Lenses: Part 1 – Healing In His Wings

Have you ever looked through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars?  You can still make out the image, but just barely.  For the past 2,000 years, Christianity has been looking at the Scriptures the same way.  It’s time to turn the lenses around.  By looking at the Bible through the proper lenses – the historical, cultural, religious, and geographical context – the Word becomes more vivid, the personalities come to life, and the student becomes more and more connected to the story.  And ultimately, they fall more in love with Jesus.

Part 1 – Healing In His Wings 

Remembering the Commandments – Numbers 15:38-41

“Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.   And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”

The ancient Hebrews were commanded by God to place special tassels on the corners of their garments.  These tassles – called tzitzit – were a symbol of their commitment to obey the commandments of God, found in the Torah.

The tzitzit consists of a specific set of knots and threads.  Each one of these is symbolic.

  • 5 Knots – The first 5 books of the Bible (Torah)
  • 4 Spaces – The Name of God (YHWH)

Each Hebrew word has a numerical value – called gematria.  The numerical value of the word “tzitzit” is 600.  If you combine that value (600) with the 5 knots, made from the 8 threads of the tzitzit, you come to the number 613.  This is the most important number in the entire Hebrew world.  There are 613 commandments in the Torah.  So, the purpose of the tzitzit is to remind Israel that they are to honor the commandments of God, and the very numerical value of the word “tzitzit” equals 613 – the number of commandments they are to obey.

It’s also very important to understand where the tzitzit are attached.  The Hebrew word for corner is “kanaph”.  This word is used in various other ways throughout Scripture, as we will soon see.

Cutting Corners – 1 Samuel 24:1-15

David was anointed future king of Israel, after Saul ignored God’s specific commandment regarding the Amalekites.  After that, Saul became more and more angry and paranoid.  This resulted in his seeking to kill the one man who most clearly understood the unique anointing of God that the king had – David.

While Saul was pursuing David, he entered a cave in the oasis of Ein Gedi.  Unbeknownst to him, David and his followers were also hiding in the cave.  David’s men tried to encourage him to kill Saul, and be done with the whole problem.  But David understood that this would be using his own power and strength to deal with his trials, rather than allowing God to take care of it.  Instead, he snuck up to Saul and cut of the corner of his robe, removing the tzitzit from Saul.

In doing this, he was declaring for all to see that Saul was not honoring the commandments of God.

The Coming Son of David – The Prophets

It wasn’t long after Ein Gedi that David ascended to the throne.  He ruled in righteousness and honored the commandments of God.  And while his son, Solomon, started out well, eventually things deteriorated into pagan worship and the rejection of the commandments.  The nation became divided, the Temple of God was destroyed, and judgment came.

During the time of the captivity in Babylon, the prophets of God began to foretell of another “Son of David” who would come and restore the kingdom to Israel.  He would be the Messiah – the Anointed One – who would rule in true justice and righteousness.  He would properly teach the commandments of God to the people, and Israel would finally fulfill its calling to be a light to the nations.

  • He will bring the political and spiritual revival of Israel, returning them to the land and restoring Jerusalem. (Isaiah 11:1-2; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5)
  •  He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government – both for Jews and Gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1)
  • He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18; Ezekiel 40-50)
  • He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Torah as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15)

In essence, they prophesied that the Messiah would return Israel to obedience to the Torah; to keep the commandments that were symbolized by the wearing of the Tzitzit.

The Sun of Righteousness – Malachi 4:1-2

In the final writings of the period of the prophets, Malachi foretold of the “sun of righteousness” who would arise with “healing in His wings.”  This prophecy immediately became associated with the coming Son of David – the Messiah.

As we saw earlier, the Hebrew word for corner is “kanaph”.  Hebrew is considered a “poor language” – meaning that it has many fewer words than languages like Greek, Latin, or English.  That means that one word must be used to describe several different things.  Therefore, in addition to “kanaph” meaning corner, it also means wings.

The Hebrew sages taught that this meant that coming Messiah would have special healing powers in the tzitzit that were attached to the corner of his robe.

