Friday, September 28, 2012

The Calendar That Tells the Future


You might think that I am talking about the Mayan calendar, but would be wrong. J However, if a person wants to enter a world of disorder and bewilderment, one needs to study the development of the modern calendar.  Here is the story, in brief -- in 47 BC, Julius Caesar ordered an astronomer named Sosigenes to straighten out a confused calendar...and he did so with moderate success.  Pope Gregory XIII (1502-85) commissioned the calendar that we use today, which is a revision of the Julian calendar.  When Great Britain and its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, September 3rd became September 14th.  Eleven days disappeared from British history.  As the result, 20 year old George Washington found his birth date moved from February 11th to February 22nd (and I am particularly grateful for this, so that good old George and I can share a birthday).

Yet, today, calendars are a normal part of our daily lives…maybe even more so than ever.  For the Jews under the old covenant, they didn’t really have a calendar…they were content with each day as a gift from God.  God gave Israel a calendar that was tied to the rhythm of the seasons and the history of the nation.  It summarized not only what God had done in the past, but anticipated what God would do for them in the future.  In Leviticus 23, the seven “feasts” as they are called, are not necessarily concerned with “eating,” but are meant simply to be “appointed times.”  These were given by the Lord to His people and they had to faithfully celebrate them.

Weekly Sabbath…God Orders Our Times (23:1-3).
The weekly Sabbath isn’t one of the annual feasts (Exodus 20:8-11), but it is an important day for the Jewish people and they are expected to honor it.  God gives the Sabbath (which means “rest”) to Israel for several reasons.  For one thing, it provides needed rest and refreshment for the people, the animals and the land.  It also reminds the Jews that God is the Creator.  It is a special sign between God and His covenant people.  Other peoples might work on the seventh day, and treat it like any other day, but the Israelites are to rest on the seventh day…and thereby give witness that they belong to the Lord.  Today, believers are not commanded to remember a Sabbath Day (Colossians 2:16-17), but, as I shared in doing a series concerning the Sabbath, it is still very important for us to recognize the spiritual principle and value a time or out of seven rest .

Passover…Christ Died for Our Sins (23:4-5).
The Passover is Israel’s feast commemorating deliverance from Egypt.  The first-born of Israel’s children and animals, were spared by the Destroying Angel if, by faith, those families had the blood of a lamb on their doorposts…but those without the blood, as well as the Egyptians, were not spared.  The lamb is symbolic of Jesus Christ…the substitute…who shed His blood on the cross for a world of lost sinners (that would be us) -- (John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19-20).  The Passover Lamb has to be spotless…perfect, just as Jesus was perfect – he had no blemish or sin.  We must trust in Jesus Christ obediently in order to “feast” on Him through His Word (John 6:1ff) and find the strength we need to walk the Christian walk.  Only those who have been purchased by the blood of Jesus are born into God’s family and, therefore, can experience eternal life.

Unleavened Bread…Separation from Sin (23:6-8).
For seven days following the Passover, the Jews eat only unleavened bread with their meals.  They carefully cleanse all of the yeast from their homes.  In many places in Scripture, leaven is equated with sin.  The putting away of leaven illustrates the cleansing of one’s life though grace, faith, the blood, baptism and the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in that order :-).  We must be aware of sin, as it can creep into our lives like leaven.  A little bit of it can begin a wholesale corruption of the inner person.  It is necessary for us to get rid of the “leaven” from our lives…the “old self.”  The leaven of malice, hypocrisy, gossip, worry…and whatever else was our old self...must be cleansed away.  It is the responsibility of Christian leaders to be on guard to help keep lives, the church free from sin.

First Fruits…Christ Is Raised from the Dead (23:9-14). 
The day after the Sabbath that follows the Passover, the priest takes the first sheaf of barley from the field and waves it as an offering before the Lord.  It is a token that the first and the best of crops belong to God, and it is done before Israel reaps the harvest for itself.  It is also an expression of gratitude to the Lord for providing the harvest and supplying daily bread. The Jews do not eat of the harvest until the first fruits have been given to the Lord…it is an old covenant Matthew 6:33 (Seek ye first the kingdom of God…).  Jesus is God’s first fruits of resurrection.  Because Jesus was first raised from the dead, therefore all of those who belong to Him also will be raised from the dead.  We need to make certain that the Lord gets what is best from our lives (as Abel did)…and not that which is not the best, or the leftovers (indicative of Cain).  This can be with regard to our time, possessions, resources….and indicates that seeking Jesus as Lord is a serious matter of priorities.

