Rhythms of Worship

The people of God are set apart, with different priorities, habits, and festivals than the rest of the world. We may celebrate national holidays of our homelands, such as July 4th for Americans, but those are not the observances that shape our identities as God’s people. The kingdom we belong to under Christ’s authority has a different calendar.

A couple months ago, I read Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith. In Chapter 5: Practicing (for) the Kingdom, he discusses “rhythms and cadences of hope” that Christians observe in weekly and annual practices. For him, this means Sunday, Easter, Lent, Advent, Christmas and others. He connects the observances to a rich history of “a people gathered to worship the Messiah, who does not float in some esoteric, ahistorical heaven, but who made a dent in the calendar — and will again” (p. 157). Rhythms of Worship | marissabaker.wordpress.com

But when you read the Bible, you won’t find those days he talks about on God’s calendar. Even the one mention of Easter in the KJV is a mistransltion of pascha, or Passover (Acts 12:4, Strong’s G3957). Rather, we find the church from the Torah to Revelation on a calendar even more unique than the one Smith claims for Christians. I know it puzzles many Christians that I would keep the “Jewish holidays,” but I find it equally puzzling that they would continue a tradition of co-opting pagan holidays and attaching them to Biblical events God gave no instructions to observe. When we search the scriptures looking for God’s version of liturgical rhythms, we find a worship pattern far more richly layered and deeply rooted in God’s plan than what man has invented. Read more

Pointing To Christ

Sukkot/the Feast of Tabernacles is over for another year. We kept the Feast on the East Coast this year, and I’ve come back with collections of new friends, sea shells, and blog pot topics mined from messages we heard.

The Feast pictures Christ’s Millennial reign described in Revelation 20:4 and other prophecies. In this verse, the saints are said to “live and reign with Christ for a thousand years.” Revelation 1:6 and 5:10 describe our role as “kings and priests.” There’s quite a bit of responsibility contained in those roles, but it boils down to one simple task. In the words of a gentleman who spoke on the second day of the Feast, “kings and priests point others to Christ.”

Pointing To Christ | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Kings

When Israel asked for a king, God called it a rejection of Him because they preferred having a physical ruler and military commander to trusting in Him (1 Sam. 8:7, 19-20). This request wasn’t unexpected, though, and God already had guidelines for kings in place. Only a native Israelite could rule (Deut. 17:15), he wasn’t allowed to amass a huge army, or take the people back to Egypt, or marry many wives (Deut. 17:16-17), and he had to write a copy of the law (Deut. 17:18).

And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel. (Deut. 17:19-20)

Knowledge of God, reverence for Him, obedience, and humility are key qualifications for kingship. The first king, Saul, was chosen because he could lead armies and was humble (1 Sam. 9:16, 21). When he lost that humility and stopped obeying God, he was rejected as king (1 Sam. 15:11, 17).

And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ (Acts 13:22)

To become kings, we must have a heart like the King of kings. God won’t let people rule in His family if they aren’t on the same page as Him. There’s a psalm David apparently wrote for his successor, Solomon, that talks about this.  Psalm 72 points to Messiah’s reign and describes God as a great King, whose example of righteous judgement and commitment to His people lesser rulers would do well to imitate. Kings are supposed to model what Jesus Christ is like, and point to Him by their example.

Priests

When there was a tabernacle or temple standing, priests were always there. Their job was to minister before the Lord and “to bless in His name” (Deut. 10:8). They were also involved in settling judicial disputes, especially in the time before the kings (Deut. 21:5).

One of the primary ministerial responsibilities of the priests involved offering sacrifices. People couldn’t just sacrifice to God anywhere — they had to come to the temple and have a priest present it on their behalf. Today, Christ fills that role of intermediary between believers and God. He has helpers, though, just as the High Priest did in the Old Testament.

Pointing To Christ | marissabaker.wordpress.comyou also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  (1 Pet. 2:5)

We’re already becoming a priesthood today, and we’ll be doing even more in the future. As priests, we serve and point others to our High Priest, Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:14-5:10). The quallifications for this type of service are very similar to those for a king.

Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever.  (1 Sam. 2:35)

To walk before God’s Anointed, the Messiah, forever, we must tune-in to His heart and mind. We have to follow His lead, teaching others about Him and pointing to the High Priest. Everything we do in any sort of leadership role — now or in the future — is done in service to the King of kings and Priest above all priests. Pointing others to Him is the best thing we can do for the people we’re called to serve.

Shabbat Shuvah (Lessons from Zechariah)

The fall holy days are yearly reminders that this world isn’t permanent. Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets) pictures Jesus Christ’s return and signals preparation for His arrival. Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) reminds us of the price paid to redeem us and points to a day in the future where Satan is finally locked away. Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) looks forward to the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth.

