Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 2

Gold Medal Flour at Dot's Cafe
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When you present a Grain-Offering of oven-baked loaves, use fine flour, mixed with oil but no yeast. Or present wafers made without yeast and spread with oil. Leviticus 2:4 (MSG)

When my children were still babies, I made a habit of having them close their eyes, bow their heads and hold hands while we thanked God for their food. At bedtime I would read Bible stories and we would act them out together in little bed-top improvisations. On Memorial Day, grandma would pick them up each year to help her plant flowers on the graves of loved ones. These repetitious rituals are word pictures and reminders of thankfulness, offering, obedience, and honor that, hopefully, stick with children as they grown into adolescence and adulthood.

When I read Leviticus I often picture mankind and human society in its infancy. The sacrifices, rules and offerings are ritualistic word pictures prescribed by a Father to his people, who are just a toddler society beginning to understand their place in the world.

Today, two things struck me in the word picture of the grain offerings:

First, fine flour was to be used. When we give, to others and especially to God, we should give the best we have. It reminds me of the lyric to David’s song (which we know as Psalm 112) which says “Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely.” Am I giving God and my neighbors the fine stuff or the white elephant stuff on my basement shelf?

Second, the bread offering was not to contain yeast. God uses a word picture out of what was a daily chore at that time: the baking of bread. We bake a lot of bread in our house and the last ingredient you put in to the breadmaker is the yeast. It always amazes me how a little teaspoon of yeast makes such a HUGE difference in the outcome of the bread. That’s why God used it as a word picture for sin. A little sin taints the whole person the way a little yeast taints the whole loaf. You can’t bake a loaf that’s half leavened (with yeast) and half unleavened (without yeast). Once the yeast is added, the entire loaf is tainted. We often want to think of sin as this isolated part of our person. We’re mostly “good” people who have this hidden little sin problem back in our closet. By requiring bread without yeast as an offering, God was telling us “I demand a sinless sacrifice. A pinch of sin affects the whole person, and that’s a problem.”

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Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 1

“If the offering is a Whole-Burnt-Offering from the herd, present a male without a defect at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting that it may be accepted by God. Leviticus 1:3 (MSG)

My grandfather was a court bailiff and as a child I spent my spring break with him at the courthouse. I still remember the long bookshelves, stacked floor to ceiling with an important set of leather bound books entitled “Code of Iowa.” It was the “book of law” for the state of Iowa. Call it the rule book for our society. It prescribes the rules by which we live together and on which our judicial system judges those who break the rules.

Leviticus is not an inspirational book of song lyrics (like Psalms). It is not a devotional book of wise sayings (like Proverbs). It is not a biographical story (like Matthew). Leviticus is an ancient book of law. Like the Code of Iowa sitting on the county courthouse shelf, Leviticus is the “Code of (ancient) Israel.”

We also have to remember the time and historical circumstance in which the book of Leviticus was given. A couple of million Israelites had just left slavery in Egypt. An entire nation with their flocks and herds now found themselves wandering in the desert together. There was no system of government. There wasn’t an agreed upon set of rules. It was a law-less nomadic society; Imagine the entire population of the state of Iowa (complete with farmers taking their livestock) grabbing everything they could carry and making their way on foot toward Canada [Canadians will appreciate that I made them “the promised land” in this metaphor]. Leviticus was God’s attempt to provide some basic rules for life and worship to an ancient people whose daily life we can scarcely imagine in a time and culture very different from our own.

Besides being mindful of the historical context, there are two things I always try to keep in mind while wading through the Code of (ancient) Israel. First, the common link we have to that people is our sin nature. We all blow it and fall short of God’s holy perfection. The sacrificial system prescribed by Leviticus is an initial attempt in history to deal with the core spiritual problem: man is sinful, separated from God, and therefore stands condemned to die.

Second, God is a God of metaphor, so the Code of worship and conduct prescribed in Leviticus is going to provide word pictures and foreshadowing to the larger story God is authoring. For example, the first sacrificial offering prescribed is a “male without defect.” Picture Jesus, God’s own Son, a male without defect, dying on the cross. Two thousand years before Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross, God was trying to give people a word picture of the ultimate plan in the sacrifices He prescribed.

