Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Last Day of the Leviticus Experiment


by Daniel Harrell

January has been a fascinating month. When I got the idea to try and live by the book of Leviticus (from AJ Jacobs), I wasn't sure whether a] I could get anyone to join me, or b] it would end up as a silly attempt to abide by a portion of the Bible that we Christians typically ignore. As hopefully you've read both here and on the Facebook page, this experiment has been anything but silly. True, there have been silly moments (most of the posted videos will testify to that), but overall it has been alternately enlightening and convicting, inspiring and depressing, hopeful and frustrating. Some of the participants dove into it whole heartedly (and whole-stomachly and whole-facially) while others found the demands of Old Testament law, even when tempered by grace, simply too hard or too tedious to bother with. It's probably too soon to tell whether anybody ever reached the Psalm 119:97 exclamation "How I love your law!," but I think everybody realized the depth of God's holiness and the power of the law to pound a person into God's righteous image. And also that grace, while granting forgiveness, is for the Christian as much about granting enablement to follow that which God demands his people do.

Admittedly, much of Leviticus makes little sense to the modern read. Interpretation is not easy--whether reading it through a gospel grid and trying to make it fit contemporary categories. Most of our interpretation has come through simply doing it, which I think was always the intention. Eating kosher seems odd until you try it and realize that food is a huge part of our life and that it falls under God's purview. What we put into our mouths mirrors what we put into our souls. Likewise the clothes we wear, our health and hygiene, our relationships and our behaviors, God wants a piece of all of it. Our practice of compartmentalizing faith and "real life" gets exposed as a sham.

Where do we go from here? It seems disingenuous as believers to say "well, it's February, I'm done living by the Bible." Nevertheless, the men will shave. Ian and Paul will eat their bacon. Brandy will get her lobster. Thomas will wear blue jeans again. Sundays will likely go back to being days where some work happens. Mary Frances will disassemble her tabernacle. Yet somehow something will be different. To have tasted the law is to have tasted God's will in its most distilled form. And while we haven't completely understood it, we have come in contact with holiness--peculiarity and distinctness that is a crucial part of what it means to be God's counter-cultural people on earth. I hope that means we'll strive to love our neighbors better and be concerned for the poor more and respect the aged and live sexually pure lives and worship with deeper reverence and embrace our identity as a peculiar priesthood, things that do make us different and do manifest God's holiness, all in dependence on the Holy Spirit to help us.

Just because the experiment part is over doesn't mean that the Leviticus project has ended. My sermons on Leviticus continue through Easter (when we plan to roll out a scapegoat). Reflections on the month will appear here and on the Facebbok site as will hopefully your interactions. We still have a lot to learn. Maybe even more than when we started.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Challenges of Living Levitically

The Levites share their own thoughts on living by the book of Leviticus...

video

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Purity of Heart


by Walter Kim

Yesterday, I was busily working on a number of things for Sunday, when Daniel walks into my office and asks me what I think purity is? We had a brief chat and exchanged some thoughts. However, the question lingered for me...all afternoon and into the night, and I even woke up at 2:40 AM thinking about it. Actually, my son woke me up, and then I started to think about how to stay pure in heart toward him!

I've been reminded of a book by Soren Kierkegaard called, "Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing." The book is a bit of theology, philosophy, prayer, and prophetic crankiness, all wrapped up in some beautiful prose. Although his treatise isn't specifically on Leviticus, the sentiment conveyed in the title and throughout the book truly is. What does it mean to be pure? It is to Will One Thing--God, the Eternal Holy One. For me, this title brings it all together. Skin laws, food laws, incense and sacrifice laws for day and night all reflect the desire to direct one's whole self--body and soul--toward God. Sin is that thing that cause us to veer from that One Thing. Purity is the reorientation of all life toward the One Thing. For Kierkegaard, there is a little bit of the eternal infused into every human, which seeks connection to the Eternal One. Thus, we are most human when we are "pure in heart to will the One Eternal Thing". I would humbly add one thing to Kierkegaard's one thing. Given Leviticus' (and indeed the whole Bible's) intense focus on community, I would say Living Leviticus has taught me that "purity of heart is to will the One (God) in the context of the many (his people)."

I want to end this reflection with a prayer found at the beginning of Kierkegaard's book: "Father in heaven! What is a man without You! What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped fragment if he does not know You! What is all his striving, could it even encompass a world, but a half-finished work if he does not know You: You the One, who is one thing and who is all! So may You give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing; to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding; to the will, purity that wills only one thing. In prosperity may You grant perseverance to will one thing; amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing; in suffering, patience to will one thing. Oh, You that gives both the beginning and the completion, may You early, at the dawn of day, give to the young man the resolution to will one thing. As the day wanes, may You give to the old man a renewed remembrance of his first resolution, that the first may be like the last, the last like the first, in possession of a life that has willed only one thing. Alas, but this has indeed not come to pass. Something has come in between. The separation of sin lies in between. Each day, and day after day something is being placed in between: delay, blockage, interruption, delusion, corruption. So in this time of repentance may You give the courage once again to will one thing."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Have You Been Changed?

by Ryan Lambert

"Has the experience of the Living Leviticus changed you?"

I feel changed.

Through this month i have struggled with many things that don't have much to do with the experiment, but they have taken away energy that I could have been putting towards this experiment. To know that God's desire for righteousness in my life doesn't stop because I'm busy is a hefty idea. I have become a lot more thankful for God's mercy as a result.

It has also been interesting with respect to perseverance. Even though I have not been as involved as I had signed up for, there is mercy from the group consistently asking me to join them and continue. It has given me a desire to resist the temptation to completely run away, but instead start participating now. 'Better late than never' Kind of like with the Prodigal son.

That's it, i feel like the prodigal son!



Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Abominations

by Lisa Brewer

Many of my gay friends (who haven't commented on my experiment yet) probably shudder at the word Leviticus whenever they see it mentioned on Facebook. Why is that, do you suppose? Could it be those two damning verses?:

"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination." Lev 18:22 (NKJV)

"If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them." Lev 20:13 (NKJV)

We Christians and Jews share this book of Leviticus in our bibles. Now, someone correct me if I have a mistaken impressions, but I will tell you what I see. I see some Christians holding up these verses to judge and hate. I have not met any Jewish people in my walk who have this strong desire to judge and hate gay people. But maybe it's because I haven't met any conservative Jews who might do this. (Why is that??)

I asked two Jewish friends about this today. Jewish Friend #1 said that there are all different strains of Jews just as with Christians and the conservative Jews do read this very literally and take a strong position. However, he admitted upon my badgering questioning that there are likely a smaller proportion of Jews who are conservative than there are Christians who are conservative.

Jewish Friend #2 quoted Jim Wallis to me!! Tonight, I pulled out my study materials from the Crown Financial course (written by Howard Dayton and not Jim Wallis) and he reports that there are "2,350 verses on money and possessions" in the bible. My friend's point is - Why focus on the handful that have to do with homosexuality without giving equal consideration and weight to these thousands of verses about how we handle money and possessions and those who suffer without?

Good point!

I decided to look a little more closely at this word translated "abomination." Turns out that according to Wikipedia there are a few references to abominations outside of male homosexual acts. Namely:

A shepard was an abomination.
Killing a cow was an abomination.
Cheating the market with dishonest scales was an abomination.
Eating seafood that does not have scales or fins is an abomination.

