Testimony

Who’s afraid of Yom Kippur? My devotional journey as a Wilderness Christian.

This devotional is a repost from last year’s Fall Feasts series. It gives both background on Yom Kippur and my personal relationship with “the Old Covenant.” This year during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot I will be diving deeper into the Sabbatical calendar as a meta-narrative of the Bible. As Chuck Missler says, “for Jews their calendar is their catechism.” This fall I would like to attempt to use the Hebrew Calendar as an inspiration to look deeply at: the salvation plan, the gospel, the kingdom, the Trinity, and discipleship. Rosh Hashanah kicks off the Fall Feasts on September 29 this year. Please look forward to the 2019 Fall Feasts series entitled, “Salvation on our Heads, the Gospel on our Feet.”

I have been a little stumped on what to write about for Yom Kippur. My week got hijacked by a burning need to understand covenant theologies vs. dispensational theologies and all the “progressive” versions of those theologies in between.

It wasn’t a completely unrelated pursuit.

Christians are often curious about how the Old Testament figures into salvation by grace through faith. This definitely raises the question of why I would be interested in writing about the Fall Feasts as someone saved under the New Covenant of grace, not justified by the law?

To be fair, I am going to write about the liturgical holidays too. Perhaps I have more of a thing for calendars than I do Levitical law!—and a thing for celebrating as many holidays as possible!

I do have a pretty interesting background theologically that gives me a peculiar love for both the Old and New Covenants.

I was born into a Portuguese Catholic family that converted to Pentecostalism. Yes, conversion is the appropriate word, just for information’s sake, because evangelicals of all denominations believe in a personal conversion moment where one is born again in Christ, which Catholics absolutely do not.

From Pentecostalism, my mother lead the charge as we journeyed into Messianic teachings, then into the fundamentals of Calvary Chapel born from the Jesus Movement, then into a charismatic inner healing ministry with prosperity doctrines as incidentals, then I personally branched out as a teenager to attend a Presbyterian church where I was first exposed to post-modern mysticism and spiritual formation disciplines. I also spent a lot of time singing at a Lutheran church in high school with all the High Church formalities and completed my “theological confusion studies” at Azusa Pacific University which in 2004 was just flirting with ecumenical and inclusive theologies where I visited the seeker-sensitive and emergent meccas– Saddleback and Mosaic– albeit unimpressed. I was impressed by the Billy Graham crusade that I went to as a freshman in college— I only went because Jars of Clay was playing at it. Witnessing one of Graham’s crusades kept the revivalist ember alive somewhere in my soul.

I also got to see Francis Chan an abundance of times in Azusa’s compulsary chapels. In reality he may as well have been my pastor in terms of percentage of sermons I sat under in my college years.

So what does all this have to do with Yom Kippur? I don’t know, maybe nothing!

But, you know, I think it does. The theologies and pastors I have sat under really all come from a heritage of restorationism in one way or another. Restorationism is that old Puritan desire to return to the biblical basics of the church.

The Restoration movement could ultimately be pinned on Luther and it has taken a multitude of names over the centuries. Now we call it emerging…(not my favorite term.)

We all have a sinking feeling, and perhaps a sincere concern, that we have added so many costumes, preoccupations, and presumptions to our religious practice that we render it void. I think many of us probably fear that our personal devotional lives have gone in the same way of becoming so pretentious that we are pretty useless to the cause of the Gospel.

See, I don’t feel that the Old Testament is the mold for clunky trappings and phony tall hats. I don’t think it’s antithetical to the New Testament. I think the Old Testament and it’s Old Covenant laws is Relationship With God For Dummies.

I have gleaned four core beliefs about God from tagging along on my mother’s spiritual sojourning. The following are unshakable foundations for how I read, interpret, and organize my understanding of the unity of the Bible:

  1. God does not change His mind. (Numbers 23:19)
  2. The physical and the spiritual are one reality, though mercifully, humans have a thin veil separating their perception of the spiritual activity in their physical reality. (Talk to anyone who has done hallucigenics, had a psychotic break, experiences prophetic dreams, has been a missionary, knows a Satanist, has read Genesis 3:7, knows anything about Eastern Orthodox or Catholic beliefs on the spiritual realm, has the unfortunate experience of having seen demons, or just entertains philosophical sytems other than Western scientific rationalism and materialism.) Based on the premise that we live in an equally spiritual and physical reality, I believe that God’s physical laws and promises are in no way separate from His spiritual laws and promises. In other words, Christians are the spiritual children of Abraham and have been grafted into the physical promises of Abraham along with his spiritual promises. My belief in both of these statements is ultimately grounded in that I see no significant difference, in the Old or New Testament, between how the physical and spiritual components of reality are treated.
  3. God is Triune in the Old and New Testaments. He did not become Triune over time, neither in revelation nor in relationship to humans. (Genesis 1, Judges 6, John 1-3.) Therefore, the Levitical laws were as much from the heart of Jesus as from the heart of the Father. (John 12: 44-50)
  4. God has always been more concerned with the heart’s condition than outward disciplines. That concept did not originate in Matthew 5– in fact Jesus turned up the heat on the law, judging the heart he made the law even harder to keep! Laws are to discipline the flesh. The more yielding a heart is the more free a person is from strict disciplines. (1 Samuel 15:22-23, Psalm 40:6, 1 Corinthians 8:1-10:13, and everything written about King David.)

