Psalms of Ascent – Psalm 134 – Never Forget

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Psalm 134 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

A song of ascents.

  1. Now praise the LORD all you servants of the LORD who stand in the Lord’s house at night!
  2. Lift up your hands in the holy place, and praise the Lord!
  3. May the LORD, Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.

And so I come to the end of my journey through the Psalms of Ascent with an exhortation to give praise to God, the Keeper and Covenant Maker.  What a great place to end! 

Beth says that Psalm 134 is a call to bless our covenant God and to be blessed by Him.  She quotes Eugene Peterson:

The sentence (‘Come, bless Yahweh’) is an invitation; it is also a command.  Having arrived at the place of worship, will we now sit around and tell stories about the trip?  Having gotten to the big city, will we spend our time here as tourists, visiting the bazaars, window shopping and trading?  Having gotten Jerusalem checked off our list of things to do, will we immediately begin looking for another challenge, another holy place to visit?  Will the temple be a place to socialize, receive congratulations from others on our achievement, a place to share gossip and trade stories, a place to make business contacts that will improve our prospects back home?  But that is not why you made the trip:  bless God.  You are here because God blessed you.  Now you bless God.

Ouch.  Doesn’t that accurately describe the way we sometimes approach worship and church today?  My pastor has talked several times about people who just come to church and sit in rows like boxes on a shelf and never actually DO anything for God.  They are there to receive, not GIVE.  Worship is not about us receiving anything.  It is about us GIVING to God.  God needs to be the focus of our lives.  If that is the case, EVERYTHING will be different.  As Beth states:

To take the next step in authentic praise and worship is to take the next step in multiple areas of our lives.  If we are truer worshipers today than six weeks ago, we are truer lovers.  Truer servers.  Truer seekers.  Truer confessors.

I AM a truer worshipper today than I was six weeks ago.  The transformation has been exhilarating and the results, absolutely mind-boggling.  I have discovered things in scripture I had never seen before in all my years in church.  I have seen God work to open doors in my life and present opportunities I had never even imagined.  Does that mean my life is now perfect and devoid of problems?  No.  I have also experienced incredible stress at work, a minor fender bender, and a husband upset that his motorcycle isn’t working right a week before he leaves for Bike Week in Daytona with his dad.  I have had moments of celebration as well as moments of frustration. 

The difference is in how those moments of frustration affect me now versus how they affected me before.  Though I may still have occasional “woe is me” moments, I am confident that God is on my side, that He is for me, and that He always wants what is best for me.  Therefore, I can still worship Him with confidence.  And that makes Satan furious.  As Beth states:

To stand in the presence of the Lord when you’d rather go to bed and never get up, and to praise Him in the night when taunting voices tell you to curse Him – these things are nothing less than a battle cry of victory.

Beloved, worship . . . is also warfare. 

Don’t wait!  Praise God the second you don’t feel like it!  The second you feel defeated! . . . Your tempter tempts you to praise God the least when you need to praise the most.  A true psalmist praises his way to victory, knowing it will come because the praise itself renders the first blow to his enemy’s brow.

At the beginning of this study, I vowed to go face down before God every day.  This made me humble myself before Him like I had never done before.  I think more often about the journey I am on and the fact that this life, with all its disappointments and struggles, is temporary.  I have learned to look for God’s leading.  I have realized that God wants me to truly become a disciple of Christ by sowing His seed.  It is time for me to finally take a leap of faith and wholly trust in Him to work it out.  My primary fear now that this study has come to an end is that I will lose momentum and stop seeking after God like I have been.  That I will go back to the same old, same old. 

Instead of closing by having us rewrite the psalm as a prayer, Beth asked us to rewrite it as a blessing upon others in our class.  It is also my blessing for anyone who happened to stumbled onto this blog. 

May you keep journeying onward and upward in pursuit of God.  Remember that He surrounds you and defends you and is always with you.

 

P.S.  On Wednesday we will be starting a new Bible study on the life of David!  Yay!  It is called Anointed,Transformed, Redeemed and is 6 weeks with 2 weeks by Priscilla Shier, 2 weeks by Beth Moore, and 2 weeks by Kay Arthur.  Guess I will be blogging about that, too!

Psalms of Ascent – Psalm 133 – Be a Breath of Fresh Air

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Psalm 133 (New Living Translation)

A song for the ascent to Jerusalem.  A psalm of David.

  1. How wonderful it is, how pleasant, when brothers live together in harmony!
  2. For harmony is as precious as the fragrant anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe.
  3. Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion.  And the LORD has pronounced His blessing, even life forevermore.

Personal application:

Beth spends the first lesson on this psalm examining how it can apply to our own families.  She states:

We don’t appreciate how “good and pleasant it is” when family members live together in unity until we’ve encountered how negative and unpleasant it is when they don’t.

. . . never forget that the psalms are for real people . . .

I don’t think there is any family out there, mine included, that hasn’t experienced at least some disharmony and disunity.  Some more than others.  Beth says, “Psalm 133 extols the virtues of family unity, not because it came easily, but because when it came it was delightful.”  These people had been traveling in close quarters with each other on the journey to Jerusalem.  Then, once they got there, they would most probably have been crammed together in a small tent (or tabernacle) for the entire week-long feast.  Then, when it was over, they would be traveling back to their hometown again. 

I know I would be sick of those around me by the time it was over.  lol  Sick of people who are quick to take offense no matter what is said.  Sick of people who are prone to mood swings based on what direction the wind is blowing.  Sick of people who complain about and find fault in everything.  I am a person who needs my alone time and my space to “wind down.”  This psalm is a reminder to take a breath and be thankful for your family (God love ’em) and do what you can to keep the peace.

Beth points out that one of the things that makes this kind of unity difficult to achieve is the fact that family is ordinarily acquired rather than chosen.  This means that we are sometimes forced to interact (and tolerate) people we might otherwise have no reason to have a relationship with – people we have nothing in common with – people with whom our personalities conflict.  There are people in my family that I love dearly, but I absolutely cannot stand to be around.  People that I can only tolerate in small doses.  I am going to quote Beth rather lengthily here because what she says is so incredibly true:

We form most friendships out of personal preferences, but we’re not automatically the better for it. . . .  Many of us have distanced ourselves from extended family because we’ve replaced them with people we prefer. . . . Family is more trouble than friendship, and the fear that we might share similarities with some of our members also carries an indictment too strong to face on a regular basis.

. . . we can drop friends more easily when the relationship becomes inconvenient. . . . God chose our family even if we didn’t.  Even the challenges they pose can be effective motivation to seek His throne, His help, and His healing (AKA: deal with our stuff.)  After all, where would our prayer lives be without family?  Furthermore, if we only choose to be around those who require virtually nothing hard from us, what will prompt us (force us) to change?

I know this has been true in my life.  I have watched a member of my family lead a life of self-caused loneliness, paranoia, unforgiveness, depression, and misery.  I vowed a long time ago to not follow that path.  I want to give people the benefit of the doubt.  I don’t want to automatically assume the worst about people.  I am more aware of hypocrisy in my own life.

It was much harder to be aware of going down that path when I was around this person on a daily basis.  People who have this type of outlook on life just drag everyone around them down into their pit.  I call them “joy suckers.”  Now that I only see this person a few times a year, it is easier for me to guard against this mindset and see that it is NOT how we are supposed to live.  It is not a life of victory. 

