The Believer’s Inheritance.

I am writing from my parents’ home as sun sets at the beginning of Yom Kippur.  Jews around the world are beginning to fast for the holiest day of the year, remembering the days of the temple and the tabernacle, when God could be accessed; for repentance and for cleansing.  Many pray prayers of confession and repentance, asking that their names might be written in the book of life.

Yom Kippur, translated in most English Bibles as ‘Day of Atonement’, was the one day in the Jewish Calendar when Israel’s Levitical High Priest would be allowed to enter the most sacred area of the Jewish national shrine; the Ḳodesh ha-Ḳodashim or ‘Holy of Holies in its literal translation.  This was the place where it was believed the presence of God permanently resided.  The priest would offer a goat (a scapegoat) as a blood sacrifice for the sins of the people for the whole preceding year, and the blood would be presented by the light of seven lamps inside the Kodesh ha-Kodashim  before the golden winged-creatures on the Ark of the Covenant itself.   No other opportunity for cleansing for sin would be available until the following year and the repetition of the same bloody ceremony.

The mystery of this strange event echoed down the centuries long past the time of the destruction of the first and second temples, and today even some secular Jews treat the day with an awed sense of foreboding.  For the Christian, whose religion has been inherited from the traditions of their Jewish forefathers, the day seems stranger still.  A deeply weakened concept of the costliness of sin pervading Western Christian culture makes blood sacrifice offensive; even disgusting.  Yet the book of Hebrews makes it clear that sin is so costly that even such a blood offering cannot deal with it effectively.

But in those sacrifices there is a REMINDER of sins EVERY YEAR.  For it is NOT POSSIBLE that the blood of bulls and goats could TAKE AWAY sins. (Hebrews 10:3-4 NKJV, emphasis added)

What is most fascinating about Yom Kippur is that despite all the ceremony, it never actually dealt with the problem.  It was an illustration; a reminder of the costliness of sin and ‘a shadow of the good things to come’ (Hebrews 10:1).  Something greater was needed.

Without an understanding of Yom Kippur, the scripture in Matthew following the crucifixion of Jesus that describes the veil of the temple being torn in two ‘from top to bottom’ (Matthew 27:51) remains cryptic.  The death of the goat and the sprinkling of its blood on Yom Kippur foreshadowed the real event of significance which was the death of Messiah and the shedding of His blood.  Even the Levitical High Priest, in a bizarre prophetic utterance just months before Jesus’ crucifixion, had acknowledged the necessity that a man should die for the sins of the people (John 11:50-51).

The tearing of the veil of the second temple, made of four-inch-thick linen sixty-feet high, represented the fulfilment of Yom Kippur and the closure of the annual system by which the High Priest would enter the Kodesh ha-Kodashim.  The torn veil was a perfect physical representation of a cataclysmic spiritual event.  The sacrifice of Jesus finally and absolutely tore up the rule book of Yom Kippur because sin was permanently broken.

And every priest stands ministering daily and offering REPEATEDLY the same sacrifices, which can NEVER TAKE AWAY SINS. But this Man, after He had offered ONE sacrifice for sins FOREVER, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For BY ONE OFFERING He has PERFECTED FOREVER those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14 NKJV, emphasis added)

For He made Him who knew no sin to BE SIN for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJV, emphasis added)

The annual system of entry to God’s presence was permanently brought to an end.  The writer of Hebrews calls it ‘obsolete’ (8:14).  The believer is given liberal permission to boldly enter God’s presence to receive grace and mercy any time through the veil of Jesus’ flesh.

Therefore, brethren, having BOLDNESS TO ENTER the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through THE VEIL, THAT IS, HIS FLESH, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

Yom Kippur remains a powerful reminder of the cost of calvary, and the requirement of every believer to live a life of consecration and repentance as a priest of the Most High God.  Since forgiveness and cleansing has been made so freely available, we are without excuse.  To run from God in shame and condemnation blasphemes the cross and underestimates the saving power of the blood of Jesus.

  There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus… (Romans 8:1 NKJV)

One of my favourite sections of any of the gospels is John 15.  To me the truth of remaining in Jesus is the central truth of my daily faith.  It is the truth that I never have to leave His presence, even in my weakness.  The inheritance of the believer which was won at the cross is the privilege of unbroken fellowship with God.  The Words of the Father and the secrets of His heart belong to me because Jesus calls me His friend.  That is a life-changing reality.  The believer’s inheritance is not just the ability to enter the presence of God, but it is the invitation to live in the very heart of God continually.  I would invite you this Yom Kippur to read through John 15 slowly and ask the Holy Spirit to personally reveal this reality which Jesus died to bring into being.  Consider fasting to pursue the precious prize of intimacy with Him, and as a reminder of its great cost.

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Practicing His presence. Preparing the heart.

Major shifts come in life.  Moving from one place to another can often seem like a whole re-engagement with the world, and ultimately messes with all our self-certainty.  Such shifts are a welcome release for our spirits which are most of the time too clogged down by the power of habit.  Our habits actually need to be crushed once in a while to prove to ourselves that our minds are incapable of coping with the challenges of life.

I’m going home and a homecoming is always a celebration.  The prodigal runs into the Father’s arms and a radical shift takes place in his identity.  Radical because he is ‘re-rooted’.  Without homecomings, we lose track of where we are and are eventually without purpose and without roots.  Just going along the way we’ve started because we’ve started and so we have to finish.  Sometimes you don’t have to finish.  Sometimes you just have to drop it.

As I’m waiting for confirmation of some things before I begin to move forward in the next steps of my career, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which my heart is invested in circumstances.  Too often our identity is affirmed by what we do and our routines.  A crisis is triggered when the routine is interrupted.  The severity of the crisis will be determined by the measure of this investment.  Stability is not routine.  Routine leaves a person gutless, with no power of decision.  I pray that I would be continually saved from routine by a living present.