OK, what is going on here?? (BTW, all the verse references are on that Wikipedia page and I didn't even represent them all here.) Why is it that I see Christians holding signs with references to Leviticus as they protest gay marriage, but no one is doing the same with Deuteronomy outside the stock exchange??

Someone tell me if I am reading this all wrong. I know these verses are here, but we mortals have a responsibility to give weight and consideration to all the verses in scripture. Are we interpreting with the heart of the Lord when we choose some verses as more important than others?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Edge of the Volcano


by Kim Engle

I'm just getting warmed up. I've had a few ah ha moments the past few weeks, and well, it has become ABUNDANTLY clear that I have work to do. What I've also figured out is that is has liitle to do with me personally (emotionally, whatever) but me as part of the body. I got such a rush seeing some fellow Levites today at church and hearing a sermon preached specifically for me. Sorry Walter, I made it to the morning, Pats r playin and husband cares.
5 "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
Isaiah 6:5-6

In the words of my husband, I have a tendency to "dance on the edge of a volcano" that my friends, is what I've done, as always perhaps gotten myself in way over my head.

You see, I didn't pick a couple laws, concepts group of laws chapters what have you, to live out this month, I sucked it all in (or at least as much as this feeble brain could muster) and set myself up for a rocking good failure.

I went so far as to cover my head and wear only loose fitting overalls to "set myself apart" This went well for the first couple of weeks until I realized the toll it was taking on me physically, mentally, I began to loathe the way I looked because being clean is not enough, and by "not thinking about what to wear" actually made me think more about myself than I had planned. Thinking of myself first? In Simons words-Unholy

On the plus side, this did in fact set me apart in the work place and give me the opportunity to witness to people at my job (always a perk) but on the down side for me personally as my oufits began to drift back into my norm, and co workers would ask "I thought you were doing this Leviticus thing for the whole month?" at which point I would do one of 3 things:
1.Grumble and walk away-Unholy
2. Explain that I suck, I'm still doing it, and I keep trying.-Unholy, defeated
3. I suck but only by the grace through the blood of Jesus am I able to still stand here before you and tell you that I suck. -Unholy, forgiven

I have to share here that this "experiment" (we'll talk later on whether or not that is a misnomer) is a 4th step from a popular 12 step healing program.

Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Great. I guess I was due. At the rate I'm going perhaps by summer I can move on from this "experiment" and move on to step 5
Step 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Hey wait... this is facebook, does this count as a human being???

I'll continue to tell you of my wrongs, (and my rights) because thankfully my guilt has been atoned for and perhaps summer can bring...
Step 6 Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Step 7 Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

At least now I know why God called me to do this.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Tom Brady in Church


"If a man throws three interceptions in a AFC championship playoff game, he shall take a goat without blemish..."

by Simon Chang

When you have a wife and a handful of kids (emphasizing on the word "handful"), often life (as directed by God) has pre-determined missions for you to complete, whether or not you think you are ready and willing to accept. At any rate, I did not get to sit down and blog until now (11:30 PM). One thing that I did attempt to do today as part of the experiment was to prioritize church over the football game. I am a pretty big sports fan, and today's game featuring the Pats and the Chargers would have been really exciting for me to watch. I even contemplated going to this morning's service just so that I can head over to my friend Dan's place to watch the game (Lori and I decided not to have a TV at home, because most of the time the shows are truly not worth missing). In my mind I can very well rationalize it and say, "See, I did my church duty today. Now I can go see the Pats beat the stuffing out of the Chargers." But Lori pointed out that, if we go to the morning service, Caleb's naps will be significantly disrupted, and there is a possibility that he may fall asleep in the car where he will get less-than-ideal amount and quality of sleep. Since he has been having a lot of sleep issues this past week due to teething (cutting at least three teeth SIMULTANEOUSLY), and since this is a long weekend for me, this would be a great chance for him to have a normal schedule and get as much sleep as he could while I am around to help. I also thought about my unspoken motivation that church is simply something to get over with, a necessary nuisance to put up with so man can worship the work of his own hands. Even if I did not formulate these thoughts explicitly, the temptation was there to rationalize the appearance of piety without substance.

So I made the decision for us to not only go at our regular worship time, but also not to catch the game on the radio, chat, or even think about the game during the service. It was, for all intents and purposes, going to be a special, holy place in my mind's temple for the LORD this afternoon.

As it turned out, it was a very good worship service because I realized that Walter was speaking on the very thing that was my goal during the Leviticus Project: To see God's holiness and His mercy at work simultaneously. It was special to me because, as I had shared with my fellow Levites during the last group dinner together, I have been acutely uncomfortable with the thought of God's eyes peeking intently into my life, my heart, my body, my thoughts, my speech, and my substance around the clock. Leviticus has been a brilliant and terrible mirror that I am forced to stand naked before and watch as my imperfections and twistedness are exposed in all their ugliness. I feel very much like the early disciples who begged Jesus to go away because they couldn't stand His holiness any more. Or, perhaps I played the part of the villagers who saw the swines jumping off the cliff and implored Jesus to leave them. But more than a few times He comforted them by saying, "Don't be afraid." Maybe that's what mercy is about, the white robe of righteousness being put on because the sinner realizes he has nowhere to run and hide. The Sunday Night Band led a song tonight that had the lyrics "Whatever you want from me... I will follow you". It was really difficult to sing the song in good conscience and not have another area of me exposed and reckoned with. It was all very overwhelming for me.

I finally did catch the game after the service on the way home, and I have to say that during the service I still heard a few radio play-by-play in my head ("Second down and eight, Brady out of a shotgun with an empty backfield, Moss on the nearside and Welker in the slot..."). It was easier to brush them aside and focus on the message, though, and I was aware of the fact that the outcome of the game meant absolutely nothing to me in the face of Walter's message. And I was at peace. And it was good.

Chowderhead


by Paul Gardner

So what happens when you don’t follow the law? I set out to fully understand this after eating clam chowder less then two weeks into my month of attempting to living Leviticus. Only after eating dinner did I realize that clams are not allowed Lev 11:12 “Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be detestable to you”.

The punishment for disobedience is laid out in Leviticus 26 with at least five increasing degrees of severity. It starts (v16) with “..I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever..” and increases (v30) to “I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you.”

I know I am failing miserably at the 1% of law written in Leviticus that I am trying to keep and I can only image how bad it would be if I tried following everything. This passage is enough to give anyone that has disobeyed nightmares. I mean “pile your dead bodies” is pretty hard to misinterpret. I now have a new appreciation for the wrath of God, and clearly this is not the position that I would want to be in, but this is what I deserve.

It is save to say that today more then ever I am happy that Christ will intercede on my behalf because without that I am in big trouble.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Religious Nerd

by Sokol Haxhinasto

It has been a few days since i wrote anything. Not much has been happening. The beard keeps growing - the only commandment that seems easy to keep - and I believe it finally accomplished its intent - to be set apart. After explaining to someone at work that it has nothing to do with me being lazy, a patriots fan (far from it), but pertaining to Lev 19:27 (now written in red on the white-board at work), i was called a "religious nerd" in addition to my "scientific nerd". Mission accomplished.

Being set apart is not easy outside a community of believers, but Christ never said following Him would be easy.


The road to "religious nerdness"

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Am I Robbing My Neighbor?

by Beena Thomas

“Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him"

"Do not steal"

I don’t intentionally rob my roommate or the person living in the next apartment. So what do I do with this?

