Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Holy Priesthood: Finding Yourself in Exodus


Last week I made the assertion that we can find relevance and spiritual truths for today in the Old Testament scriptures. I said that Israel, a real place, a real people, serves us today as a physical example of spiritual truths that God wants us to understand as His redeemed people.

Exodus is such a great place to begin to show you examples of this, because so many of the phrases we use today and the ways that modern believers identify themselves stem all the way back to Exodus.

For example: 1 Peter 2:9

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

and Hebrews 4:14

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

These are scriptures from which pastors and teachers make the assertion that the body of believers is a royal priesthood, and that our high priest is Jesus himself.

So…what does that mean exactly? What is our role as priests to God? What is Jesus’ role as our high priest? Well, I’ll answer that question with another question: How can we learn what it means about who we are, and who Christ is, if we do not understand the priesthood which they referenced when writing these things? That is the best place to start. Once we understand the God-created priesthood which was created for us to understand the spiritual priesthood to which we as believers belong, then things begin to make sense.
 
The priesthood if Israel was created by God in Exodus, where we read that God appointed a leader, Moses, used him to deliver Israel from bondage in Egypt, and brought them to the wilderness to give them instructions on how they would now live as His special, set apart, redeemed people.

In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine, and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:1-6)

From there, God begins to instruct Moses-he gives Him the Ten Commandments, and ordinances that the people are to live by, a code of behavior, a way that God’s people should interact with one another. They had not been pulled out of Egypt just to go on living like slaves. So God had to tell them how they were to live as newly freed children of God. Make sense?

Next, God instructs Moses to build a tabernacle, often we hear it referred to as the Wilderness Tabernacle. It is here that God’s presence would dwell with men, in this special, prepared place. The Lord is very specific about what goes where, about the height of things, the materials used, and the placement, and who can go in, and how they are to go about going in. We will absolutely study that another time.

Once Moses receives instruction about this Tabernacle, God begins to set up this priesthood, the people who would maintain and work in this area. This small group, consisting of Aaron, Moses’ brother, and his sons only, would receive special garments and instructions and be ordained officially. They would be the ones responsible for bringing the sacrifices to the Lord. They would be allowed into the inner tent of God’s tabernacle. But as for the ‘Holy of Holies,’ that most holy place in the center of it all-only Aaron would be given access to this place, as he was responsible for making atonement for Israel as a whole in that time and place.

In chapter 29 we are told how a Levitical priest becomes consecrated. Note: in this chapter that God is speaking to Moses, so wherever you see a ‘you,’ it refers to Moses here.

Read through this chapter and notice a few things:

1.       Moses is to wash Aaron and his sons (This would have been their hands and feet) (v. 4)

Ritual washing would become known as a sign of regeneration, being made new. A great example of this thinking is baptism. Here something new was certainly taking place. A priesthood was being born. Moses, God’s representative, stooped down and cleansed those who would be God’s ministers. Moses was, at this point, in a position of higher rank-he was the one with whom God spoke face to face. God said earlier in Exodus 7 “You shall be as God to them.” So when Moses cleanses the feet of the disciples, it is as if God himself was cleansing them, making them into something new. The God principle here is that only YHVH can cleanse someone, purify them for service. We cannot cleanse ourselves. He must create us anew.

When Moses washes the hands and feet of Aaron and his sons, it is a prophetic shadow of the moment when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. There, God himself again instituted a priesthood-this time a spiritual one - to which we also belong.

2.       Aaron and his sons are anointed with oil (v. 7)

Now here, Moses was to take the oil and literally drench the priests with it. Their entire heads and beards were covered. The Talmud tells us that there was a very particular manner in which this oil was applied. The pourer went from right to left, and from the back to the front. Now isn’t that interesting. Because of the ‘cross’ of anointing, they are ordained priests. Because of the cross of Christ, we can be anointed by the holy spirit. It is a prophetic picture of receiving anointing and covering of the Holy Spirit. He literally drenches us, completely covering us.