Many Pharisees who wanted to be considered candidates for the role of Messiah, would attach especially long tzitzit to their robes, suggesting that they had these special healing attributes.  (Matthew 23:5-7)

The Hem of His Garment – Matthew 9:18-21

One day when Jesus was making His way through the crowds to heal a young girl who was on the verge of death, a woman reached out and grabbed hold of his tzitzit.  In doing this, she was doing much more than believing that He could heal her.  The woman was declaring to all, that she believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah.

Later, many more would make this same declaration by seeking healing by reaching out and grabbing hold of Jesus’ tzitzit. (Matthew 14:34-36)

Why?

It’s time we see Jesus, and the culture He lived in, from a different perspective; to turn the lenses around.  By doing this, we can understand Jesus as His disciples did.  If we are to love someone more fully, it takes understanding them as they really are, rather than as we want them to be.  Jesus was a 1st Century Jew, living in Jewish culture and following many of the traditions of that culture.  When we understand that, we too can join in the Prayer of St. Richard:

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us, for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.  Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.  Amen.

 

Next Post: Morning and Evening

What was the symbolism of the morning and evening sacrifices that took place in both the Tabernacle and the First and Second Temples?  How did these sacrifices connect with the covenant made between God and Abraham?  And were these sacrifices fulfilled in the life of Jesus?

Readings for the Week:

  • Genesis 15
  • Exodus 29:38-42
  • Mark 15:21-39
  • Hebrews 10

Religion Reboot

The “blue screen of death.”

That’s what I sat there staring at.  I had started working for Promise Keepers a couple of months earlier, and due to a very tight ministry budget, I had agreed to use my own personal laptop for ministry work until they could afford to purchase another.  Lots of files, and programs, and documents were stored on it.  And now all I had was an overpriced paper weight.  I had lost everything.

That’s what happens when you try to push a computer beyond its capabilities.  This costly example taught me that I can’t just keep putting more and more on a computer, in hopes that it forces the computer to do things it just wasn’t designed to do.  The only result that can be expected is a crash.

Our spiritual lives are often much like this.  In our efforts to walk closer to Jesus, many times we feel like we’re coming up short.  We see our inadequacies and failures, and we determine that we must simply try harder.  So we add more to our spiritual hard drive.  We start teaching another Bible study.  We increase our giving.  We read more Christian books.  We memorize more verses.  And while all of these things are good, they don’t fix the problem.  That’s because the problem isn’t about activity.  The problem is much deeper.  The problem is in the heart.  Eventually, the result is always the spiritual “blue screen of death.”

Maybe as you read this, you’re already there.  You’ve done it all: served on the committees; attended all the services and meetings; gone on the mission trips; etc.  And you’ve reached the point of complete spiritual burn out.  You’ve been forced to step away from the grind of Christianity.  You’re on the sidelines waiting for enough energy to jump back in again.  But now you’re worried that this time the energy won’t return.

When a computer crashes, sometimes all you can do is reboot it.  That may mean you’ve lost everything on the hard drive, and that you have to start all over again.  And while that’s not a pleasant experience, it’s the only way to get the computer to work again.

It’s the same thing with a spiritual crash.  You have to start over again.  Forget all the extras that we’ve attached to religion; all of the things that 2,000 years of church tradition have convinced us we must be doing in order to be faithful.  It isn’t always a pleasant experience, but in the end, it’s the only way to get our hearts working again.

The religion of Jesus’ day wasn’t any different than it is today.  They had accumulated countless traditions and rituals and ideas that they believed helped them more faithfully walk with God.  They fasted every Monday and Thursday.  They performed a ritual washing ceremony before eating anything.  They developed specific rules and regulations designed to protect them from violating the Sabbath.  There wasn’t anything substantively wrong with these traditions.  The problem was, these traditions began to become what their faith was all about.  Does this sound familiar?