But if I had not been exposed to this extreme version of this type of mindset early in my life, and been made aware of the way it can poison someone and rob them of their joy, I do not believe that I would be in the place I am today in my walk with God.  God certainly has given Beth a ton of wisdom:

Learning to endure hardship and inconvenience with people is critical to the process of becoming a whole person.  When all is said and done, some of the people we needed most to fulfill God’s plan for our personal lives will be those we wanted least.  God doesn’t just want us to be happy; He wants us to be useful.

. . . what Satan and others mean for evil in our lives, God wouldn’t have allowed unless it could be used for good and for the delivering of lives.

Congregational Application:

On the second lesson on this psalm, Beth focuses on how it applies to the Church – the family of God.  Beth talked about how the reference to Aaron would remind the Israelites of their anointing as the children of God and also of how their disobedience led to the splitting of the kingdom and scattering of the people.  She then brings that back around to us:

The tragic division into two kingdoms also resulted in loss of identity.  The reason the people ultimately took on the name “Judah-ites” (shortened to “Jews”) is because the tribe of Judah alone retained a measure of its unity.  We may shake our heads and think what a pity before the reality hits us that Christians split into much more than half.  We have splintered into every conceivable twisted branch of one family tree.

In John 17:20-21, Jesus prayed this prayer for us on the eve of the crucifixion:

I do not pray for these along, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.

This prayer was for us – those who will believe.  It was a prayer for unity – that we all may be one.  The reason?  That we world may believe that You sent Me.

No wonder we aren’t converting more lost people to Christ.  We are too busy fighting among ourselves.  A lot of Christians do not understand that unity does not necessarily mean uniformity.  As Beth states, “we can be very different and still practice unity.”  This can’t happen, though, if religious prejudice takes precedence over actual Biblical truth.

Beth speaks of what she calls “spine” issues and “rib” issues.  Spine issues are backbones of the faith.  The creed.  Rib issues are matters of personal preference that might be important to us, but “are not matters of eternal life and death.”  She asked us to label a diagram of what we consider to be spine issues and rib issues.

Spine issues:

  1. Jesus was the God-man
  2. Jesus is the only way to God
  3. Salvation is through grace
  4. Jesus resurrected from the dead
  5. God’s Word is inerrant

Rib issues:

  1. What translation of the Bible you use
  2. Musical preferences
  3. Women Bible teachers
  4. Spiritual gifts

Trouble arises when people start putting as much emphasis on “rib” issues as they do on “spine” issues.  This has killed some churches and ruined the effectiveness of countless others.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us.”  If we would only focus on THAT, a lot of the petty little squabbles between denominations would disappear.  When we get to heaven, there will only be one body – unified and complete. 

If you are one of those “my denomination is better than your denomination” people, you’d better be prepared for your “denomination” to disappear.

My Psalm 133:

It is awesome when believers come together in fellowship!  It is like a breath of fresh air from heaven coming down to give us a taste of eternity.  Christian unity is like cool refreshing rain, washing all our petty differences away.  Pronounce Your blessing on us, Lord!  Help us keep the main thing the main thing.  Unite us as one body while we are here on earth, as we will be forevermore.

Psalms of Ascent – Psalm 132 – My Heart, God’s Dwelling Place (Part 2)

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Psalm 132:11-18 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

11.  The LORD swore an oath to David, a promise He will not abandon:  “I will set one of your descendants on your throne. 

12.  If your sons keep My covenant and My decrees that I will teach them, their sons will also sit on your throne, forever.” 

13.  For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His home:

14.  “This is My resting place forever; I will make My home here because I have desired it.

15.  I will abundantly bless its food; I will satisfy its needy with bread.

16.  I will clothe its priests with salvation, and its godly people will shout for joy.

17.  There I will make a horn grow for David; I have prepared a lamp for My anointed one.

18.  I will clothe his enemies with shame, but the crown he wears will be glorious.”

 

This half of the psalm is God’s response to David. 

How incredible is THAT?!  God ANSWERED David.

I admit that discerning the will of God is something I have struggled with throughout my life.  It would be so much easier to do His will if He would just tell us what it was.  But God no longers speaks to us that way.  So how do you know what to do?  How do you know which path to take? 

I have learned over the last few weeks that it boils down to opening your heart and your mind fully to God and looking for Him everywhere.  You have to get into His Word to learn what His heart is like, so you can pray that He will make YOUR heart align with His.  Then you will know what doors to go through and which ones to shut behind you.  You will know the purpose for your life – which I’ve learned is the same for all Christians. 

BE A KINGDOM WORKER.

How we go about this will be different based on our various talents, life experiences, and abilities.  But THAT is the purpose.  We have been called according to His purpose.  His purpose is to grow the Kingdom.  Therefore, our purpose is to grow the Kingdom.

I have blogged before about how I feel that I am being led to make a major change in a big area of my life.  That door is still open and is getting wider every day.  But how can I be sure it is the door I am to walk through?  How can I KNOW God is saying “This way dingbat!”?  Hopefully one day in the near future I can be more specific, but here are several ways I feel God has “spoken” to me about this. 

I am on the Proverbs 31 daily devotional e-mail list and several of them over the last few weeks have been somehow related to this door that has opened.  Coincidence?  How about providence.

I do my study out of the Max Lucado Inspirational Study Bible.  It has “Life Lesson” devotionals in the margins throughout the book.  There was one in Genesis about Abraham and his obedience to God that was so incredibly powerful.  It was an exerpt from Fritz Ridenour’s How to Be a Christian Without Being Religious.  I don’t want to quote it all, but here are the main points:

If you want God’s will, give Him your total self – a living sacrifice – and that means your body and your thoughts, your mind, which He can renew from within, if you let Him . . .

The guidance of God’s Word is primary, basic.  How can you say you are seeking God’s will, if you don’t know what the Bible says?

The witness of the Holy Spirit comes as you walk in the Spirit.  Prayer is vital here.  It’s unfortunate that we have made “I’ll pray about it” something of a cliche.  Maybe we should change the phrase to “I will talk with God about it.”  With God, not at God.  Some prayer lists sound like Christmas lists.  Others sound like assignments that God should carry out becuase we are “so spiritual, so deserving . . .”

Take a look at outward circumstances LAST . . .  How do you evaluate or act upon circumstances?  . . . For one thing you have to act in faith on what you already know.  Is it evident that there are certain actions that would be worth taking?  Some people call this “trying different doors.”  Sometimes God will slam shut every door but the one He wants you to walk through. 

In the “Application” part of this devotional, it said to ask God to show you how your plans, goals, and directions conform to His will and to consult with other Christians and ask them to think through how the Bible applies to your situation.  I have done this, and everyone I have talked to has come to the same conclusion I have – this situation has been orchestrated by God.  So I will keep walking down this path, toward this door until He changes my course.

I felt weird trying to turn this part of the psalm into a prayer specifically for me, because I did not want to put words in God’s mouth that He hasn’t already actually said.  So I moved away from personal application and focused on how this passage also speaks to what will happen to us (Christians) when God’s Kingdom comes in full.  Because that is really what this response is.  It is God telling David what HIS Kingdom will be like, and the part David will play in it.