Peter talks about this day of the Lord’s return in his second epistle, and asks a very important question.

Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? (2 Pet. 3:11)

We know what’s coming, at least in part. We don’t know when, but we know the world isn’t sticking around. We also know that God expects certain things from His people if they want to receive a reward of righteousness in the final judgement.

Return To God

Shabbat Shuvah | marissabaker.wordpress.comIn traditional Jewish teachings, this Sabbath between Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur is known as Shabbat Shuvah — the Sabbath of Return. It also plays on the word “teshuva,” meaning repentance, since that’s a central theme of these days. This is a topic dear to Zechariah, who comes next in my study of the minor prophets.

Like Haggai, where we spent so much time a few weeks ago, Zechariah wrote his book of prophecy during Zerubbabel’s temple rebuilding. More than Haggai, he also writes about future events pictured by these holy days. Even with a focus on the future, though, the first thing recorded in this book is a plea for immediate action.

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying, “The Lord has been very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts. “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.”’ But they did not hear nor heed Me,” says the Lord. (Zech. 1:1-4)

God is telling these people, and us along with them, that it’s not too late to learn from past mistakes. They can still wake up and turn their lives around by returning to God. They don’t have to repeat the mistakes of past generations who ignored God’s warnings, and neither do we.

How to Change

Peter answers his question about what type of person we ought to be in the verses following what we already quoted in the introduction.

Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless (2 Pet. 3:13-14)

This is a description of who we can become in Christ — a goal to strive for. If we go back to Zechariah now, we find some specific instructions for how to become holy, blameless and at peace.

In Zechariah chapter 7, the Lord reproves Israel for a number of sins. They did everything for themselves rather than to exalt the Lord (Zech 7:5-7). They ignored God’s simple commands and outright rejected His law (Zech. 7:9-12). This rebellion resulted in punishment, but God planned to turn it around to blessing when Israel returned to following Him.

“For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Just as I determined to punish you when your fathers provoked Me to wrath,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘And I would not relent, so again in these days I am determined to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Do not fear. These are the things you shall do: speak each man the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,’ says the Lord.” (Zech. 8:14-17)

If we want to get right with God, we can’t keep doing things He hates. We have to turn our lives around and get rid of deception, squabbling, unrighteousness, vengeance and all forms of evil. These are simple commandments, but truly keeping them can seem like a tall order. Thankfully, we don’t have to do this alone.

By God’s Spirit

Like ancient Israel, we’ve spent far too much time looking to something other than God for answers. We try to fix ourselves with self-help books, center ourselves with meditation, protect ourselves with prepping, and listen to talks about all we can accomplish on our own. None of things I used as examples are inherently wrong, but they always have to come after our relationship with God. If we try to use them as a stand-in for things only God can supply or look to them first when we need help, they become idols.

Ask the Lord for rain in the time of the latter rain. The Lord will make flashing clouds; He will give them showers of rain, grass in the field for everyone. For the idols speak delusion; the diviners envision lies, and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain. Therefore the people wend their way like sheep; they are in trouble because there is no shepherd. (Zech. 10:1-2)

All we have to do to start seeing results is return to God. He’s eager to give us good things if we’ll only ask Him. This doesn’t mean everything will start going right and trials will disappear immediately, but God does promise to work good in your life if you’re walking with Him. A relationship with God always yields better long-term fruits than seeking answers elsewhere.

A couple weeks ago, we talked about obstacles we face today when trying to build up God’s temple — both the church as a whole and ourselves as individuals. Like Haggai, Zechariah delivers a message from God of encouragement to Zerubbabal to persevere in building the temple. It’s a famous verse, and applies just as much today as it did back then.

So he answered and said to me: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! And he shall bring forth the capstone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’” (Zech. 4:6-7)

If we, too, are walking in the spirit of the Lord and following His will, we can fill in our names here. Jesus told us faith can move mountains, and I don’t think He was joking. Whatever your “mountain” is, stop trying to shove against it by your own might and power. Turn back to the Lord, and He’ll turn that thing into a plain — even ground so you can move forward to keep building and singing His praises.

Shabbat Shuvah | marissabaker.wordpress.comCredits for photos used in blog images:

Tabernacles and Temples

Why was Solomon’s Temple dedicated during the Feast of Tabernacles?

I’ve read 2 Chronicles several times, and I may even have heard someone point this out before, but I didn’t realize the Temple dedication was set during this holy day festival until just last week. Maybe I was paying more attention this time when I made it to 2 Chronicles 5-7 while reading through the Old Testament.

One one level, this was simply a logical time for an event of this magnitude, since people would have been traveling to Jerusalem anyway to keep the Feast. But I’m also sure there’s a greater significance to this “coincidence.”

