May 2009


voyageofPaul” Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.”   – ACTS 20:16

Following a three month stay in Greece encouraging the disciples, Luke tells us that Paul set sail for Jerusalem: ” We sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days.” (20:6) So Luke begins the narrative of Paul, as on a predetermined schedule that he had carefully thought out, leaving Greece at Passover and heading for Jerusalem and the Day of Pentecost.

Why was he so determined to be in Jerusalem at Pentecost? Why was he deliberately heading in to the very heart of the camp from which his most violent opposition was coming from? We can never know for sure, but considering what is given us in Luke’s narrative together with what the Apostle tells us in his letters, we can make an educated but tentative suggestion.

One thing is fairly obvious to the honest reader of the New Testament documents and that is this: all the writers were in agreement that what had come to pass in the Christ Advent- his forerunner’s unusual birth and revival ministry (John the Baptist), his own miraculous virgin birth, his teaching, his miracles, his sinlessness, the manner of his crucifixion and resurrection, everything together convinced the writers that all that was promised and anticipated by the Old Covenant Scriptures found their fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth.

In our last post we saw how Paul’s concept of the Law had been radically altered by the revelation he received from Christ himself. He explains in detail in the Roman letter, that the Law could never make God’s People holy, and that is the crux of the matter. So instead of bringing the untold blessings of the promised Kingdom, the inheritance promised Father Abraham, it could only reveal the “coming short of the glory of God” of the human race;  in place of blessing it brought condemnation and curse. At the close of the seventh chapter he cries out:

“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

The Law fulfills the purpose intended when it produces the same cry from the heart of those seeking to please God and leads them to look outside of themselves for a worthy redeemer. Paul had in essence already answered his own cry as he started this section of his letter (Chapters 5-8). I urge you to take time to read 5:5-10  before finishing this post. I’ll put the link on the verses so all you will have to do is click and read. Verse 5, however, is the one I want to zero in on: “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the HOLY SPIRIT who was given to us.”

This I think, is why Paul was so determined to go to Jerusalem for the very Feast which the Jewish nation on one hand was celebrating with the giving of TORAH utmost on their minds, while the heart of the Gospel Paul risked his life to preach was that on the very day of the ancient celebration, after Christ had been exalted in heaven, he together with the Father now gave something even more precious than the Law; the very thing the Law could not do for the worshipper of the Holy God. Pentecost is the very time for Paul to declare once again that God has given the Life giving Spirit of Christ.

There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ (i.e.from chapter six-those who have been baptized into Christ death and resurrection), who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death”.

What Christ the redeemer, accomplished for God’s people and finished once and for all (see the message of the book of Hebrews), was poured out at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit Himself was given to the disciples.

Undoubtedly Paul was hoping that the collection he had taken up from the Gentile churches for the Saints in Jerusalem would provide an opportunity to declare the faithfulness of God in keeping His word to the Fathers, and the promises made through the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others. As he sailed on toward Jerusalem I can almost sense that against all the warnings his friends uttered trying to persuade him not to go to what seemed like sudden death, he said : “None of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God”.

This then is how Saint Paul celebrated The Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. How will you spend this date on the church calendar?

Advertisements

The Gift of TORAH (Jerusalem May 2007)

There will be many Christians joining the People of Israel at the wailing wall celebration tonight. For a video of Shavuot 2007 at Jerusalem click the link above.

I found this message by Rabbi Max Fox at Jewish Times of South Jersey today: ” Shavuot is not only the shortest festival in duration, but is devoid of any symbols or mitzvot that must be fulfilled. Yet, Shavuot is not a minor holiday. This festival celebrates “Z’man Matan Toratenu”, the giving of Torah on Mt.Sinai.” He continues saying,

Shavuot celebrates the birthday of our Jewish Faith- a Faith that has given meaning and purpose to our existence. Unlike the other holidays, Shavuot celebrates the giving of Torah, and there is no symbol for Torah. There is only one way to celebrate this festival that commemorates that awesome moment in history when G-d revealed Himself and gave our People a most precious gift the Torah. And that is, by practicing and living in accordance with the precepts and moral teachings of  the Torah. . .the true celebration of Shavuot lasts more than a day or week. It should be observed 365 days a year and in a lifetime of practicing and living a life of Torah.

As the great Saadyah said, ‘ Our People are a nation only by virtue of the Torah’.

The rabbi trained by the great Gamaliel, Saul of Tarsus would have thoroughly agreed with these statements. In fact much of what he tells us in his writings almost two thousand years ago shows the same great respect and praise for Torah and its gift to the Jewish people. He asked a pointed question at one point: “What advantage then has the Jew?” And he answers immediately his own question by stating, ” Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of G-d”.

