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Shavuot- The Feast of Weeks

What the New Testament translates as “Pentecost” comes from the Greek translation of the Jewish festival of “The Feast of Weeks.” In the Christian world, it is remembered as the time when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Disciples who gathered in Jerusalem.

In the time of Moses, the Feast of Weeks was commanded by God as an annual celebration where the people brought in of the first part of their harvest. If you consider the sequence of events, the instructions for the Feast of Weeks was given right after their release from Egypt. The people did not know it at the time, but they would be spending the next 40 years in the wilderness because of their disobedience and unbelief. Imagine what it would have been like to live 40 years in the wilderness and celebrate a feast that represents the start of the season of the harvest and never actually having a harvest to celebrate. There was no harvest in the wilderness. Year after year, as they wandered in the wilderness of disobedience, they never arrived at a place of fruitfulness.

Throughout their time in the wilderness, the children of Israel were not abandoned by God for their disobedience and unbelief. But it did cause that whole generation to never enter into a season of fruitfulness. The apostle Paul warns the believers in Corinth about their own conduct by using the wilderness experience of Israel as an example:

“I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea,  all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,  all ate the same spiritual food,  and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.  But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” (I Cor. 10:1-5)

These things were written as a warning to us who have come to a knowledge of salvation through the work of Jesus. As with the children of Israel, we have been released from the bondage of slavery to sin, and it is God’s purpose to bring us into our inheritance in Him, and a place of fruitfulness. However, if we want to come to the fulfillment of the promises of God, we must make sure that we are walking in obedience and that our conduct does not doom us to the same wilderness of fruitlessness.

The “Feast of Weeks” is celebrated on the same day that God first spoke to the children of Israel from Sinai. We also see that later, on the same day, the church received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. There is a direct link between the revelation of God and our ability to become fruitful. If we receive His Word, are filled with His Spirit, and become obedient, He will bring us to the place beyond the wilderness and into a land where we can celebrate His harvest in our lives.

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Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?

Have you ever tried brushing your teeth with your left hand? If you are right-handed, this simple task is suddenly not so simple. That is the way it is every time we try to change a habit or perception. When it comes to sin, we don’t have the power to change on our own. Only through Messiah, Yeshua, can we overcome the power of sin. But with habits and perceptions, we do have the power to change. It is a matter of our will, effort and practice. 

As believers, we have become accustomed to thinking that prayer is sufficient. But is it? I believe prayer is the beginning. It is where we seek the grace and blessing of God with the understanding that we need His help in doing what we cannot. But prayer should not replace our responsibility to do what we can to make a change in our lives.

For example, this morning my older daughter told my wife and I at breakfast that she had started brushing her teeth with her left hand because she had read that this would open up the right hemisphere of the brain and help her to become more creative. That made me think, “Is it really possible for us to change the habits that have been embedded into us for so long? Can we really accomplish more than we think?” If, heaven forbid, my right hand stopped working, then I would be forced to use my left hand for things like brushing my teeth. So why should I wait till my situation forces me to change my habit instead of changing it before a crisis? Here my daughter is deciding to make a change to improve herself, even though she knows it will take time and effort.

We were all born with baggage and all have something we will struggle with. But every one who is born again receives a new opportunity for salvation. And what more do we need salvation from? From the old man and the old habits that still try to govern us. Is it possible to change? Yes, it is possible. Is it simple to change? No. Does it require our efforts? Certainly. Every single day. 

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”. -Ephesians 4:22-24 

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The Season of the Omer

After celebrating the Passover, we shared with you about the tradition of “Firstfruits,” which is a special day celebrated on the first Sunday after the Passover (when we celebrate Easter). It was called “Reshit Katzit,” literally: “First of the Harvest.” In Jewish tradition, the Passover was the start of a ‘journey of redemption’ that leads us to ‘Pentecost’ or ‘The Feast of Weeks.” The two major holidays are linked by a 50-day countdown from one feast to the other. Out of all seven of the Lord’s Feasts, three major ones required all the men of Israel to ‘appear before the Lord,’ or come up to the Tabernacle/Temple. Two out of the three are the Passover and Feast of Weeks.

“You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord.” (Lev. 23:15-16)

During this same period, Jesus appears to his disciples and as many as 500 people for about 40 of the days. He is taking them through a journey that will prepare them for what will happen at “Pentecost.” Then He instructs them to go to Jerusalem and wait until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which happens on the 50th day, the day of the “Feast of Weeks.”

