Be Careful With Leviticus

This is not a political post. It is a post about Bible interpretation.

At least fourteen times over the last ten days I have had a couple of verses pop up in some way on my Facebook feed. Maybe you have seen it, if not, here it is:

Leviticus 19:33-34 “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. (34) The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (NIV)

Every time I have seen these verses they have been directly applied to how God feels about the refugee and immigration issues going on in America right now. I am not here to write about that situation, it is a post for another time. [By the way, I am reading everything I can about that issue to develop a complete view of what is happening, why it is happening and how Christians should respond.]

What is bothering me now is the huge issue of using these Bible verses for anything. You see there are rules for how we read the Bible and when we ignore those rules we misuse the Bible and can prove almost anything.

First, Leviticus is a part of the Old Testament law given to Israel. Yes, it does lay the groundwork for Christianity, but we live under another covenant with God through Jesus Christ. Christians simply do not live under the law of Moses. It is extremely important to understand this context. Otherwise, we find ourselves living under the whole law.

The full context of these verses is chapter 19 of Leviticus. There are 37 verses in that chapter, and they contain several interesting statements. For example, verse 23-25 say that you are not to gather the harvest of a fruit tree for the first three years. Then in the fourth year, you are to offer the fruit as an offering to the Lord. Another example is found in verse 28 that says we are not to have tattoos. I have read lengthy articles that explained in detail why that passage does not apply to us today.

Second, other questions arise out of good Bible interpretation.

This passage was written to the nation of Israel. Do the passages about Israel apply directly to America? This passage addresses resident aliens in the Israelite community. Is that the same as modern-day refugees? The passages say not to mistreat them. What constitutes mistreatment?

The primary meaning and understanding of this passage are for the people of Israel to treat non-Israelite people living among them as they would a native-born Israelite.

Third, there is a question of application.

The question born out of that understanding of this passage is, “Does it apply today?” Maybe the better question is, “How does that apply to today?”

Personally, I believe this passage does paint us a big picture idea. In the Old Testament God desired for his people to care for those who were outside of their own national background. After that, the application is fuzzy at best.

Here is my point; Leviticus 19 is not a verse that directly applies to America. Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s true.

Is there a concept believers can learn from this passage? Sure. Does that concept have application to believers today? Sort of. Does this passage have application to the US policy on immigration? That is a long, long stretch.

No matter how you feel about the current situation, I beg you, please don’t misuse the Bible to push any agenda. A proper use of scripture is the first step toward unity in the spirit.

I’m 45 And Reflecting

Yesterday I turned 45 years old. It is hard for me to imagine that I am this old since I still feel like I am 21. Time flies by as all of us know. I wanted to take a few moments to slow down and do a little reflection on my life and the lessons I have learned.

Last night as I lie on my bed looking up at the ceiling I felt this sense of disappointment. Before I hit the mattress, I had read some articles written by other people who has turned 45. As I read through their material, I felt an overwhelming lack of accomplishment compared to their lists. So I decided to share my reflections as a less than perfect person who just turned 45.

1. I Am Still Unsure About the Present and the Future.
I had hoped that by this point in my life I would feel confident that I was doing exactly what God had called me too. I was sure I would feel secure in where he had called me too. I am still as unclear as I was at 21. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy what I do each day, but I am not sure this is a permanent assignment. I would like to write. I would like to do some mission work. I wouldn’t mind starting another Church. I would love to specialize. All I know is that each day I serve the Lord until he shows me the next step on this journey. This was true at 21, and it is still true for me today.

2. The Voices in My Head Never Stop.
All of us struggle with insecurity at some level. When I was young, I understood that there was an inherited sense of insecurity with my age. Now that I am older I still hear the same voices echoing inside my head. They continually tell me, “I am not smart enough. I am not skilled enough. I have made too many mistakes in the past. Do I really think God could forgive that?” My personal issues have changed, but they exist in various forms still today.

3. The Struggle With Sin Never Goes Away.
As I young man I was convinced that one day I would be smart enough or strong enough to stand up to the sins that lurk around every corner. Sure, I have overcome some things, but temptation still exists for every person, no matter how old.

4. It is Difficult to Continually Reinvent Yourself.
Once upon a time I only worried about myself as an individual. Now, I am a father and a husband. I spent time as a coach, and now I am a fan. Now I am trying to adjust to being a life coach to a college student. One day I will become an in-law and maybe a grandparent. It seems the moment you have your role figured out, something happens and everything changes. It can be a complicated assignment to know how I am supposed to behave in each new role.

5. Trust Verses Worry is a Continual Battle.
I know that God has a plan for my life, but I am scared for my children. I am concerned with their health, their safety, their career, their future and a dozen other things. Even though I have seen God’s hands of guidance in my life through the years, it is still hard to trust him with my children. I had hoped it would get better when they were older, but I actually think it gets worse. There is a constant need to immerse each day in prayer for them and for my trust of God with them.

I don’t know, maybe this article says more about me as a person and a Christian than I should say out loud, but I feel the need to be honest. My life at 45 is not about having everything perfect and gearing up to dominate the last 35 years. My life is about more of the same. Nothing is perfect, and I find that following Jesus is as hard today as it has ever been to me. I hope you will benefit from knowing that you are not alone. I think most people struggle silently and bury their feelings deep inside. Slowly it tears them apart as they feel they are failing as a person. I want you to know that all of us, even pastors, have issues no matter how old we are today.

Weekend Reading

Here are the best articles I read this week.

5 Words That Should Scare Your Pastor

Planned Parenthood’s Most Misleading Statistic

Everything I Need to Know About Social Media, I Learned In Kindergarten

Here are a couple interesting articles if you are a sports parent like me. These are not Christian articles but the truth about sports, scholarships and the future you are investing so much time into.

