Musing on the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim)

Recently on this blog there was some reflection on The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) which has also been commented on in two previous articles one in 2008, the other in 2009. There has been little commentary on this blog regarding the days following Rosh Hashanah or on Yom Kippur. This year this writer is being stirred to comment on these as well. Starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur are ten days known as the ‘Days of Awe’ (Yamim Noraim) also known as the ‘Days of Repentance.’ Part of the reason these days have not been addressed is because of the perspective of doing something to get right with God to assure being in good standing and possibly reversing God’s judgment. The views is that the actions taken on the Days of Awe can alter what God had written on “The Feast of Trumpets” with the final judgment being cast on the day of Judgment. The viewpoint is that during this time a person can engage in one of three actions: “teshuvah, tefilah and tzedakah,” repentance, prayer, good deeds. There is also the focus on reconciling with those who you have done wrong as Jewish though based on the Talmud suggested that the Yom Kippur sacrifice does not atone for what you have done wrong to others. So,w hile the ten day focus on repentance and getting right with God is honorable, it is coming from a missing perspective.

As a Christian, the perspective of repentance is different, as we do not focus on whether or not we have to “earn God’s favor.” Nothing that we do makes us right before God, as we have been redeemed, covered by the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Yet, if you take some time to examine and consider there is a Christian perspective on these days and it is certainly worthwhile to take time to engage in extended reflection on our relationship with God and others. Note, that these days start with the “trumpet blasts” of the Feast of Trumpets. The blasts are a wake-up call stating the time is now and time is left before the coming day of Atonement, the great day of judgment. The period between the “wake-up” alarm and the serious day of atonement may well be reflective of the tribulation period. God does nothing without meaning and what he established is a shadow of what is to come. So it is worthwhile to take these days seriously and reflect on repentance. On this blog up until Yom Kippur the article focus will be on various aspects of repentance. From a Christian perspective this is examining both what have done wrong and what am doing right. It is seeking God to know and learn what area of life he is refining toward change. It is a time to look at the things that have been left undone. It is a time to allow the Holy Spirit to work on our hearts and move through the ongoing sanctification. It is also worthwhile to consider or relationship with others and reconcile with those we have wronged and forgive those who have wronged us.

It is also important to be aware that for each of us this process should be a daily process. As being a member of the Kingdom of God and being made clean by the blood of the Lamb of God, every day is really a day of Awe. Every day is a day to consider our relationship with God: where we are missing the mark due to action or inaction. Daily we need to forgive and be forgiven. Daily we need to make right what we have done wrong. Yet, there is the time of the calendar between God’s established days that we can learn from. The majority of the Christian church has lost awareness of these days. Some parts of the church have taken the concept and used it for other extended periods of reflection such as Lent. Yet, God has set some days for His purpose and being aware and remembering what God has done and is doing is important. It is worthwhile to reflect on what God has done, what he is doing, and what is yet to come. As a believer in Messiah, God has made me clean and redeemed me. I am currently in an ongoing process of being cleaned known as sanctification where that which is unclean is being refined and done away with. There is a coming and future point where as a part of the body of Christ, we will be presented as clean before Jesus as the “bride of Christ.” For those who accept Jesus as Messiah, each has no fear of the day of Judgment for the position before God has been established. We await the great and future day of true great Awe and wonder as we await Jesus who will straighten out all of which has been made crooked and twisted and all shall be brought into proper account. So take time, reflect. Repent. Pray. Act in love toward others. These are actions of people in the Kingdom of God, not because they put us in right position with God, but because he loved us and we desire to serve and grow into a greater reflection of Jesus the Messiah. It is a day by day, step by step process.

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What is true freedom?

