Celebrate Light

“It is fitting that the Light of the World celebrated the Festival of Lights.”

Not too long ago a student said to me, “yea, I know what Hanukkah is, it’s the Jewish replacement for Christmas.” Well, no it is not.

So what, is Hanukkah? Is it found in Leviticus or one of those other Old Testament books? Actually, no. Hanukkah first began in what we call the Inter-Testimonial Period, the “400 years of silence.” This is the time between when God last spoke through the Prophet Malachi and when Jesus’ birth was announced by an angel.

A lot happened in this period of 400 years between the Testaments. The Persian Empire, along with many other nations was conquered and replaced by the Greeks.

After Alexander the Great died, one of his successors, Antiochus IV, unleashed a terrible persecution of the Jewish people. Antiochus, “the Mad Man,” called the people to bow down and worship him. There were several groups, including the Maccabees a Levitical family, who rebelled against Antiochus because they refused to worship anyone or thing other than the one true God.

The rebellion was successful and eventually, the Jews were able to re-enter the Temple. Unfortunately, the Temple had been desecrated. A pig, an unclean animal, had been sacrificed on the altar. Additionally, the eternal flame, that was always to be lit, had been put out. The Temple needed to be rededicated and the flame relit.

Tradition tells a legend that the Jews had only enough oil to keep the lamp lit for one day before more oil could be made. However, miraculously, the oil actually lasted a full 8 days so that the temple could be fully rededicated and oil restocked.

Hanukkah is an excellent time to reflect on how God has preserved the Jewish people throughout the ages. God cares for those that are His.

In the midst of a dark and terrible time, God provided hope and light for His people.

In the Gospel of John chapter 1 verse 5, we find these words, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Interestingly enough, those words were not talking about the Menorah, but instead, of Jesus Messiah.

Jesus, “the true light, which enlightens everyone was coming into the world.” (vs. 9) Once again, God had provided help, hope, and light to His people in the midst of dark and terrible times.

Jesus Himself celebrated Hanukkah, also known as the Feast of Dedication. In John 10:24 we read “At the time the Feast of Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple…”

We 21st-century believers cannot forget that Jesus was entirely Jewish. He was actually, the most Jewish Jew ever! He kept the Law perfectly, something no one else was or will ever be able to do. He continually quoted the Torah (the Old Testament) and He celebrated Jewish festivals and feasts.

It is fitting that the Light of the World celebrated the Festival of Lights.

One of the most incredible lessons that we can take from Hanukkah is that God provided for His people when they needed it most. One of the most incredible things that we can learn from Jesus’ life is that God provided a Savior when His people, and the world, needed Him most.

Jesus is still that Savior, Jesus is still that Messiah.

Today at sundown marks the start of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Jesus’ message is so appropriate for the occasion. He says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

God provided light and life to all who believe. Follow the Light.

Shalom, Happy Hanukkah everyone.

All of Creation.

Our Earth is a beautiful place.

The beauty of creation is something that people have been fascinated with for a very long time. There are people who spend their entire lives making careers out of photographing creation. There are countless documentaries that show us pictures and videos of creation in all of its splendor.

The Bible has a whole lot to say about creation as well. Creation consistently interacts with its creator. The entire Bible is full of situations from Genesis to Revelation, God speaks and creation responds.

Psalm 19:1-4 is just one example of many where creation praises God and declares the glory of its maker.

Ashley and I have been blessed to be able to travel many different places. I remember when Ashley and I were on our honeymoon in Switzerland. One day we decided to go on an 8-hour hike. After we had hiked for a couple of hours we started a rousing conversation about… yodeling. There we were, all alone, on top of a mountain, surrounded by mountains, trying (and failing) to yodel. Thankfully the only ones to hear us were the cows.

It was while we were making fools of ourselves trying to yodel that I was reminded of the old hymn. “This is my Father’s world…all nature sings and round me rings…His hand the wonders wrought.” The hymn had it right, all nature does sing his praises. In fact, I would say that all of creation screams out the praises and glory of God its creator.

