Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Putting DOWN our Dukes: Exodus' Compelling Argument for Why Believers Should Stop Retaliating

I must admit something to you: I don't like being taken advantage of, or abused, or used. I know, you're thinking, 'Who does?' The confession is that one of my biggest challenges as a believer, a representative of our Great God, is maintaining self-control in the face of what I perceive as attack of this sort. It's so easy to succumb to that feeling of emotional charge, defensiveness, and to let it compel us to do something reckless, and sinful - like completely unleashing verbal abuse on someone or slanderous, poisonous gossip and the like.

We think we create these defense mechanisms to protect our hearts, our egos, and our reputations. When someone throws a punch - be it a snarky remark, a dig at our professional reputations or whatever it may be - the biggest temptation is to don those sparring gloves and give it right back to the opponent. It seems like the most justified and rational response at that moment. Right? However, in studying the opening chapters of Exodus this week, I noticed something that made me look at this response a little differently.

Retaliate or Repair?

In Chapter 7 of Exodus, YHWH (God's formal name in Hebrew) begins to exact - via Moses - a number of plagues on the unbelieving, unrelenting Egyptian Pharaoh, who is ruthlessly enslaving the Israelite people. In response to the first sign given to him (Exodus 7:10-11) Pharaoh calls together his counsel of wise men and sorcerers and magicians, who are able to replicate it with seeming ease.

This pattern continues. Egypt's primary and precious water source, the Nile, is made like blood, having to be filtered out in order to be drinkable (Exodus 7:20-24). In response to this terrifying act, "the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts" (Exodus 7:22). Again when frogs begin to swarm the land, "the magicians did the same with their secret arts, making frogs com up on the land of Egypt" (Exodus 8:7). These problems were really serious. Drinking water attacked; frogs filling up every home and road and public place. And their response is to copy it. Call me crazy, but it seems like this is an irrational response. Certainly it is self-serving. There is a nation of terrified, suffering people. As far as Egypt knew, they had the skill set to potentially improve or resolve these issues, to help their people, to heal their land. But instead, they chose the road of retaliation.

Someone once told me that negativity is thrown around like a little invisible ball of energy. Once someone throws it at you, it eats at you unless you throw it back out at someone else - that it's the only thing that can relieve you. But I would argue that this short-lived 'relief' leaves an awful lot of collateral damage. Rather than resolving the ultimate issues, we are only creating a larger wake - more tension, more stress, more negativity. When you think about how unproductive the labor of these magicians really was - and think about how similar it is to our reactions to altercations in life - it really does shine some light on how fruitless and irrational it all really is. Let's be different than these guys. Because as we'll see - you can't win 'em all with this method.

You Can't Win 'Em All

By plague number three, the magicians come up against a plague they simply can't replicate: lice (Exodus 8:18). Two plagues had passed and they still hadn't learned that this method was not helping anyone! And now they were faced with a challenge they couldn't overcome. Guess what? Maybe you've succeeded in putting people in their place in your family or in friendships. Perhaps your quick wit and retaliation skills have served you well with most people. But eventually, you will encounter someone that will outmatch you. Maybe it will be someone in authority, maybe it will be a large entity that is unaffected by your angry response.

Today I read a letter posted online from a man who had been issued a 'cease and desist' letter for the use of one of their drink names on his menu. The name was honestly merely similar and not exact; it was a small business that could never have really done any real damage to the business of Starbucks - he wasn't even selling a coffee drink! Instead of just simply changing the name, though, he responded with a punchy letter and a $6 check, paying sarcastically the entity for the profit he'd made on the name. In the end, he still had to remove the drink name from his menu. And Starbucks didn't much care that he had sent that letter. In fact, they probably totally disregarded it. What good did that do? While many applauded this man for 'giving it to them,' I thought it was quite sad - his actions were, in truth, insignificant - a waste of time. People applauded sarcasm and slandered Starbucks. But nothing changed for the better. Eventually, if this is your modus operandi, you will find that it doesn't always work, and it certainly doesn't always make you feel better and that no real good ever comes from it. It's like Solomon says, "striving against he wind."

The Great Divide

Another detail that must be a consideration in this whole episode between the Egyptians and the Israelites and their powerful God (who is ours too!) is the reason they were being targeted in the first place. In Exodus 7:5 God makes is pretty clear what he is up to: "The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord." He could have just removed the Israelites from Egypt at any time - but He wanted to do more than that - He wanted to reveal Himself to them, and show them the distinction and privilege of being a people who love Him.

By plague number four we see that the Lord begins to specifically target Egyptian homes and not those of the Hebrews living in Egypt:

I will send swarms of flies on you and on your servants and on your people and into your houses; and the houses of the Egyptians, will be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they dwell. But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people are living, so that no swarms of flies will be there, in order that you may know that I, the Lord, am in the midst of the land. I will put a division between My people and your people. (Exodus 8:21-23)

Beloved, when the Lord God enters into covenant with us through our belief in Jesus Christ, we go from one corner - that of the bondage and self-sufficiency represented by Egypt - to God's side - one that includes provision, protection, and promise. God once told Israel that there was nothing special about them that warranted His redeeming them. He did it that the world would know what He could do and provide, that He might be glorified. We certainly don't deserve God's protection, His redemption. There is nothing, really, that separates us from those we perceive as most sinful - EXCEPT God's sweet grace poured out at Calvary. Let that be a reminder to us to be grateful every day for the privilege of being one of His chosen - to remember that instead of chaos and confusion, we enjoy peace. Instead of an unsecured future, we have sturdy foundation, a future, and a hope. Knowing all that should cause us to live to bring glory to His name, to sing His praises, to tell His story, to live by His principles. And that means, as hard as it is sometimes, not resorting to the methods of the losing team, and instead, being patient, kind and resilient in the face of ugliness - and remembering just Who's "got your six."

Who's Side are You On? 

Let me share with you one final bit of information I discovered in Exodus about God's team. In chapter 6, there is a genealogy inserted that, at first glance, seems to have little significance to us. But when the book you're reading is titled Names (that's what Sh'mot, the Hebrew name for Exodus means) then you can bet that the names in that book are of particular relevance.