Today, I’m mindful of an epic story of grand design which is still being authored, of which I am a part. And, I’m thankful for a God of detail who has a master plan, even though my finite mind can’t completely comprehend it.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and rachael voorhees

It has come to this…

It's Gonna Be a Long Walk
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I’m a procrastinator by nature. I’ve worked hard to learn from the negative consequences of my procrastination, and in some ways I have gotten much better. Still, the better angels of our nature give way from time to time to those parts of ourselves we cannot will away.

For over five years I’ve been blogging on a chapter of God’s Message every weekday (well, almost every week day). It’s been my unstated goal to write a blog post on every chapter. There are a few books, however, which I’ve procrastinated wading through. Now three of them stand between me and my goal like the giant monoliths of Stonehenge: Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

I’ve procrastinated these three books because the road through them can be long and dry. They can easily illicit more questions than providing inspirational answers. They are, however, part of the landscape of his-story, God’s story. They provide context to the whole and are critical to getting the big picture of the plan God reveals for the redemption of fallen man.

The Hobbit is a great story on its own merit, but understanding the history of the little ring Bilbo stumbles upon in the dark tunnels of the Misty Mountains adds an entirely new appreciation for the broader and more serious implications of the sweet bed time story. For anyone who has wandered into the long, exhaustive appendices of Tolkein’s epic tale, you can think of the next stretch of our chapter-a-day journey in similar terms.

So, here we go. Lace up the walking shoes. Bring plenty of provisions. Ninety-seven chapters divided into three books. I hope you’ll stick with me. After that, just two minor prophetic books consisting of 24 chapters and my goal of blogging on every chapter will be complete.

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Chapter-a-Day Matthew 28

The final of the men's 4x400 metre relay at th...
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Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” Mathew 28:18-20 (MSG)

This morning as I thought about Jesus final charge to His followers, I pondered the process. Jesus teaches the disciples, then sends them out. The disciples teach another generation of followers who are sent out and on, and on, and on.

I think back to the people who were instrumental in my own decision to follow, and my subsequent learning to follow. I remember Bob. I think of my parents and my siblings. I think of Chuck, Andy, and David. I remember teachers like John, Dave, and Bill. I think back to amazing friends who have been instrumental in walking beside me in key stretches of the sojourn like Randy, Dave, Craig, Kirk, Stephen, Jon, Kevin, and Matthew.

All of us who follow received from others who learned from those before who received it from yet others who walked their own journey long before us. It is a spiritual lineage that goes back all the way to Jesus standing on a mountain with a handful of followers.

Today, I’m thankful for those who have been instrumental in my own spiritual journey. I pray that I have been and will continue to be faithful in passing what has been entrusted to me along to my children, eventually to my grandchildren, and to those who God brings into my sphere of influence.

Keep passing the baton. The race isn’t over.

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Easter 2011

Cubbie Bear stopped by to wish me a Happy Birthday!

The Easter weekend started with my birthday party which was celebrated a week early. Wendy has always wanted to rent a skybox at Principal Park and have a birthday party for me. The I-Cubs aren’t in town on my actual birthday, so the festivities were planned for last Friday night. It was a cold, drizzly night so it was nice that we had a warm, dry skybox to enjoy the game. As the sun went down, fog started rising from the outfield and the game was eventually called after seven innings because of it. There were, however, fireworks after the game which was a great way to end the evening.

Wendy and I volunteer on the tech team at our church and Easter Sunday is always a major technical production. Half of the worship team is in the sanctuary and half in the auditorium. So the Easter service happens together in two rooms with audio and visual hook up between the two. Wendy was on a camera and I was running a light board. So, Saturday was rehearsal and then all Sunday morning was spent helping with two of the three Easter Sunday services.

After church, we headed to Des Moines to have Easter dinner with the VWs. The Keithley crew were there along with Tay & Clay and Uncle Tim. We were also excited to have our family friend Dave with us. Dave is in from Rhode Island helping renovate Tim’s building. It had been many years since I’d seen him.

We missed Maddy Kate who was in Minneapolis. She is finishing up school and will return to Pella in early May.

Wendy and the Girls
The guys brave the cool, wet weather.