No matter where we have been, whether is it the mountains of Switzerland or the not so mountainous Nebraska, we are always reminded that God makes incredible beauty out of nothing.

One creation that we have not talked about yet is God’s most prized creation, humans. We are created in the image of God. Literally, we are designed to be in relationship with Him and to worship Him. We have a place above all of the rest of creation.Mountains, valleys, giant forests, great plains, vast oceans, birds, animals, everything macro, and everything microscopic…none of them can compare to the beauty of man and woman.

Unfortunately, the sad reality is that out of all of creation, humans have the hardest time actually doing what we were created to do.

Romans 1:18-23 tells us that creation has an important role, it points all mankind directly to its creator. The problem is that we humans have a terrible default. The natural default is to worship the creation rather than the creator. We need to appreciate creation and allow it to point us directly back to God Himself.

We have an incredibly creative creator.

God is worthy of all the honor, glory, and praise. He created some incredible and priceless things. Don’t believe me? Just look outside. Or Google pictures of Norway’s Fjords. Or of the Amazon Rainforest. Or look up videos of “Old Faithful” in Yellowstone. Or check out the Great Barrier Reef. The Grand Canyon. Victoria Falls. The Northern Lights. The Great Blue Hole in Belize. The Cote d’Albatre in France. The Matterhorn in Switzerland….Or just look in a mirror.

We need to praise God and rejoice. We need to tell the world how incredible and wonderful He is. If we don’t then “even the rocks will cry out.” (Luke 19:40) Let’s not let some stones take our place.

Take a bit of extra time today to praise and thank God for being exactly who He is: a wonderful, almighty, awesome, holy, and loving creator.

The Consumed Consumer.

“The Bible calls us to be servants, not consumers”

Black Friday. Cyber Monday.

How crazy is this? Businesses spend countless hours preparing for these two days. Their end goal? To trick customers into buying as much of their product as possible. The funniest/saddest part? We all know exactly what they are doing…and yet we still run to the stores anyway.

Let me be clear, I am not trying to make anyone feel bad, nor am I condemning going Black Friday shopping. (My wife and I actually went with friends and had a great time and even got some great deals on gifts for friends and family.) However, the point that I am getting at is this. We live in a consumeristic culture and its grip on many of us is very strong.

Again, there is nothing wrong with being a consumer at the stores. Looking for the best deals is actually a great way to be a wise steward of your resources.

However, when we allow our consumer mentality to creep into other aspects of our lives it becomes very dangerous very fast.

The problem with being a perpetual consumer is that the focus is always on self. What is best for me? What can I get out of this? How can I put forth the smallest effort in order to get the biggest reward? What about me? While these questions might seem normal to the culture we find ourselves in, they actually all run counter to a biblical mindset.

One of the themes we see repeated over and over again in the Bible is one of selflessness, and let’s be real, consumerism is entirely selfish. Where do we see that selfless theme in the Bible? I’m glad you asked.

-Mark 9:35 “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and a servant of all.”

-John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

-Mark 10:44 “and whoever would be first must be a slave (servant) of all.”

-Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

This is just a small sample size of Jesus’ very own words that highlight the biblical attitude of selflessness. Jesus also stunningly displayed this attitude in John 13 when He washed His disciple’s feet. Just try to imagine for a moment that you were there witnessing the Creator God of the universe doing the humiliating job of the lowest of servants. Jesus was not a consumer. And let’s not forget the most selfless act of all, when Jesus gave His life on the cross to save us from our sins.

The Bible calls us to be servants, not consumers. Jesus’ model for us is of service, not consumerism.

We must continually fight against having a consumer mindset when it comes to our church, family, friends, community, and the list goes on. President John F. Kennedy once famously said, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” I love that sentiment. Ask not what your friends can do for you, ask what you can do for your friends. For your neighbors. For your family. For your church.