We said earlier that Saul was very zealous for the Law, making himself as a Pharisee, personally responsible as guardian for its purity exactly because he rightly understood what a precious gift it was and that it was indeed central to the very existence of the Jewish nation.

Because men like Rabbi Fox and Saul of Tarsus understood that the gift to Israel was in turn to bless the Gentile nations as well with what I believe to be the highest moral and ethical standard even known to Adam’s race, non-Jews should celebrate with Israel this holiday and indeed many will do so even in Jerusalem.

But of course Saul became known as Paul, the Christian Apostle to the Gentiles. And in the very letter to the Romans, quoted from above, he goes on to develop a precise thesis. And this is not only highly practical and precisely aimed at the way we live our lives seeking to be approved by G-d but also seeking to be the very best world-citizen we can be. For Paul also knew of a yet future Day taught in the Law and the Prophets, when humankind would be held responsible for their deeds in this life on earth. Here is only one example of his teaching: “The righteous judgment of G-d, who will render to each one according to his deeds: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor,and immortality. But to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness- indignation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Made in the image of G-d Himself, and for the purpose of living in harmony with the Creator and bringing praise and honor to Him, it makes all the sense in the world that conformity to the Law of G-d would not only guide humankind to fulfill that role but would in turn produce untold bliss and delight fulfilling the good and perfect will of G-d.

Paul’s thesis and thus his life following and serving Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Anointed One of G-d made perfect sense to this zealous defender of the Law. It goes like this, “The commandment which was to bring life, I found to bring death. . .the Law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. . .for sin, that it might appear to sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment  might become exceedingly sinful. For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.”

Paul’s thesis is the Law, precious gift that it is, can never on this earth produce the godly living that is harmony with G-d and our fellow human beings and the problem is NOT with the Law, which as he says numerous times, is perfect, and holy. Its greatest worth is not only to give the world the highest moral and ethical standard but also to reveal to us our basic human predicament: the predicament of our very nature which because of rebellion, can NOT keep the Law.

Listen to what he says, as he sums up what I believe is the situation not only of the non-religious but also of religious Jews and Gentiles alike: “What I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; (remember the words today of Rabbi Fox) but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the Law that it is good. . .For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”  

So for Saul, now Paul, if we were ever to be delivered from this human predicament, G-d Himself would have to do it for us. He would have to send someone from “beyond” the race of Adam who Himself could obey the Law perfectly. And that is the other half of the Apostle’s thesis and basis of all his letters. To the Christian churches of Galatia, for example, he wrote in relation to the promises made to Father Abraham and his seed, “Is the Law then against the promises of G-d?” And emphatically replies, “certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the Law.”

“But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the Law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the Law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

So as a Christian, I celebrate with the Jewish People tonight, thanking G-d that the gift of Torah was indeed at a very special moment considered by some as the “birthday” of the Nation, given through Moses, the servant of G-d. And I express for all Christians our great debt to the Jewish People for preserving this priceless treasure for the rest of us. We celebrate tonight Chavuot but soon we will also celebrate the Christian Pentecost.

There remains then at least one post for me to explain why the Apostle Paul had absolutely no trouble seeing how the two celebrations are in fact one. One parting thought from Paul, also in the letter to the Galatians:

“When we were children, (we) were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fulness of the time had come,  G-d sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons”.

Shavuot 2012 is Sunday, May 27th, same as Pentecost Sunday this year!

 

 

 

The Festival of Weeks also known as Pentecost

For the Christian of the Twenty-first century, trying to get a handle on the major feast days of ancient Israel can be a difficult undertaking. But the Biblical Christian also recognizes just how important and necessary these festivals are to understanding the flow of the narrative. I’ve decided that in keeping with the “Year of Saint Paul” (which will come to an end June 30th), perhaps it would be helpful to see Shavuot through the eyes of the Apostle. First as a Pharisee before he became a follower of the Christ, and later, perhaps as long as twenty-four years,as he approached Jerusalem to observe Pentecost with the Jewish Church.

The Law-giving

Originally Shavuot was an agricultural festival. The barley harvest that had ripened around Passover would have ended, but the wheat harvest would have just begun. When the Temple still stood, Jews celebrated the harvest by offering its first sheaves back to God. But  celebrating the harvest was only one layer of meaning for Shavuot. Over the years, it was endowed with another: the anniversary of the giving of Torah.