Pentecost…The Birthday of the Church (23:15-21).
This is also called “the Feast of Weeks”.  It is celebrated seven weeks (7x7+1) after first fruits…therefore, the word “Pentecost” means 50th.  Here the priest waves two loaves of bread…and thirteen different animal sacrifices are offered before the Lord.  All of these are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, the one offering on the cross.  The fulfillment of Pentecost is seen in Acts 2, when 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes and unites believers, Jews and Gentiles (thus the symbolism of the two loaves).  God’s people cannot function properly in this world apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  It is through the Spirit that believers are baptized into the body of Christ and empowered to witness and to serve.

Trumpets…The Calling of God’s people (23:23-25).
The final three feasts were celebrated in the seventh month.  Numbers 10:10 says that the priests are to blow the silver trumpets for three occasions – to call the people together, to announce war, and to announce special appointed times.  The Feast of Trumpets is held on the first day of the seventh month, and it brings in the New Year (Rosh Hashanah).  God gives His people opportunities for new beginnings (thankfully).  Yet, unlike our New Year’s celebrations, the Jews use their New Year’s Day for prayer, meditation and confession -- it is a spiritual renewal time.  The ultimate point to understand concerning trumpets is that one day, all of God’s people will be gathered together at the sound of the final trumpet.  It is a day which we must anticipate.

The Day of Atonement…forgiveness (23:20-32).
I discussed the Day of Atonement in a previous message…but here the emphasis is made concerning people fasting, praying, confessing sin and abstaining from all work.  The key to the Day of Atonement is the covering of the people’s sin – two goats…one sacrificed…and one the (e)scape goat.  This anticipates one future day when their sins would be taken away by Jesus Christ on the cross.  Just as Jesus forgives our sins, so we must live this great grace virtue and forgive others who have offended us.

Tabernacles…the Joy of the Lord (23:33-44).
The Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) reminds Israel of God’s blessings of the past.  God led his people out of Egyptian bondage, cared for them in the wilderness (thus the booths or tabernacles) and brought them to the Promised Land.  This feast is also called “Ingathering,” because it corresponds to the completion of the harvest.  Like Thanksgiving Day in our country, it is a time of feasting, rejoicing and giving thanks to God for His bountiful gifts.  The Feast of Tabernacles also pictures the future kingdom of God when all of His people make the final journey home (Promised Land).  What a glorious time it will be.  Jesus focuses on two traditions during the Feast of Tabernacles -- Living Water (water poured ceremonially, see John 7:38), and Light of the World (lighted candlesticks, see John 8:12)…very important symbols describing the work of the Savior.

As we look at the feasts (appointed times) of long ago, we can see things in common with our own experience.  Themes such as…rest, obedience to Christ and the Word, awareness of and repenting of sin, proper priorities in keeping God first, understanding the work of the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to do so, commitment to renewal, the need for forgiveness, and thankfulness for what God has done and will do one day.  The Old Testament provides for us a calendar that gives us an amazing perspective concerning how we should live as people of the new covenant.  We must apply these virtues to our lives.  When we are seeking to live according to God’s time and plan, He makes a great difference for us…and we are also able to do the same for others.

Blessings, Don

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Flare of Fire


Close-up photos of the sun by the Solar Dynamics Observatory are always stunning to me.  This image makes it appear that the sun is exploding, (which, in all likelihood, it will do someday)...but this eruption of a solar filament, while striking, is not too unusual. 

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jesus' Gifts to Us...Our Gifts to Him


Tim Smith shares Jesus’ day, childhood education started at age five as young boys went to the synagogue school to learn Hebrew and memorize the Torah. By the time of his bar mitzvah at age 13, a typical Jewish young man had memorized all of the Old Testament.  Those who showed great promise were encouraged to continue their education and were further encouraged to extend their training by spending time (ages 17-20) with a rabbi in a multi-year experience.  The student would choose a rabbi and ask to become his student. Because of the great interpretive diversity amongst the rabbis, the decision to ask to be a rabbi’s disciple and receive religious training from him was not made lightly.  Some rabbis interpreted the Scriptures literally. Others focused on the spirit of the Torah, while still other rabbis had different areas of emphasis, like purity laws. These diverse approaches often led to very different interpretations and applications of Scripture pertaining to issues of daily life.  Since a rabbi’s interpretation of God’s Word was forever binding on his disciples, great care had to be taken by the disciple in choosing a rabbi and his teaching to make sure it was something he could identify with and live out for the rest of his life.  As this is what took place with first century rabbis…Jesus is no different, as a “rabbi” or “teacher”.  It was a matter of tradition for the culture of that time.  As Jesus teaches His disciples, it is a critically important matter…and in these last days that Jesus is with his disciples, He wants them to begin to grasp the true matters of spirituality that will shape them forever.

