Hebrew Roots – Part Two

Halloween

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Before we discuss the Lord’s Feast Days, let’s take a look at the origins of some of our traditional holidays.  I realize that this may really challenge some people who find significance in our traditional celebrations and don’t want their children to miss out by forbidding them to celebrate like their friends do.

To be honest, the older I get, the less interested I am in pleasing other people and the more interested I am in pleasing God.  But I also don’t feel like I have to force my beliefs on others.  There’s got to be a balance and some common sense (or should I call it uncommon good sense?), and most of all love has to be our motivation in everything.  Jesus boiled the Ten Commandments down to two: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40).

So with love for God and for others as our motivation, let’s look at some of our celebrations, starting with Halloween.  Most people already know that Halloween is a satanic/witchcraft high holy day.  That statement alone should cause Christians to stop and really consider whether to celebrate Halloween.  Its origins come from the pagan celebration of samhain (pronounced SAW-wen), in which a bonfire was built to scare away the evil spirits, people dressed as demons, set out lit gourds, the poor went around asking for cakes, and there was even apple bobbing—sound familiar?  This day was believed to be the day when the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest.

The Catholic Church began to celebrate All Saints Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day October 31 through November 2 as a Christianization of samhain.  The idea was to incorporate and take over the pagan festivals as Christian festivals so that the pagans wouldn’t feel like they’re losing something by becoming Christian.  But we do lose something by becoming Christian.  We lose our sin, and we lose the curse and the ties with our past life.  Trying to “Christianize” pagan festivals goes against God’s admonition in Jeremiah 10:2, which says: “Do not learn the ways of the nations.”

Even the so-called Christian festivals of All Saints Day and All Souls Day are highly suspect.  On All Saints Day Catholics are instructed to pray to the saints, asking them to intercede with God on their behalf.  But the Bible says, “For there is one God and One Mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5, emphasis mine).  The Bible also says, “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence, (Psalm 115:17, NKJV).  So if the dead do not praise the Lord and go down into silence, then they also can’t intercede.  Of course, this is Old Testament, so perhaps the resurrection of Jesus has changed this.  But still, there is no Bible instruction or encouragement to talk to the dead.  In fact, just the opposite:

Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.  Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, emphasis mine).

All Souls Day was a day in which people were supposed to pray for their departed loved ones to be released from purgatory so that they could go on to Heaven.  Purgatory is not a biblical concept.  In Luke 16:19–31, Jesus mentions only two places: Abraham’s side and hades.  Neither place is Heaven and neither is hell.  Abraham’s side is where the pre-resurrection faithful went, and where Jesus went to preach

People justify having a “Harvest Festival” or a “Trunk or Treat” party because they don’t want their children to stand out as being different because they don’t celebrate Halloween.  But we are called to be a peculiar people, set apart, holy to the Lord.  If there is no difference between us and the unsaved, then why would they ever want what we have?  And what do we have by our compromise?  We have a watered-down, carnal kind of Christianity, and many in our churches who are not really Christian at all.

Some people want an alternative festival for the fall, not realizing that God has already given us a fall festival: Sukkot, also called the Feast of Tabernacles.  And in reality, there are three fall festivals, but Sukkot is the big one.  I have been celebrating Sukkot for the last four years, and each time I have had an intimately personal encounter with God—something that is far better than a pillowcase full of candy.  God is good!  The more I seek Him, the more I discover His immense and infinite goodness!

For more information about the pagan roots of Halloween, follow this link and watch the teaching: Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

Hebrew Roots—Why Bother?

Shalom

I was recently challenged by someone who follows my blog.  He wanted to know why I am studying Hebrew, and why I’m fascinated with Jewish celebrations.  He saw it as a form of legalism from which Jesus has freed us.

If we’re not careful, following the Jewish traditions could lead to legalism: no pork, no driving or any other kind of work on the Sabbath, keeping two sets of dishes, etc.  But, really, legalism is something we risk any time that we seek to get closer to God.  Our meat brains try to boil faith down to methods: go to church every week, recite the Lord’s Prayer, and abstain from certain foods or drinks in order to please God.  Methods don’t bring us closer to God.  If you use a method with your spouse or friends, you might fool them for a little while, but not for long.  And you will never, ever fool God.  God isn’t really interested in whether you attend this church or that, or whether you pray the Lord’s Prayer once a week or every day.  If you’re just going through the motions, substituting a method for your relationship with God, guess what, you won’t ever get closer to Him than you are right now.