These are the heads of their fathers' households. The sons of Reuben, Israel's first-born: Hanoch and Pallu, Hezron and Carmi; these are the families of Reuben. Exodus 6:14

This verse alone tells us a great deal about ourselves, when we look at the meanings of these Hebrew names:

"Reuben" --> Behold! A son! (the first born of Jacob, later renamed Israel)

"Hanoch" --> Dedicated

"Pallu" --> Distinguished

"Hezron" --> Surrounded by a wall (fortified)

"Karmi" --> My Vineyard

If I put these names together, they tell us just who Israel - and you and I - are to God. From God's firstborn son, who is Jesus Christ, come a people - they are dedicated to His cause, they are distinguished, set apart, holy. They are fortified by God because they are His special vineyard, created to bear, acts, according to that holiness.

Sweet friends, this must be our agenda, our identity. We must remember who's corner we are in. Ultimately, the fight in Exodus was not between Israel and Egypt. It was between God and Egypt. When we encounter tough interpersonal situations, let's remember that the battle isn't really ours either. But the choice is. We can choose to resort to futile and fruitless enemy tactics, or we can remember who we are, remember our call, and choose a better response, instead of a careless, sinful reaction. We can love, we can be patient, we can forgive - and create a win for Christ.

Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but give a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. 
1 Peter 3:9

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
John 3:35

Praying blessings over you in this New Year - Make it count, stay in the battle - with open hands full of mercy and praise for our remarkable God, not fists full of anger.

See you in 2014!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Vantage Points

This past week I had the delight and privilege of performing in one of our church's Children's Ministry productions that retells the Christmas story through hilarious videos, a huge cast of puppets and amazingly talented young dancers who serve as our children's worship team. In the midst of memorizing lines and late night rehearsals followed by an onslaught of seven performances in addition to my already very hectic holiday season and work load, I was struck with a thought.

The character I played in the show was discovering, at a rather remedial pace, the story of Christ's birth. In the apex of the show, she finally pieces together all the elements - Mary was told she would conceive a son, shepherds saw angels who proclaimed the birth of the Messiah, a star led wise men to the newborn King of Kings. Often, it is in moments that I'm in the middle of teaching that unbeknownst to the listener God is actually teaching me. This was one of those occasions. I stood in the spotlight recounting the details before the crowd and suddenly realized something: not one of the parties involved on that fateful night in our salvation history had the luxury of the full picture of the events!

Maybe that seems rather obvious, but think about it: The wise men only knew they needed to follow a star, the shepherds only heard the angels proclaiming Messiah, Mary stored up the beautiful prophecies pronounced about her son in amazement. Each had his or her own compartmentalized role, knowing nothing of the many and miraculous others. It was not until much later that all of those parties came together in a linear story for us to enjoy and recount.

So often in life, we want the whole scoop from God regarding our own circumstances, don't we? We want to know what He's doing and every move He's making on our behalf. We get so frustrated because we can't see everything that's going on and so we often mistake that limited vision for inactivity on our Lord's part. We throw up our hands in impatience and frustration because we feel entitled to have the knowlege of the angels, the shepherds, the wise men, and even the camel if it can make us feel like we're somewhat in control! All the while, the Lord longs to remind us that, far from the main point of the story, it's simply not all about us. We tend to look to ourselves as the heros and heroines of the plot, while truthfully, our role is to use our vantage point to draw near and command attention to something - or rather Someone - else.

What a beautiful reminder the story of our Savior's birth is, that we don't have to have all the details, we don't have to be burdened by those things - that our imperfection and poor timing don't keep us from God's best for us. Our Father can orchestrate the story perfectly with each of us right where he or she is, and we need only a faith-filled and willing heart, not the inside track. Notice, despite all they didn't know, all those men and women of the Nativity ended up right where they were supposed to in that story: on their knees before the Savior. And that is where you and I are being called as well, sweet friends.

During this season of remembrance, can we let our hearts be humbled? Let's allow this time of celebration to remind us that we need only keep our focus on Yeshua, Jesus. We don't have to keep the story of our lives going. God is moving, He is working, He has not forgotten about the tiniest of details, and His timing is just right. I pray that as you wait, as you dream, as you walk, as you live out your faith, that this small reminder brings the sweet blessing of releasing your grip and instead raising your hands in praise. After all, God is with us!

Blessings to you and yours from the Tadlocks!

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rejoicing in the Roadblocks

I can't help but note these days that there is a common thread running through my life and those of many of my good friends, with our conversations peppered with dialogue like this...

"Everything was really happening, I thought it was taking off, and then..."

"I've been working so hard, trying so hard to get things off the ground, but there's just one problem..."

"I'm doing everything I know how to do, and nothing seems to be working!"

If you haven't ever felt this way before, know that a time will inevitably come when you find yourself desperately trying to get things done, waiting anxiously and expectantly, running and pursuing and fighting, but then...boom! Roadblock. And when that happens, you can end up feeling exhausted and hurt and discouraged, tired of spinning your wheels and unsure of whether to keep pressing on or give up forever.

What makes it more frustrating is when our pursuits are not ungodly ones - when we have ministry passions and dreams, hopes for family planning, desires for fulfilling relationships and ambitions for successful careers. When we are daughters of God Most High and we find ourselves not feeling successful in our endeavors, especially ones that, in our minds, would honor the Lord, what are we to do? How in the world can we find joy and peace and persevere in the midst of things not going according to plan?

• Don't Buy in to the 'Grass is Greener' Mentality

I know when there's something I particularly want that God has me waiting for or has even said no to, suddenly everyone around me seems to be having it and talking about it. The truth is, that is not really the case, it's just that our senses are just heightened to it. Often we deal with our frustration by looking outward and comparing our lives with others, and because we are upset, we often make irrational and incorrect assumptions. Someone may indeed have what it is you want, but trust me, they have their own unique set of frustrations and setbacks. The grass is not greener on the other side. That's not where the answer lies.

• Beware of the Inward Insanity Cycle

Another of my favorite coping mechanisms is introspective rumination. I go over and over things that I have done, should have done, wish I had the guts to do, and play out the scenarios in my head until I have worked myself into a complete froth. This is far from healthy. At some point, we've got to know that we're doing all we can do, trust God and let it go! Getting too focused on ourselves isn't the answer either.