          It is the month of July and at the beginning of the month the focus was on celebrating the forming of the United States of America. The essential element that is celebrated is that of freedom or liberty. We revel in the freedoms of being a citizen of the United States of America. Often times the concept of freedom and liberty is heralded as a foundational element rooted in Christianity. Now the intent of this article is not to dig into all the philosophical foundations of the United States or event that of Liberty and Freedom. Rather, it is to grasp the difference between what is true, freedom found in God and what is the liberty that leads to bondage.
          Now if you examine any philosophical or political writings on liberty you will find reference to two types of liberty, positive and negative liberty. Positive liberty is the freedom to reach your full potential. Negative liberty is the freedom from restraint. The core of both types of liberty is the focus on the individual. It is in essence about self-determination. Being able to fully develop your self and be all that you can be and be free from anything that may restrain. However, liberty in practice recognizes that there needs to be some order, some agreed principles of restraint for there are a wide variety of wills. Thus systems of government were devised with the end result ultimately being establishing the system of government that allows for the choice of the individual coming to a societal consensus. It is the liberty of self-determination impacting society through an agreed social contract established by representation. Granted, the system of government developed in response to corruption, tyranny, and greed of what had gone before. It is a system that has benefited many, but is the core really a biblical concept?
          The liberty of self-determination and social contract are not biblical concepts at all. Perhaps some might argue that concepts of grace and being free from the condemnation of the law are the concepts tied to this concept of liberty. However, the bible does stand against the concept of self-determination. Note it was self-determination that was central to the fall and the twisting of all of creation. Eve and Adam in consuming the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil entered into the ability to self-determine what is right and wrong and move away from dependence on God. They chose to be free of being told what to do by God. Saul got in trouble for doing what he thought was right and going against what God said. Moses got in trouble for his own self-willed and self-determined response of hitting the rock when told to speak. Israel, in the time of the judges, “did what was right in their own eyes” and turned away from God’s ways. One thing that always happened when one chose the way of self over the way of God was consequences. And it is important to note that consequences always impacted more than self, our choices impact others. The Bible is filled with self-determined actions, even for the good of society, which result in consequences that lead to pain, destruction, and suffering.
           So what is the biblical view of freedom? Well everything in the Bible starts and ends with Jesus. Jesus stated “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 (ESV). According to Isaiah 61 part of Jesus mission was to proclaim liberty to the captives. So the question is, what does the Son set us free from? Before the already mentioned statement Jesus is quite clear what people are saved from. John 8:34 (ESV) Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  Jesus is identifying himself as the source of freedom from sin. However, it is not just freedom from sin but also freedom from death. Romans 8:22 (ESV) state “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

         Sin and death go hand in hand. Sin is falling short and missing the mark of what God desires. Sin is elevation of self. Sin has consequences. The biblical picture of sin is that to which we are enslaved. It usually does not start that way, but sin does end up in control. Take the nation Israel and there time in Egypt for example. Something that was a source of provision became slavery; very cruel and destructive slavery. Now what Jesus accomplished by being an innocent sacrifice is the potential for anyone to become free from sin. It is all a matter of what we turn to and surrender to. Do we strive to maintain our own life and focus on the elevation of self, or do we surrender to Jesus, who did what was required to purchase freedom from sin. What Jesus did was essentially a contract moving ownership from that of the sin of self back to being realigned with the creator of the universe.