Tabernacles Overview

Lets take a quick look at what was going on during the Feast of Tabernacles, or “Sukkot.” This year, Tabernacles runs from October 9-16, which makes today the Sabbath during this Feast.  The Jewish name for this holy day comes from the fact that the Israelites were commanded to build sukkah (H5521), which basically means a temporary dwelling place. Specific examples of a sukkah include a lair for an animal, a hut, a booth, “an arbor made of interwoven leaves and branches, a tent, a house” (Zodhiates).

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it. For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. It is a sacred assembly, and you shall do no customary work on it. (Lev. 23:33-36)

This is 15 days after the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah) and five days after the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). In those days, we’ve been reminded that the King is coming and we must be ready to meet Him, and we’ve been given the privilege to deepen our relationship with God by being reconciled to Him at the mercy seat. Now, we have another special appointment with God to learn more about Him and His plan through the Feast of Tabernacles.

Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the Lord for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 23:39-43)

After listing all the holy days in Leviticus 23, this is the only one that God elaborates on (in this chapter at least. The other days are mentioned again elsewhere in scripture, as is Tabernacles). Two key points emerge from both sets of instructions given in Leviticus 23. 1) Tabernacles is a Feast of rejoicing, and 2) Israel lived in temporary dwellings to remind them of their sojourning in and out of Egypt (Neh. 8:13-18).

Rejoicing

We started out talking about Solomon’s temple, so let’s head over to 2 Chronicles and see how that relates to Tabernacles.

So all the work that Solomon had done for the house of the Lord was finished; and Solomon brought in the things which his father David had dedicated: the silver and the gold and all the furnishings. And he put them in the treasuries of the house of God. Now Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the chief fathers of the children of Israel, in Jerusalem, that they might bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord up from the City of David, which is Zion. Therefore all the men of Israel assembled with the king at the feast, which was in the seventh month. (2 Chr. 5:1-3)

This event was accompanied by “trumpeters and singers” who made “one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord” (2 Chr. 5:13). There was much rejoicing, as befitted such a landmark Feast of Tabernacles.

At that time Solomon kept the feast seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great assembly from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of Egypt. And on the eighth day they held a sacred assembly, for they observed the dedication of the altar seven days, and the feast seven days. On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people away to their tents, joyful and glad of heart for the good that the Lord had done for David, for Solomon, and for His people Israel. (2 Chr. 7:8-10)

God wants His people to be joyful. It’s one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). In the Greek, this word is chara (G5479), which means delight, joy, or rejoicing, and it is part of the same word-family as charis (G5485). Charis carries the idea of joy being “a direct result of God’s grace” (Zodhiates). The most common translation of that word is “grace,” but other translations include “gifts,” “favor,” “benefit” and “pleasure.”

Chara is the word used when James writes, “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). Basically, someone with chara is so delighted by the fact that they’ve been chosen by God to be part of His family that the trials seem unimportant in comparison.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

Paul offered us an example of finding joy in the worst of circumstances. No matter what we’re going through, God gives us the opportunity to have joy through His Spirit.

But what does all this have to do with Tabernacles or temple dedication? I’m so glad you asked.

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22)

During the Feast of Tabernacles, we usually focus on the fact that we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13), as tied in with the Old Testament command that the children of Israel dwelt in temporary sukkah. But God doesn’t intend for us to remain homeless (John 14:2-3). We are strangers on the earth because we are not stranger to Him, and because He is making us His temple. And that is truly cause for rejoicing.

Temple Dwelling

The question of where God dwells was central to Solomon’s temple dedication. The temple was built as a house for God’s use, but Solomon was not so arrogant as to believe this house would be good enough for God to take up permanent residence.

The Lord said He would dwell in the dark cloud. I have surely built You an exalted house, and a place for You to dwell in forever. … But will God indeed dwell with men on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built! Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O Lord my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You: that Your eyes may be open toward this temple day and night, toward the place where You said You would put Your name, that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place. (2 Chr. 6:1-2, 18-20)

The Lord respected this prayer, filling the temple with His glory to the point that the priests couldn’t even go inside (2 Chr. 7:1-3). It was a very visible sign that God had indeed chosen to put His name in this place. It was not, however, God’s place of permanent residence, as Stephen brought up in the sermon before his death.

But Solomon built Him a house. However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?’ (Acts 7:47-50)

So where does God dwell? The heavens are an obvious answer, given what Stephen says here in Acts and what Solomon said in his prayer (2 Chr. 6:30, 33, 39). But God also has other residences, which are in some ways similar to a temporary sukkah. One was the tabernacle He commanded Moses to make, another Solomon’s temple, and still another the human body of Jesus Christ.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

This word “dwell” is the Greek skenoo (G4637). Strong’s dictionary says it means “to reside (as God did in the Tabernacle of old, a symbol for protection and communion).” Etymologically, it is very closely related to the words skene (G4633) and skenos (G4636), which are both translated “tabernacle.”