• Don't Take Your Ball and Go Home

Not long ago I had a conversation with a well-known author who was advising me about writing a book. He said something that has stayed with me since our meeting: "It's not the writers who want to write that make it  - it's the writers who have to." If God has given you a vision, a desire, a call or a standard, then you have to pursue it. Imagine if Abraham had given up waiting for a child or Moses had given up reaching the promised land. Remind yourself -daily, even hourly if necessary - that when it comes to things God promises us and calls us to, quitting is not an option. To be fair, I must tell you that you may not end up at the destination you had envisioned. The Scriptures tell us if we delight ourselves in Him, He will give us the desires of our hearts - but it may not look like our limited human idea of the picture-perfect happy ending. God knows what's best for us, and He has a way of steering us to the perfect place, and the vehicle that drives us there are those desires, those callings, those dreams. So if you want to receive it, you must press on, you must stay in the game.

• Start with Anger, End with Shame

When all else fails, when we've blamed ourselves and still feel bad, when we've blamed everyone else and still find no rest, then it is easy to get angry with God. Be so careful Beloved. There is nothing wrong with being honest with God that you are upset or angry - but too often I've seen great walks falter when that feeling of powerlessness led them to anger and disrespect toward the Maker. At the root of anger is really just sadness and hurt - the 'mad' is just a defense mechanism. Don't choose that way to cope, friends. If you're broken and sad, then be that, share that with Him in honesty. He knows how you feel anyway. But shut Him out, shake your first at Him, and that can only lead to the additional pain of humbling and discipline that will follow.

There is always another way of looking at things.

Like roadblocks in general, for instance. What are they anyway? When we encounter them in our cars, we can readily accept that even if inconvenient, they are there to protect us. As I write this my head swells with the image of a YouTube video I recently watched that showed water washing a concrete road completely away in Colorado. Imagine if we as drivers disregarded the warning signs and blockades and drove right into a situation like that? Suddenly there's no more road to follow and we're in a situation that is detrimental to our vehicle, dangerous to us and those around us, and even potentially deadly.

Beloved, what if instead of clamoring to our coping mechanisms and saying "Why, God, why?" we had the faith and trust in our amazing Savior to know that if He puts a roadblock up in our lives, it's for a really good reason? Do we trust Him enough to know for sure that He wants us to experience joy, that He wants to bless us as His kids, and that He knows the best path to get there?

 Meet Griffin

I'm not sure if you've seen the film Men in Black 3, but my husband and I just watched it for the first time a few weeks ago. There is a character that I thought of when writing this and it gave me a giggle, so I thought I'd share. Above is a picture of the actor who portrays an alien in the movie, named Griffin, who has the unique ability to calculate every possible outcome for every action in every dimension of the universe. He drives the main characters crazy with his antics and goings on about which reality he's in and how the most minute shift in behavior can cause serious changes in the world later on. Griffin falls short of God's character in a lot of ways, but in one sense he does exhibit similar behavior - for because of Griffin's insight and assistance, the lives of many are saved. God is seeking to save you from the hurt and frustration and danger of the wrong path for your life if He is blocking you. Be comforted, friends - it's not a punishment, but an act of mercy instead.

I'm going to submit to you that we should be rejoicing in the roadblocks, for they are the Lord's sweet provision and protection in our lives. What an honor, God cares enough about little old you and me that He wants to intervene, to direct our paths. The almighty, powerful creator of the entire universe delights in every detail of our lives! When you look at it like that, it doesn't seem so bad, does it?

So how do we combat our instinctive, defensive thinking? Here are a few suggestions:

• Count - and Recount - Your Blessings

Following the sweet day that my Savior finally won my heart forever, events that were nothing short of miraculous took place in my life - trust me, I needed (and still do!) a LOT of intervention. He met me right where I was to draw me to Himself and gave me the most beautiful story. I've learned the importance of documenting that story, because in times of crisis, when my faith fails me, and I begin to doubt God's ability to know what's best, I go back to my story. I remember that we have history together, that He is very intentionally steering my ship, and He has never let me down. And that helps me hold on, to again release my grip and restore my trust in my long-time, ever-faithful Captain and King. Beloved, I hope that if you are walking with the Lord, that you have begun documenting the journey. If not, why not begin today?

• Celebrate Vicariously

A few weeks ago my Bible study class at church was studying John 4, which recounts Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well. I love the end of the story, and I envy their community in a way... because while we in modern times tend to compare our lives with others in an envious way, the Samaritan community celebrated the woman's story, through it the faith of many was ignited and bolstered. What if, instead of looking upon someone experiencing victory in the Lord with jealousy, we allowed it to encourage us? To remind us that God is working, He is answering prayers, He is alive. Rejoice in the victories of others, remembering that this God is your God too! The more you encourage a sharing within your circles, the more you will see Him moving, and ultimately you will believe that He is, He can and He will do for you too.

• Walk the Perimeter of Your Land

In Abram's day, to walk the perimeter of a land was the equivalent of signing the transfer of land ownership documents. So in Genesis 17 when God has him walk around the entire promised land, God was legally and officially handing it over to him and his descendants. While it would be hundreds of years before those descendants, the tribes of Israel, would cross over and begin to inhabit that land, it was in that moment that they began to own it. And soon after that occurred, Abram's name was even changed to Abraham, reflecting that new role and call. If God has given you a promise, a call, or a passion, walk the perimeter and begin to own it! If you want to be a wife, study up on what God says a good one should be and pursue those qualities now. If you want a ministry, begin ministering with those who God brings to you each day. Don't sit back and wait for the circumstances to present themselves. Instead, become, right where you are now, who God is calling you to be.

• Read, Remember, Refocus

While re-channeling that negative self-talk and combating envy are great things, this final suggestion's value far outweighs the others mentioned above. For there is nothing so powerful as the Word of God to restore our perspective, to heal, to allow the Holy Spirit to communicate with our hearts. When you are hitting a roadblock, there are countless testimonies of other men and women in Scripture who came before us, whose stories can provide great comfort. For instance, think of Balaam, who was on the wrong path, whose "willful" donkey served as a way of protecting him from sinning against God and death. Remind yourself of the moment when Israel found itself between an army and a sea, and God performed a miracle in order that they made a way to safety just in the nick of time. Know that Elisha's and Daniel's visions of the vast angel army fighting spiritual battles is still active and working with you even now. God is revealing to you in His word just how capable He is. The more time we spend familiarizing ourselves with its contents, the more assured we will be of His motives and attributes, His great might and His perfect timing.

