Leviticus: An overlooked book

Leviticus is a difficult book to read. When I was little, I would just skip over the laws and the genealogies because they didn’t seem as important. My family didn’t sacrifice goats and rely on priests to intercede for me, so those books really didn’t matter as much as the other ones, right?

I recently started back at the beginning in my Bible reading, and I’m working through Leviticus right now. Let me tell you: There’s nothing that makes me feel more unworthy than reading commands of God, no matter where they fall in the Bible. God’s Word throws my brokenness and weaknesses in my face, showing me my desperate need for my Savior.

I found myself reading Leviticus 21 last night, which covers rules for priests. Back then, not just anyone could come to God and perform the duties associated with worship and sacrifice, among other things. Not everyone could come before God’s throne. The priests were holy — meaning set apart for a specific purpose — and they had a special ordination ceremony to prepare them to serve. They were males who came from a specific tribe and bloodline.

While reading about the different rules for priests, I hit these verses:

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the Lord. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the Lord, who makes them holy.’” (v. 16-23, NIV)

I felt the Holy Spirit poke me a little and went back and reread it, not wanting to miss what He wanted to show me that night.

Besides the fact that I’m a woman, even if I had met the genealogical qualifications of priesthood, I wouldn’t have been able to serve as a priest because I have defective eyes. If I take off my glasses and look down a flight of stairs, I can’t see individual steps to try to walk down them … pretty rough.

I wouldn’t have had what it took to be able to go near God’s holy place. These sacred, holy places would have been unapproachable to me. I couldn’t have reached the standard set in place on my own.

But do you see that short verse at the end? “I am the Lord, who makes them holy.”

Friends, God had a bigger plan than the law and sacrifices that could never have taken away sins. He had a bigger plan than worship confined by means of earthly priests. His plan would include a one-time sacrifice that covered all sin for all time. The plan would also make those of us who couldn’t meet the priestly standards holy and acceptable with the ability to draw near to our Creator.

But do you realize what that took? It took the most painful separation of all time with Almighty God sending His precious Son away from His presence and to a sinful world to walk with mankind for 33 years, ending in the most horrific shed blood of Christ and the most glorious resurrection of the One who defeated death. The full wrath of God was poured on His sinless, spotless Son because that’s what it took to satisfy God’s holy and just wrath. Nothing was held back.

The writer of Hebrews tell us that by one sacrifice, He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy, that the sins and lawless acts God remembers know more, and that where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. (Hebrews 10:14-18)

And he goes on to write what connected with Leviticus last night:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (v. 19-23)

We aren’t denied access to God’s dwelling place or His altar anymore no matter our lineage or defects. We can come close to God with confidence because we have been washed clean by the broken body of the Great Priest. He opened the curtain for us and invited us to come close and be cleansed.

Lev 21-23It brings tears every time I think about the fact that I’m made perfect forever, that my God sees me as holy with sins already atoned for. I see my daily battle between the spirit and the flesh, and it sure doesn’t make me feel clean. But what a precious gift that we as Christians can approach God right now, while we’re still in our sinful flesh, and worship Him freely in His presence despite our earthly shortcomings, for Christ’s blood has made us holy.

Praise God for that! Praise God for sacrificing His Son and for Christ’s willingness to be the sacrifice. Praise Him for His love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. Praise His holy name!

So, while Leviticus may not be most Christians’ pick for their favorite book of the Bible, God sure used it to speak with me last night about my position before Him in Christ, a position that allows me to draw near to Him. What a beautiful reminder of God’s goodness and unfailing love. For that, I’ll move Leviticus up on my list.

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When the storms come

Adversity and faith. Those topics were at the center of our young women’s Bible study discussion tonight. How do you respond to adversity? How do you keep your faith strong when you face trials? What are some situations where you find it difficult to give them to God and instead try to control them yourself?
 
Tough questions. Questions that remind me how far God has brought me in the past three years, and questions that remind me how far I have left to go.
 
When my family broke apart three years ago, I fought to believe that all the pain would be worth it. I told myself multiple times a day that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. If I could stay strong in my faith, I would get to see good someday. Even when I wasn’t sure that I believed it deep down, I said what I knew to be true. Eventually, I came to believe that truth with all my heart.
 
I had asked God to prove Himself in that situation, and He did abundantly. He proved Himself faithful in the little things and the big things surrounding that trial, and my faith grew as a result. I trusted Him more, and I looked forward to what all He had in store with that part of my story.
 
