"Let all things be done decently and in order." (I Corinthians 14:40)
This morning, my personal Bible devotional reading was from the Book of Leviticus. I know what you're probably thinking: "Leviticus?! How boring!". (A Messianic Jewish friend once got angry with me because on a radio broadcast I made the statement that "Leviticus is boring." She was convinced I had greatly dishonored and disrespected God. That was not at all my intention.) It's true that everything in the Bible is important, and that includes the Book of Leviticus, but it's also true that just sitting and reading through the Book of Leviticus is usually a pretty "dry" experience. I was pleasantly surprised, however, that this morning's reading was not at all boring to me!
The passage I read was Leviticus chapter 17. It's about the right way and the wrong way to offer sacrifices and the right way and the wrong way to kill and eat meat. Again, I know what you're probably thinking: That seems like very irrelevant material, but there's an application and a principle from Leviticus chapter 17 that's actually very relevant. God wanted sacrifices offered in a certain place and in a certain way, and He also wanted the whole matter of killing of animals [to be used for food] done in a certain way. The chapter makes it clear that the matter of the details of offering sacrifices was especially important. Anyone who independently offered a sacrifice- no matter how sincere that person was- would be cut off from the community! Listen, there's a great sermon in this! It goes back to the very early part of the Book of Genesis when Abel's sacrifices were accepted to God and Cain's sacrifices were not accepted. God is very loving, and very caring, and has a wonderful plan for each one of us. But God is not "loosy goosy" in how He operates!
One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to how they approach God is independence. This is particularly difficult for Americans, for we greatly value independence. As a kid, I was one of the few in school who had no trouble spelling "independence". That's because I lived on Independence Street! The street was named for Roger Sherman, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who had spent his childhood in that part of Canton, Massachusetts. There's also a statue at the peak of the Rhode Island State Capitol building of "The Independent Man". We Americans value independence, but when we bring that independent spirit to our experience with God it creates lots of problems!
I think we bristle when we hear that that God wants things done exactly in a certain way, but He does. Perhaps my fellow evangelicals and Pentecostals are thinking, "You tell 'em, Bob; those theologically liberal churches that downplay the Bible and want things their way are 'off the wall'!". What we evangelicals and Pentecostals so easily forget is how independent we often are in our own thinking and behavior! Let's face it, Baptists and Pentecostals are probably more guilty of "church splits" and of starting "independent churches" than are any other Christians!
And, honestly, I don't like to be "told what to do," either! There's a big part of me that wants to be independent...to be independent from other Christians and even to be independent from God when His Word and the conviction of His Spirit makes me feel uncomfortable. And, that's wrong on my part!
Two of the most controversial and provocative pieces I ever posted on this blog are a piece entitled, "Protocol" that I posted on November 26, 2007 and a piece entitled, "Church Protocol" that I posted on June 18, 2009. The former especially sparked anger, and that greatly surprised me. I guess it just illustrates what I'm writing about here- what the Lord really underscored to me from (of all places) Leviticus chapter 17.
I remember an experience I had with a visiting preacher when I was pastoring. I think it was about ten or eleven years ago. He was a guy I'd known many years earlier. The gentleman phoned me, told me he'd be in Massachusetts visiting family during a certain month, and asked me if I'd have him come and speak. He told me frankly that the honorarium he'd receive would help cover the cost of his trip. I was glad to help out and I so booked him to speak. Prior to the service, I told him I usually recommend to guests that they plan to speak for no more than forty-five minutes. I did say that if the Lord was particularly moving upon him in a certain way and he wanted to preach a couple of minutes longer, I would certainly be fine with that. As soon as the guy got into the pulpit, he looked at me and he announced confidently to the congregation that, "The pastor gave me a time limit of forty-five minutes but I want to say right at the outset that I'm going to speak for as long as I want to!"
I hate to admit it, but I don't remember one other thing that he said! He did speak for well over forty-five minutes. He also manifested a completely independent and uncooperative attitude that day. I was polite to him, but I never invited him back.
Listen, this piece is not meant to bash anyone. As I wrote above, I struggle with my own very independent tendencies and I struggle with my own rebellious ways at times. Leviticus chapter 17 really got me thinking this morning. I may have grown up on Independence Street, but I think I can say with assurance that God is not a fan of "Independence Street" thinking!