Are you satisfied to stay where you are right now in your spiritual walk?  You shouldn’t be!  You should never be satisfied to let your relationship with the Lord stagnate.  We were made to be in relationship with our Creator.  It’s not about what you do, it’s about being with Him.  Enoch walked with God.  He didn’t plant churches all over Asia, preach to 10,000 people in a stadium, or drive all the snakes out of Ireland.  He pleased God so much that out of all humanity, God raptured Enoch (and later Elijah).  Jesus said:

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father who is in Heaven.  Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name and in Your Name drive out demons and in Your Name perform many miracles?”  Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23, emphasis mine).

Works are good, and we each have our own works that God has assigned to each of us to do.  But works alone will not get you into Heaven.  Likewise, saying the prayer of salvation and continuing to do the things you’ve always done.  Sorry, but that’s not going to get you into Heaven, either.  If you need clarity on the need to stop sinning (even though we all do sin from time to time), read 1 John.  It’s short enough to read all in one sitting, and if you don’t understand it the first time through, read it again.  John explains how we must live as children of the light (not sinning), but that if we do sin, we have Jesus as our defense attorney.  It’s all about your heart attitude, and your heart attitude will bring a change in your life if you’re really seeking God and His Kingdom.

So what does all this have to do with Hebrew roots?  I’m glad you asked!  The first century Church (don’t think building, think people) met in people’s houses.  They ate meals together.  They read the scriptures together.  The Holy Scriptures in that time was the Old Testament.  They also passed around and copied the letters of Paul (and Peter, John, and others) and the Gospels, which were understood to be inspired, and therefore holy.  But they didn’t do as some churches do nowadays and discard or give the Old Testament less significance.  They understood the Gospels and the entrance of Messiah (Jesus) to be a continuation and a completion of what had been written in the Old Testament.

Jesus, Himself, said: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished,” (Matthew 5:18, emphasis mine).

The word “Law” in Hebrew is Torah—the five first books of the Bible.  And, remember, Jesus was a Jewish man talking to Jewish men.  Is everything accomplished?  No.  There are still prophecies yet to be fulfilled—Old Testament prophecies.

But let’s go back to the issue of legalism: Jesus addressed the issue of legalism many times.  The Pharisees were always complaining about Him healing on the Sabbath, claiming that He was doing work and violating God’s Law.  They complained that His disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating, as all Jews were supposed to do.  And after His resurrection, Peter and others went into the house of Cornelius, when entering a gentile’s house was strictly forbidden and would make a Jew ceremonially unclean.

Does any of this contradict what Jesus said about Law in Matthew 5:18, above?  No.  A Messianic friend explained to me that the Jews were so afraid of accidentally violating the Law that they built rules around the Law that protected the Law by serving as a sort of virtual fence.  Then just to be sure, they built another set of rules around that first set of fence rules, and then another around the second set of fence rules.  That is how the Ten Commandments became 613 Rabbinical Laws[1].  Here is what Jesus had to say about those Rabbinical Laws:

Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God said, “Honor your father and mother” and “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.”  But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it.  Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.  You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.  They worship Me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules,” (Matthew 15:3-9, emphasis mine).

So, in fact, Jesus was declaring the Jews free from the legalism of rabbinical tradition.  And He gave us a way to simplify the letter of the Law into two easy-to-remember principles: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40).  If you let love motivate you, then you will not break the Law.  But we are often fickle and weak, so sometimes we can’t sustain the level of love for God or for others or even for ourselves.  That’s where the Holy Spirit is indeed our Helper.

Aha!  The Holy Spirit, mysterious Third Person of the Godhead.  The Holy Spirit is not often named in the Old Testament as God, but given the things that Jesus told us about Him, it is easy to see the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit at work.  For example, He hovered over the face of the deep in the first chapter of Genesis.  He led Israel out of Egypt as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night in Exodus.  He told Moses when to call the Holy Convocations in Leviticus.  He had Balaam bless Israel when he had been paid to curse them in Numbers.  He transferred His anointing to Joshua in Deuteronomy.  The Holy Spirit was in the whirlwind and was the still, small voice of God speaking to Elijah.

But do we pay attention to that still, small voice?  Because the Holy Spirit is so quiet and gentle, it is easy to ignore Him in the midst of the clamor of unholy voices (both demonic and human) and our own screaming fleshly desires.  Here’s what the Apostle Paul had to say about the Holy Spirit:

Do not quench (suppress or subdue) the [Holy] Spirit; do not spurn the gifts and utterances of the prophets [do not depreciate prophetic revelations nor despise inspired instruction or exhortation or warning].  But test and prove all things [until you can recognize] what is good; [to that] hold fast, (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, AMP).

So you can see that it takes your cooperation, remaining alert and teachable, to learn how to hear the Holy Spirit’s instruction and exhortation.

