Thursday, June 15, 2017

Feast of Tabernacles

The Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was a celebration of God's provision of the children of Israel in their wandering in the wilderness. In particular, it was a festival of water and light. God provided water in the wilderness through a rock that followed them. They did not know where the underground water sources were. (The bedouins knew.) Archaeologists have suggested that God led them to places where there was water perhaps deep underground and the rock was bringing up water from the ground and distributing it to the Israelites. That is speculation, but it is possible. In any event, God got water from a rock. That doesn't happen in nature. It is supernatural.

Another miracle in the wilderness was the fire above the tabernacle indicating that God was present and also providing light by night to the Israelites in the dark desert. According to some sources, the Jews of Jesus' day put two giant torches on the temple to represent the fire by night in that wilderness. Supposedly, those torches could be seen from anywhere in Jerusalem.

In John chapters seven and eight, Jesus and his disciples went up to Jerusalem to the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths). During that time, Jesus proclaimed, "I am the light of the world." (John 8:12) I can imagine Jesus standing at the entrance of the temple, torches lit, saying these very words. Once again, Jesus has transformed our understanding of a key Jewish festival. We should no longer look back to some past time when God did great things. He is our light, our guide, our understanding. He brings us truth. Later in that same chapter, Jesus said, "If you continue in my Word, you will be my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." (John 8:32) When we are set free, then we can help others get free through the Word. Jesus also said that we are the light of the world. (Matt 5:14)

Likewise, Jesus is the Rock that followed them in the wilderness. "They drank from the same spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ." (1 Cor. 10:4) But it goes further than that. Jesus extended this image to the followers of Christ. "On the last day, the great day of the feast [of Tabernacles], Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him would receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given because Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7:38-39)

So we believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit have rivers of living water flowing from Jesus through our spirits to meet the needs of the world. That is what the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is for. It is not for us, but for our ministry to others. "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be My witnesses." (Acts 1:8) We need the power of the Holy Spirit to minister to others. We cannot do it in the flesh. And if God can get water out of the ground and through a rock to bring needed water and refreshing, then He can use the church as channels of blessing to all the world. Jesus is the source of water and then it comes through our hearts (spirits) and brings life to others. These are rivers of the gifts of the Spirit, the love and mercy of God, wisdom and whatever else is needed at the moment.

Another part of our transformed understanding of the Feast of Tabernacles is the future. During the Millennial reign of Christ, all nations will celebrate this feast. "It will come about that any who are left [after the battle of Armageddon] of all the nations ... will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles." (Zechariah 14:16) Some of us have known this, but there is one more part of this we have missed. And that is the fact that during the Millennium, the Feast of Tabernacles will be celebrated continually. "In that day, there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle ... [there will be] neither day nor night, but it will come about that at evening time there will be light. And in that day, living waters will flow out from Jerusalem." (Zechariah 14:6-8) That is the Feast of Tabernacles.

So, we have Tabernacles being celebrated all the time. We should always honor God's provision for natural and spiritual needs and any other needs that we might have in this world. For the church, we honor this by ministering the Word and the Spirit to those God puts in our path for that purpose. He is the source of blessing, but we are the channels of blessing. And, of course, we are first the recipient of blessing.

The church need not celebrate this feast on certain days of the year. Instead, we celebrate it every day by ministering the Word and the Spirit to others. That is true for all the Jewish feasts. They are fulfilled in Christ, and often, in His Body, the church. We celebrate them every day by honoring Him to Whom all the feasts point.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Pentecost - Firstfruits - New Testament and Old

I was not even considering the fact that it will soon be Pentecost Sunday when I began thinking about doing a blog post about the Feast of Firstfruits, or as Christians say, Pentecost. Perhaps it is a coincidence. Christians do not call this time "Firstfruits" but "Pentecost" since it happened fifty days after the resurrection. The first Easter, or Resurrection, Sunday was when Jesus was raised from the dead. Right before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He instructed His followers to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them. On the Jewish feast of Pentecost, or Firstfruits, the Holy Spirit came down from Heaven to baptize the disciples. They were filled with the Spirit and spoke with other tongues. (Acts 2:1-4) That is what we Christians think of when we talk about Pentecost. As important as that event was, we cannot get a full understanding of the concept of firstfruits as it is used in either Testament without further study.

