Monday, March 23, 2009

Living Sacrifice

In our family, we keep Shabbat. This just means that we observe the Sabbath, as the 4th commandment teaches, as a day to avoid chores and work and instead we spend time with each other, with friends and most importantly, with God. It is a day for relationship. This provides the perfect opportunity for me to sit down and do an in depth Bible study with the kids every Saturday morning, and we've come to cherish this time together.

Our last study was in Genesis, but we ended up learning something so much more amazing than simply the creation story (which is awesome in itself) that I just have to share it! When we typically think of Christ's sacrifice, we think of His death on the cross. But, until now, I never really realized that it was much more than just that Passover day.

It began that we were studying how Adam and Eve, before their fall into sin, were in perfect communion with God. They didn't need clothing because because they were "clothed" in righteousness...they were sin free. This "clothing" may have been very much like the "Shekinah," the fire/light in the cloud that was the presence of God Himself, that led the Israelites in the wilderness. The light shining from within them must have been so glorious and overcoming that they had no need of clothing to cover their flesh. They lost that pure, white, bright light of righteousness the moment they disobeyed God's instructions (sin), thus exposing their nakedness. As punishment for their sin, Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, that beautiful and sustaining environment that God had created just for them to dwell in. They were thrown out of their perfect dwelling, and an angel bearing swords was placed at the gate to prevent their re-entry into the garden. They were separated from that unity with their Creator. Since He is our source of life, our separation from Him brings slow death.

This whole time, the Messiah was dwelling as God in the heavenlies. When He came to Earth as the Messiah, He had to take on the flesh of sinful man, that dirty flesh void of God's "Shekinah" glory, so that He could walk as we walk. He gave up His rightful place as the Right Hand of God. He allowed Himself to be separated, just as we are separated in our sinful, agonizing state. He was cast out of the garden just as we were. The moment He allowed Himself to be conceived into that human state, He was separated. His own slow death began. He experienced that fullness of separation for the 30 odd years that He walked among us, experiencing the pain that we all know so well, right alongside of us. As if that separation wasn't enough, He had to die a bloody death to fulfill the promise of a Sacrifice in our stead. But finally free from His fleshly "veil," He was freed from that separation and resurrected to His rightful place once again! This gives a whole new meaning to his last words in Mark 15:34, "'Elohi! Elohi! L'mah sh'vaktani?' (which means, 'My God! My God! Why have you deserted me?')" His death began at the moment of his conception.

His living was the sacrifice. This tears at my heart in the deepest of ways and it brings me to my knees.
And it makes me wonder if my living is the sacrifice it needs to be?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dirty Denominationalism

Something that has been on my mind a lot lately has been religion. By religion, I'm talking about the "denomination" or "religious following" that we practice, in contrast to the faith values we hold to and live out in our daily lives. I think believers, especially the younger generation, today find themselves experiencing a paradigm shift in how we view our practices. We are coming to realize that the practice of religion isn't always all it's cracked up to be.

Growing up, I remember being taught in church that other denominations hold faulty beliefs, that we need to be at church every week or we were in danger of falling away from the faith, that we need to fully adhere to the "tenants of our faith," and that it is bad to "pick and choose" different things from different denominations; sound familiar? I think when congregational leaders tell us these things, they have the best of intentions, however these things couldn't be farther from the truth. Even new believers shouldn't blindly follow...they should work out the beliefs they hold to be true by studying for themselves.

When Jesus wanted to be nearer to God, He went out alone. If He wanted to spend time with the Father, He would separate Himself from the crowds, and oftentimes even from His closest disciples, to pray. After His baptism, He spent 40 days in the wilderness, alone. My times of greatest growth have been when I have separated from the institution of church. These are the times when we are able to shift our focus from "church participation" to true fellowship. Now don't get me wrong, it is indeed a wonderful thing to be able to commune with other believers, however, we are called to fellowship with our Father first and foremost. He alone is our true source of strength and sanctification. Shouldn't "church" be just about that? Fellowship with other believers together with our Father...a means of worshipping God as a group? When did it become a podium (or pulpit) for teaching others what they should think about what the Bible says? Why do we have to make a separate set of rules that each must follow in order to be part of each fellowship? I believe all these things are done to try to protect us from falling into sin, but in the end, our own ignorance has caused that very thing.

Our faith-walk really has nothing to do with what denomination we choose. Each has it's strengths and it's weaknesses...we really should all be united in the Source of our faith. This is the weakness of mankind and it plagues every one of the worlds largest religions. Every form of the Judeo/Christian faith believes that it alone is the correct one. That is precisely why the Pharisees wanted to destroy Jesus...He was bringing unity under Himself where man wanted division.

The first believers in Jesus were Jewish and non-Jew alike. They were hungry for His teaching and, no matter their background, just wanted to be with Him. Once they recognized Him as the Messiah, they were taught, in a nutshell, to learn to love--God's way. It was that simple. After Messiah's ascention, the dissentions among those first believers arose very quickly because of their own notions of how things should work or be done or because of their lack of repentance and love. Religious disagreement is much of what crucified Christ! Our Messiah died because we can't just all get along and love God and our brother. Didn't we learn the first time?

