Your heart in the presence of God (part 4 of 5)

Tablets of Testimony

As a recap from part 3, we are looking at what Mosaic covenant symbols might mean in light of a new covenant.  Particularly, I wrote that the ark of the covenant is a metaphor for your heart.  The intended destiny for your heart is to be in the presence of God, 24×7.  Inside the ark were a pot of manna, a rod, and two tablets (Hebrews 9:4).  In this section we’ll look at the symbol of the tablets of testimony and how they map to love.

We just survived another Valentine’s Day that is supposed to be about love, but often isn’t.  I lost my wedding ring a few weeks ago.  After realizing its loss, I humbly asked people everywhere if they had seen it, to no avail.  After looking for the ring in every place I could think of, I had chalked up the loss as having been careless with it in my pocket.  As I was helping with tasks around the house on Valentine’s Day, my wife found my wedding ring on the floor of the bedroom.  As I reflected on it, it would appear that covenant (what a wedding ring represents), was God’s gift of love to me.  In new covenant scriptures, the writer John can be described as a mystic and represented by the sign of the eagle, would go on to pen that “God IS love” (1 John 4:8).  The tablets, like love were a sign of covenant, albeit with some marked differences.

As I have written about in other blogs, the law of commandments are often misconstrued by well-meaning people who take scripture in isolation and do not consider what I would call the full counsel of His word.  For example, while on hand Paul writes that the law is no longer the yardstick for righteousness (Rom 10:4), we have to consider that Jesus said that not one jot or tittle of the law would be done away with until everything has been fulfilled.  Jesus took the law and amplified it to be about issues of the heart.  Take Matthew 5:21-22 as one of many examples:

21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.
22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.”

While I have heard many teachings about the Ten Commandments, the teachings that I had heard never sat right with me until I heard a teaching indirectly from the late Pope John Paul II.  John Paul taught about the outward appearance of the law as the ethics of the law (loving God with your mind), and the inner truth as the ethos of the law (loving God with your heart).  The law reveals the condition of both your mind and heart, and is a holy tutor to lead you to the place of needing a savior to change your mind and to change your heart.  Once your mind and heart have been sanctified, there is no longer a need for that particular law.  Love is fulfillment of the law.

With that background, let’s look at a few scriptures which reveal the supernatural creation of the tablets and what their function might be in a new covenant context.

Exodus 31:18, 32:15-16
18 When He finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, He gave him the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God.

15 Then Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides – inscribed front and back.
16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was God’s writing, engraved on the tablets.

To clear up what was written on the tablets, it was Ten Commandments as described in Exodus 20.  Deuteronomy 4:13 makes that clear.

13 He declared His covenant to you. He commanded you to follow the Ten Commandments, which He wrote on two stone tablets.

What is important is that you don’t miss that the finger of God wrote the tablets.  If you think that Moses carefully chiseled out what God told him to write, you have missed the sign.

I have a confession to make.  I got wrapped up in trying to know the form of that tablets.  There is all kinds of speculation about what the tablets were like, such as whether they were granite, lapis-lazuli, or sapphire, what form of language was used, and what was written on them.  I had a dream revolving being distracted by a blue bottle on top of an airplane that I was flying on.  It was a correction dream letting me know that I was spending my time outside the kingdom by the appearance of something (idolatry).  Doh!  Remember I have been teaching about symbols being about their function (Hebraic) more than about their form (Greek).  In seeking what the Holy Spirit would want me to know about the tablets, here are my impressions.

1) Focus on my word
2) The purpose of my word is that love is demonstrated.

I believe the closest metaphoric purpose that we have in a new-covenant context is one of fire.  His word is to burn in us like fire as love is fueled with passion.

Jeremiah 23:29
29 “Is not My word like fire” – this is the LORD’s declaration – “and like a hammer that pulverizes rock?”

Luke 24:32
32 So they said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?”

I have listed my take on the words that may have been written on the tablets, taking the Jewish perspective on the commandments.  There is debate on whether the original pictographs were used or the more modern version of the Hebrew language.  The English is for your benefit.

Loving God

  1. I AM Adonai your God.

א אנכי יהוה אלהיך

א אנכי יהוה אלהיך

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.

ב לא יהיהלך אלהים אחרים עלפני

ב לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים עלפני

  1. You shall not take the name of Adonai your God in vain.

ג לא תשא אתשםיהוה אלהיך לשוא

ג לא תשא אתשםיהוה אלהיך לשוא

  1. Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy.