The Lord has made a promise to me, He cannot go back on His Word.  He has sent a Savior to us; His Son and a descendant of David.  Jesus kept His covenant and decrees, “and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15)

He sent His Son to redeem us because He created us – He chose us; He desires relationship and communion with us.  “We know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (1 John 3:24)  We are “conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29)  He has given us “the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:32-33)  Jesus is the bread of life, which satisfies the needy.  We have “put on Christ.” (Gal. 4:27)  We have “put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:24) 

He has given us citizenship in heaven and will transform our bodies and conform them to His glorious body (Philippians 3:21).  We will “be glad and rejoice and give Him glory!” (Rev. 19:7)  “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.” (Luke 1:69)  The Lamb will be the light for us who are saved (Rev. 21:23-24).  He will be crowned with many crowns (Rev. 19:12) and He will make all things new (Rev. 21:5).

Psalms of Ascent – Psalm 132 – My Heart, God’s Dwelling Place – Part 1

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Psalm 132:1-10 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

  1. LORD, remember David and all the hardships he endured,
  2. and how he swore an oath to the Lord, making a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:
  3. “I will not enter my house or get into my bed,
  4. I will not allow my eyes to sleep or my eyelids to slumber
  5. until I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
  6. We heard of the ark in Ephrathah; we found it in the fields of Jaar.
  7. Let us go to His dwelling place; let us worship at His footstool.
  8. Arise, LORD, come to Your resting place, You and the ark that shows Your strength.
  9. May Your priests be clothed with righteousness, and may Your godly people shout for joy.
  10. Because of Your servant David, do not reject Your anointed one.

Beth breaks this psalm into two parts because of its length.  This first section recounts David’s desire to bring the ark of God to Jerusalem and to build a “dwelling” for God.  The ark was so important because according to Exodus 25:21-22, that is where God would meet with Moses.  Beth recounts the history of the ark:

  • Israelites built ark after exodus from Egypt and carried it with them during their wanderings in the wilderness
  • Ark placed in Shiloh (Joshua 18:1) after Israelites crossed Jordan
  • Ark moved to Bethel (Judges 20:26-27) during time of judges
  • Ark back in Shiloh at start of I Samuel, and then captured by Philistines
  • Philistines sent ark back after experiencing “bad luck” and Israelites took it to Kirjath Jearim, or Jaar  (not to be confused with Jar Jar, which is TOTALLY different :P)  (Side note: Yes, I am THAT MUCH of a dork.)
  • David calls for ark to be brought to Jerusalem

Beth states:

After conquerting Jerusalem and establishing it as the capital of God’s people, David rightly called for the ark to be brought to the city.  No wonder God referred to him as a man after His own heart!  David wanted God’s presence more than he wanted his next breath.  He was jealous for the glory and worship of God and for sacred things to find their sacred places

I ask not to stir an ounce of condemnation but to open a door of invitation.  Have you ever felt a David-like passion for God’s presence?  Once we begin to sense God’s presence and favor frequently, nothing is worth risking it.  Perhaps He’s already developed a David-like passion in you to see Him reveal Himself.  Maybe you know some of what David meant when he petitioned God to “arise and come.”

Just a few short weeks ago, I would have had to answer “no” to that question.  Not anymore.  There are way too many things that have happened these last few weeks to even begin to recount the ways I have seen God at work in my life like never before.  I want to seek His will and use my gifts and talents to further His Kingdom like never before.  I want to be a Kingdom worker. 

One of the things that stuck out to me the most about this passage was that David was urging God to come to his “resting place.”  It immediately occurred to me that, since the resurrection of Jesus, God no longer calls the ark His dwelling place.  Where does God’s Spirit now dwell? 

Romans 8:9 – But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.

John 14:16-18 – And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.

2 Timothy 1:13-14 – Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

1 Corinthians 3:16 – Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Whoa.

Can we say to God, “Arise, LORD, come to Your resting place?”  Now, I realize that the psalmist means “a place where He is at” and not “a place where He can rest,” because we all know God doesn’t need to rest.  But still, I was extremely convicted by how often my soul is NOT a “resting place” for God.  It is a good thing He doesn’t have to try to get some peace and quiet, because He definitely could not do that in me.  I have been learning over the past few weeks that I have to quiet my mind and spirit in order to discern the movement of God in my life.  God has come to us and, though we no longer have to make a physical journey to go to Him, we still have to prepare our hearts in order to meet Him face to face.

My Psalm 132 (part 1)

Lord, remember my and all the difficult circumstances I have experienced, how I gave my life to You in my youth and said I wanted You to be Lord of my life.  I renew that vow now, Lord.  I do not want to start my day or go to sleep at night without bringing my heart before Your throne.  At Pentecost You sent Your Spirit to dwell within us.  We no longer have to journey to You.  You have made Your dwelling place in our hearts.  We can worship You freely wherever we are.  Arise, Lord!  Prepare my heart to be a quiet place of rest for You.  Let me experience Your strength.  Clothe me in Your righteousness.  Make my heart sing with joy.  Because of Your Son, Jesus, You will not reject me.  You have anointed me.

Psalms of Ascent – Psalm 131 – Calm My Spirit

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Psalm 131 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

A Davidic song of ascents.

  1. LORD, my heart is not proud, my eyes are not haughty.  I do not get involved with things too great or too difficult for me.
  2. Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself like a little child with its mother; I am like a little child.
  3. Israel, put your hope in the LORD, both now and forever.

Beth says:

Psalm 131 reminds us the words of God are not primarily for seminaries, dissertations, and theological treatments.  They are primarily for everyday living on the third rock from the sun.

Scripture is for how you do life, whether at home, at work or on a date, at a baby shower, at a funeral, or at church.

For a small scripture, it packs a huge punch.

1.  Don’t be a proud, haughty busy-body.

To me, at first glance the psalmist is stating that he is just an ordinary person.  (Remember, the psalmist was David.)  Looking deeper, I get “be humble” and “do not go looking for trouble.”  Both things I tend to have trouble with. 

Webster’s defines proud as:

  1. feeling or showing pride:  as  a: having or displaying excessive self-esteem  b: much pleased:  EXULTANT  c: having proper self-respect

So pride can be a good thing when in moderation and in the proper mindset.  More often than not, though, we think of pride in the negative connotation.  Unchecked pride can lead to arrogance and self-righteousness at best, and outright rebellion against God and His ways at worst. 

Beth states:

We recognize snobbery and pride pretty easily in others and despise nothing more.  Somehow when we are the snob, however, the thin air at the altitude where we keep our noses impairs our judgement.

If it weren’t so true, it would be funny.  As it is, it hit me in the gut.  This is where I have struggled the most.  It doesn’t seem like a major sin – not like murder or adultery – but God has some extremely harsh things to say about pride.  He hates it. 

Proverbs 8:13 – To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.

Proverbs 16:18-19 – Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.  Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.

Ezekiel 16:49-50 – Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom:  She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did detestable things before me.  Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

Did you see that?  One of our pastors preached a sermon several months ago on the passage in Ezekiel.  In a passage where God is speaking specifically about the sin of Sodom, what does He say it was?  Definitely not what I would have thought.  The first thing God listed was not sexual perversion, it was arrogance.  The second thing God listed was not sexual perversion, it was gluttony.  The third thing God listed was not sexual perversion, it was being unconcerned about their fellow men.  In fact, sexual perversion is not specifically listed at all.  The implication is that sexual perversion, which is what we all think of first when we think of Sodom, was a result of these other things, starting with arrogance. 

