Turning of the Cherubim

I was mentored in spiritual dream interpretation for five years. For many years, I taught courses and mentored many people in how to interpret dreams. I qualify dream interpretation with the word “spiritual”, as I always want to make room for God to be present and to speak. Interpretations belong to God (Gen 40:8).

I love understanding the patterns and richness that come through contemplating what a symbol might mean in scripture or a dream (1 Cor 2:14).

The scriptures are full of symbols. One look at the description of the tabernacles should convince you that is true.

Recently, I came across the idea that the wings of a cherubim are a symbol of God’s glory. Let’s look and see if that fits.

One important principle in understanding scripture and dream interpretation is that of context. At the same time, it does not negate the place for a sanctified imagination.

Exodus 25:20 (NASB) “The cherubim shall have [their] wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be [turned] toward the mercy seat.

In context, the tabernacle was to be built according to these instructions as a shadow of the heavenly one.

Let’s look at some interesting and intriguing symbols and language around this text.

1) Cherubim

Let’s first use our sanctified imagination regarding the cherubim. While they are formed in beaten gold, we discover that this is a limited representation. In Solomon’s temple for example, the cherubim were 15 feet tall and their combined wingspan filled the entire 30 foot room (1 Kings 6)!

They are the same as the four living creatures (ref Ezekiel 10) in the following passage:

Ezekiel 1:5-11 (HCSB)
5 The form of four living creatures came from it. And this was their appearance: They had human form,
6 but each of them had four faces and four wings.
7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the hooves of a calf, sparkling like the gleam of polished bronze.
8 They had human hands under their wings on their four sides. All four of them had faces and wings.
9 Their wings were touching. The creatures did not turn as they moved; each one went straight ahead.
10 The form of each of their faces was that of a man, and each of the four had the face of a lion on the right, the face of an ox on the left, and the face of an eagle.
11 That is what their faces were like. Their wings were spread upward; each had two wings touching that of another and two wings covering its body.

We get the basic idea that one pair of wings would be used as a covering, and the other pair of wings would be used to glorify the presence of God.

While the word origin of cherub is unclear, possible word origins from other ancient languages suggest that the word means to be gracious to, to bless, and to make great and mighty.

2) The number two

Numbers have meaning in scripture. Why are there two cherubim and not some other number like three? In context, two cherubim suggests the number of witness. A requirement of Mosaic law says let every fact be established by two or more witnesses (Deut 19:15). The cherubim are bearing witness to the presence of God.

3) The mercy seat

The mercy seat is a single Hebrew word kapporeth, meaning mercy seat of or place of atonement. Under the Mosaic covenant, a high priest would sprinkle this seat 7 times on the annual day of atonement for the forgiveness of sins and reconciling God with His people. The number seven was used to signify fullness in scripture. Under the new covenant of Jesus, His own blood was used to atone for or cover the mercy seat once and for all eternity (see the book of Hebrews). We are reconciled with God through acceptance of His gracious sacrifice.

The first interesting question is why the mercy seat would be covered. The Hebrew root is calak (translated covering), which also means to hedge or screen. In the Hebrew, the form of the word calak is the plural calakim, suggesting that there are multiple wings forming that hedge.

I would suggest to you that how God transacts mercy with you is very personal and intimate. It is not for anyone else to see.

4) The face

In the text, the cherubim are facing towards each other. Why is that important?

In a Hebraic understanding, the face of God is analogous with God’s favor.

When Adam fell into sin, the face of the cherubim faced outwards, forming a hedge of protection guarding against anyone being able to get back into Eden (Gen 3). In Exodus and subsequent tabernacle depictions, they are not facing the door as a guard, but are facing the mercy seat. The text indicates they are facing each other, but that imagination leaves God out of the picture. They are facing God and protecting an altar of mercy. The cherubim are witnesses of God’s mercy transacted in the presence of God.

Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)

16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

5) Wings

Wings are represented by the word Kanaphim in Hebrew, which also refers to the edge of a garment (tzi-tzi of a prayer shawl).

A Hebraic way of thinking is looking at the function of a symbol. What do wings usually do? They cause one to ascend higher. In this case, though I would suggest that the function of the wings are to glorify God.

The Hebrew word for upward in our text is ma’al which has the context of higher.

The wings stretched upward reminds me of praise as hands lifted high to glorify the one who is in their midst and above them.

Isaiah reflects on this in his declaration, that it’s God who is enthroned by the cherubim.

Isa 37:16
16 LORD of Hosts, God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are God — You alone — of all the kingdoms of the earth. You made the heavens and the earth.

Hebrews 9:5 (NLT)
Above the Ark were the cherubim of divine glory, whose wings stretched out over the Ark’s cover, the place of atonement.

Their role is to glorify the LORD.

So, what does this mean to me? In His presence you can find mercy. In His presence you can find rest and healing for your souls.

I would encourage you to use your sanctified imagination to find yourself receiving God’s mercy. Just you and God in the presence of His cherubim and covered in the wings of mercy. Imagine yourself seated on the mercy seat. The blood of Jesus shed for you has made a way for you to be forgiven, accepted, at peace, and made whole.