But not long after that God moved me from my church. Honestly, that was a harder trial than the family one. I had anger with that one on top of the sadness. What brought me through the hard days was remembering God’s faithfulness in the previous trial. I remembered how He had provided everything I needed to help me overcome the grief, and I knew that He would do it again. Just as before, I repeated the truth until I believed it: God works all things together for the good of those who love Him.
 
God proved faithful again and gave me the peace I needed. I wasn’t happy about the situation, but He gave me exactly what I needed to make it through.
 
And then came the retinitis pigmentosa. At that point, though, I was getting used to tough situations, and it took all of two minutes before I told God, “You’ve used blind people before, so I know you can use me with or without eyesight.”
 
Now, I’ve had some days where I was simply not OK with having RP, but for the most part, I don’t even think about it. God has this in His hands, and I trust Him to work out His plans in His timeframe. From watching Him work in my life the past three years, I can’t help but believe that He has amazing plans for my life. They may not look like what I envisioned or what I even wanted, but they’re good plans, and I’m excited about what the future holds for me.
 
In our discussion tonight, we talked about different ways we get through those hard times. For me, it’s mostly through prayer and digging into the Bible. However, sometimes a song will speak to me, and it becomes a theme of sorts throughout the trial.
 
One of those songs was “My Savior My God” by Aaron Shust. (It’s actually a revamp of a hymn.) The opening words are: “I am not skilled to understand what God has willed, what God has planned. I only know at His right hand stands one who is my Savior.”
 
That became my song for a season. I may not have all the answers, and God may not allow me to see what He’s doing in the difficult things. Still, I know for certain that I have a loving God and a living Savior, and those truths alone means that this life is worth the adversity. The Gospel means that I can have a right relationship with God, and one day I will be with my King forever.
 
I don’t have a perfect faith or a perfect trust; however, I do have a God who has never failed me. He’s faithful, and I will thank Him tonight for the trials that have brought me to a greater understanding of who He is and of His great love. Truly He is worth it.

From knowing Bible stories to knowing the Bible story

“It’s one thing to know Bible stories; it’s another to know the story of the Bible.” — Matt Smethurst, associate editor for “The Gospel Coalition”

For someone who grew up in church, I had a hard time figuring out how the whole Bible connected. I had a stack of devotionals, Awana books, The Mailbox Club studies, prayer journals, and daily Bible reading plans beside my bed, and I did my best to faithfully complete every one of them every day. Honestly, it frustrated me more often than it helped me, but that’s a part of my testimony that I’ll share at another time.

Even with all the input I was receiving, I was still having trouble connecting all the dots and seeing how the whole Bible was actually one story of God getting us back. I knew sin entered the world in Eden and that it meant we all have a sin nature and need a Savior. But really, I skipped from there to Jesus on Earth as that Savior, to Him becoming the sacrifice for us. The Old Testament stories weren’t on any timeline in my 8-year-old mind; they were scattered somewhere before Jesus.

I asked Jesus to be my Savior when I was about 8 years old, and it took about eight more years before I understood the big plan. I stumbled across a sermon series from Oak Hills Church based on The Story, a story Bible written in chronological order. (It’s written like a novel more than a Bible since there are no verses to follow.) I didn’t have the book, but I listened to all the sermons.

My walk with God changed when I listened through that series and understood the overarching redemption story that flows from the first page to the last page of the Bible. I saw God pursuing mankind from the moment sin entered the world until the end of time, and I realized that the story of man’s salvation isn’t limited to everything that happened once Jesus came and made things right. The story of man’s salvation absolutely includes the Old Testament stories, too, and I finally understood the timeline. How had I missed that for eight years?! My faith took off once the puzzle was put together.

The quote by Matt Smethurst at the beginning of the post has challenged me these past few months as I’ve studied and prepared to teach my class at church. I’m not using a curriculum or Bible study but instead am writing my own lessons with Matt’s quote in mind. I want these kids to come away knowing the Bible story instead of Bible stories. I want them to see how the whole Bible speaks of God’s pursuit of our hearts and of His desire to get us back. I don’t want them to miss these basics that somehow I missed.

I filled in for a Sunday school class this week, and one of the girls mentioned that the lesson didn’t seem to fit. They had just talked about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the lesson I taught was about creation. I know it was that way because the new quarter rolled around and with it new books, but still … she knew that it was out of order and had wanted it to fit. That only reinforced my decision to walk through the Bible with my kids on Wednesday nights.