I’m having a little trouble thinking every human being can essentially be a neighbor to me. With the phenomenon of globalization, the world is smaller than ever before. So, somebody on the other side of the planet, someone that I’ll never meet can be my neighbor. If so, what are some ways by which I can “love” them? Am I robbing them unknowingly? After watching this video (http://www.storyofstuff.com/) found on a blog that I read regularly, I think I’m indirectly robbing many. I'm not an expert on the topic of environment, government, or business. But I feel guilty after watching this. So what can I do? I hope to recycle more in the future. I hope to discipline myself to acquire less stuff. What else can I do? There's gotta be more. I can't think of any now. Am I stealing resources from the future inhabitants of the earth when I leave the TV/light on night just because I was lazy to get up to turn it off. I guess I just need more discipline.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Nadab & Abihu


by Kristi Vrooman

Levit. 10:1-2 I thought it might be good to consider this event before Walter's sermon on Sunday, so I know what he's talking about. And my oh my, is it ever interesting.
Aaron and his sons (of whom Nadab and Abihu are presumably the oldest) had just been instructed on what part they play in the offerings (6:8-7:38). Excommunication and bearing one's own iniquity were repeatedly threatened for any departure from any part of the plan. Then they were consecrated as priests. In front of the ENTIRE congregation. This was an elaborate affair, complete with washing with water, the garments, anointing oil, bull of the sin offering, 2 rams and a basket of unleavened bread (8:2). I'm trying to imagine the atmosphere at such a time. Probably pretty exciting. The Israelites had spent lots and lots and lots of money and time preparing and constructing the tabernacle, the priests' garments, etc, just as God commanded them in great detail (Exodus). He gave them the 10 commandments, and now God is going to dwell among them - FOR THE FIRST TIME.
This is big.
As part of the ordination process, Aaron and sons were commanded to remain day and night for 7 days at the doorway of the tabernacle, so that they may not die. (8:35) In the next verse, "Thus Aaron and his sons did all the things which the LORD had commanded through Moses." So, they obeyed. Good.
In chapter 9 Aaron offers sacrificies, as he's been commanded, again, "for today the LORD shall appear to you." (9:4) The sons present the blood of the offerings to Aaron (sounds like a big deal to me), and they watch as Aaron offers all of this before the LORD, and then THE GLORY OF THE LORD APPEARED TO ALL THE PEOPLE. Hooray!!! 9:24 - "Then fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shoulted and fell on their faces."
What an excellent picture. God means business. Aaron and his sons have a solemn job to do, as they are the ones who (through God) make atonement for the people possible.

So then, WHY???!!! HOW??!!! In chapter 10, directly after this, would Nadab and Abihu "offer strange fire before the LORD"? They've been inculcated with God's commands, and yet they offer something that hadn't been commanded. In fact, in Exodus 30, when Moses informs them about the purpose of the altar, and the manner in which it is to be treated, in verse 9 we see "You shall not offer any strange incense on this altar". Strange - I suppose this is the same word as in "Strange fire", and I think Daniel mentioned earlier in the month, Strange = unauthorized.

So the summary of the situation is:
1) They came before the LORD alone (maybe they were tending the lamp?) (Exodus 27:20) But in Levit. 10:7 it seems that Aaron and Moses are also present in the Tabernacle?
2) probably clad in their "holy garb" (tunic, sash, cap, etc) all which had been consecrated before the LORD and was holy (Exodus 28)
3) using the same firepans that were used for sin/burnt, etc. offerings, and which had also been consecrated and were considered holy

They knew the rules, and unless they were suicidal, they obviously didn't think God would punish them with death for such an act. But He did, just as He said He would. (10:2 "And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.")
Now, there are other times in the Old Testament when God threatened things, but didn't follow through, as in Exodus 32:10 with the whole golden calf mess:
"Now let me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them;" Thankfully Moses was there to interecede on their behalf, and God relented.

Perhaps they were banking on that. "Oh, I'm sure He wasn't totally serious... I mean, we're special, He wouldn't..."
So Aaron's oldest sons, men who would succeed him as priest, disobeyed God and were killed.

This is tragic.

In the Bible a person is very, very closely identified with their offspring (generations), and vice versa, so much so that God visits the iniquity of one person on the generations after them. I see the same irreverent spirit in Aaron's sons as Aaron himself displayed when he didn't exactly put up a fight as the Israelites asked him to make that golden calf. So why would Aaron get off without a death sentence, and not his sons?
Was this a matter of the "slippery slope" principle?
Is the difference that Aaron wasn't actually in the presence of the LORD, but Nadab and Abihu were?

I guess it makes sense that considering the obstinate nature of the Israelites, God wanted to make a VERY STRONG POINT, that He wasn't playing around. And had He let Nadab and Abihu off, that might have initiated even more disobedience on the part of the people.

"So Aaron, therefore, kept silent." And he and his 2 remaining sons were forbade by Moses even to mourn in 10:6-7, saying that "your kinsman, the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the burning which the LORD has brought about. You shall not even go out from the doorway of the tent of meeting, lest you die; for the LORD's anointing oil is upon you."
Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar did according to the word of Moses. Even under such tragic circumstances, they obeyed. This is certainly a different Aaron than I encounter earlier in the Bible.

And to me, to us, in 21st century North America, I hear Jesus saying: "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26)

I enrolled in this Leviticus experiment in part because I observed a lack of reverence for God in my life. I have often acted like Nadab and Abihu, choosing to ignore God's commands, "trampl[ing] under foot the Son of God" (Heb. 10:29).
When it comes to such matters, I'm a slow learner. But as I see from their example, I think I'd better figure this out soon.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thank You Rabbi Hillel!

by Kristen Filipic

So, now that we're about halfway through, I'm having a rough time with this Leviticus project. I'm tired and drained and it seems like every time I turn around there's some other hoop that I'm not jumping through correctly and God is glaring disapprovingly. Meanwhile, my attention is so focused on the hoops that I seem to lose focus on justice and mercy. This does not seem good.

I've been close to enough Jews to know that this is a profoundly un-Jewish attitude. Nobody follows the law perfectly -- and there's no expectation that you ever will. That's just not part of the human condition. When you screw up -- and you will -- you dust yourself off and try again. And you're a little closer today than you were yesterday, and with God's help you'll be a little closer tomorrow.

Several years ago, my Consultants were telling me about this series of debates between Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel. Rabbi Shammai took the Torah very seriously and was very strict. This is not something to play games with. This is the LAW of GOD. This MATTERS. One does not cut corners! Rabbi Hillel was much more gentle. Unfailingly patient, he would always take people where they are and if they were generally pointing in the right direction then that is to be celebrated.

There's quite a bit to be said for both. The story goes, God rendered a verdict. Shammai understands the law correctly -- but live like Hillel.

Recently, I was talking to my Consultants about this story again. You cut yourself some slack -- individually and collectively -- because that's what it is to be human. Humans are fragile -- this includes both "everybody else" and me. That often means you say "I know I'm supposed to be doing Y, but really, X is all I can handle right now." For most of us, that's an uncomfortable position to be in. And so we tend to redefine the standard. Really, X is all we're really supposed to do. The Law doesn't really demand Y.

No. We don't get to do that. The Law is Y. If X is all you can handle right now, that can be OK. Nobody does this perfectly, and nobody ever will. That's OK. You keep trying, you're a little closer than you were yesterday and tomorrow, with God's help, you'll be a little closer than you are today. But don't redefine the Law down to what you can handle -- keep the ideal intact.

