It’s only the second day of Lent and already, I’m wondering how to get through the day without my sugar hack. I’ve been hooked on sugar since I slobbered all over my first candy egg on my first birthday: Easter, 1959. I was practically predestined to love it.
If an idol is anything I go to for sweetness apart from God, then sugar is my shrine of choice. Giving it up for Lent sounded good yesterday. Today it sounds ridiculous.
This is something of the trouble God talks about in Leviticus 26.
God ends this book of his laws with a chapter about what his blessings for obedience and his cursing for disobedience will look like. The horrors he describes for disobedience rattle-up what happened in the holocaust, but even that didn’t include the worst of what’s described here.
In Jeremiah the prophet’s day, after generations of disobedience and idolatry some 850 years later, parent’s ate their own children to survive the siege laid by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, just as God’s said they would.
In fact, everything awful described here in Leviticus 26 comes true for God’s people when they turn away from him and take up with local idol worshippers. Which is ironic, since this chapter begins with these express words, “Don’t make idols for yourselves…that you can bow down to and worship. I am God, your God,” 26:1. You’d think they’d have listened.
So much for the bad news. What’s the good?
God promises that if they live by his commands, he’ll give them rains in their seasons and plenty of food. He’ll make their land “safe and secure.” They’ll sleep at night in peace. He’ll get rid of wild beasts and eliminate war. What’s more, God will move into their neighborhood and stroll through their streets. He’ll be their God who rescues and saves them so they can be free, 26:11-13.
Who doesn’t want a scenario straight out of Mayberry RFD? And who wouldn’t trade whatever it takes to have this same guarantee today?
God hasn’t changed. His word endures. What he wants from us is the same now as it’s always been: Our first and best love. Our trust. Our doing what he says, regardless of what we think is better.
“No other idols” means no other loves before him, no things we love more than him, like money or sex or drink or relationships…or sugar. Him first. Him foremost. Loving him with all we are before everything else. This is what he says in verse 1.
And the next command in verse 2 is about keeping the Sabbath.
Laying down our work. Setting ourselves free. Letting go of the world and grabbing hold of real life—time with him, time with family and friends, time in worship, time in play, time in rest. Long drinks of nothing-to-do-but-be time. One whole day, every single week.
God commands Sabbath-keeping because it honors him, and it’s good for me. Taking a day off says God is God; he’s running my universe. I can relax and put up my feet. I can depend on him to take care of everything while I check out and recharge. Wouldn’t you know, all of God’s commands are like this—they honor him; they give life to me.
God’s always about the win-win.
These two aren’t the only commands in the book of Leviticus, but here at the end, when he’s wrapping things up and letting them know the bottom line for how to get their best life, he pulls these two out of the pile and says, keep these and you keep all the rest: Have no greater loves. Take a day off with me.
Next, God tells them what to do if they mess up and want a restart. If they repent and turn, he’ll take them back, 26:40-42.
The story of God’s people going hog-wild against him can be traced throughout history, from way back then until right this minute. Plenty of us have lost our way, turned our backs on him, denied our faith. I’ve done all three.
But God doesn’t let us get away from him. Not completely. He keeps his side of the love covenant he made with us, even when we don’t keep ours. He seeks and saves. He redeems. He went all the way to hell and back to make us his. He chases us down every crooked path. He even turns against us if that’s what it takes to get our attention, 26:18.
God is never done with us unless we choose in defiance to be done with him. He always invites us to return. He doesn’t force us to come. And because of Jesus, the door is always open and the light is always on.
All of this begs questions: why does God bother? Why does he keep putting himself out there? Why doesn’t he content himself with making new galaxies and species and riding clouds in the heavens with his cherubim? Why does he humble himself so thoroughly by having relationships with us, his creatures, who by comparison have as much power as ants, as much majesty as dirt. And even more humbling: why does he allow us to reject him?
I don’t get it.
Except for this: he loves us.
Because God is love, he can’t turn off love and disconnect. He’d just as easily stop being holy or pure light or almighty. He can’t not be who he is: God. Love. Goodness.
It hurts to keep offering relationship to someone who stiff arms and despises us. It’s hard to remain soft-hearted and open when a soft-hearted openness isn’t cherished. But God does this for us.
He doesn’t beg or whine. He gives us plenty of room. He lets us take our time. And when we finally come, whether for the first time or returning, he doesn’t scold or ask questions. He doesn’t control and take away the cell phone or credit card.
What God does do is astonishing. He celebrates. God is a party animal, and he’s nuts about his kids. When we turn to him, before we even get all the way home, he runs to meet us and “puts on the dog” (that’s southern for “goes all out”) and plans a cookout. See Luke 15.
All this blessing, simply for loving him best and hanging out?
I don’t understand this kind of parenting, but I sure need this kind of love. Knowing that God wants me to come home this much makes coming home after an uh-oh a lot easier.
God, keep me mindful that the best life isn’t being first and beating everybody else. It’s celebrating life with you.
Psalm 46 tells me more about celebrating with God.
“God is our safe place to hide.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,” verse 1, MSG.
How can we stand there and be fearless?
Because God fights for us. God protects us. He’s the one who “breaks all the weapons across his knee” and “bans war from pole to pole,” 7-9, MSG. We’re fearless because God’s with us, he’s for us, he’s in charge of his universe.
Putin has no power that God hasn’t allowed him. God is the one to fear, not any man. These are encouraging words to read and believe for any day, but especially for today.
From Leviticus 26, I learn that God promises blessings for obedience, but he doesn’t give up on me when I blow it. He gives me a way to come back to him, time after time, through repentance.
From Psalm 45, I learn that God deals with the bad guys and that I can run to him as my hiding place anytime I need him, fearless because he’s large and in charge and running his world.
How will I respond to such good news?
The psalmist says by celebrating.
“Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me!” Splash in his fountains. Enjoy his presence. Savor the safety. Relish the relief, 4-6, 10, MSG. Suddenly sugar as a life hack seems silly.
Thank you, God, that even when the political climate is unstable and uncertain, the water is fine and the air is clear where you are. It’s always worth the climb to come to your safehouse to hangout.
You are my best life.
“River fountains splash joy,
cooling God’s city,
this sacred haunt of the Most High.
God lives here, the streets are safe,
God at your service from crack of dawn.
“Godless nations rant and rave,
kings and kingdoms threaten, but Earth does anything he says…
“Step out of the traffic!
Take a long, loving look at me,
your High God,
above politics, above everything,” 4-6, 10, MSG.