Therefore, celebrating, and I do mean celebrating, any component of the Old Covenant does not automatically make a person a Hebrew Roots legalist. In my case, it’s just something I enjoy.

I don’t depend on the Day of Atonement to give me salvation for just one year. I depend on that atoning Good Friday long ago for my salvation forever.

I neither think that my works please God, nor do I disparage any work I do in pursuit of Him. I know where my eternal rest comes from. I know how it was that I became enrobed in righteousness. And remembering an earthly day of “solemn rest,” 1, 3, 7, or 52 sunsets a year as a foreshadowing of my Eternal Rest does not make me forget one iota that only faith pleases God.

By faith I know that God both demands sacrifice and is the sacrifice; that He simultaniously demands perfection and that He irrationally, literally, by choice sees me as perfect.

And if you choose to read Leviticus 23:26-32, regarding the institution of the Day of Atonement, let me give you the key words/phrases of faithful practice that are as applicable today as they were 3,000 years ago when the Torah was given:

  1. Be careful (1 Corinthians 16:13)
  2. Holy assembly (Hebrews 10:23-25)
  3. Deny yourselves (Matthew 16:24)
  4. Offerings of purification are made for you making you right with God (1 John 2:2)
  5. All who do not deny themselves will be cut off from God (Luke 9:24)

Be free in Jesus name. Even free enough to be unafraid of the Law– because in Jesus, it ain’t got nothing on you! (John 5:45)

 

 

Fall Feasts

“Blow the trumpets with a different signal.” Numbers 10:7

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, just passed us and signals the coming of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most solemn and holy day of the year for Jews.

Rosh Hashanah means the “Head of the Year.” There are actually four New Years on the Hebrew calendar, but Rosh Hashanah is the “head.” Each new year on the Hebrew calendar is used as a “first day” from which to count a year for a specific thing. The closest our calendar comes to this is April 15th being the start of the fiscal year even though by all other measures the year starts on January 1st.

What makes Rosh Hashanah special is what kind of year it starts. The year that it starts is more important than the others, and because of this, it is the head over the other new years.

Rosh Hashanah is the “New Year of the Sabbatical Year.” From Rosh Hashanah the year is counted out to make sure that every seventh year the land is given a “sabbath” by laying fallow, and that after every seven sevens (49) years, the whole culture in Israel was given the 50th year as not only a sabbath but a “jubilee,” in which every form of bondage and burden was released and lands that were lost were redeemed to their ancestral owners.

This sabbatical new year is considered more important than 1st of Nisan, which is the start date to count in years the rule of a king. This sabbatical new year is more important than 1st of Elul, which calculates the year to determine the timing of giving tithes to the priests. Finally the sabbatical new year is more important than 15th of Shvat. Tu B’Shvat is used as the start date to calculate the age of trees. That might sound a little strange, but it was unlawful to eat from a tree until it was three years old. So, in this case, having a specific date to determine how long three years is becomes very important!

In these new years, I see God’s relationship with His people– with us. Four new years giving detailed care to kings, to priests, to sabbath, and to trees. All images of His kingdom and His peoples experience in it.

The biblical name for Rosh Hashanah is “The Feast of Trumpets.” It is established as “a solemn day of rest and a holy convocation for all time” in Leviticus 23 (paraphrase.) It was to be commemorated by the blasts of trumpets.

Rest and trumpets are not natural companions in my mind, so I looked up every verse relating to trumps, trumpet, trumpets, and trumpeters in the whole of the Bible– Old and New Testament.

What is the quality of a trumpet in the Bible?

The broadest categories of trumpets in the Bible are trumpets signifying God’s approval and trumpets signifying God’s disapproval.*

More specifically there are trumpets that: call to worship, sounds of praise, and jubilation. There are trumps that signal the presence of God, that announce God’s victory and His coming to protect or avenge His people. There are reverent trumpets whose sound lays prostrate the people before God’s terrifying holiness. Another kind of trumpeting signifies the moment in which God’s people can draw near to His holy place– the moment He gives His permission to interact with Him. And finally, trumpets that herald the second coming, the rapture, and the resurrection.

All of these trumpets depict the story arc of God’s covenant, loving relationship to man.

In several passages, the trumpets are used to initiate a “release,” verbatim. In Numbers 10, Exodus 19 and 20, Judges 7, and Revelation 8, the trumpet blasts specifically are what the people, warriors, or angels were waiting to hear to know that it was time to run up, throw caution to the wind, unleash, let loose, go wild, do what they came for and what they were made for, set free, release.

And unironically of course, as I see more and more how poetic God is, the Shmita, the name for that seventh year, the year of rest for the land– the whole reason for having a “head of the year,” Rosh Hashanah– that carefully counted Shmita is known as: “the Year of Release.” 

I still contemplate exactly why God has made the seventh day holy and commands us to remember it, but the Feast of Trumpets insinuates something cosmic, eternal, and divinely orchestrated in the Sabbath that is far more terrifying, powerful, and purposeful than I have considered before– something that we are obliviously a part of as we wait in worldly tension for a release into uninhibited relationship with Him.

*I’ll deal with the “disapproval of God” trumpet references in my upcoming Yom Kippur post.