         The transaction of Jesus sacrifice also resulted in allowing for the freedom from death. Jesus defeated death. Death and suffering are direct consequences of acting out of alignment with God’s intent. God proclaimed that disobeying Him brings death. The death meant a lack of fellowship with the creator, a separation from that for which we were created. True freedom brought by the cross brings ultimate freedom from the ultimate consequence of sin. It also gives us a chance to move beyond the consequences of our own sin and the effects and cross the bridge away from death to life. Since God is the creator and author of life, when disconnected from the creator there is death. Jesus provided for us the ability to reconnect to the author of life by taking all consequences of sin upon Him for us, bringing cleansing and freedom by establishing the bridge so that we can access life. Freedom from death means really the ability to truly experience life. The life is not about things for self, but living in harmony with how God created us and surrendering to Him.
There is one more element of what true freedom sets us free from but often misunderstood. The focus of many has become about there being a freedom from the law, yet the concept has become such for many that means we are free to do what we want, as Jesus sacrifice covers all sins. And while, that is true, Jesus himself said he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He met the conditions of the contract by which all can be clean before God and he filled up every piece of the contract with meaning. Jesus is what the law is about. So the real freedom is about being established as having freedom in Christ. This freedom is not about self-determining reality, or picking and choosing what is right. Rather, it is about being in right relationship with God. Because of Jesus we no longer have to live up to a set of negotiated instructions that quickly fade from memory. It is about living a relationship and having fellowship with God. The freedom in Christ means that because we are clean, we can have God with us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And since we have the Holy Spirit and active relationship, we do not need an instruction manual or external list, we have God himself to guide us and even show us what those instructions really mean. The freedom really is moving from an interaction that is dictated by a negotiated contract to a relationship dynamic.
         The dynamic is really defined by how the freedom enables us. First we are free to live in truth. When something operates the way it was intended to operate, that is true freedom. Who is freer? Someone wandering about trying to sort out for self what is true or someone who knows by instruction what is the right way? The bible points out in John 8:31-32 (ESV)  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The passage really points to those that are intimate with what is true, they are the ones who are truly free and liberated. We live in a world where lies are the rule of the day. We are saturated with deception, propaganda, and untruths. It is difficult to live in correspondence with truth, but living in truth is true freedom. If people try and hide or run from the truth, it impacts them. Working in the mental health field, there are all sorts of ways people embrace lies or hide from truth. The lies or hiding from painful truths results in much emotional discomfort and even disconnecting from true emotions is a significant issue. Yet, when people recognize what is true and able to identify lies and understand the truth, there is healing and freedom. The world outside life in Christ and life in truth will embrace whatever gets through the day, whatever feels best at moment. Rather than being free, it often results in further and further constriction as patterns replay over and over. When you know what is right, what is true, and what is beneficial you are able to grow and expand and live free. Even in the country of purported freedom, The United States, there are restrictions in order to facilitate everyone freedom. There is recognition that true freedom does involve boundaries, the establishing of what is the correct manner. Here is the greatest deal of the freedom in Christ. When we falter, fail, and fall short of the truth we can start over and learn. What Jesus did allows us to continue to grow and learn, to be more and more aligned with God’s truth. Walking in truth does not just impact us but those around us as well and enables the freedom to walk in love.
          The freedom in Christ also enable us that freedom to walk in love. Love is a misunderstood and distorted concept. In this day and age the concept of love is centered on how others make us feel. Love today is a self-driven quest for satisfaction. Loving relationships and procreation take the highest value in society. Yet, the self-driven love is easily fractured. Ultimately, real, deep, abiding love is not about self-satisfaction. True love is about moving beyond self and building up of others. Now the Bible indicates that the apex of love is giving of your self to the point of death. It involves no care for self at all. True love starts with being in right relationship with truth. True love involves surrendering and pouring all of self to God which in turns frees us to love others completely. It is not just giving without concern for what is returned it is even giving at expense of self. Now you want to know an amazing thing about love. Each of us reflect and give in correspondence with what has been given with us. If our experience of love is limited, our ability to love is limited. Sure, people are able to transcend past their limits at times, but in general, people are able to love others in correspondence with how they have been loved. Now the amazing thing about the Freedom that is in Christ is that there is no greater love. We are able to love others greatly, because we have been loved greatly. We can give of others at expense of self because Jesus loved us so much he died in our place. A great love at a great expense. When you know and experience that love, there are no limits. And our walking in both truth and love are a response to that deep love at great cost. Ever notice that some of the greatest and most moving stories are the ones that show love at great cost. O. Henry’s story “The Gift of the Magi” is a prime example. And it is because of the freedom found in Christ’s love that we are able to give at cost to self.
           In this day and age, love often comes at expense of truth. It is a focus on either building of connected relationships or finding ways of alleviating suffering. Now caring for others and looking out for those in great suffering are part of love, but often is focused on at expense of truth. We can do acts of service even at expense of self, but love without truth is fleeting. We can also point and talk truth but if we have not love in doing so, we become a cutting wedge. No one can truly walk in truth and love without the Freedom of Christ and being right with the Creator. For without being in that right relationship, ultimately everything becomes about satisfying self in one way or another.
           Ultimately, the heart of the matter is true freedom really only comes and surrender of self. Now it is very alluring to seek after the freedom of self-determination. We all want to feel like we have control and ability to shape our lives and meet what we desire. However, ultimately there are only two choices. One choice is that of doing what we self-determine to be right for self. It is a tempting trap, but walking in self-determination is at its very nature the spirit of lawlessness. One the other hand, walking hand in hand with God’s truth in surrender of self, seems tough, difficult and at cost. But such surrender brings great freedom and joy as one is allowed relationship with the creator and grows in living in correspondence with God’s truth and love in our own lives today. This comes down to a choice, serve self or serve the Creator.