The Jews, of course, celebrated Passover and then the Feast of Firstfruits fifty days later. Since Passover was not always on Sunday, they do not always celebrate Firstfruits on a Sunday but on the same day of the week that Passover is, seven weeks later. The offering of Firstfruits may go back even further than when the Law was given. Many believe that Abel was offering firstfruits soon after mankind was created when he brought his offering to God. That may or may not be so. The offerings of Abel and Cain are still shrouded in a little mystery. What did God tell them to do and why was Abel's offering accepted and Cain's rejected? We do not fully understand.

I used to not understand the offerings of firstfruits as it is revealed in the Old Testament. I had pretty much followed what I had heard others say. And I had a teaching on it that I was really quite proud of. It was a teaching on tithing based on Proverbs 3:9-10, "Honor the Lord with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase; So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine." See, I thought that tithes and firstfruits were the same thing. I knew that there was blessings associated with tithing based on Malachi 3:10-12. This seemed to be the same. Besides, I had always heard that tithes and firstfruits were the same.

Then I listened to some tape recordings (remember cassettes?) from a class taught at Rhema Bible Training Center. The teacher clearly showed that tithes and firstfruits in the Old Testament were two different offerings. You can read about both offerings in Deuteronomy 26. You will see there that the two offerings are handled a bit differently. Also, if you read Proverbs 3:9-10, you will notice that the offering of the firstfruits occurs at the beginning of the harvest season. Different crops are harvested at different times. The earliest harvested crops along with the animals born in the spring would be offered at the time of the Firstfruits. There was no specified amount that one had to offer unlike the "tithe" which means 'a tenth'. According to this passage, the Israelites were guaranteed a good harvest when they brought their firstfruits. After the whole harvest was in, then they would bring the tithe. One could hardly tithe at the time of the Firstfruits because one would not know how much 10% of the harvest would be. The offering of the Firstfruits was an act of faith. They offered it believing that God would bless them if they did. This idea of a guaranteed future blessing as a result of the offering of the firstfruits is very important for understanding how this concept is used in the New Testament.

As with all the OT feasts, Firstfruits is transformed by the coming of Jesus Christ, perhaps more than any other of the feasts. On the Day of Pentecost, as we have seen, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples to empower them for service. Nothing that happened on Pentecost seems to guarantee anything about a future blessing. However, we read in Ephesians 1:13 "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory." It says that the promised Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our future inheritance from God. WOW! That is a lot better than just getting a good harvest.

As well, we read this in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23: "But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming." Jesus' resurrection is the firstfruits guarantee that we, too, will be resurrected. He offered Himself and became a firstfruits for us. Our future is guaranteed!

There is one more NT passage I want to consider here. It is James 1:18: "God chose to give us new birth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of the new creation." (Mixed translations) I am going out on a limb a little bit here, but I think it fits in with what we have seen so far. Along with, and because of, Jesus, we are the firstfruits of the new creation. Our spirits have been re-created in God's image and likeness. We are His children. But we still live in a fallen world and in the flesh. The fact of this new creation within us is evidence and guarantee that the new creation will be manifested in our bodies (resurrection) and in the New Heavens and the New Earth. "Behold, I make all things new!" (Revelation 21:5) Our redemption, which Jesus has accomplished, is guarantee of the redemption of our bodies and of the whole creation: "The creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:21-23) Notice that the "Firstfruits of the Spirit" guarantees the redemption of our bodies, our resurrection. But it also says that the creation awaits the release from the bondage of corruption that came with the Fall of Adam. That release will come about when the creation enters into the same glorious liberty that we have as God's born-again children. Once again, we can see a link between the New Birth, new bodies, and the New Heavens and New Earth. And, of course, it all really goes back to Jesus and what He has done for us.

One last thing I want to note. One of the biggest differences between the Old Testament offering of the Firstfruits and the theme of firstfruits in the New Testament is the difference between works and grace. In the OT, it was the Israelite who offered the firstfruits. It the NT, it is Jesus who does the work and we who freely receive it. There is nothing for us to do but enjoy the benefits of it. So let's do that. Let's celebrate Pentecost, not just by wearing red, but by remembering what Firstfruits means to us today.












Saturday, April 29, 2017

Historical Accuracy - A Must

It still surprises me when careful teachers and preachers of the Word give us "false history" when trying to present a message to us. Recently, I was watching a video blog of one of my favorite teachers when he made very inaccurate, and even deceptive, historical claims. I do not mean he was purposely deceptive, but it doesn't matter because the effect is the same. We are led to believe things that are not true and draw erroneous conclusions from them. Sometimes this is harmless but other times it undermines the message itself.

