Be Stirred, Not Shaken

"We ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled…" ~ II Thes. 2:2 *** "But stir up the gift of God that is within you by the laying on of hands…" ~ II Tim. 1:6

Author: poodster Page 3 of 5

From Wave Sheaf to Wave Loaves—The Acceptance of the Elect

Ancient Israel was an agricultural society revolving around two harvest periods, one in the spring and one in the fall.  The harvest timing was governed by God’s holy days, and vice versa.  We understand from the scriptures that the holy days provide a picture of His plan for mankind, but the fact that there are two distinct harvest periods often gets overlooked in favor of a purely linear interpretation.

Most of what I’ve heard talked about where the Feast of Firstfruits (also called Pentecost) is concerned is that it pictures the giving of God’s holy spirit, a historical event.  But I believe that the bible very clearly outlines a much greater future fulfillment that brings the spring harvest season to an end—when the saints are resurrected, changed to spirit, and brought before God’s throne for the marriage supper of the Lamb and His Bride.

Historically, both the giving of the law at Mount Sinai and the giving of the holy spirit shortly after Christ’s resurrection occurred on Pentecost.  Neither of these is accidental, but instead are two sides of the same coin.  Law and grace, old covenant and new covenant.  The future and final fulfillment of this day will be when God’s elect—obedient to His laws, redeemed from sin through grace, and having His holy spirit—are brought before His throne as newly-resurrected eternal children of God.

There are so many other aspects of this holy day, it’s impossible to cover them all in one study (and this one is long enough as it is)—the seven weeks, the Year of Jubilee and receiving our inheritance, the kinsman redeemer, the book of Ruth.  But in this study we’ll cover some of the reasons why I believe that the feast of Pentecost pictures the resurrection of the saints and the marriage supper of the Lamb.

The Firstfruit Harvest

In order to get a deeper understanding of Pentecost’s ultimate meaning for God’s elect, we have to first start a little bit earlier with an often-overlooked ceremony that happened during the Days of Unleavened Bread.  After commanding that they keep the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, God continued His instructions:

“Speak to the children of Israel, 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 [elevate] the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath [during the Days of Unleavened Bread] the priest shall wave it. And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the Lord. Its grain offering shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to the Lord, for a sweet aroma, and its drink offering shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin.  You shall eat neither bread nor parched grain nor fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your God; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.” (Lev 23:10-14)

Until the wave sheaf was cut and brought to the priest for offering, harvesting could not begin.  Once the first of the firstfruits harvest was offered, only then did it become ceremonially legal for the Israelites to begin bringing in the rest of the grain.  To my knowledge, this is the only time this ceremony is spoken of in the bible but it’s the only way that we can get to Pentecost, because God’s instruction continues:

“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the Lord…The priest shall wave [elevate] them [the meat and drink offerings] with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering, before the Lord, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the Lord for the priest.” (Lev. 23:15-20)

Pentecost is unique among God’s holy days because it does not fall on a fixed date—it’s the only floating holy day and must be counted based on another of God’s commands.  We have no way of getting to Pentecost without the wave sheaf.  Similarly, understanding the wave sheaf offering is key to understanding the future events signified by the Feast of Firstfruits.

The Wave Sheaf

What does Leviticus 23 tell us about the wave sheaf offering?

  1. The offering was given on the day after the Sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread
  2. It was the very first of the firstfruits harvested
  3. It was offered by the High Priest to God to be accepted on behalf of God’s people

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What Does It Mean to Be ‘Ambassadors for Christ’?

The writers of the New Testament focused on many major themes—becoming like Christ, how to treat each other, how to interact and live in the world, what we shall become. In reading their letters and epistles, we can see that we are to be easily distinguishable from the world around us, yet not withdraw from society and live as hermits. We are to interact and live in the world and yet remain unspotted from it. These instructions can seem contradictory at times, and it can be difficult finding the right line to walk (the ‘narrow’ path, as it may be).

In telling the Philippians not to walk as the world, Paul tells them, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). In other words, we do not claim citizenship of this world, and though we are currently living here, it is only a temporary home.

