‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Is the Lord God Almighty’

Nadab and Abihu

In the latter pages of Exodus and the first chapters of Leviticus, God gives the Ten Commandments, appears to Moses in such glory that his face shines, commissions the construction of the tabernacle and then appears in a cloud of glory within it, institutes the offerings by which Israel will worship him, and establishes the Aaronic priesthood to mediate between himself and the people.

Then two of Aaron’s sons offer “strange fire” before the Lord and are consumed in a fiery judgment.

Leviticus 10 comes as a shocking jolt to us today, coming as it does on the heels of God’s covenant promises and establishment of the institutions which would allow his people to dwell with him. We see the law, the tabernacle, the sacrifices and the priesthood—and then sudden, fiery death. Imagine how much more appalling it would have been to the people of Israel themselves, as they were jarringly reminded that it was not safe to take their God lightly.

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A practical guide to abiding

The blueprint for a strong faith and a fruitful life is not complicated. It is sometimes difficult, yes, but not complicated. Jesus told his followers, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

A fruitful Christian life means abiding in Christ. But perhaps “abide” is not immediately enlightening. What does it mean to abide in Jesus? For many of us, I imagine “abide in me” sounds like a vague call for Christ-directed mindfulness or something similarly amorphous. In fact, though, Jesus himself explained in very concrete, practical terms what it means to abide in him, both in John 15 and elsewhere in Scripture.

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First, be righteous

Given the state of our country, it is probably no surprise that reform and revival have been on my mind lately. I’ve been studying through a few Old Testament prophets and was reminded of the urgency of repentance, as well as how quickly God restores and forgives when we ask. His promise to Jeremiah is particularly encouraging: “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it” (Jer. 18:7-8). It is never too late to turn back.

Being a Christ-follower in a fallen world means we are in a similar place to those Old Testament prophets, calling out to the lost and rebellious to turn and repent. That being the case, it behooves us to prayerfully consider how reformation happens, at least on the human end of things. I fear we may be handicapped by a mistaken blueprint of what true revival looks like and how it begins.

Any attempted reformation–whether of a nation or a marriage or anything in between–which sees itself first and foremost as a project to get other people to behave differently is almost certainly doomed to produce little but frustration and exhaustion. We must think of reformation less as a matter of reorganizing or clarifying and more like a kind of good virus. We need carriers, not captains.

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What Uzzah can teach us about religious exclusivism

One of the most important mindsets we can cultivate as Christians is the ability to see the full picture. The world loves to highlight some little part of what the Bible teaches and shout, “Hey, this is wrong and ugly!” Sometimes it even looks like they’re right, but that’s because we aren’t seeing the whole picture. If I tell you that a man hit a little kid, that sounds cruel and wicked–unless you know the child was choking and the man was pounding her back to clear an airway. It is easy to misunderstand a little snippet of a larger scene, and it is especially easy to do that with the Bible, because it is a huge book that is full of stories and teachings which sometimes make no sense until we step back and look at the full picture.

Today I want to consider two things the Bible tells us which look unpleasant by themselves but which make much more sense, and even combine into something beautiful, when we view them together.

The first piece is the strange story of Uzzah and the ark of the covenant. When King David was bringing the ark back to Jerusalem, II Samuel 6 records,

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Feeling what God feels

As anyone who’s ever been cut off in traffic knows, our emotions aren’t the best guide for our behavior. Whether we’re doubting God’s goodness or struggling to turn the other cheek or fighting the urge to check out the girl in the bikini, the gut-level pull is often in the wrong direction. However, even though feelings shouldn’t point the way when we make our decisions, they can’t be ignored either. Holiness is much easier if it goes with the grain of our emotions rather than against it.

When I’m browsing the web and stumble on a pornographic popup ad, I can choose to close it regardless of what I’m feeling. It’s certainly an easier choice, though, if Christian anger and pity over violated innocence are there to counter the baser emotions the ad is meant to arouse. When my church goes to minister at a local nursing home, I can and should make myself go along even if I struggle to feel anything but revulsion for the unfortunates wasting away, but I’ll do more good if the choice grows out of genuine affection and sympathy. 

Which raises an interesting dilemma, because there’s really nothing I can do to directly change my emotions. A good argument can change my mind and a teeth-gritting choice can shift my will, but, at any particular moment, the best that can be done with my emotions is to overrule them. That’s not to say our emotional composition cannot be changed–it’s just a longer process, more like shaping a bonsai than like turning a steering wheel. And since our emotions are so closely tied up with our moral decision-making, it’s worth thinking about how our feelings can be included in the process of “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.” There are a few things that we can do. 

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Show, don’t tell

Your children badly need to see your faith making your life unpleasant.

You see, real things make demands upon us. A puppy is not the same as a stuffed animal, and even a little child can feel the difference when a play date is cut short to go home and take Fido out for a walk. When my wife was a little girl she had a paper cutout “husband” with whom she played at times, and then at other times she would pack him away in a drawer. That’s not an option with her real husband–I may need to talk, or need dinner, or need a hug, even when she’s tired and out of sorts. Even something as basic as gravity tells us it’s there by restricting what we can do. Real things disrupt your life.

In some parts of the world, Christian children hear their parents telling them God is real by hand-writing copies of the one village Bible, or gathering in hidden rooms to worship, or being carted off to prison or death because they will not deny their Lord. In America, we tell our children God is real by having an Easter egg hunt.

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