I think I might have made quite a jumble of trying to explain all this. But it helped me understand this whole undertaking a lot better.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The new New York

by Mary Frances Giles

I grew up in the beautiful city of Chattanooga, TN, a medium sized town surrounded by mountains with the Tennessee River winding right through the middle. It's not called the "scenic city" for nothing. In the past 15 years, Chattanooga has seen an amazing renaissance as the entire downtown has been revitalized. The city planners have done an amazing job, and for a while it seemed that Chattanooga was getting all kinds of press - the cover of 'Outside' magazine, the New York Times, and the Rosie O'Donnell show, just to name a few. Around this time, a friend made an offhand (and sarcastic) remark about how Chattanooga was really becoming "the new New York". I thought this was hysterical, and totally latched on to the monniker. I started using this phrase so much that my family quickly adopted it, as have many of my friends. When I returned from a recent visit there, several people asked me, "so, how was the new New York?" I even had "I [heart] the new NY" tshirts made for my parents and sister.

But here's the thing: Chattanooga is nothing like New York. At all. I mean, both places have streets paved with asphalt, but that's really where the similarities end. If someone had no knowledge of Chattanooga or even Tennessee, they might falsely believe that Chattanooga is in many ways very much like New York (assuming they were unable to pick up on the sarcastic tone in my voice!).

So what in the world does this have to do with Leviticus?

In one of his recent posts, Brian wrote: "What occurs to me is that living by the letter of Law can be hollow and feel mechanical ... but the danger of living by the spirit is that one can get focused on trampling on God's process (as someone said, I treat God as if he's MY friend rather than being HIS friend) eventually seeking unfair justifications for one's behaviors or actions ... Are we as North American Christians of the 21st century in Boston worshiping in both 'spirit and in truth'?"

I think this is a great question. In my opinion, the modern church in America has really cornered the market on worshiping in spirit, but we're not quite making the grade when it comes to the truth part. Obviously there thousands of great churches out there preaching the "truth", but after digging into Leviticus for a measly 9 days, it's really gotten me realizing that there is a whole side to God that I just don't hear about or think about on a daily basis or even on Sundays. God was HOLY. And JUST. And JEALOUS. And ANGRY. Part of the reason that Daniel even initiated this crazy project is because most Christians don't read/know/contemplate/believe the book of Leviticus, not to mention the rest of the Old Testament.

You don't have to look much farther than the evening news in an election year to realize that people have taken God's word and distorted it for their own gain. To Brian's point, how much have we used God and his story to unfairly justify our own sinful beliefs and self-serving behavior? Grace is an amazing gift, one that I am becoming ever more thankful for every minute I spend living Levitically. But have we grossly misused or underestimated this gift (see Nick's description of children receiving gifts on Christmas morning) in order to just live the way we want to? And in that, what are we communicating to non-believers?

It is easy to point to particular individuals, churches, or organizations who are so clearly guilty of using grace as an excuse to run rampant with their own agendas. It is easy to look at them and think "oh, I would NEVER do that", but the past 9 days have showed me that, yes, I do. Every day. Maybe my selfish ambition and unfair justifications aren't as obvious as those of others, but they are there just the same.

In Deuteronomy we are told "man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." (8:3) Yep, that's in Deuteronomy. Before today, I thought that was strictly a NT verse. In 2 Corinthians, Paul says "we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God" (4:2). Clearly he wasn't talking about me...

So I am left wondering - in the same way that I have (albeit facetiously) repackaged the beautiful scenic city of Chattanooga, TN into "the new New York", complete with a tshirt to prove it, how have I repackaged God's message for the world into some form of "Christianity lite" so that at the end of the day the gospel isn't quite so offensive and I still appear "cool" to the world around me? And so that I don't have to face up to the harder challenges and truths that a life with God presents?

While I believe that God's grace is big enough to cover my sins, even as they pertain to distorting his word, I wonder what I'm missing in the process? Holiness is the first thing that comes to mind...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Holy/Unholy Experiment, Day 1

by Simon Chang

In Leviticus, the distinction of holy and unholy things is of paramount importance. Failure to comply results in a death sentence to be carried out immediately, so it was not a trivial matter. (Leviticus 10:10)

Starting today, and for the next seven days, I am keeping a detailed list of the sights and sounds during my day that can be classified as being either holy or unholy. In this case I am not necessarily looking at it from a dietary or cleanliness point of view (as most of modern America will be filthy beyond hope), but more from a moral/ethical point of view. I will make clear of cases where both elements seem to be present in the same issue. At the end of each day I will upload the daily note to the group discussion section on the Leviticus project.

DAY 1

7:20 AM (at home) - Lori and I had a fight yesterday that pretty much went on all day. Given the fact that my employer decided to have everyone stay home because of the snow storm, it made for a very, very long day for everyone. Last night we had a sit-down talk about what went wrong, but it was still very tense. So this morning before I woke up Victoria, Lori asked that we reconcile. We had a good talk and then we kissed and hugged. She said that she bore the lion's share of responsibilities for what went wrong, but I doubt that that was the case. My own attitude in this fight could hardly be said to be holy and loving to my wife. So it was necessary for us to make up and acknowledge our own sinfulness to each other. It was a good way to start the day. Verdict: For the fight, UNHOLY. For the reconciliation, HOLY.

9:27 AM (on the T to work) - A local weight-loss clinic had put up several signs on board the T, and one of the signs said, "People don't fail, diets do". There are two problem messages in this ad: It suggests that people are never to blame, and that it's always someone else's fault. Imagine Moses' reaction if this had been put up at the entrance of the tent of meetings. That sign would have been incinerated by fire faster than you can say "Nadab and Abihu". Even with the slaughterhouse of calves and lambs and goats, that's no way to blame my lack of self-control on someone else's offer of food. Verdict: UNHOLY.

12:11 PM (reading on Yahoo! news) - The 20-year-old pregnant Marine soldier died of blunt force trauma to the head and was burned and buried with her unborn baby, according to the military autopsy report. The only bright spot in the previous sentence was that someone took the pains and noted her and her baby's passing in an official report. Such a grievous crime. Verdict: UNHOLY.

Monday, January 14, 2008

My Reparation Offering

by Daniel Harrell

Leviticus 6:2-7 " If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbor ... he must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering."

I committed an unintentional sin this week. Didn’t mean to do it. An important pastoral duty required immediate attention and the minister who normally does these sorts of things was out of town. Usually this would be no problem. We have plenty of pastors who could fill in. And any of us would have done it if nobody else could, but the problem this week was that the nobody was everybody. The other pastors’ own schedules were unusually full, there was nobody else who could fill in. Still, somebody needed to do it which meant that somebody’s commitments were going to have to be completely reshuffled. We figured that the fair way to decide this would be the Biblical way; namely, draw lots, which in our case meant pull a name out of a hat. So I wrote all our names on cards, including my own, and proceeded to draw Dan, our Minister for Pastoral Care, which meant that he would now need to cancel all of his counseling appointments for the rest of the week in order to take this other responsibility.

Personally relieved, knowing that now I’d be able to finish this sermon, I emptied the contents of the hat into the trash, and discovered to my horror that in fact I had neglected to write my own name on a card by accident. I wasn’t in on the drawing. It was a mistake. An unintentional sin.