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A picture of Apostasy: Candle snuffing self out.

Last night on New Year’s Eve my wife, mother and I spent some time in prayer. We used candles and lit them for varied prayer concerns. The candles were simple table candles, nothing special. During the course of prayer, one of the candles snuffed its flame out with its own wax. After thinking it over and discussing it, it seem clear that a candle snuffing itself out is a clear picture of apostasy. Once a candle drowns its own wick in wax and snuffs out the flame, it is beyond redemption. The candle can no longer be an instrument of light. The same with any believer, who having been light with God’s Holy fire and turns from God and snuffs the light with own concerns, the light cannot be relight and no redemption is further possible.

The question is when does someone cross the line into apostasy? Clearly it comes when someone turns to something other than God toward something of self. It is an active ongoing choice. It is more than just a willful denunciation of God, for I have heard of people who have perform magic rituals against God that had not yet crossed a line into apostasy to where they were beyond redemption. Apostasy comes when some desire of self and soulish ideas take precedence over the truth of the Gospel. It is when the truth of God is exchanged for a lie, which is twisted from the truth. Apostasy is a willful choice and is based in blatant rejection of the truth for a lie to the point that the whole of self is submitted no longer to God, but rather the lie. It is not just seeking after other gods and willfully turning to them, it is rather reaching a state of disconnect from God and willful abandonment of the truth. There is a point at which a line is crossed and one moves away from faithlessness and is at the point of full disownment.

In thinking further about the candles and the prayer last night, there were many candles on the verge of drowning themselves out, yet remained lit. In the same sense there are many who have accepted deceptions and our following after self or other gods yet, the wick remains lit. They have come close to apostasy but have not yet crossed the line where the light is extinguished. There were other candles as well, some that burned quick, some burned slow, some with evident impurity, some that seemed clear but all still burned bright. So it is with those who have accepted the Light of the Messiah. We all have differences, yet all still shine the light. Our lives even continually reflect the light of the truth of the Gospel. And light did once shine from those that become apostate. There is evidence in their lives of when the light of the Gospel shown bright and the truth was reflected. Yet now the light shines no more. It is sad. Yet, in that sadness I am struck that only one candle out of thirty became self-extinguished. So while the bible promises that there will be a great falling away, those that become apostate are small in comparison to those who continue to let the light of the true Gospel shine.

The question is then where is the reader today? Have you accepted the light of the Gospel and turned from self? Have you accepted the gift of your most vile and selfish actions being wiped clean by the Cross? Have you let Jesus take on the consequences of your selfishness? If you have not, you still can. It involves simple acceptance of the gift and surrender to Jesus. It is a simple thing, yet very tough to do.

For those who have accepted the light of the Gospel? Where are you in your walk today? Are you walking in faithlessness and ever flirting with the border of apostasy and self-extinguishing the light of the Gospel? Please I pray for each reader to examine themselves before God and let God shine His light and expose the lies and impurities and all that needs to be turned from and cleansed. For while it is still Today and the light still shines, it is not too late.