Final Thought

Be encouraged, Beloved. You are not wasting your time, and you are not alone. Whatever it is you are waiting for, don't give up! God is simply working out His perfect plan in your life. As I close, I leave you with this final verse:

He has made everything beautiful in its time.
Ecclesiastes 3:11

So rejoice in the roadblocks! Hold on to that promise, my sweet friends; hold on to Him. I pray blessings over your journey and I hope this brings you comfort as you are stretched, as you prepare, as you wait, as you grow and finally, as you become all that He has designed you and destined you to be.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Appreciating our Atonement: Yom Kippur Made Simple

Perhaps Yom Kippur is a day that has passed on your calendar year after year and you never paid much attention. Though we in modern Christianity tend to think of it typically as a "Jewish thing," my hope for readers of this blog is that you to begin to understand that the precious words of God transcend religion. Words from YHWH are first and foremost a God thing, worthy of our attention and investigation, at the very least. So even if you don't particularly feel inclined to observe these Old Testament Moedim (Hebrew for "Appointed Times"), let me challenge you to better understand what it's all about - when you see what a beautiful picture it paints of our Messiah's love and care for us, when you are enlightented to the powerful and prophetic day that points to our victory in Christ Jesus, you might just change your mind. But first thing's first: Read Leviticus 16 all the way through.

An Annual Event

It's a long passage, and I'm going to begin by pointing out something toward the end of it. Notice the summary of this annual feast day is in verses 29-31:

This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your soul and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the lord. It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you,
that you may humble your souls; it is a
permanent statute.

By now you have probably seen calendar of God on this blog enough that you are pretty familiar with it. Let's look at the Moedim of the Lord yet again:

We've seen how, as pictured above, the spring holidays are prophetic pictures of events that occurred during the first coming of our Messiah - His death for our sin, His death and burial, His resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We also looked at the first of the fall feasts, which have yet to be fulfilled and serve as reminders of the events in God's salvation plan that have yet to be. Yom Teruah/The Feast of Trumpets), we learned, is an annual wake up call, pointing to the Trump of God that will one day signal the judgement of God and the grand entrance of our Messiah's second coming.

Each of these events are annual commemorations, celebrating what the Lord has been faithful to fulfill thus far and reminding us of the events that are still to come. The purpose is to help us to keep the big picture of what this life is all about on the front burner of our minds all year long. What a kind and patient God He is; He knows that our tendency is to forget, and so He set these days in motion to gently nudge us to keep our focus and our attention on Him.

The Day of Atonement is no different. It is a day to stop, to pause, to reflect and to remember. But what exactly is it all about? And if we who follow Jesus Christ are dead to our sins and have made Him Lord of our lives, how is this relevant to us at all? Aren't we already "clean"? Do we need a day each year to atone for our sin?

A Physical Event Depicting a Future Spiritual Event

If we are in a faith relationship grounded in the sacrifice of Christ for our atonement, then no, we do not rely upon this Yom Kippur for our own removal of sin. It is no longer about that. But as we await our Messiah's return and look to a day that sin no longer dwells among us, we can look back to the sacrifice that made our freedom possible. This day, for believers in Christ, is a memorial, a solemn day of reflecting and honoring the sacrifice that was made on our behalf, of the cost of our freedom. When I think of what has been forgiven and washed away from my own life, I reckon spending one day meditating on that is the very least I could do!
We have to remember that while these things actually happened, they served as prophetic pictures - tangible, worldly practices that had spiritual implications for us. In the details of the prescribed ritual itself, the ones we would normally be tempted to look over, we find our answer to what this day is all about.

Often I try to take myself to an "aerial view" of what is happening when I read passages like this. I look at the very basic picture and try to think about where I have seen it before in other places in Scriptures. Let's take a look at a few of the images here in this ritual we see in these verses :

          The High Priest (vs 2-4)

In the first few verses, Moses is told that people are not able, and are not even allowed to simply make atonement for themselves. Someone has to do it on their behalf - in this case, a high priest. And he was not to come before God in his typical beautiful attire. He had to remove all of the colorful adornment you see pictured here. He had to don a simple, humble white tunic.
When I read this, I remember that while Aaron was the high priest of the Old Testament Scriptures, he was but a shadow of the High Priest that presides over us now, who is our messiah, who humbled Himself that He might make atonement on our behalf when we could not do it for ourselves.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
 Hebrews 4:14-15

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5-8

Beloved, we cannot do anything to become right with God. Nothing we can do - no penance, no good deed, could erase our sinful past. And we all have a sinful past, according to God. But thankfully, there is One who was willing to go before us, to approach God when we could not, to intercede, to make restitution, to make peace with God possible for us.

  The Scapegoat (vs 5-10, 20-22)                       

 In modern vernacular, we think of a scapegoat as a person who is made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in another's place. This term has survived thousands of years and comes from this passage in Leviticus.
Again, from our big picture view, we see that two goats are presented before God - one will be sacrificed, and the other is sent into the wilderness, "to a solitary land," bearing the weight of the sin of Israel on itself.

There are many volumes of commentaries written by experts who will know more than I ever will about biblical study who have speculated as to the meaning of these two goats. But I will humbly offer you my speculation as to the spiritual implications here. The two goats serve two separate functions involved in the atonement - the blood of the one goat 'atones' for the sin, covers for it. It serves as a substitute, paying what is due for the sin of the sinner. The other goat bearing the sin is sent away. In a sense, it is the sin that is being sent away and not the goat. The meaning implied is that it is going so far away it will never return - it is gone forever.

When I think of the atoning work of Christ, I see that these two goats very much relate to two aspects of our atonement today. Jesus did die on the cross to serve as a substitute for us, taking onto Himself all that we deserved, as it says in the Scriptures:

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
Isaiah 53:4-6

Yet, when I wake up every morning, I don't know about you, but I still struggle with sin. I drive to work every morning and that sin nature bubbles to the surface when someone cuts me off. I see its effects in the world through hurting, heartache, disease, loss, death, hatred. Sin is very much still a part of the world today. And that is where I think the second goat - the Scapegoat - comes in.

We read about the fulfillment of the day of atonement in Revelation 20 and 21, during the great judgment at the throne of God. Here those who are in the Book of Life, who have trusted Jesus as their Messiah, are separated from those who have not. Here is where we find  death and Hades cast away, and every other effect that sin has brought to the world.

...and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will be no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
Revelation 21:4

So, in one sense, we know that our atonement is secure and final in Jesus; but we can look forward to a day when the sin struggle and its nasty side effects are completely removed from our world, and when our amazing, merciful God, there will at long last dwell among us, with no more sin serving as a barrier between us.

