Phil LeMaster was my minister for years.
He walked many wonderful and many painful roads with our family.
Preached funerals for us no preacher ever wants to preach.
Welcomed each new son we brought into the world after we moved to Kentucky.
And introduced our newly-adopted daughter to the congregation just days after she arrived from India.
He was also with us in the sudden death of our infant daughter.
And right beside us as we walked the road of cancer with Nick.
Then stood behind the pulpit again as our family came to grips with the fact that Nick, too, had been taken from us.
All through these years of highs and lows,
we asked a lot of Phil.
I often sat in his office crying,
trying to sort through my life.
Make sense of my pain.
Phil was a great listener.
But Phil was also a challenger.
Every January he would try to motivate our entire congregation to do one thing.
“Read through the Bible this year,”
he would say.
“It will change your life.”
And every year, I would try.
With the best of intentions,
I would dig in to Genesis in January.
And then plow through Exodus the following month.
Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph –
their stories were captivating.
I could see something of myself in each of them –
when it came to their flaws and God’s grace.
But every year, for many years,
I would get to Leviticus and find myself gagging.
The God of Leviticus never felt like a God of mercy and love.
Words like “slaughter,” “splatter,” “twist,” and “drain,”
associated with animals and their blood,
I’m not a vegetarian,
but Leviticus made me want to be.
So year after year,
I would stop.
Close the Bible.
And pick up a devotional.
I wanted to read about pleasant things like “the fruit of the spirit,”
or “the joy of the Lord.”
The year Nick died, though,
I wasn’t feeling very fruitful or joyful.
I remembered my grief with Adrienne,
and honestly, I was terrified.
I couldn’t slip backward.
Shut myself off.
I had been clinging to Scripture all through his cancer journey,
and deep inside I knew this was the only way I had made it this far.
So when January of 2009 rolled around,
I remembered Phil’s challenge.
“Read through the Bible this year. It will change your life.”
My life needed something.
Two children gone and four others watching how I would handle this reality,
while needing me to help them handle their own reality at the same time,
was more than I could handle alone.
Sadly, I don’t think I did enough for my surviving children in the next couple of years.
I wish I could go back and live that chapter again….
with them and for them.
But I did do one thing I’ll never regret.
And I hope my kids have watched from the distance.
I pushed through Leviticus for the very first time.
And made a vow to do this very same thing every single year until I hug my children who have been taken out of arm’s reach.
So this morning before I even crawled out of bed,
I remembered Leviticus 1 – 4 was waiting for me.
And I remembered this is the year I made a second vow.
To blog through the Bible as I read.
What was I thinking?
It’s one thing to gag in private.
Question God’s way of handling Old Testament sin.
Wonder if the Israelite priests ever got a break from standing at the altar.
I mean, even unintentional sin required the sacrifice of a female goat.
Honestly, wouldn’t every farm animal be extinct today if things hadn’t changed?
So I asked my husband to pray for me.
The last few days I’ve had an awkward feeling as I’ve written.
As if I’m trying too hard to come up with words so I can keep this self-inflicted promise to blog through my Bible reading.
I never want my time with God to feel forced.
I don’t want Him to think I’m asking Him to show up just so I can have something to say.
There’s plenty of people who need His presence much more than I do this morning as I sit in my warm, dry home, listening to the rain falling just outside my window.
Even as I type these words, though, I realize something.
God WANTS to be here even more than I need Him to be.
He wants to be with each of us.
Whether we’re rushing around trying to get kids ready for school,
or sitting by a hospital bed wondering what’s next,
or waking up alone after years of waking up next to someone we loved with all our heart and soul,
God wants to be right here with us.
In our happy moments and our sad.
And maybe the continual sacrificing in the third book of the Bible
was God’s way of keeping a wandering nation aware
of just how much He wanted to be with them too.
The constant smell of burning meat surely spread through the camp
as rolling smoke from the fire was carried through the air.
Every sense was activated as the Israelites faced their shortcomings in the presence of the One who had none.
They had to feel such peace knowing God was right there in the middle of their wilderness.
And even though it had to make them cringe at times,
their imperfections required something in order for Him to stay.
By the time Jesus arrived on the scene,
religious leaders had begun wearing Scripture on their foreheads.
They had also added so many new laws to God’s original commands
that now even healing someone on the wrong day of the week was considered a sin.
God knew it was time.
A sacrifice had to be offered once and for all.
A flawless firstborn bull or sheep wouldn’t do.
Mankind needed more.
They needed a priest, higher than any who had ever lived,
to offer a sacrifice greater than any ever been laid on an altar.
It’s funny though.
In spite of how clear it seems to me this morning,
I don’t think they got it.
They needed a priest and a sacrifice,
but they were longing for a king.
So God did what any loving Father would do in that moment.
He gave them everything they longed for even though it cost Him everything He had.
He gave them His one and only son.
The ultimate sacrifice.
The highest priest.
And the greatest King.
He gave them Jesus.
Sometime I don’t get it either.
He did the very same thing for me.
So this morning,
I started my morning in a different book.
Leviticus was too much too fast.
I turned to Sarah Young’s book Jesus Always.
“Delight yourself in Me, this will draw you irresistibly into communion with me…..I love you with a perfect, everlasting love, and I take great delight in you……I never reject you because the penalty for your sins has been paid in full – with My blood. Trust Me enough to pour out your heart to me, for I am your Refuge.”
(February 20th’s reading)
And God was faithful.
He showed up in the bloody verses of Leviticus, reminding me of the blood He willingly shed.
And for you.
Thank goodness for Hebrews 10 this morning.
I can get ready for work, knowing the Old Testament had a purpose but that purpose has been fulfilled.
Once and for all.
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, my God.’”
First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”
And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,
“In just a little while,
he who is coming will come
and will not delay.”
“But my righteous one will live by faith.
And I take no pleasure
in the one who shrinks back.”
But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed,
but to those who have faith and are saved.”
Today, don’t shrink back from the things the world hurls your way.
He is coming.
If you’ve accepted Him as your Savior,
you’ve already been saved.
And if you haven’t,
why not accept Him today?
If you need to know more about Him,
please reach out to someone.
Or send me an email,
and I’ll help you or find someone near you who can.
I’m thankful this morning for Phil,
a minister who helped me grow closer to the One who still carries me today,
in a season when He felt so far away.
I’m praying you have a Phil in your life, too,
who answers the question,
“Do I really have to read Leviticus?”
with a very calm and loving,