He then uses an analogy that all his readers would have easily understood, and from which we today can learn a lot. “Now then,” he says, “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (II Cor. 5:20). The Greek word here translated “ambassador” is presbueo, which means “to act as a representative”. The Latin equivalent used by the Romans (who were in power at the time) was legatus or “legate” in English, which had several meanings including that of a diplomatic emissary sent on a mission abroad. In most respects, the role of an ambassador or legate in ancient Rome was not all that different from our modern-day ambassadors, and being chosen as one was a great honor.

For us today, being told we are ambassadors for Christ may not fully resonate and provide specific guidelines for living our lives. So it’s worthwhile to examine what the characteristics, responsibilities, and lifestyle of an ambassador should be, and see how we can apply them to our lives today. Obviously, though many ambassadors in today’s world (as with all politicians) use lies and manipulation in their jobs, the principles of a good ambassador remain the same.

What is an ambassador?

Ambassadors are the highest-ranking representatives of their governments abroad, and their primary responsibility is to represent and work towards the best interests of their government or head of state. They are not elected—instead they are chosen by the government or head of state, and it is a huge honor to be chosen as one. We, too, were bestowed with an enormous honor when God called and chose us to follow Him (I Cor. 1:26).

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Spiritual strongholds:  laying siege to the “walled city” inside us

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (II Cor. 10:3-6)

As I mentioned in the first post on this topic, this is a verse that I’ve always struggled to make super meaningful in the past.  High things that exalt themselves against God, sure, that makes perfect sense to me.  Even casting down arguments, assuming those are arguments against God’s way and truth, I can wrap my head around.  But strongholds aren’t a concept that is immediately tangible to me.

A while back, though, I did have a little bit of a breakthrough where strongholds are concerned, and what they can represent in our lives as followers of Christ.  These strongholds or “walled cities” can be external—the obstacle in front of us that we see as bigger than God (covered in the previous post)—or they can be internal.  The internal strongholds are where we have built fortresses protecting pieces of our carnal nature from being conquered.  Both types need pulled down.  This part of the study deals with the hostile spiritual strongholds quietly occupying our hearts and minds.

Enemy strongholds in the heart and mind

While the strongholds in front of us are generally easier to see (if still difficult to overcome), spiritual strongholds’ power lies in their ability to fly under the radar.  If you consider yourself a disciple of Christ or a Christian, at some point in your life you decided to turn from your previous life and asked God to put His spirit in you.  You repented and were baptized, and ostensibly gave Him unlimited access to every part of your heart and mind—asking Him to transform your carnal mind into one led by Him.

Every one of us that has gone through this process did so with the complete intention of letting God conquer everything in His path, burn it down, and start from scratch.  But every one of us also—mostly unknowingly—built walls around a few particular areas to fortify them against this process.  We don’t like to admit it, but it’s generally true of every person.  We’re pretty good at identifying and rooting out certain kinds of sins and correcting wrong behaviors.  We can refrain from lying, avoid adultery, keep the Sabbath and holy days, and maybe we even had to quit smoking or stop eating certain meats when we came into the knowledge of God.  But despite all of this, we still have trouble recognizing or acknowledging the spiritual strongholds located within the deepest regions of ourselves.

When an army conquers a land, they must breach and take every single one of the strongholds, because if an enemy-occupied stronghold remains in the land then the native people there can continually attack whenever they sense weakness.  The battle will rage on and peace can never come—the land will never be fully conquered.

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What We Can Learn From Haggai About Zeal: Just Do It

“…Not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”

~Romans 12:11

The book of Haggai is the second-shortest in the Old Testament, and like many of the minor prophet books it’s often skimmed over or overlooked altogether.  I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t spend much time in these books, simply because I find the contents challenging to relate to.  But at the Feast last year I heard a message given from this book that really resonated with aspects of my life over the past several months.

Written during the Babylonian exile, Haggai’s story tells of a complacent and lethargic people.  Roughly 16 years prior, the Persian ruler Cyrus had granted them leave to return to Israel and rebuild the temple of God.  The people returned to the land filled with excitement and immediately set to building.  But they fairly quickly allowed discouragement and their personal concerns to delay and derail their efforts.