 When God sends Moses to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the reason that is given to Pharaoh for their freedom is “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness” (Ex. 7:16) It is for this same reason that God has brought us to a place of deliverance, that we would be ‘free’ to serve Him. When Paul explains this, he does not want there to be any misunderstanding, now we have been set free to become slaves of righteousness:

“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)

For the Israelites, the season of the Omer was a time of purification after being in slavery until the revelation of God at Mount Sinai. We can recognize this as the season of purification in our own lives as God takes us from deliverance out of slavery to sin and prepares us for the outpouring of His Spirit at “Pentecost” or “The Feast of Weeks.” Everyone who is found in Christ has experienced His deliverance from slavery, let us also allow God to prepare us for the outpouring of His Spirit.

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Our Very Real And Personal God

I was recently struggling with a situation that made me feel desperate to hear from the One who could see further down the road than I could. I felt like a soldier who needed specific instructions from the commander detailing what I should do and how I should do it. I guess what I was needing the most was assurance that God was with me even though I felt fear of the unknown future. 

During this time, I came across the story of Joshua when he had just succeeded Moses as the new leader of the children of Israel. But Joshua was about to do something his predecessor had never done. He was about to lead the people of Israel into the Land that God had promised to all their forefathers was theirs to take. So here was Joshua walking in a new position and into a place he had never been. I love what happens next- God shows up! But not in the same way He had revealed Himself to Moses. He reveals Himself to Joshua in a way that was personal to Joshua. The captain of Israel’s armies met the Captain of heavens armies and received the affirmation he needed that God was with him. (See Joshua chapter 1 and chapter 5:13-15). Directly following this encounter, Joshua courageously fulfilled what he was called to do. 
This is not the first time that God personalized His encounters with people. David was a shepherd who had spent many years with his father’s sheep. When David was in sin with Bathsheba and had not yet repented, God sent the prophet Nathan to rebuke him in a way that David would understand. He used an analogy of a thief stealing the only beloved sheep of a poor man in order to slay it as a sacrifice. David could most certainly experience anger for someone doing such a thing and it was then that God could reach his heart by saying, “You are that thief”.(See 2 Samuel 12). But David knew God in so many personal ways that He said of God, “You have searched me and You know me…You are intimately acquainted with all my ways”.- Psalm 139:1&3. 
One more example that rises above all others in regards to how God reveals Himself in a very real and personal way is through the sending of His own Son in the form of a man. Yeshua, the Word of God, was made flesh and He lived among His people. (See John 1:14). Could there have been any more personal way for God to relate to man than by becoming one? That is mind boggling to me.
But this is the God we serve. One who is so holy, so perfect, so above all, yet His desire is for us to know Him personally. And the more we know Him, the more we can in turn reflect His nature and character to others in a very real and personal way. He came through for me in the midst of my struggle and I know that because He is no respecter of persons, if you seek Him, He will come through for you too. 
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Suffering is Part of the Process

One of the hardest things for us to deal with is the presence of pain and suffering in our lives. We ask ourselves the questions, “Why does a good God allow us to experience pain and suffering? And if He is good, why is He not delivering me out of it?” I think that the way things are laid out in the scripture are there to help us illustrate that God knows we live in a broken world and pain and suffering are a part of our experience no matter what we do to insulate ourselves from it.

I think the illustration of the olive press is very important because in Exodus 27:20-21, Moses tells the children of Israel, You shall command the children of Israel, that they shall bring to you pure olive oil of beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually. In the tent of meeting, outside the veil which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall keep it in order from evening to morning before the Lord; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout their generations for the sons of Israel.”

In order to get pure olive oil, you would have had to go through a whole process which in this case was the responsibility of the people, not the priesthood. This responsibility gave the people a real, material witness as to how the light in the Temple would be produced. The first part of the process was to place burlap sacks around the olive trees and then to beat the branches of the olive tree so that the olives would fall off the branches and into the sacks. Then once the olives were collected and put into a stone trough, a large stone was rolled over them in order to make them crack. Without the crack, no olive oil could come out of them. Once the olives were cracked, they were ready to be crushed.

The cracked olives were placed back into the burlap sacks which acted as a strainer and these were squeezed beneath large stones with a lot of pressure. The pressure squeezed out what was on the inside and produced the oil which ran down into the trough for collection.

This oil that the children of Israel took through the whole painful process to produce, was what was used as fuel to give light in the Lord’s temple. In other words, where God comes to dwell among His people, there is a requirement for light. And the fuel for that light is actually the process of suffering that each one of us goes through. My encouragement to you is that if you are in a place where God is taking you through what feels like a beating or a crushing or even a squeezing, it is all part of God’s process to bring forth His light in and through you. And that light is what fuels the place where He comes to dwell.