Jesus makes some important connections in John 14 (vv.12-31) that might otherwise seem like important, albeit separate, principles.  Here He talks about prayer, love, obedience, the Holy Spirit, peace, comfort.  If God is going to answer our prayers and give us peace in our hearts, there are certain conditions that we must meet…and these conditions bring blessings.  We say that we are “believers,” but we must also live like we “believe.”  This is the essence of faith, hope and love.  Love and obedience are a part of effective praying and believing.  Our prayers will not have the effect we hope for, if our lives are not characterized by faith and love.  We do not obey the Lord simply because we want our prayers answered…but we do obey because we love Him. And this is not burdensome, as we have made it at times.  Jesus tells us that if we love Him we will keep His commandments, and the thrust of Jesus life and mission are captured in this same overall context (14:21).  “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this…that he lay down his life for his friends” (15:12-13).  And going back a bit, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (13:34-35).  It is interesting to me that I have heard Jesus’ “commands” interpreted as many things over the years, but rarely what Jesus actually says they are…as seen in context.  We are to live out our obedience to our “Rabbi” according to His way.  This is not to say that there are no other matters of importance, but…that they are subservient to Jesus’ primary focus for His people.

What Jesus does understand is that none of this is going to be possible for them (or us) without the help of the Spirit of truth.  The Holy Spirit will guide them and help them to live what it is that they believe.  He is called the Comforter here, which means He literally is “called alongside to assist”…He is our Encourager.  And all of this does not mean that He works instead of us, rather that He works in and through us.  It is the Spirit of God who inspires the Word of God, but who also illuminates the Word of God in our spirits and lives so that we can understand it.  The Spirit of Truth uses the Word of truth to guide us into the will and the work of God (Ephesians 6:17).  If we want the Holy Spirit to be at work in us, then we must seek to glorify Christ, and not ourselves.  The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to believers (Acts 2:38-39, Romans 8:1ff, etc.).  We can be filled with Him if we are living like and for Jesus, but we can also quench His work in our lives, if we are living to please ourselves, the flesh.  The Spirit doesn’t directly tell us what to do, because the Lord did not make us robots…but, He does guide us indirectly if we are willing to listen to His “still, small voice.”  This will not necessarily happen easily…if we are too busy to slow down, and stop to listen to His leading, we may not “hear” Him.  The Spirit works out the will of the Father in our lives and we become more like our “Rabbi”, our “Teacher”, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And we will bear good, spiritual fruit for the Lord.  One of these fruit is “peace.”  We do not have to be concerned about the worries and cares of this world if we have the Spirit’s peace in our own spirits.  The opposite of peace is worry, strife, and discontentment.  It seems like many people, including many believers, seem to experience these characteristics in their lives much more so than “peace.”  But, if we truly strive to be living faithfully, productively as Jesus’ people…being ”faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10)…growing and producing fruit, then we will be blessed, and He will come again one day to take us home to be with Him (14:1ff, v.19).

Dr. Neil Anderson tells this story...a young pilot had just passed the point of no return when the weather changed for the worse. Visibility dropped to a matter of feet as fog descended to the earth. Putting total trust in the cockpit instruments was a new experience to him, for the ink was still wet on the certificate verifying that he was qualified for instrument flying.  The landing worried him the most. His destination was a crowded metropolitan airport he wasn't familiar with. In a few minutes he would be in radio contact with the tower. Until then, he was alone with his thoughts. His instructor had practically forced him to memorize the rule book. He didn't care for it at the time, but now he was thankful.  Finally he heard the voice of the air traffic controller. "I'm going to put you on a holding pattern," the controller radioed. Great! thought the pilot. However, he knew that his safe landing was in the hands of this person. He had to draw upon his previous instructions and training, and trust the voice of an air traffic controller he couldn't see. Aware that this was no time for pride, he informed the controller, "This is not a seasoned pro up here. I would appreciate any help you could give me."  "You've got it!" he heard back.  For the next 45 minutes, the controller gently guided the pilot through the blinding fog. As course and altitude corrections came periodically, the young pilot realized the controller was guiding him around obstacles and away from potential collisions. With the words of the rule book firmly placed in his mind, and with the gentle voice of the controller, he landed safely at last.  The Holy Spirit guides us through the maze of life much like that air traffic controller. The controller assumed that the young pilot understood the instructions of the flight manual. His guidance was based on that. Such is the case with the Holy Spirit: He can guide us if we have a knowledge of God's Word and His will established in our minds.