The Book of Exodus is read on Shavuot, including the chapter containing the Ten Commandments. The general theme of the day is our traditional love of learning…More commonly, Shavuot has become a time for Confirmation. (“What is a Jew”, p.227, by Rabbi Morris N.Kertzer, 1996 revised edition by Rabbi Lawrence A.Hoffman) 

This book has been a great help to me in understanding through the eyes of twentieth century Rabbis the beliefs, traditions,and practices of Judaism including the ancient Biblical roots. I have posted earlier that Saint Paul was a highly trained Jew himself, and specialized on the Torah and its interpretation. Since his earliest childhood, he knew that there were three times (festivals) all Jewish males were expected to be present in Jerusalem: Unleavened Bread and Passover, Shavuot, and the Feast of Tabernacles. At Shavuot, the focus for him was undoubtedly on the anniversary of the giving through Moses of the Law to Israel which constituted the covenant agreement between their God, the God who had recently redeemed them from Egypt (Passover). It was also all about the promises of God that begining with Father Abraham,He commited to give them a “promised land” if they would keep covenant with Him by obeying the Law, by “walking in the steps of the faith which Abraham had when he was yet ‘uncircumcised’.”

John Bright in his book, The History of Israel writes, ” They (the Festivals) ceased to be mere nature festivals and became occasions upon which the mighty acts of Yahweh toward Israel were celebrated. ”  Saul’s conversion is sometimes dated as early as 34 a.d. which means he most certainly would have been at these great Feast days in the last year of Jesus life at Jerusalem and the first Pentecost just ten days after the Ascension. But as a non-Christian Jew he would be celebrating Shavuot as his foreFathers had done for centuries unaware that a dramatic and non-reversable change in the history of God’s redemptive acts with Israel was even then taking place. He was still a part of the “old” creation and the “old” covenant of which he would have a great deal to preach and teach about following his dramatic conversion.

Now, following over twenty years of taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles in obedience to the specific commission the risen and exalted Christ chose him for, he was on the voyage back to Jerusalem with the offering from the Gentile churches for the poor saints at Jerusalem. Undoubtedly he had plenty of time to relive those earlier years when he was convinced that this “sect” inside Judaism was a dangerous heresy and he had personally taken a major role in persecuting and trying to stomp it out. He was proving how zealous he was for the Law of God as he understood it and its importance at the heart of being faithful to the covenant that made Israel a distinct people in the midst of all the nations of the earth.

Yes, this was no ordinary Pentecost celebration he was headed for. But that will have to be in the next post. One other additional piece of the puzzel of God’s narrative. It is almost certain that when Luke wrote his second volume of early Christian history, the Book of Acts,he had these festivals utmost in his mind. I would even venture that one of the major factors in the organization of the Acts, is Pentecost. He begins with the events leading up to “when the Day of Pentecost had fully come“-his words, not mine; and then spends almost the final one-third of Acts around this last voyage to Jerusalem, the attempt there in the Temple on Paul’s life, his life-saving arrest by the Roman Centurion, his awaiting justice for more than two years, and finally his trip to Rome in chains to face Ceasar.

In the next post I will begin to connect some dots to the Saul of the Old Covenant and to the Christ event which all the shadows look to for their fulfillment, the fulfillment of God’s promises to His People and the establishing of the New Covenant. I hope you are seeing what I am seeing: we definitely cannot afford to neglect the Day of Pentecost!

Author of “The twenty-five Unbelievable Years 1945-1969” and many other contributions to the work of Christian missions has gone to be with his Lord. Here is the preliminary report I received only today:

“On May 20, 2009 at 9:05 p.m., Ralph D. Winter passed away in his home in Pasadena, CA.

“He went peacefully, surrounded by three of his four daughters, his wife Barb, and a few friends.

“Many of the staff of the U.S. Center for World Mission and William Carey International University had just finished two days of prayer and fasting when they received the news of his passing. Soon, many friends and staff members gathered at the house. It was a bittersweet moment as they reminisced, sang many of his favorite hymns, and prayed together.

“U.S. Center for World Mission general director Greg Parsons felt prompted to read 1 Corinthians 15. As Dr. Winter’s body was being taken away, Greg came to verses 54 and 55:

 Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

Read his obituary in today’s L.A.TIMES

Have we really listened to what he said about the Age to Come?

The Apostle Peter left no doubt about what he was hoping for when  he wrote a final message of encouragement near the end of his life: ” …We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter3).

But the Apostle who wrote the great “resurrection” chapter of the Bible is not quite so clear about the “new earth”. He gives us his vision in pieces in his various letters such as when he says of creation: “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8).

For Saint Paul, the new earth is the whole accomplishment of the redemptive work of God in Christ. He actually says very little about “heaven” as it is commonly understood by many Christians today.

