As we’re moving through the book of Leviticus and the law is being given, today we investigate and are informed of the concept of clean and unclean. So what is clean and what is not clean? The underlying theme to all of that is that God is holy and they are invited to become holy because they are set apart as his people. So we can look at this list and go, ‘Well, what makes the lizard unclean? What makes a gecko unclean for eating?’ but that is somewhat beside the point. And we can look at these customs and say, “Man, kind of rigid, isn’t it? Kind of rigid’ but let’s not forget what is going on here. This is a horde of people, massive, over a million, and as far back as they can basically remember, for centuries they have been generational slaves. So this is all new stuff for them. God is establishing this rhythm of life that in everything and in every way is reminding them of the story of their new identity, chosen people set aside by God to be his chosen people.
So as the law is given, you can say, ‘Yeah, that’s kind of rigid. We wouldn’t do that today. Why? Why is all this clean and unclean?’ but embedded into the fabric of the culture is the story that there is a difference between being set apart and being holy and not being those things. So yes, some of these things are for sanitation. Some of these things are for health and not transmitting diseases to each other. Certainly that is embedded in here, but spiritually what is embedded inside of this is the story of their identity. They are reminded of it in just about everything that they do and it is intended to and will have a profound effect on how they live their lives and how they conduct themselves in relation to one another and how they conduct themselves in relation to God.
So we get to the New Testament and this becomes really fascinating because Jesus is invited to come and heal a synagogue leader’s 12-year-old daughter and he agrees and he’s on his way to do just that when the whole scene gets hijacked by a woman who has been perpetually bleeding for 12 years. So she has been bleeding since this little girl that Jesus is going to heal was born. The thing is, she is unclean under Mosaic Law. She has been unclean perpetually for 12 years, unable to participate in holy things and anything that she touches while she is unclean becomes unclean. So for her to have faith well up inside herself and reach out and touch a rabbi on purpose, making him unclean on purpose, that is a no-no. But she did it. She felt like ‘If I could just brush up against his clothes, if I could just reach out and touch is clothes, I think I would be healed” and she did it. That was a risk because had Jesus stopped and said “Who touched me? Who made me unclean?” well, she could have had a bad day, but Jesus didn’t react that way. He wasn’t lost in the rules. He had given the rules and he knew what they were supposed to point to. They had become a cage of ritual when they were supposed to be reminders of identity. The woman was healed and Jesus said, “Go in peace. Your faith has made you well.” It’s really, really beautiful. Striking.
So we can get hung up on the rules. We can call our freedom in Christ and say we can do just about whatever we want because we’re free from all of that and that is fine. But may we understand even in our faith journey there are things that are clean and there are things that are not. There are things that are unclean. If we’re going to dally in the unclean, if we’re going to touch the unclean, then we’re going to be unclean. And we don’t really have to unpack that very much. We know this. It may not be under Mosaic Law, but if we live our lives touching the unclean on purpose, being involved in what is unclean on purpose, then we will be unclean.
Yeah, we’re supposed to be holy and in a way these people that we’re reading about in Leviticus could have never become because we are not only set apart and made holy. We are partakers in the divine nature of God. We shouldn’t be unclean in that. So may we, like this woman, reach out and touch the hem of the garment of the Risen Christ and be made whole again and be made clean. May we hear the voice of Jesus telling us “Go in peace. Your faith has made you well. Be cured.”
Jesus, that is what we long for. Put in these terms, we can see clean and unclean everywhere. And we know where we’ve been unclean. So while we don’t bring lambs and sacrifice them to be restored to you, we do lay our own lives down as a living sacrifice in order to be restored to you, and we ask your forgiveness of the unclean in us. It is not supposed to mix with what is holy. And that explains so much of our lives. That explains so much of why things don’t work and why we get mad and estranged from you when you’re not jumping to attention because we’ve called. It explains a lot and it forces us to own our part of this relationship. You are holy and the only way we can walk with you is in holiness and that you have provided even that for us if we will simply partake and participate. And so we do. We invite your Holy Spirit to well up within us and the divine nature of the Risen Christ to overwhelm everything that is unclean in us, crowding it out and sending it away because we have been set apart as holy and we must be holy. So come Holy Spirit, because without you we can’t. There is no possible way. So we invite you. Make us holy as you are holy. And we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
by Mike Foster
’Tis the season of giving. But while we assume we need to be rushing off to purchase perfect presents, we can actually do something great with what we’ve got.
Photo Credit: Flood G., Creative Commons
Take this woman and her boots for example.
She was on the subway in New York. Another lady entered her car barefoot and evidently chilly by the way she was wiggling her pink toes. The boot-wearing woman took off her shoes and zipped them up over the pink toes.
At the warmth, the woman cried.
The now socks-wearing lady looked down at the thin layer that protected her own feet for her long trek home. A man noticed her disgruntled look and a chain reaction started. He whipped out a pair of thick gym socks and handed them to her. She could make it home.