Your Heart in the Presence of God (part 1 of 5)

One of the benefits to interpreting dreams like Daniel or Joseph in the scriptures is that it teaches you to slow down and think about what a symbol might mean in context.

Hebrews 9:3-5
3 Behind the second curtain, the tabernacle was called the most holy place.
4 It contained the gold altar of incense and the ark of the covenant, covered with gold on all sides, in which there was a gold jar containing the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.
5 The cherubim of glory were above it overshadowing the mercy seat. It is not possible to speak about these things in detail right now.

One day I asked Holy Spirit what the ark of the covenant might mean in light of the new covenant we have in Christ.  I believe I heard the following answer:

“The ark is a metaphor for your heart.”

Why?  Your heart is a container.  It was created to be in the presence of God 24×7.  The ark was to be found in the Holy of Holies where the presence of God was found.  Whereas in the Mosaic covenant, only the high priest could go in once a year, in the new covenant, the presence of God has been made available to all through the door which is Jesus.

Jude 1:24
24 “Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy…”

The ark along with your heart were created to bring glory to God and be pure both inside and out.  The ark was coated with pure gold both inside and covering the ark.  Gold is a symbol representing purity and high value.  Gold is a weighty substance (Kavod in Hebrew), and its luster shines to magnify its owner.  Gold is a symbol of glory.

Let’s take this a step further.  What is inside this ark?  According to scripture, three things: a golden pot of manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of covenant.  All three of these signs were supernatural.  The manna was bread that supernaturally rained from heaven, the rod was a supernatural budding of an almond branch, and the tablets were written by the finger of God.  These three items in the ark were to be kept as a testimony for all generations.  In other words, they were to be eternal.

I’m going to develop the symbols of manna, the rod, and the tablets in future blogs, but let me provide a teaser as to where we are heading.

According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13, the things that are of eternal value are faith, hope, and love.  They are all divine gifts and not man-made.  The gifts point to the nature and character of the giver.  They are to be carried in your heart.

Manna is a symbol for faith
The rod is a symbol for hope
The tablets are a symbol for love

Carrying these in your heart brings glory to God.  It’s a miracle to have them in your heart.  They point to Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).

To be continued (part 1 of 5) …

The Truth about Tithing

 

Tithing is one subject that churches in America normally have to talk about at least once a year. It is also an area that causes many Christians to stumble. We are often quoted from the book of Malachi that we must give generously if we want to blessed. Yet, Jesus was curiously silent on making tithing a commandment. While making a principle of sowing and reaping is important, grace flies in the face of principles. The message of the gospel is that God saves. We love and forgive because we realize how much we have been loved and forgiven. I have learned to be suspicious of Mosaic covenant teaching overlaid onto the new covenant that Jesus offers. That is a mixture.

What do the scriptures originally say about tithing? You might be surprised. The first occurrence of the term occur in an exchange with Melchizedek. Melchizedek means king or righteousness in Hebrew (melek – king, tsedek – righteousness). In context, Abram has just rescued Lot and his household from Sodom and was given victory over king Chedorlaomer (meaning handful of sheaves) and the kings that were with him.

Gen 14:18-20 (NET)
Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (Now he was the priest of the Most High God.)
He blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth.
Worthy of praise is the Most High God, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything.

A high priest brings a covenant meal of bread and wine, pronounces a blessing over Abram and lets him know that God is his deliverer. Salem in Hebrew means peace. Sound like anyone you know? In Hebrews 7:3 we’re let in on a secret that Melchizedek typifies Christ, “having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God remains a priest forever.

Abram gave his tithe (a tenth) after having been blessed, not before.  Abram gave out of a place of gratefulness, not out of command or obligation.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7:

“Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.  Each person should do as he has decided in his heart — not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Is there a principle of generosity here?  Sure.  Do we give in order to get?  That doesn’t seem to be of the right spirit.   Paul also writes in 1 Corinthians 13:3, if I give all my money away to the poor, but don’t do it out of love, it counts for nothing.

Remembering that God loves a cheerful giver has been one of my guiding principles behind tithing and giving in general.

Giving teaches our hearts to be generous. When I first began going to church, I didn’t want to part with “my” money. I now understand that everything I have came from him. While my willingness to be generous cycles up and down, I have learned to listen, be in unity with my wife on quantities, and to give when my heart is willing.

Love is the fulfillment of the law. Who needs your generous heart this season?

Hypocrites versus Eternal Life

Jesus sometimes used the term “hypocrite“, but most often in regard to the self-righteous. What did he mean by that and how does that apply to us?

When I first started going to church, before my point of conversion, being one of those hypocrites was the last thing I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be one of “them.” I didn’t want to be brainwashed, nor chuck my brain at the door. Yet, the funny thing is that is probably the biggest part of my testimony. A “brainwashing” is probably what I needed the most!

Matthew 1:21

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins”

In Matthew 1:21, we’re taught the meaning of the word Jesus. It means God saves (not me). That’s the whole point of the term “repent” in the gospels. It is not to turn away from something, but to turn towards someone, but that’s a topic for another post.