This particular teacher was making the assertion that the church today ought celebrate the Jewish feasts. I have addressed that in my previous blog so I will not repeat what I wrote here. Of course, this teacher quoted the OT commands about keeping the feasts. Those were addressed to the Jews though I do commend him for showing us how Jesus fulfills them and transforms our understanding of them. That is good.

But his reasoning regarding the church celebrating these feasts was largely based on the historical "facts" that he put forth. He said that in the first few centuries of the church, all Christians celebrated these 7 feasts. Then in the fourth century the emperor Constantine changed that, substituting the pagan Easter celebration instead. He also persecuted the Jews and destroyed the Jewish Church. He also made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

We have to sort out fact from fiction here. Sadly, there is more fiction than fact.

CLAIM: Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

FACT: This is false. Constantine made Christianity legal where it had formerly been severely persecuted. In 313 AD, Constantine signed the Edict of Milan making Christianity legally tolerated even where his rivals ruled. This lifted the church from great oppression. Christianity was made the official religion in 380 AD decades after the death of Constantine.

CLAIM: Constantine changed church practices like getting rid of the Jewish Feasts and replacing them with a pagan Easter.

FACT: No such thing occurred nor was it possible for him to do so. The church had endured much persecution and would not have allowed an emperor, even a professing Christian emperor, to change anything in the church. Even on the face of it, it seems an absurd claim. Why would a Christian emperor who hated paganism introduce that same paganism into the church? It makes no sense.

What Constantine did do was call for a general church council at Nicea (where we get the Nicean creed) in 325 AD. There was a controversy regarding the nature of Christ's divinity. A bishop name Arius said that Christ was a created being, the highest and most exalted of God's creation, but He was not eternal deity. He was not equal with the Father. Most disputed this, but it caused a great controversy in the church. Arius was rejected and his ideas were condemned at this council. Interestingly, Constantine was himself Arian. So much for his great influence over the church.

CLAIM: Constantine persecuted the Jewish people and closed the Jewish churches.

FACT: Sadly, this was true. Constantine shamefully persecuted the Jews and basically put an end to the Jewish church which was small but vibrant. He made no distinction between the Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah and those who did not. As a result, orthodox Judaism developed in opposition to the church, even making converts to Judaism renounce Christ.

CLAIM: All churches kept the 7 Feasts until Constantine.

FACT: Only the Jewish churches kept these feasts as they were a part of their heritage. The Gentile churches never kept these feasts. Paul made sure that the Gentiles were not circumcised and were not made to keep kosher or observe any sabbath or feast. Of course, some may have done so, but it was rare.

CLAIM: Easter was a pagan holiday not celebrated until the 4th century.

FACT: "Easter" was celebrated in the second and third centuries. It was common for churches to insist that their pagan converts receive instruction for a year or more to rid them of pagan notions and make them understand what they were committing to. Then, on Easter, they would be baptized and become full members of the church. It was not a fourth century innovation.

FACT: Despite the English term "Easter", we are not celebrating anything but the resurrection of the Son of God. The Latin term for "Easter" is "Pascha" which is derived from Passover. This indicates that the church was well aware of the connection between Passover and the Resurrection. This does not mean that they had previously celebrated Passover instead of "Easter".

The origin of the English word "Easter" is a bit obscure. I, too, used to believe that it was derived from the Babylonian goddess "Ishtar", but it is not. Other languages use some form of "Pascha" as the word for Easter so the English word did not get passed through to English through French or even German. It is extremely doubtful that the English language used the name of an ancient Babylonian goddess as the word for day we celebrate Jesus' resurrection. Babylonian paganism was far away in time and distance. But the English word "Easter" is pagan in origin. It is from an English fertility goddess called "Eoster". The word actually referred to the time of year (spring) when life burst forth from the earth. Now before you say, "I knew it was pagan", consider what other English words have pagan origins. Take the days of the week, for instance. Our days are named after various pagan gods. And our months. Most of them are named after pagan gods. Does this mean that we are doing pagan worship when we use our names for days or months? Decidedly not! It is not "pagan" to use the English names of the days of the week or months of the year or for Easter either.

Now on the whole Easter egg/Easter bunny thing - I choose to remain neutral. Decide for yourselves if you want to use eggs or bunnies or any other fertility symbols at Easter. I will say, though, that I have fond memories of getting a solid chocolate Easter bunny on Easter morning. I doubt that eating that chocolate bunny was some kind of pagan worship. So, I will enjoy some chocolate and you can do as you wish.