Ouch.

Arrogance in my own past made me judgmental toward some people, especially those who ridicule my faith.  It hardened my heart toward them.  It hindered my testimony, and therefore, the Kingdom of God.  What Beth says is so true:  God cannot bring the kingdom increase to my harvest, which He desires to bring, until my ego decreases.  I am grateful that God has begun the process of working to soften my heart toward people who are so bound by Satan that they cannot see the truth.  That is how I need to view those who attack my faith.  That is how I am beginning to view them.  One small thing is making the biggest difference in my outlook.  Getting into God’s Word.  Hearing His heart for the lost.  Wanting the things He wants.  Again, Beth hits the nail on the head: 

. . . our pride is a strobe light flashing how ignorant we are about God despite our lengthy quiet times and in-depth studies.  Above all things besides love, humility is the truest sign of intimacy with God.  Like little else, a humble spirit says we really do ‘get it.’

I want to ‘get it.’

The second part of verse one addresses something I have wrestled with since starting this blog.  I want to journal about the things I am learning mainly because it is a way for me to remember more of the information, but also because hopefully someone else going through similar things that I am going through might see something that helps them.  My biggest fear doing this is that I will say something stupid or just plain wrong and hinder their walk.  I try to steer clear of things I do not understand and stick with what God is doing in my life and things I am learning and discovering on the journey with Him.  I do not claim to be a theologian or bible scholar.  That is why I have a disclaimer.  lol  (See “A Word About My Devotional Blog” above.)  I never want to “speak for” God or try to explain why He does what He does.  That is just stupid.  Job 38:2 says:

“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”

In other words, “What idiot opened their mouth and made things worse?”  Beth states that this doesn’t mean we aren’t to offer possible explanations for the deeper things of Scripture and its divine Author.  She asks how we can know when a matter is too great for us to address, then sends us to Deuteronomy 29:29.

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Law.

God reveals some things to us through His Word.  Beth states:

The things God has revealed are meant for us to study, ponder, teach, and share, though even then with discretion and wisdom regarding our hearer’s capacity to handle them.  The secret things, however, belong to God – for instance, exactly why planes hit buildings, tsunamis hit cities, and children get cancer.

Though I don’t understand why God allows some things to happen, I know that He is in complete control.  No matter what we face here on earth, one day when we see God face to face, none of it will matter.  As Saint Anselm said:

I do not seek, O Lord, to penetrate thy depths.  I by no means think my intellect equal to them:  but I long to understand insome degree they truth, which my heart believes and loves.  For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe, that I may understand.

2.  Don’t be a self-loathing, miserable “woe-is-me” victim.

Beth starts out this part of the lesson with a quote from Eugene Peterson regarding this psalm.  It is extremely profound, and reminded me, sadly again, of several people I know.

But if we are not to be proud, clamorous, arrogant persons, what are we to be?  Mousy, cringing, insecure ones?  Well, not quite.  Having realized the dangers of pride, the sin of thinking too much of ourselves, we are suddenly in danger of another mistake, thinking too little of ourselves.  There are some who conclude that since the great Christian temptation is to try to be everything, the perfect Christian solution is to be nothing.  And so we have the problem of the doormat Christian and the dishrag saint:  the person upon whom everyone walks and wipes their feet, the person who is used by others to clean up the mess of everyday living and then is discarded.  These people then compensate for their poor lives by weepily clinging to God, hoping to make up for the miseries of everyday life by dreaming of luxuries in heaven.  Christian faith is not neurotic dependency but childlike trust.  We do not have a God who forever indulges our whims but a God whom we trust with our destinies.

What is meant by neurotic dependency?  To me it brings an image of people who have a martyr complex – who live their lives in a “woe-is-me” state and somehow feel their self-imposed misery makes them pious.  As Beth states, we don’t cure arrogance by becoming victims.  This can happen if we let ourselves believe the lie that God is punishing us for past mistakes when bad things happen in the present.  “We are not victims of God but His cherished children.”

He is not reluctant to use the picture of a mother’s love for her child as we try to imagine His care for us . . . . God often likens His care to a parent and sometimes as a mother to teach us that though He is but one parent, and He is Father, He is everything we need.

As a mother, I cannot begin to put into words the love I have for my child.  I still like to try to hold him on my lap, even though he is now 5’6″ and weighs 130 pounds.  I am constantly thinking about him and praying for his safety.  I hug him when he is sad, and kiss his boo-boos when he is injured.  I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would not hesitate to give my life for him or to kill to keep him safe.  He might do things that upset me occassionally, and I might have to discipline him, but I do not enjoy it at all.  I could never, ever continue to punish him repeatedly for a mistake he made in the past.  That would be vindictive and cruel.  It is unfathomable to me. 

If I, being a mere human, can love my child that much, how much greater, then, is God’s love for His children?  God is love.  My love for my child is just a shadow of God’s love for us. 

He carries us.  (Deut. 1:31)

He fathered us.  (Deut. 32:18)

He will carry and deliver us.  (Isaiah 46:3-4)

He will not forget us.  (Isaiah 49:15)

He will comfort us.  (Isaiah 66:13)

God calls us His children for a reason.  WE ARE.  We can be confident in His love for us. 

My Psalm 131:

LORD, remove pride from my heart; let me see others through Your eyes.  Let me know when to speak and when to keep quiet so I do not damage my testimony and hinder Your kingdom.  Teach me to have a calm spirit and to be slow to speak; let me learn to be still and enjoy Your presence, Abba.  I will put my hope in You always.

Psalms of Ascent – Psalm 130 – Wait For and Hope In God

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Psalm 130 (Holman Christian Standard Version)

Awaiting Redemption

A song of ascents.

  1. Out of the depths I call to You, LORD!
  2. LORD, listen to my voice; let Your ears be attentive to my cry for help.
  3. Lord, if You considered sins, LORD, who could stand?
  4. But with You there is forgiveness, so that You may be revered.
  5. I wait for the LORD; wait, and put my hope in His word.
  6. I wait for the LORD more than watchment for the morning – more than watchment for the morning.
  7. Israel, put your hope in the LORD.  For there is faithful love with the LORD, and with Him is redemption in abundance.
  8. And He will redeem Israel from all its sins.

I cannot begin to express how profound it is that I am studying this psalm this week.  God has been working in my life in a way that I have never experienced before.  I can clearly see Him at work, and it is incredibly exciting.  This psalm has been my cry for a while now, without me even knowing it.  Studying it this week was exactly what I needed in order to affirm my faith that God is moving in my circumstances.

1.  God offers forgiveness.

Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  I definitely need to be reminded of this when I feel self-righteousness creeping up.  Sin is sin in God’s eyes.  There are no varying degrees.  God doesn’t forgive those that sin “a little” more than He forgives those who have “bigger” sins.  There is no such separation to God.  This psalm clearly indicates that God does not keep a record of our sins (v. 3) and that He forgives all of them (v. 8).   

We might be keeping a record, but God does not.  I know people, as I have said before, who are so bound by their past, they constantly relive it on a daily basis.  They cannot move forward with joy, and their lives are marked by discouragement and self-loathing.  Beth says, “You may think you’re honoring God with misery over your past mistakes, but you’re not.”  Oh, how I would love to be able to say that to those people!  I know, however, that it would only be accepted as another stripe on their back and they go down their road to self-imposed martyrdom.  And that is heartbreaking.  Beth is correct.  Self-condemnation does NOT honor God. 