For me, my knee jerk reaction in such cases is first to feel bad, but then to mitigate that bad feeling through rationalization. Here’s where labeling something an accident or a mistake proves helpful. If is was an accident, unintentional, then it’s not really my fault. It’s no big deal. And any other month I might have let it go at that. After all, I did have a sermon to write. But as this is my Levitical month, and Leviticus clearly declares every sin a big deal, I knew that my workaround would no longer work. To call something an accident does not get you off the hook. An excuse is not the same thing as atonement. Still, the good thing about unintentional sin is that it does get you preferential access to atonement. Make a mistake and in Leviticus there is a remedy for it.

But there’s also an irony. The ready remedy that Leviticus provides is the remedy that we rarely take. I’m not talking the public sacrifice of a goat or two pigeons, but its modern equivalent; namely, the public confession of our sin and reparations for it. Perhaps for the same reasons of busyness, or our persistent minimizing of the effects of our actions on others, or our own faithless rationalizations, we don’t make things right with God or our neighbor. It takes too much time, and it takes too much courage to do it. Genuine remorse and genuine apologies are difficult things—especially for sinful people. But Leviticus demands that we act quickly to admit our sin, remedy our wrongs and fulfill our obligations. To do otherwise contaminates not just the people we love but also the communities we inhabit.

Leviticus 6 depicts examples of unintentional sin, one of which stuck me in the gut. Verse 2 mentions “sinning and being unfaithful to the Lord by deceiving your neighbor.” Of course I’m reading this just after I dumped the hat full of names into the garbage. But c’mon, what are the odds that my name would have been drawn? There were 8 names in that hat. Maybe I should just draw again. But I can’t do that. The other ministers have already counted on keeping to their own commitments now. What was I to do? Living levitically, I had no other option. Verse 5: “You must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day you present your guilt offering. And as a penalty you must bring to the priest, that is, to the LORD, your guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value.”

I had to go confess to Dan. I’d done him wrong. Suffice to say, Dan concurred that I had sinned (he called it a pretty big one) and agreed that yes, the proper restitution would be my assuming the pastoral duty. And that as a penalty, since sacrificing a sheep would be against the law, I could just take him to lunch somewhere they serve lamb (the priests got to eat the leftovers of the reparation offering).

But you know, even though I now had to readjust all my plans, as well as take Dan to lunch, I felt great. I knew that knowing what I did, letting Dan take the responsibility and cancel all his appointments would have left me with a nagging burden of guilt. Something between us would have been lost. When we know the right thing to do and don’t do it, there’s always a sense of loss; a lessening of who it is we know God has redeemed us to be. We live in a society that helps assuage guilt by labeling it unhealthy and unnecessary. We’re told to forget about it; forgetting too the hurt and harm we’ve caused other people. Leviticus thus demands a purification offering, but notice what gets purified. The blood of the sacrifice is sprinkled on the altar of the Tabernacle—the very symbols of God’s presence. It’s as if God himself has been contaminated by our wrongdoing too. In our sin we besmirch his name. We dishonor our calling. But we don’t have to live with that. We can fix it. Leviticus points the way. Confess your sin and make things right. Repent, restore and reconcile. It’s the right thing to do.

And not only is it right, but obedience can bring unexpected happiness. Restitution is a crucial step in repentance, not only because it repays the victim, but because it displays your genuineness. And that’s no small thing. The next day, Dan approached me to tell me he’d take on the pastoral duty. He’d actually decided this earlier, and as soon as he did, the appointments he was going to have to cancel cancelled themselves. God sort of worked things out. Praise the Lord. Though I still have to take Dan to lunch.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bear Grylls and Surviving the Desert

by Brian Bassett

Mmm Zebra!!

Bear Grylls is one of my favorite shows on TV. Sure my wife loves Rachel Ray, the rest of the Food Network fare and the usual set of organization or home makeover shows , but give me a good hour of Bear Grylls eating rotting Zebra meat, and I am good to go.

If you are unfamiliar, during his show, Bear gets dropped into extremely inhospitable places and is tasked with finding his way back to civilization. Along the way, he consumes whatever he can to keep his energy at high levels and help him get out alive (though there have been dispersions cast,, I still love it).

Reading back through Lev 11 this morning, it occurred to me that there is quite a long list of what God ruled inedible to His people. See here for the full list in this chapter.

This made me think about Bear though. While Bear will eat spiders whole, or find lizards and will consume them raw, God's plan for his people was special. He didn't want them to rely on scavenging on whatever they could find in the desert, but to rely on Him ultimately as their nourishment and provider. The Hebrews even had a name for Him in this regard ... Jehovah Jireh, a name that came from when Abraham's ram was provided for him to sacrifice at the top of the mountain.

Man does not live on bread alone -- I guess it depends on how you would define "living" -- but if I was in the desert, would I be faithful to God and His provision, or my own resources?

So it is with our whole lives, from questions of basic survival to the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs and everything in between. We should seek God's will and know that he will provide.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Pass the Salt



by Chris Cos

Leviticus 2:11-13 "Every grain offering you bring to the LORD must be made without yeast, for you are not to burn any yeast or honey in an offering made to the LORD by fire. You may bring them to the LORD as an offering of the firstfruits, but they are not to be offered on the altar as a pleasing aroma."


Question: Why are yeast and honey clearly adulterants when making a grain offering, but salt is not?

Practically thinking as a food scientist...in an environment without refrigeration and other modern food preservation technology, yeast can over-ferment and ruin a grain product if not handled properly. Honey, a simple sugar, can provide food for bacteria and mold, which would spoil the grain product...especially since the priests would be eating portions themselves. However, salt not only provides flavoring, as we all know, but also acts as a preservative by lowering the water activity (free water) in the product and making the environment less hospitable to mold and bacteria growth.

Yet, this cannot be what God has in mind here. If there is some practical benefit, it is only a bi-product of the fact that God commands this:
--Yeast and honey in a grain product are not to be offered "as a pleasing aroma" to the Lord;
--Seasoning with salt commemorates the covenant!

So what is the bigger picture here? Why salt and not yeast or honey? How does the use of salt commemorate the covenant?

Well I may not have THE answer, but Paul does use yeast with a negative connotation with respect to sin (Gal. 5:9). And Jesus uses salt in a positive way, commanding the disciples to be "salt and light" in Matthew 5:13. So my meditation was: In a world marred by sin, our own propensity to sin can multiply unhindered the way yeast grows in a hospitable environment. But the Holy Spirit within us acts like salt, creating a hostile environment for our sin nature. Thank you Lord for providing a practical reminder of the spiritual truth that is your Word. We are to be holy and free of sin, because you are holy...never touched by sin.

Friday, January 11, 2008

An eye for an eye, but what for a parking spot?

by Lisa Brewer

Tonight I stole. I was late for bible study and was driving to church and I really really needed a parking spot. My car has this outdated Beacon Hill parking sticker. I thought, “I know this is wrong, but I’m so late. And it’s just one hour.” I also thought, “I know I’m going to have to pay for this.” I was not referring to the ticket I might (and did) get. I’m referring to atonement.

I’m pretty sure that taking a Beacon Hill resident’s spot even for one hour is theft. And that is definitely a violation of a commandment. So if I’m reading Leviticus correctly I need to confess. I stole. And I need to offer a trespass offering.

Now here’s where I’m stuck. And I guess I just didn’t feel as much guilt about previous sins to have to face this directly yet. What to do about these sacrifices??