Happy belated Pascha!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Things New and Old. Part 3

[Since this is a series, I want to remind my readers of what we are covering. Therefore, the beginning paragraph here is about the same as it was for the last post.]

One issue that Christians have wrestled with has been the role of the Old Testament in our theology and our walk with Jesus. Does the Old Testament have relevance to us? Are there principles that should guide us, or is it totally out of date? Matthew 13:52 gives us insight into this question: “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” To me, the meaning of this verse is fairly obvious. A good Bible teacher uses both the New and Old Testaments. There are truths in both that apply to us in our daily lives. This is the third in a series of the New Testament use of the Old Testament.

One good rule of Bible interpretation is simply to avoid extremes. It is all too easy to get revelation and make it the whole truth and not just part of it. When trying to determine what the Bible teaches on any particular subject, it is always essential to include everything the Bible says on the subject. And since we are in the era of the New Covenant and not the Old, we have to let the New Testament be the interpreter for us of the Old.

In past times, it seems that many Christians completely ignored the OT and what it says. Today, some have gone to the other extreme and tried to get Christians to do things that God told the Jews to do. I have heard Christian ministers say that we have to keep the Passover and the other Jewish feasts. Scriptures in the OT like this are quoted. "Therefore you shall observe [Passover] throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance." (Exodus 12:17) This minister emphasized the word, 'everlasting'. We have to keep it forever!, he said.

First of all, who was God speaking to when He said this? Was it not the Israelites? It was Israel, not the church, who was delivered from bondage in Egypt. He brought them out with the blood of lambs.

Jesus did a similar, and greater, thing for us. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) Paul said, "Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1 Cor. 5:7-8) We do, in a sense, keep the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Christ redeemed from the world (Egypt is a type of the world) and from Satan's kingdom. We can celebrate by getting free and staying free from his bondage. We keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread by keeping free from 'malice and wickedness' by 'sincerity and truth'. We do this all year long not just once a year.

The original Passover, the deliverance from slavery in Egypt, teaches us about how Christ redeemed us from a greater slavery to sin and to Satan. So, our attitude toward the OT is not one of rejection. We do not ignore it. At the same time, we do not perform the same rituals which have been fulfilled in Christ. Instead, these things instruct us and teach us about Jesus and what He accomplished for us.

"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ." (Colossians 2:16-17) So the OT feasts and sabbaths are just shadows, but with Jesus we have the reality. Why go back to the shadow? "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth." (Col 3:2) When we go back to the Law of Moses, we are focusing on earthly things, not heavenly.

How do we read the OT when it comes to the feasts? We remember Romans 15:4, "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning." We need the Old Testament but we do not want to do whatever the Jews were supposed so do. (We are not talking about morality here which everyone is supposed to follow, but the Jewish rituals.)

I am glad that there is a renewed interest in, and teaching about, the Old Testament. In it we can learn about Christ and realize to a greater degree what He really means to us. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. But the fact that we live after the cross makes all the difference in the world.

Jesus set us free from the bondage of sin and the bondage of the Law. They are both of the flesh. We are to walk in the spirit and not fulfill the desire of the flesh. (Gal. 5:16) We cannot do that by keeping the Law, which is of the flesh. This is not to suggest that we can sin because we are not under the Law anymore. "How can we who have died to sin [in Christ] live in it any longer." "Having been set free from sin" we can serve God freely without bondage of any kind. (Rom 6:2,18)

So let's realize how Jesus fulfills the Law and not fall into the trap of going back under it.






Saturday, March 25, 2017

Things New and Old. Part 2

[Since this is a series, I want to remind my readers of what we are covering. Therefore, the beginning paragraph here is about the same as it was for the last post.]

One issue that Christians have wrestled with has been the role of the Old Testament in our theology and our walk with Jesus. Does the Old Testament have relevance to us? Are there principles that should guide us, or is it totally out of date? Matthew 13:52 gives us insight into this question: “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” To me, the meaning of this verse is fairly obvious. A good Bible teacher uses both the New and Old Testaments. There are truths in both that apply to us in our daily lives. This is the second in a series of the New Testament use of the Old Testament.

In our previous post, we saw how one NT writer (Paul) was using the OT in a way that might seem unusual - taking an OT principle and "translating" it, so to speak, into a NT principle with the gospel and Christ taking the place of the Law and the OT commands. In this post, we will see how an Old Testament practice, fasting, is used differently in the New Testament church.