ד זכור אתיום השבת לקדשו

ד זכור אתיום השבת לקדשו

  1. Honor your father and mother.

ה כבד אתאביך ואתאמך

ה כבד אתאביך ואתאמך

 

Loving your neighbor as yourself

6.  You shall not murder.

ו לא תרצח

ו לא תרצח

7. You shall not commit adultery.

ז לא תנאף

ז לא תנאף

8. You shall not steal.

ת לא תגנב

ת לא תגנב

9.  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

מ לאתענה ברעך עד שקר

מ לאתענה ברער עד שקר

10.  You shall not covet.

י לא תחמד בית רעך

י לא תחמד בית רעך

 

Again, the purpose of His word is that love is revealed to God’s glory and credit.  We are able to love because He first loved us (1 John 4).

There are two important number symbols regarding the tablets.  I believe there were five commandments regarding loving God and five commandments regarding loving others as we would want to be loved.  I believe there were five commandments on each tablet.  This is also in keeping with Jewish tradition.  In terms of symbols, five is considered to be the number of grace as revealed in the new covenant.  In context, the number of two is the number of witness or of testimony.  Without grace, it will be impossible to keep the law.  It will be the grace of God that empowers you to fulfill the call to love God and love others.  If you think you can love on your own without the grace of God, you have been self-deceived. Your heart will bear witness to the grace of God enabling you to love.  There are two parts to this heart.  You can not separate the command to love God from the command to love others.  If we have one without the other, the law has not been fulfilled.  Hebrews 8:10 describes the new covenant function of the tablets of testimony and is the fulfillment of one of the most amazing prophecies written in Jeremiah 31:33.

10 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.

One of the beautiful things that is revealed in this scripture is belonging as part of a healthy divine family.  It was in the heart of God to belong and be loved.

2 Cor 3:2-3

2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, recognized and read by everyone.
3 It is clear that you are Christ’s letter, produced by us, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God – not on stone tablets but on tablets that are hearts of flesh.

The tablets of stone, while glorious, were hard and rigid.  Now we can know that the purpose was always to be about love, and that it was to be soft and pliable.

Love in action brings glory to God.  This is what we were created for.

To be continued (conclusion)…

Your Heart in the Presence of God (part 3 of 5)

Aaron’s Rod Redo

DISCLAIMER:  This is a redo from the previous go around as I realized I didn’t have peace about the previous result and felt like I went down the wrong trail.  I’m not the first man to admit he was wrong.  🙂  I like this version much better.  It starts the same, but finishes in a different place.

As a recap from part 2, we are looking at what Mosaic covenant symbols might mean in light of a new covenant.  Particularly, I wrote that the ark of the covenant is a metaphor for your heart.  The intended destiny for your heart is to be in the presence of God, 24×7.  Inside the ark were a pot of manna, a rod, and two tablets (Hebrews 9:4).  In this section we’ll look at the symbol of the rod and how this maps to hope.  By the way, rod and staff are mostly used interchangeably.

Numbers 17:1-8
1 The LORD instructed Moses:
2 “Speak to the Israelites and take one staff from them for each ancestral house, 12 staffs from all the leaders of their ancestral houses. Write each man’s name on his staff.
3 Write Aaron’s name on Levi’s staff, because there must be one staff for the head of each ancestral house.
4 Then place them in the tent of meeting in front of the testimony where I meet with you.
5 The staff of the man I choose will sprout, and I will rid Myself of the Israelites’ complaints that they have been making about you.”
6 So Moses spoke to the Israelites, and each of their leaders gave him a staff, one for each of the leaders of their ancestral houses, 12 staffs in all. Aaron’s staff was among them.
7 Moses placed the staffs before the LORD in the tent of the testimony.
8 The next day Moses entered the tent of the testimony and saw that Aaron’s staff, representing the house of Levi, had sprouted, formed buds, blossomed, and produced almonds!

Of course, in context, the staff is seen as a symbol of authority.  Authority was being contested.  Yet, whose authority was it, man’s or God’s?  Reading further in the text reveals that the purpose of the supernatural demonstration was to stop their grumbling.  We, however, are looking for a life-giving understanding of the symbol in the context of a new and better covenant.  Yeshua came to bring abundant life not condemnation.

As we discussed in a previous section, the Hebraic way of understanding a symbol is looking at what something does.