For a number of years, I have wrestled with what my testimony is. Did I become a “good” person? Not really. Is it because my behavior is so much better? Not really. Is it because of a personal healing or personal encounter I’ve had with His love? Not especially, though I have had glimpses along my journey. What’s ironic is probably more than anything else, God has changed the way I think. That’s the meaning of the word ‘repent’, i.e. to change one’s mind – metanoeo in the Greek. God has changed the way I think about many things, the environment, children, sexuality, marriage, and even birth control. Some of my ways of thinking were deeply entrenched, and it is something of a miracle that I could even begin to think about things differently. My ways of thinking were not something I could change on my own and in many cases weren’t even looking to change. Yet, God.

If we look carefully at the scriptures, we will see two expressions used as opposites.

Hypocrite versus Eternal Life

Hypocrite: a person who pretends to have virtues, beliefs, morals, or principles whose actions don’t match what they say. In other words, a pretender.

Jesus defines the term as well. Mark 7:6 – “these people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

I have come to realize that I have become a card-carrying member of the “Hypocrites-R-US club.” Sad but true. The words in scripture tend to make hypocrites of us all. I think that is the point. In the Mark 7:6 text, we find both the problem and the antidote. The answer can only be found through a personal relationship with the one who is able to save our souls.

Eternal Life: an intimate knowing of God the Father and the Son whom He sent (I would encourage you to pursue a a concordance study on “eternal life,” especially through the book of John).

John 17:3 (HCSB)
“This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent — Jesus Christ.”

Eternal life comes through relational knowledge of both God as Father (Abba meaning daddy), and Jesus through the means of the Holy Sprit. I believe that this intimate relational knowing of God will continue, beyond our earthly dimension, to that of heaven.

One of the questions I have been seeking is what that knowledge looks like. The answer that I have received so far is that it should look like love because God is love. In 1 John, we learn that the one who says he loves God but does not love his brother is a liar (1 John 4:20). In other words, our inability to love others takes us back to being a hypocrite and needing a savior to save us from our selves.

The late prophet Bob Jones who “coincidentally” died on February 14th of this year, had visions of heaven. He said for those of us who have accepted the gift of Jesus’ life, Jesus is only going to ask us one thing, determining our reward. “Did you learn to love?”

That is the path to eternal life. The one who knows God, is intimately familiar with how to love, because God is love. The rest of us are probably hypocrites in need of a savior.

In a scene from the movie “Ragamuffin,” Brennan Manning presents the idea that Jesus will ask us one question, “Did you believe in my love for you?” That is the question we all must wrestle with.

We are able to love because God first loved us. That’s where it all begins and originates from. It’s there that we find grace to take us from being hypocrites to a life lived out of love, and find confidence in a life that is eternal.

 

Power of the Word

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

In the last blog, I wrote about a case for redefining the use of how we use the word “soul”. I want to apply that new understanding with a scripture that I think is frequently misunderstood.

I want to suggest to you that the word ‘psyche’, translated ‘soul’ in this passage may be incorrect. What if ‘soul’ represents the “thoughts of your heart,” and the ‘spirit’ represents the “intentions of your heart?” If joints could be analogous to our thoughts, marrow would be analogous to our intentions, what’s at the core.

It might be time to eradicate the term “soulish” from the Christian subculture. Rather, I would say that it would be better described as our thoughts and intentions that are not yet perfected. We have many thoughts and intentions, but only some of them will reflect the heart and mind of God (Is 55:8).

Pope John Paul II talks about the difference between ‘Ethics‘ which addresses the law according to the mind, and ‘Ethos‘ which addresses the heart behind the law. Jesus addressed the issue of outward compliance with the Pharisees. Jesus taught that if we have an outward appearance of compliance (ethics) but the heart is still sinful, we have fulfilled neither the commandment nor the purpose behind the law. Once both the thoughts (mind) and intentions (heart) have been sanctified, there is no more need for the law. The law then has done its job as a tutor driving us to Christ for our redemption. Remember that Christ came to fulfill the law, not abolish it.

One of the purposes of the word of God is to sift us. It reveals not only where behavior is in need of being saved, but also our intentions. Whether it’s the outward behaviors or the inner intentions of the heart, the word is capable of revealing our need for a savior.

So what is the application for all of this?

If you’re like me, there are areas where I appear to be righteous on the outside, but am still unloving on the inside. Love is fulfillment of the law.

The only hope likes in the one who sanctifies us and leads us into all truth.

At the cross, which is an altar, a divine exchange can take place. When the power of His word (logos) brings up issues for our mind (thoughts) or our intentions (heart), take them to God. From God’s perspective, the cross was to be a place of both death and resurrection (something dies and something better takes its place). If we let something go, ask God what He wants to give you in its place. While the altar of the cross may seem foolish to the world, to those who are in the process of being saved, it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:15-31). His power is made perfect in humility.

A Case for Redefining the Soul

 

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.

