Older Than the Old Way

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 18.24-28
24 “ ‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 

Reflection: Older Than the Old Way
By John Tillman

There’s an argument that the biblical sexual ethic is old and outdated. “That was the old way. Now we must think about sex in a new way.” The truth is more complicated.

Biblical sexuality is the “original” idea from page one of the Bible, but we rejected it on page two and never looked back. There is nothing “new” about the modern sexual climate. Sex has always been abused by the powerful, made a tool of addiction and manipulation, peddled for money, intertwined with slavery, and unlimited in its scope. This free-for-all leaves casualties and abuse in its wake.

Sexual ethics go beyond personal choices. God says the land, the dirt we came from, is affected by our defilement of one another. When we mistreat each other, the land itself gets sick. Creation is not inanimate, unaffected matter. “Cursed is the ground,” God says. And why? “Because of you.” (Genesis 3.17; 4.10-12)

When the only sexual limit is consent, human bodies, souls, and emotions are just hills to be mined or streams to be tapped. Secure the mineral and water rights; take what you want. Strip mine, clear cut, dam them up, dry them up, poison them…who cares? They signed on the dotted line. This is the old way. But older than the old way, is God’s way.

Current cultural sexual ethics are old, but in every age, God carved out for himself people to be different—to return to Eden, little by little. (Matthew 19.4; Mark 10.5-6)

In Leviticus, God instructs his people to be distinct in how they practice everything from handling money to how to treat one another’s bodies. God’s language centers on care for others, respect, and self-control. No one group is singled out. God’s people must be distinct from the pattern of normality all around them. “What is normal for them, must not be normal for you. What seems natural to them, must not be natural to you.”

This didn’t start in Leviticus. Throughout the Bible, there is a consistent pattern of God subverting the cultural norms of sex among those who follow him. God worked gradually and people followed imperfectly. They consistently followed culture rather than him, but God worked with and among them even amidst failure.

We are a part of this people. We may fail at times, but if we continually turn to him, he will continue to undo our curses and make us blessings to our land.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are the Lord, most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. — Psalm 97.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 18 (Listen 3:46
Acts 14 (Listen 3:54)

This Weekend’s Reading
Leviticus 19 (Listen 4:39), Acts 15 (Listen 5:43)
Leviticus 20 (Listen 4:18), Acts 16 (Listen 5:53)

Read more about It’s in the Bible
If we look carefully, we can see God actively disrupting cultural assumptions and human traditions that people in scripture accepted as normal.

Read more about Beyond Consent
May each of us submit every part of our identities, including our sexuality, to God’s calling in our lives.

Life in the Blood

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 17.10-12
10 “ ‘I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. 12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.” 

Genesis 4.10-12
10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 

Genesis 9.4-5
4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

From John: We live in a world of casual, uncaring, bloodshed. Worse than that…we are often unmoved by that bloodshed. We are unmoved by children dying in shootings or children dying crossing the border or children dying in the womb. At least, not moved enough to change anything. As Russell Moore said in a recent Christianity Today article, “Americans—especially Christians—should ask just how much we have adjusted ourselves to this kind of horror. How numb to it all have we become?” 

We need to reinvigorate our hearts to care about the shedding of blood, our careless collaboration in it, and our callous response to seeing it. Because of this, we return to this rewritten devotional from 2021.

Reflection: Life in the Blood
By John Tillman

Biological facts often reveal spiritual truth. Our life really is in our blood. 

We often measure life based on brain activity. For example, the rapper, DMX, recently died after life support was removed following a coma/vegetative state. However, many of the brain’s commands are carried out by the hormones, proteins, and other chemical signals that travel through the blood.

Everything that makes us alive circulates in our blood. Life “moves” within us even when we are at rest. When blood stops moving, or is spilled out, life ends. 

The most important and revealing reason for the prohibitions regarding blood was spiritual not physical. Blood is life given for atonement. Since the blood of the first animal, killed by God in the garden to clothe Adam and Eve, animals have given their lives for human sin and creation has groaned for the blood spilled. (Genesis 3.21; Genesis 4.10-12; Romans 8.20-23)

All spilled blood, God says, is precious and holy, not only on its own but because it points to the blood of Jesus. Christ’s blood is the most precious blood in history, but every drop of blood shed draws precious meaning from his. 