Colossians 2:13-15 says:

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us.  And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.  Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

Jesus made the way for ALL of our sins to be forgiven.  He wasn’t only good enough to take care of most of them.  He took the old law, which was dependent upon US, wiped it out, and nailed it to His cross.  Now salvation is dependent upon Him. 

Not only that, but this tells us that He was made the public spectacle for our sins.  We don’t have to keep bringing it up and reliving it and wearing it like a scarlet letter.  He did that on Calvary.  To keep doing that ourselves and never letting it go is the same as saying He didn’t do enough.  We still need to bear some of that.  That is just NOT TRUE

Beth takes it a step further she states, “Too many teachers try to convince us that God will make a public spectacle of us over our sins when we get to heaven.”  I had never really thought about it before, but that is what I had always been taught growing up.  I was taught that when we get to heaven, God would replay our entire life (I guess on a jumbotron) and we would see all of our sins and have to explain them.  I just accepted that at face value, and honestly, haven’t thought much about it in years.  Now I am not so sure that was actual Biblical truth and not more legalism.  It is something I will definitely have to do more study on.  But if Christ truly was the public spectacle (as the Bible clearly states) and He did wipe out all of our trespasses (as the Bible clearly states) and God has really removed all of our trespasses from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) and He truly remembers our sins not more, why would He do such a thing?

Jeremiah 31:34 – “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Hebrews 8:12 (quoting Jeremiah) – “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

2.  God offers full redemption.

This builds on what we learned above.  Beth talks about how the psalmist uses the illustration of a watchman to show how we are to be waiting expectantly on the Lord.  She states:

Nothing is more critical than expectation to understand biblical hope and this psalm.  Though the psalmist was convinced his own poor decision had aggravated his plight, he placed his hope in what God’s Word said about confession and forgiveness, he sought his God, and then he fully expected God to show up in his circumstances.

I confess that if I think something I have done has contributed to a problem I am experiencing, I normally do not go to God with my head lifted up, expecting Him to make it right.  I am usually grovelling.  But I don’t have to do that!  I can be repentant without letting guilt rob me of my hope.  God is still on my side.  Guilt can eclipse our expectation of God working in our lives despite us messing up.  Dwelling on past mistakes will keep me from living a life of joy and expecting God to move.  Beth says:

When we cry out to God from the depths, taking full responsibility for our sins, our Champion will show up.  If we put our hope in what His Word says is true, we can pray with absolute – if tearful – expectation that our God is coming.  He will do more than save the day.  He will save His child.  We need not shrink back from God to soften His hard blows.  God never comes to a truly repentant child with anger.  He comes with unbridled affection.  You see, we may have failed God but He will not fail us, ‘for with the LORD is unfailing love’ (Psalm 130:7). 

Full redemption in God means I do not have to be haunted by past mistakes.  True redemption will lead to restoration.  God promises us that He wants to prosper us and give us a future and a hope.  He will bring us back into relationship with Him.  He will also give us the ability to use things in our past to help others.   Beth spoke to me clearly when she said, “Redemption is incomplete if our negative past is only diffused.  Satan won’t be completely sorry and God won’t get all the glory until the bad is used for good.”  I need to find a way to let things that seemed to be a negative in my life speak to others going through the same situations.

She includes Jeremiah 29:11-14.  I have had Jeremiah 29:11 memorized for years now.  It is even on my PC desktop.  But I had never really read the verses that came after it. 

‘For I know the plans I have for you’ – this is the LORD’s declaration – ‘plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.  I will be found by you’ – the LORD’s declaration – ‘and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you’ – the LORD’s declaration.  ‘I will restore you to the place I deported you from.’

Webster’s defines declaration as “the act of declaring.”  Declare is defined as “to make known formally, officially, or explicitly.”  God declares that He will do these things for the one who truly seeks Him.  He will be found by us. 

I pray that I continue to seek Him as I never have before, and that He will continue to reveal Himself through His Word, as He has been doing these past few weeks.

My Psalm 130:

From my pit I call to You, Jesus!  Jesus, listen to me; hear my cries for deliverance.  If You held our sins against us, we would not be able to come before You.  But You have offered us forgiveness!  Blessed be Your Name!  I will wait for You; I will be patient and believe the promises of Your Word.  I wait expectantly for You to move – expectantly, like a child on Christmas morning.  I put my hope in You, Jesus.  For Your love for me is faithful, and Your redemption covers every single one of my sins.

Psalms of Ascent – How the Feast of Tabernacles Relates to Jesus

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Last night’s session brought us to the third of the Great Feasts – the Feast of Tabernacles.  Deuteronomy 16:13-17 describes this feast:

Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress.  Be joyful at your Feast – you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.  For seven days celebrate the Feast to the LORD your God at the place the LORD will choose.  For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete

Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place He will choose:  at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles.  No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed:  Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.

If you are reading this, and haven’t figured it out, this lesson excited me just a little bit.  lol  We talked in class last night how the entire Bible fits seamlessly together.  A friend and I are reading in totally different sections of the Bible right now, and every time we open it to read a section, something relates to the Psalms of Ascent and this study.  But more on that later.  Gotta save the best for last!

1.  The great invitation to joy.

This feast is all about celebrating God and His faithfulness with joy.  Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread occurred in the early spring.  The Feast of Weeks occurred in early summer.  This feast occurred in our late September or early October.  I wonder if that has any connection to why we celebrate Thanksgiving in the fall?  You would think as a history major I would know that.  I will have to look it up.

2.  The strong emphasis on Messiah.

Anyway, this particular feast, moreso than any other, had a strong emphasis on the Messiah.  Beth tells us that Psalms 113-118 are called the Hallel.  They were always sung on Passover and at the Feast of Tabernacles.  (I blogged here before about Jesus and the disciples finishing the Last Supper by singing Psalm 118.  I am still in awe of that.) This was the time of year when the Jews expectation of the Messiah was the highest.  The term “hosanna” means “save now” – in other words, “Send Messiah!”

Beth shows us two scriptures that unequivocally link this aspect of the feast to Jesus.  First, in Leviticus 23:33-44 God is giving Moses instructions on how to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.  In verse 40 He says:

On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.

In Matthew 21:1-9 we read about Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem for His last Passover feast.  Verses 8 and 9 tell us:

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted,  “Hosanna (Send Messiah!) to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna (Send Messiah!) to the highest!”

Beth says that the moment Jesus was introduced as Messiah this way began the Feast of Tabernacles, regardless of the season.  The time of year no longer mattered.  Messiah was here.  The Feast of Tabernacles had begun.

Second, she explains that part of the Feast of Tabernacles (and, really, all the feasts) would have included the campsites of thousands of pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for the feast.  In fact, Leviticus 23: 42-43 goes on to say:

Live in booths for seven days:  All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt.  I am the LORD your God.

The “booths” God is talking about are tents.  The Israelites lived in tents during the period of wandering in the wilderness.  Webster’s defines “tent” as “1) a collapsible shelter of fabric stretched and sustained by poles and used for camping outdoors or as a temporary building; 2) DWELLING 3) something that resembles a tent or that serves as shelter.”  “Tabernacle” is defined as “1a) a tent sanctuary used by the Israelites during the Exodus, b) a dwelling place, c) a temporary shelter.”  During the Feast of the Tabernacles, the Israelites referred to their “booths” as tabernacles. 