                The Sacrifices (vs. 11-19)

This image is not an easy one to look at. It's overwhelmingly gruesome. Some of you will wonder why I would post something like this. But I do it intentionally because we need to understand something very important from these verses about the animals that died. Atonement and grace are free for you and me, but they DO cost something. In order for us to have the freedom that we enjoy, something else -Someone else - had to lose life. We should never forget that.

When we come to these verses about Aaron bringing the sacrifices, we must be careful not to skim past them. Let that image sink in. The beautiful veil inside that temple was splashed and stained. When Aaron emerged in his white garments, he was no doubt filthy and soaked. Atonement is a dirty job. So often we take the gift with no recognition of the tremendous pain Jesus underwent for us. When we fail to see this picture, it is much easier for us to return to our sinful lifestyle. But when I think of the cost...when I see this and know that it should have been me...something sickens me and I stop in my tracks. How much more grateful we are able to be when we see this physical picture of what we were spared from. And what He did for us. Hallelujah!

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
Hebrews 10:11-14

Appreciating Our Atonement


So after reading all the background, I submit to you that this Day of Atonement, this God-instituted day of fasting and repentance, is a wonderful opportunity. In my house, we make it a day to spend time before the Lord thinking about the past year, doing some self-reflection and allowing the Holy Spirit to identify some areas where we need teaching and healing in the coming year. We repent, we make goals, we make commitments to God and to one another. It is also a day of praising and commemorating Jesus the Messiah as our high priest, who went in to the holy of holies on the day of His crucifixion to atone for our sins. Isaiah depicts it best in his words,

Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke?

The Lord instituted this day that it would be a time to address and release you from the bondage of the footholds you are currently encountering. It is a day of new beginnings. Of self observation. And of repentance, so that you can truly live freely in your freedom.

Maybe next time Yom Kippur rolls around you can try to think of it as this - and if you do, maybe it can help focus your thoughts if you ask yourself the following questions:

• Is the way I'm living my life honoring the freedom which Christ's sacrifice purchased for me? If not, in what way? why?

• What sins have become part of my regular behavior and character that I need to address and repent of?

• How am I showing gratitude to God for my freedom through my lifestyle, attitudes, and my words? What needs to change?

God doesn’t at all want us to live in shame, but we do need to feel the weight of our intentional sins. They should give us grief and sorrow. We should never have the attitude of “Eh, Jesus died for me, so I can live how I want.” No, as Paul says, we should not "continue in sin that grace may abound." And John says that no one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. If we are truly saved, if we truly know God, there should be evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, transforming our old sinful habits into a lifestyle of holiness that honors and exalts Him. We will never be perfect, but our hearts and minds should be striving toward being a holy vessel, equipped for His use.

I hope you find this helpful in your walk, Beloved. I pray for you continually and am grateful for your continued reading and response.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

John 1: Can I Get a Witness?

Last week, my husband's grandfather, the patriarch of our family and a beloved pastor, passed away suddenly. Though in the following hours and days our world would become a flurry of activity, making phone calls and arrangements to travel, comforting and visiting family and friends, taking care of business, there was a stolen moment before we snapped into action, a tender one, when I sat at the feet of my grieving husband and listened to him recount a lifetime of memories he shared with this very special man.

He told me about the many jobs he had held, even selling shoes to women, which he liked to report was the most challenging job he'd ever done. He taught Michael to cast a fishing rod in the driveway as a young boy, and they had shared many sweet memories on his boat, "Visitation." He had provided spiritual encouragement through the years, and had even performed our marriage ceremony. He had left his mark on our lives and in our hearts in a most profound way. Though the sad reality of life without this wonderful person loomed ahead, it was in looking back at his life that we found a great deal of joy, of comfort, and even of hope. Following the funeral, hundreds of people came to the family visitation to share how Grandaddy had touched their lives. What a comfort that witness was in our time of sadness. What great work he had done in his time on earth. He lived a very full, very meaningful life. He invested in people, he loved well, and as a believer and a pastor, he fought the good fight for God until the end. Those stories, those testimonies, solidified in our memory the kind of person he really was, and what a joy it was to know that he is now sitting in the presence of our Lord.

Interestingly, as I was preparing this lesson on John 1, I saw a beautiful theme of the description and value of the witness in Scripture. Often we see that a witness in the Bible as a person, but in John we see that one of the greatest testimonies of all are the prophecies YHWH has give to us throughout history. I read, to paraphrase, that prophecy’s greatest value is not in knowing the future, but rather in looking back at the faithfulness of God in fulfilling all that He promises. It builds faith, comfort and hope when we look back through the Old Testament scriptures to find that God does do what He says He will do. In a world that is so preoccupied with the future, the end, with death and what lies beyond, I think it is such a message of value that there is great comfort in looking back - not only in our own life history, but also back to the Old Testament Scriptures, to remember and rediscover the character of our God as perfect, appropriate, timely, faithful and true. Just like looking back to celebrate someone's life, we can look back and truly know and celebrate our God's great story; that while He's not yet finished and at times the end is unclear, He is most certainly moving and working out His great plan.

The Scriptures: Our Witness of God's Character

With that as a back drop, the story of the Gospel of John really begins in the Old Testament scriptures. The story of Israel is a tragic one. God redeemed a people out of Egyptian bondage. He brought them to a desert, isolated them to begin the process of their rebirth as His own people. He made an offer to enter into a vassal covenant with them - He taught them a new way of life, the way of holiness, His law, as the terms of that covenant. If they adhered to the terms, they would always have His protection and blessing. If they broke their covenant, there would be consequences, death, destruction, and even an eventual return to the bondage from which they had been saved. The people accepted this covenant and YHWH and the people of Israel became united.

God gave them time to prepare themselves to enter a new land, to adjust to the new way of life that would be expected in the promised land. They made mistakes as they learned to obey and to trust, but they grew. On the brink of their crossover, Moses, their great leader and mediator, made a prophecy: a day would come that they would abandon their covenant. Even before they entered the land, God knew what was in their hearts. But He loved them and gave them an opportunity to do what was right.

In the days that followed, they entered that land victoriously, and as they became comfortable, they quickly made compromises. They were intrigued by and loved the world’s way of living, let idolatry creep in, and forgot the commitment they had made to YHWH. This breaking of their covenant's terms broke God's heart. In His patience and mercy, He sent prophets to warn his people to repent, to return to obedience, to shed the idols they had let run rampant in the land. But they refused. So, in accordance with His covenant, the consequences came.