The Hebrew word translated here as rod or staff comes from the Hebrew word ‘Matteh.’  It can also translate as tribe, branch, or vine.  However, in this case its natural function doesn’t help understand the symbol.  We will need to look at how God used the symbol in previous scriptural references.  In Exodus 4, God supernaturally transforms Moses’ staff into a snake and back into a staff again.  God’s power and authority were demonstrated.  In the beginning of Exodus 3, Moses was tending sheep giving us the impression that this ‘matteh’ had the appearance of being an ordinary shepherd’s staff.   Later in Exodus, we see Moses and Aaron seemingly sharing the same staff as more signs are given towards Pharoah, such as turning the Nile to blood (Exodus 7).  Generally speaking the usage of the word ‘Matteh’ in scripture was for ruling and exercising dominion.

Why are the Israelites complaining?  What is this really about?  The complaints begin with Miriam in Numbers 12 regarding Moses being the only one to hear from God.  It continues to build with the sons of Korah not being content with their roles as Levites and not being the chosen one to go into the temple.  Really?  Or perhaps would they like to run things differently.  What I see at the heart of all this is jealously, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  With great privilege comes great responsibility.  One wrong move on Aaron’s part and the others would have to drag him by his ankles out of the temple, dead on arrival.  I wouldn’t want Aaron’s job.

Why are they jealous of Aaron?  I believe it is because he was chosen.  Don’t we all want to be chosen?  Don’t we all want to be special and have some sense of powerful purpose?  I think many of us fear a life without meaning.

In context, I believe Aaron’s rod represents the hope of God’s power.  I believe we all have a need to feel powerful.  That’s why superhero movies are so popular.  Powerlessness leads to hopelessness.  If we see God’s power demonstrated even once, it gives us hope that he will do it again.

About five years ago I prayed for a family member whose hand was stuck with arthritis and pain (think claw).  I watched as I held her hand, prayed, and waited for God to heal her.  After a bit I could see all the inflammation draining out of her hand.  To the astonishment of both of us, all the pain and inflammation left her hand and full mobility was restored (it had been crippled for about eighteen months).  Her healing remained months later.  The most beautiful part of the whole process was the Holy Spirit whispering to my heart that the healing was just an expression of His love for her.

Having seen that power demonstrated gives me hope that God will do it again, even if I haven’t seen it since then.  I experientially know that He can.

In the new covenant Paul writes that the same power that raised Jesus from the lives in you.

Hope in a body resurrected is certainly part of what we are to carry in our hearts.  In context, God took a dead stick and supernaturally brought it to new life.  Like the rod, God has the power to raise you from the dead and bring you into a resurrected life.

We don’t need to fear and worry about our health or what the future holds.  The world worries about those things.  One of the scriptures that helps me to focus is 2 Timothy 1:7, “He hasn’t given us a spirit of fear [or worry], but of love, power, and a sound mind.”

The promises of God can give us hope as an anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6:19).  A promise that gives me hope and stabilizes my heart is when Yeshua tells me “never will I leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

In our text, the rod supernaturally sprouted buds, blossoms, and even produced almonds!

In Israel, almond trees would first begin to blossom in the month of Adar (February) after the coldest and darkest month of the year.  The almond tree was a sign of hope and marked the new season of life.

Almonds were the fruit of the branch.  The fruit of hope and remaining in Yeshua.  Like the branch in the ark, the fruit is to be eternal and born of hope.

As we remain in Yeshua, we will bear fruit.

John 15:16
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name, the Father will give you.”

There are specific things that God has called you to do (Ephesians 2:10).  I am not called to those same things as you are.  In fact, comparing ourselves with others does not often bring life.  Jealousy and strife resulted from the Israelites going after Aaron’s calling.

Remaining in His presence will encourage your heart.  As you remain in this place of hope, fruit will happen.  It won’t look the same as the fruit that I am called to bear, but it will be good and look like life.

Your heart belongs in the presence of God.  Ask Him what He would say to you.  Ask Him what it means to have your hope in Him.  Hope looks like something.

To be continued (tablets)…

 

Your Heart in the Presence of God (part 2 of 5)

As a recap from part 1, we are looking at what Mosaic covenant symbols might mean in light of a new covenant. Particularly, I wrote that the ark of the covenant is a metaphor for your heart. The intended destiny for your heart is to be in the presence of God, 24×7. Inside the ark were a pot of manna, a rod, and two tablets (Hebrews 9:4). In this section we’ll look at the symbol of manna and how this maps to faith.

