Be Different

Leviticus 11-12

According to Leviticus 11, there are plenty of animals that are forbidden for God’s people to eat: pigs, rabbits, and bats are all in this list (who would want to eat a bat anyways?), along with plenty of other animals. However, if you are like me, you enjoy a side a bacon with your eggs in the morning, or enjoy a nice, grilled pork chop for dinner. For those of you who are concerned about breaking God’s food laws today, I will encourage you to look at Mark 7:19 and Acts 10, where these commands are no longer applicable for God’s people (Christians).

However, beneath the surface of these food laws is an important concept that does still apply to us today. The reason God gave these laws for His people is put simply in Leviticus 11:44: “For I am YHWH your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” The whole point of these food laws, and others in Leviticus, is to be holy for God. The word “holy” simply means “separate” or “different”, as God wanted His people to look, live, and behave differently than the rest of the sinful world that they found themselves in. Of course, this obligation to “be holy” still applies to Christians today (see Matthew 5:48).

What does it mean for Christians to be “holy” in 2021? At a simple level, it means that we follow God’s commands that were given through Jesus Christ, even when nobody else does. Specifically, it means that we do not pursue the sinful decisions and pride that we find all around us. Christians cannot sinfully enjoy the same things that the non-believing world does, like pornography, homosexuality, sex before marriage, drunkenness, drug abuse, gluttony, or any other form of behavior that goes against the commands in the Bible. Put simply, Christians must look, live, and behave differently than the rest of the sinful world that we find ourselves in. Although there is forgiveness when we fail in any sinful area, we cannot ignore the fact that it is sinful; we must seek repentance. You may face verbal or physical abuse, lose friends, or other forms of persecution for living differently, but our obligation is to please God and Jesus Christ above all else; that is the only thing that matters to Christians.

Fellow Christians, we need to stand out as a light in this world (Matthew 5:14), being different than everybody else. We can do this by pursuing holiness and purity, serving the poorest in our communities, and sharing the gospel message with those we love. We have our instructions: we need to be faithful to God and Jesus Christ in everything that we do. Let’s be holy; let’s be different.

-Talon Paul

Links to today’s Bible reading – Leviticus 11-12 and Psalm 18

Contrary to His Command

Leviticus 9-10

After all the instructions that God gave to the priests, and after all the preparations were in place, now the priests at the Tabernacle can finally begin their work of atoning for Israel’s sins! Chapters 9 and 10 of Leviticus are monumental and we should not miss this; this is where the rubber meets the road as the priests are finally going to act on their instructions… and it doesn’t go well from the start. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, carelessly neglected to follow all the specific commands of God and were punished with death. It is an obscure and confusing passage, but overall, the story carries the same meaning: punishment comes from not following God’s clear instruction.

If we can say anything about Leviticus, it is detail-oriented; there was no room for the priests to make up their own minds about how to perform sacrifices. God was very specific and very clear about what He wanted to be done. The same is true for us: God is not a god of confusion, but of clarity and precise direction (1 Corinthians 14:33). He has specifically told us what He wants us to do as Christians in the New Testament through Jesus Christ; to stray away from His command brings relational and spiritual death, where we suffer to recover from our mistakes (Romans 6:22-23).

There are two challenges for all of us in the New Testament, and they are quite clear and precise. The first is to read Jesus’ words daily; you cannot possibly follow his commands if you don’t know what they are. The second challenge is to put his teaching into practice; it does us no good to simply know something, but instead, we must act upon it (James 2:14-17). Jesus tells us specifically that if we do not listen and act upon his teachings, then we are building our lives on sand instead of solid ground, giving us no foundation or stability (Matthew 7:24-27).

Let’s do better than Nadab and Abihu. Let’s follow God’s clear commands, revealed through Jesus Christ, and see the difference that it can make in our lives and the lives of others. It is not complicated; God is specific about what we are supposed to do.

-Talon Paul

Links to today’s Bible reading – Leviticus 9-10 and Psalm 15-17

Fellow Priests of God

Leviticus 7-8

If you have been following along with the reading through Leviticus so far, things are getting pretty intense, as we learn descriptions about the specific ways that animals are butchered, what to do with their blood, and their fat being burned up; hopefully you’ve had a strong stomach for this section. Although most of us have probably breezed through this section in order to move forward from the apparent horror scene that has been painted, there is a relevant message for us in the midst of it all, and it deals with the priests. All of chapter eight is dedicated to preparing the priests for their work of service in the Tabernacle, getting them ready to minister to God and on behalf of God’s people.