3.       Aaron and his sons are given new garments, a new appearance (v. 8-9)

Here the priests are now given new garments. Simple, clean, modest white linen garments. Their appearance from this point forward would be totally different. They are given new, clean garments, the attire of a holy priest, set aside for service to God. Their outward appearance would reflect this. In the same way, we are told that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross allows us to be made new, fresh, clean

4.       A sacrifice has to be offered (v. 10)

Notice that in this verse Aaron and his sons are to place their hands on the bull. They literally put their weight into it, leaning on the animal. The picture here is of the transference of their uncleanness, their sinfulness, into that animal, which will be sacrificed. It took the life of an innocent animal to atone for these priests, that they might approach the Holy God. In the same way, our Messiah became that sacrifice for us, His spiritual priesthood. His innocent blood was shed for us, He bore the weight of our sins. When we place our faith in Him, we are leaning on Him, our sacrifice, transferring all of our sins to Him that we might approach the Holy God. 1 John 1:9 says that in confession we are purified of our sin-and that is exactly the picture that we see here.
 
5.       The blood is placed on the ear, the thumb, and the big toes (v. 20)

Here the blood of the sacrifice is literally applied to certain places on the bodies of the priests. The right ear, the right thumb, and the right big toe. It was the blood that purified them, and it had to be applied to them physically. We know from the new testament scriptures that the blood is what purifies us from sin (1 John 1:7), so in a spiritual sense, when we claim faith in Jesus as our Messiah, His blood sacrifice is applied to our lives. Why the ear? Messiah should be the filter through which everything we take in must go. We must know the Word, the truth, that we might process the information that we hear. Our ears must be purified that we might learn to hear the Lord speak to us, through prayer, through His creation, through the teaching of the Word. Why the thumb? Try to pick something up without your thumb. Try to hold on to it securely. It’s very difficult, right? The strength of our grip is in the opposable thumb. And the strength of what we embrace, what our hands do, must be in Christ. He is now our strength. In Him we find our ability. And all that we do should be as a representation of Him. And finally, why the big toe? Do you know how hard it would be to stand up without your big toe? It provides stability. Everywhere you go must be determined by stability and reliance upon Him who has redeemed you. Every step you take, you are His, and no matter where He leads, you can rely fully on Him to care for you.

So what we can understand when we focus in on what was happening here and then step back to see it paralleled with our faith relationship with God through Christ, is that they are parallels. One is simply a physical representation of a spiritual process. We are ordained as a part of this spiritual priesthood through the same things that this levitical priesthood. Through confession of our sins and placement of our trust in Messiah as the sacrifice, we can be brought close with God - We are purified by His sacrifice we are washed and regenerated, through baptism. We are anointed with the Holy Spirit, the sign of our covenant with Him. We are changed inwardly as a result of our ordination into His priesthood, and our outward appearance should reflect that. All that we hear, all that we do, everywhere that we go-should be filtered through His word, should be as a representative, and in Him we find our truth and our strength and stability. We never rely on what we see or perceive alone-we learn the voice of YHWH and act upon it.

I hope to do a study soon just on Aaron, the high priest. I hope you’ll join me again soon as we journey through the Old Testament. Blessings!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Five Things You Should Know About the Bible BEFORE You Study It - PartTwo



Here’s something else to keep in mind when reading the Bible:

The is only ONE truth.

I’ve heard really great teachers and pastors…and also some nonbelievers and skeptics…make a critical error - and that is to say the words,“To me, this passage means…” Big. Red. Flag.

God only had one meaning, one intention, when He inspired these truths. The word you are looking for when you are searching for meaningfulness of a passage in your own life and circumstances is APPLICATION.This should be the second part of your study journey. The first part should be to identify the truth in the passage.

Why does this matter? Because a very common mistake in biblical study is to skip the God principals and truth in the passage to the“What’s in it for me?” And the problem with that is that you can’t apply a truth you don’t understand in advance. You can’t just apply words taken out of context.

So how can we effectively study in order to understand the truths God intended in the passage?

1. Read Prayerfully.

God has given the Bible to believers. Someone not in a covenant relationship with God can appreciate it, that is certain. But the Holy Spirit will not uncover its mysteries to us unless we have committed our lives to Him and accepted Christ as our Messiah. To unlock it, you must have faith (Hebrews 4:2). Once we have done this, we must must MUST bathe our biblical study in prayer. We pray for understanding, we pray for protection from misinformation and false teaching, we pray that He would giveus the application and the courage to make any adjustments needed in our lives. A good rule of thumb is to pray before and then again after your study time. 