Jesus said it all when He taught us to "Love the Lord our God" and to "Love our neighbor as ourselves." On these two--very basic--things hinge all the law and the prophets. After all, it isn't about religion or denomination, it's about relationship with our Creator.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Childlike Faith

I've often heard it said that we need to have "childlike faith." Well, what does this mean? My children have taught me invaluable lessons in this area!!

Many interpret childlike faith as having an unquestioning faith. I think, however, we may be wiser to do the exact opposite. Anyone who knows my son, Lane, will know how I've come to this conclusion. Daily, Lane has an unending list of questions. Some of these questions require answers far to complicated for his 5 year old mind to grasp, so sometimes I feel it's wiser to defer answers in full or in part until a time when he can better understand. I believe the Lord works this way with us as well. I sometimes (unwisely) give Lane too much information for his young mind to process and he isn't able to utilize it properly and what a mess that can make! He will say the wrong thing to the wrong person in the wrong way, for example. He's still too young to discern the proper use of some information. So I must be careful in the answers I provide...just as the Lord must be careful with what he reveals to us. I'm glad that the Lord knows better than me!

Back to my point, my children have shown me that childlike faith questions a LOT, but that trust is also key. To my kids, what I say is the ultimate truth. As a parent, this means I need to watch what I say. As a child of God, we need to have that type of trust in our Heavenly Father.

I've learned in recent months to not take unanswered questions for granted. Seek answers! In Matthew 7:7 we are told, "Seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you." Faith in the Lord's promises coupled with prayers for Godly wisdom will lead us to truth. The Lord wants us to have childlike faith, not blind faith. We can't take the road less traveled if we're not looking hard enough. We'll never find it if we don't shuffle through all the fallen leaves, and what kid doesn't love to play in the leaf pile?!

The Roads We Travel

Today, as I was driving along the interstate, it got me to thinking about life.

We are all on a road to somewhere. When we are passive, we tend not to get anywhere very quickly. Sometimes we're too agressive and we end up driving off the road.
For those of us on the road of salvation and righteousness, there are so many who believe that it's all a matter of the heart; it doesn't matter what we do. We truly can be on the right road, but until we take action and press the gas pedal, we are simply at a stand still. Our faith in Messiah places us on the right road, but only acting on that faith will cause us to move forward. When we don't "do," not only are we getting nowhere, but we are blocking the road for others as well.

Christ is the bridge, called Salvation, that takes us off the road to destruction and brings us to the road of Righteousness. Then we need to follow the road of Righteousness, which takes us to the streets of Intimacy with God. God hasn't given us a difficult road of Righteousness to follow. On the contrary, he has made it a well marked highway, also called the Torah or the law. The guidelines here promise we will arrive safely and they will take us on the most direct path to more fully knowing Him.

When we interject our own directions onto our map, we will hit a bump in the road or will make a wrong turn that takes us away from Righteousness, until He brings us back to the right path. We must "do" with a spirit of love and obedience and not just for the sake of doing. The main thing is to keep searching for His road, not ours; not being too passive and blocking traffic, but at the same time being sure we're obeying the Laws; this is where the safety, security and blessings lie.

Where are you today? Are you contemplating the bridge of Salvation? Are you on the road of Righteousness? Are you looking for God's way at all? Turn your eyes to Him and he will make all your paths straight.

Our Identity in Messiah

James 1:22-25, "But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does."

I love this passage because it reminds me of who I am as one who has faith in the Messiah. The words "the law" here are translated from the Greek word "nomos," which is in reference to the Mosaic covenant instructions found in Genesis - Deuteronomy. Christ was a DOER of this law, and in Him, so should we be, if we are to imitate Him. James is teaching us that when we are likewise doers of the instructions given in the Mosaic covenant, we will be blessed in what we do.

1 John 3:4 says that "Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law." This is the same law ("nomos") referenced above: the instructions of the Mosaic covenant. Because our burdens have been lifted through our faith in Messiah, we would be wise not to attempt hanging on to those burdens! They will only weigh us down anyway. Without the burdens of these fleshly sins, we can partake of the blessings of the Lord.

It is a common interpretation that when we are saved, we become "clothed" in the righteousness of Christ. This idea behind this interpretation is correct, but it also implies that our inner man is still sinful, and this implication leads to many feelings of guilt and frustration among believers. When we believe in the Messiah for our salvation, we ARE righteous. We are not merely "clothed" in righteousness; we are made FULLY righteous, inside and out. We are a completely new person, regenerated and born again. Romans 5:1 teaches this as well, "Because we have come to be considered righteous by God because of our trust, let us continue to have peace with our God through our Lord Jesus Christ." We can have peace in knowing that we are already righteous and thus we should not forget who we the man who looks into the mirror, then turns away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

Living Water

I was reading a book recently on the subject of health. Specifically, it was about the effects that holistic salt and pure water has on our bodies. But what struck me even more were some of the results of the testing they did on unprocessed water.