If you have ever had a job or career before, you understand that there is a period of preparation that you must go through. When I worked at Burger King in college, we had one week of video training modules that we had to complete before we even touched a food preparation station. If even Burger King requires this period of preparation for the job, how much more for those who are going to act as priests and mediators for God and God’s people? Relating this back to today, how much more do those who are leading God’s people in churches need to spend time in preparation? Just as Aaron and his sons had to spend time in ritual planning and preparation, so too must Christians who are serving in various ways in individual churches.

1 Peter 2:9 states that Christians are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for God’s own possession.” This is a passage that sparked the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s, as the late Martin Luther began teaching that all Christians are entrusted with God’s Holy Spirit, God’s message for humanity, and God’s grace, not just the officials of the church. If we are called “priests” now, that means that we have work to do in preparing ourselves for service to God also. We are not called to just accept God’s forgiveness and sit around; we are called to use the gift of God’s Spirit to bring about real change in other people’s lives (see 1 Corinthians 12).

Fellow Christian, the challenge for us today is three-fold. We must first understand what Jesus has done for us in his death and resurrection, truly having faith in his work. Secondly, we need to figure out how God has blessed us to serve others with His Spirit; you must have a solid grasp of what gifts God has given you. Finally, we need to do the necessary preparation work to be fully useful to our God, by getting trained in the ways God has called us. Whether you are pastoring a church, singing worship music on Sundays, evangelizing in the streets, serving food in the homeless shelter, or any other form of service to God, we all must prepare ourselves for that service. Fellow priests of God, let us prepare ourselves today and thank God for the opportunity.

-Talon Paul

Links to today’s Bible reading – Leviticus 7-8 and Psalm 12-14

Rich and Poor

Leviticus 5-6

One thing that absolutely amazes me about God is that He desires that everyone would turn to Him and be saved (Ezekiel 18:23; 1 Timothy 2:4-5). Although we know that not everyone will make this decision, this is a description of God’s heart; He earnestly wants all of us to join Him in the Kingdom of God! Since we know this to be true, it makes sense that God would provide a way for anyone to come and have their sins wiped clean, regardless of their circumstances. Within the descriptions of the sacrifices in Leviticus 5-6, we find that God does not only look out for the rich, but also for those who are poor and are struggling. God does not favor those who make more money, but provides for everybody, regardless of their wealth.

In describing the guilt offering in Leviticus 5, God commands that a lamb or goat be offered to Him to cover whatever sin that the person is guilty of (Leviticus 5:6). However, the next few verses are revealing of God’s nature and heart; if they cannot afford a lamb or goat (which were expensive in their time), there are other ways of offering the sacrifice to be forgiven. Even the poorest individual, who can only afford a small amount of flour (Leviticus 5:11) has the opportunity to be forgiven and come into God’s presence to be cleansed.

There are two revealing truths within these chapters of Leviticus. The first is that God does not favor the rich, but looks out for the poor as well. This truth is continued in the New Testament, even declaring that it is the poor who will inherit the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:3; James 2:5). Those who do not have much to offer are still able to come before the throne of God, through the sacrifices back then and through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ now. In fact, Jesus teaches that those who sacrifice when they have little are giving more than those who have much, but choose to give little (Luke 21:1-4).

The second lesson is for those who are rich; you are expected to sacrifice more. Jesus stated that “everyone who has been given much, much will be required…” (Luke 12:48) God has entrusted you with more resources, but not just for your own benefit. You are expected to sacrifice more for God, which means giving more to those who are in need today (Matthew 25:31-40; Ephesians 4:28). You must also not think more highly of yourself, simply because you have more money than others. God does not look at financial well-being as a sign of blessing, since the poor will inherit the Kingdom of God (James 2:5), but is simply a means for you to test your faith. What are you doing with your vast resources?

Every believer is expected to sacrifice something, whether great or small. What are you willing to sacrifice to follow Jesus Christ fully, and what is holding you back?