In Matthew 9, some of the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked why His disciples didn’t fast like they or the Pharisees did.  First, I love Jesus’ initial answer: He basically says that His disciples will fast when it’s the right time to fast, not out of religious ritual or because of pressure from others.  But then Jesus says this:

No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.  Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.  Matthew 9:16-17 ESV

What did Jesus mean with this analogy?  The key is in understanding that He was responding to questions regarding His disciples following man’s religious traditions.  Jesus is saying that the observance that He teaches, can’t fit into the religious traditions of others.  That following Him required a new understanding of faith.  Trying to mix being His disciple with the religious traditions of man only results in a ripped garment or a burst wineskin.  In today’s culture, we might very well say that trying to combine following Jesus with man’s system of religion can only result in the spiritual “blue screen of death.”

In the Hebrew culture that Jesus taught in, the way that a rabbi interpreted Scripture and how to obey it was called his “yoke.”  It’s a metaphor to describe the burden or the weight of a rabbi’s teaching.  Some added many rules and regulations; others many less.  When choosing to follow a rabbi, the disciple would carefully seek to understand that rabbi’s yoke, because they would be expected to live according to it from that point forward.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.   Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

We know these verses well.  You could probably quote them by memory.  But deep down in your heart, you probably wonder if they’re true.  For most of us, being Jesus disciple isn’t all that easy.  The burden we bear isn’t very light.  We rarely feel rested because of it.

And that means that we’ve added things to what Jesus expects His disciples to do.

So what was Jesus’ yoke?  If it’s what we are supposed to use as the guide for following Him; for interpreting Scripture; for walking with Him; what is it?

In Jesus day, a rabbi’s yoke was what that rabbi called the “greatest commandment.”  It didn’t mean that rest of the Scriptures failed to be important.  It just meant that all other commandments must be filtered through that “greatest commandment.”

A Pharisee came to Jesus seeking to learn what He taught as His greatest commandment.  Jesus answered:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.   On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.  Matthew 22:37-38 ESV

Jesus initial answer was common in His day.  Many rabbi’s taught that loving God will all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength – the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) – is the greatest commandment.  But as He often did, Jesus changed things up just enough that His disciples would have seen something very profound in His answer.  Jesus adds a second commandment to it, declaring that it held equal importance: love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Love God.  Love others.  That’s the heart of Scripture.

It doesn’t say study longer.  It doesn’t say memorize more verses.  It doesn’t say go on another mission trip.  It doesn’t say give more in the offering.  It doesn’t say fast.  It doesn’t say join the choir.

Love God.  Love others.

Don’t get me wrong.  When we love God, we’ll want to spend time learning what He teaches more.  It will lead to more time reading and memorizing the Word.  If we love others, we will end of doing more to help them; giving more; sharing the Gospel more.

But these things come out of our love; not out of duty or religious ritual.

Sadly, many can’t fully grasp how profound and liberating Jesus’ yoke is.  It seems too simple.  So they add more and more to their lives in an effort to find that fulfillment and peace that can only come when we surrender ourselves over to love.  Most of us have to crash before we can start over again.

Still, if you can allow yourself to step back, evaluate why you do what you do, you will find a freedom and peace that you truly long for.

Go ahead.  Reboot your “spiritual hard drive.”  Take off the programs and files, and just start again.

Just love God, and love others.

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5 Things I Miss From “Old School” Church

Our society is obsessed with “new”.  We are always looking for the latest gadget or item that we assume must be better because it’s the newest version.  When the original iPad came out in 2009, you couldn’t find one in the stores for months.  As soon as a shipment arrived in the store, there were people waiting to snatch them up.  They would sell out in minutes.

I purchased one within about a month after they came out.  And I loved it.  But around 9 months later, Apple did what Apple always does – they came out with iPad 2.  And millions of people cast aside their outdated, piece of junk iPads, and upgraded to the much more advanced iPad 2.

At first I was disappointed.  I had spent more money than I really should have on something that society was telling me I should get rid of in order to have something better.  But I didn’t.  It’s three years – and three versions of iPads later – and I’m still using my “Model T version” iPad.  And it still works great.  I still love it.  It doesn’t have a camera.  I can’t “Facetime” chat with others who have iPhone 4 or a newer iPad.  But everything I wanted my iPad to do when I purchased it, it still does.