Jesus was fully God, became fully human, died, and was raised to have the same glory He had with the Father “before the world was” (John 17:5). Just like every other human being, His physical body was a temporary dwelling place. In Christ’s case, this body let God tabernacle among men, and His return to eternal life gave us an example of what to expect when we also leave our tabernacles to live with God in the permanent residence He is setting up for His family.

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Cor. 5:1)

The Feast of Tabernacles reminds us that physical life is not a permanent residence. It’s the spiritual equivalent of living in a sukkah until we can move into a mansion. Our real home is with God as part of His family. Something else that reminds us of this is God’s indwelling presence. God doesn’t dwell, even temporarily, in a physical temple any more. He dwells in us, tabernacling with and inside His people until we reach the part of His plan when Christ returns and sets up a kingdom where all God’s family can be together as spirit beings.

For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor. 6:16-18)

Of Kayaking and Love Languages

image from stock.xchng

In keeping with my decision to blog every day of the Feast of Tabernacles, I’m going to share a story from a previous Feast for today’s post. I originally wrote this account to read aloud in a creative non-fiction class in 2011. The only thing I’ve edited from that version is changing the guys’ names, and my sister asked for her name to be taken out.

It was so hot in Panama City Beach that my glasses would steam up stepping outside from the air conditioned hotel. My family was there two years ago, in the fall, meeting with a church group that had chosen Florida as the location to observe the week-long Feast of Tabernacles, one of our annual Holy Days. Just a couple days into the Feast, my sister and I met two brothers, Quentin and Declan. Somehow, in the course of our conversation, the idea of kayaking on a nearby lagoon came up. Not entirely comfortable going anywhere with two guys we’d hardly known more than an hour, I was trying to politely refuse when Quentin suggested our whole family come. Well, surely he couldn’t be that dangerous if he was willing to include our Dad, Mom, and younger brother, so my sister and I agreed to the plan and invited the two brothers to eat lunch with our family in the condominium.

Of course, something had to go wrong. Mommy sliced her finger open on a can of pineapple, not too seriously, but enough to keep her from kayaking. Since she was laid-up, Daddy and my brother also stayed behind and my sister and I set out with Quentin and Declan. We split the cost of kayak rentals, but still, (or so my mother informs me) it was my first “date” as well as my first time kayaking. As it turned out, I enjoyed the kayaking part a lot more than the “dating” part. Quentin and I shared one kayak, and Declan and my sister shared the other. Both brothers had quickly lost interest in my sister after learning she was under 18, and I learned later that Declan and my sister hardly spoke the whole kayaking venture. By the time we got back to the hotel, I was convinced that lagging conversation would have been preferable to mine and Quentin’s discussion.

The kayaking adventure began promisingly. We watched pelicans ungracefully plop into the ocean and laughed at terns diving like missiles honing in on fish in the water below. The water was so clear you could look through the ripples and see fish swimming through snaky sea-grass while crabs skittered along the sandy bottom. Occasionally, a fish would randomly leap from the water, as if it was so happy to be alive that simply swimming was no longer enough and it had to take flight.

We had stopped paddling for a moment to take in the scenery when Quentin suddenly asked, “Have you heard of the book The Five Love Languages?”

I drew out my “Yes…?” like a question, which he took as permission to reveal that his love language was “Quality Time.” Then, as if the conversation were not awkward enough already, he went on to explaining that he particularly liked time spent with someone in a natural setting.

You mean like a lagoon in Florida, alone with someone you met just THREE HOURS AGO? I thought while mumbling something non-committal. Picking up my paddle, I cut short the conversation by steering our kayak back towards my sister’s and Declan’s kayak, vowing there was no way I was going to tell Quentin one of my primary love languages was “Touch”.

Creation Will Be At Peace

As you’ll know if you’ve been keeping track of my last few posts, my family and I are currently celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-43). One of the things I always look forward to at the Feast is singing in the choir. Since 2004 or 2005, I’ve only skipped singing one year. I’ve developed quite a collection of favorite songs, including the one we sang yesterday called “Let Us Join Our Hearts Together,” “King All Glorious” (which I someday hope to sing the solo part for), and “Creation Will Be At Peace.”

“Creation Will Be at Peace” sums up the hope that is an integral part of the Feast of Tabernacles. After the tribulation and after Satan is bound for 1,000 years (which we just pictured while celebrating The Day of Atonement), creation will finally be at peace, as will humanity for the first time since the Garden of Eden. It is such an encouragement to attend the Feast every year and be reminded of the wonderful future God has in mind for the entire world."Creation Will Be At Peace" marissabaker.wordpress.com

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Is. 11:6-9)