As a result, God had stopped blessing them and allowed significant trials to befall them.  Eventually, He gave Haggai this message for the people:

“Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled [luxurious] houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?’ Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!  You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.’  Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!’” (Hag. 1:3-7)

God points out that they had been working on improving their own lives, establishing and beautifying their own homes, but not accomplishing what He had sent them there to do.  Over time they had lost sight of their purpose, and because of their misplaced priorities God had ceased to bless them—all their daily work wasn’t actually accomplishing anything.  It was, as Solomon says, “vanity of vanities” (Eccl. 1:2).

Haggai shows us what happens when we neglect His house and put our own priorities first, and there are some really important warnings for us.  The Israelites were required to build a physical temple for God to dwell in, but the stakes are much higher for God’s people today.

Our commission:  to build His house

Much like He had centuries earlier in Egypt, God plucked the Israelites from subjugation in a foreign land and sent them back to their homeland with a specific directive—to build His house.  Our situation is the same today, except we are building a spiritual temple rather than a physical one.  He called each of us out of the bondage of this world, brought us into covenant with Him, and promised to provide His spirit as a helper.

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“Salt of the Earth” – What’s the Significance of Salt?

We’re told to be the “salt of the earth”, but what does that really mean?

Jesus told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?” (Matt. 5:13; also Luke 14:34). I don’t know about you, but this statement has never really fired me up spiritually. I mean, salt? The stuff that comes in tiny little paper packets at McDonald’s? What about gold or precious gems, something beautiful and special and rare? In our society, salt is the most mundane of commodities. You can buy a giant canister of it for a dollar and throw it on everything. It’s pretty much impossible to run out of salt, and it never goes bad. When I read a verse like Matthew 5:13, my brain has all these questions about salt but I’ve always just pushed them to the back of my mind and kept going. Recently the questions have been nagging at me, however, because if Jesus says we’re supposed to be something (or be like something), then we should do our level-best to understand the analogy. So I recently decided to try and get a better context around His statement.

Though today it’s something we totally take for granted, salt has a fascinating history. A precious substance in the ancient world, salt can be credited with building civilization. Since it allowed for preservation of food beyond immediate consumption, it gave people the ability to travel more than a day’s journey away and led to the development of trade. Throughout the centuries wars were fought over it, trade routes sprung up around it, and at times it was worth more than gold.  In fact, it was often accepted as currency and is where the word salary (literally “salt-money,” or allowance a Roman soldier was given to buy salt) and the expression “he’s worth his salt” come from. So to put us back in Jesus’s time, salt was very valued and useful, and the people listening to Him would have known this.

A precious, useful material

“Useful and valuable” is a good place to start in terms of describing what a true Christian should be. Salt has myriad properties that make it as useful today as it was in the ancient world. As mentioned above, one of its first uses was as a preservative and purifying agent, to keep food from spoiling or to purify or disinfect something. While the world will ultimately go down a path of destruction, God’s people are called as examples to preserve themselves and their families from the spiritual and moral decay of society. James tells us that pure and undefiled religion before God is this, “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

Purity (both physical and spiritual) is perhaps the key theme underlying all of God’s commandments, and is the crowning achievement of the Bride of Christ, composed of the resurrected firstfruits. Paul says Christ will “present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish”—that is, pure (Eph. 5:27).

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Pulling down strongholds:  the “walled city” in front of us

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” 

 ~ Ps. 27:1 (NIV)

In a letter to the ekklesia at Corinth, Paul challenges them to be strong and bold in their daily lives, and then says this:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (II Cor. 10:3-6)

I’ve always found that a curious verse, specifically the part about strongholds.  It kind of sat there in the back of my mind for a while, until I happened to be reading something that talked about the concept of obstacles between us and God as being strongholds or walled cities, like Jericho.  Then something clicked.

Strongholds are kind of a foreign concept to those of us in the U.S. because we don’t have any, but the remnants of ancient strongholds are all over the world—and in particular the Middle East and Europe.  A stronghold is a strategically-located fortified structure able to resist the assault of enemy forces (Google pictures of Masada or Bamburgh Castle to get a good visual).  When gazed on from the outside, they are imposing and will discourage all but the most determined and able forces.  They are typically very difficult to overcome, demanding long sieges or subterfuge to breach.  But overcoming them is critical to winning the war for a conquering army.