Pray for me as I take my students through God’s Word this year. Pray that they will have a deeper understanding of who God is and of His story. Pray that God speaks with them and moves in their hearts and lives this year. And, pray that they know God and trust Him as their Savior.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about God’s story, check out the links below.

  • Click here to listen to the first message in the 2008 Oak Hills sermon series “The Story.” This is where my journey with it all began.
  • Click here to listen to the first message in the 2016 Oak Hills sermon series “The Story.”
  • Click here for more “The Story” resources.

Waiting, praying, and God finally saying ‘Yes’

Surely God must have been tired of my aching heart crying out to Him at all hours of the day and night. I must have prayed a thousand prayers and shed a thousand tears before God’s answer went from “Wait” to “Now is the time.” After a very long, very hard year and a half, I finally have a church family, a place where God wants me to serve and a people He wants me to love.

My story has always included church. I grew up in and attended the same church for 24 years, and I had the best time serving there. I knew the importance of fellowship with believers, and I craved that fellowship. I worked in many different ministries throughout the years, with teaching children being my favorite. Those were “my kids” so to speak, and I talked about them so often that a college classmate of mine asked, “So how many kids DO you have?”

When I had to go, my heart broke most at the thought of leaving my kids. I loved introducing them to the Bible and teaching them not just Bible stories, but also the overarching story of God’s Word — the redemption plan of a loving Father who saw fit to sacrifice His only Son so that sinners like us could have a right relationship with Him and spend an eternity glorifying His name. I made it a point to bring every story back to that truth, to the truth that the world is trying to stamp out at every turn.

My heart grieved over leaving those children. My heart grieved over sin in general. I understood why people leave church and never go back. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do, but I certainly understand it. Someone told me just today that the heart takes a long time to heal, and I believe it. I’m always going to have a little pain thinking back on this, but God is helping me heal.

Anyway, in all the turmoil and heartache, I trusted that God could use all things for good. See, He promised me in Romans 8:28 that all things work together for the good of those who love Him. “All things” means both the really good things and the really bad things, the things we rejoice about and the things that make us weep. My trust wasn’t perfect, and there were certainly days when Satan tried to add baggage to me, telling me I’m now broken and that God can’t use me anymore, that starting over isn’t worth it, and that I’m not good enough for ministry.

But God. That’s one of my favorite phrases from the Bible. Something bad happens, but God… Someone is struggling, but God … I love that I serve a God like that.

So Satan loaded me down, but God assured me that He would get the glory in all this and that He had a plan bigger than what I expected. My faith in God was the only thing that got me through the waiting period. I felt lost, like I was floating all alone, but God was with me, and that was enough. That was enough to give me the courage to walk in a lot of different churches and seek God’s guidance in them. It’s not easy being a church visitor, and it’s not easy when you find a church you like only to have God tell you it’s not the one.

Little did I know that God was working it out to where I would be somewhere I am loved, somewhere I feel safe, somewhere that I can serve in children’s ministry again, and somewhere I can serve alongside some good friends and mentors. I was a little gun-shy at the thought of joining any church again, but God made it apparent that this was where I needed to be right now, and so I joined last Sunday, ready to commit to serving Christ with the people of Pisgah Baptist Church.

 

Church1
This is Sunday afternoon of the day I joined. I’m not a selfie person, but I was so excited that I took a photo anyway.

I’ve met many precious people, and I’ve felt welcomed and loved since day one, even though I only knew two people when I first went there. The church has supported my mission work without knowing much about The Hope Project or about me, and they’ve prayed for me and included me from the beginning. They truly have a heart for the least of these; I’ve seen them serve the ones so often overlooked. I’m excited to be there and see how God is working in Pisgah, Alabama.

Do I expect the church to be perfect? No. I don’t think any church is perfect given that the church is made up of us sinners. But I do know that we need each other. With all our imperfections and shortcomings, we need fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, people to encourage us in our faith and to hold us accountable to our mission of following Christ. I also know this is where God has me for now, which means there’s something for me to learn from my time here. There are people there with whom I need to build relationships, there are people there who I need to serve, and there are people there from whom I need to learn.

This is a journey unlike any I’ve experienced before, but I know God is with me and has had me wait a year and a half in order to lead me here for a purpose. I’m ready and excited to discover the reasons why and to see Him work in Pisgah, Alabama.