Serenity is the possession of the spirit that is not invested in or identified by circumstance.

King David and his son, Solomon, had an understanding that man’s purpose and identity are not defined by any circumstance of life, but are much more profound.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He also has planted ETERNITY in men’s hearts and minds [a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy]…  (Ecclesiastes 3:11 AMP, emphasis added)

Whether he knows it or not, every man is caught in the tension between the eternity of his creation and the immediacy of his daily life.  A sense of limbo in times of waiting or uncertainty can actually be healthy when it reminds us that we have a home and a stability outside of present circumstances, whenever we choose to embrace it.

David described it this way,

For we are ALIENS and PILGRIMS before You,
As were all our fathers;
Our days on earth are as a shadow,
And without hope.  (1 Chronicles 29:15 NKJV, emphasis added)

The sense of loss and instability in a time of waiting, or what many Christians would refer to as a ‘wilderness period’, is actually man stepping into his true identity which is far more enduring than a circumstance of life.  Man should feel like a stranger in the earth; his home is not on earth but in the heart of God where he was formed.  A soul estranged from the heart of God is inevitably in a perpetual identity crisis until it returns.  The despised times of waiting, or better continuing, are the real substance of life where character is formed.

The Westminster Catechism states that,

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

When we find our identity in God, we suffer tension, but find the glory of our creation.  A spirit that has this root is stable and has no hope in the circumstance of life, but in a living hope which far exceeds and extends beyond the earth.  According to the book of Hebrews, Abraham found this hope along with Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua and many of the other figures of Jewish history.  They didn’t see their hope on earth, but were unshaken, because their identity was in God and their perspective was eternal.

 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were STRANGERS and PILGRIMS on the earth.  For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a HOMELAND.  And truly if they had called to mind that country FROM WHICH THEY HAD COME OUT, they would have had opportunity to RETURN.  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.  (Hebrews 11:13-16 NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus has prepared a place for you.  Live in God.  Practice His presence.  Be identified by heaven.  Be always at home.

 

This blog entry is dedicated to Tim Shey, the High Plains Drifter whose pilgrimage on the roads of America reminded me that I am a stranger on the earth.

Thoughts on the storm or, ‘How to not pray like a pauper’.

I love the feeling in the air just before a storm.  I love the tense, sweaty heat and the thickness in the atmosphere that makes it that little bit more difficult to breathe.  It feels like, in that heavy moisture, there is actual pent up energy that is about to be released in a display of power.  Of course, it’s just water, but it feels like power, and I love the sense of expectation it creates.  If you’ve got an umbrella, you’re carrying it; you’re wearing a jacket that’s waterproof on at least some level.  You know that something is about to happen, so you get ready.

In the Bible, thunderstorms are associated many times with God’s power.  In Job 36, Elihu, the only one of Job’s friends whom God does not rebuke, says,

He covers His hands with lightning,
And commands it to strike.
His thunder declares it,
The cattle also, concerning the rising storm. (Job 36:32-33 NKJV)

And a few verses later in chapter 37,

HEAR attentively the thunder of His voice,
And the rumbling that comes from His MOUTH.
He sends it forth under the whole heaven,
His lightning to the ends of the earth. (Job 37:2-3 NKJV, emphasis added)

There is revelation of God in storms.  In fact, in the Book of the Revelation it says that lightnings, thunderings and voices proceed from God’s throne.  The feeling just before a storm of energy in the atmosphere that’s just about to be released gets me excited about God’s presence.  That heaviness and closeness and thickness reminds me of the Holy Spirit hovering or brooding over the ‘surface of the deep’ in Genesis 1, right before God spoke into chaos and confusion and commanded it to be eradicated by His light.  God IS light.  He doesn’t have light; He IS light.  He is pure energy and power.  That’s why John described lightnings and thunderings coming from the throne; it was the closest thing he knew to the sheer power he was witnessing.  The difference between God and atmospheric pressure is that God is ALWAYS full of pent up energy and power that is just waiting to be released.

And He wants to release it; ALL the time.

Sometimes, I think we get the idea that God is withholding His power and presence from us, as if He wants to see us beg and plead and fast for 40 days so that He knows we’re really serious.  What kind of Father is that!?

If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how MUCH MORE will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ASK Him!” (Luke 11:11-13 NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus says that if the Father withheld the Holy Spirit from us, He would be an evil Father.  We have a GOOD Father Who longs to be with us and give us His presence in the person and power of the Holy Spirit.

I think too often we come back to the Prince Who has taken our pauper’s rags, and we try to give Him back the Royal Garments He has clothed us with.  I have noticed this particularly when praying for Israel.  Our faith in God’s desire to release His power over the Jewish people is often so low, that we resort to begging like paupers instead of ruling like princes.

But you are a chosen generation, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may PROCLAIM the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9 NKJV, emphasis added)

For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the ROBE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, (Isaiah 61:10 NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus has clothed us in His Royal Robe of Righteousness.  We are supposed to make Royal proclamations based on God’s Word.  How much more in regard to Israel, for whom God has guaranteed so much in His Word.

And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”(Romans 11:26, NKJV)

I think we need to move past the place in prayer where we are begging God to release salvation in the earth and recognize that the ‘storm’s brewing,’ the Spirit is brooding, and God is just waiting eagerly as a loving Father to release His presence and power when we ask as His children and proclaim as His princes (and princesses…).

The other thing I like about the feeling before a storm, is that it tells us we need to get ready.  I am certain that, in every moment, God is ready to release His power in an unprecedented way.  The question really is whether we are ready to receive it.