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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pentecost And The Three Feasts

Pentecost And The Three Feasts

"When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place." Acts 1:2

PENTECOST:
"Pentekoste", fiftieth; from "pentekonta" (fifty) and "pente" (five)

Pentecost, meaning "the fiftieth day", is the second of the three great Jewish feasts, celebrated at Jerusalem yearly, the seventh week after the Passover, in grateful recognition of the completed harvest.

THREE FEASTS:

- Feast of Unleavened Bread
- Feast of Harvest
- Feast of Ingathering

"Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor." Exodus 23:14-16

The first major celebration of the Jewish year was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which included the Passover supper.

"And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?" Mark 14:12

During the Feast of Unleavened Bread the Passover Lamb was killed and eaten. Fifty days after that Passover meal, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Harvest, which became known as "Pentecost", or the "Fiftieth".

"Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest." Leviticus 23:10

Pentecost was a celebration of firstfruits, the first harvest of crops. It signaled the beginning of the time of harvest.

As harvest time drew to a close the people were commanded by God to deliberately leave parts of their crops unharvested.

"And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 23:22

The three feasts followed a pattern of seven, beginning with Passover.

- Seven weeks after Passover, the Feast of Harvest;

- Seven months after Passover, the Feast of Ingathering.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How do the three feasts hint at the story of redemption in Christ? Why was Pentecost the perfect time for the "promise of the Father", the giving of the Holy Spirit?

Image courtesy of MyDolphinExpress.blogspot.com and www.dolphinexpress.com

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Poet of His Word

A Poet of His Word

"Be doers of the word, and not hearers only." James 1:22 (ESV)

"Doers" of the word, in the Greek, means performers, especially used of poets, from the Greek word "poietes". The Apostle Paul used the same word in direct reference to poets:

"In him we live and move and have our being; as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are indeed his offspring'".
Acts 17:28 (ESV)

Poets perform their work by speaking to an audience or publishing books. A poem begins with ideas and emotions, feelings and desires and fears, but it is nothing until the poet uses words to create structure and meaning. Until the poem is spoken or sung or written or performed, the ideas and emotions and feelings and desires and fears are impotent and worthless. Even for the poet himself, if the poem remains unworded, unrealized, vague and internal, the poem does not affect or influence or satisfy.

But, "doing" the poem brings change. Speaking or singing or writing or performing the poem makes the original ideas and emotions real. It changes and forms the essence of the poet. It drives decisions and desires. It satisfies.

So with God's Word.

The thoughts and feelings, the desires and goals of God remain empty and worthless to us, if we only passively read the words without allowing them to drive our own inward desires and goals. Until we "perform" God's Word, the Bible is only an unpublished, unimportant, vague "poem", only good for sitting on a shelf.

How does one "perform" God's Word?

James wrote about a man who inspected himself closely, and then walked away from the mirror. Without constant reference to his reflection, forgetting his face was the inescapable result.

"If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like." James 1:23-24 (ESV)

James says constant reference to God's Word is absolutely necessary to ensure that it is remembered and performed.

"The one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing." James 1:25 (ESV)

The man stared into the mirror, looking but not seeing. James urges us to bend forward, getting as close to the words as we can in order to see clearly the meaning and import.

The result of humble, careful, constant reading and reference to God's Word, is a blessing. The Bible becomes a supremely happy reminder of how God is directing and moving in me to live out and perform the wonderful truths of His love, justice and mercy.

"If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless." James 1:26 (ESV)

James compares self-control with the bridle of a horse. "Bridle" in the Greek means to be a bit-leader, or to curb. The word is from "chaloa" (to lower as into a void) and "chasma" (a chasm or impassable interval).

The image is of a chasm or crevice, at the edge of which stands a man with a rope, lowering down a package or bag. The rope prevents the package from falling out of control, crashing down the crevice, lost and broken.

A leather bridle secures the head of a horse, giving control of the animal to the rider. Holding firmly to the straps of the bridle allows the rider to control the horse's wild instinct to run in panic or turn the wrong way.

I am so far from being a biblically honest "performer" of the word. I find it often easy, and rewarding intellectually, to study God's Word. God has allowed me talent in writing and analysis of ideas and words. But I'm a miserable "performer" of His Word.

Perhaps prayer is the arena in which my old self is shown to be most in control. Only last night, wanting to pray deeply, honestly, I could not, not even silently, by myself. In all my study, I still could not remember a single verse of Scripture on which to meditate. Without an open Bible, my mind is little better than an idolator or atheist.

I want God to so control my thoughts and words, that His Word is living in my mind every moment, every day. To "perform" His Word means to depend upon it urgently and publicly, referencing it in all situations.

I'm not describing an ability to memorize scripture; rather, a love and all-encompassing reliance and expression upon the truths of God's Word, not necessarily word perfect according to an arbitrary version, but absolutely biblical and complete in essence.

God, make me a poet of your Word!