Beth says this understanding of the term sheds new light on the events of the Transfiguration.  Matthew 17:1-5 says:

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them.  His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.  And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.  Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles:  one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.  While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  Hear Him!”

I have to include Beth’s paraphrase of God here.  It was hysterical.  She said God was basically telling Peter to “Shut thee up!”  lol  Not that he was prone to running off at the mouth or anything . . .

Anyway, I had always been taught that God was rebuking Peter for wanting to build houses of worship for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus – a form of idolatry.  Taken in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles and what it meant, that was totally NOT what Peter was saying.  As Beth says, Peter was ready for the feast!  The Messiah was here!  They might as well pitch their tents and stay!  But, as the next words of Jesus make clear, it wasn’t time for that yet.  In Matthew 17:9 Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about what they had witnessed until He was raised from the dead.

3.  The beauty of the lights and 4.  The celebration of water pouring

I touched on this a little bit above.  All the Israelites would have encamped around the city, with their tabernacles lit every night by candlelight.  Beth compares the Israelites feelings when seeing these lights to our feelings when we see Christmas lights. 

The celebration of water pouring was the pinnacle of the feast.  It took place on the final day.  Priests would gather water from the Pool of Siloam and then pour it out before the Lord in the temple (incidentally, while DANCING!!).  While they were doing this, the people would be yelling – YELLING – Psalm 118:25:  “Save now, I pray, O LORD!  Hosanna!”

She then guides us through Jesus’ actions during the Feast of the Tabernacles in John 7 and 8.  John 7 in my NIV translation actually has the heading “Jesus Goes to the Feast of Tabernacles.”  In John 7:37 we read:

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”  (Isaiah 12:3)

Jesus would have been making this proclamation as the people were celebrating and shouting “Save now!”

John 8:12 takes us to the day after the feast, when the people are packing up their tents, putting out their lights, and heading home.  Imagine packing up all the decorations after Christmas.  It is during this setting that Jesus says:

I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

I have read these passages many times, and I knew what Jesus said.  Every Christian does.  It always seemed like a non sequitur, though.  NOW I know why He said what He did!  Sure, it was incredible allegory in and of itself without know the background.  But now that I know why He was using these terms, and there was actual Biblical meaning behind them, not just allegory, it makes it even more powerful.  I am constantly amazed at how God is showing me the intricacies of His Word. 

5.  The coinciding name:  the Feast of Ingathering

God descended to us so we could ascend to Him.  Everything is about men dwelling with God.  Palm fronds always represent the Feast of Tabernacles.  Revelation 7:9-10 says:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice:  “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

In Closing:

I have blogged several times (here, here, here, here – you get the picture) about how it seems like every time I open my Bible or listen to a sermon, something I read or hear ties DIRECTLY back to this study.  Usually, freakishly, directly to the topic we just finished covering.  Tonight would be no different. 

Like I have stated before, I am currently reading through the Bible and am in Nehemiah right now.  I am on chapter 12.  Last night, instead of picking up where I left off, I flipped back to chapter 8 to read about Ezra reading the law to the Israelites during the seventh month again.  Why did I do that?  So I could see verses 14-18.

I was reading in my NIV, and it said:

They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem:  “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make booths” – as it is written.

So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim.  The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them.  From the days of Joshua son of Nun (see that, Stacy!) until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this.  And their joy was great.

NO WAY.  You have GOT to be kidding me!  I could not POSSIBLY be reading about the Feast of Tabernacles.  Not tonight, right after studying it in class.  Could I??? 

I grabbed my NKJV to check out this same passage there.  In BIG BOLD letters above verse 13 it said:

The Feast of Tabernacles

Nuh-UH!!!

Whoa.  Okay, God, you are seriously starting to wig me out.

I am pretty sure He is still laughing at the expression that was on my face. 

Incidentally, my friend Stacy “just happens” to be reading in Joshua right now, and is having the same experience I am with finding passage after passage that relates to this study.  Beth is right.  God is way cool.

Psalms of Ascent – Psalm 128 – God Wants to Bless Me!

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Psalm 128 (Holman Christian Standard Version)

  1. How happy is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways!
  2. You will surely eat what your hands have worked for.  You will be happy, and it will go well for you.
  3. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house, your sons, like young olive trees around your table.
  4. In this very way the man who fears the LORD will be blessed.
  5. May the LORD bless you from Zion, so that you will see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life,
  6. and will see your children’s children!  Peace be with Israel.

I learned two main things in this lesson.

1.  God blesses those who revere Him and walk in His ways.

Right off the bat, Beth states:

Anybody who claims the Bible doesn’t say we’re blessed for obedience is out of their theological mind.

I don’t support a prosperity gospel that claims unwavering health and increasing wealth to all with enough faith.  But I do believe that Scripture clearly portrays God as responding to obedience with blessing even today.

Amen! 

The Bible is full of scriptures that tell us God will bless us when we are obedient to Him.  Luke 11:27 tells us that God’ blesses us when we hear and keep His Word.  John 13:14-17 tells us that God blesses us for serving others.  Romans 10:12 tells us that He blesses us when we call upon Him.  I know that walking with God has resulted in blessings upon my life.  A better financial situation, a stronger marriage, a better attitude, and hope and excitement for the future are just a few of the blessings I have received over the past few months as a result of seeking a closer walk with God.

The word translated “blessed” is the Hebrew word asher.  It suggests both a condition (blessed) and a human reaction (happy).  Beth points out that this doesn’t mean we won’t have difficulties or even sorrows.  She points to Matthew 5:4, which says, “Blessed are those who mourn . . .”  On the surface, this seems to be an oxymoron.  It doesn’t make any sense.  What she said next hit me right in the gut, because this is SO where I was almost a year ago, and what prompted me to really cultivate a relationship with my God.

Sometimes the circumstances of our suffering may not change, but the circumstances of our hearts are changed in the midst of them through a keen sense of God’s presence and a lively perception of His activity.

Blessedness describes the condition of a person who reveres God, steeps her life in Him, and follows His ways.  She doesn’t just look to God in spiritual or religious matters.  She looks to Him in every matter.  He’s not just the most important part of her life.  He is her life.  The result of this divine invasion is that the life operates overall at optimum earth-satisfaction, joy, and purpose and without the crushing burdens of self-glory and sin.  In other words, her life actually works.

To me, a life that “actually works” is one that is filled with joy despite difficult circumstances; one that looks forward to what is to come instead of always looking back to what was; one that sees the positives instead of the negatives.  That is the life I want.  That is the life I am promised if I revere the Lord and walk in His ways.  Isaiah 33:6 tells us that the fear of the Lord is His treasure.  He will bless our reverence because He wants a relationship with us more than anything.  Why else would He have come to redeem us?

2.  God’s ways are always right and His commands always have positive effects.

This psalm continues the theme of family in psalm 127.  Beth points out that each psalm in the Psalms of Ascent builds on the previous one.  She also shows us several comparisons between blessings to us under the New Covenant in light of these depicted in the Old Covenant.

