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)

 

 

The Proverbs 31 Family

“It was the woman you gave me…” Genesis 3:12

This woman you gave me. Adam may as well have said, “God, you aren’t good. You give bad gifts. God, you tempted me by binding me to this temptress. God, you rigged the deck against me.”

This kind of attitude undergirds the war of the sexes– man and woman look at each other with contempt, suspicion, and a rebellious need to control one another because we fail to believe that the spouses that God has given us are good gifts.

We think little of God’s sovereignty and grace until one of His gifts to us seems to short circuit. We think much of our own influence and goodness until we misstep. When we fail devastatingly, suddenly we’re Calvinists and God is some controlling overlord that should have stopped us, or should have put a hurdle in our way. The rest of the year we are good Arminians gleefully paving the way to our own spiritual mountaintops.

When we hate a member of the opposite sex, when we revile our spouse, we discredit God’s good gift to us in the form of a partner, and we sin against His command to be fruitful and abundant together (Genesis 1:28.)

When we are at odds with the opposite sex, a person who we are supposed to be in productive relationship with, we are not victim to a raw deal, we are continuing on with the willful, deceptive, rebellious attributes of the Curse.

I mean in this to say, enmity from a sister to a brother or a brother to a sister in Christ, is a sinful action against God’s gift to us.

We do this in all areas of life! We take something God gave us in grace, abuse the expanse of freedom given us, and then blame God for our inability to work out our salvation, to build our family, to exercise our gifting, to submit to one another, to be least, to be last, to be a faithful servant.

Look at what our compass chapter through this series, Proverbs 31, says: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, to guzzle wine. Rulers should not crave alcohol. For if they drink they may forget the law and not give justice to the oppressed. Alcohol is for the dying, and wine for those in bitter distress. Let them drink to forget their poverty and remember their troubles no more,” (vs. 4-7.)

Kings and queens and priests– what God calls us through our sonship because of Christ, do not live in active self-pity.

And the first area of active self-pity to eradicate in the Christian life is a mistrust of God over the mistakes that a dear one made and in so doing led you into that mistake with them.

The Proverbs 31 Queen Mother advises her son to find a wife who is actively trusting in God as evidenced by her strength, dignity, and boldness (Proverbs 31:25.)

“This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They trusted God and accepted the authority of their husbands,” 1 Peter 3:5.

The challenge of this verse is marginally about submission, and majorly about trusting God. If your litmus for submission is built on trust in each other, your house will fall. We can only be successful together when our constant endeavor is to trust God and to have our productivity as a unit to stem from there.

The command for men to love their wives as Christ loves the Church is equally as much founded on trust in God as woman’s trust in her husband must be founded on trust in God. Love is not contingent upon your trust in your wife. What does Christ’s love for the Church look like?

It looks like a man who found a treasure hidden (the Kingdom of God) in a field and in His joy over it sells all He has (the Cross) to buy the field (the world), in which He has reburied the treasure. (Matthew 13:44)

Jesus did not purchase those who are His out of the world, but rather entrusted His kingdom to us while in the world until His return. That is immense trust!

That is the kind of trust that King Lemuel has in his wife, to whom he entrusts all that he has, his entire household, and the investment of his riches, and the dignity of his reputation while he rules and reigns at the city gate. (Proverbs 31:10-31.)

Our marriages, our partnerships and relationships in business and church and community dealings between men and women, the success of them, the failure of them,  reflect nothing less than our trust in God and the tides of our going in or our coming out of life under the Curse.

There is life under the law of sin and death, and their is life under the law of grace– the law of grace being full satisfaction in the goodness of God. We see the reflection of our freedom in how we behave when standing face to face with each other.

The Proverbs 31 Family

“The Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Judges 4:9

I have to begin by pointing out that the most read translations of Judges 4:9 read, “The Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman” or “The Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” That’s the NLT and NIV respectively. But the most common phrase across translations of the Bible used to explain Jael’s victory over Sisera is that he was “sold” to her. “The Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.”

Why was God selling him? Sell? Not give, sell. Well, here is my postulation: The victory over Sisera belonged to a man named Barak. God had set this certain victory aside for Barak. God did not just give the victory away when Barak asked the judge, Deborah to go with him into battle; Barak had declined God’s gift of victory so God allowed Jael, a non-Israelite woman, to buy that victory from Barak through the currency of her cunning and opportunism.

It was given to Barak, it was bought through labor by Jael.*

God always gives gifts designed for us with only minimal effort required for us to enjoy them. The Garden of Eden? It was given to man to rule over as a marvelous gift. It hardly required more than naming animals. It blossomed and flourished and was renewed by rivers that God placed there. All Adam had to do was accept the gift and reap the benefits of it.

It was the same for Barak. He didn’t approach Deborah to ask for an adventure or conquest that God might have for him. Deborah called him to come to her so she could tell him that God was giving him a gift– a victory over the general Sisera that would free his people from the oppression of King Jabon the Caananite, meaning that God heard their prayers even after all the evil paths they had followed, which is why God had allowed King Jabon to overcome them in the first place.

Sweet gift! This is like a gift of victory, freedom, fame, legacy, and probably an opportunity of high position among the Israelites in re-forming a functioning government once the fog of battle cleared.

But Barak, gives a condition for accepting this gift– that Deborah come too. This reveals a  weakness, a lack of readiness, deficient moxie, no gumption.

The victory was sure; God promised it. It was for the taking– but not really, because only one person had it been given to, Barak, only he could take it. Deborah rallies the warriors saying, “This is the day the Lord will give you [Israel] victory over Sisera, for the Lord is marching ahead of you,” Judges 4:14.

The freedom was for Israel, the credit was for Barak. He passed. So Deborah says, welp, your gift that you didn’t want will be sold to a foreigner, a woman.

I firmly disbelieve that Deborah told Barak that a woman would have his victory as a misogynistic punishment. It wasn’t like, “you are such a coward that even a woman could do what I ask.” Ummmm, no.

I think Deborah was prophesying. After all, she called Barak to give him a prophesy; the whole conversation was prophetic.

I believe that there is a system of giving and receiving that is revealed in this passage. This story does not, however, describe a system of command and punishment.

Judges 4 and 5 teach vital principles about the governing properties of God’s promises. 

God creates a gift for you. You either accept or deny it. Meaning it can, not necessarily will but can be sold to someone else. Like a spouse. A house. A business. It is yours until you let it go, at which time someone else can purchase it.

That’s why Jesus had to buy back the world. God made it as a gift for us, and the serpent tricked us into giving it to him, into letting it go, into saying, “Eh, I’ll pass, thanks.”

That’s why Jesus had to come as a man and not just God who is spirit. The world was made for man and only a man could buy it back. We sold it to Satan for an apple.

The good news is, after Barak and Deborah went into battle– after Jael tricked Sisera into taking a nap in her tent and drove a stake through his skull while he slept– everyone shared in the joy.

The people sang jubilantly and heralded the exploits of Deborah. And they blessed Jael. And they acknowledged Barak too. No one was left out from the victory dance.

That is the great hope of salvation. Many of us are gunna pass on various gifts, callings, triumphs, blessings that God designed for us. But either way, whether we live a fulfilling and victorious Christian life, or a defeated and embattled Christian life, when Jesus comes back we will all partake in His glory, His victory, and His jubilant, joyful song. 

 

 

*The idea that “work” and “money” are equivalents originates no later than famous philosopher, John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. Also, biblically, we see Jacob having to buy Rachel with 14 years of labor, among other tales portraying labors of love that we find throughout the only worthwhile Romance in the universe known as Holy Scripture.

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.