In context, Paul is writing a charge to his brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul is exhorting them (and us) to rejoice always, pray without giving up, give thanks to God, refrain from quenching the Spirit, abstain from evil, consider prophesies, test all things, and hold on to that which is good. Unfortunately, none of these seemingly good things are able to save us. Only God can sanctify, as it is of His grace (1 Corinthians 1:30).

A friend of mine encouraged me recently with the statement that “David was kind to his soul.” What was implied was that I was making my soul an enemy. I’ve pondered this for a while and have decided that my friend was right.

How much has the church taught that the spirit is good, but the soul is bad (aka “soulish”)? We seem to be confused and double-minded as we sing songs like ‘bless the Lord, oh my soul.”  What does that mean?

The traditional teaching that I was taught is that we are three-part bodies, being body, soul, and spirit. I was also taught that our soul is made up of the mind, will, and emotions.

The problem with this traditional viewpoint of the soul (spirit, soul, body) is that it isn’t supported by an accurate translation of the scriptures, in my opinion.

Reading the works of Dallas Willard originally challenged this notion for me some years ago. After spending some time recently learning about the Theology of the Body (Pope John Paul II – Christopher West), I’m even more convinced that the western church has a confused understanding.

In this 1 Thessalonians 5:23 text, there are three keywords of interest in the Greek, but to understand their true meaning we have to look at other occurrences of these words in scripture. We also need to look at the Hebrew, the original source of truth. In my opinion, there’s an obvious translation error when scholars and Strong’s concordances translate both pneuma (spirit) and psyche (soul) as “breath.”

spirit – pneuma

soul – psyche

body – soma

Try a Google search on the definition of the word ‘psyche.’

You will get a wide variety of answers, including a woman in Greek mythology. The word is the root for where we get the field of Psychiatry and Psychology, both dealing with the thoughts and feelings of the mind. The Greek root of psyche is the word ‘psycho.’

Let’s look at an example, which occurs in both the Torah and the new covenant. This will give us insights into the use of the word translated ‘soul.’

In Mark 12:30, the first commandment we’re given from Yeshua is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.

The Greek words here are as follows:

heart – kardia

soul – psyche

mind – dianoia

strength – ischys

Just to clarify, the Greek word ‘dianoia’ (poorly translated as ‘mind’), is about having a spirit of understanding. It ties in with not leaning on our own understanding, but being dependent on God’s. It’s one of the ways that we can love God.

This same scripture is referenced in Deuteronomy 6:5, considered the ‘Sacred Shema’, by the Jewish people. The Hebrew word ‘shema’, means to intelligently hear, understand, and obey. It is written that they “shall love The Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might“.

The Hebrew words here are as follows:

heart – lebab

soul – nephesh

strength – me’od

As an aside, the Hebrew word me’od can be translated as “muchness.” Can you love God by serving others with the strengths you have been given?

If you look at both occurrences of the Greek word ‘psyche’ and of the Hebrew word ‘nephesh’, you’ll find that they represent the same concepts.

If most cases, the word ‘nephesh’ and ‘psyche’ refer to someone’s life (Matt 2:20, Matt 10:28). In a few cases, they refer to someone’s thought life (mind). We would be much less confused about the term ‘soul’ if the Greek and Hebrew words weren’t translated out of context.

I’m going to make a proposal of a new model based on the understanding that the word ‘soul’ should represent someone’s life (the whole person). If you look at the book of Revelation (Rev 6:9), it is the “souls” of the saints that are crying out “how long … until our blood is avenged?” I want to make a case that these are not disembodied souls, but rather whole people. We were never meant to live without a body and we will have a glorified body after our resurrection.

Soul – Whole container representing the life of a person (nephesh/psyche representing life)

Pneuma – Spirit

Psyche – Mind

Soma – Body

I would translate the 1 Thessalonians 5:23 text to say “may your spirit, mind, and body be found blameless, inside and out.” The Deuteronomy 6:5 text might read “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength”.

So what is the application of all this?  Use ‘soul’ when you mean all of someone’s life, or the essence of who they are as a person.  Use ‘thought life’ or ‘mind’ where that applies in context.  Can we say what we mean?

In the context, of our scriptural text, there is a an application for all the parts of who we are to be sanctified.  It is not that some parts are “bad” and some parts are “good,” but rather that all our parts need to be redeemed and made whole.

In Psalms, David had discovered that God desired truth and wisdom even in our innermost parts (Ps 51:6). We are given the assurance that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. We have the assurance that the one who is faithful and true will do it.  Let the spirit of God help you, and trust Him in the process.

Shalom!

 

 

 

Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit

Romans 14:16-17 (NASB)
Therefore do not let what is, for you a good thing, be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.


In the context of this scripture, Paul is instructing believers not to judge one another on the basis of opinion with regard to what we drink, what we eat, and even what days we consider to be holy (vv1-5). Paul instructs us that each person live according to one’s conscience (v5). These are all matters of individual conviction before God (v22-23). What we approve of is either done in doubt bringing condemnation, or faith bringing peace. Paul concludes that whatever is not of faith is sin (v23).