Blood is still life and it should disturb us when blood is spilled. Blood is the life of our brothers and sisters of every race. Blood is the life of the unborn. Blood is the life of those dying of Covid. Blood is the life of both Christians and non-Christians murdered for their faith. Blood is the life of victims of every kind of violence whether in distant wars or neighborhood streets, whether in mass shootings or lone suicides.

So both the lives of a police officer lost stopping a mass shooting in Colorado and of a Black citizen, crushed by a police officer’s knee are united in that their lives point to and plea for Christ’s blood. One is lost in self-sacrifice and one cries out from the ground in a plea for justice.

May we revive a holy respect for blood, no matter where, how, or by whom it is shed. May we not carelessly “eat” blood by profiting from violence, supporting bloodshed, or indifferently shrugging off bloodshed that doesn’t affect us.

God will require an account. (Genesis 9.5; Isaiah 5.7) When he does, we must plead the blood of Jesus to cover all of our bloodshed. Only in his blood will we find true life. (John 6.53-57)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Jesus taught us, saying: “He who comes from above is above all others; he who is of the earth is earthly himself and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven bears witness to things he has seen and heard…since he whom God has sent speaks God’s own words, for God gives him the Spirit without reserve.” — John 3.31

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 17 (Listen 2:39) 
Acts 13 (Listen 7:36)

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Two Goats and Jesus

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 16:21-22
21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

Reflection: Two Goats and Jesus
By Erin Newton

Easter is over. What if we still don’t understand it?

Two men on Resurrection morning asked, “What just happened?” Jesus of Nazareth, powerful in word and deed, was crucified (Luke 24). They witnessed the horrifying event but walked away with more questions than answers. It was all so confusing.

Cleopas and his friend were called “slow to believe.” I think their slowness in faith was rooted in their inability to understand and not because they were lazy. Not because they needed higher education. Not because they were of lesser genius. Understanding takes time, questions, and pondering what we think we already know.

We have the benefit of the Spirit to help us as we look back on the Old Testament. When we think about Easter, we ponder why Jesus had to die—what was the meaning of his death? For those questions, one place we look is Leviticus 16.

Two goats are gathered for the Day of Atonement. One goat is killed, and its blood is used to cleanse the sanctuary from the innermost rooms to the outer. The second goat bears the fullness of the iniquities of the people and is banished from the community.

Jacob Milgrom explains, “Evil was banished to its place of origin (e.g., the netherworld, wilderness) or to some place in which its malefic powers could work to the benefit of the sender (e.g., to enemy territory) or in which it could do no harm at all (mountains, wilderness).” A ritual designed to purge and eliminate.

Jesus’ death on the cross more fully accomplishes this ritual. His blood purifies our approach to God so we can enter his presence without fear. His death banishes the power of sin to the wilderness, and we can be free from the bondage of evil.

Hebrews 10:10 says, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The need for ritual atonement is over but we still wrestle with how it all works.

Do we now descend into our daily routines? Do we re-enter the spiritually apathetic weeks on the calendar? I hope we do not. I hope we keep pondering the Gospel. I hope we never tire of asking questions and seeking answers.

Even the disciples left the cross with questions. Faith is a process. May our hearts, just like Cleopas’, burn within us as the Scriptures are opened.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness to the clouds. — Psalm 36.5

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 16 (Listen 5:36
Acts 12 (Listen 3:49)

Read more about Taking Sin Seriously
Jesus takes sin far more seriously than anyone…sin is deadly serious business to the one who came to die for sins.

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Listen and Change

Scripture Focus: Acts 11.1-2
1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story:…

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” 

Reflection: Listen and Change
By John Tillman

We’ve heard Peter defend himself to the Pentecost crowds when accused of being drunk too early in the morning. We’ve heard Peter defend himself before the Sanhedrin for healing a crippled man. But now we hear Peter defending himself, not to strangers or Romans or the powerful Jewish leaders, but to fellow Jesus followers!

These Jewish Jesus followers were incensed that Peter had eaten with the “uncircumcised.” He had done something that, according to their interpretation of the Bible and of Jesus, was unquestionably wrong.