Estimated probability of competing in college athletics

An Open Letter to the Athlete We Must Stop Recruiting

Christian Worship Songs I Enjoy

I have the opportunity to listen to a lot of worship music as I plan the weekly program for our Church. These are some of my favorites that are fairly new, at least new to me, and maybe they are new to you as well.

1. Jesus I Need You – Hillsong Worship

2. What A Beautiful Name – Hillsong Worship

3. Behold (Then Sings My Soul) – Hillsong Worship

4. No Other Name – Hillsong Worship

5. Heart Like Heaven – Hillsong Worship

Your Pastor is Not a Mind Reader

I continually warn my elders that a train wreck is coming. Sure, everything in the Church is going well right now, but it won’t last. Someone is going to get upset. They always do. It has happened in every ministry I have led.

The situation is usually the same. Someone is unhappy because they felt like they were ignored or marginalized or even mistreated. It is almost always the same story, they felt like I didn’t care about them in some way.

Upon careful investigation, I usually discover that people thought I would pick up on their needs on my own. I am here today to tell you that I don’t. I believe that this is true for most pastors that I know. I have a lot of interactions every day of the week and especially on Sunday. As a result, I will not pick up your subtle phrases or implied information. I do not get hints and innuendo.

I like to think it is because I am busy on the weekend and I am distracted, but honestly, I know sometimes I am just clueless. Whatever the reason, do not expect me to read your mind or pick up on anything that is not directly stated.

On behalf of pastors everywhere, let me say it this way.

1. If you want a visit, just say.
Seriously. If you want to talk to me or ask me questions or are just feeling lonely. Ask me to visit. I have never turned anyone down.

2. If you want prayer, just ask.
Tell me what you want me to pray for, and I will do it. I will usually inform you that I will pray for it for a period of time. Something like, “Yes I will pray for the situation every day this next week.” Currently, I have three marriages I am praying for until they are healed, just because people asked me too.

3. If you have a problem, just tell.
If I have done something to offend you in some way, then be direct and tell me the problem. Don’t talk about it with other Church members and make guesses at my motives. Tell me the truth, and I bet you will be surprised at the answer.

4. If you are hurt, just share.
If someone or something has hurt you, don’t expect me to know. Tell me, and we can try to get to the heart of matter. I may not have heard about your family member who passed. I may not know about what happened in your small group. I may not know anything. Tell me, and I can do my best to help.

5. If you need help, just be honest.
This is a huge one for me. Don’t hint around about tight finances or falling behind. Just ask if the Church can help you financially in some way. I guarantee I will not read your open-ended statements as a plea for help.

No pastor can read your mind. We do not have as much information as you think we do. The best way to communicate with us is direct. It is just that simple.

I want to avoid any conflict in the future, and most people in the Church want the same thing. The only way it is going to happen is if we speak openly and honestly with each other, even the pastor.

Maybe We Are On The Same Side

There is a story that is only told in the Gospel of Mark. Even after all my years of ministry, I am still not sure what to make of it.

The disciples come to Jesus, and they say, “Teacher, we saw a man driving out demons in your name, and we told him to stop because he was not one of us.” (Mark 9:38).

It is truly a strange encounter. The disciples run into a man who is doing miracles in the name of Jesus, but he is not one of the Twelve disciples Jesus called to follow him.

What seems odd about this encounter is that this man is not following Jesus. He is not in the parade of people who follow Jesus everywhere listening and watching. This man went out and is casting out demons in Jesus name.

I think, and I have no proof of this, that this man watches Jesus perform a miracle or two. All the while he has a family member back home who is suffering. Finally, the man returns home and tries out what he just saw from Jesus on this person whom he cares. Unexplainably, it works, and a friend is healed. Then another person asks this unknown man to help him. He does the same thing, and it works again. Quickly he begins repeating the steps and helping other people he contacts.

The disciples are on a journey, and they encounter this man who has limited knowledge of Jesus teaching but is doing amazing things in his name. They respond by telling him to stop. It is a little hard to imagine that one of Jesus followers stands against the work of another person working in the name of Jesus, but that is exactly what happens.

I often wonder how that scene unfolded. Were there loud shouts and angry discourse? Was it a quiet request with tears? Was this done in the public eye or behind the trees as a private plea? However it happened, Jesus disciples tell the man casting out demons in Jesus name to stop doing it.

Then Jesus responds by saying “’Do not stop him, No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:39-40)

Jesus confronts the small view of the disciples. He tells them that no one who works in the name of Jesus can then turn around and work against Jesus. If they are not against the work we are doing, they are actually helping us.

Throughout my life, I have wrestled with this passage in my mind. How far do we take it? At what point does someone start to work against us? Surely this verse has parameters? This unknown man was not promoting sin, that would be against the work of Christ. He apparently is not making money off the name of Jesus. This is not a scam to fool the masses. That would be against the work of Christ. So are we on the same side as long as we are promoting the good work of Christ without selfishness or sin?

Is this still true if we have different doctrines? What are the foundational beliefs that we need? I wish something were said about this man’s beliefs. Maybe we are to assume they are in line with Jesus teaching entirely. I wish there were more.

I don’t have all the answers. I must continue to remind myself that Jesus views His kingdom much bigger than I do. I want to draw the circle of faith smaller and smaller. It does seem the kingdom has boundaries, but those often include a bigger circle than we imagine.

Most of the time I feel like the disciples, unsure of who is supporting Jesus and who is working against us. Like them, I usually mess it up and need Jesus correction. Maybe the lesson is to be full of grace toward people who are supporting the work of Jesus in some way, even if they are not in my group.