Our lives will have meaning and make sense if we are not only interpreting God’s message to us correctly, but also, if we are willing to live it according to His will and for His glory.  If we understand that the thrust of our lives and mission are concerning allowing God’s Spirit to guide us to be more like His Son and living out His will and fruit in our lives, we are going to gain and grow in our spiritual walk. 

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Devil Didn't Make Me Do It, But Someone Else Did


We live in a society where truthfulness and accountability are no longer necessary - we can put our own spin on everything…and even re-write history.  A little satire might help us to better understand where this is going.  “Really officer, I did rob that bank, but…it wasn’t my fault, you see.  If my parents had done a better job…if my teachers had done a better job…I wouldn’t be in this predicament.  It’s not my fault that I never learned to accept responsibility…” Or, even more recent and realistic (and I am not saying this to make a political statement, but is for the purpose of illustration).  From any number of presidents, senators or congressmen – “Even though I have been in office for 4…8...12 years, our country, my state, county, city or township…you name it…is in the condition that it is, because my predecessor messed everything up.” 

As one popular news network claims, most of us would like to believe that we live "fair and balanced” lives.  But, is this really the case?  What do our actions say? How do we report our own stories? Isn’t it true that when we do our own "anchoring" that we think things like…"we wonder – but they are nosy; we are cautious - they are paranoid; we are composed - they are stuffy; we are concerned - they gripe; and, we are determined - they are stubborn!"  In our unguarded or self-protective moments, we choose words that give the benefit of the doubt to ourselves at the expense of others. With little thought, we hide our own wrongdoings and exaggerate the faults of others.  This is our human nature…it is our pride, and is not a good reflection on our spiritual nature to which we have been called.

How do we explain our tendency to be unfair and unbalanced? The Word of God gives us a better explanation for why we, even unintentionally, shade, slice, and dice the truth? Without covering up the wrongdoings of its own "chosen people," the Bible tells many stories that reflect not only our own inclinations, but why we all aspire to something higher.  Where did all of this begin? According to the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve had no reason to do anything but love life and truth. They were both created by God who used His own words to compose a perfect story for them.  With a turn of the page, however, God’s real-life cast of characters walked out on Him.  Instead of following the script, the pair decided to write their own story.  The history of truth-telling took a turn for the worse when the first man and woman met someone who claimed to know more about God’s motives than they did. Like a golfer hitting an intentional slice, the serpent put his own spin on the only limitation that God had given to Adam and Eve.  While they may have wondered why He had put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil off limits to them, they had no reason to doubt His motives.

However, the stranger raised an interesting question -- why doesn’t God want you (Adam and Eve) to eat of that tree? And that question became two more questions -- What secrets are being kept from you?  Why doesn’t He want them knowing as much as He knows?  Adam and Eve had, unknowingly, just entered a trap.  When the Lord found the couple and asked the man what he had done…what happened?  Adam’s response -- “It is this woman that you gave me” (Genesis 3:12).  He did not accept responsibility for his own actions, but placed blame…he passed the buck.  The woman, in turn, pointed her finger at the serpent.  Even though neither Adam nor Eve saw it coming, they both now had something in common with the blame-shifting devil whose name means "the accuser." Some people would say that the first couple "bet the farm and lost it" on some very bad advice.  But, being evicted from their home and land was the least of their growing problems -- something within them had died. For the very first time, they were not on the same page with the Almighty God. Their loss of innocence and knowledge of good and evil changed the way that they thought and the way that they talked about one another.  From that time forward, the first couple, and their children, had something to hide concerning themselves and something to suspect in everyone else. In an effort to avoid blame for what they had done, they would always tend to tell their story in a way that blurred the line between fact and fiction.

