Leviticus… just read!

OK… so I don’t really enjoy reading Leviticus. Plain hard work and tedious, but that’s where I am at the mo. Laws, laws and more laws. Obscure laws – don’t plant two types of seed in the field; don’t wear clothing made of two types of material. Really?

OT law was essentially unitary. Previous attempts to divide them down into ‘moral’, ‘ceremonial’ and ‘judicial / civil’ might be semi-helpful, but in reality the law was one. Debate might be over, as Jesus was asked, what is the greatest commandment, but they were all commandments, and as such marked out the people from other peoples. They were the boundary lines that marked the people, and the contrast is not between law and grace, but between law and Spirit for the followers of Christ. ‘These are the children of God – the ones led by the Spirit’, was a Pauline perspective, in contrast to how one knew that the person was a practising Jew – they were the ones led by the law. (Anyway my simplistic take.)

In Leviticus there are some tough old laws that either seem to have no significance for us, or back up patriarchy (a woman is unclean for 7 days after the birth of a male, but 14 days after giving birth to a female child), or ownership of another (a man sleeping with a betrothed female slave has to make some reparations but basically gets away with the abuse).

There are however some crackers in there. How we move from OT to New on issues of law is pretty difficult. Neither the ‘all apply except for those rescinded’ or ‘none apply except for those re-worked’ both fall down the large gap inherent within either approach. Something like – ‘all have to be taken seriously, but none applied directly without coming through the cross’ seems the only way. So back to the crackers (if reading in a second language, ‘really good ones’!)

Do not maximise profits

I am certainly not a communist – the state is god!!! OH no. Neither am I a neo-liberal with the ‘invisible hand of the market’ being the controlling principality. There has to be scope for entrepreneurship and gifting but the controlling element cannot be that of maximising profits. Indeed this is expressly forbidden:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second times or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God (Lev. 19: 9, 10).

So we have a field, but the context is of stewardship, not ownership. We love Paul’s words ‘owning nothing but possessing everything’. We, though have to think in reverse. Here Gayle and I own almost everything, so how do we live so that we own everything but possess nothing, or at least make it easy for others to possess what we own. (We do try and outwork this…)

A very generous immigration policy / commandment

A second cracking law I read this morning comes a few verses later:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God (Lev. 19:33).

Maybe not easy to apply as a straight line into all immigration policies, but certainly does not allow us to suggest the godly thing to do is to go out of our way to have legislation that marginalises them. (I write of course with vested interest, being a first generation immigrant.)

Love them as yourself – ring any bells? A foreigner as our neighbour. Now that would make for an interesting immigration policy.

We were, probably pretty much all of us, foreigners at one time or another, and that is one of the points the law makes. Maybe our ancestors moved when it was easier to find space in the land they emigrated to, how much more then should there be a leaning toward generosity to those who are emigrating in a harsher climate today.

The ‘foreigner’ is expected to live in such a way that they make a contribution to the land – that comes through in other verses, but how easy is that in today’s climate? Opportunities for education, training, access of health care…

Maybe Leviticus is just a bit more of a resource than I thought. (Or if you would rather just have a little light entertainment check out these laws:

Transformation?

Way back in the day, when I was not so grown up (!!) I loved to talk of transformation, of city-shifting (not easy to say, and did on more than one occasion got it wrong… though we do need to see a whole lot of that sifted and shifted!) influences. A straight line from strategic prayer that would change the effects of history and open up a new spirituality where the church would prosper was my focus. As the years go on beliefs are refined, honed, and even sometimes abandoned. In my case a core continues unabated… Jesus poured out his Spirit redemptively on a growing number of followers, not simply so as those followers could grow in numbers, and certainly not so as they might have a ticket to somewhere else, but so that they might take responsibility for the world around them. So that that world might change.

I have been away for the past week engaging with two interesting scenarios. Both in the South West of England. Both with a focus on entrepreneurship so that there can be a societal, an environmental change. The first, based in a city and focused on that region looking to re-open what had been abandoned, looking to spark leading-edge technology. The other coincidentally meeting in that area of the UK but with a strong emphasis that all of us, that is us communicating animals, carry the image of God, and that we are to be changed in order to bring about change. I resonated very strongly, with no emphasis on the financial outcome being the bottom line, but health and well-being being the gauge of progress.

Two environments, both looking for transformation.

I am deeply grateful for the strategic (and sometimes in my case I am sure un-strategic prayer) that has gone on. I consider that it has opened up so much space during these past decades. It has also contributed to some of the crises, for the Western house that has been built, at least in part, on sand was never going to be fit for purpose.

My vote is for those who are engaged beyond the congregation, those who take the call to business, health care, the arts etc., seriously. There is space now. Space that is visible, sometimes space in the midst of the mess for engagement.

I am aware that every scenario is different. We might not always see those situations correctly. Some we might be over-optimistic about, others where we have despaired might be the very ones where there is hope.

Over the past 5 years we have taken responsibility to pray for the political scene in Spain. We are not those who believe that change takes place through legislation, through influence from the top down (a christendom value). Yet we are looking for that political realm to come into health, to create a shape where there can be true prosperity. A kind of ‘we hold a shape’ so that there can be a ‘healthy political shape’ so that people can prosper, with great grace for the marginalised being expressed. An unhealthy political shape then is an offence and we take it as a personal insult.

2019… they shall not pass!