-Talon Paul

Links to today’s Bible reading – Leviticus 5-6 and Psalm 10-11

Confessing & Confronting

Leviticus 3-4

Yesterday, we looked at the seriousness of sin and the reason why the Israelites were expected to offer sacrifices for those sins. Before we continue on, I want to offer some helpful advice for reading the first few chapters of this book, so that you don’t become overwhelmed. There are only five sacrifices listed here: the burnt offering (ch. 1), the grain/cereal offering (ch. 2), the peace/fellowship offering (ch. 3), the sin offering (ch. 4-5), and the guilt offering (ch. 5-6). Each of these sacrifices are included for different purposes, not always for sin, and all of them have their own process of being offered. Usually a good study Bible will point this out, but just in case you don’t have one, I wanted to offer this to help you along the way.

Have you ever considered how your sins have affected someone else, whether in your family or in your church? When you act out in a sinful way, you are not only affecting yourself, but are infecting the entire community that you are involved in. Leviticus is very strong in chapter 4 on this point, and calls out the leaders and the congregation in the same breath. For those leading churches, homes, or any other area of life, you are responsible for those whom God has put under your care, and when you sin, you are affecting everyone. In Leviticus 4:3, it states that when the anointed priest (i.e. the leader) sins, he brings guilt on the entire congregation. What a responsibility! Maybe that is why the New Testament is so strong on the moral qualifications of those who want to be leaders in the church (see 1 Timothy 3).

It is not just the leader who affects the whole congregation, but the people that are being led also. Leviticus 4:13-21 discusses how the whole congregation is responsible for the sin that takes place within their midst. This truth still carries on today; whatever you do in sin affects those within your community. From “minor” sins like lying and gossipping, to “major” sins like being sexually immoral; these all have results and those results are deadly. The whole congregation of people has an obligation to confront the sin in their midst (in a loving way) and remove that practice from their group (see 1 Corinthians 5).

Church, we need to do better about both confessing sin and confronting it within our midst. When we allow sin to continue unchecked in our churches and homes, we are allowing a deadly cancer to affect everyone within. Leaders, you are responsible for making sure that the people you are leading are taken care of and being as holy as possible for God’s presence. Those of you who are being led, you have a responsibility for keeping your leaders accountable and for doing everything you can to personally confess and deal with your sin. We can all improve in this area, as difficult and awkward as it can be to admit to our faults. However, there is much peace and healing that comes from confessing and confronting the sins in our lives (James 5:16).

-Talon Paul

Links to today’s Bible reading – Leviticus 3-4 and Psalm 7-9

A Way was Made

Leviticus 1-2

At the end of Exodus, after the Tabernacle has been finally built, God’s glory comes to rest in it, but Moses is unable to enter (Exodus 40:35). However, at the beginning of the next book, Numbers, Moses is speaking with God in the Tabernacle (Numbers 1:1). This middle book, Leviticus, is the explanation about what is necessary to come into God’s presence and enjoy His fellowship. Since God is so holy and separate from us, there are things that we are expected to do in order to come into His presence. Thankfully, out of His love, mercy, and desire to be with us, God provided a way for us to come before Him, both for the Israelites back then and for Christians today.

Immediately in Leviticus 1 and 2, we find descriptions of different animal sacrifices and what is necessary to perform certain rituals in God’s presence. Since we don’t have a Tabernacle or Temple to worship in, and we don’t perform animal sacrifices anymore, how is this really relevant for us?

In Leviticus 1:4, we are told that these animals are dying in the place of the person who is offering it to God. The truth of these sacrifices is simple: sin is serious and deserves death. Whenever you do something that is contrary to God’s laws, both minor and major, it is offensive to the One who gave you life in the first place, and we deserve death for it. The mantra of our age that “everyone is naturally good in their own way” is simply not true; we are all broken, sinful, and corrupt human beings in need of God’s saving grace. For the Israelites back then, the answer to the problem was an animal sacrifice to cover their offense against God; for us today, it is the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ that is sufficient.

The New Testament continues the teaching that sin is serious, offensive to God, and deserves death: “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a) We cannot forget the seriousness of our situation, because when we do, we lose the power of the gospel. The good news for us is that we don’t have to die for the things that we did; Jesus died in our place, like the animal sacrifices in Leviticus. “… but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b) The sacrifice of Jesus was sufficient to cover over every sin that we have ever committed or will commit (Hebrews 10:10). We need to thank God for providing a way out for our sinfulness, both in Leviticus and today through Jesus Christ. Through this sacrifice, we can enter the presence of God and enjoy fellowship with our heavenly Father (Hebrews 4:16).