Now, what I say next might not sit well with those who question the value of exploring the Hebrew roots of our faith, so I say this only for myself, and not as a commandment that all Christians must do: I feel the tug of the Holy Spirit to study Hebrew, to visit Israel, and to celebrate the Lord’s festivals.

More on all this later.  God has hidden treasure within His Word for those who will search for it.  God is good!

[1] In thinking of the 613 rabbinical traditions, consider the Biblical significance of the number 613:

Six is the number of man, and carries with it the taint of humanism.  Man was created on the sixth day.  Goliath had a brother who was also a giant and had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot (2 Samuel 21:20).  For more see: http://www.biblestudy.org/bibleref/meaning-of-numbers-in-bible/6.html.

Thirteen is the number of rebellion and lawlessness.  Nimrod, the giant who built the Tower of Babel to initiate rebellion against God, was the thirteenth in Ham’s line after the flood.  For more see: http://www.biblestudy.org/bibleref/meaning-of-numbers-in-bible/13.html.

Encouraging Bulgarian Believers – Part Two

Bulgarian appetizer

As noted in my post Encouraging Bulgarian Believers, Dimitri was staying at my house while he was looking for work.  Yesterday was his last day here.  Work has simply not materialized, and he has been away from his family for five months now.  He missed them, and who can blame him?  So yesterday he asked me if he could bring his friends over for dinner and to meet me—sort of a last supper together before he goes back home.  Of course I said yes.

Dimitri, knowing my aversion to cooking, offered to cook, too.  So he started planning a menu full of Bulgarian foods, and went shopping.

Dimitri’s friends, Boris and Larisa, spoke English very well, so we had an English evening.  Dimitri understands English, but not well enough to speak it.  So the three of us conversed in English, while Dimitri spoke in Italian and occasionally in English.

Boris encouraged him, saying, “It’s good for you to listen to English, even if you can’t speak it yet.”  Actually, that’s very good advice.  If you’re learning a language, you should spend some time every day listening to the language.  It will help tune your ear to the language and it builds new neural pathways in your brain that will help you make that jump to thinking in your new language.

So while the men cooked, Larisa and I talked about people and places we have in common, and about our favorite American preachers and sermons.  The only equivalent I know for the enthusiasm we have for this topic is like how people compare notes on television shows and characters.  Only our passion is educational, life-changing and character-building.  Boris, overhearing us couldn’t resist adding some of his favorites, too.

Happy bits

Then we sat down to a lovely supper together.  Dimitri blessed the meal (in Italian) with much thanksgiving for our friendship and our time together.

As I cleared up afterwards, I realized that this had been a fine example of ministry, too: hosting Dimitri’s friends for a nice supper, sharing good food and wine and passion for great preaching.  I often enjoy a pleasant evening in good company and engaging conversation over a nice meal, all in the line of duty as an encourager of missionaries.  And God was gracious enough to use me to encourage Dimitri and also his friends (who are now my friends, too!).  I’ve said it before: working for the Lord doesn’t feel like work.  It just feels like fun, like living life to the fullest.  What could be better?  God is good!

God Meets Radical Faith with Radical Provision

I just re-read this and sent it to a missionary friend to encourage him. I hope it encourages you, too!

Walking By Faith in Europe

Tithing is an important principle that many Christians misunderstand.  Tithing was established in Genesis 14:18-20 when Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything he had.  Melchizedek was the King of Salem and a priest of God Almighty.  Hebrews chapters 5 and 6 explain that Jesus is our high priest in the order of Melchizedek.  And tithing is the key to blessings, as explained in Malachi 3:10, which says:

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Many Christians don’t realize (or just don’t like the fact) that tithing is not optional.  Giving ten percent of our income is our part of the covenant with God.  And many…

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Open Heavens over Iceland

glacier

My first view of Iceland was the Great Glacier.

When I arrived in Copenhagen the day before flying to the Faroe Islands, there was bright sun right over the airport and a huge bank of clouds all around (as noted in Open Heavens over Copenhagen).  The clouds were so thick and dark that they looked like mountains.  Then I went downstairs and caught a train into the city, not knowing if it would be cloudy and/or raining.  But when I came out of the train station, it was bright sun right over Copenhagen.  That’s when the Lord gave me the word for this prayer trip: open heavens—meaning that our prayers would be heard and responded to.

And that open heaven continued to be miraculously demonstrated in the weather.  The sunny skies that we had was so remarkable that for the entire nine days the locals in both the Faroe Islands and in Iceland continuously commented about how “lucky” we were.  Of course, it wasn’t luck.

