do we manage that cultural influence along with Jesus’ words?

Do we have the radical trust in God that he will lift us up and that his exaltation is far more important than any promotion? Is our goal in life to climb the ladder or to be a witness for Jesus and to serve others humbly at the station we are at currently?

Humility is not self-deprecation, but it is certainly not boasting. But it does have to do with moving the self out of the center and making that a place for Christ, and boasting in him. When we do so humility doesn’t become timidity, rather it gives great confidence because we find ourselves firmly fixed on Christ, caring more for his name receiving glory than our own.

Welcome to Week 7 and Leviticus

Well done for making it so far. Or if you’re just joining Year in the Bible, welcome along. In the New Testament we continue in Luke and we’ll keep reading psalms most weeks. But things are shifting in the Old Testament. We’ve finished Genesis and Exodus and that brings us to Leviticus.

Maybe you’ve planned your vacation to coincide with this week because the thought of reading through Leviticus is too much to bear. But I want to slow you down at jumping to such conclusions. (And worst case scenario, if it is that tough, it’ll be done in two weeks!)

I found an article at bible.org that I think is helpful and it addresses directly some of our objections to reading Leviticus. Ever thought that Leviticus is too hard to understand, that it is too dull, or that is has nothing to do with the world after Christ? If so, then read the article.

He makes some challenging points, such as in response to feelings that Leviticus is too boring, he says “our culture has concluded that anything which is not entertaining is not worth listening to.” Leviticus may not jump off the page like some of the passages from Genesis and Exodus, which are full of action, but that does not mean it is irrelevant for us now or that we shouldn’t study it. Speaking of relevance he makes a good point that we’re too interested in what is pragmatic for us in the immediate, lacking the patience to read in obedience to God’s invitation and trust that God has value in every word–even if it is not practical in the here and now.

Read this week with patience and perseverance, and I hope you can approach with renewed interest a book that is too often overlooked.

Story So Far, Week 6

I’ve read Luke 9:62 many times before. There Jesus says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” I had often thought of Lot’s wife who turns back to her home and is turned into a pillar of salt. She was being delivered from judgment and all she could do was look back to her home.

But as we’ve finished the book of Exodus this week, I couldn’t help but read this verse in Luke and think of the Israelites as a whole. They were delivered from slavery and almost immediately they turn their hearts back to Egypt and to other gods. God is angered by these actions. We read this week in Exodus 34 that our God is a jealous God. He wants us for himself alone. God wants us to only worship him. Yet we look back again and again. We look back to false gods and idols. We look back imagining that an old life was better than it truly was. We rewrite history like the Israelites who wished they could return to Egypt where they felt life was better.

In Luke, Jesus pushes his disciples to not turn back from following him. There is a radical break in the way the disciples and Jesus relate to possessions and treasure–don’t look back to those. Do not return to seeing the world the way the culture does and they way you used to. To follow Jesus in many ways is to leave behind the things of the world.

As always, Jesus never pushes us and challenges us to do what he will not do himself. Earlier in chapter nine it says of Jesus, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus knew what waited for him there. Jesus set his face to the city where he would be crucified, and he didn’t look back. Repeatedly Jesus says to his disciples that he came for that very purpose. Jesus did not look back even though his purpose was to die for those who hated him.

This Jesus is the one who tells us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” He calls us to come and follow him. We are to firmly fix our eyes on Jesus, and let the things of earth fade away, never looking back.

This is a hard task, greater than our efforts could accomplish, but thanks be to God that he gives us the strength and works in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13).

Abundant Life is Not Abundant Possessions

The section we read this week from Luke dealt with possessions in a few different ways. Jesus asks his twelve to go out to proclaim the kingdom of God and tells them to leave behind your possessions–no staff, no bag, no money. When later in chapter ten Jesus sends out seventy-two, his instructions are very similar. He sends them out carrying no stuff.

The Rich Fool thinks swimming in solid gold is a pleasurable experience.

Chapter twelve has the parable of the rich fool, who puts so much stock in what he has today, but forgets that he has no guarantee of his future. The fool puts his present day in order neglecting the eternal and is called out as God says, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

This goes along with the sentiment, “you can’t take it with you.” Why invest so much in what cannot last? Why worry yourselves about things that will perish, while all the while neglecting what will last forever?

The warning is against those who lay up treasure for themselves and are not rich toward God. Being rich toward God matters far more than any other so-called riches, for as it says earlier in the chapter, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Instead we have life and abundance in Jesus Christ. He says in John 10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

If abundant life is what we seek, we are better to look beyond our stuff. We should look to Christ and set our minds on things that are above, where Christ is, and not to things on earth (Col 3:1-2). Only in that relationship will we be satisfied. That relationship is what lasts and is of eternal value.

Year in the Bible Giveaway

We won’t get to the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 until next week, but in anticipation of it I thought I’d put forth a little contest for you all to enjoy.

What I want is for y’all to put together some sort of “artistic representation” of the prodigal son parable. Now don’t let that scare you off–there’s a reason I put it in quotes. I only want you to do something creative that captures the story, or a scene, or some aspect of this powerful parable.

Send in your entries, as many as you’d like, to me and I’ll select a winner and to that person I’ll give a free copy of The Prodigal God, by Tim Keller. This is a great book on this parable that I highly recommend. It’s simple and profound, and for those worried that I’m just giving you additional reading, it’s also a pretty short book.

Here are some ideas to get your brain in gear:

pencil sketch

lego creation

food sculpture

painting

performance in mime

poem

Take a picture or record whatever you’ve done and I’ll announce a winner at the end of next week. Send it to me at caseyclark@trianglepc.org

*I’ll have to limit the winner to the USA for shipping.