2. Study Responsibly.

The fact is, the Bible was not written in English. It was spoken and passed down and then written in Hebrew in many cases, or Aramaic, a close relative of Hebrew. Other books of the Bible were originally written in Greek. Why does this matter?  Let me give you an example. I’ve lived in Atlanta and in Houston for much of my adult life, and there’s a lot of Spanish spoken around me. Part of my job is to edit and help translate text for our Spanish Ministry at my church. I've learned that some words just don’t translate. And others…well they take on a whole new meaning in English than they do in Spanish, and vice versa. The same principle is at work with the Bible. Some of the words that translators used don’t exactly convey what the writer meant at that time. The only way to know the fullness of the context is to investigate the words. Yes, that means purchasing a Greek and Hebrew lexicon (like Mounce’s Analytical Lexicon or a Strongs Concordance) or looking at the Strong’s numbers on blueletterbible.com next tothe words in the verses (this option is totally free). I know that sounds likea lot of work, but when you discover the richness and meanings that English simply doesn’t relay, you begin to see whythis is so important.

3. Understand Context.

Be very careful when you hear scriptures quoted out of contextand incompletely. It is very important to read the verses preceding and following what you read, to ensure you understand what the writer is really saying. For example, I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” And you have probably thought that this verse means if someone does something to you, that this law gives you free reign to do the exact same thing back to him. Yet if we read the verse in context, which is in Exodus 21, we understand that what is being discussed here is a code of behavior when someone is wronged, and how legally a judge is to respond to disputes about someone being harmed. The God principle being shown in the passage is equitable compensation for harm done.This means that the punishment that one must pay for having wronged someone else must be equal to what was lost. Examples are given and then, because not every situation that would ever take place could be drawn out right here, God gave a general principle for how judges were to award those who had been wronged. It goes on after this to give more examples. And none of them involve anyone losing a limb, I can assure you.

Another element to understanding context is to understand the culture in which the passage was written. Historical resources help with this. For example, before we jump to the conclusion that God sanctioned slavery, we should understand that ancient middle-eastern cultures considered this a way of life, that it was already in place when God began the process of redeeming Israel. He did not institute this practice, and it’s certainly not His ideal. He values human life greatly, and does not like his children to livein bondage.
So…once we pray, read the passage from a scholarly standpoint, look for context and cultural clues…and then read it again having digested all this information, thenwe are ready to make an application to our own lives. Make sense?

Is there a personal application in each passage for us, no matter where we are? Of course! And, truthfully, while you are in the processof doing all these things I listed above, the application just naturally happens, because the Holy Spirit will draw your attention to certain things and tug at your heart about certain areas where you are not a reflection of what you’re reading. He will discipline and guide and convict and encourage. But letus always remember that He has given us the word that we might know Him,Beloved…so let’s make that our ultimate goal, and I promise you that you’ll be blessed for it.


That’s all for now…Number 3 on the list will be up soon!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Five Things You Should Know About the Bible BEFORE You Study It – Part One



First things first: It is NOT chronological.

The Bible is a set of books combined into one big book, essentially. In order to understand it, and study it responsibly, knowing what is what is most helpful! Here is a very simple breakdown-my breakdown, it’s not anything official.

The Old Testament:


Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy – Also called Pentateuch, or Torah, or the Law
Documents which give the account of creation of the world and the establishment of Israel as God’s set apart land and people – This contains laws and procedures and a covenant, clarifying how Israel is to interact and behave as a holy people.

Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther
These are historical accounts of Israel as a nation from when the people first enters the Promised Land until its destruction by the Assyrian (722 BCE) and Babylonian (586 BCE) empires, and even into the rise of the influence of the Persian Empire (Esther). Here you find the rise and fall of Israel as a kingdom; its creation, the accounts of the kings, its destruction. Again, the books are not chronological and sometimes overlap, repeat. They do not, however, contradict one another.
 
Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Song of Solomon)
Here are a collection of poetic books and writings. Various writers make up this collection. For example, it is believed that Moses wrote Job while Psalms was written by songwriters like King David and also Asaph and the sons of Korah. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs were written by King Solomon.

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
These books are prophetic writings. Each of the authors spoke to a specific group at a specific time. See the timeline below. These writings are kindof a commentary on how God viewed what was happening throughout Israel’s rise, fall and expulsion from the promised land. He spoke through these men to warn Israel about coming judgment.

 

The New Testament:


Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
Here we find the accounts of the life of Christ-his birth, ministry, death, resurrection. It is believed that these were written in the AD years, mostly in the 1st Century AD.