These strongholds or “walled cities” can take a couple forms—the big obstacle you see in front of you that (consciously or subconsciously) you allow to be bigger than God, and the fortresses inside of yourself that are still protecting pieces of your carnal nature from being conquered.  Both types of strongholds need torn down.  As I got deeper into this study it kept getting longer and more complicated, so I’ve split it into two parts for simplicity’s sake. This article addresses the first—the fortress that stands between you and the Promised Land.

Read the second part in this series here

Stronghold as obstacle – a faith issue

In Numbers 13, Moses commanded the twelve spies to go into the land of Canaan and do some reconnaissance.  He told them to come back and report on the quality of the land, its fruit, its inhabitants, and their cities or settlements.  The spies went out in pairs and spent 40 days in the land (symbolic of a time of testing or trial), and then reported back to Moses.  The land, ten of them said, was everything God and Moses had promised them—lush, prosperous, bountiful, and beautiful.  But, they continued, the people were terrifying giants inhabiting mighty strongholds, who the ragtag Israelites could never hope to defeat.

Rather than counteracting the other spies’ testimony, Caleb and Joshua simply said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”  The other spies argued, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we” (Num. 13:30-31).  And the children of Israel listened to the ten spies and were distraught and sought to turn back toward Egypt.  Caleb and Joshua pleaded with them to reframe their perspective, saying:

“If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us…only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.”  (Num. 14:8-9)

The confused and terrified people wanted to stone them for saying such things.  Then God showed up and Moses had to intercede to keep Him from destroying the rebellious Israelites then and there.  Instead, He punished them and sentenced them to wander the desert for 40 years, with all of the adults dying during the journey and never entering the Promised Land.

The Israelites didn’t trust God to be big enough, to be powerful enough to clear their path.  Even though they’d experienced firsthand the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, miraculous manna every day in the desert, and the pillar of cloud and fire leading them, they could only see giants inhabiting the Promised Land and the big, foreboding walls of Jericho blocking their way.  And they knew they weren’t strong enough to overcome them, so they tried to turn back to the life they’d had before, even though it was a life of miserable slavery.  Before any battle was ever fought on the field, it was fought in the mind, and the stronghold—fear—won.

We say we have faith in God, but how big do we truly believe He is? When an obstacle is placed in front of us—be it a conflict between work and the holy days, financial difficulties, a little white lie that will seemingly make our lives easier—do we try to solve it on our own or cave to the more obvious worldly solution, or do we trust in God’s ability to work things out to His satisfaction?  The trouble is that even if we do pray about certain situations or trials, we already have a solution in mind that we’re asking God to bring about.  And our human minds can only see certain types and numbers of solutions, while God’s mind is infinite and He sees far more of the situation than we do.  So while He might be working out a far better resolution for us in the long-term, all we can see is that He didn’t answer our prayer to our specifications.

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The Lie of Independence and the Freedom of a Bondservant

“Now the Lord is the spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (II Cor. 3:17)

When you hear the word “liberty”, what does it mean to you?

A few days ago Americans celebrated Independence Day, and the fact that 240 years ago a group of irritated land owners and businessmen announced the birth of a new nation.  Most of us could quote that declaration on command:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Particularly with a circus of an election coming up this year, we’ll hear a lot of talk about freedom and independence and democracy in the upcoming months.  But I think if you asked ten different people on the street what freedom means, you’d get ten different answers.  Today, our society tells us that freedom means that each of us has the right to do whatever we want, regardless of the cost to ourselves or others, and that we have the right to be offended if someone disagrees with or opposes those actions.  Society tells us that the bible is an oppressive list of rules written by a harsh, egotistical God—good enough for Christians to cherry-pick homilies from but not a wholly God-breathed, life-governing document.

That’s because our country was really founded on independence, not freedom or liberty.  People use them interchangeably, but there’s a huge difference, and it’s a very important one for Christ’s followers to understand.

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Seven Days You Shall Eat Unleavened Bread…Now What?