 

Church2
I was obviously excited because I took a second selfie.

Why he won’t complete me

I’ve been mulling over an article by Tim Challies titled “4 Marks of a Godly Husband’s Love” for five days now. Challies is pulling from a commentary by Richard Phillips on Ephesians, and I think he does an excellent job of explaining the different aspects of the love a husband should have for his wife: a self-sacrificing love, a redeeming love, a caring love, and a committed love. If you’re a man trying to pursue your relationships the God way, I think you should take time to read it. If you’re a woman wanting to understand the man’s role in a marriage, I think you should read it.

As I read through the “caring love” section, I kept thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great to be loved like this? It would be amazing to have someone who fills all these longings of being cherished and nourished and fully, completely loved.”

And just like that God says, “HELLO?! Have you forgotten who I am? I know you more intimately than any man ever will, and I can cherish you, nourish you, and fully and completely love you better than any man ever can.”

I finished the article, pulled out my Bible, and connected with God, letting His presence fill my spirit in a way that I know no man ever will. Like every other Christian, sometimes I lose focus for a moment and need God to bring things back into perspective.

After communicating with God on this issue and pondering the article the past few days, here is the takeaway for me: My future husband will not perfectly love me and meet all my needs, and I will not perfectly love him and meet all of his.

See, I’ve read about a million Christian dating books and articles, and they tell you how Christian relationships are supposed to work and paint a really pretty picture of them, but the ones I read didn’t have much “real talk.”

Real talk is remembering that being a Christian does not bring perfection to everything you do. Christians make mistakes.

Real talk is remembering that each of us has a selfish nature and won’t always give the other person the attention they need from you.

Real talk is remembering that sometimes we fail to communicate our needs effectively.

That sounds so romantic, doesn’t it?

In God’s Word is a beautiful picture of what a Christian relationship looks like, and while it would be amazing to see that picture lived out 100 percent of the time, we’re sinners, which means we have messy relationships at times. We just have to show grace in those moments and let God teach us how to love and serve each other better.

The sweetness of a relationship with God, though, is that He never fails and that He loves perfectly every single time. God didn’t create family, friends, relationships, or anything else to fill every void we have. Only He can fill us completely, and He deeply desires to do that. He wants us to pursue Him intimately and find the peace that only He can bring.

Pursuing a Christ-centered relationship is important, and it’s also important that we don’t set unfair expectations on the other person. We shouldn’t expect them to be perfect and to fill every void; God is the one to do that, and I think we should give Him the chance to do show us how awesome He is at satisfying us when we’re feeling empty.

I’m not married and could be way off on all this, but it’s simply what I feel God has been teaching me the past week or so. He’s a good, loving Father, and it brings me peace to know that He will satisfy my every longing.

When it’s time to leave a church

I’ve never been a quitter, and I really did not want to leave my church. However, some bad things were tolerated, and I decided to leave. I felt released from the negativity, and, through His word, meditation, and prayer, I felt God say, “Now that you’ve seen the damage churches can do to families — the damage that happens when good people decide to do nothing — go do the opposite. Go fight selfishness, arrogance, and heartlessness and let me use you to reach those who also have been hurt by the church.”

Leaving was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. If you’re considering leaving a church or have already left — especially on the grounds of a bad situation — these thoughts might help you start again, too.

1. You may grieve.

In many ways, leaving a church family feels like losing loved ones. These are the people with whom you’ve shared your struggles, your hopes, your ministries, and so much more. You’ve shared a spiritual connection with them that runs deep in your life. With bonds so strong, it makes sense that you are hurting and broken, but don’t let that hinder your faith.

As a Christ-follower, Satan will throw a thousand things your way — including church drama — to stop your work for Christ. You will experience fear, doubt, frustration, and more as you seek to honor the Lord and live for Him. I ask you, though, to please stand firm on the foundation of Christ and fight the good fight. Remember, the struggles of this life are temporary. In Revelation 21, God promises that one blessed day, all things will be made new, and there will be no more darkness or pain.

So, yes, you will probably need to grieve, but just remember that there’s a God who loves to give grace and comfort to His brokenhearted children, and He is working in the midst of the chaos for His purposes.