In a nutshell, religious communities and religious people tend to argue and judge one another about things that have very little to do with heaven. For you, it could be whether a Sabbath rest is from Friday evening to Saturday evening, or whether Sunday is “the Lord’s day, or whether Christmas and Easter are “holy” days. It could be whether Mother’s day or Father’s day should to be celebrated or ignored, or whether new moons, or Jewish feasts are observed. It could be whether you eat shellfish, pork, or Kosher food. Maybe you drink Starbucks coffee. For you, a glass of wine or a beer may be acceptable, or gasp, a mixed drink. While not in the text, we could extend this to what you watch on television, movies, or read. It could be how you feel about ballet, dance, the body, sexuality or a host of other issues of conscience where there isn’t a clear violation of scripture.

When we judge one another about these types of things we put ourselves in a place of self-righteousness. We think we are better than someone else, based on what we do or do not do. Paul warns us about the worthlessness of all these judgments in Galatians 4:9:
But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?

Religion enslaves us to that which has little eternal value.

I was asked many times by my grandmother (whom we called Mimi) whether drinking wine was sinful. I would try to explain to Mimi, why I didn’t think so. I would mention Jesus drinking wine with his disciples, but no explanations that I could come up with could convince her. I wondered why. Was it a religious spirit that she was under? Was it because she saw the abuses of drinking indulgence in her younger days and that formed her belief system?

In the old Mosaic covenant, wine was forbidden in the temple. In fact, you would die from any evidence of intoxication in the temple.

Leviticus 10:9-10:
“Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations— and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean”

Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding celebration. He was accused of drinking and eating with sinners, and yet, He was without sin. I’ve heard it said, that one Jewish perspective is that all sin is idolatry. Jesus went after the sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, and me. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Jesus in a pub, a brothel, an orphanage, or many other places where the self-righteous would refuse to go.

In the new covenant that Jesus made with us, wine was redefined as being a symbol for communion. Jesus took something that was sketchy and of the world, and somehow made it holy. I think that is a good picture of what He can do with us.

In communion, wine goes from the outside to the inside as a sign of our acceptance and recognition of the blood of Jesus, shed for our mistakes. The blood of Jesus ushered in a new covenant with better promises. Here are some examples of the divine exchange that takes place:

  1. We give up our efforts to obtain righteousness in exchange for His righteousness (Heb 12,13) – Jesus is our guarantor of the covenant.
  2. We give up our sins and guilt in exchange for His forgiveness and cleansing (Lev 17, Rom 3, Heb 9, 1 John 1, Rev 1,5) – Jesus is our High Priest.
  3. We give up being common and of this world in exchange for being made holy by His blood (Ex 4,12,24,Rom 5,Heb 9,10, Acts 20)
  4. We give up our fear of death in exchange for His everlasting life (Jn 6,Rev 12)
  5. We give up our blood lines with all their bents and issues in exchange for His pure and spotless blood DNA (Lev 17, Mk 5, Jn 6, Heb 10, 1 Jn 1:7)
  6. We give up our orphan hearts and alienation in exchange for His love and acceptance (Rom 5,Eph 2,Col 1)

The point of all this is not food or drink, but rather what is offered to us through the kingdom of heaven. The point of communion is not the bread and the wine, but the one who IS the bread and the wine.

One of the things that I find sad is to find so many that don’t know that God’s presence is available. They don’t know that in His presence is fullness of joy. They don’t know that the power of God is available to bring shalom to the storms around them. They don’t know that His righteousness is already purchased and available to them. Instead, they keep seeking their own.

I’m learning that there are so many things that religious communities make important that have nothing to do with expanding the influence of His kingdom. I was taught that when you pray for someone, one of the most common results is that the person experiences peace, sometimes, at a very deep level.

I’m starting to look at these three aspects (righteousness, peace, joy) as evidence of the Kingdom of Heaven at work. Without evidence of these, I’m not sure we’re dealing with much more than elemental things of this world.

His righteousness, peace, and joy are available to us in the Holy Spirit. I heard an interesting teaching from John Paul Jackson recently about shalom being a verb rather than a noun. The Hebrew word shalom is often translated as peace, but means to be made whole, nothing missing, and having nothing lacking. Jesus was the prince of Shalom. He was able to cause storms to be still because of what he carried. He brought peace to chaos for the woman with the issue of blood. We have the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. It is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

If so, how can you transform the environment around you by faith? How can you bring peace to areas of anarchy or tumult? How can you bring or impart joy to others? How can you let others know of the good offering of His righteousness?

Perhaps it is through prayer, but it may also be through healthy touch, expressing love, or sharing a word of encouragement.

The kingdom of heaven is righteousness, peace, and joy, freely available for you to partake of and to give away.

How to love yourself

Loving your neighbor as yourself

I’ve often wondered how you “love yourself.” Have you?

In Luke 10:29-37, Jesus told the story of a “certain man” going from Jerusalem to Jericho who was robbed, beaten, stripped naked, and left for dead. In this story, there were three different responses to this “certain man”, as given by the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan.