Over the course of many generations, they were destroyed by the Babylonian and Assyrian empires, exiled, and later ruled by the Persian and Greek and Roman empires as they rose to power. They lost the promised land and their identity, they were separated from their families and their God. But even in the midst of their exile, He sent a message of hope: it’s not too late, Beloved. Return to me, return to your covenant, and I will restore you and gather you again to the land I gave to you. Further, He spoke of a new covenant through Jeremiah and Ezekiel, one where the Law he had given would be written on men’s hearts, where the spirit of God would dwell in men. But they had to repent and return first.

In the midst of the first conquest of Israel, the prophet Isaiah spoke these words:

A voice is calling, Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hills be made low; and let the rough ground become a pain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says,” Call out.” Then he answered, “What shall I call out?” ...“Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news, Lift up your voice mightily, Oh Jerusalem, bearer of good news; Lift it up, do not fear. Say to the cities of Judah, Here is your God!” (40:3-6, 9)

This passage speaks of a promised messenger to come, who would be called to proclaim repentance, to get the people ready to receive the Lord, and to ultimately identify to them their God.

In another prophetical book, a final warning through the prophet Malachi speaks of the end of days to the people:

Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.” (3:1)
For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the Lord of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of hosts. Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (4:1-5)

Malachi spoke of the end of time and the judgement of the Lord. Here God pleads with His people to remember the covenant they made and to obey Him. He promises restoration and in His great mercy offers warning that before that day of judgement, He would send a messenger to prepare them, a prophet to warn them, a teacher to restore them, a sign prior to seeing the Lord in His temple.

So ultimately, it was expected that when the end was nigh, they would see this prophet Elijah, and that would appear right before the end of all things. The dispersed Israelites who heard that message never saw that day. 400 years passed, no more prophecies were given. God was silent, waiting for the fullness of time.

The Assyrian empire gave way to the Babylonian empire, which gave way the Persian and then the Greek empire, then there was the Roman empire. And then...suddenly things began to happen very quickly, prophecies began to be fulfilled – and that silence was broken:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesae – when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene – during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.
Luke 3:1-2

We read in the Gospels in Matthew 3, Mark 1 and Luke 3 the account of John (who we know as John the Baptist) receiving the call to act as that long awaited for messenger, and his ministry begins:  

And he came into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins...Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ..."
Luke 3:3, 15

John: Our Witness of the Messiah's Identity


Naturally, the Jewish authorities were curious about this man who would be instituting such cleansing outside of the temple. So they send a delegate to investigate the matter and to find out what was going on. He was, after all, attracting great crowds of people. Moving now to our text of focus, let's look at John 1:19:

This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
This 'confessed and did not deny but confessed' is emphatic. We might put it in all caps today, or italicize it. This is how the speakers of that day vehemently emphasized something. 

They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.”

Now you already know where that comes from, it is from Malachi. Why did he answer 'no' then? Particularly since later on Jesus would say that he was? (See Matthew 11) The answer is because he was not some reincarnated Elijah, he was telling the truth. Jesus explains that John came in the “power and spirit of Elijah,” that he fulfilled the ministry of Elijah. So, his answer was honest. He was not exactly Elijah, though he was the promised messenger.

“Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

Now you must be wondering, what prophet? This one goes back to a time even before Elijah. Moses, in his final address to the people who had been ransomed from Egypt, actually prophesied that God would send a prophet like himself to them in the future. Deuteronomy 18 is where we find that prophecy:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him…I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

This prophecy was in actually reference to Christ, who, if we study, bears a striking (and not accidental) resemblance to Moses. Both were prophets, mediators between God and man, lawgivers, saviors and intercessors, teachers, anointed and selected by God to speak His words, and both offered to die for the sins of the people. I could go on, but we need to cover a lot more material! It is not a direct statement in the Bible, but a knowledge of the Word and a study of the lives of these two individuals will lead you to the conclusion that this prophet was Jesus, not John. And this is why he says no.

Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”

Now no doubt exasperated, they are saying, well what do you have to say for yourself! Who in the world are you? His response, once again, you already know: it is a reference from Isaiah's prophecy. He is associating himself with that Scripture, telling them that he is the one who has been sent to preach repentance and to prepare the people for the coming of the Lord, the one who would identify the Messiah and point Him out to the people.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, not Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
So now the authorities of the church demand to know why, if John is of no real authority, he has taken it upon himself to start baptizing people. Often we assume that rituals like baptism are only New Testament practices. But immersion in the mikvah (ritual bath of living water, or water from a natural running source) has offered a gateway to purity ever since the creation of man. This was an integral part of man's 'teshuvah' (repentance) process. We see it happen right before God appears to Israel in the wilderness at Sinai, for example, when God commands that they immerse themselves, consecrate themselves, in preparation for coming face to face with Him (Exodus 19:10-11). And upon the induction of Aaron and his sons into the priesthood, they were also instructed to wash themselves (Numbers 8). In fact, any person who wanted to offer a sacrifice to the Lord in the days of the tabernacle and temples were greeted first with a lavar, which contained water, with which to wash themselves. They had to become purified, cleansed, before they could be atoned for by offering their sacrifice (Exodus 40).
The living water associated with the lavar and with baptism today are all a picture of the living Word, Christ. As believers in our Messiah, we must come willing to look into the reflection of that Word, measure ourselves against it, and remove the impurities and discrepancies we see in ourselves. We must come with hearts that recognize a need for a Savior, and must truly shed those things before we can hope to come into the presence of the Lord through a real relationship with Christ. In other words, John's purpose then for baptizing was the same as it is for us today - to give people an opportunity to show a physical, outward practice that signified the inward repentance on their hearts. He was indeed preparing them to see their Lord, their salvation.

Make no mistake, here friends. This is an important and intentional thing. John was ministering to Israel, those people who had been dispersed. He was calling them back. He was continuing the conversation that had started long ago. They knew the meaning of this baptism. It meant symbolically becoming repentant, shedding their evil deeds and the sin of the world, and readying themselves for the atonement that was about to come to make them holy, part of God’s new covenant. The message is clear: without repentance, there can be no atonement. And the Jews at that time were not ready for the Messiah. They needed to become purified, to prepare themselves for His coming, to wake up! Do we need to wake up too?