I’ve been struggling to figure out how to interpret the sacrifices outlined in Leviticus. The regulations are pretty specific and lengthy. The first seven chapters, in fact, are dedicated to the purpose of ensuring clarity about how to make sacrifices. But I find myself so confused!

In previous readings I just sort of glossed over it. “Yeah, yeah, animal without blemish, sprinkle blood, cut in pieces, burn it, got it.” I think I even skipped some of the sections because they all look the same. Burnt offering, grain offering for peace, for sins, for trespasses, whatever, I couldn’t see how in any way this had meaning for my life. This is the old testament people carrying out ancient practices that new covenant people didn’t need to worry about.

Or do I? Somehow even though I know that Jesus has, by his sacrifice, fulfilled these laws, I feel that there is something in the ceremony, the acknowledgment, paying a price – something I have to explore this month. I just haven’t figured out what that looks like, yet.

But I think I will have to do it soon. Since I did confess to all who will read this. And the $20 ticket is only recognized retribution in the kingdom of the City of Boston. In what way will I atone in God’s kingdom?

To be continued…

I think that "You shall keep your promises." was on that third tablet that Moses dropped in the Monty Python version of the Ten Commandments. I’m going to try to keep them any way.

Rendering to Caesar...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Regress is Progress

by Kristi Vrooman

Last week I was on vacation, so I had TONS of time to think and post thoughts, and read scripture, and dream up grand illusions of what I might do during this month. I even had my friend Anna write the commandments in Leviticus that I wanted to focus on for the week in tiny writing so that they'd fit in the locket I received as a Christmas gift. (Proverbs 6:21-22): "Bind [the commandment of your father and mother] continually on your heart; tie them around your neck. When you walk about, they will guide you; When you sleep, they will watch over you; And when you awake, they will talk to you."

(Notice how the shape just happened to resemble that of the stone tablets upon which the 10 Commandments were inscribed. Coincidence? I think not.)


But this week, well, hasn't been the same. Why? Mostly because I've never been good at living my life in a balanced way. I tend to swing to one side of the pendulum, remain there until my world is about to tip over, then hastily run back. I neglected the "rest of my life" last week because I was engrossed in this experiment.

The "sabbath lite" I took from Saturday to Sunday could barely be called a sabbath, because I just didn't plan well. So my to-do list was hanging over my head much of the day, and this week I've REALLY been feeling it. Not much time to read Leviticus, or build that tabernacle I've been meaning to, or figure those oil lamps out, or learn how to edit those videos I took of my and Kristen's trip to a deli in the South End on our quest to find meat that hadn't been strangled (it cost $9 a pound-more on that later), or...

But here I am with 15 minutes left to go on Wednesday evening, and all I have to say is that although I was irresponsible last week by paying attention only to levitical issues, and although I feel like so much has had to remain undone, (like these poor, neglected oil lamps)



this week has been much better than the many, many weeks prior to the beginning of January 2008.

As opposed to much of last year when I'm ashamed to say I wasn't reading scripture in a systematic way, or praying much, or, or, or, even during this busy week I've been reading Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Proverbs, James and Hebrews. My entire outlook on life has changed since the beginning of last week. It's no longer such a struggle to maintain the speed limit, and my anger level while driving has decreased significantly. :) The way I understand the Bible (especially Hebrews) has changed drastically. I see Jesus in a WHOLE new way. I see other people in a whole new way, I see myself, and the way I relate to G-d and others, in a whole new way. G-d has been revealing Himself to me in such mundane areas as dental hygiene (although I must admit, most of my "aha!" moments seem to happen during tooth brushing or flossing or the like).

It seems that my experience is like that of Brandy's (just read her note from today), in that when I'm reading scripture now, I don't want to stop. While I'm reading, question after question comes up (I'll save them for another day). Maybe this is just me, but I'd say perhaps 90% of the time I hear G-d speaking to me through His written word. Funny that during those times in my life when I'm not reading much scripture, I wonder why I have a hard time hearing Him.
I can't express enough how wonderful it is to open the Bible now, and feel again like I'm part of the story being told. To read Hebrews, and really know what Paul was talking about when he said in 9:13-14: "For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to G-d, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living G-d?"

Many pieces of this gigantic jigsaw puzzle (the Bible) are beginning to come together. So after 9 days of attempting to live levitically, I am still, by any calculation, a terrible, terrible sinner. But progress is progress.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Approaching the Darkness


by Nick Otto

It is interesting. Right after God spoke the Ten Commandments to the Israelites from a dark ominous cloud exploding with thunder and lightning as it engulfed a smoldering mountain, Moses says to the people, "Do not be afraid..." These people were not just a little scared of God. Their bodies turned to Jello. They begged Moses to tell God NOT to talk to them. I can't think of how many times I have pleaded with God to talk directly to me or give me a sign. But that's just me. I'm sure none of you have done that. But these people were absolutely terrified of being anywhere near God.

So Moses tells the Israelites, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of the Lord will be with you and keep you from sinning." I love this verse because it summarizes perfectly why I am doing this crazy experiment. As a Christian, I believe that I am free from the Law (meaning all of the ritual stuff or ceremonial law). But trying to keep the Law is very much like a test. And this test in not just any test. It is a horrible, excrutiating, horrifying test that reminds you over and over again what a miserable failure you are. And if you don't feel like a miserable failure, you still are; you're just to proud to realize it.

Keeping the Law will by no means make you righteous. You cannot earn your Salvation. On the other hand, we cannot throw the Law out like it's a piece of trash. We cannot throw it out because Christ did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. Jesus says, "If you love me, you will obey what I command." Free from the Law? Yes. But I will try to do it anyway because God has given us His law as a gift, just as he has given us His only Son as a gift. And his son said, "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."

Christmas was not too long ago. Has anyone been blessed by the opportunity to watch children open presents? Mom or dad spend months working and saving to get that perfect gift, and within minutes after the wrapping paper is shredded off one of three things usually happens. 1) the toy gets broke, 2) a fight ensues over the toy, or 3), my personal favorite, the child loses interest in the toy and spends countless hours playing with the box the toy came in! The trash is more appealing to these children than gift they longed all year for. Praise God adults are too mature for such childish behavior.

The Israelites were so terrified of God that they would not go near him. Ironically, it was not long before the Israelites (including their priest, Aaron) had formed an idol in the form of a golden calf. It seems that the Israelites were kept their distance from God in more way than one.

But Moses does the most remarkable thing. While the people remain at a distance, "Moses approached the thick darkness where God was." There is a connection between closeness to God's Law, or Christ's Commandments, and closeness to God Himself. I have heard many in our group tell how much they have learned about God, how much more they fear Him, and how much closer they feel to Him. Yet, so many Christians, even pastors, distance themselves from the Law. They throw it out as if it no longer matters at all. As if it were a piece of trash. How often have we, like children, mindlessly broken the precious gifts God has given us? The one thing we long for most, the opportunity to hear God speak and draw near to him, we either break, argue over, or loose interest in.

Living Leviticus is not easy. It is very difficult. It can be downright terrifying at times when you catch yourself falling short. Failing the test. So far, I feel that I've been keeping a distance. I have not been reading Leviticus as much as I probably should. I have not kept track of how many times I've fallen short or what laws I have broken. But from here on out, I plan on approaching the darkness, embracing the gift of God's law, and I hope that by the end of this month, I will know that I am a little bit closer to Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

This Crazy Leviticus Thing



by Ian Frazier

I should have posted this back on New Year's Eve, but didn't yet really have a firm plan in my mind for how I was going to handle this crazy "Living Levitically" experiment. My plan has gelled over the last week, though, so I'll go ahead and post now:

My goal for the month of January is to live according to the book of Leviticus as literally as I can, while taking into account the obvious major changes caused by the work of Jesus and trying to get some sense of how specific prohibitions are understood in traditional Judaism.