They spoke in the book about "living water." This water was qualified as "living" because it hadn't been processed in any way and still contained it's natural vibrations and it's molecules were still composed in a very strong structure, so as to be of the most benefit to our bodies. This water has the ability to give us energy in and of itself because it's own energy has not been stripped away by processing or so-called purification. In addition, this water is said to hydrate our bodies and satisfy our thirst much better.

This is all interesting, but it got me to thinking about the Messiah as our "living water." How often do we try to fill our lives with bits and pieces of Messiah, a "processed" form of Him through what religions say He is, instead of the real thing? That's like trying to fully satisfy our thirst with water that has had all the naturally occurring energy removed. It is a temporary fix because it has no lasting effect. Messiah, as our "living water," quenches our thirst permanently, but we must accept the whole of Him. This means we accept His loving nature, but also His judgments. When we are found to have sin in our lives, we must put it far from us. He is a God of love, but He is also a just God. Only when we allow Him to permeate EVERY aspect of our lives can He fully sanctify us. We accept the Father and the Spirit, the WHOLE being of our Creator God.

There was one other thing that really struck me in this book about water. Did you know that water has a memory? If you freeze a water drop into a crystal, it forms into a snowflake. If you allow that same water drop to thaw and then refreeze it, it will form into the EXACT same snowflake. That in itself is an amazing fact, but this is even more amazing. That same water molecule can be destroyed or repaired simply through words being spoken to it. Really. One scientist studied the effect our words have on water. When negative words were spoken to that same molecule, the molecule broke down and mutated. Then, when he spoke positive words to the water molecule, even if it had been greatly damaged, it could repair itself (in some cases fully). Considering that the majority of our bodies are made up of water, imagine the effect our words have on a body containing many water molecules that are either being built up or torn down. Physical proof that the Scriptures speak truth!

Jesus truly is our "Living Water." He can repair even the most broken down pieces of our lives. I just found this fascinating; it's symbolic on so many levels and really brought a deeper understanding of some Scriptures to light.

"Yeshua answered her, "If you knew God's gift, that is, who it is saying to you, 'Give me a drink of water,' then you would have asked him; and he would have given you living water." She said to him, "Sir, you don't have a bucket, and the well is deep; so where do you get this 'living water'? You aren't greater than our father Ya..akov, are you? He gave us this well and drank from it, and so did his sons and his cattle." Yeshua answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I will give him will never be thirsty again! On the contrary, the water I give him will become a spring of water inside him, welling up into eternal life!" --John 4:10-14

"Whoever puts his trust in me, as the Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from his inmost being!" --John 7:38

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sourdough Starter

Today I was "feeding" the "mother" that I'm making for some sourdough bread, the sourdough starter. This is the old fashioned know, that chewy, hearty sourdough bread that great-grandma would have made? This is a sourdough that is made without the quick-rise yeast you buy in the store. It is the simple, lasting kind where you just mix some flour and water and let it turn "sour"...or ferment. It pulls yeast spores out of the air and this is what allows the mother to ferment. Each day, you need to add a little more flour and a little more water and this feeds the yeast and allows it to do it's work. If the "mother" is not properly fed, it will spoil. However, if it is lovingly fed and nurtured each day, it will mature into the final product that makes "sourdough" the hearty, scrumptious bread that I am so looking forward to eating!

I got to thinking that this "mother" is not unlike us as believers. It dawned on me that our life in this time (meaning before our death) is much like the growing process that my "mother" must go through. The Lord lovingly creates us and cares for us just as we must feed and nuture for the "mother."

During this time of nuturing, a lot of yeast, necessarily, comes into our lives. In the Bible, yeast is often symbolic of the sin in our lives. We read, "Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy," in Luke 12:1. Though this leaven is necessary to produce a mature person the same as the yeast is necessary to produce a mature mother, we must keep it in check or it will destroy us. If my sourdough "mother" is not properly fed, the yeast will devour and destroy the whole batch. In the same way, our sin will devour and destroy us.

During the Passover feast, we are not to eat leaven (Exodus 13:7) and that act is symbolic of putting off the sin in our lives. Jesus the Messiah is our Passover lamb and because of his sacrifice, we are made into a new person. In 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, Paul teaches us that glorying in our sin is not good and, "Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even the Messiah our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." 1 John 3:4 teaches us that "sin is transgression of the law." If we have a repentant heart that we allow to change our actions and our lives, that makes us into a new lump of dough...a fresh, unspoiled "mother."

The leaven of sin is bad for our lives, however, there is a leaven that brings life. A yeast that is not properly fed will become consuming and destructive, just as it will destroy my sourdough "mother," but the leaven of the Messiah (the repentant heart that brings salvation through faith) produces a person of righteousness. Luke 13:20-21 says, "Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened." If this repentant person allows themselves to be properly fed through the Word of God and submission to the Holy Spirit, they will bring forth much fruit for the kingdom of God. This is a lovely "mother" that creates a mouthwatering, delightful loaf!

"And when they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, 'Then to the gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life.'" --Acts 11:18