John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
He is saying, to paraphrase, “I’m baptizing in water to coincide with the message of repentance God has placed on my heart. I’m preparing the people to receive their atonement, their salvation." Again, humbly, he rejects the glory.

I learned something interesting about this sandal reference that I wanted to share. Disciples, in those days, did the bidding of the master, (prepared meals, made arrangements, served) but it was a bondservant dealt with the feet and shoes. This idiom or expression associates him as being even beneath a bondservant. It shows the extreme humility, and his understanding of his place with respect to the esteem and glory of the Lord. None of this is about me, he is saying. It’s about He who will come.

The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

This is essentially the end of John’s ministry, the fulfillment of what he came to do, which was to proclaim, to warn, to bring a message of repentance, to usher in the Messiah. He has done it. From this point on, we will see John diminish in the story, replaced with a focus on Jesus.

Here is a question to ponder: What made him call Jesus the Lamb? John is the only one who calls Jesus the Lamb of God, and this is the first time this was spoken and associated with the Messiah directly. So what gives?

First of all, John was a prophet. It was part of his job to identify the Christ. And it was given to him as a prophet to have new, direct divine revelation. So that's one possibility. But also, I believe his word choice creates a connection for us between Christ and the Old Testament prophecies which contain shadows of that Messiah. For example:

• Abraham is instructed to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. At the moment right before the sacrifice takes place, God stops Abraham and provides a substitute - a ram (sheep).

• At Passover, it was a lamb that had to be sacrificed. This is the only sacrifice which God calls "My sacrifice." The blood covering on the doorposts of the homes of the Israelites created a covering and protection of death and ultimate deliverance. Paul identifies later that Christ is our Passover lamb, dying to make eternal life available to whomever will receive Him as Messiah.

• In one of the many prophecies about the Messiah, it is said "He was opposed and He was afflicted Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers So he did not open His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). This indicates that He would be a suffering servant.

So you can see now how those Jews who were exposed to these prophecies would now begin to connect the past with the present. This is who has been spoken of. Amazing!

This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.
Here John explains his call and mission – to reveal the Messiah. All that he did was in order to be obedient, that the Messiah might be revealed. How are we making Christ known to the world, what are we being obedient in, or can we be more obedient in? What task has God given you to do? John was to baptize, to proclaim, to serve as a witness. Guess what, Beloved? Yours is the same call. You are a witness, your role is to see Him (through exposure to the Word) and to testify to His people - your kids, coworkers, friends, etc. How are you doing?

John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
Here John explains how he came to this conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah. Friends, we have been given all the tools we need to recognize Christ– the old testament scriptures and prophecies contain everything about how He would behave and love and come and what He would do. The New Testament describes the encounters of others who lived life alongside Him. But would be know Him if we saw Him? Would we invite Him over? Would He 'fit in' to our culture or our friend circles? I often wonder if we have been attentive to the direction that God has given us to know and recognize our Savior when He comes. Or if have we determined based on tradition and our own agendas how He will be, since that better accommodates us? Be so careful, friends, when drawing conclusions that are not in Scripture about what Christ is like. That is exactly why our Jewish friends didn't know Him when He came the first time.

Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated means teacher), where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

Notice, John proclaims Jesus with every opportunity. When he sees Him, he says it. Do we do that daily in our walk? Also take note that John was not possessive – he knew he was not the source or the draw in the grand scheme. It was a joy to pass his own followers into Christ’s possession, and it was his job. We are tempted every day to take credit for things that have been bestowed upon us by God. Let's be like John, constantly diverting and reflecting back on the Source of light and Giver of all good things.

Another very important aspect of this dialogue is that Christ demands change of direction and loyalty before He reveals things to us. See how He draws the two away, sparks their curiosity? It works this way in the study of the Word. We begin with a question, which leads to a hunger that requires that we pursue it actively in order to receive the answer. We must seek after Christ with the intent to OBEY what he reveals if we are to truly receive the revelation. He knows our hearts and our intents. That's when the journey begins, when we say yes. He is inviting us to reside where He resides, to be a part of it, not just to know about it but to experience it for ourselves. But we must make some direction changes in our lives before that's possible. Who or what are you following after today?


Am I a Witness?

The final parts of the chapter show the beautiful effect of a willing witness. There is exponential growth in the kingdom of God because of the obedience of John to see and to speak. If we want to be a real witness for Christ, we must remember what a witness does. We have to SEE our Messiah for who He really is by looking back into the Scriptures; we have to spend time investigating the Word, so that we can become acquainted and familiar, a credible witness. We must look back at His intervention in our own lives, developing our testimony. And from there, we must be willing to testify. We must proclaim and announce Him with every opportunity. When people see His light within us, we must point to Him as its source. We must be willing to give Him the glory and reserve no attention for ourselves. The effects are far reaching and life changing. Are we bringing Him fame and glory through the work and word in our lives? I pray, Beloved, that we are.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Our Horn of Salvation: Why Yom Teruah IS For Christ Followers


Michael and I have a running joke in the car about the horn. I hate confrontation, so I never use it. Michael, having lived in New York City for a number of years, happens to be best friends with the horn. “People need to know when they are doing something wrong,” he often exclaims when I give him my look of disapproval. I, on the other hand, opt for grace...unless there is imminent danger. It’s not out of impatience that I use the horn, it’s a warning that something is about to happen, attention needs to be paid and behavior probably needs to change before something disastrous happens.
And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have an holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work: it is a day of blowing the trumpets unto you.
Numbers 29:1
You may have noticed on your calendars that this week marked Rosh Hashanah. While this is a well-known Jewish holiday marking the "head of the year," the Bible originally called this day Yom Teruah, which means literally, "a day for blowing trumpets." This Feast of Trumpets, in a sense, is God's ultimate car horn. 