As the sun set last night on the Days of Unleavened Bread, each of us had probably heard several messages about various themes that these holy days are meant to help us remember.  For a lot of people, a heavy emphasis before and during was probably placed on the process and concept of deleavening, and over the past few years that major focus has given me pause.

When you take a step back and think about it, the way many of us have been taught to deleaven is all about how WE are getting rid of leavening—how we vacuum every nook and cranny of our house and car, scour the ingredients of every label to find a little-known chemical that’s technically leavening, and find deeper meaning each time a box of baking soda hides in plain sight or we find a pack of crackers in our purse.  The spiritual analog for this in the days leading up to the Passover for many people is making a checklist of everything they’ve done wrong in the last year to see where they’re falling short and how they can do better in the next year, and not to only look in the obvious places for sin.

None of that is wrong necessarily, but in doing so we’ve made these holy days a time that symbolizes how WE put sin out of our lives.  And that’s not something we have the ability to do by ourselves (nor is it something we can finish by a certain date).  It’s hypocritical.  We’ve accidentally hijacked the Days of Unleavened Bread and made it into a time all about us, not about Christ and what He’s made possible in our lives.

“Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread”

This hyper-focus on deleavening (and making it about us) has also caused focus to shift away somewhat from the much more emphasized command to put the unleavened bread of Christ into us.  In fact, the passage that lays out all the holy days in in Leviticus 23 doesn’t even say anything about putting out leavening.  However, ALL the commands say we must eat unleavened bread for the seven-day period.  Here’s the initial command in Exodus:

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Leaving Egypt & The Fall of Jericho:  Prophetic Implications of the Days of Unleavened Bread

“By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe” (Heb. 11:29-31)

The spring holy days are aligned with, and represent the firstfruit harvest, and each has specific themes that keep showing up.  Passover is a sacrifice and redemption from slavery.  The Days of Unleavened Bread are overcoming sin and acceptance or victory.  Pentecost is a celebration, receiving an inheritance.

The holy days show us God’s plan for His people and all mankind, and give us a framework for prophecy.  But while we often talk about the fulfilled prophecy of Passover and future implications of the fall holy days, people get really mealy-mouthed around both the Days of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost.  We’ve been told the Days of Unleavened Bread picture our journey out of sin and putting sin out of our lives.  These are likely true, but what if there are even more concrete fulfillments?

This time of year I think it’s important to look at two significant occurrences on the Last Day of Unleavened Bread that help us begin to figure out its place in the future prophetic framework.  God performed similar baptism-like miracles for two generations of Israelites, then destroyed the worldly system standing in the way of establishing His chosen nation in the land He had promised them.  Together these show us a picture of the future when God will destroy sin and the carnal world—the death knell of Babylon—and help His people enter His kingdom.

Coming out of Egypt

The children of Israel started their journey out of Egypt on the first holy day during the Days of Unleavened Bread, after experiencing the horrifying and humbling tenth plague and God’s favor as their own firstborn were spared death.  Over the next few days, God led them away from the heart of Egypt, by day with a pillar of cloud and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light along the dark path.  His presence was visibly with them every second of the day.

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Flee vs. Pursue: What Does God Command?

“Flee from the midst of Babylon [representing sin], and every one save his life! Do not be cut off in her iniquity” (Jer. 51:6)

Our society seems to tell us that running away from something is cowardice, or maybe the act of a victim—that it’s better to face things head-on.  And while that might be true for some things, the bible tells a different story when it comes to how we must react in the fact of temptation.  That, we’re told, we must flee.

What comes to mind when you think of the word “flee”?  It’s a word that isn’t used as often in today’s world, but shows up pretty frequently in the bible.  The main word translated “flee” in the New Testament is pheugo, which means to run away or escape—pretty straightforward.  But its underlying meaning has a greater urgency, a “run for your life to avoid getting caught” aspect that’s critical to understanding the command.  This isn’t just “run”.  I run because I’m in a hurry, for health, sometimes even for fun.  Instead, this is a dead sprint because you are under attack, and you might not survive.

It’s interesting to look at what we’re told to flee in the bible, and more importantly, why God commands this.  But God gives us something to move toward, beyond just running away, and that’s just as important to understand.

Fleeing our own human nature—the danger of “what if?”

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