Thorshavn

View overlooking Thorshavn

In Iceland I never saw the sun go down or rise, though we were still 168 miles south of the Arctic Circle.  When I went to bed at 10:30, the sun was still in the sky.  When I woke up at 5AM, the sun was already up—and the longest day of the year is still over a month away.  I was so happy to have had blackout curtains!

But all this sunshine was a sign of Heaven’s favor on us and our prayers.  On the last day in the Faroe Islands we spent some hours in prayer for Israel, and not only for the Jewish people, but also for the Palestinians.  What you read in the newspapers about Muslim people being unwelcome in Scandinavia (especially after the Danish cartoon fatwa) was absolutely not reflected by the Scandinavian people I met.  Their passion to pray for Muslims was very strong.  And as they prayed for Muslims, I felt that familiar nudge of the Holy Spirit to share about an organization here in Milan that shares the Gospel with Muslims.

This organization has a great way to speak to Muslims coming to the Expo.  They have had hundreds of rubber bracelets made for the Expo that pull apart to show a flash drive inside with the entire Bible in Arabic.  So this way people who are out of their usually oppressive culture can explore the Bible and even take it back home without worrying that they might be arrested or worse.  For the older businessman type, there is a pen that pulls apart to reveal a flash drive inside, too.

I also shared about the informational meeting where I first saw the James Bond Bible flash drives.  The meeting was good, but it was during the prayer at the end of the meeting that my mind was blown.  During that prayer the Holy Spirit reminded me of a vision that I had 10 or 12 years ago.

In the vision I saw a lighthouse growing up out of Milan and it gave light to Italy, grew more and gave light to Europe, grew more and gave light to the whole world.  I knew that it was a vision about Revival, but when Revival didn’t come, I forgot about the vision.

So when the Holy Spirit reminded me of the vision, I understood that the vision was for now, for the Expo.  So I shared this in that last evening in the Faroe Islands, and invited people to come to our ripe harvest field during the six months of the Expo.

The response was enthusiastic, and they said that they wanted to pray over me for the Expo.  As they prayed, God gave me a new prayer focus.  Just that morning (no coincidence, but a God-incidence!), I had felt led to re-read Isaiah chapter 54, which God had given me as a rhema word in 1992: enlarge your tents because you’re going to have a lot of children.  It hadn’t made sense to me in 1992, when I had a teenager and a toddler in the house, but now I know that it was a word about spiritual children.  So as they were praying for me, I suddenly felt an intense desire for children—spiritual children.  I began weeping and praying like Rachel: “Give me children or I will die!”  But just like when God invited me to ask Him for the desire of my heart (to live in Europe), I know that I am praying for His will for spiritual children, so I know that He will do it.

In Iceland the oppositional spirits quickly became obvious: confusion and division.  But thanks to the support of my prayer team, we were able to maintain love and unity even during moments of miscommunication.

geyser

Geyser!

The altar of Thor had been a place in ancient times where there were blood sacrifices of horses and even people.  The proponents of the altar want to reestablish blood sacrifices there—and the government, in misbegotten religious “tolerance,” has agreed to let them.  When we went to the altar of Thor, I saw a backhoe sitting idle nearby.  The altar hasn’t been built (or rebuilt) yet, and with continuing prayer, it probably won’t be built.  The leader of our prayer group, told the Icelanders that he had heard former satanists say that it takes 20 to 30 repeated prayers to prepare a place, but that one Christian prayer can undo all those satanic prayers.  So he suggested that they return to that place every so often to pray against the building of that altar.

That evening as we prayed for the Body of Christ in Iceland, the Lord revealed to me where the spirits of confusion and division had come from.  They had come from the Church!  When Iceland decided to become a Christian country in the year 1000, the Church allowed people to continue their pagan practices in private.  As the Lord showed me this, I could feel the Holy Spirit’s grief over this unholy mix.  I fell to my knees, weeping and begging God to forgive His Church for tolerating and accepting the pagan practices.  When I looked up, I saw that everyone else had also dropped to their knees, weeping in repentance.  This had been an important prayer, and I knew that we had accomplished what we had come to do.

So thank you to my prayer partners.  God heard your prayers and moved in a powerful way for our group and for me, personally.  God is good!

waterfall

Frozen waterfall!

Give Thanks in all Circumstances

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus, (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, emphasis mine).

Really think about that: Rejoice always!  Give thanks in all circumstances!  Even when you lose your job?  Even when your best friend betrays you?  Even when your child dies?  Even when the worst possible thing happens?  Those words: “always” and “all” don’t leave any room for complaining, bitterness, or feeling sorry for yourself.

