Fall Feasts

“A lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.” Matthew 5:15

The Jewish Hanukkah celebrations began this last Sunday night. We are now on night four. Eight nights of commemoration, celebration, and remembrance centering around a nine branched candelabra.

Hanukkah is a commemoration of the Hanukkah miracle. In order to rededicate the Temple after desecration, the Jews needed to have enough lamp oil to keep the Temple’s menorah lit eternally, but only had enough for one day.

One day versus eternity is quite a shortfall.

But, the insufficient oil miraculously lasted for 8 days. Still a laughable difference, however–not only did this eight day portion allow the rededication to begin, it also gave the Jews enough time to press more oil so that the Temple lamp could stay lit eternally as it is commanded in Temple protocols.

Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning. In the tent of meeting, outside the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the Lord from  evening til morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for generations to come. (Exodus 27:20-21)

God performed a miracle that allowed the Temple to be rededicated and purified.

His people had the will to do it. But it was physically impossible without God inserting Himself into natural reality, commanding physics to rearrange its principles, and giving to men the element they needed to act on the obedience already in their hearts.

There is such encouragement to someone like me to see on record the principle of rededication.

There is a lot of discussion about assurance of salvation. There is now. There always has been.

Can you lose your salvation? If you apostasize does it mean you were never saved? When a professing, discipled Christian defiles himself with rebellion, stubbornness, and periods of recreational sin, is there a way back for them?

Are we once saved, always saved, if saved at all?

Well, no people has ever belonged to God simply by His confession, except for the ancient Israelites.

But, God Himself said repeatedly that there was no people on earth as rebellious, stubborn and determined to sin as the Israelites. He said the most sinful of their neighbors would be aghast at what they did.

God also said of them:

As for you, O people of Israel, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Go right ahead and worship your idols, but sooner or later you will obey me and will stop bringing shame on my holy name by worshipping idols. For on my holy mountain, the great mountain of Israel, says the Sovereign Lord, the people of Israel will someday worship me, and I will accept them. (Ezekiel 20:40-41)

Sooner. Or later. You’ll stop prostituting yourself out to other gods. Sooner or later. And when you do: I. Will. Accept you.

Jesus is the sooner or later. God has unleashed the irrepressible power of His acceptance. The Holy Spirit submerges us in the permanence of God’s confession to keep as as His treasure.

Jesus died for all peoples so that those who would confess Him as Lord would be saved, and adopted into the people of Israel that God unequivocally claimed as His own possession (John 3:16-18; Galatians 3:5-29; Deuteronomy 7:6).

Our confession for Him is one day’s worth of oil to light our Temple lamp. God’s confession for us is eternity’s worth of oil to provide us the means to obey the command that: “There in my presence it is to burn from evening until morning. This command is to be kept forever by the Israelites and their descendants,” Exodus 27:21 (GNT).

The Hanukkah menorah is placed in a window after it is lit, so that everyone who sees will remember the Hanukkah miracle.

We proclaim the Gospel as part of our confession of salvation through Christ.

It can be easy to conflate works of evangelism as our “eternal oil.” The “good things” we do “for God.”

As if God is not capable of exercising all manner of good on earth. As if God does not create and destroy with the perfect goodness of His will and judgment.

No. We put our light on a stand to say, “For one day I had a fleeting moment of belief. Somehow in one hour, my senseless skin felt a touch of the Spirit; and in a hasty moment my mouth broke free from my brain and I confessed Jesus as Lord of my life.”

We act on this one brief portion of the Anointing Spirit that draws near to us. And in return that Oil redoubles and reproduces and grows and increases from age to age– and keeps us forever as a people holy unto the Lord (Deuteronomy 7:6).

 

 

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven,” Matthew 5:16. 

 

 

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.

 

Shavuot and Pentecost

“The women represent two covenants.” Galatians 4:24

Where we have landed in the Proverbs 31 Family series— the Patriarchs’ families— is pretty perfect for the timing of the biblical calendar. In May, we’ll be celebrating Shavuot and Pentecost. I’ll be writing exclusively about the holidays for the month, picking The Proverbs 31 Family series back up in June.

Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses. Christians celebrate Pentecost at this same time, which as we read in the book of Acts was when the Spirit was given as the helper and comforter of Christ’s disciples. The giving of the Law. The giving of the Spirit.

So, what might this have to do with the families we have been reading about? Well, in Galatians 4, you’ll find Hagar and Sarah given as allegories for the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The analogy hinges on the difference between one of them being a slave and the other being free. Paul emphasizes to the Galatians that in Christ, we are not enslaved to the law but are free. He also comments that Hagar and her children are the “present Jerusalem” and that Sarah and her children of promise are of “the Jerusalem that is above.”

The Jerusalem “that is above” refers to the Kingdom of God. It’s the Jerusalem that we are waiting for. This is the life of faith— it is a life of waiting, anticipation, belief in, and fidelity to something above our comprehension and beyond our field of vision. Sarah is the mother of the children of faith.

Now, as you know, I have painted Sarah in a bit of an unflattering fashion. I have pointed out her prickly habit of unforgiveness toward Abraham, and her unfair treatment of her slave girl. Well, I am going to go ahead and continue on with that description of her.

Sarah is a priceless picture of what unforgiveness looks like in a believer’s life. Sarah exhibits actions and reactions that I believe are systematic of unforgiveness, and are recognizable in the lives of any person or family plagued by a habit of being unforgiving.

My family was discussing unforgiveness at lunch not too long ago, and my aunt asked, “How do I know if I have forgiven someone?”

Believe it or not, secular and spiritual alike, you can find myriad articles on that very question. People regardless of moral, spiritual, and religious persuasion are plagued by unforgiveness; they recognize its affect on their lives, relationships, —and health— and they desperately desire to shake off the shackles of old grudges and wounds that just won’t heal.

“How do I know if I have forgiven someone?” You know that you have forgiven someone when you stop acting like Sarah.

Sarah’s unforgiveness, and all of our unforgiveness, goes beyond an attitude or emotion set. Unforgiveness is not invisible. It’s not very sneaky either. It hides behind the sheer vestige of “getting along,” but come on— we see you, Unforgiveness!

Unforgiveness has a palpable agenda and physical pawns. These pawns are called: leverage and collateral. Sarah had leverage from the past and collateral in the present.

Sarah was so eager to blame Hagar’s presence in the camp on Abraham, but she shared some responsibility. Hagar had begged her to come with them away from Egypt. She could have said no. Can I posit for a moment that Sarah might have been happy to bring a living reminder of what Abraham had done wrong in Egypt along with her?

How many of us have been happy to keep a little something from the past with us to use against a loved one? A good failure from someone’s past works wonders in the “getting my way” department.

And while you are keeping the past alive, make sure to double down on the mess “he made” in the present— find a way to grow that past failure into a living, breathing piece of collateral— like Ishmael. “If you don’t…I will.” That’s collateral.

Sarah had cast Ishamael out once while just in his mother’s belly, when Abraham didn’t hop to. You better believe she’d do it again…which she did. And you can’t say that didn’t hurt Abraham, because the bible specifically says that it did.

How do you know if you’ve forgiven? If you have stopped weaponizing the past, you have forgiven. If you’ve stopped insinuating threats, then you have forgiven.

If someone is “on probation,” that’s not forgiveness. If you’re still “always right,” that’s not forgiveness. If you could write the play book for “How to Get Others to Walk on Egg Shells”— that’s not forgiveness!

So many of us, who are called by Christ’s name, feel like we have not been set free. We still feel chained down, fogged in, and like every door is painted shut. We still feel like we are under the law.

If that is the case for you, which it has been for me— God has been revealing my own spiritual baggage, praise Jesus!— you need to recall the Lord’s prayer. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

I have often wondered which meaning of “as” that phrase was using. And that’s not a nit-picky, semantic question— it makes a difference. Because of how we use the word “as” in English, this line of the prayer could mean two things.

