Thursday, July 23, 2015

Jewish Groom, Gentile Bride

Then the elders of the congregation said, “What shall we do for wives for those who remain, since the women of Benjamin have been destroyed?” And they said, “There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, that a tribe may not be destroyed from Israel. “However, we cannot give them wives from our daughters, for the children of Israel have sworn an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the one who gives a wife to Benjamin.’ ”Then they said, “In fact, there is a yearly feast of the LORD in Shiloh, which is north of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.” Therefore they instructed the children of Benjamin, saying, “Go, lie in wait in the vineyards, “and watch; and just when the daughters of Shiloh come out to perform their dances, then come out from the vineyards, and every man catch a wife for himself from the daughters of Shiloh; then go to the land of Benjamin. “Then it shall be, when their fathers or their brothers come to us to complain, that we will say to them, ‘Be kind to them for our sakes, because we did not take a wife for any of them in the war; for it is not as though you have given the women to them at this time, making yourselves guilty of your oath.’ ”And the children of Benjamin did so; they took enough wives for their number from those who danced, whom they caught. Then they went and returned to their inheritance, and they rebuilt the cities and dwelt in them.      Judges 21:16-23  NKJV

I think most believers would agree that our hope, the event for which we are all watching and waiting is the rapture of the Church. I'm sure most of us too, are familiar with the Church being referred to as the “bride” of Christ. Many of you are also probably aware of how the events surrounding the rapture follow precisely the pattern of a Jewish wedding. Since Jesus is Jewish, it is expected that His wedding to His bride, the Church, will follow the pattern and traditions associated with Jewish weddings. But there is one question I personally have always had with this idea and it is this; does it matter at all to this picture that we the Church are not, strictly speaking, Jewish?

In this country, we observe a holiday called Valentines Day, a day set aside to celebrate love. But what most people don't know is that in the Jewish culture, they have a similar holiday called Tu B' Av, or the fifteenth of Av. Yet I call it an unknown holiday because most have never even heard of it, much less understand the traditional beliefs associated with it. It isn't even listed on my Jewish calendar along with all of their other holidays, which makes me wonder why it is so "forgotten"? If you look it up on the internet, you will find that most sites call it a "minor" holiday in Jewish culture, but for reasons I want to share with you, I think it's entirely possible this might be the most important holiday for the Church that you've never heard of.

First of all, Tu B'Av was declared a celebration by the first generation after the forty year wilderness wandering from Egypt during the Exodus. If you recall, God commanded that an entire generation must die because of their sin before a new generation could enter the Promised Land. After forty years, seeing the full moon told the new generation that the appointed time had passed, and they were able to enter the land that God had led them to. Remember the Jewish calendar is lunar, so the months are calculated by observing the phases of the moon, and the full moon always occurs on the night of the 14th (don't forget the new day starts at sunset). So this new generation declared this day a new day of celebration.

Secondly, the Jewish Talmud, which is a collection of ancient Rabbinic writings, teaches that on this day, Tu B' Av, the tribes of Israel were allowed to intermarry. The rest of the year, it was required that you marry only within your tribe, but on this one day every year, women were free to marry whomever they wished from any tribe. For this reason, and because it also marks the end of the wheat harvest in Israel, many believe this is the day that Ruth married Boaz. If you recall the story, Ruth was not a Jew, but a Gentile. Yet as a distant relation, she and Boaz, who was Jewish, were allowed to marry. Their marriage occurred at the end of the harvest, and since on this day, marriages to others were allowed, it follows that this must have been the day of their wedding.

Third, as a result of a civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and the rest of Israel, only 600 males survived the conflict. The leaders of Israel decided they would allow these men to take wives from "the daughters from Shiloh". It seems there was a celebration at the beginning of the grape harvest at Shiloh where the daughters would go into the vineyards and dance. The surviving men were told they were to hide in the vineyards and catch themselves a wife from the girls who came out to dance. In later years this day became known as a traditional day of love and courtship, where girls would exchange white clothing so that prospective husbands would not know who was rich or who was poor.