The first question of the heart revolves around “who is my neighbor?” However, there’s a second question seldom discussed which is “how do I love myself?”

I’m discovering that the more I allow the scriptures to speak into my life and apply to me, personally, the more I find myself resembling the characters in the scriptures. I could be David one moment and Saul the next.

Here’s the text for our story:

Luke 10:25-35 (NKJV)

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and your neighbor as yourself.’ ” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. “Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. “Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. “So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. “On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’

While, the Greek text doesn’t exactly use the word “naked,” it does say he was stripped of his clothing as part of being robbed. The scriptures often describe things in subtle euphemisms rather than direct speech. Certainly a humiliating process of being robbed, beaten, stripped of your clothing and left as half dead.

Think of your reaction to a naked guy, clearly beaten up, bloody, lying on the side of the road. To most people, they would be repulsed, and at the very least not want to get involved.

My wife, daughter, and I were eyewitnesses to a motorcycle accident lately. Most people didn’t stop. Where were they? They probably didn’t want to get involved. They had places to go, important things to attend to. The guy was beat up, lying face down in the middle of the highway. My wife prayed that he would live. Miraculously, he was alive, and while mostly out of it, was able to answer simple questions. His female friend, whose car he ran into, brought towels to slow the bleeding. He had major head trauma, and couldn’t move his arms. I went over and prayed for him, as police officers soon arrived on the scene. At one point one of the officers had me hold a towel over him for modesty, as he had to be stripped out of his clothing for his flight-to-life ride to the hospital. We prayed for his female friend, and continued to pray for him afterwards. Were we inconvenienced? Of course, but does it any of it matter compared to doing the right thing? You realize the fragility of life and how so much of what we think is important, isn’t.

For the “certain man” in our parable, people would ask themselves, “what did he do?” Did he have it coming? Did he rob someone? The scriptures state that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13). The Samaritan in the story allowed himself to be moved with compassion.

What was surprising to me this morning in hearing the parable that Jesus shares in response to the question “who is my neighbor?” was that I found myself not as one of the three characters walking by the one beaten and left for dead, but rather the one left by the side of the road. I don’t think it was any accident that Jesus phrased it, “a certain man.”

I realized that I was that man. I was poor, half-dead in my sin nature, helpless, repulsive, and naked. Those who have loved me have clothed me, and looked past my condition (love is a covering). The point in the story that I never saw before was Jesus is describing how to love your neighbor as yourself. He is describing our true condition before letting love save us.

Look at the care given to this “certain man” in our parable. The one who was formerly our enemy (Samarians were often thought of as enemies by the Jewish community) offers us mercy in our pitiful state.

Luke 10:34-35 (NKJV)

So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’

I want to suggest to you that the Samaritan in this story typifies Christ, and the innkeeper as the Father. Christ lay down his life for us as a complete stranger.

Christ comes to us in our brokenness. He was sent to heal the brokenhearted and bind up our wounds (Luke 4:18, Ps 147:3). The common Arabic understanding was that wine was used to purify a wound, and oil was used to soften the damages. That said, I find the symbols of wine and oil striking. Oil is a symbol of anointing. Wine is a symbol of new life. The very areas of our wounding will become the place of anointing and new life for us as we are healed. In those places where we find healing, we will have mercy and anointing for others. Isn’t it our acceptance of His free gift that will raise us up again? He finds a way to carry us to our destiny, as it’s not something we can manage without His help. He has overpaid the debt required to take care of us. He has prepared a place for us.

The amount paid for our care is interesting. Two denarii is an amount for two days wages (Matt 20:2). Could this be the amount required to sustain us before our resurrection (the third day)? Two is often the number of witness. Is the amount paid for us to be a witness of the mercy of God?

I had always wondered what the ‘as yourself’ part meant in the love your neighbor command. As you begin to see yourself as the “certain man”, naked, repulsive, poor, and half dead, you will begin to understand how God has loved you, shown you mercy, cared for you, and paid the full price for your healing and resurrection. As you recognize the mercy shown to you, you will be able to show mercy to others.

That is how you love yourself.

The Divine Seed can turn an Ash-Heap to a Fruitful House of Bread

What do you do with the things that feel like an ash-heap in your life? What do you do with all the disappointments? What do you do with all the things of sorrow? “God, is this all there is?” There is a proverb that says only one’s heart knows it’s own joy and only one’s heart knows it’s own sorrow.

I was reading along in the book of Genesis, when a particular passage really stood out. Do you ever read along and wonder, “What’s that doing there?” I’ve learned to pause when I come across something that seems unusual. Often times, Christ is concealed in those unusual passages. As I am learning, Christ is revealed in the New Testament and concealed in the Old Testament.

In context, Joseph is presenting his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh for a blessing by grandpa Jacob (Israel). Jacob is promising their inheritance shall be like the other sons of Israel even though Ephraim and Manasseh were born in Egypt. Then he makes this statement in Genesis 48:7:

“Now as for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died, to my sorrow, in the land of Canaan on the journey, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”

Huh, what is that doing there? Sure, Jacob misses his wife, but it just appears somewhat randomly and isn’t really acknowledged by Joseph or Jacob in the text.