  1. “Forgive us our sins while we forgive those who have sinned against us.”
  2. “Forgive us our sins like we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

Well, the good news, and very challenging news, is I believe that it is both. The second reading, I interpret, as relating to Jubilee. To forgive like the Jews would have been in the biblical style of Jubilee. I will be touching on this subject this month in the context of Shavuot, and again during Advent.

The first reading of “Forgive us our sins” is the personally challenging reading. Forgive us “while.” That’s a conditional word. It means our ability to forgive has a direct correlation to our being forgiven. I know— of course!— that Jesus paid the penalty of our sins, as our kinsman Redeemer. However, forgiveness is an ongoing process that is dependent on us. Let me put it this way: “Free us while we free others.”

If you want to experience freedom, you’ve got to free others.

Leverage and collateral are actions. They’re not attitudes that we can’t help. Whether or not we use them is within our self-control. They are conscious, active, formulated, weaponized words and non-verbal communication that are meant to keep others enslaved by us.

And, yes, I know those others deserve it! Believe me— mine deserve it!!

Under the law they deserve it. But Jesus makes it clear that we are not under the law, but in the Spirit. And in the Spirit, our freedom depends on our freeing others.

We might think that we need deliverance from some ball and chain that is keeping us down. Well, let me inform you— there are two kinds of ball and chain. One is a shackle that weighs down a prisoner from escaping. The other is a weapon. It’s a medieval weapon called a “flail” or a “ball-mace.” If you’ve seen Braveheart you’ve seen this weapon. It is also a ball and chain— a ball covered in spikes, wielded and swung by a chain.

We are the one’s holding the chain, wielding reckless death to others. The scariest thing about forgiveness is that if we put our ball-mace down, if we stop holding leverage and collateral over other people’s heads, how do we know they won’t hurt us again?

We don’t know that, but life in the Spirit is a life of faith. It is “the Jerusalem that is above.” We put our faith in God not the other person. And we do it imperfectly. We forgive and have faith imperfectly. Thank God, that just like Sarah, who didn’t really by the book deserve to be hailed as faithful or forgiving, we are perceived by God, in the Spirit, as deserving and faithful.

I am so excited for Shavuot and Pentecost as we will look more deeply into forgiveness and faith, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

What are we forgiven from?— our failures under the law— Shavuot. And what are we forgiven for?— freedom in the Spirit— Pentecost.

Testimony

Purim to Passover. Exodus and Esther

Passover ends tomorrow. I can feel a season of my life passing with it. A wintery storm dominated the last four months of our family’s life. Beginning on my daughter’s birthday, December 7th to tomorrow, April 7th, one disaster followed another.

On Clementine’s birthday, she and I went to visit her great-grandmother, my husband’s grandmother. That day we found out that Grandma Pat was not doing well. At 89 years old she was living independently, paying her own bills, had only recently stopped driving, and had control of her mental and physical faculties. But she wasn’t getting around well. And she wasn’t thinking very clearly. And she was very uncomfortable with her medical care. She had a deeply entrenched depression, and she begged her daughter to put her into hospice.

Dave and I began to visit more often and tried to take on a more helpful role. We began visiting near daily. On the 40th day of our visits, Grandma Pat had passed away. Home hospice had come in. Grandma Pat had relaxed into the care of strangers and on into eternity.

I had a very difficult time accepting this. It was maddening to me to watch her let go of her hope—literally maddening, I was worried about my mental health during this time! Later a hospital chaplain at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital told me, “It sounds like it has been difficult for you to let go of your vision for her life. You had a vision of joy and longevity for her, and that is not what happened.” This helped let go of her life and release her death.

The hospital chaplain— that’s one other story. The night after Grandma Pat’s passing, Clementine was in the emergency room. She had been vomiting frequently. We’d be back in the emergency room a few weeks later. Clementine had a golf ball sized lump on the left side of her neck. After a week of Clemmie not taking her antibiotics, and diagnoses from swollen lymph nodes to cat scratch fever to hematoma floated, her lump was inflamed and her pediatrician instructed us to rush her to Stanford’s ER and told us to pack a bag because she’d need surgery and to be admitted for a few days.