Sometimes we must defend ourselves from those who should be standing with us. Sometimes those whose beliefs are the closest to ours attack us more often and with more vitriol than atheists or adherents to other faith systems. However, Peter’s confrontation doesn’t drag on forever like endless Christian-on-Christian attacks on Twitter.

First, Peter explained himself. But then, two things happened that rarely seem to happen today. First, the confronting parties listened to what Peter said. Then they changed their opinion about what he had done.

We can’t get too idealistic about the New Testament church. They were learning how to be the church following Jesus’ ascension. Many things went wrong. Like us, they had scandals, squabbles, and horrible errors. Church history after the canon of scripture includes even greater fights, arguments, and power struggles. There are heresies, councils, ex-communications, and according to tradition, at least one famous punch/slap thrown by Saint Nicolas.

The New Testament church had many of the same problems we do but they did at least one thing better than us by far. They listened to one another and changed. The apostles listened to the neglected Greek widows. And they changed. They listened to Barnabus about Saul. And they changed. The Jerusalem church listened to Peter about the Gentiles. And they changed. Peter listened to Paul when challenged about slipping back into hypocrisy. And he changed.

When was the last time you listened to a brother or sister in Christ…and you changed? I don’t mean abandoning the gospel or losing trust in the scriptures or compromising biblical principles… When have you listened and turned away from an idol? When have you changed your treatment of others? When have you apologized and made amends? When have you repented? When have you admitted you were wrong?

May we, when confronted with truth, be willing to listen and to change.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 15 (Listen 4:59
Acts 11 (Listen 3:59)

Read more about Cultivation Means Tending
Cultivation begins with destruction, but continues with tenderness and care…cultivated ground…is carefully controlled.


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Knocking on Heaven’s Door

Scripture Focus: Acts 10.36-43
36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” 

Reflection: Knocking on Heaven’s Door
By John Tillman

The time of Cornelius’ afternoon prayer and vision is the same time that devout Jews prayed. During his regular practice of prayer, God’s message came to Cornelius.

Even though he was a Yahweh worshiper, Cornelius would only have been allowed into the outer court of the Temple to pray. However, his acts of generosity to the poor and his devotion to prayer were better than the offerings of goats or bulls he might have made. Cornelius knocked and Heaven’s door opened. (Luke 11.9)

Peter would also have been in prayer and meditation when he was confronted by a vision in which God began to chip out of Peter’s heart the prejudices he held against non-Jews and the favoritism he held for his own race. God is still working in our hearts today to shatter favoritism and prejudice.

Tucked into Peter’s meeting with Cornelius is a tidy summary of the gospel that would be easy to overlook. We already heard Peter preach to faithful Jews. We heard him speak before the Sanhedrin. We heard him speak in the Temple. But now, Peter explains the gospel to an outsider…to a Roman Centurion.

Peter assumes Cornelius is aware of most of Jesus’ ministry, saying “You know what has happened…” Even an outsider like Cornelius would have heard of healings, rumors of rebellion, rumblings of riots, and the scandal of Jesus’ execution. More than that, Cornelius knew what it meant for someone to be killed on a cross.

It is important for us to remember that nearly everything that happened to Jesus happened in public. His teaching, miracles, fame, conflict with authorities, and death would all have been public knowledge and, in many cases, public record. What Cornelius needed, and what our unbelieving friends need today, is to hear the testimony that Jesus’ death wasn’t the end. All the evidence Cornelius needed was standing in his home, telling him that Jesus was alive.

Cornelius and Peter found the truth and freedom from sin by seeking God through prayer. Their prayers were invaded by the Holy Spirit. When has the Holy Spirit invaded your prayers to confront you? To call you to reach out? To tell you “there’s more.”

The key to evangelism is not better strategies. It’s prayer. The key to sanctification is not working harder. It’s prayer. If we are purposeful and consistent in prayer, when we knock, doors for the gospel will be opened.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again!
– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 14 (Listen 8:11
Acts 10 (Listen 5:49)

Read more about A Mutual Conversion
The conversion of Cornelius and company…God’s impartial love for all humanity impacted Peter…it also compels us as well.

Read more about Putting To Death Racial Hostility
The wellspring of the concept of racial equality is the cross of Christ.