  1. In Genesis 1:27-28, God told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” – in other words, to bring life into the earth and populate it.  In I Corinthians 15:45, Paul refers to Jesus as a life-giving spirit – by Him the kingdom of God is populated.
  2. In Genesis 15:5 and 17:6, God tells Abraham that He would give him many descendants and would make nations of him.  In Matthew 28:19, Jesus gives His disciples, and therefore, us, the Great Commission – to go and make disciples of all nations.
  3. Psalm 128:3 describes the wife as a “fruitful vine” and the sons as “olive trees” – picture of growth and vitality, health – things that bear fruit.  In John 15:1-8, Jesus calls Himself the true vine, and His disciples (and, hence, us) the branches.  He states that God prunes the branches so that they will bear more fruit.  Sometimes we have to go through bad things in order to be more effective for God.  We have two choices.  We can cut ourselves off and separate from the vine, or we can do as John 15:4 says, and “abide in the vine.”  Branches can’t grow and bear fruit on their own.  They have to get nourishment from the vine, even in times of drought.  God is glorified when we bear fruit, just as the entire apple tree is appreciated, and not just the branch on which one apple grew.  John 15:16 says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.”  We are commanded to be fruitful for the kingdom of God.

Now we come to another one of those times where God was smacking me in the face to try and get my attention.  Okay, not really, but it sure felt that way.  I have mentioned in previous blogs about studying something for this class only to have one of our pastors either talk about the same thing or use the exact same scripture.  The morning of Sunday, September 14, our pastor’s sermon was titles “How the Kingdom is Lived in the Middle” and was on the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.  My notes on this sermon include the following:

  1. In general, we are all living in the time period between verses 18 and 19 – when the Master leaves and when He returns.  More specifically, we, as individuals, live out this parable between when we become a Christian and when we die.
  2. God entrusts us with certain things.  What do we do with that which we are entrusted? 
  3. God owns it all.  He has decided what we have.  He had a plan and created each of us a certain way.
  4. God expects us to thank Him for our gifts AND for the way He has created us. 
  5. We must seek to do His will with our lives and gifts, not just work for our good.
  6. God will evaluate us.  We don’t know when this will be, but we will have to one day answer whether or not we have done good for Him in our lives.
  7. The point is not the amount of good we have done, the point is whether we have been faithful with and good stewards of that with which He has entrusted us.
  8. Am I using my gifts to advance the kingdom until Jesus returns?  If He came back now, am I ready to give an account?

So I come home from church and am bopping along in the lesson on this psalm and I get to the part where Beth asks us to “read Christ’s parable in Luke 19:21-27.  What is the point of this parable?”

So I flip over to Luke 19:21-27.  And then I just about die laughing, because, really, the other option would have been to fall out of my chair.  The title in my Bible?  The Parable of the Minas. 

It is the exact same parable recounted in Luke with Greek terminology. 

I think I have this question covered.  😉  We are to use our gifts to further God’s kingdom.

The Great Commission is a COMMAND.  I love how Beth puts it.  It is not called The Great Permission, it is called The Great Commission.

Christ chose and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.  He placed His Spirit within you the moment you received Him as Savior.  He anointed you and equipped you with spiritual gifts.  He means for you to use them with great effectiveness in the body of Christ.  He has given you life experiences intended to turn into testimonies and ministries to help make the Savior irresistible to the seeker.

As Psalm 128 promises, your fear of the Lord and willingness to walk in obedience to this command will most assuredly result in blessing.

 

My Psalm 128:

Walking in the ways of God is what brings happiness.  God will bless the work I do for Him.  He will give me happiness and contentment.  I will be productive within my household, and in His kingdom.  My son will see my devotion to God and my work ethic, and will follow in my footsteps.  I will be an effective witness to point others to my God.  My God says I will be blessed this way!

May He send me blessings from on high, so that my family will have prosperity all of our days, and I will see my grandchildren following this same path!  The work I do for my God will impact generations to come!  Peace be with us!

Psalms of Ascent – How the Feast of Weeks Relates to Jesus

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This post is inspired by the viewer guide segment for Session Three of the Psalms of Ascent study. 

The Feast of Weeks

The Session Three video dealt with the second of the Great Feasts:  the Feast of Weeks.  This feast occured seven weeks (49 days) from the Feast of Firstfruits, which was part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  The Feast of Weeks was another time set aside for Israel to remember their former bondage.  That is fast becoming a recurring theme.  🙂  Deuteronomy 16:9-12 says:

You shall count seven weeks for yourself; begin to count the seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain.  (Note:  This would be the day of firstfruits.)  Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you.  You shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide (Note:  Jerusalem).  And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.

This feast was marked by great generosity – generous grace and generous giving.  Before I get into how this Feast relates to Jesus, Beth said several things that I just had to write down regarding generous grace and generous giving.

Generous grace:

  1. People who withhold grace from others have never received grace.  I want to be a gracious person.  I freely admit I have a tendency to be judgmental.  I believe there is wrong and there is right.  There is no gray area.  But I do not want to be harsh in my dealings with others.  I want to love people whether or not I agree with them.  It is difficult to do when you have the overwhelming feeling that most people are stupid.  😉  And I mean, really, isn’t that feeling justified most of the time?  But that is not the point.  We, as human beings, are infinitely stupid when compared to God.  But He is gracious to us anyway in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve for Him to be. 
  2. Remember how God has graced you and extend a portion of that to others.  I need to freely give the grace that has been given to me to others around me, regardless of whether or not they merit it, because I sure didn’t.
  3. Pride is the biggest disaster we will hvae in ministering to others.  Boy, is that ever the truth.  How many times have we not done or said something because of pride?  How many times have we not swallowed our anger and bitterness in order to make peace because of pride?  For me, it has been WAY too many times.

Generous Giving:

  1. We will become more and more self-centered unless we actively fight against it.  If all I ever think about is MY needs and MY wants and MY desires, my life will revolve around serving ME.
  2. The remedy for self-absorption is to give something away.  It isn’t hard for me to give things away.  I really love giving gifts to others.  My biggest problem with giving comes in the area of money.  I think it comes from a childhood spent bordering on poverty.  We never lacked for the basics, but money was always an issue and was the source of many family fights.  We never had extra anything.  I grew to believe that security in life came from financial security, and I wanted to always make sure I had enough money.  While this brought positives, such as being economical and not wasteful, it also brought negatives, like being a tightwad.  It took me years to even begin tithing, because I never thought we could afford it.  When we finally started doing it faithfully six years ago, we have never lacked anything because of it.  God actually graced us financially by increasing our income.  Imagine that.  “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windowns of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.'” (Malachi 3:10) 
  3. If you ever feel like you’ve “got to,” you haven’t been “led to.” This is where I need to be careful.  I sometimes feel like I should be giving more because it is what I am supposed to do.  That is not being generous, it is being legalistic.  On the other hand, if I am moved to make an extra donation or give a gift, then I should respond to that motivation by doing it immediately, and not weighing the pros and cons and figuring out if we can make it to the next payday if I write that check.  Figuring out the least amount you can give without putting yourself in a bind is not being generous. 
  4. Our importance is not determined by how much stuff we have.  I can honestly say that this is an area of victory in my life.  I SO do not care if I don’t have all the stuff the neighbors have.  I don’t care if I buy my clothes at Wal-Mart or the mall, because I buy what I like, not what someone tells me is in style.  I don’t need a plasma TV, though my husband would argue with that.  I don’t need a brand new car.  I am happy with what I have, but I am also willing to put the extra effort into saving for something nice and upgrading when the time is right.  I really, really, really want new appliances in my kitchen, but the ones I have work fine.  So I will wait, and save my money, and buy when the time is right, then donate my old ones.