Image courtesy of Guenter M. Kirchweger, modified with GIMP.org

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Psalm 51

My Psalm 51

Bend low, God.

How dare I even think of saying that to You? Nothing I see around me is of my creation. Even the breath and the blood in my body that enables me to see and think is not of my making. You are Creator, and I am as dust in comparison to You, in all ways.

Bend low, God.

I am without any power or authority to command you to stoop to my level, to listen to my heart, to hope for favor, to depend upon mercy.

Bend low, God.

You are the Only Source and the Only God, and I can't reach You. You must come near to me.

God, my sin is fresh before my eyes. And behind the sin of today is the sin of yesterday, and the sin of last week, and the sin of last year, and the sin of all my past.

I depend upon Your mercy, Your kindly, undeserved favor and Your tenderloving touch. Please take away the guilt of my sin. Erase my debt of rebellion against You.

I know You have mercy on those who do not deserve mercy. I know that You provide forgiveness through the price paid by Jesus for my sin. I know that You can wash me completely clean of my guilt against You.

My sin is against You.

My God! What hope has the creature who rebels against the Creator?

I have wrested control of my body and mind out of Your hands and selfishly pleased myself, regardless of injury to myself and others, regardless of what was best or worst.

I have abused Your gift of sex. I have allowed anger to damage relationships. I have ignored the needs of others. I have sought from things of my own making the satisfaction and joy that only can be given by You.

I have dishonored You as God and Creator.

Yet still You love me.

You allow me to see Your truth and wisdom. Even the sight of my own sin is a gift from You, given in love.

Wash me, God.

Not with religion or resolution. Not with the ineffectual soap of human philosophy and compromise.

Wash me with Your blood.

Only the blood of Your Perfect Sacrifice, Jesus Christ, can bring the forgiveness I desperately need.

I long to be cheerful and glad. I long to feel like dancing in joy.

I long for the nearness of Your pure heart and Holy Spirit.

I long for Your correction, Your leading and Your teaching. Drive me, Lord. Push me and poke me until I'm with You again. Only with You have I comfort. Only in You is my guilt taken away.

And I will sing.

I will praise.

There is nothing else I can offer. No work of mine, no sacrifice, no other gift can be better but to praise You!

You are good, all the time!

You are God.

Image courtesy of Cherie Wren, modified with GIMP.org

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Merciful Vengeance

Merciful Vengeance

"Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' To the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:19-21 (ESV)

AVENGE:
"Ekdikeo", to vindicate, retaliate or punish; from "ekdikos" (carrying justice out, a punisher) and "dike" (right, as self-evident, justice) and "deiknyo" (to show)

WRATH:
"Orge", desire, reaching forth, excitement of the mind, violent passion, punishment; from "orego" (to stretch oneself, reach out, long for)

REPAY:
"Antapodidomi", to requite (good or evil); from "anti" (opposite) and "apodidomi" (to give away)

HEAP:
"Soreuo", to pile up; from "soros" (a funereal receptacle: urn or coffin)

A wrong done to me may not be a wrong - it may be, it certainly is, something allowed and arranged by God for my ultimate benefit. Believing this, and trusting in God's goodness, I cannot take it upon myself to exact revenge, seeking to carry out my personal version of justice.

Instead, I must get out of the way of God. If the wrong was allowed and arranged by God as a way of demonstrating the evil in the other person's heart, then God must be the Judge and Punisher.

If the wrong was allowed and arranged by God as a way of demonstrating evil in my heart, then gladly I submit to God as my Merciful Father of correction.

If the wrong was not allowed and arranged by God, yet it happened despite His desires, then He would not be God.

"Heap burning coals on his head". This does not appear to be a good deed, at least in its literal sense.

"Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die." Lev 16:11-13 (ESV)

"As for the head of those who surround me, let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them! Let burning coals fall upon them! Let them be cast into fire, into miry pits, no more to rise!" Psalms 140:9-10 (ESV)

"The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup." Psalms 11:5-6 (ESV)

Coals of fire always indicated God's judgement, His wrath and punishment against sin.

The proverb is using the example of coals of fire as a description of "merciful vengeance".

"If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you."
Prov 25:21-22 (ESV)

The enemy is real, and truly deserves God's judgement and punishment. But, so do I. The proverb commands me to carry out upon my enemy the type of justice that God has carried out upon me: merciful forgiveness and kindness through His Son Jesus Christ.

Giving food and drink to a needy enemy is the only manner of vengeance of which God allows me to carry out. It is vengeance for sin, but it is a merciful vengeance. It is vengeance with an expectation of repentance and joy, rather than of pain and sorrow.

"Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly." Deut 32:35 (ESV)

"If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you."
Prov 25:21-22 (ESV)

We need to allow God to be God in every part of our lives. Whether He judges others to carry out justice or mercy, His ways are always best, completely right, and ultimately good.

Image courtesy of Aaron Schwab