The story behind the statement is that Rachel (whose name means Lamb of God), is coming from Beit-El (House of God), towards Ephrath. Rachel endures hard labor and names her son Ben-Oni (son of my sorrow) as she dies giving birth. This is certainly understandable, as she knows she won’t survive her labor and bears the heartache of not getting to see her son grow up. The father (Israel) renames him to Benjamin (son of my right hand).

The fascinating part of this is comes from understanding that the word Ephrath or Ephrata has two meanings according to Strong’s (H672). The first is an ash-heap coming from the original form of the word Ephrath. The second meaning is “fruitfulness” applied to the form of the word Ephrata. From there, this place would eventually be known as Bethlehem (Beit Lechem – House of Bread) from which the promised seed would be born.

Out of the ashes of sorrow from the death of the Lamb of God, comes a seed which bears much fruit (Ephrata) and offers the bread of life.

Out of the tribes of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin was considered least. Out of this tribe, Paul would go on to write a third of the New Testament and have some of the most profound insights into understanding Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.

One of the most important prophecies regarding this divine seed is in Micah 5:2

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

Too little to be among the clans of Judah,

From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.

His goings forth are from long ago,

From the days of eternity.”

While the tribe of Benjamin is not in the direct line to the throne, there are shadows and types that point to Christ. Being renamed by the Father from the son of my sorrow to the son of my right hand is what took place at the resurrection of Christ.

God is able to redeem that which is considered least. Although somewhat contested, Ruth is called a Moabite in scripture (Ruth 1:22). In context, Boaz, as her kinsman redeemer, publicly redeems Ruth. What ended in sorrow for Rachel becomes a blessing to the generations. The witnesses of this redemption proclaim the following blessing for Ruth [Ruth 4:11 (NLT)]:

Then the elders and all the people standing in the gate replied, “We are witnesses! May the LORD make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem.”

The word for prosper implies strength. I would interpret this as a need for strength to endure the ash-heaps of our lives and have our name proclaimed in the house of bread.

Fruitfulness is to be found in the house of bread (Beit Lechem). Jesus proclaimed the following about himself in John 6:47-48:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.

I am the bread of life.”

How is He the House of Bread?  Bread is a metaphor for spiritual food. This bread is without leaven as it is not puffed up, but rather humble.

I want to briefly list four ways that Jesus illustrates that he is bread of life:

  1. Himself as a means to eternal life
  2. The sacrificial offering for sin, transgressions, and iniquity.
  3. Healing
  4. Teaching

1. Eternal Life

In communion, we partake of bread and wine, which are symbols of the new covenant offered to us. The point is partaking of that which is external and taking it inside of us. We acknowledge that we need divine help to be saved and are saved through faith.

Jesus offers Himself to us. He offers us eternal life.

When we believe in the Son, we receive his life in exchange for both his sacrifice and his offering (John 6:33).

“For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”

2. An offering

In John 6:51, Jesus extends the teaching of the house of bread as also being his flesh broken for us.  An offering to end all offerings.

“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

The offering of the bread of His flesh is not palatable to some, and certainly not to the self-righteous. His offering was to be the final offering for sin.

3. Healing

The promises of this offering provide the way for healing (1 Peter 2:24):

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

By his stripes, we are healed. The beating that Christ took for my sins is the very thing that will usher in healing to my spirit, soul, and body.

Finally, the house of bread is often an application for teaching.

4. Teaching

Jesus warned us to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, which is the teaching of those who are self-righteous, prideful, and puffed up.

In Matthew 4:4, Jesus reveals that the words that issue forth from the mouth of God are able to sustain us.

‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORDTHAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'”

In context, the Greek word translated ‘word’ is ‘rhema’. The best explanation I’ve heard for the word ‘rhema’, is that which is living. It is able to save, it is able to deliver, and it has power to accomplish its purpose.

In context, in Luke 1:37, it reads no ‘rhema’ word will fail to accomplish it’s God-given purpose.

To wrap this up, what is the application of all of this? God knows the ash-heaps of my life and of yours. He knows all the things that result in sorrow and bitterness, where things don’t go the way we have desired. God understands what it is like for us to suffer long, as that is part of the expression of love.

None of us like the idea of delayed-gratification or hope deferred. None of us like the parts of our lives that feel like ash-heaps.

Yet, nothing is impossible for God. Good things come to those who wait it out and trust that God can redeem it.

What is the rhema word for your life? Is there a promise that will take you from the ash-heap to a place of fruitfulness?

God can take the ash-heaps of our lives and cause them to become places of fruitfulness in the house of bread.

In the house of bread, I will place my hope.

Declaring the Goodness of God

I was driving downtown this morning and saw a license plate with ‘Ps 92’ on it. When I looked at Psalm 92 to see what God might say to me, I felt like the following verses were highlighted. It is a song for the Shabbat or our sabbath which is found in Christ (our true place of rest and peace).