Fourthly, Tu B' Av is the last holiday of the year in Israel. Since the New Year begins on Rosh Ha Shanah, which is just a month and a half away, this is the last holiday, as well as the last harvest of their calendar year. Being the last of the holidays, it is a time of celebration both in looking back, and looking forward to the new year that is approaching. This day is also considered to be the time where planting of crops or trees was to end for the year. During the time of the Second Temple, Tu B' Av was proclaimed as the beginning of the grape harvest which continues until Yom Kippur.

Fifth, prophetically speaking, Tu B' Av pictures the future marriage of Christ with His church.

"In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.               John 14:2-3 NKJV

In the Jewish culture, after the engagement the groom goes to prepare the home in which he and his wife will reside, and it is up to his father to decide when the home is ready and the son is allowed to return for his bride.

So in review, we find there is a holiday in Israel that many are unfamiliar with which is a traditional day celebrating love. It is a day many choose as their wedding day, and historically is the only day that Jews were allowed to marry outside their own tribes. It comes at the conclusion of the wheat harvest at the end of summer, and along with being the last celebration of the year, because of the allowance to intermarry it also perfectly pictures the future marriage of Christ with His Church.

Many look at this day as a perfect time for the rapture of the Church to occur, and in all honesty, I would have to agree. But as we all know, God has His own timetable and as far as we know, He hasn't made it crystal clear. Yet with all the clues we do have, and all that has been happening lately in the world, many are convinced that this truly could be the day. Who knows, but since Tu B' Av starts the evening of the fourteenth of Av at sunset, which this year occurs this coming Friday, I would be lying if I said I wasn't going to be watching the skies more than usual. The day is approaching when we will be taken to be with our Lord forever. I'm praying it will be soon.

If you are reading this today and have never made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, I urge you to do it right now. Simply admit to God that you need His forgiveness because you are a sinner,  be willing to turn away from your sins, believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and invite Him to come in and control  your life through the Holy Spirit by praying a simple prayer like this;

 Father, I know I am a sinner in need of salvation. I believe you sent your Son Jesus to die on the cross for my sin, and I ask you now to forgive me of my sins. I want to receive your gift of salvation so please come into my heart and help me to live and follow you as my Lord and Savior. In Jesus' name, Amen.

 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:   John 1:12 NKJV

If you have prayed this prayer you are part of the body of Christ, a member of His Church,  and like the rest of us are now waiting for the call to join Him in Heaven for the wedding soon to come.

Keep watching.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Our Hiding Place

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.                 Psalm 91:1  NKJV

Can you recall being scared when you were a small child?  I think most of us can because being frightened of something is a very common occurrence, especially when one is young and everything around them seems larger and more intimidating.  As we grow, that fear eventually diminishes somewhat, yet there are times, even as adults, that we can become frightened by circumstances which seem out of our control.  Most often, when we were young, we ran to our parents when we were frightened.  As adults, many times we can feel alone with our fears, yet in the case of those who believe, we have a Father we can go to for assurance.

This Psalm is one which many have turned to in time of need, especially when the assurance of the Father’s protection is the greatest desire.  In the times in which we find ourselves today as believers, watching the world become more and more hostile to the message of God and we who choose to follow, it would appear that reassurance from our Father is becoming more and more important to a good many.  I want to share just a few of my thoughts on this Psalm this morning, and hope that as you read the promises given to us as believers in Him, you will be reassured of our safety in the Fathers’ hand.

I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”     Psalm 91:2   NKJV

Did you notice in verse one that the promise of these blessings are reserved for those who “dwell” with God?  Another way of saying this would be “living in close fellowship” with God.  How often as children were we scared while holding our Fathers’ hand?  It was usually when we were off on our own that we became frightened and felt the need to run back for reassurance.  If we as believers “dwell” with God, and “abide” in His presence, we can truly claim that He is our refuge and fortress, and we can trust Him to protect us from all who would wish to do us harm.

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler, And from the perilous pestilence.  He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.        Psalm 91:3-6  NKJV

How old were you when you became aware of the power of a promise?  I can recall when my daughters all began to ask me to “promise” to do something.  They even took it a step further with a little thing they called a “pinky swear”, which was a promise made while hooking our two little fingers together.  How much stronger of a promise do we need than the promise from the God of the universe that He will deliver us from any sort of attack that those who seek our destruction might attempt.  Our Father tells us plainly we have nothing to fear if we take refuge under His wings.