Acts of the Apostles
This is a historical account of the ministry carried on by the appointed disciples.
 
Romans, I Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon
After the death of Christ came a new apostle, Paul, a convert who became a great missionary. These books are letters he wrote to people groups and mentees, reinforcing their faith, encouraging them, and if necessary disciplining them. The letters were written to respond to problems, concerns and events going on in those places in history, they are not a complete set of dos and don’ts for the church today.

Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude
These letters were authored by several individuals and bear resemblance to Paul’s letters. They were occasional documents, sent to address particular issues.

Revelation
This book is considered apocalyptic literature, as it pertains to the return and revelation of the Messiah and the establishment of God’s Kingdom in our renewed heaven and earth.

And that’s sixty six books! I do hope that helps as you begin to navigate your way around. If you want to read the Bible in chronological order, I understand that uversion.com has a reading plan for that. There are also Bibles printed in that order.



That’s all for now…join me again as I share part two of 5 Things You Should Know About the Bible BEFORE You Study It


You, Me and The Messiah in the Old Testament: A Five Twelve Focus



Do you ever wonder why, if it's so outdated and unimportant, the Old Testament is even in the Bible? For years I was taught it was simply to understand history and cute moral stories, nothing more. We don't live in that culture, so some things don't apply...right? But I had questions about it...I saw that some parts were being applied while some were being left out. I saw that as a redeemed people, commanded to be set apart, were are doing a lot of things that aren't even written in the Bible, in the name of the Lord. It just wasn't all adding up for me, and I wanted to know why. As I began to ask questions, I discovered that this was going to be a road I would go down alone with the Lord. I needed to discover it for myself. And once I took the time to camp out in it and search, I discovered I was right...there is much more to it than meets the eye.

A precursory reading just to say have have read it simply will not show us the richness and relevance of what is written there. So, today we will embark on an Old Testament adventure, and I will endeavor to reveal you, me and our Messiah in the Old Testament to you as you read this blog.

The first thing we must understand is the purpose of the Old Testament. No one puts it better than Paul the Apostle in these words he spoke in 1 Corinthians 10:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved...now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come."

Isn't that an interesting thought? That God is using their story to teach us even now?

We must also understand that Jesus himself tells us that He is to be found in the Old Testament. In the book of Luke, we read an interesting story about two young men on a road to Emmaus, just after Christ's death.



And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalmem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place.

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, "What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?" And they stood still, looking sad. One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, Are you the only one visiting Jerusalmen and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?" And He said to them, "What things?" And they said to Him, "The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but him they did not see.

And He said to them, "Oh foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?" Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, he explained to them the things concerning Himself in the Scriptures.

Now think about that. The accounts of Moses are in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. That's the Old Testament. But we don't hear about Jesus' birth until the New Testament, in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And the prophets, the books in the middle of the Bible, they were written hundreds of years before the birth of Christ! Yet, Jesus uses the Old Testament to show them Himself. So why aren't we doing that very same thing? What do they say and how do we figure it all out?

Our God uses physical, earthly examples to explain spiritual principles. Think about all the parables Jesus told. This is exactly what he was doing, he was giving us illustrations that are relevant to our culture, to help us comprehend the Kingdom of God. 

God never changes. He was doing that long before Jesus came to earth. That's what Paul's words in 1 Corinthians confirm. He was giving us a living parable in Israel, a people, a priesthood, a redemption story-so that we could make sense of His work in our lives today.
We must change the way we read the Old Testament. From this point forward, when we study together, when you read the scriptures of the "OT," ask yourself: What is the God principle here?

That will be the Five Twelve focus when we delve into the OT. There are shadows of Him everywhere, waiting to be found...so let's get to it! Let's walk the road to Emmaus once more, let's dive in, and let's discover how God was truly revealing it all from the very beginning!

I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will. Isaiah 46:10


Thursday, February 21, 2013

What a Beagle Can Teach You About God




I had an spiritual epiphany last night while walking my extraordinarily rambunctious little beagle, Charlie. He always pulls and tugs, chews on the leash, tries desparately to drag me where he wants to go rather than just staying by my side. It's a daily frustration for me because I want to have a sweet time with my puppy doing what he enjoys, but a little more at my pace-and he has absolutely no interest in me whatsoever, he's just fixated on where he wants to go. In my prayer time last night I felt that sweet and gentle voice of the Lord say, "Beloved, you are just like that little dog. You want to badly to go your own way, at your pace, and you just can't allow yourself to take a walk with me. Can you just slow down and stay near to me?" Wow. I was so humbled. Now I can give my little Charlie some grace and have a whole new perspective on my own behavior, pace of life and attention focus. Isn't He so good? Love His teachable moments with me. 