Unfortunately, consumerism has crept into churches all across the country. Individuals might look for a church based on what they can get, rather than what they can contribute to that local body of believers. That’s not to say that being a part of a local church doesn’t have benefits. The church that Jesus Christ established has wonderful benefits that you can find nowhere else on earth. However, along with benefits come responsibilities.

You and your church remain healthiest when both are actively involved and concerned with serving one another. We must remember that the church is not a building or a business. The church isn’t even really an institution in the traditional sense. The church is people. We cannot be consumers of people. We need to serve people.

This Christmas season let’s look for opportunities to think of others rather than just ourselves. Imagine what our communities, families, and churches would look like if we went out of our way in order to serve one another.

Let’s stop being consumers and instead have a higher mindset.

Galatians 5:13 “…through love serve one another.”

The Overlooked Testament

“The unfortunate reality is that many believers willfully ignore the Scriptures that Jesus Himself would have read and studied.”

I have talked with quite a few Christians who find themselves either confused or bored by the Old Testament. There seems to be a fog surrounding the first 39 books of the Christian Bible for many modern day believers. The unfortunate reality is that many believers willfully ignore the Scriptures that Jesus Himself would have read and studied.

Part of the reason why many believers might run from the Old Testament is because of a lack of understanding of how to read and interpret it. Many believers find portions like Leviticus 17:10-14 and struggle to see how it impacts them at all today. So, while we don’t have time today to dissect all of the O.T. we will take a brief look at this one passage. Hopefully, understanding one passage will lead to a desire to understand the rest.

The first place to begin is context. What is the context of Leviticus 17:10-14? Well, in short, it is part of the Law given by God through Moses to the people of Israel. The best way to understand the Mosaic Law is to understand it as a covenant between God and His people at a specific time for a specific reason.

When interpreting the Law in its proper context it is shown to have a more clear and deeper meaning. This was not simply a list of do’s and don’ts set up by an impersonal God, this literally was a personal agreement between a loving God and His people. God was teaching them how to live holy with a holy God in their midst. Like the rest of Scripture, when doing hermeneutics, we must first always start with the original meaning to the original audience. Context is always the key.

Leviticus 17:10-14 is a very interesting passage take the time right now to open your Bible or swipe open your app and read it. At first glance, it looks like God preferred well-done steak to rare and unfortunately I have known some Christians to actually take this stance. However, when we take a closer look at the text we can understand its deeper and special meaning. We must look at the text in light of the narrative of the Israelites as well as the greater redemptive story of the whole Bible.

Verse 11 gets at the heart of the issue when God says, “for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” In the context of the ancient Israelites, blood had a very significant role. It symbolized life, of which God had ultimate control over. When we read the Mosaic Law we will find that there are special arrangements to be made for each life that is taken, and how those arrangements must be done in a respectful manner. Death is a serious thing. This is because God as creator is the life-giver. Death had no place in God’s paradise and it still is not to be taken lightly in a fallen world.

The blood more specifically not only represents life in general, but it is also the avenue through which sin can be atoned for. If an Israelite were to eat or touch blood they would be dishonoring the life that God had given, as well as disrespecting the atonement process that God had set up. The blood of a sacrifice was used to purify, and as Hebrews 9:22 lets us know without blood there could be no forgiveness of sins. This system is, as Hebrews says, “but of shadow” of what was to come.” Because although blood was needed, Hebrews 10:4 tells us that the blood of animals is inadequate to take away sins. The only blood sufficient is Jesus’.

This understanding of blood in the Old Testament relates to a New Covenant believer (one who is not bound by the Mosaic Law) in the most significant of ways. Jesus gave Himself (His blood) for the forgiveness of the sins of the world. Today we can look at this passage and see the link between this particular law and the atonement that Christ made for us. To see the relationship between this passage and Jesus, the Lamb of God whose blood was poured out for our sake, is to see our Savior more clearly.

So with all of that said, read your Old Testament. It makes the New Testament even more clear. It’s God’s Word. It’s Worth it.

Till next time,

Josh