There are times we are caught out, not seeing what is coming and as a result we end up playing catch up. However, in 2019 it seemed that we were so ahead of what was coming. We saw the patterns of history and understood the geographical ground where that was expressed, were able to go there and be ever so strategic (!) with our timings, actions, prayers and declarations. Then… what a set of blows came our way as one aspect after another went against us. History just seemed intent on repeating itself with intent. We saw the number of fascists in parliament go from 0 to 24 to 52 in the course of 7 months. We saw divisions appear and hostility against one another be vehemently expressed by those who should have known better. I could go on… To be honest it proved pretty tough and insulting. Seemed almost personal when the ultra-right proclaimed ‘we have passed’ when entering the parliament. I still ask – could we have done more.

2020… a level see-saw?

It has been a battle to see something healthier come through. Just as the year turned a promising coalition, the first in 80 years, where a level of maturity has been shown., has been voted in. It made it in by 2 votes – had one person gone the other way (and there was huge pressure on those sitting in the middle) we would have been headed to yet another election, and with the growth of the ultra-right this would not have been something we would have been optimistic about. In the government, one of the ministers is a card carrying communist! Neither Gayle nor I are of that persuasion (as if!!), but given the history of Spain what a sign. (Ultra-right and ultra-left carry the same spirit – people are subject to a centralised and depersonalised power, a true principality or god.)

I am not suggesting that where I started – the business realm, nor where I am now focused – the political realm – is where it is at. I simply find it interesting that there are evidences of a level playing field appearing. Not everything is reversed, indeed one could suggest the political scene, for example, in Spain is worse than ever. Perhaps. Or perhaps game on. I consider it is the most dangerous yet with the most potential in the past 80+ years.

Let’s look for the gaps, the places where we can squeeze in, or make space through some spiritual elbow work for others to enter that space. I am convinced we are not going to see things just shut down, keeping the space open though will require our engagement.

Chips in hand

So thousands of Swedes are getting chips inserted in their hand, through which they purchase goods, gain access where they are authorised. This has been covered in so many national papers that it is probably not news. Here is a faith based site reporting:

https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/mark-of-the-beast-thousands-of-swedes-become-microchipped

My response… OK cut right to the chase. I do not see Revelation as predicting this. The book is far too incisive and insightful to do that. Yet I accept this could indeed be (a sign of) the mark of the beast, and yet again I consider that the euro, the dollar, the yen… or at least our relationship to them could also be a mark.

Before writing about ‘the mark’, maybe we should consider what precedes that in Revelation. The sealing of the servants of God, who were numbered as both 144,000 (the number heard) and a multitude that could not be numbered (the people seen). Is the seal literal? Is the mark literal?

Well the seal could be considered literal, but only in the sense of being so marked that we belong to God, that we are indeed his servants, that there is a visibility. That kind of visibility is normally seen when there is the very real threat of persecution as was the increasing case as the first century ended. In that sense the mark (of the beast) can also be literal… sold out so that there is no restriction on buying and selling.

I consider a couple of aspects are so key here. 1) the original sin is couched in consumerist language (saw… desired… took… gave… all focused on what was beyond a legitimate boundary); 2) Jesus set the polar opposites as mammon and God. (We might add to this the issue of trade, with the king of Tyre, and the trade / economic theme that runs through the book of Revelation.)

Chips in hand could be a sign of the mark of the beast, but is not the mark of the beast. There are many, many signs now and right through the ages of the mark of the beast. The mark has always been present, and always will be. AntiChrist has always been present, in plural forms and at times focused more in one person than others. The era of the one world government was the time when the Gospel was birthed, the ‘fullness of times’.

Avoiding a chip will not mean I am clean! Following Jesus bites a little deeper than that for sure!

The issue is there are signs everywhere, and there will always be a push of society toward a dominating centre (Revelation again!). In the midst of it all though Babylon / Babel will never be complete, it will always be an unfinished tower seeking to reach to the heavens, determining one’s own destiny – hence 666, humanity tripled, or as one manuscript has it 616 – a clear reference to the manifestation in the NT era in and through the emperor Nero.

If offered a chip in the hand we might think twice. But really I need to think deeper about my commitments, my relationship to the Babylonish aspects that are nearer to home offering whatever might appeal to my desires.

Better put the apple back on the tree, I guess!!

Stop stealing, but don’t stop there

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephes. 4: 25-28).

Where to begin? Ethics for the believer. If Paul believed in simple imputed righteousness he certainly expected a lot of co-operation with grace, as the transformation in life-style he was looking for was quite significant. I suspect though that he saw beyond a ‘forensic declaration of forgiveness’ over the believer to a transformation of character through an encounter, an experience.

I find the ethics of the New Testament very challenging. Way beyond what is right and wrong, beyond legalism. Take the first one here in v. 25 where Paul writes of falsehood. This is so beyond ‘don’t lie’. It is easy not to lie but much more challenging to live, speak and act so that there is self-disclosure. Religiosity (or pride, and are they very different?) never wants to admit to reality. ‘Put off falsehood’ requires that there is personal vulnerability, that what is seen and heard is in line with who the ‘I’ really is. I can avoid lying, but give the impression of being someone better than I am. I can do so but will not be ‘putting off falsehood’. I am not sure that even to say ‘I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ would even get me there. ‘So help me God’ (without hand on Bible please!) will certainly be required.

The transformational aspect of faith is very clear when Paul addresses the issue of the person who was stealing. The shift from ‘taking what was not theirs’ is complete. The challenge is not to stop stealing, but to give what they have to those in need.

If we place stealing at one end, then ‘not stealing’ is in the middle of the spectrum… but working to give is at the other end. Transformation. The radical opposite. Not surprising when we know that Jesus died, but did not simply come back to life, but through the Spirit became a ‘life-giver’. The radical opposite of being dead.

I suspect we are just so sub-New Testament in so many aspects.

Here’s to a discovery of the power of transformation.

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