Psalm 92:1-2

:1 – A Psalm, a Song for the Sabbath day. It is good to give thanks to the LORD And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;

:2 – To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning And Your faithfulness by night.

I want to elaborate on the Hebrew in verse 2. The Hebrew roots are ‘nagad’ (make conspicuous), ‘boqer’ (morning), ‘checed’ (steadfast love), and ’emuwnah’ (faithfulness), into ‘layil’ (night). Here’s how I would translate this verse: “Make conspicuous His loyalty and steadfast love each morning and carry His faithfulness into each night.” As we do this, we remain in His love, and the peace of God guards our mind and heart. The book of Hebrews declares that a place of ‘rest’ remains for the people of God. It is up to us to choose this life of the spirit provided to us in Christ. Jesus assures us that we find peace and rest as we trust in Him.

The scripture text that keeps coming back to me is Psalm 103. I call this His goodness chapter. Previously, I’ve written that we can equate His goodness with His glory (Exodus 34).

The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth. In the original Hebrew manuscripts, chapter and verse don’t really exist as concepts. Those are conveniences for our reference. One of the things that I believe is that David didn’t just write Psalm 103, but Psalm 103 thru Psalm 107 as a continuous stream of consciousness. To justify my position, Psalm 104 starts and ends with the same language that we see in Psalm 103 – Bless the LORD, my soul. The big picture over the course of these Psalms is that David is declaring the goodness of God, and calling the people of Israel to remember. The entire section ends with the following in Psalm 107:

Psalm 107:13

Whoever is wise will pay attention to these things. They will consider the lovingkindnesses of the LORD.

I want to draw out one particular verse in Psalm 103, as I believe it’s important for people to be in a heart posture to receive their healing.

Psalm 103:2-3

:2 – Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits;

:3 – Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases;

Why does David connect forgiveness with healing do you suppose? I believe David was prophesying the goodness of God being revealed in Christ where we find forgiveness and healing.

While in America, our culture looks to everything else for understanding of why a person might be sick or diseased, those familiar with Jewish law would know that the reason why someone would be sick was because of sin (chattah) or iniquity (avon – something twisted that was passed down through generations). This is why in John 9:1-2, Jesus’ disciples would ask him the question, was “he born blind due to his sin or the sin of his parents”? In Exodus 15:26, it is written that if people would do what is right and keep their part of covenant, then they would be spared diseases which were put on the Egyptians. In Deuteronomy 28, blessings are declared for doing what is right, and curses are declared for doing what is wrong including all kinds of sickness and disease. It’s a frightening chapter to read, but important to understand what the Mosaic law required.

Often when Jesus went around healing people, he would also pronounce them as having their sins forgiven. Why is that? Do you think they could keep their healing if they felt like they deserved their disease?

I believe why many of us don’t receive healing is that deep down at a heart level (whether we’re aware of it or not), we don’t really believe we’re forgiven.

In Psalm 103:3, the word translated iniquities or sins in sloppier translations, is the Hebrew word ‘avon.’ This word, while it can properly translated iniquities, a more important meaning in context is one of guilt. With that understanding, the verse might read “who forgives all your guilt, and heals all your diseases.”

Guilt is something subtle, and like condemnation, may not be anything we can consciously put our finger on. It is a shadow resting on the heart.

I don’t know about you, but as for me, I didn’t know that I truly believed in my heart that all my sins were forgiven. Oh sure, I could tell you intellectually that I knew that, but did my heart know it? My heart still carried guilt. I’ve walked with Rheumatoid Arthritis for over twelve years. Is it any wonder that when people would pray for me (including lots of anointed healers), that nothing would happen? I write this particular ‘blog’, because I believe many are bound and not free. Scripture declares that those whom the son sets free are free indeed. What if our hearts are veiled to the goodness of God? The question of whether God was really good has plagued man since being tempted in the garden. The same temptation exists for us today.

So how to we get free from guilt and closer to understanding the goodness of God?

A fuller expression of the cross is one of a divine exchange. My guilt in exchange for His innocence. His condemnation for my freedom, purchased by His blood.

Has the cross paid the debt of your sins, past, present, and future? Was the punishment that he bore for you, enough? Was the suffering and sacrifice of Christ enough to pay for your guilt and provide for your healing? I believe it was. I believe the answers will come when the goodness of God becomes a reality in our hearts.

Meditate on the grace given to us in the new covenant. What is the message of the gospel that the disciples of Jesus (and Paul) shared with others? Spend time declaring the truth of His grace over your heart and life. Scriptures passages like ‘there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’, ‘you will never leave me or forsake me’, ‘you haven’t given me a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a sound mind’, and ‘I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.’ Thank Him for His blood that was shed for you and testifies of your innocence and right standing before God. Apply the blood of the lamb to the door posts of your heart and mind.

Meditating on what the new covenant offers me has helped me to move further down the road of being guilt-free in my heart, and I believe closer to my healing.

Make prominent the expression of God’s love and grace for you each day. Carry His faithfulness with you even into the times of darkness. His love never fails.