Today, my brothers and sisters, we all face the temptation to live this out…and with a vengeance. The use of half-truths to color our thinking reflects spirits and lives that are out of focus.  Well…what is the solution?  With such propensity to want to spin the truth, how could our own story turn out well? According to the Word, God, through the writer of Hebrews (12:2), tells us: "We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the Cross because of the joy He knew would be His afterward. Now He is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in Heaven."  While we are inclined to project our own guilt onto others, Jesus, the Christ, does the exact opposite! He takes our guilt upon Himself - He accepts full responsibility for our spiritual debts, and…He gives His blamelessness to anyone who receives Him as their personal Lord and Savior.  The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5:21, tells the Corinthian church and us: "For God made Christ, Who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ."  Know that the way that we twist the truth about ourselves and others, says so much about our need for Jesus, the Christ. We keep falling back into our old ways of favoring ourselves at the expense of others. We need to ask God to help us to show an honesty of conversation with ourselves and others and have an integrity of life that demonstrates to the world that our hope and security is not in ourselves.  So, when we are tempted not to want to deal with our own sinful nature…blaming mom and dad, or the church, or the elders, or the preacher, or the deacon, or brothers or sisters, or the school, or the judge, jury or executioner…we need to look in the spiritual mirror and realize that…much more often than not…to quote Walt Kelley…“we have met the enemy and he is us.” 

We have every opportunity to bless and to be blessed in Jesus Christ.  We do have all the riches of spiritual blessings available to us in Christ.  We have opportunities as a church family to take advantage of and promote these blessings…all we need to do is be willing.  We must submit our wills to God’s will so that He can use us to the glory of His kingdom. 

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Walking with the Spirit (Considering Galatians), Pt. 6


On to part six, which is really the latter part of chapter 5...not to be too confusing. :-) When people think of the letter to the Galatians, I am certain that...nine times out of ten...this is the section that comes to mind -- the fruit of the flesh vs. the fruit of the Spirit (5:16-26).  Paul continues with this second theme that is prominent in relationship to the Galatian believers, that is, the struggle some of them were having with the flesh.  He has already addressed their struggle concerning keeping regulations, but the struggle against the flesh appears to be just as important an is one that he needs to address (just as it is for believers today).

Paul is plainly speaking about the fact that believers can live in only one of two worlds...the world of the Spirit or the world of the flesh.  Paul is, in a sense, sharing what John shares in the first portion of his first letter, but with more detail -- "This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:5-9, NIV)  There is no fence-riding on this...we will be in one camp or the other.  Christians may be able to fool themselves and others, but not the Lord.  As Paul shares with the Roman believers (6:1), people can't live in sin and expect that the Lord is going to shower them with grace...there will be a recompense, but it will be His justice.  Paul says that believers who seek to live according to the Spirit are not going to chase after the offerings of the flesh, but the converse is also true -- believers who chase after the flesh are not going to be able to comprehend, appreciate and appropriate the things of the Spirit.  Paul insists that we "walk according to the Spirit."  This means that we should focus on the matters of the Spirit, as these are truly what should "matter" to us.  Concerning the fruit of the Spirit (and notice it says "fruit" and not "fruits"), all of these elements are part of one "fruit" being born out in the lives of God's people (sort of like a spiritual blended fruit smoothie, I guess :-).  When we are living according to God's Spirit, then the unity of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control is going to be working itself out in our lives.

If there is a message where there is nothing new under the sun, it is this one.  The greatest human spiritual problem, hands down, according to the word of God is "immorality" -- it has been this way virtually since the creation of man and woman.  As I have shared, our greatest struggle is not against what we may have perceived at one time was "doctrinal impurity"...but much more so, "personal, moral and spiritual impurity."  As much as I liked to believe that Paul's major focus was the former issue at one time, as I have read and reread his letters, I have come to understand that he is more so concerned with the latter, as evidenced in this letter.  I will say this -- if we do not continue to fight the fight against the sensual and sexual demons of this world, the church is going to suffer for it...and in some places, it already is.  Once again, as I shared in my last message, we who are in Christ must not give in to the evil one and his schemes, but fight the good fight of faith.  There are a lot of spiritual resources in order to help Christians overcome the filth of the flesh and its nature.  I do believe that the greatest threat in this time is not going to come from any external force, but it truly is internal...the struggle against the flesh and the battle for the souls of men and women.  It was a struggle with Christians then...and it is also a struggle today.  But, it is a struggle that we have all of the spiritual riches in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and of His Spirit, to overcome...and to prosper (1 John 4:4).

Blessings, Don