A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you. Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked. Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place,    Psalm 91:7-9  NKJV

Not only do we have the promises of assurance and deliverance, we are also given here the promise of God’s judgment upon those who would do us harm.  How often do we read in the scriptures of the righteous crying out to God “how long o Lord?”, yet here we see the promise that we will have the opportunity to watch God execute judgment on the wicked.  Yet again, though, we are reminded that the promise is only for those who choose to make God their refuge, and act upon that choice by dwelling with Him in close fellowship.

No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.  Psalm 91:10-13  NKJV

I don’t know, but suspect that this is the passage which has produced the idea of a guardian angel who watches over each of us.  Yet God goes a step further and tells us that we are given the protection of angels, “plural”, to watch us as we walk in our relationship with Christ.  The Hebrew word for charge means to command, or give orders to, and I for one am glad that He has done that for me.  I have personally experienced on more than one occasion what we are promised here, and there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that my safety in a few circumstances was a direct result of this promise.

“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, And show him My salvation.”     Psalm 91:14-16  NKJV

What better promise can our Father give us than the promise of eternal life spent in His presence?  Because we choose to love Him, He will deliver us and eventually set us with Him “on high”.  Because we call out to Him by name, He will answer.  He will be with us in times of trouble and not only deliver us, but even give us honor and glory for choosing to trust in Him for our salvation.  Best of all we are promised a life of satisfaction, knowing we have served Him well by making the choice to rely on Him for our every need. 

Whatever might come our way, especially in these days approaching the end, isn’t it reassuring to know that not only do we have our Father’s promise of protection, but ultimately the promise of eternal life spent in heaven with Him, which no one can take away.

Keep watching.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Onward Christian Soldiers

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.  Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; forward into battle see his banners go!  Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.     Sabine Baring-Gould, 1834-1924

I hope I am not the only one old enough to remember singing this song in Sunday School as a child, but a part of me acknowledges the possibility.  Although I thoroughly enjoy worship music in churches today, there are times when not only do I miss the hymns of my youth, but notice that the songs of the past had a different focus, as it were,  than those of today.  As I have watched with dismay the direction of this country in the past few months, as well as events around the world, it is hard not to look at the situation the Church finds itself in today and not recall the tenor and message of the hymns of the past.

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!                                   Isaiah 5:20  NKJV

“Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees, Who write misfortune, Which they have prescribed                 Isaiah 10:1  NKJV

Somehow I don’t believe I am alone in feeling surprised that at this time, especially in this country, believers are beginning to come under attack for their faith and be vilified and persecuted for choosing to acknowledge God’s laws as the standard for our beliefs and actions.  Never in my memory can I recall such a time as we as believers face right now, where the world considers us to be an intolerant, prejudiced people.  Yet now more than ever do the songs of the past, and the message they convey, seem so much more applicable.  Over the past few weeks I have lost count of the number of commentaries I have read from Christian leaders in this country imploring believers to stand and fight for our faith.  Fortunately for us, this is a subject God had much to say about.

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.                                             1 Corinthians 16:13-14  NKJV

With a background in coaching football, it is hard not to use the game as an illustration of what Christ would have us to do. For those who follow the game, there is an ongoing debate that never gets resolved and that is the question "do great teams win with offense or defense"? I'm sure most would say both, but it is a question that many fans enjoy arguing about, simply because there are those who love watching a great offense at work, and others who would rather watch a great defense. In the fight against Satan which all Christians participate in, we really don't have the option to choose because God tells us exactly how we can win, and that is with a good defense.

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.   Ephesians 6:10-13  NKJV

One of the most important points Paul makes here is in verse 11 where he tells us that what is expected of us as believers is simply to "stand". He repeats this in verse 13 where he tells us that after doing "everything", we stand firm. In his way, God is telling us through Paul that all He expects from us is to play defense, not to play offense. We next see in verse 14 that we are told we can stand firm if we remember those parts of God's armor we have already put on when we made the decision to follow Christ. Those parts were reminding us of the truth of Christ in which we believe, remembering our position before God thanks to the righteousness of Christ, and resting in the peace that is ours from the knowledge of the first two which was promised to us in the gospel of Christ.