One of the reasons for fasting in OT times was to get God's attention so that He might change a bad situation. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, they produced a child. The prophet Nathan revealed David's sin and told him that the child would die. (Read the whole story here: 2 Samuel 12:1-23)

The child that Uriah’s widow bore to David ... was very sick. David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them. Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was still alive, we spoke to him and he did not listen to our voice. How then can we tell him that the child is dead, since he might do himself harm!” But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:15-23)

David understood something that those around him did not understand. He knew that it was possible that God might spare the child if he fasted and prayed for mercy. He also lay on the ground. He did this even though God had said that the child would die. He believed that God might change His mind. Once the child was dead, there was no more reason to continue this fast. Of course, in this case, God did not relent. His judgment stood firm. Sometimes, when OT saints would fast this way, they would put on sackcloth and spread ashes on their faces. They afflicted themselves to try to get God's attention.

Esther did a similar thing when she and her people were in a very dangerous place. The Jews were about to be wiped out by their enemies at the command of the Persian king. As queen, Esther was uniquely positioned to plead for her people to the king. Unfortunately, even the queen had to be summoned to come before the king to petition him. To arrive unsummoned meant death, carried out immediately. She had not been able to speak to the king. She risked her life, going before him to plead her case. Before that, however, she and the Jews in Susa fasted for three days, eating and drinking nothing at all. The purpose of the fast was so that God would allow Esther to enter the king's presence and petition him without harm. (It was not, as some have suggested, to break the power of witchcraft. See below.*)

“Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)

It worked. Esther was allowed into the king's presence without harm and she was able to save her people. This is a wonderful and powerful use of fasting under the Old Covenant, but the question is: Should we do this today? Of course, Jesus made it clear that we should fast at various times in our Christian lives. He said,

"Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:16-18)

So fasting is a New Testament practice, but it seems that Jesus changed the rules on fasting. No more sackcloth and ashes. No more getting God's attention by afflicting oneself. What about the fasting itself? Do we fast to change things in this world like Esther did and David tried to do?

We do not fast this way in the New Testament era. We do not need to fast to get God's attention. We can instantly get His attention by using the Name of Jesus in prayer. The rules have changed quite a bit with the coming of Jesus. We should not go back to the OT way of fasting.

Why, then, do we NT Christians fast? Fasting keeps the flesh under. The flesh can dominate us at times and hold us in bondage. When we constantly feed the flesh with physical food and we constantly attend to its needs, we have trouble hearing from God. Fasting allows us to pay more attention to the Holy Spirit and hear God's voice more clearly. We are more sensitive to Him and His leadings. When we pray, we can then more accurately pray what God wants us to pray. Hearing God more clearly also gives us more confidence in what He has told us to do. Then, when we face challenges, we can face them boldly.

In other words, fasting does not change God, it changes us. We are the beneficiaries of the fast. When we are called to fast and pray, either individually or corporately, it is not the fasting that moves God, but believing prayer. Prayer changes things. Fasting changes us and makes us better able to hear God and pray.

As mentioned above, fasting can be used to break fleshly bondages. I had a friend who was "addicted" to drinking coffee. She drank about 50 cups per day. (Won't that kill you or something?) She fasted for several days just from coffee and broke that fleshly "addiction". We can fast in different ways according to the need. I do not recommend, however, going on a complete fast - no water at all - as Esther did. That can be dangerous. Some have ended up in the hospital because their fasting was severe or prolonged. I personally have never fasted more than two days. The goal of NT fasting is not to afflict oneself but to simply keep the flesh from dominating us.

I have used fasting for the times when I have had to hear from the Lord about something important, like making a big decision. Before moving here, I fasted so that I could hear Him more clearly and accurately so that I would be sure to know and do His will. We sometimes need a little help in hearing from the Lord. Often we would rather get someone else to tell us what to do rather than hear from God for ourselves. We lack confidence. Fasting can help us hear and be confident.

I believe in fasting, but I do not believe in simply taking the OT practices and bringing them into the Church. We are in a different, and better, position than the OT saints were. We have the Name of Jesus to use in prayer. We do not need to get God's attention with a bleeding sacrifice or fasting with sackcloth and ashes. Jesus paid the price so that we could "get an audience with the King" any time we need to.