Hearing about the gift, a store contacted the woman who gave away her boots and sent her on a shopping spree. What did she do? Buy a new pair of boots? Enjoy the repayment for her random act of kindness?
Instead, she continued the chain of giving by donating every purchase to a women’s shelter.
After hearing this story, I realized that giving is about something deeper than the gift and my heart started growing like the Grinch in “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.”
What if Christmas,” he says, “doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!
There is a “little bit more” to this whole season than purchasing presents, isn’t there? Gifts are awesome but there are times where we can’t wrap the thing we need to give away.
This whole Christmas thing started because Jesus was born to give a grace that could and can never be contained in a box. Because of him, and people like the boot-wearing lady, there is a chain reaction of goodness and kindness that has been freely gifted to us. So pause.
What great thing can we do with what we’ve got?
A sincere heart note from our friend @JohnR1977
This weekend, I had a rather emotional experience. Actually, it was more of a series of divine appointments that could have only been orchestrated by The Almighty. I apologize in advance if I ramble and change directions during the following, but this isn’t a thought-out attempt to appear witty or introspective. It’s an admission of guilt and a testimony of grace. Away we go.
I have a problem. Well, I have several problems, but one in particular which I cannot seem to pin to submission. My ego gets the best of me more than I care to admit, and I cannot stop it. And it’s completely undeserved. I am by far the best looking guy in the world, I never graduated high school, I’m a recovering alcoholic and addict, and I have I destroyed more relationships in my life than I can count. I try to be better, every single day, but I still catch myself looking down my nose at those around me and shaking my head in derision. I scoff at people who have no idea why I’m being such a jackass, and the reality is, I have no idea either. I’d imagine it’s some sort of deeply wired defense mechanism that’s operating on some subconscious level that only a professional could navigate, but I believe God can fix it faster. So that’s what He and I talk about. A lot.
Let me tell you a story. Once, there was a wayward young man who followed his beautiful girlfriend into a converted school on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. The school had become a church, and the church had become a beacon of hope for those in the surrounding neighborhoods. The people inside were caring and wonderful, and the love was palpable. It was an amazing experience.
Or, it would have been, but it was all lost on the young man. See, he didn’t care about being there. He was only present out of some duty and obligation to his significant other. He would have much rather been at home. But he went nonetheless,and tried to appear interested.
This charade lasted for a few years. He would go, she would be happy. They would leave, he would be happy. And so they danced, the beautiful girl and the wayward young man, even though truth be told she somehow knew him to be disingenuous.
The men of the church cared for the young man as their own. Reached out, pulled in, and the young man pushed back. Love doesn’t come easy for one who has spent a life time either in passionate pursuit of it or fleeing from the sharpened tip of it. Brotherly love wasn’t a concept that rang familiar to one who was an only son, and to his father, a forgotten son. But this isn’t a step into the bog of self-pity, for those who keep their eyes on those behind them never have the chance to see the smile in those in front of them. So the young man extended cursory pleasantries and hurried handshakes and made haste for the exit. Every Sunday. For years.
His duplicitous behavior transcended church attendance, however, and one day, the young man found himself in the midst of a rather precarious predicament. Down one road lay the beautiful and lifetime of happiness and love, and down the other lay selfish pleasures of the flesh and a mistake that would destroy the beautiful girl.
Which path do you think he took?
Sufficed to say, the young man chose the path of least resistance, as he was wont to do. Love and respect were commitments, and one doesn’t have the time for such things when self-gratification is so much easier.
Away! Away the young man rode, straight into the arms of the enemy who had been waiting for him for sometime. As darkness wrapped it’s tendrils around the young man, he heard the words of God speaking from somewhere above, as if God was up in a tree shouting down with hands cupped over mouth.
“Make haste, young man!” the voice would cry. “Take one step back, just one, and I will reach down and pull you up into this tree with me. Up here, you and I can speak freely, and I can tell you my plans for you.”
The young man stopped being a young man in that moment. In a single action triggered by a lone thought, every cog in the mechanism that ran the young man’s heart popped out of its housing and shot off in a hundred directions. As the light left his eyes, the last thing the young man remembered before he submitted to the dark was the face of God reflected in the eyes of the beautiful girl.
There he lay. No longer young, and no longer a man. A husk that held a brain with more knowledge than wisdom, and a heart with missing pieces. It was all he could do to simply pick himself up off of the floor and stumble towards reality. And as he cried softly to himself, he noticed he wasn’t alone. A presence had filled every inch of space around him. It enveloped him but didn’t stifle. It encompassed him. It warmed him. As he opened his eyes and wiped away the tears, two hands reached out. In one lay the pieces of his heart, and the other rest upon his shoulder. He cautiously picked the pieces from the palm of the hand and in an instant, the young man felt love. In the next, he knew love. In a moment, he was whole again. Not a better version of his old self, but a completely new entity. Then the voice came again.
