Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Days of Awe

In less than a week, those of us observing the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) will be in the midst of a 24 hour period of time that is among the most important and holy days of the year on God’s sacred calendar. However, because of the nature of what God asks us to do on Atonement, we can sometimes view it as a distraction from the hustle and bustle of travel plans, packing, and festival preparations for the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). Let’s face it – it’s much more appealing to think about and to make plans for our feasting than it is for our fasting, but let’s take a look at how God issues this command to keep the Day of Atonement.

Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.” (Lev. 23:27-32)

Now, that doesn’t sound like a day that should be taken lightly, or viewed as something that we just have to endure on the way to Tabernacles. I must confess, though, that there have been years when I’ve done that.

Blessed and Distracted

It is very important that we don’t allow the Day of Atonement to be overshadowed by our busy lives.  We are a blessed people, and it’s very easy for blessed people to take for granted those three square meals a day, and all of the comforts of our lives. A couple of months back, I started keeping up with the world population clock, and related statistics … about 7 billion 264 million right now. And it can be sort of humbling just to sit for a few minutes and watch the physical growth of God’s family, and to realize that if you make more than 10 American dollars a day, you are more richly blessed, materially at least, than 80% of those 7 billion people.

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.

Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest—when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage (Deut. 8:7-14)

God told the children of Israel this before they entered the promised land, and it is just as true for us today. When you are as richly blessed as we are, with daily sumptuous meals, soft beds, hot baths, and comfortable homes, it’s easy to take for granted what God has given to us, and, it can be a bit irritating to have to give up those blessings, even if it is just for one day.

But it seems to be very important to God that we approach the Day of Atonement with due respect, and set it aside just for Him and His Son. So what are we to do with the days leading up to the Day of Atonement? How are we to prepare?

Sabbath of Return

According to Jewish tradition, the 10 days between the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah, also called Rosh Hashana as the civil New Year) and the Day of Atonement are known as “the Days of Awe.” They are a time of self-reflection, repentance, and penitence for sins committed during the previous year.

The weekly Sabbath that falls during these Days of Awe, between Trumpets and Atonement, is called shabbat shuva, or the Sabbath of return. Traditionally, the scripture that is read on this Sabbath is Hosea14:1-2. The sentiments behind these traditions seem very similar to the way we’ve always viewed Passover preparation, and may be worthy of consideration as we go through the next week and prepare for the fast.

O Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; take words with you, and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.” (Hos. 14:1-2)

The world around us becomes more complicated by the day. We rush about trying to make a living, and raise a family, and we can wear ourselves out with all the distractions of life, and the atrocities we see in the world around us. That whole package can come between us and God, and then the bedrock, spiritual principles that should govern our lives can be eroded away.

Our relationship with the Godhead should be the most important thing in each of our lives. As a truly loving God, He gives His people several wake-up calls each year in the Holy Days to remind us of what is truly important in life. The Day of Atonement paints a vivid picture centered mainly on the activity of the high priest, who in the Old Testament entered the Holy of Holies once a year on this day with the blood of a goat. Now in the New Testament church, what a wonderful blessing it is to have Jesus Christ Himself as our High Priest and mediator as we spend this week preparing for the Day of Atonement.

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Heb. 9:11-15)

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How Do Our Hands Handle The Word of Life?

My last post was based on 1 John 1:1, and I think we’ll start there again. It’s really amazing that you can look at the same scripture with a slightly different mindset, and open up a whole new avenue of understanding.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life (1 John 1:1)

Brethren, how do my hands and your hands handle the Word of life? What is our relationship with this Word? How do we respond to it?

Responses To The Word

Last week we talked about the Jews in Acts 13:46-48 who chose to reject God’s word as it was offered to them through Paul and Barnabas. These verses say they rejected God’s word, casting it from them, just as they did with Jesus Christ, and in doing so they judged themselves “unworthy of everlasting life.”

Human beings have many ways of handling “the word of life,” and casting it aside and rejecting it is one of them. Another way people handle the word of life is to keep it at arm’s length. They believe in God, and may have 3 or 4 Bibles full of God’s written word in their homes, but they don’t read more than a few key verses, and they’re not comfortable with a personal relationship with God.

There’s also the atheist’s approach to handling the word of life. Some of them study the Bible with the intent of refuting its teachings and destroying the faith of those who do believe. You can also handle the word of life academically. Most colleges offer courses like “the Bible as literature” and just treat it as another textbook to be read to give one a “well-rounded education”.

Some study the word of life more seriously, but with a wrong attitude. Why did the Pharisees, Sadducee, lawyers and scribes that Jesus spoke with in the Gospel accounts study the scriptures? If you read through Matthew 23, it appears that there were a variety of motivations. These people used the word of life to control others and dominate their lives. Their studies of scripture made them appear righteous in the eyes of other men, and they used religion to gain status and wealth.

The Right Way to Handle the Word

There is another way our hands can handle the Word of life. We can embrace it fully, interact with its content, internalize its precepts, and allow the Word of life to transform our hearts, minds and spirits. This is the method of handling God’s word that David demonstrated in so many of his psalms.

Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts.

I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word. I have not departed from Your judgments, for You Yourself have taught me. How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Ps. 119:97-105)

What David describes here is just a small taste of how he handled the Word of life. Acts 13:22 tells us that God described David as “a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.” We know from 1 Samuel 16:7 that “man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” This observation was made in the context of God choosing David as king, so you could say there was a connection between God’s and David’s hearts.

We also need this kind of “heart connection” with God. Jesus Christ Himself addressed this when He was speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well.

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)

There is this intangible element to the relationship between us and God that is spirit-to-spirit, and heart-to-heart. Let’s turn to one more scripture to re-enforce this wholehearted approach to properly “handling the word of life”

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. (2 Chron.16:9)

God’s eyes are searching whole earth looking for this heart-to-heart connection. The word “loyal” here is translated from the Hebrew shalem (H8003). It means complete, whole, perfect, peaceable, quiet and – this is the definition that really caught my eye – “especially friendly.”

That really is what God is looking for in the way that each of us handle the word of life. He wants us to be friends with Him and have a close, personal relationship with Him and with His Word.

The Word of Life

I’ve spent a great deal of time studying this word play between “the Word” as a title of Jesus Christ and “the word” that we can hold in our hands as our Bibles. The phrase “the word of life” can apply to both of them, brethren.

When discussing this topic, it’s most common to go to the gospel of John, but I’d like to start in another one of John’s writings.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us (1 John 1:1-2)

John and the Word

The apostle John seemed to have a special relationship with Jesus Christ, and a unique way of expressing it in writing. He describes Jesus as “the Word” here and in John 1:1, 14, and in the opening lines of this epistle he calls Him “the Word of life.” Jesus Himself said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). That’s sort of a nutshell statement that covers the purpose of the Word’s supreme sacrifice.

In Revelation 13:8, John writes about this “Word of life,” Who is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” and the very next words in verse 9 are these: “If anyone has an ear, let him hear.” So there is something more to understand about this phrase.

Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)

I don’t think it’s possible for us to even imagine the magnitude of God’s eternal love for His son, but it was there before Genesis 1:1, before the world was, before mankind was even created. And God the Father sent this beloved “Word of life” for us, and for all mankind because it was the most cherished thing He had ever known in all eternity. God so loved the world, that He gave “the Word of life,” and He made the commitment to do this at the very foundation of the world as we know it, at the same time They committed to “make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 126).

If we really want to understand the magnitude and value of Christ’s role as the sacrificial Lamb, we have to understand how highly the Father valued His Son, the Word of life.

Worthy of Life

Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:46-48)

Notice how important it is to seize every opportunity we’re offered to hear and embrace the word of life. In this example, the Jews were being shown favor by God. His word was offered to them free for the taking – they had “first dibbs,” so-to-speak – and they rejected it by judging themselves “unworthy of eternal life”.

For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. (1 Cor. 11:31)

The word “judge” is translated from diakrino (G12532), which means “to separate thoroughly,” to distinguish ourselves by self correction in the light of God’s word and show that we’re worthy of life (we talked more about this in a previous post. Click to read). Diakrino is derived from the word krino (G2919), which means “to distinguish” or “to try,” and which is the word used in Acts 13:46 and translated “judged” in 1 Corinthians 11:31.

Fellowship With The Word

Let’s go back to 1 John again, and read a bit further.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us — that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. (1 John 1:1-4)

What greater joy could we possibly have than fellowship with the Word of life? When we spend time in Bible study and prayer, we have an opportunity for unique, and joyous fellowship with the Father and His Son because Christ is the Word of life, who teaches us the words written in His Bible.

Best Friends Forever

We live today in a time where technology has literally transformed our lives. Daniel spoke of a time where knowledge would be greatly increased, and if ever a time fit that description, it would be the days that we are living in today.

In many ways, even our language has changed — words have taken on new meaning, and even new definitions in some cases. There’s a whole new method of communication that many of us older folks have a hard time understanding. Abbreviations are used in place of phrases in emails and texts today. We have “lol” instead of “laugh out loud,” and “ttfn” instead of “ta ta for now.” One such usage that has caught my attention is “bff,” for Best Friends Forever.

Now that’s a really nice concept, and I have no doubt it is well-intentioned in most cases, even if it is a bit shallow the way it is used today. But there is One who truly is the best friend you could ever hope to have, and what He proposes to do for you and I really is “forever.”

Friend of God

In James 2:23, Abraham has the wonderful privilege of being named as “the friend of God.” Abraham was also called “the father of the faithful” – a spiritual progenitor, if you will – a human forerunner and example of how we are to act toward, and relate to, the Godhead.

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13-15)

If we pause a moment to think about that, we have to admit that there is really no greater form of friendship than what God expressed towards us all in sending His Son to lay down His life for us. Brethren, it really is worth every effort, worth setting aside everything in and of this life and this world, to have this being as our true BFF.