Well, she was admitted for a few days, for eight days in fact. She had a 4cm abscess that the surgeons kept calling “impressive.” That is code for “scary.” She had to go under anesthesia twice. That reduced me to a puddle of crying mommy. She had to have four different IVs put in and underwent twice daily blood draws— all under the restraining talents of seven adults, two parents, and special ultrasound tools. Whenever the lab sent just one person with a tray of tubes, we’d ask, “they didn’t tell you about her?” A sort of “you’re gunna need a bigger boat.”

After a few days, we were probably going to get to go home. They had removed the drain that had been TWO inches in her neck. Clemmie was riding around the cardiovascular unit in a red wagon when I noticed a growth on the right side of her neck. We had known there were four smaller abscesses on her right side. One could not be “needle” aspirated because it was behind her carotid artery. So we had to let it grow.

It has been growing! Clementine’s “owie lump” has taken us back up to Stanford every week since we were discharged. It is still really red and leaky sometimes, but our wonderful doctor has been needling it in her clinic and doing everything in her power to keep Clemmie out of the hospital. Dr. Ahmad is aware that Dave was recently diagnosed with testicular cancer, so she has been doing her best to help us minimize the stress of Clementine’s treatment.

When I say that Dr. Ahmad is aware Dave was diagnosed recently, I mean that he was diagnosed with cancer while we were admitted at the children’s hospital. The week after we got home from Stanford, I was back in Palo Alto for Dave to have surgery to remove the tumor. The next day I made the trek again for Clementine’s abscess to be aspirated in clinic. This means she was strapped into a straight jacket on a table in what looks like an optometrist office and stuck with a syringe. Once pus begins to come up into the syringe, the doctor hand presses out an entire vial of infection and then some.

The medical procedures are barely half of it. We took the child life specialist’s advice and bought Clemmie medical toys for play therapy. From playing with her, it seems that the most trauma has been sustained in administering her antibiotics at home. I completely agree with her! That has been quite traumatic for me as well!!

Dave has been recovering emotional and physically from his surgery. We are waiting for his follow-up appointment to find out what the next steps in his treatment will be. We also will need to take steps to treat and accommodate the degenerative arthritis in his lower back that was revealed in a CT scan that was looking for more cancer.

Talk about the angel of death! I will be happy to see him pass over! The intensity of these past four months, and the fear of loss, has completely overhauled my stress coping skills. The only coping skill I have had, is to trust God. This is not trust-fall trust, this is like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon leaping into ether trust.

That day we first took Clementine to the emergency room in Monterey was February 28th. This year that was the date of Purim. Purim is the holiday established in the book of Esther. It commemorates the uncovering of an evil plot to destroy God’s people. The result of the plot being uncovered is that God’s people were able to be armed to defend themselves against the coming attack.

Purim is a major Jewish holiday. The next major holiday in the Biblical calendar is “Pesach” or Passover. Passover lasts a week with a feast on the first sabbath and a feast on the second sabbath within that week. Tomorrow is the “2nd Passover” feast. I felt very strongly in the weeks leading up to Purim that we were in a season of exposure true to the theme of Esther.

It was! Illness that was fomenting in the dark was brought to light during Purim. It is painful to face six weeks of hospitals, anesthesia, surgeries, wage losses, fear of death! But hidden threats are far worse than those exposed. Praise God that he revealed the threat!

Physically and spiritually we are constantly under threat. You know, like, wash your hands ’cause bacteria, viruses, and parasites are basically continually plotting against us;) Passover celebrates protection. It reminds us of salvation and deliverance. My hope is that with the end of Passover coming, that I will in fact see that salvation and deliverance of the Lord.

This season between Purim and Passover has been unreal. I wouldn’t trade it though. As with all our trials, the Lord doesn’t just give us resources in tough times, He gives us Himself.

 

 

Easter

“Do this in remembrance” Exodus 12 & Luke 22

Until today I was unaware of what Maundy Thursday is. It is a celebration of the command to “love each other” given at the Last Supper.* “Maundy” originates from the latin for “command.” I know the Israelites were commanded to remember the night that the angel of death “passed over” them. I know that Jesus told his disciples to remember him when they partake in Communion. I have not contemplated until today what overlap there might be between the Old Covenant Passover and the New Covenant Communion.