“I will never leave you. I will never stop loving you. I will never be apart from you. I am here always.”
“But I didn’t reach up my hand so you could pull me up, and look what I did. Look what I destroyed. Look who I hurt.”
“It’s all fixable. I will fix it all. I will renew it and rebuild it and revive it. Look at me.”
“No tears, my son. Look at me. Look in my eyes.”
“I hurt her so much. I can’t”
“You can. Through me, you can.”
The young man dried his eyes and looked straight into the face of forgiveness. All at once, the pain was gone.
“Now, remember this. You have to put into action a few things. Show me you believe what I’ve said and I will not stop working until what I’ve told you has been made true. Can you do that?”
“I don’t know. I have nothing. I have no job, no money, no one trusts me. I’ve destroyed my life.”
“You’ve looked me in the eye and known that I am for you. That’s all you need to know. From this moment, you walk forward. Follow my son. He will take care of you while I work. As for her and the others, you will see that they’ve never stopped loving you either.”
“How can I be sure?”
“Because you will see me in their faces. Just as you did with the beautiful girl.”
I told you that story to tell you this one. The young man did see the love in the faces of the men of that church. And they accepted him despite the mess he had brought upon himself. They never judged, they never condemned, and they never made him feel unworthy. And for awhile, a brotherhood was formed that was set to take on the enemy with a ferocity that could only be fueled by a bond forged by God. But, again, the young man felt himself to be too close to pure love, and he ran for the railing and vaulted over. Right back into the darkness.
God’s word says that there is nothing we can do that will keep us from His grace, love, and mercy. I believe that. I’ve apologized to God a lot lately. And I know He forgives me. And He and I are still hard at work on the whole ego thing. We’re getting there.
This weekend, two groups of people did two totally different things, and both groups did them in the name of God. One group joined together yesterday and praised Him for all of the good He has brought to the world. The other destroyed lives because they believed it’s what God wanted them to do. I took a piece from both events, and they fit together. Hear me out.
Muhammad isn’t real. He isn’t a prophet. Allah is not God. It’s so unfortunate that some people believe the opposite, but one day they will know the truth. The lives lost in Paris were not in vain, however, because when things like this happen, God uses the devastation to mold greatness as only He can. People will come to Christ from this. I feel it. I know it.
I spoke to a security guard yesterday at Spirit Fest. We talked for an hour or so, and he was a very interesting man. He wasn’t there to praise or worship, however, he was just there to complete an obligation. Exactly what I used to do. He said something very profound to me that I haven’t been able to shake in the past twenty four hours.
“I think it’s great that people believe in God and all that. For me, I’m not ready. I just can’t see myself being that nice to everybody, everyday. I couldn’t do it.”
That’s his perception of being a Christian. And he’s so close to the mark that I’ll call it a bullseye. We are to love everyone, and how better can that love be perceived by others than when genuine kindness is reflected in every action. I gave him a very quick lesson in how accepting Jesus as your savior is first and foremost, and how all of the other stuff comes together through that acceptance. He didn’t become a believer yesterday, but the seed is there.
Here’s my point, for those that haven’t bailed on me yet. I am a messy, imperfect horrible person. I am an egotistical jackwagon (thanks Pastor Scott :)) and when I feel myself getting too close to someone or something, I purposely set it on fire. Not literally, of course, but I burn bridges so I don’t have to walked back over them only to find the other person has given up and left. I ruin things. That is who I am.
At least, it’s who I am sometimes. We all have the incredible hulk to our Bruce Banner’s, and mine just happens to be the monster who thinks he’s too good for everyone else because deep down he feels he isn’t good enough at all. And I am trying so hard to change that. And I will. Rather, God will, and I will let him.
It comes down to how you view yourself, and how you view your God. Is the God you serve one that speaks mercy and love, so that everyone sees how “you are nice to everybody, everyday,” or is the God you serve one who instructs you to murder? It isn’t that difficult to see which one we ought to be pursuing. And do you view yourself as worthy of being rebuilt? You should. I do, finally. And even though God has just started, I can’t wait to see the finished product not only in the reflection in the mirror, but in the reflection in the people I come across.
Hold on to those who love you. Hold on to The One who loves you. Cast your pride aside and accept mercy and forgiveness, because we are so blessed to have it.
Thank you, my brothers. And I know you’re just as sick of me saying sorry as I am of saying it. Know this, though. The young man owes his life to you. God used you men to speak into me and hold me up when I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. I never stopped loving you guys, even if I let myself believe I didn’t like you very much. And I respect you all for everything you’ve become. The lives you’ve changed are a testament to your faith, and you should be proud of that.
Oh! I forgot to mention. The beautiful girl still captivates the young man, and they are closer now than they ever were, even if they aren’t where they used to be. But that’s a good thing. Where they used to be wasn’t leading either of them anywhere.
This young man is off to bed. God bless you all.