I learned this first hand yesterday.  I woke up with a migraine attack.  I have been healed of migraines.  Since my healing, I have been able to pray away almost all attacks.  If a migraine goes away in an hour, then it was an attack, and not a true migraine.  Migraines typically last 18 to 20 hours.

Whenever these attacks come, I have typically prayed, and lately I have added thanksgiving to God for the provision for my healing through the blood of Jesus.  But the attack that came yesterday morning was only getting worse with prayer.

So I asked the Lord what to do, and He said, “Thank Me.”  So I began thanking God for the migraine attack.  The strange thing is that as I thanked Him, I began to feel grateful—really, genuinely grateful.  And that lead to extravagant praise.  I was praising God with a grateful heart because He had allowed the migraine attack.  In my heart was born the absolute certainty that if God had allowed this migraine attack, then it must be for my ultimate good.

Almost instantly the migraine left me.  And after about half an hour, I was feeling 100 percent again.

Then I realized that this had been an important lesson to learn, and another step forward in trusting God all the more.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight, (Proverbs 3:5-6).

I trust You, Lord!  The more I trust You, the more You prove Yourself faithful and good!  God is good!

Praying for the Cross Countries

3 May

I feel right at home here–they love flags, too!

Here at the Nordic Prayer Conference, we have been praying for what are known as the Cross Countries.  They are so called because they each (except for Greenland) have the Nordic (or Scandinavian) Cross on their flags.  Here they are, in no particular order:

Flag_of_Denmark

Denmark

Flag_of_the_Faroe_Islands

Faroe Islands

Flag_of_Finland

Finland

Flag_of_Åland

Ǻland

120px-Flag_of_Iceland

Iceland

120px-Flag_of_Norway

Norway

Flag_of_Sweden

Sweden

greenland

Greenland

250px-Nordic_flags

Faroe Islands Friendship

Faroe Friend

This fella was right outside the door of my hostel this afternoon.

I arrived in Vagar in the Faroe Islands yesterday afternoon, and found that I had just missed the bus to Thorshavn, the capital.  The next bus would be in two hours.  A taxi driver told me that he had room in his taxi to take me the hour’s drive for the equivalent of just under $30.  Considering that I would have to somehow find the way to my hostel from the bus station, a drive straight to the door of the hostel seemed like a very good deal.

He stuck my suitcase in the taxi and told me that I could wait in the taxi if I wanted.  However, I love to people watch, so I stayed near him in the airport until the other people who had booked a ride arrived.  In about ten minutes they arrived and we all piled into the taxi, which was a nine-seater van.  I sat in the back with an English lady, and a Faroese couple sat in the seat in front of us.  My seatmate was very nice, and we made pleasant conversation.

About halfway to Thorshavn, we realized that we are here for the same purpose: to attend the Nordic Prayer Conference.  Then we realized another very happy God-incidence (not coincidence!): her hotel is right next to my hostel.  That turned out to be a very good thing because we had to somehow get to the church for the first session a couple of hours after arriving.  So after a rest we had a light dinner together then shared a taxi to the church.

Meeting Fiona had been strategic for another reason: the whole conference has turned out to be in one Nordic language or another—without translation.  Fiona has lived in Norway for the past thirty years near the border of Sweden.  So she is fluent in both Norwegian and Swedish, and serves as a translator at her home church in Oslo.  So Fiona translated for me and a few other English-speakers.

Fiona is very good at translation, when you consider that she’s translating from all different Nordic languages: Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, and Faroese.  She has difficulties in a couple of them, and cannot translate Finnish at all because it’s the only language of the region that is not Nordic.  But the Finnish people here have been speaking Swedish in order to be understood by the others.

Meeting Fiona has been strategic in another way: she was originally coming with a friend, but at the last minute her friend had to cancel.  Since she had already paid, the hotel told her that they could give her credit to use in the hotel or vouchers to use in town.  We haven’t seen much of town yet, but Fiona doesn’t really want to have to go shopping to spend the vouchers, so she opted for hotel credit.  And since she’s not likely to be able to spend all the hotel credit on herself, Fiona has invited me to dinner and breakfast.  That has turned out to be a big blessing for me because we’re pretty far out of town and there is no store or restaurant in the area besides the one in the hotel.

As I look back on it, if I had decided to wait in the taxi as the driver had suggested, I probably would have sat in the front seat by the driver, and would not have gotten to know Fiona on the drive from the airport.  She would have been another person at the conference, but we probably wouldn’t have developed the kind of friendship that we’ve got now.  In fact, it’s pretty amazing the way that God has blessed me with a new friend who has herself been such a blessing.  As they say, we are blessed to be a blessing, and dear Fiona has truly been a living example of that.  God is good!