We fall into this trap in church as well.  When I was in Israel four years ago, I stood with about 80 other Christians at Gordon’s Tomb – a site that many believe to be the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.  As we took communion, we could look to one side and see the place where Jesus may have died, and to the other side we could see where He arose.  My wife and I were moved deeply, and felt compelled to lead those with us in singing:

We are standing on holy ground

And I know that there are angels all around

Let us praise Jesus now

We are standing in His presence

On holy ground

We asked the pastor for permission to lead the song, and he agreed.  As we began to sing, we were surprised that very few – maybe a half a dozen or so – had ever heard the song before.  This was one of the most popular worship songs of the 1980’s and 1990’s, and now these Believers who had been singing all of the latest songs for two weeks, had no idea what we were singing.

This kind of thing happens all the time in church.  We get obsessed with the new to such an extent that we lose the power of the old.  As I’ve thought about this lately, I’ve come up with my own personal list of things that I miss about “old school” church.

 1.       Sunday Evening Service – I’ve recently taken a position as part-time worship leader at a very conservative Southern Baptist church.  At first, I was a little put off by the fact that they still had a traditional Sunday evening worship service.  Don’t they realize that this hasn’t been the “cool” thing to do for over a decade?  People are busy.  They don’t have the time to repeat the same thing on Sunday night that they did on Sunday morning.  But I was wrong.

What I have come to remember was that Sunday evening was when the family gets together.  We get to service early and share with each other.  We laugh.  We pray.  We worship together and hear from the Lord.  And no one wants it to end.  We stay after in the auditorium and the lobby talking for sometimes thirty to forty-five minutes.  We go to dinner together afterward and keep it going as long as we can.  Those that skip Sunday evening, miss out on good quality “family time.”

2.       Choir – In an era of praise bands and worship teams, I miss the traditional choir.  I miss giving as many people as possible the opportunity to be a part of the music in the service.  I miss the prayer time we have during rehearsal.  I miss the big choir numbers with the difficult hours of preparation.  I miss the Christmas and Resurrection Sunday cantatas.  Some of my fondest church memories took place in choir rehearsals.  There’s something special about a large group of Brothers and Sisters in Christ coming together regularly to prepare to lead in worship.

3.       Sunday School – Many churches still have Sunday School, they’ve just changed the name to be more contemporary.  They call it home group, fellowship group, cell group, life group, etc.  And a lot of the time, these churches try to pull these groups out of the church building into homes in an attempt to foster more of a relational dynamic.  This isn’t bad.

But I miss the traditional Bible study, entry into church life aspect of Sunday School.  My pastor recently reminded me that for a century, the Sunday School was the primary evangelistic tool of the church.  This was where children and teenagers and adults who were not familiar with the Scriptures came together to learn them.  I miss that.

4.       Hymns – I love the new contemporary worship choruses.  I find myself singing songs like “10,000 Reasons” and “Our God” often as I’m going about my day.  But I also miss singing songs like “There is Power in the Blood” and “There is a Fountain.”  There are such deep theological truths buried in these old hymns that we often can’t fit into the more modern worship styles.  But when I’m struggling and hurting and wondering where God is, I don’t think of songs like “I love you, Lord.  And I lift my voice.”  I remember lines like “Great is Thy Faithfulness, O God, my Father.  There is no shadow of turning with Thee.”  I’m afraid that in our attempt at staying relevant and modern, we’ve lost some of this.

5.       Dressing Up – I get why pastors and churches have gone to more casual attire in church.  I know that this is done in an effort to help visitors who may not have the “fancy church clothes” to feel comfortable when coming to church.  I don’t believe that those who wear a suit or a dress are more accepted by God on Sunday than those who are wearing jeans and flip-flops.  But I remember Sunday being a day of distinctions.  When I was a kid, my family got up early and had cinnamon rolls.  We got dressed in our “Sunday Best” and went to church.  We had a big family dinner afterwards.  Sunday was a different day than the rest of the week.  And what we wore to church was a part of that.  I wonder if our casual attire has contributed to us losing that distinction.

 

That’s my list so far.  I’m sure there are many other things you and I can add to it.  What is the biggest thing you miss from “Old School” church?