The Power of Words

 
 
I sat in church this past Sunday, warmed through by the powerful singing of the choirs and ensembles, inspired and encouraged, and ready to drink in the message from the pastor. Yet I was totally unprepared for the challenging words he would share, icy drops of refreshing truth, not painful but certainly causing me to sit up straight and think back, think inwardly…

“Words affirm ideas. They encourage beliefs.”

The wheels of my mind raced as I began to think of all the people who had spoken words over me. Powerful words. Words as far back as early childhood that, as a now grown woman, I could easily recall. I thought about how those words had shaped my perception of who I am, what I was capable of. I thought of the discouragement, the hurtful words, and how they deterred me from trying things, made me fearful.

Then came the hard part, the stirring of the Holy Spirit, the voice that says to me, so often, “I know you want to focus on yourself, Beloved, but I need you to choose not to be a victim. I have used those old scars to make you who you are, I have healed your heart. Instead of focusing there, think about My sheep. Now...how have your words ministered to My children? What ideas have YOU reinforced with YOUR words?”

I cringed in shame as I thought of all the thoughtless, impatient, critical or careless words I have spewed out into the world. I thought of how careless words, ill-intentioned words, ignorant words, had shaped my life...and now I suddenly identified with those people who had victimized me. “I’m sorry, Lord,” I said. It was all I could muster. I was overcome. Broken before Him, once again.

So often I speak because I think-or I want others to think-that I have things all figured out. I diagnose…or at least that’s what I thought I was doing. But really what I’m doing is what Proverbs 18:21 speaks about. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Oh, if we would just choose to speak life. If we would just choose sometimes NOT to speak. How many more victories would His children win, how many more gifts would they develop, how many more people’s lives would be healed, touched, how many more friends we would have, allies...

Could we make it through one whole day without sarcasm? Without impatience? Without meanness? Can we choose to build up and not tear down? To encourage? To teach? It's really my challenge to myself...but I wanted to share it with you today. Blessings!

Appointed People: Lessons from Jonah



Read Jonah 1-4

Jonah scowled at the very idea of going to Nineveh. “Seriously, God?” These people were so not up Jonah’s alley. They were pagans, they worshiped a fish god. They were wicked. They were unclean. They were the enemy, settled right in Assyria. And if they received judgment, then they would be getting what they deserved. “No, really, that’s ok God. I think I’d rather go to Spain, see the sights, breath the ocean air.” And that’s just what Jonah did.

 

What Jonah did not understand, which God gracefully and patiently taught in throughout the four short chapters in the book of Jonah, is that when God has appointed something-a great fish, a plant, a worm – or even a man – that little piece of His creation is to be obedient to that call. Notice that throughout the account, all of creation was obedient to what it was appointed to do, all except for Jonah.

 

Why didn’t he want to do what God had called him to do? I think about how I long for the calling and opportunity to teach and preach. What was his problem? In looking at the first chapter, notice that instead of going to Ninevah, he went to Joppa. Joppa literally means ‘beautiful.’ Ah, now it’s beginning to make sense. Isn’t that how we are today? Wouldn’t we rather be around what is easy, what is beautiful, around those who already believe and are like us, than those who are wicked and different? What we see in Jonah’s reluctance is his prejudice. He just simply didn’t like the people he was called to serve.

 

Who are our ‘Ninevites?’ Are there individuals or families or groups to which God has called us to be a light, to send His message, who we are reluctant to serve? I’ll be the first to admit, I have a real problem ministering to people who are just rude and mean. I resist it, because I want to be liked and treated with respect. But so often, and now especially reading Jonah, God’s gentle spirit calls to me, reminding me that His grace extends to everyone, and that I am ‘appointed’ to obey, to go, to make disciples, regardless of my own prejudices and preferences. Even our Ninevites are valuable to God. And so, as His appointed priests, they must have value to us also.

 

Be a messenger today, Beloved. Be His messenger. Say yes to the appointment which He has given you…and watch Him change the world through you.

 
“So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:11
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