[*Excursus: Fasting does break the power of witchcraft or demons as has been suggested recently. In the Hebrew book of Esther, witchcraft is never mentioned at all. The fast was for Esther that she might not die when she entered the presence of the king. Besides the OT clearly teaches that "No curse can touch Jacob; no magic has any power against Israel." (Numbers 23:23) So witchcraft could have had nothing to do with it. Even when the disciples could not cast out a demon and Jesus told them that "This kind comes out only by prayer and fasting", most translations and ancient manuscripts do not say "and fasting". The problem that the disciples had was not a lack of power or authority. Jesus had given that to them. The problem was with their unbelief. Fasting would have given them the ability to overcome that unbelief by being more sensitive to what God had told them and more confident in their authority. We have authority in the Name of Jesus to cast out demons. In the OT, an anointed singer and psalmist would play and sing to relieve people from demonic attacks. They did not fast to do so.]






Saturday, March 18, 2017

Things New and Old. Part 1

One issue that Christians have wrestled with has been the role of the Old Testament in our theology and our walk with Jesus. Does the Old Testament have relevance to us? Are there principles that should guide us, or is it totally out of date? Matthew 13:52 gives us insight into this question: “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” To me, the meaning of this verse is fairly obvious. A good Bible teacher uses both the New and Old Testaments. There are truths in both that apply to us in our daily lives. This is the first in a series of the New Testament use of the Old Testament.

Of course, how we use the Old Testament, especially, can be a little confusing. We know that certain things are directly carried forward from the Old Testament to the New. Commands regarding basic morality are a good example. "You shall not murder" and "You shall not commit adultery" are as valid in the NT as the were in the OT. In fact, the NT evens expands some of these moral principles. Jesus said, "Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt. 5:28)

Then there are commands given to the Jewish nation that do not apply to the church. These are not moral laws but religious regulations. The Jews could not eat pork, for example, because it was considered 'unclean'. The NT abrogates such rules. All foods are allowed under the New Covenant.

These things are clearly laid out for us, but some things are less clear. Often a principle found in the OT applies quite differently in the NT. Here is an example from Romans 10:5-9:

Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Now this might seem like a simple quotation from the OT, but it is not. In fact, the quote from the OT has been altered to fit the point that Paul wants to make and has a meaning opposite from the OT context. Paul even changes words when it suits him. Here is the OT passage that Paul quoted. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.

The words of God that Moses is talking are His commands. The words of God that Paul is talking about is the gospel (the word of faith). Moses talks about bringing the Law from Heaven; Paul applies this to Christ, not the Law. Moses speaks of going across the sea; Paul turns this into going into the 'abyss'. Perhaps bigger than anything, Moses is telling the Israelites to keep the Law of God in the mouths and hearts so that they can do the commands so that God can bless them. Paul tells the church that we are saved by believing in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead and by confessing with our mouths the Lord Jesus.

This is really quite amazing. Paul seems to turn what Moses said on its head! But we have to look at two things here. One is the fact that the principle is the same, but that the application is quite different and it even contradicts, sometimes, its OT meaning. The principle is one about revelation. God revealed the Law to Moses and therefore the Israelites had to keep it and they could do that if they kept it in their mouths and hearts. Paul, however, applies it to the gospel. We now have the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed to us so that we have no excuse not to believe and be saved.

The second important thing to understand is that we must be careful when applying certain OT principles in the NT era. Sometimes that principle has been transformed by Christ and the gospel.

With all this in mind, let's see how we can apply what Paul has said to other OT passages. We can take two passages from the OT that say something very similar to what Moses said in Deuteronomy 30.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8)

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful;But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Both of these OT quotations talk about the same thing, meditating on the Law of Moses. Should Christians do this? We have to say that in a way we should do it, but we have to transfer this principle into NT terms. We do need to meditate on the words of God, but not just on the Law of Moses. We need to meditate in the New Testament much more than in the Old. That is a proper application of the OT and I think that most Christians would apply it this way. However, what Paul does in Romans 10 is our justification for "translating" OT principles and making them applicable to the gospel.

We do need the Old Testament as well as the New. What we also must realize is that we cannot just yank anything out of the OT and apply it the NT era. We can easily get into foolishness and error that way.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Shack is Back!

The Shack, the book that inspired me to write a blog in the first place, has come out in movie form. The book was, and is, quite controversial because of the way it depicts the Trinity - as an old woman instead of a heavenly Father; a bumbling, less than omniscient son instead of the glorious Son of God. I did not care for that despite the needed message the book sought to convey: that God is not some unapproachable being who is far above our problems and concerns, but a person (or persons) to whom we can bring our deepest wounds and who brings comfort and healing. I have heard that the movie is better in making clear that the characters who appear as the persons of the Trinity are simply ways that God shows Himself to make Himself more relatable. But I have not seen the movie so I will not comment on that. Instead, I want to focus on our view of God and the attempt of some to try to change that - often for the worse.