A Couple Changes Due to that Jesus Fellow:
  • I consider Sunday the Sabbath instead of Saturday, in response to the Resurrection. Apart from the change of day, I treat it Levitically.

  • A very large chunk of Leviticus revolves around the details of various sacrifices--although I'm still reading those parts, I'm not performing them, as Christ serves as the sacrifice that covers all sacrifices, so to speak. Even if He didn't, though, I still don't think I'd be doing them--let's face it: I don't own a herd and I think the authorities might be less than thrilled if they caught me throwing nets over pigeons to take them home, domesticate them, and then sacrifice them on an altar.


A Couples Pieces of Rabbinical Interpretation:
  • The literal words of Leviticus prohibit the wearing of clothing of "mixed fibers," which would seem to mean that I can't wear a polyester/cotton T-shirt. So for the first day of January, I went with all 100% materials. I was talking with a Jewish friend of mine in the UK, though, and he pointed me to the concept of shatnez, which indicates that in traditional Jewish thought, the prohibition is really specifically referring to mixtures of linen and wool--so I've been only avoiding that particular mix since that time.

  • I'm not shaving or cutting my hair at all in the month of Leviticus, taking the very conservative approach, but it seems there have been centuries of debate on this matter.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Levite Goes to Gotham


by Brian Bassett

Circumstance, chance meetings and my own laziness have all conspired against me. Or maybe more appropriately, I have allowed them to do so.

Over a month ago when I was getting jazzed about the idea of what this experiment would look like for me personally, I didn't see the things coming that would give me any reason to compromise on some of that original vision.

Without boring you with all the details, I'll just give you one example. Over three years ago, I started a blog about the New York Jets ... the Jets are my all-time favorite football team and I have poured my life and (when I get too caught up) soul into this project for over three years. Since things are still under wraps, I can't get into all the details, but sufficed to say that a certain media outlet contacted me about partnering/purchasing my site, and wanted to meet with me on Saturday, Jan 5th out of town.

So not only would I just be breaking sabbath by traveling, shaving so I didn't look like a total slob (first impressions!!), working and doing countless other things you're not supposed to on that most holy of days, but I was meeting my contacts at a barbeque-style restaurant in the one city on the planet that is sometimes referred to as the New Babel ... how utterly fantastic.

I have to say that I lost a lot my orientation this past week. Just like coming out of a New York subway in an unfamiliar location, sure the streets might be easy to navigate, but if you lose your sense of direction, then it doesn't really matter. So in the wake of this meeting I was discouraged about my living of Levitucs ... discouraged with my lack of dedication, discouraged with my progress and mostly discouraged with my communication to you fellow Levites, along with the many folks around the globe checking in on our progress.

Sure, I had been reading Leviticus, avoiding pig-related products (is bison OK?) of any kind ... but where was my heart? Was I just doing this because I had said that I would? Why bother if my heart wasn't in it?

This morning, I sat down and read Chapter 7 again. After Daniel's sermon last night, maybe things are beginning to click ...

"Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'He who offers the sacrifice of his peace offerings to the LORD shall bring his offering to the LORD from the sacrifice of his peace offerings. 'His own hands are to bring offerings by fire to the LORD. He shall bring the fat with the breast, that the breast may be presented as a wave offering before the LORD.

How powerful and moving. By my 'own hands' am I to bring my peace offering before the Lord. Sure there are steps that I need to take to bring me back in alignment with God, and it's just as important to honor those as it is to honor the process of the peace offering, but still I can come and offer peace to the Lord, which he will honor. That this is something for all God's people, which we are encouraged to do regularly and often, is to me a great comfort.

With this now in mind, I think it's helped me to find a better balance between obedience & desire, something that I hope to strive for not just for the rest of the month of January, but for the rest of my life.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

First Shabbat

by Sokol Haxhinasto

Shalom everyone!.

Yesterday I joined a friend of mine who was kind enough to share the Shabbat celebration with me and my family. I was to meet him before 4 o'clock at his place, so I left work earlier than usual. Since Shabbat did not start until 4:07, I was able to get a couple pictures of myself with a kipa on.


I was struck by the immense preparation that goes into welcoming Shabbat-making the food (more on that later) but most importantly ensuring that all the lights that need to be on for the next 24hr are on (living room, bathroom) and those that need to be off off (bedroom). I was glad to see that my reading of Talmud-related books came in handy when i reminded them about the refrigerator light that needs to be turned off during Shabbat.
My friend and I left for the synagogue (http://www.yibrookline.org/). We picked up a prayer book on the way into the sanctuary where the majority were men and by the end of the service three females showed up and set in a completely different area. Thankfully the prayer book was both in Hebrew and English, so i could understand and follow somewhat. Mostly it consisted of Psalms (familiar territory) and prayers. By the end of the service we welcomed the Bride-Shabbat, similar to what is done in weddings when the bride comes in. Interesting.
I was reminded of the verses where the church is referred as the bride of Christ-not sure if there is a link...

Afterwards we went home where the rest of the family joined us. We were ready to partake of a feast. After washing our hands three times they said the blessing over the wine and the bread (sweet). My friends wife had cooked from 8:30 pm to 2:30 am the previous night - amazing to think this happens every week. Thanksgiving meal every week-that's a tradition i can embrace. Everything was delicious.
After we got done, my challenge was yet to come-keep the Sabbath for the next 20 or so hours. I started by waking home instead of taking the train (not Levitical, i know)-it gave me more time to think about God and His intent in giving this commandment of rest and reflection. My goal was to refrain from work-no computer and work related things. I also ended up avoiding TV. Naturally this provided more free time which I mostly used to read the Bible and got a few extra chapter for my "read the Bible in one year plan". I was going to avoid other manual work, but my daughter's doll-house arrived in the mail, so i had to put it together. Probably not sth the Talmud would allow, but I felt my daughter's enjoyment and our bonding time was more important. i was tempted to check my email throughout the day and must say kept looking at the time when I could go back to my busy, stress filled life. it is not easy to teach an old dog new tricks, but not impossible.
so overall i feel like it was a success-i did not shop, ride the train, got to the library, work and every time i thought about those things i quickly tried to change my thoughts toward God. I did spend more time with God than most saturdays, so resting from work and substituting that time for Godly and family things is certainly something Jesus would want me to do in the future. This Sabbath shed new light on Jesus's invitation in Mathew 11:28, "come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and i will give you REST".

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Impolite Meating

by Thomas Keown

What when this month makes innocent people sad?

He was so disappointed. I hadn't seen him in more than a year and most of the year before he had spent unsuccessfully inviting to stay with he and his new wife in his new home. When this week I was finally able and agreeable to staying for a night with an old university house mate he shopped handsomely the day before in order to please me by purchasing all the breakfast foods I am renowned for loving.

The look of utter dejection when I told him I wouldn't touch nevermind chew any of the mound of pig products in the pantry was pronounced. To be sure it provided a way of introducing the month to the bloke. But it felt jolly rude. Or at least impolite.