-Talon Paul

Links to today’s Bible reading – Leviticus 1-2 and Psalm 4-6

Delighting in the Law of the Lord

Psalm 1

For most people, these next two weeks are the most difficult to continue doing your Bible reading plan. These next two weeks deal with the book of Leviticus, which is chock-full of descriptions of sacrifices and offerings that seemingly no longer apply to us today, and many people wind up either skipping it or quitting their Bible reading plan altogether. However, my goal this week in these devotions is to hopefully build your appreciation for this crucial book in the story of Israel’s history and what it can possibly mean for us. This is one of my favorite books in the Bible, possibly because I’m either just weird or like to research things that other people don’t. I do want to give a brief shout-out to Professor Bob Jones at ABC for developing my appreciation for this book; if you want to get excited about the Old Testament, go speak with him and you will never be the same again.

Before we dive into this difficult book, I want to tap into Psalm 1 for this week. The psalmist states that there are two different kinds of people: those who are wicked and sinful, and those who delight in and meditate on the law (Torah) of YHWH. God doesn’t judge people by race, gender, or nationality, but on their devotion to Him and His laws. The psalmist states that God protects those who love His laws and causes them to prosper; however, those who reject His commands are already condemned and are on their way to destruction. Which group of people do you want to be a part of?

What the psalmist is referring to as “the law of YHWH” are the commands found in the first five books of the Bible, otherwise known as the Torah, or Books of Moses. I want you to notice that one of the books that is included there is Leviticus; we are supposed to delight in and meditate on Leviticus! Unfortunately, this book has a bad reputation in our culture today, as it speaks out specifically against all types of sins that people love to enjoy. However, it is a powerful testimony of the love, patience, and mercy of God in the midst of our struggles, and a clear reminder of the ways that we are supposed to live.

My hope and prayer is that you will be as excited about Leviticus as the psalmist was and as I am. There is so much information found in there that is still relevant to us; it just needs to be carefully dug out and discussed. Let’s look forward to this book and try to find God’s voice in it!

-Talon Paul

Links to today’s Bible reading – Exodus 39-40 and Psalm 1-3

Accepting Adversity

Job Chapters 1-5

job 2 10

Job is considered a book of wisdom literature, and it speaks to us today as much as it did thousands of years ago, bringing us great wisdom in our hardest moments. Job was placed under a pressure test of faith, one which many of us can empathize with. In a test of faith, Job lost his home, his income, his children, and suffered from physical ailments. The only thing that Job had left was a wife who told him to “curse God and die” – hardly a blessing to him. Job goes through a roller-coaster of emotions after this, at some points blessing God for his predicament, and at others, challenging God’s goodness. Job’s “friends” try to assist him and give him an answer for why these things have happened to him, but are not helpful in the slightest.

 

Many of us can relate to Job’s predicament. If you have ever lost a loved one, it is very easy to blame God for “taking” them. Through times of severe illness, one wonders where God is and what He is doing to help me. When someone goes through a time of serious financial crisis, it is difficult to see God’s provision through the struggle. However, as we read through the story of Job, we become encouraged that God hasn’t gone anywhere; sometimes difficult situations are used to test our faith in God, making us stronger than ever.

 

You may be going through a difficult situation right now, for which there may be no answer. If you aren’t going through a situation like this currently, you will go through one eventually. It is important to remember that our situations and struggles do not define us, and they do not define God’s character. God is good all the time, even through the most difficult times of life. We are also still valuable in His sight, and have not gone unnoticed, through our struggles. Jesus encourages us that we are the most valuable creation that God has made, and that “every hair of our head is numbered.” (Matthew 10:29-31)

 

I wish to challenge you today to consider your challenges as a joy, since God is testing your faith in Him, making you stronger (see James 1:2-4). Through every struggle, you will eventually make it through to the other side. God has not abandoned you in your hurt and suffering, but is waiting on you to call out to Him. It is okay to be upset and not understand what is happening, but we must never lose our faith in the Creator. He is perfect, even when we cannot see it.

