I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people, not at all meaning the people of this world... 1 Corinthians 5:10 (NIV)
There once was a Christian man, raised in a Christian family. From his infancy he attended a Christian church and then was placed in Christian school where he had many Christian friends. He listened exclusively to Christian music on the Christian music station and read Christian novels from the Christian publisher that he purchased from the Christian book store. During high school he involved himself with Christian athletes and in his senior year he attended the Christian prom with his Christian girlfriend. After graduating from Christian high school, the young man attended a Christian college. He went on several Christian missions to the third world and interned at two different Christian organizations. He met a good Christian girl from a Christian family, and he married her. After graduating from the Christian college, the man returned to his hometown to start a Christian business, listed in the local Christian business directory, and joined a Christian men’s group to help him raise his Christian family. And, it started all over again.
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”
If I was the enemy of Light, and I wanted to keep the Light from penetrating the darkness, I would simply convince the Light bearers that “holiness” was totally dependent on keeping their Light hidden under an overturned bucket of social, cultural, and familial exclusivity. Then, I would sprinkle in the notion that those in darkness will either be 1) somehow attracted to their little circle of exclusivity under the bucket or 2) deserving of the hopeless, eternal darkness outside.
God spoke to Moses: “Tell Aaron, None of your descendants, in any generation to come, who has a defect of any kind may present as an offering the food of his God.”Leviticus 21:16 (MSG)
One of the tasks of my job is helping companies establish a standard for quality when it comes to serving customers on the phone. My experience is that most companies establish a low standard because they want to make sure that all of their employees can meet the standard with very little effort. Some companies establish a very high standard so that their employees must work very hard to improve their performance and reach their goal. I have never watched a company set such a high standard that a perfect score always meant an exceptionally great service experience. Even with the toughest quality scales, you can listen to calls that received the highest possible score and find opportunities for improvement.
As I read today’s chapter, I couldn’t help but see a parallel. I read the list of rules and expectations for the priests and I felt like I was reading a list of performance management expectations from God’s HR department. And, the scale was unbelievably tough. The smallest defect in person or performance rendered the priest unfit to serve on God’s team.
Once again, I find myself left with a clear picture of a holy God demanding holy perfection. The result is a quality assessment scale which sets the bar so high that no one ever reaches 100. And, that is the point of the scale. When we finally realize that we can never reach the demands of moral and spiritual perfection from holy God, we will be ready to understand God’s priceless gift and sacrifice God made on our behalf.
“Set yourselves apart for a holy life. Live a holy life, because I am God, your God. Do what I tell you; live the way I tell you. I am the God who makes you holy.”Leviticus 20:7-8 (MSG)
When I was a child, the rules of the house were strict and the punishment for infraction were (at least to my child’s mind) severe. Childhood was when the folks “laid down the law” and taught life lessons in black and white terms. As I grew into an adult, I watched the authoritarian parental regime wane. I was given free rein to live on my own, make my own choices, and learn from the consequences of my own foolishness.
As a parent, I gained an even greater perspective. Parenting is about preparing children for life. It starts with helping them understand basic black and white rules for their safety and propriety. It progresses to teaching them principles for successful living and eventually becomes an advisory role as you assist them in grappling with the mysteries of this life journey as they walk it for themselves.
I find it helpful to view the authoritarian rules of Leviticus and their stiff penalties in view of the big picture. It’s easy to get mired in the minutiae and lose sight of the whole. On the surface, the purpose of the law was to protect the people by keeping them spiritually, morally and physically safe and healthy. But on a larger scale, in the linear life cycle of God’s relationship with humanity on Earth, the long list of black and white rules would teach us it is impossible to attain holiness and spiritual wholeness by simply keeping the rules. Keeping the rules cannot, and will never, address the fundamental issue of our sinful condition. It is not the symptomatic behaviors that are the problem, but the underlying sinful nature of our hearts. Like the common cold, you can treat the symptoms and dry up a runny nose, but the virus remains inside affecting the whole body. To address the root problem will require healing that can’t be found within ourselves.
That same day Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, took their censers, put hot coals and incense in them, and offered “strange” fire to God—something God had not commanded. Fire blazed out from God and consumed them—they died in God’s presence. Leviticus 10:1-2 (MSG)
When I was a young child, I went to my grandparents house with the rest of my family. I have only vague recollections of the exact circumstances, but I know my sister and I were running wild (probably on a sugar high from the candy we consumed from Grandma Golly’s genrously large candy bowl). Somewhere along the line, likely having been told to settle down, I mouthed off to my dad disrespectfully. I was immediately taken behind the Grandpa and Grandma’s garage and received a spanking, which did not hurt me but which I remember to this day. I learned a lesson in that moment that has stuck with me the rest of my life. My father loved me, but he was also my father and deserved my respect. He should not, and would not tolerate me mouthing off to him.
The story of Nadab and Abihu is a hard one to wrap our minds around, but it illustrates an important lesson. If my earthly father, who is every bit a fallible human being, deserves my respect and honor, then how much more honor and respect does my Heavenly Father deserve who is the holy Creator of the universe? At the time of Leviticus, God’s people were like young children in their understanding of who He was. I believe God was trying to teach the entire nation some very basic concepts like a parent teaches their toddler.
I wonder if we sometimes focus so much on God’s grace and forgiveness that we lose respect for God’s holiness and omnipotence. Perhaps it would do me good to, spiritually speaking, be taken out behind the garage once in a while when I forget. It might remind me that God is my Heavenly Father, but He’s not my ol’ man.