3 “Rather Thans” We Can Learn from Chick-fil-A Day

1. This is a Spiritual, Rather Than a Political, Issue

As I stood in line for an hour at Chick-fil-A in Colorado Springs (as most of you did all across the nation), I heard many people talking about “free speech” and “liberty”.  These are important secondary issues at stake in the controversy surrounding the comments by Chick-fil-A CEO, Dan Cathy.  But if the hundreds of thousands (and perhaps millions when we hear the final tally) of people who stood for hours in line to buy a chicken sandwich and waffle fries walk away from this moment only to feel like they exercised their personal right to speak their mind and support Cathy doing the same, we will miss the greater lesson.

Dan Cathy took a stand for a Biblical principle.  He wasn’t making a political statement, but a Spiritual one.  This company has done this since the day it was founded, by choosing to close its doors on Sunday.  Since Chick-fil-A got its start in mall food courts, this was a difficult and controversial position.  Malls wanted to require Chick-fil-A to follow the same standards that every other tenant was required to follow, and to be open during all mall hours.  But for Chick-fil-A, being closed on Sunday wasn’t just a “good idea” or something they “wanted” to do; this was a matter of Biblical faith and practice, and they refused to budge.  It’s been documented for decades that Chick-fil-A restaurants in mall food courts out produce every other fast food restaurant in these malls, even though they are open one day less per week.  This is God’s way of honoring the company’s choice to honor Him.  So while I’m sure that Cathy had no desire for the attention or controversy generated by his expression of his personal belief regarding Biblical marriage, I’m confident that this wasn’t a difficult decision for him to make.

This outpouring of support simply isn’t normal.  For countless thousands of people to stand for hours in line, some in plus-100 degree temperatures, in order to eat fast food is simply a supernatural moment.  There have been no stories of angry crowds or mean-spirited protests; just everyday Americans laughing and smiling and excited to be doing something that they believed could make a difference.  People were guided – I believe by the Spirit of God – to honor Chick-fil-A and its CEO, because that company and individual were willing to suffer whatever backlash they must in order to stand upon the Word of God.  To reduce this down to free speech misses the bigger truth here.

2. Our Impact is Exponentially Greater When We Stand FOR, Rather Than AGAINST, Something

For decades, Christian conservatives have been opposing abortion, homosexual marriage, and a slew of other social and political issues, and for the most part have made very little tangible impact.  They’ve looked like a bunch of angry fundamentalists who are stuck in the dark ages, refusing to evolve with society.  They’ve been unable to generate any kind of significant movement that could truly garner the attention of the rest of America.

But yesterday these same Christians made an impact.  People all over the country were forced to take notice of what happened at Chick-fil-A.  The news media couldn’t dispute it.  The radical left couldn’t dismiss it.  The apathetic couldn’t ignore it.  This one event made more of an impact culturally than all of the protests Christians have held in my lifetime.

Psychologists have been saying for years now that the human mind finds it very difficult to process the negative.  If I tell my son NOT to touch something, the human mind translates that into an image of doing the opposite; of touching the forbidden item.  The mind can’t visualize NOT doing something.

The world doesn’t want to hear what we’re against; they want to know what we are for.  Rather than shouting out to the world that as Christians we oppose homosexual marriage, we must give them the Biblical alternative.  We must tell them that we believe in the Biblical view of marriage; a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman.

This principle must carry over into all of these issues.  We can’t just oppose abortion; we must support life and adoption and all the alternatives.  We can’t just oppose sex and violence in media; we must support wholesome entertainment that presents a positive alternative

3. There is the Potential for Revival, Rather Than Judgment, in America’s Future

Too often we feel like Elijah after calling down fire from Heaven on Mt. Carmel: all alone.  But yesterday’s outpouring of support for Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A revealed that there are so many more people who stand for Biblical principles than the media and opposition would have us believe.  No one could have predicted the numbers that turned out yesterday.  And this can provide a ray of hope for the future of America.

If these people who stood in line yesterday continued to band together, not for a chicken sandwich but for prayer and repentance, how could that impact the future of America?