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;    Ephesians 6:14-17  NKJV

So where do we go from here? Well, in verse 16 Paul introduces us to the most practical piece of our armor, the one that we will need to use the most, and that is the shield of faith. Now personally I like this picture because to me, it realistically illustrates what Satan is trying to do to us as believers, and the way he tries to attack. First of all, an arrow is not all that large, and if one is coming straight at you I expect it is pretty hard to see. Second, I have watched people shoot arrows with the compound bows used today and I can tell you for a fact that those arrows fly at an extremely fast speed. Third, they are pretty quiet. You can look at an arrow as the first of the stealth weapons, because the first time you hear them is when they hit you, and obviously by then it's too late to do anything about it. Fourth, and even more important is the kind of arrow Satan uses. It's not your everyday arrow, but a flaming arrow which not only wounds you, but starts a fire that will continue to burn until put out.

As a result, God tells us that we need to take up the shield of faith. Have you had the opportunity to watch a movie that illustrates the use of a shield to defend against an attack by arrows?  I know I have seen a few that have done a great job showing what it must have been like to be in a battle like that. You have an army marching forward, carrying their shields which are almost as big as they are tall, and the opposing army launching their arrows. As soon as they fire, the opponent kneels down and hides behind their shields as thousands of arrows fall from the sky. As the attacking army continues to fire their arrows, the defending army simply waits behind their shields until the advancing army is out of arrows, and then they begin their attack. God tells us something in verse 16 that I think is very critical for us to remember. He says that if we take up the shield of faith we WILL be able to "extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one." Not some, ALL. This is what most of us would consider to be a winning defense!

Since we know we can win with God's help, it is also important to understand what these arrows will look like so we can recognize the "stealth" attack by Satan. I think the clue is in how God describes them when He says they are "flaming". Obviously a flaming arrow will start a fire, which then burns until put out. How does Satan "burn" us inside? I think these arrows will have two characteristics no matter what form they may come in. Remember they are coming from Satan, and we already know his method of attack. Satan wants us to doubt the truth from God in which we have believed, so first of all these flaming arrows will come out of our own thoughts. It's a sneak attack that seems to come from nowhere when we begin to doubt what we believe in. Secondly, they will attack our position in Christ, the faith in Him that we have, which has already been described in the first pieces of armor we put on. You see, the key to overcoming a good defense is to first create doubt in the mind of your opponent that he is capable of defending himself. That works in any sport you can think of, as well as our fight against Satan.

Running only makes you a better target!

Most important to us, though, is to understand the difference between what we believe, and the shield of "faith" which we are instructed to take up. What is faith? The best answer I can give you is faith is "acting" on your belief. You see, belief is one thing, but making decisions, taking action, making the decision to stand fast, all demonstrate your faith. Faith is always action. The fact that you may have doubts proves that you have faith. So apply your belief to everything, every situation you find yourself in, and you will be demonstrating faith and defeating Satan and his arrows. We need to be "active" believers, Christians DOING not just believing, and we can best do this by standing firm in our belief in God and His commands.

Most of what I have read in the past few weeks agrees with the idea that this fight is only going to get worse.  I truly believe God is orchestrating the events we see as the world fast approaches His return for His Church.  The question for us all is will we stand and fight? 

Onward Christian Soldiers.

Keep watching.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Looking for Fruit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.                         Galatians 5:22-23  NKJV

Since we have been discussing the believers spiritual makeup for a few weeks, I was not at all surprised to see another article this past week concerning women wearing makeup with another well known individual revealing herself with and without her makeup applied.  The purpose of the article was supposedly to “empower” women to feel it was perfectly acceptable to appear in public without their makeup on.  The choice to wear or not to wear is theirs to make and no one should feel guilty about choosing the latter.  As I thought about this though, I realized that as believers, we too are given the same choice in regards to wearing our spiritual makeup.

As we have been talking about this, like many of you my thoughts turned to the passage from Galatians with which I am sure most of us are familiar. I even have a framed print of it hanging on a wall in my home to remind me of what is expected from me as a believer. “Expected”? Yes, if we accept the fact that being filled with the Holy Spirit is a choice, then it follows that producing the fruits of the Spirit is also a choice. In other words, the ability to produce the fruit of the Spirit is in us, but we must also choose to exhibit them. Do you recall the passage from Titus that began this discussion?