So, back to how the Feast of Weeks ties in with Jesus.  Beth tells us that its commemoration on the 50th day earned it the Greek name of Pentecost in the New Testamant.

Whoa.

Pentecost?  PENTECOST???!!!  You mean when God sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in us?  The Pentecost recorded in Acts 2:1-12?  THAT Pentecost?

See, I had always thought that “Pentecost” was just a name Christians made up to refer to what happened in Acts.  I had no idea it was an Old Testament festival celebrated by the Jews (and, therefore, Jesus) each year.  But the Day of Pentecost is the first day of the Feast of Weeks.

Again, I was raised in church.  How, in all those years, could someone have not mentioned how all these things fit together?  Sure, I had always been told that all the law was fulfilled in Jesus, but only in the context that HE had kept it all and never sinned, not in the context that He was the fulfillment of everything the Jews did and celebrated.  God using Beth Moore’s gifts to teach me about these things kinda blows that whole “women aren’t ordained to teach God’s Word” crowd out of the water, huh?  But I digress.

Finally, to tie it back in with the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits, Exodus 23:16 refers to the Feast of Weeks (or PENTECOST!!!  Still can’t get over that one!) as the Feast of the HARVEST.

Acts 2:41 (still on Day of Pentecost) tells us:

Then those who gladly received his (Note: Peter’s) word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

Beth says, “The specific timing of this event on Pentecost offers little doubt that God intended a highly significant feast of harvest.”  This was the birth of the early church! 

The Holy Spirit was perfectly timed to come on Pentecost, the feast of harvest.  Jesus also would have observed this feast with His disciples each year, just like Passover and Unleavened Bread.  He knew this was coming, too!

Beth then ends by taking us back to Galations 6:9,10:

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

Funny how this “sowing and reaping” stuff keeps popping up lately.  I wonder if that could possibly mean anything?  *sarcasm*

I’m getting it now, God.  Your Word is the seed, and Your Word WORKS.

SEED is for sowing.

I am so glad class is tonight.  I can’t wait to see how the Feast of Tabernacles relates to Jesus.

Psalms of Ascent – How the Feast of Unleavened Bread Relates to Jesus

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(Additions made since original posting.)

This post is inspired by the viewer guide segments for Session Two of the Psalms of Ascent study. 

The Feast of Unleavened Bread

I have blogged before here and here about the connection I finally made between Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in relation to Jesus’ death and burial.  To recap:

  1. Passover took place the night before the Feast of Unleavened Bread began.  Passover was when Jesus and His disciples ate the Last Supper, followed that same night (Passover) by Jesus’ arrest and subsequent crucifixion.  He was our Passover lamb without blemish.
  2. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was instituted as a reminder to the Israelites that God had brought them out of bondage in Egypt.

So, in this video lesson, Beth talks about these things and how they relate to Jesus.  I have to admit, I did not know this was coming and almost fell out of my chair when I realized what the focus of this lesson would be.  I truly believe God enabled me to make the above connections in preparation for this lesson. 

Session Two revealed something else about the Feast of Unleavened Bread that I had not known before.  To be quite honest, I never knew ANYTHING about this feast before.

Beth explained that during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Israelites would go through their houses and get rid of all the yeast.  She explained that the Hebrew word for “leaven” is “chametz,” which means sour.  In the New Testament, leaven (or yeast) became synonymous with sin.  Leaven is used to create fermentation, which implies corruption.  So the Feast of Unleavened Bread symbolized a time when God called all of Israel to get rid of corruption in their homes, and therefore, their lives.

She also tells us that evidence suggests “leaven” in those times consisted of a piece of fermented dough kept over from a former baking, which was then mixed in with new dough, or hidden in it, and then mixed together with it.  It then spread throughout the entire mixture.  This is what happens when we hide stuff, be it sin or something else, in our lives.  It is a picture of holding onto sin or not letting go of something we need to turn completely over to God.  It can range from outright blatant sin, to more internal struggles like unforgiveness, bitterness, or a vengeful spirit.

The point is that the Israelites when through their houses cleaning out all the gunk.  This symbolism is fulfilled in Christ.  He is both the Passover and the Unleavened Bread. 

Matthew 26:17,26 says:

Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread (which would have been UNLEAVENED), blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”

Don’t miss the significance, like I had missed it all my life.  We see pictures of a big old loaf of french bread and a cup.  Not so.  Jesus’ body was symbolic of the UNLEAVENED bread – without corruption.  Without DECAY

In Acts 2:29-33, Peter says:

Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch of David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God has sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.  This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.  Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.

Do you see what this means?  I never did until Beth pointed it out.  When living things die, decomposition begins immediately.  Not so with Christ.  Christ’s body did not begin to decay after His death.  Christ’s body was completely incorruptible, and stayed completely ready for Him to return to it 3 days later. 

Whoa.

Which brings us to the Firstfruits.  Leviticus 23:4-11 tells us:

These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times.  On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD’s Passover.  And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.  On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.  But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD for seven days.  The seventh day shll be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. 

And the LORD spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to the children of Israwl, and say to them:  ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest.  He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. 

First Corinthians 15:20-22 makes the connection with Jesus crystal clear: 

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  

Beth reminded us that this Feast was a yearly occurrence.  All Jews made this pilgrimage every single year.  Jesus would have made this pilgrimage every year of His life.  In fact, the first time we see Jesus after His birth was when His parents took Him to Jerusalem for Passover when He was twelve.  Luke 2:41-42 says:

His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.  And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.

As a devout Jew, Jesus would have continued doing this EACH YEAR UNTIL HIS DEATH.  That means He made this pilgrimage at least two times with the disciples, all the while knowing what was coming.  Eating the passover meal every year in remembrance of when HE passed over the houses of His people.  Cleaning out the leaven every year in remembrance of when HE delivered His people from bondage.  Bringing the firstfruits every year in anticipation of when HE would initiate the His harvest by being the first to forever rise from the dead.  Beth said she could just picture Him counting down each time He observed Passover, until there was “one more year” before EVERYTHING would change.  And knowing the whole time that His disciples still did not get it.  But also knowing that soon, they would.

So, to recap again:

  1. Day One – Passover – observed as a Sabbath
  2. Day Two – Beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread – observed as a Sabbath
  3. Day Three – offering of firstfruits of the harvest to the LORD
  1. Day One – Passover – Jesus becomes our Passover lamb
  2. Day Two – Beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread – Jesus’ body lies without corruption and awaits His return
  3. Day Three – Offering of Firstfruits – Jesus’ resurrection

Double whoa. 

Why had I never seen it before?  I guess because I thought the Old Testament feasts weren’t important for New Testament Christians.  I am realizing more and more each day that God didn’t put anything in the Bible that doesn’t ALWAYS and FOREVER apply to each and every one of us. 

The next post will be about how the The Feast of Weeks relates to Jesus and the New Testament.  Again, this was a connection no one had ever pointed out to me before.  Be prepared to say whoa.