2. You may lose friends.

If you aren’t familiar with fair-weather friends, you may quickly find out what that means when you leave a church. These are the friends who are there for the good times but not the bad times. For whatever reason, they are absent in your trial. Maybe they don’t know what to say, so they say nothing at all. Or maybe they are afraid of what people will think of them if they get caught up in your situation. Whatever the case, they simply watch the situation unfold from a distance and let you handle it yourself.

We are called in God’s word to encourage, to strengthen, and to build up each other in our faith. In Romans 12, we read that the signs of a true Christian include rejoicing with those who are rejoicing and weeping with those who weep. Often, we find it easy to rejoice with each other, but we find it much harder to weep. We will send a text message or a Facebook message of “I’m praying for you” and neglect to physically go to the broken to weep with them, encourage them, or pray with them. Back when Romans was written, the church couldn’t hide behind technology; they had to be intentional with their ministry to each other, and it was very much an in-person type of ministry.

2 Cor 12-9
This is my desktop image at work and home. I need the constant reminder that God’s grace is enough and that His power is on me in my weakest moments.

But the greatest encouragement is this: While you may lose friends, you will never lose the love of God. If you are in Christ, the very spirit of God dwells in you, and He desperately wants you to go to Him with the tears and with the pain. He wants to hold you and to comfort you through any and all of your trials, pouring out His grace on you. My hope and prayer is that as you press into that truth, you will be as convinced as Paul was that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 ESV).

Hold onto the truth that God is by your side in each and every moment; He will not leave you to handle your trials alone.

Plus, while some friends may go, others will stay. Don’t get caught up in the negative that you miss out on the grace. In fact, I’ve grown closer to a great friend because of my experience. God is bigger than sin, and He can absolutely bring about good in spite of it.

3. People may talk.

Being a Christian does not take away the sinful desires of our flesh, and one of the hardest sins for many to battle against is the desire to gossip. When you make any change in life, there is always the possibility that others will spread stories instead of coming to the source. Stories get twisted, added to, and taken away from the more ears and mouths they pass through. So eventually, the stories come back around to you, and what you hear is probably very far from the truth.

Words are simple little combinations of letters and sounds that, when combined, can be some of the most encouraging as well as the most destructive tools we have. Proverbs 26:20 says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases” (ESV).

Just a whisper — the tiniest of communication — can keep the damage going, so don’t add fire to the flame. Don’t be a whisperer and stir up quarreling. Instead, speak what builds each other up. Encourage each other and refuse to take part in gossip and slander. James 3:6 says that “the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.”

Our speech has an incredible amount of potential to hinder others from coming to know Christ; therefore, we should constantly be alert and on guard about how we use the gift of words.

4. You may grow.

In leaving a church, you have the opportunity to get bitter or to get better. I’ve known families who have experienced church hurt and have decided to leave church life entirely, and to be honest, now that I’ve experienced some of the bad behavior that churches allow, I don’t blame them at all. The pain may last a long time. However, while they may not have been able to change the situation that led them to leave, they definitely had the opportunity to choose their response to it.

Even though the situation may be tough, you can choose to trust the God who has a plan and a purpose for everything. There’s not a single thing on earth from which God cannot receive glory. And if you know Christ, Romans 8:28 tells you that all things are being worked together for your good. If you have a hard time understanding how God can work out a bad situation for good — as many of us do from time to time — read about Joseph. I won’t give away the story, but in the end, he says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today,” (Genesis 50:20).

God used someone who was literally in a pit to save the lives of many. If you’re feeling lost in the pit after leaving your church, give your weakness and brokenness to Christ. He is the only firm foundation, and He will be your strength on the days when you simply cannot stand any longer. The beauty of our weakness is that in it, we are forced to look to and to trust the One who is above all. We learn much more about the faithfulness of our God, and we have the opportunity to let the dark times deepen our walk with Him.

You see, even though churches are broken and flawed, God is not. So don’t give up the best relationship you’ll ever know because you’re hurting. Instead, let God speak to you and teach you about His kindness and goodness during the change. Grieve as you need to grieve, seek out genuine Christ-followers on whom you can lean, and choose to grow in your faith rather than grow bitter about it. God will put you in the church and with the body to whom you should belong; don’t even worry about that part.

Remember, this is only a moment; don’t get distracted to the point you stop seeking each day for opportunities to share the love of God with someone. He still has a plan and a purpose that goes well beyond what you can imagine, and He will equip you to fulfill your calling. Choose to trust Him.