The apostle Paul had a way of putting this into words in Philippians 3 that I couldn’t begin to articulate myself. Let’s read a few verses there:

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:7-14)

I don’t know about all of you, but in my early years in the church, I really think I thought of the Godhead more in terms of Them being supreme overlords, or authority figures. The types of Beings who might swat you like a fly if you cross the line, and dare to disobey Their strict set of laws.

After many years of studying what these two beings are really like though, there has been a transition. I think that obedience to their laws of liberty is done with the full knowledge that They are what They are, and They do what They do, only out of complete love and concern for us all. So obedience comes not from FEAR of them, but from awe, respect and reverence FOR them.

My BFF

Based on my own experience in ‘the faith’ there is a scripture that pretty well wraps up in a nutshell what I’m trying to convey today.

For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Pet. 2:25)

Weren’t we ALL like that at some point in our lives? Just like dumb farm animals … going, and living our own way?

This scripture pictures Christ in His daily, active presence in each of our lives today, right now. The Greek word for “Shepherd” is poimen (G4166), and it means“A spiritual guide who watches over and provides for the welfare of His flock.”

The word translated “Overseer” is episkopos (G1985). This word pictures an ever-vigilant watcher or watchman … a guardian, who intimately knows each and every one of us, and our vulnerabilities as no human shepherd, overseer, or BFF could. We can deceive a human overseer, brethren, but this One can never be deceived. David devoted portions of several Psalms to the fact that the LORD knows the deepest secrets of our hearts, and we can trust Him to work within us to bring about the best possible end for all of us.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. (Ps. 139:1-10)

Now I don’t know about you, but that is certainly the kind of being that I want for my BFF.

The Guardian

No matter how hard we try to stay connected with other human beings, there are times in our lives when we find ourselves feeling very much alone and alienated in a hostile world.

Every time I watch or read the news of the day, I feel like my Christian worldview is being squashed by an avalanche of upside-down human reason that is attempting to force lies into truths … black into white … and perversion into holy behavior. The entire end-time leadership apparatus of the world seems to have its heart totally set on worshiping the Spirit of Anti-Christ

At times like that, I retreat into the comfort of some very bedrock, foundational scriptures that give hope and assurance in times of need.

Psalms

If you read through the Psalms, especially the Psalms of David, you find that David had some times of real insecurity. Even the one person who God called, “a man after My own heart” had times when he felt completely isolated and deserted by other people and even by God Himself (Acts 13:22).

Give ear to my prayer, O God, and do not hide Yourself from my supplication. Attend to me, and hear me; I am restless in my complaint, and moan noisily, because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked; for they bring down trouble upon me, and in wrath they hate me.

My heart is severely pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me. So I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Indeed, I would wander far off and remain in the wilderness. (Ps. 55:1-7)

I’ll admit, this is my approach to times like that in life. I’d just like to fly away … go to my man-cave, or to some imaginary wilderness retreat where I can have rest, and just retreat from the harsh realities of modern-day life.

Guardian of Your Souls

There is another scriptural place we can go for refuge in times like these, when evil seems so oppressive, and those who have taken the reigns of power seem so corrupt there is no escaping their reach.

When Christ was on this earth as a human being, He too found Himself living in a world that hated Him and His worldview. Everything He stood for was alien to the established society of the day. John’s gospel tells us Jesus came into the world as light, and the world loved darkness better, and made Him suffer for it. But He didn’t suffer in vain. He did it for us … to leave an example for us to follow in an age of darkness where we are to be lights as He was.

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps (1 Pet. 2:18-21)

In John 17:18, Jesus prayed to the Father and said, “As you have sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” We’ve been sent much in the same way that Christ was, to show God’s light in a dark world, and we must walk in His footsteps while doing things that are really tough for humans to do.

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (2 Pet. 2:21-25)

Commit Yourself

Our natural response is to do unto others as they do to you. But the key to following the example of Christ may just lie in understanding the real meaning of one word in 1 Peter 2:23. It says that Jesus “committed Himself to Him who judges righteously”

The Greek word translated “committed” is “paradidomi” (G3860), and what it means is to surrender, to give up, to deliver it over to the charge, care or kindness of. That’s what we are to do with ourselves when we commit to the One who judges righteously.

And when we actually do surrender like this and just trust God and His Son to work it all out for good, we leave our old human ways behind, and “return” (the word means to revert back to something, and in several places in the NT is translated “converted”) to the “overseer” of our souls.

The word translated “overseer” is episkopos (G1985). It means, “watchman, superintendent, or guardian.” Look how personal this is brethren. We are simply asked to place ourselves in God’s loving hands, and in doing so, we come under the care of this great Being who set the example by trusting Himself to His Father.

Going back to where we started in Psalm 55, let’s read what David has to say near the end to sum everything up.

Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved. (Ps. 55:22)

David learned, as we all must, to surrender himself into the hands of a loving God who was indeed the Shepherd and Guardian of his soul.