This book is not the only attempt to make the God of the Bible more relatable. Some theologians and scholars have tried to re-define God in such a way that He does seem more relatable. Let's face it. There are barriers to fallen people to be able to relate to a holy God. He seems so great and powerful and separate from us that it is hard for us to understand how we can come into His presence.

A recent attempt to alter the traditional, Christian view of God is called Open Theism*. According to this view, God is not completely omniscient. He is bound by time and does not perfectly know the future. He is doing the best He can and will straighten everything out in the end. In the meantime, He is comforting and healing those in need. According to Open Theism, the traditional view of God as eternal (outside of time) and completely omniscient makes it impossible for men to relate to Him. How could someone approach such a God? Open Theists claim that their view allows us access to a God we can relate to and who can relate to us. So all Christians need to do is to alter how they see God.

There is a very interesting philosophical argument here, but it is not scriptural. God is clearly outside of time since the speaks of the beginning of time. Does "In the beginning" ring a bell? If God existed before the beginning, then He must exist outside of time. That puts Him above time - seeing all of history at one glance. He does know the future perfectly because He is already there. I don't know about you, but I take much more comfort in a God who knows everything than in a God who knows a whole bunch.

No, we cannot alter our view of God to make us better able to relate to Him. I cannot, however, just write these attempts off as simply wild heresy. There has been a real problem in the church with how we represent God. Yes, we must teach that God is omniscient and holy, but we have made Him unapproachable. In the Garden of Eden, God would fellowship freely with Adam and Eve "in the cool of the day". That fellowship was broken by their sin. "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear." (Is. 59:2) So, we do have the problem of sin and that is what truly separates man from God.

In the Old Testament era, God was 'locked up', so to speak, in the Holy of Holies of the temple and nobody could approach Him except the high priest once a year with the blood of an animal. This was so he would not die. "But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; 8 the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing." (Heb. 9:7-8) They could not come directly come into God's presence under the Old Covenant. Something more had to be done to restore man's lost fellowship.

That is why Jesus came. He did much more than just save us from Hell and take us to Heaven. He came to take Hell out of us and put Heaven into us. Does that sound radical to you? What about this scripture? "Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Col. 1:27) If Christ is in us, is not Heaven in us?

The people of the church have yet to realize our identity in Him. When we receive Christ, we first have our sins washed away. (Rev. 1:5) Then we receive a new nature, the nature of God Himself. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, OLD THINGS HAVE PASSED AWAY AND ALL THINGS HAVE BECOME NEW AND ALL THINGS ARE OF GOD." (2 Cor. 5:17-18) The old things are the old sinful nature you had along with all the junk that goes with it. The new things are the new nature, spiritual fruit, etc. "That we might be partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1:4) We are truly God's children, not just emotionally, but actually, since children inherit their nature from their parents. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:7)

We have the nature of God in our spirits and we can now fellowship with God and enter His presence anytime we like. Our relationship with God has been fully restored and it is even better than what Adam and Eve had in the Garden. In fact, we have received the gift of righteousness. (Romans 5:17) I learned a long time ago that you cannot earn righteousness. It is a gift. It is, in fact, God's own righteousness imparted to us. (2 Cor. 5:21)

The problem with our theology has not been because we had too high of a view of who God is, but a too low view of who He has made us to be. If we had understood that there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ, then we would have had boldness to come to the throne of grace to find mercy and grace in time of need. (Heb. 4:16) We could pour out our heart to Him and He would listen and give comfort and healing for our hurts.

So, we do need to change our view, but the answer is not to depart from what the scripture teaches about God. The answer is to dig deeper into the Bible and discover how God has completely reconciled us through Christ and how we can enter His presence without any sense of guilt or inferiority, for He is our Father. What a great and wonderful Father He is!


*Advocates of the Open Theism view includes some like Pentecostal scholar Clark Pinnock and C. Peter Wagner of the New Apostolic Reformation.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Now you've gone too far!

{I am back blogging again. It's been a couple of years, but I have some things on my heart I wish to share. I had followers in the double digits before and I hope they will come back. For those who read this, I welcome you as well as your comments.}

As I often have I am writing about one of my pet peeves. This one is an example of taking analogies and imagery in the Bible and taking them too far, thereby distorting and misapplying them. The answer to this is to ask ourselves the question, 'Does the Bible really teach that?'. At the same time, I want to get the complete revelation of what God has for us in these images.