 

Talon Paul

 

You can read or listen to today’s passage at  – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job+1-5&version=NIV

Most scholars believe the book of Job was written in very early history – so we will pause with our reading of Genesis and spend the next 12 days in Job, and then return to Genesis. You can consult or print the yearly chronological Bible reading plan here 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

James 1 12

The Struggle with Sin Continues

January 3 – Genesis 8-11 

Genesis 9 20 NIV.png

Genesis 8-11 is a story of great hope and promise, and also a tragedy that reminds us all of our brokenness before God. After the great flood that God brought on the earth to remove all the sinful people, He is now ready to start over with Noah and his family. God gives them the same commands that He gave to Adam and Eve: “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (9:1) The story appears to have taken care of humanity’s disobedience; unfortunately, that’s not the case. Noah apparently is just as sinful as everybody else, falling into a drunken stupor, and then something suspicious happens with his son, Ham. While we don’t know exactly what happened in this scene, we do know that it was sinful, as Ham’s son is cursed because of what took place.

 

This story should remind us all of just how broken we truly are. Although we have been redeemed by God through Jesus’ sacrifice and have escaped from the Final Destruction through his death, we still fall short and sin against our God. (Romans 3:23) The apostle Paul tells us his own struggle with sin, by stating that “I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15) He continues and says that, although his status is “in Christ”, his body still struggles to do the right things and falls into sin (Romans 7:18-25).

 

If you have accepted Christ, you are now experiencing a tension within yourself: the battle between the Spirit and the flesh (see Romans 8). Although you know that you have been saved by Jesus Christ, and desire to do the right thing, your “flesh” still struggles with sin. This is a constant struggle that we will face until Jesus comes back to finally deal with sin completely, in our hearts and in the world. This is a struggle that is painful and reminds us daily that “no one is righteous” before God (see Romans 3:9-12). However, it is a blessing, since God’s Spirit is working within us to clean up the areas where we are still dirty with sin.

 

Today, I challenge you to be aware of the decisions that you make. Is this something that is in line with God’s Spirit, or is it something that would be considered a “deed of the flesh”? (Galatians 5:16-25) Does the action I am about to take bring life or death? Does it build others up, or does it tear them down? Is it beneficial to my faith, or is it a barrier?

 

As you struggle along this journey of the Christian path, I want to encourage you that the hardship is absolutely worth it in the end! God loves you and is with you through this!

 

Talon Paul

 

 

Print your yearly reading plan here –  2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Read, or listen, to today’s passage here – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+8-11&version=NIV

Believing the Lies

January 1 – Genesis 1-3

Genesis 3 4 (NIV)

The opening chapters of Genesis play out like a graphic novel, presenting us with the dream scenario where the world is perfect, God is dwelling among His creation, and human beings are in perfect relationship with each other and their Creator. Unfortunately, the scene does not last very long, as the human beings forget their Creator and disobey, bringing an end to God’s perfect world. They start to blame each other, are ashamed of the way that they look, and are separated from God’s presence. It is a terrible tragedy, but one that we still experience today.

 

At the very core of this story, and the reason that the humans disobeyed God, is because they believed a lie rather than the truth of their Creator. The serpent in the garden promised the humans that if they ate of the forbidden fruit, that they would “be like God, knowing good and evil.” What is tragic about this story is that the humans are already like God, being made in His image (1:26-28)! They did not believe the words spoken by their Creator, and instead, let the lies spoken by the serpent define and destroy them.

 

Unfortunately, this isn’t just a story of the past, but a daily struggle that every human being faces today. The teenage boy is told that he isn’t worth anything because he failed to perform well at a sporting event. The young girl is told that she is ugly because she doesn’t match what the pictures show in the magazines. The elderly man is told that he is no longer useful since he can’t operate the same way as he could in his youth. The barren woman is told that she has no purpose because she struggles to bear children in this world. And the list continues to go on and on…

 

These are all lies that the serpent still tells God’s creation, in order to drive them into despair and death (see John 10:10). We see and feel this on a daily basis; we all buy into the lies of the serpent, forgetting the truths that God pronounces over each of us. Scripture tells us that God loves us (John 3:16), that He has plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11), that we are chosen in Christ (Ephesians 1:4), that we are forgiven of our sins in Jesus (Romans 8:1), and that God made each and every one of us in a very special, personal way (Psalm 139:13-14).

 

Today, I want to encourage you to listen to the truths of your Father and forget the lies you’ve been told. You are valuable. You are precious. You are loved. You belong to Him. God cares deeply for you, and wants you to come into a real relationship with Him like our ancestors had in the Garden of Eden. Come before Him through the blood of Jesus and rest, knowing that your Creator tells you the truth.

 

Talon Paul

 

Day 1 of the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

Here’s a link to BibleGateway.com where you can read, or listen to, today’s passage:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1-3&version=NIV