The Annual Feasts/Moedim

The picture above depicts the seven annual feast days prescribed by God. Note: they are not traditions created by the Jews. As we have discussed in prior posts this year, the feast days are a prophetic picture of the redemptive work of the Lord throughout time. The spring festivals were fulfilled during the first appearance of Christ, our Messiah, and give us annual reminders that Christ died to atone for us (Passover), that He lived and died completely without sin (Unleavened Bread) and He rose on the third day, a sign of a great harvest of souls and of life eternal (First Fruits). The fourth feast reminds us of the giving of the Law, the fulfillment of God's promise to write His law on our hearts through the giving of the Holy Spirit (Shavuot/Pentecost). The fall festivals, however, have yet to be fulfilled and allow us to anticipate Christ's return (Yom Teruah/Day of Trumpets), the great day of judgment (Yom Kippur/The Day of Atonement) and the celebration of the ingathering and millennial reign when God will reside among His people once again (Sukkot/Tabernacles).
So if you're wondering why on earth it is necessary to know or observe these things, just think about it this way: we rehearse these things every year to remind ourselves and celebrate what Christ has done and to remind ourselves to continue to run the race with endurance, to anticipate the day the Lord will return to restore His people and His world. A great friend and Bible teacher of mine likens it to a wedding rehearsal. She always says, "We practice these things just like we practice for a wedding, so we know what to expect and where to stand when the big day comes." I have always loved that analogy.

Calling the Troops

The picture above shows a man blowing what is called a shofar, an ancient instrument made of a ram's horn.

If you want to hear what it sounds like, listen to this beautiful recording.

Did you hear its loud, rich and billowing sound? It is so soothing, yet it certainly is attention grabbing. Even in our culture, trumpets have been used to signal the time to awaken - just think of that timeless Bugle Call, played on military bases around the world. This is not specific to American culture. in the same way, the shofar was used by the military and had almost an entire language in the variety of blasts that were played to signal different activity - a meeting, an announcement, or a battle cry. When those men and women heard the shofar, they knew they needed to listen. It meant something important was about to happen, that they needed to pay attention.


Making the Connection

So what are we to get out of this blowing of the trumpets? If this is signaling something prophetic that is to come, what is it? Hopefully you have begun to look for relationships between stories in the Bible in your own personal study, so you might have already thought there might be some connection to the seven trumpets of the end times. And you would be right.
Let's look at a few places in the Bible where trumpets are discussed; this might help us to put the picture together, starting with the Old Testament passage of Joshua 6. Keep in mind the context here as you read: Israel has been redeemed from Egyptian slavery, has been in the wilderness for 40 years where they received the Law from God, and now, led by Joshua, they are going to cross over into their promised land in Canaan.
Read Joshua 6:1-21
Now if you're like me, you never noticed just how many times that word was in that passage before. But with it pointed out, you start to get the idea that the Lord is trying to make a point. The trumpets are the signal that comes before the massacre of the enemies of God and the entrance of God's people into their promised land. Notice that only Rahab, who had made a declaration of trust in God by lacing the red cord in her window and building an alliance with the people of God, was spared. (Also, this is just one of the many indications that gentiles were welcomed into the family of God before Christ's advent.)
This is a prophetic picture, friends! Israel's experience here serves as a shadow of things to come for the children of God at the end of time. Read John's account of those last days in Revelation 8-11 and I think you'll see what I mean. It is summarized below:
When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them...The seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them...
Revelation 8:1-2, 6


What we see here is the same thing we saw in Joshua: that the trumpets in the last days will signal judgement for the enemies of the Lord. It is no accident that there are seven trumpets in Joshua and seven trumpets in Revelation. We are supposed to make the connection that the wrath poured at the end times is much like the wrath that was poured out on Jericho. These Canaanites were not the enemies of the people of Israel; they were the enemies of God. But it's not only about the judgement. Notice that at the end of the trumpet blast, in both cases, God's people are brought to their promised land, ushered in by their leaders names"Yeshua." That's right, Joshua and Jesus actually have the same name in Hebrew, and it means salvation. Again, not a coincidence. The message here is by following Jesus that we have salvation and so have access to this promised land. In fact, the seven trumpets of Revelation mark the grand entrance of our Messiah, and the world transitioning into becoming His Kingdom, our promised land:

15Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” 16And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. 18“And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”
19And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.
Revelation 11

Just as the walls of Jericho fell, so will the  physical and spiritual barriers fall away from earth and God's heavenly realm on that day to come. We will see Him, in all His glory. His Kingdom, our promised land, will come.

Living with Expectancy

So Yom Teruah, the Day for Blowing Trumpets, is an annual reminder from the Lord that we, His Bride, must live in a state of expectancy for His return. We must be vigilant and take time to evaluate ourselves. Are we ready to take hold of our promised land? Are we living in such a way that we will not be ashamed when He reveals Himself? Or worse, are we living as enemies of God? This is a day to celebrate if you are in covenant with the Lord. But if you are not, or if you're not sure, or if you are not living a life that reflects that covenant, then this is your annual wake up call. The trumpet sounds as a reminder, a warning. One day it will not be an exercise - will we be ready?  

So yes, if you're wondering, we do sound our own trumpet at our house in honor of the day. Doing this was a real treat for my husband the first time we did it. We got out his beautiful horn, which he travelled around the world playing. He loves that there is a God-ordained time to make noise. We got it out as the sun came down, and he played it for us, he played for our home, and our hearts were filled with awe and peace. I just couldn’t help wondering if God was smiling down, pleased that we were acknowledging Him in our own little trumpet blowing. In my heart I thought, “God, I want you to know that we ARE choosing to live expectantly, and that we are living our lives, each day, in anticipation of your return.

Friends, if you have never done it before, take the opportunity between now and Yom Kippur (September 13th this year) to reflect on the past year and to think about how you measure up in the area of reflecting Christ. As believers in Messiah, we need not fear eternal condemnation. But we are told that we will all give an account of our deeds and our words (Matthew 12:36). Are you honoring His sacrifice through your life or have you forgotten your covenant? Now is the time to return, to 'shuvah,' as they say in Hebrew. Take the opportunity this year to reflect inwardly, to see just how far the grace of God can reach and has come to cover you. It fills me to the brim with gratitude that God’s sacrificial act reaches all the way to me, to my dark, shameful past, to my failures, to my selfish decisions. Just thinking about it makes me want to commit to purging them to commit to being as spotless as possible on the great day of His return. And I think that’s the point.


My prayer for us today:

Thank you, Lord, for your beautiful reminders. We are so forgetful, and we need these appointed times to keep us on Your path, to remind us of our salvation story and to remain aware that You're not finished yet. In this world where so much hurt and brokenness exists, where so many distractions pull us, we thank you for your Day of Blowing Trumpets, for the reminder of the restoration of your return, to focus us anew on You as our greatest priority. In the day of the blowing of your great trump, Lord, may we be prepared and alert for You. Thank you for reminders, for your abundant grace, and for a new year ahead to learn, to grow, and to become more intimate with You.


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