One of the most common types of imagery is military imagery. In our own society, we talk about fighting all kinds of diseases and poverty and injustices. Our politicians, when running for office, run a "campaign". The Bible also has a lot of military imagery and, of course, actual armies as well. The pre-incarnate Christ appeared to Joshua calling Himself 'Captain of the Lord of hosts'. We read about God fighting battles on behalf of Israel, bringing down Jericho without any fighting by the Israelites at all. We have young David defeating Goliath in the name of the Lord. In Daniel, we have angels having to fight demonic powers that ruled over Persia at that time. (Daniel 10)

The New Testament is also full of military imagery, except that our enemies are not men, but demons. Jesus "spoiled principalities and powers ... triumphing over them ...". (Col 2:15) Then Paul uses similar imagery regarding the church. "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ." (2 Cor 2:14) Paul sees use in a triumphal procession, having defeated our enemies. And God is the One who led us into that victory. Again, "we are more than conquerors through Christ". (Romans 8:37)

Then there is Ephesians 6:10-17 where we are instructed to "put on the full armor of God". Indeed, those who do want to live the victorious Christian life will experience much spiritual conflict because the Devil wants to keep us in bondage. We must enforce his defeat. There is a saying in the world about freedom that applies to us here. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." The Enemy is constantly trying to keep us down. We are not ignorant of his devices and we must be ever aware of how he is trying to oppress us. We ought to take full advantage of the armor of God and the "weapons of our warfare" (2 Cor 10:4) . We certainly do need it in this demon-filled world we live in.

But can we take this military imagery too far? I have often heard Christians say, "We are the army of God". Does the Bible actually say that? Is that the conclusion we have to draw from the scriptures that use military imagery? Maybe, but I am not sure. If we are "the army of God" why does the NT not say so directly? The NT does call us a royal priesthood, a holy nation and the body of Christ. That is quite direct language. It never calls us an army. Why not?

One could point out that Paul told Timothy,"You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier." (2 Tim 2:3-4) Here it calls Timothy a soldier and speaks as if he is in an army. But read the subsequent verses as well. "And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops." (2 Tim 2:5-6) Paul then calls Timothy an athlete and a farmer! The NT has several places where athletic imagery is used, but nobody calls the church an athletic team. And farming imagery is more prominent in the NT than military imagery. Jesus used agricultural imagery in His parables and His teachings all the time. Yet, nobody that I know of has said that we were a farming cooperative!

Additionally, even the imagery of the armor of God is actually a mixed metaphor. It says that we "wrestle" against these principalities, etc. Soldiers do not wrestle, they fight. We have military and athletic imagery combined here. Wrestling is very strenuous and is one-on-one unlike the ways that armies fight. Yet we need military armor to do this wrestling. It's strange when you think about it.

I am not necessarily saying that it is wrong to call the church, 'the army of God', but I do not teach it. Also, I have seen this "army of God" saying taken too far. I know of a couple of ministers who have gone so far as to say that we not only are an army, but that we have different ranks and a kind of military order in the church. But the NT never speaks of believers as being "ranked" as such. I heard one say that there are "generals and privates" in this army and that generals give orders and privates obey them. Really? Where exactly does the NT say that? I certainly believe in authority in the church, but is it military type of authority? Of course, this minister does say that the five-fold ministry is to govern the church. That is fine, but what does that have to do with generals and privates?

Look at the imagery used when the NT talks about the five-fold ministry. The main passage is in Ephesians chapter four. You will find no military imagery here. Instead, the imagery is that of a body, an organic unit where the head is Christ. Also, we have a similar list of ministries at the end of 1 Corinthians 12. Once again, the context is one of a body and not of an army. In fact, no place in the NT where it says to submit to the elders of the local church is any military imagery used. Even the term "bishop" or "overseer" is not military.

I have seen those who have been so caught up in the church being "the army of God" that they begin to get a militant attitude and begin abusing the authority that they have. They will order people about and then rebuke anyone who does not instantly obey. It is not a question of who has authority but the manner in which they exercise it. It's often an attitude that's the real difference. "Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant." (Mark 10:42-43)

We need to use the right images in the ways that they were intended. With regard to our relationships with one another, we love one another as brothers and sisters. With regards to ministry and church life, we are to function as a body - each one contributing with their gifts and callings and taking orders from the Head. And in our facing the Enemy, we need to be vigilant and not let him kill, steal and destroy. That is where military images are appropriate. We should not get carried away with any truth in the Bible or we can distort it. Instead, we should keep all these things in balance. Then we will be successful.