Unconsciously, I have always conceptualized the Last Supper as different from the Passover, though of course the Last Supper was a Passover meal. I want to lay down, real quick, a short list of similarities between to the two. In fact, let me jump to my conclusion— Jesus completed the Passover requirement and then doubled down on it at the Last Supper; which I would say is pretty consistent with everything that Jesus did whilst on Earth.

Exodus 12 gives a detailed picture as to how the Israelites were to celebrate the Passover, why they were to celebrate the Passover, and who could celebrate the Passover. Luke 22 gives us the same details about Communion according to Jesus’ instructions at the Last Supper, or First Supper if you will.

So let’s look at this without too much fuss:

How to celebrate: Celebrate with a special meal containing symbolic components.

Why to celebrate: Celebrate to remember the work of God’s salvation.

Who can celebrate: Only God’s people can celebrate this meal.

The third point caught me a bit off guard at first. I didn’t realize that Passover was only for the “native-born Israelites” or people who had effectively converted by being circumcised (Exodus 12:43-49.) “No outsiders are allowed to eat the Passover meal,” Exodus 12:43. I feel that that point is specifically important in regard to the Last Supper.

The Maundy command “to love one another” is a command for Christians to love each other. It’s not a command for Christians to love the lost soul. It is not a command for all people to love one another. When Christians participate in Communion or when they celebrate the Last Supper they are to remember that God cares about how people in the church treat each other.

The people we go to church with can be pretty irritating. Some are over-religious. Some are too cool being obnoxiously proud of their record collection and slight drinking habit. Some are theology snobs, some are bible trivia nerds. Some volunteer for everything, others do Sunday service in a dine-and-dash fashion. Some are nosy, some are aloof. And most are self-righteously concerned about whether the people they go to church with are “really saved.” Cause, you know, if they were “really saved,” their kid wouldn’t act like that, they wouldn’t dress like that, you wouldn’t see them at the kind of places you see them at, they wouldn’t keep people’s Tupperware dishes, they’d RSVP on time, their husband wouldn’t have left like that…

Well, Jesus laid to rest the “really saved” topic at the Last Supper. Passover is celebrated to remember God’s salvation in the past from slavery and the tradition is continued forward in the hope of continued salvation. Passover celebrates an unfinished work, which is best illustrated by the Jewish custom of setting a place for Elijah at the Passover seder. When Jesus took the unleavened bread, symbolic of sinlessness, and the cup of wine, symbolic of the lamb’s blood used on the door posts by the Hebrews as a sign to the angel of death that he should pass over that house, and he said about the bread and wine “these are me,” he was saying, “it is finished.” That ongoing hope of salvation commemorated in Passover was complete. Salvation is no longer an on-going quest, but a mission fulfilled.

But, like I said, Jesus tends to double down. So with the fore-shadowing purpose of Passover completed, what was it that the Last Supper was to symbolize carrying forward? It is no longer a hope of salvation, but a reminder that Jesus has established a Kingdom for those who are saved. That Kingdom is one of love defined by servanthood, a Kingdom of thrones seated upon by the lowliest members of mankind.

Jesus famously washed his disciples feet during the Last Supper according to the Gospel of John. Peter objected to Jesus’ act of humility. But Jesus told him, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” Jesus also said “since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.”

Belonging to Jesus requires no on-going pursuits of salvation, but an on-going pursuit of humility. The perfect opportunity to do that is amongst our annoying brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no satisfaction in serving the saved. I feel way better about myself when I evangelize or give away spare change. Loving people “who should know better” is harder. Paul says that Christians should give up all their rights for each other. We remember the Kingdom and how the Kingdom operates, when we love one another.

Perhaps the next time the gold trays with tiny cups and puffy square crackers is laid out, our reflection might center less on our “personal door-posts” and our need for the salvation in the Passover blood. Rather, remember the level of lowliness that Christ expects of us, and the tender regard for our brothers and sisters He expects us to have, as the requirement of being categorized as His own.

*”The Other Holy Day,” Christianity Today