Was saying no and making him swallow his disappointment more holy than if I'd made myself appreciatively swallow his caring comestibles? Sacrificing pleasurable flavours for to my own purity and benefit is obviously good but this felt a mite self-indulgent.

And besides, bacon is so good.



Friday, January 04, 2008

A Bad Example

by Mary Frances Giles

So I was a terrible Levite today. I overslept so didn't have time for my Levitical study and time with God before work. I got unnecessarily annoyed at my friend/neighbor who asked for a ride to work (forget that he gives me rides all the time). I spent the day munching on mostly non-Kosher food and completely forgetting about my newly adopted practice of writing down all of my sins during the day (I like to fool myself into thinking that because none were written down that means that none occurred). I breezed right past the group of homeless teenagers outside the Harvard Square T station and threw nothing more than an annoyed glance their way. When I got home I cracked open my new 2008 calendar that Santa gave me for Christmas. And what is the message for January? See for yourself:



So, I'm the bad example today. But there's one thing I can say for sure: I'm thankful that I can get on my knees and ask Jesus for forgiveness for my shortcomings and tacky behavior today. The last thing I want to do right now is trudge out into this single-digit weather to track down an animal to sacrifice. Rams and goats are hard to come by in the Back Bay.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Unclean!

by Brandy Brooks

Ha-ha! Am I the first person who gets to declare herself unclean this month? (I'm looking for small accomplishments.)

This one isn't my fault, unless you call being born a woman a "fault" ... and sometimes it's hard not to get the impression from Leviticus that there's something wrong with being female. We're all around less valuable (see Lev. 27:1-7) and clearly dirtier somehow (see Lev. 12:1-5, where it takes twice as long to purify one's self from a female childbirth than a male one). What's with that?

As a modern woman, I am constantly wrestling with this issue in the Bible; despite occasional instances where the LORD specially favors or honors women, or where we are declared equal in the sight of the LORD, as a rule we're not considered equals - in marriage, in leadership or teaching, in value. This chafes, to put it mildly, especially on the intellectual/leadership level; I'm not being prideful when I assess my abilities in that area as equal to (if not exceeding) most of the men I know at my similar age and experience. So my girl parts make me less than they? Whatever.

I do recognize that there's a difference between men and women, but I don't get why the LORD seems to value one of us over the other. I want to say that this power dynamic is the result of the Fall, when relationships between men and women were damaged so early that we've never been able to figure out what they were supposed to be ... yet the LORD's statements seem to support this dynamic not as sinful, but as the natural order. Maybe I just need to be accepting of my place in this order, and stop feeling insulted by it; maybe the problem is that I keep making the comparison, when that's not the point - in the end, God does value me as one of His children, regardless of my price based on the sanctuary shekel.

I also feel like so much sin and excuse for injustice comes from the interpretation of women as less valuable, but it is hardly the LORD's fault what we humans choose to do with his Word; we have a knack for turning just about anything into an basis for sin.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

An Aroma for God


by Simon Chang (with thanks to his wife)

For my grain offering I used fine flour, extra virgin olive oil, and sesame oil because we don't have frankincense to burn and thought that the sesame oil might be an acceptable substitute (there I go, making an imperfect sacrifice). I also have my small pan that I normally use to cook Raman noodles. Since I am not able to duplicate fully the ceremony anyway, I might as well use something convenient.

So I mixed up the ingredients together in the pan and got the electric stove going. Initially the aroma from the sesame oil came off wonderfully and I just stood there sniffing at it while saying "Ahhhhhhhh!". But in a matter of minutes as the mixture browned steadily, the scent changed and smelled like overcooked popcorn and burning old newspaper. The mixture also started to give out A LOT of smoke, so that by the beginning of the fourth video clip Lori had to open the windows so that our smoke detectors won't report me as a closet Jew. By this time there was a growing haze inside our apartment and we decided that we couldn't risk igniting the mass and losing our lease over an experiment involving ancient rituals, so we removed the pan while the charred remnants smoldered. There was smoke everywhere. After over an hour of using ceiling fans and open windows to air out our home, there was still considerable aroma lingering in the air when I left for the airport.

During all this time I had Lori videotape the proceedings and I made an observation that, as imperfect as this experiment was (missing ingredient, un-kosher container, no priestly chants), it nevertheless gave some indications as to what the scene at the temple must have been like back when the LORD ordained Leviticus. Hundreds and thousands of sacrifices took place everyday, the fire going practically non-stop, in order to accommodate the sacrificial system. The smoke and the scent from the burning offerings, together with incense and the smell of blood drained from livestock, must have been overwhelming. There is something very communal about all this, however, in that the system identified everyone who belonged to the LORD.

There was another thing I noticed: On the way to the airport I kept smelling that particular scent. At first I thought that my olfactory bulb was just working overtime, but then it dawned on me that my coat and my hat were near the kitchen during the entire offering, and somehow they picked up the scent. It seems that the mere act of giving this offering has left me smelling a particular way, and I wonder what I would say if someone at the airport (say, a TSA agent) were to ask me, "What is that smell, and why do you smell like that?"

At that point, it would have been entirely fitting for me to smile broadly and say, "God Is Great!!!"

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

My Plan for Living Leviticus

by Andrew Summey

The entry point on this question (Living Leviticus) for a Gentile Christian I see comes from Acts 15. There was a large meeting by the early Church (the Jerusalem Council) that asked this very question. Should Gentiles be circumcised? I take this to mean more than the physical operation but the act of conversion to be a Jew and the responsibility of the Law. It seems there were some who thought this was the way to go. After all, how can one follow the Messiah of Israel and not be “Israel”. So, some from the “party of the Pharisees” saw that this is how it should go down with all these new “Gentiles” joining the fold. So, after Paul (who was also a Pharisee) told of what was happening among the Goyim (Gentiles – lit. “nations”), then James gave a little speech mentioning requirements and then it was codified in a letter for the Gentiles:

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.”

James in his speech made this comment but then mentioned: “For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."

So, my basic take is that as a Gentile that is saved, I have basic requirements that help me follow God, but that I am to grow and learn. But, it does not seem that I am to learn AS a Jew, but from that heritage. This heritage from the Biblical text (Moses). So, as a Christian I should look at Leviticus as much to learn and to apply even if I do not do so as a Jew.

So, here is my approach: I will seek further definition of the basic requirements in the Leviticus text to make sure (1) my food is not sacrificed to idols (ok, no thai food), (2) abstain from blood (so all food is clean as long as the blood is drained? Pork is ok for me if it is killed in a kosher manner?? Or is this talking more on the line of murder? Shedding blood? This is getting complicated.), (3) no meat from strangled animals (notice how eating is an important aspect for Gentiles too), and (4) sexual immorality (this prohibition seems more familiar).

BUT, I am to seek to learn from the books of Moses.

Now, I know in Rabbinic Judaism they later codified what is known as the “Noahide Laws” taken from the requirements given to Noah after the flood (Gen 9:1-17). Maybe this line of thinking (Acts 15/Noahide) is where we get the whole idea of the separation of “ceremonial” from the other laws. But, Christians have ceremonial as well (communion, etc.). But, this was a “covenant” with all creation.

Anyway, while it could get broader, I will stick to defining the Acts 15 obligations for Gentiles turning to God and seek to familiarize and apply Leviticus as a Gentile. I will also look to define these basic requirements looking at Leviticus.

I am sure that it will get much more dicey than this. My notes will be flowing following some the questions.