“The passages where Paul’s thought climbs to its most stupendous heights and reaches a climax are those in which he speaks of Jesus as the origin and the goal of all creation. Believers have always found, in the words of Professor Strachan, that ‘it is impossible for a Christian who thinks at all to have Christ in his heart and to keep Him out of the universe’.

“The one whose own life has suddenly leapt into meaning beneath the touch of Jesus, who has seen his own experience transformed from a chaos into a cosmos by some never-to-be-forgotten Damascus encounter, has a right to claim that he has found the clue to the riddle of life and destiny.”

“The fact of Christ is the key to the meaning of the universe; and Christian experience will never consent to be robbed of the conviction that the Redeemer who has shown Himself of absolute and final worth in the experience of the individual soul must be ablsolute and final all along the line of God’s creation.” ( A Man in Christ:the Vital Elements of St.Paul’s Religion, 1935, by James S.Stewart)

kosmos

These thoughts come in the middle of some of those passages scattered through Paul’s letters and it would be too cumbersome to include them all here. The point is Paul was not silent about the future state of life on earth in God’s plan of redemption and if we make the biblical narrative our guide book rather that tradition, folk religion, or anything else, we get a glimpse of what awaits us. For instance, the First Epistle to the Corinthian Church is full of such things, here is just one sample:

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him”

The Spirit of Paul and this post is captured on YouTube, “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name“.

 

That All Depends on WHO we pray to, doesn’t it?

As I was preparing my mind and heart to spend time in intercession for my country, I found myself asking this question: Is the Bible sufficient to give me the guidance I need to pray intelligently at this time for my country?

I had read a blog of my friend MoSop on the Bible’s influence as one of the sacred books that guides her own Mormon faith. All of the Christian traditions, whether they realize it or not, have those other sacred texts or creeds in addition to the Bible. But is the Bible alone  sufficient   at a time like this? Let me give you a small sample, taken from the Lectionary readings for today, including Psalm 50, and see if you can figure out, based on the context in Israel’s future, if this gives us any guidance at all in thinking about the One I pray to:

But to the wicked God says:
“What right have you to recite my statutes
or take my covenant on your lips?
 For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.

Read the entire Psalm 50 

I have certainly read and greatly benefited from those other books, the commentaries, and the covenants from the diverse Christian traditions, the Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran, the Reformed, and a host of others including Seventh Day Adventists and now the Latter Day Saints. But when it comes right down to the bottom line, it’s always the Bible that has the final Word as God’s voice that this sheep recognizes and is dedicated to hearing in order to obey from a heart of passion for Him.

I did receive real orientation in Psalm 50 as to how I must pray today for my country. For one thing, I was reminded that I could not take for granted that I had any hope of being heard and my petitions answered if my own heart was not right in my relationship with Him to whom I had the audacity to present requests. I have to alter my own attitude first at His altar. There is a wonderful text in the New Testament, recognizing we are now on this side of the Christ event and His victory, awaiting Pentecost in the Biblical narrative, that assures us that if we ask anything according to His will, we know He has heard us and He has given us what we asked of Him.

May you participate in the National Day of Prayer with others from different faith traditions of your own in a meaningful way-just keep the Biblical narrative in your thoughts and hearts.

Meet My Beloved Mother-DAISY Born in the Methodist parsonage in the village of Pleasant Hill,LA, and into a family of boys, Daisy grew up in a loving and godly home of parents dedicated to the Christ of the Gospel. All her life she made friends everywhere she went and tried to share a little “sunshine” ever chance she got. fl04daisyirene At 99 (2014) and counting, she is legally blind which prevents her from doing some of her favorite things: reading her Bible, writing cards and letters to all her extended family, and seeing pictures of her cherished grand-children and great grand-children. Mother was able to go to College with hard work and the help of friends that recognized her talents and gifts of music. She attended Mary-Hardin Baylor and graduated in Voice. She dedicated her musical life to Christ and His Church serving for many years as pianist, choir director, soloist, as well as in private instruction. She served her community too, active in missionary groups, DAR, and civil clubs and organizations promoting social causes. dp68th But perhaps her greatest legacy she will leave to me is that of her role as faithful WIFE to her husband Paul of 68 years, til his death in 2005. Her loyal support through the good times and the not so good, made his life complete in so many ways. So here’s to you Mother Daisy on this Mother’s Day 2009. May the Good Lord continue to be your Good Shepherd through each new day, knowing that we all love you and thank you for being the best mother you could possibly be.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” – The Apostle Paul writing to Timothy

Your son, John Paul

Mother’s early ancestors in America

My Dad’s story of Todd Farm History

Next Page »