Exodus 16:31-32

31 The house of Israel named the substance manna. It resembled coriander seed, was white, and tasted like wafers made with honey.

32 Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded: Two quarts of it are to be preserved throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread I fed you in the wilderness when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.

The Hebrew word for manna is pronounced ‘men’ meaning “what is it?” Manna has the Hebrew root expression ‘mah’ which means “what.” Bread and wine are rich symbols that followers of Yeshua take in to their hearts during communion. The wine represents our acceptance of Yeshua’s blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. That part is pretty straight forward. I would suggest that many of Yeshua’s followers don’t really know what to make of the bread. Like the house of Israel, we ask “what is it?” If you are like me you may have wrestled with the account in chapter 6 of John’s gospel many times. In the context of communion, my working definition of taking in the bread is that of an exchanged life. An acceptance and trust of His life for ours. But what does manna symbolize in it’s original context?

A Hebraic way of thinking is looking at what something does or its function. A Greek way of thinking is looking at its form or appearance. For dreams and this exercise, what is the function of manna in the original text of Exodus 16? We will also look at how Jesus redefines the symbol towards Himself in John 6, where He proclaims “I AM the bread of life.”

The function of manna was to demonstrate God’s supernatural ability to provide Israel with life from heaven. In particular, in context, the people of Israel were going through a wilderness season, i.e. a time of drought and testing.  Like the ark, the pot was a container.  They generally needed to have enough to make it one day at a time.  The Israelites had to learn to rely on this supernatural provision for forty years.

So the manna provided for Israel in the wilderness. So what? What does manna mean to me in light of the new covenant?

I believe manna represents God’s ability to sustain me when I go through times of wilderness in my life. The manna hidden in my heart represents the faith that I carry regarding the faithfulness of God.

These wilderness seasons are not exclusive to me. I believe that everyone will go through a wilderness season at some time in their lives, whether we like it or not, or even believe it or not. Jesus is described as the first born of many siblings (Hebrews 2:11).

Jesus, as our prototype, also went through this same season of wilderness and testing (Matthew 4). Regarding the manna, Jesus quoted this passage from Deuteronomy when He was being tested in the wilderness.

Deuteronomy 8:3

3 He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

An interesting thing to note is that the word “word” is not in the Hebrew. I believe the last phrase would be more accurately translated “man lives by everything that comes from the mouth of God (Yahweh).

If you search the scriptures for life-giving references to the phrase “mouth of God”, you will find the following expressions: creation (something from nothing), instructions, the mouth of a prophet, and His promises. That which comes from the mouth of God generally needs to be received in faith to bring life to your heart.

He speaks his word through many forms and ways. Scripture is one of the obvious ways. One thing that the world wants the church community to admit is that God is bigger than the Bible. How big is your God? The Bible can give us instruction but does not automatically provide an experience with God. That comes through relationship. God can prophesy through man, nature, a sign, a donkey, a vision or a dream. For example, the prophetic word for Joseph’s life came to him in the form of a dream (Psalm 105:19).

If the function of the manna in Exodus was to give life from heaven, the expression of life is magnified in Christ in John chapter 6.

John 6:31-35,47-51

31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.

32 Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Moses didn’t give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the real bread from heaven.

33 For the bread of God is the One who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 Then they said, “Sir, give us this bread always!”

35 “I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again.

47 I assure you: Anyone who believes has eternal life.

48 I am the bread of life.

49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.

50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that anyone may eat of it and not die.

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

 

Whereas life from manna was temporary, the true bread of heaven gives us the assurance of eternal life for everyone who believes.

The most important word that you can carry in your heart is Christ. It is Christ, the Word in you, that is the hope of glory.

He is faithful and able to perform His word spoken to your heart, including His ability to give you eternal life.

Few of us would choose or deliberately initiate a difficult wilderness season, yet it is there that God demonstrates His ability to sustain us and show Himself faithful. I believe that his word coming to pass during a wilderness season teaches our hearts a living faith that a land of ease can not.

Like the Israelites, a wilderness season is met one day at a time.  We need encouragement (having our faith-tanks full) to take each day as it comes.

What are the dreams and promises that God has spoken to your heart? What are the scriptures you need to encourage your heart?

Jesus is praying for your heart.

To be continued…

 

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.

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.