[Exhort] bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all [things], not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.   Titus 2:9-10 NKJV

Paul tells Titus that one of his responsibilities is to exhort servants to “adorn” themselves, or in other words, to make the choice to adorn.  As I considered the subject of the fruits of the Spirit this week, I also noticed that my garden has arrived at the point where many of the plants are tall and healthy, but have not yet begun to produce fruit.  I wondered how often we as believers sometimes look like these plants. We appear quite healthy and mature, but upon closer examination there is no fruit to be found. What I think God expects from us as believers is to approach every single day with the thought of “how do I show others the fruit of the Spirit”?  So often we believe that if we arrive at a certain level of maturity in our walk with Christ the fruit will appear “naturally” in everything we do. However if we take a good look around, especially within the body, I think we can see that may not be the case.

I am sure most of you realize and would confess that we as believers sometimes stumble and exhibit fruits not of the Spirit.  At one time or another we all have acted or spoken in a manner which does not show any of the fruit listed in this passage. I am not suggesting that those who do not exhibit the fruits of the Spirit are not true believers, but rather that just as being filled with the Spirit is a choice, producing the fruit of the Spirit is a choice as well. It is one thing to go to church, study, fellowship, and grow as a believer, but it is another thing entirely to choose to put on our spiritual makeup and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.

 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.       Matthew 5:16 NKJV
Have you ever really stopped to consider that people are attracted to what they see?  I have always enjoyed the produce section of a market and appreciate the time and trouble they go to in order to present the fruits and vegetables in an attractive display.  It is almost as if they want to tempt you to touch and feel and ultimately purchase what they are exhibiting.  We have all seen the effect wearing makeup has on an individuals’ appearance, which in many cases can be described as amazing.  As believers, how often do we think about how our spiritual makeup can affect, and even attract, the attention of non-believers?  Choosing to put on the fruits of the Spirit, however, is only the first step because like all fruit, our spiritual fruit must be cultivated.

A memory I will always have is waking up at night when the wind machines would turn on in the orchards to protect the fruit from freezing. If you are not familiar with that, many orchards have large propellers mounted on poles high above the trees. When the temperature would approach freezing, these would turn on to circulate the air and prevent frost from forming on the trees. Imagine living next to an airport when 20 or so airplanes start their engines at the same time and you will begin to understand what I experienced. The "outward" fruits are a result of believers growing in the warmth of God's love. The closer you are to God, the greater the warmth and the more you grow.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!       Psalms 34:8  NKJV

My uncle was an orchardist, and I remember accompanying him often while he drove around to different orchards resetting sprinklers and taking care of business. (with five kids, this was probably my mother's answer to daycare) Although it didn't occur to me then, not only did his work require a lot of physical effort, it was necessary for the trees to get the proper amount of water to produce their fruit.  The trees had to be pruned properly, be protected from insects which could harm the fruit, and often weeds would have to be controlled so as to not rob the trees of the water they needed to grow.  A result of cultivating a healthy relationship with God is growth, which occurs when we make the effort to take in the knowledge to be found in His Word which He has provided for us. As a result, our "fruit" will grow in proportion to what we take in.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have [its] perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.                  James 1:2-4 NKJV

let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.                     Hebrews 10:22 NKJV

There is nothing so beautiful as a tree full of fruit ready for harvest. As a child, I always looked forward to seeing the hills turn orange when all the oranges on the trees would begin to turn color. It is the same now living where I do. In the fall when the apples begin to turn color as they ripen, the entire orchard changes color. If you have never seen an apple or orange tree full of fruit ready for picking, you have really missed something. I have always been amazed by just how much fruit one tree can produce, and how obvious it is when the fruit is ripe. The three fruits of the Spirit, longsuffering, kindness, and goodness are ones I would describe as "demonstrative". They describe just how we as believers exhibit our relationship with God by how we interact with others. People should be able to see us practicing these gifts, and be attracted by them.

I know many people who would not think of ever leaving their house without wearing their makeup.  Putting on our spiritual makeup is a choice we make daily, and I believe it is one of the most important choices we are faced with.  People are attracted by what they see, and as believers we are encouraged to adorn ourselves in such a way as to attract others to the source of our fruit, Jesus Christ.

Keep watching.