So don’t be discouraged in the painful times you go through. We all go through them. We all have seasons of pain and suffering. But keep on going and allow God to finish that process because that process is where you will find your fellowship and intimacy with Him at the end.

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Fruit In It’s Season

Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, His rejection by the spiritual leadership of the nation was evident. To illustrate what was happening, Jesus spoke a parable of the “Wicked Vinedressers” (Matt 21:33; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19). The parable was about an owner of a vineyard who leased it to some vine-dressers. Their job was to work and tend the vineyard and give a portion of the fruit to the owner. When the fruitful season arrived, the owner sent representatives to receive his portion. However, the vine-dressers beat and mistreated the messengers. Then when the owner sent his own son, they killed him.

It may be easy to look at this parable and see how true it was for the time when it was given. It is a little more difficult to apply it to ourselves, or the season we live in. We do not usually think of ourselves as responsible for a vineyard or the need to be producing fruit. However, God also requires us to tend to our own vineyard, one that He has placed in our care, and that we are just as responsible for being fruitful as they were back then.

This is true on a personal level, but also true on a broader level. What is the season we are living in? What is God expecting us to understand about what He is doing in our day?

For almost 2,000 years, the Jewish people were living as a minority among the nations of the earth. However, it is no small event to have just celebrated seventy years of independence as a Jewish state in the land of Israel. During the long years of exile, it was difficult to see or believe how God could restore this small and often persecuted minority back to their land. Theologians felt a need to explain that God did not really mean all those promises He had made to the Jews. But God is indeed faithful, and what seemed impossible has become a reality in our days.

The fulfillment of the promises of restoration are part of a season of fruitfulness that God is showing us that we are to be a part of. We want to be faithful to the call to work in His vineyard and be able to bring him the fruits of His vineyard. We do not want to be like the wicked vine-dressers, but ones who are faithful to understand our responsibilities.

We thank you for standing with us during this season of restoration and being a part of what God is doing. May God continue to show us all how to join Him in what is on His heart.

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Comfort My People

This week in Israel, we are commemorating the Holocaust. We think back at just 73 years ago, what the world looked like after the destruction of World War II. The scale of the devastation was so extensive, that the scars are still impacting those who experienced the suffering and the nation as a whole.

The place of “comforter” is not always an easy place to be. There is suffering all around us, and we all experience suffering by living in a broken world. But there are times where the suffering is so great and is so detached from any sense of ‘justice’ that the grief is not relieved by any amount of attempts to comfort.

In Genesis, Jacob is told that a wild animal killed his beloved son, Joseph. We read that when Jacob saw his blood stained tunic:

“he recognized it and said, “It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces.” Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, “For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.” (Gen 37:33-35)

Those of us who have been born and raised in Israel since the events of the Holocaust, have lived in the shadow of its tragedy. There is such a sense of historical injustice that there is little that can be said to bring genuine comfort. It has become a mantle of grief that seems to cover the people, like Jacob they cover themselves in the sackcloth of sadness and are resigned to carry this grief with them to their own grave.

But rather than leaving us in a state of grief, God’s prophets call for seasons of comfort. The Spirit of God calls out to us:

“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” Says your God. “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned;” (Isa 40:1-2)

But notice that this word of comfort is not directly to those who need the comfort, but it is a call to us. We are the ones God is calling to bring His “comfort.” It tells us to come alongside and to offer comfort to those who need it. The verses that follow describe the power that God releases through this calling:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth; The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isa 40:3-5)

By answering the call to bring God’s comfort to His people we become part of the work of preparing a highway for the Lord Himself to come, and His glory to be revealed.

We hope that you will also join us in fulfilling this calling, to extend a hand of comfort with us, and be a part of building the highway of our God.

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The Picture of the Firstfruits

This week, as we have celebrated the Passover, and remembered the deliverance that God brought about for His people in Egypt; we also remember how we ourselves have experienced God’s deliverance from slavery to sin. The beauty of the picture of God’s work of salvation no longer is a ‘theological construct’ to be studied, but a hope inspiring recognition of the restoration of new life in Him. It was the traditions that God made part of Jewish custom which showed the pattern that God was going to use in the future fulfillment of His plan of salvation for all of us.

Many Christians think of the Sunday morning after Passover as ‘Easter Sunday.’ But it is so important to take notice what was happening in Jewish tradition on that very same day, because of the way the patterns of tradition continue to show us their fulfillment in Jesus.

“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. (Lev 23:10-11)

The same Sunday that Jesus rose from the dead was the time when the very first part of the harvest was being brought to the Priest to “wave” before the Lord. Jesus often used imagery of a harvest to compare the salvation process of mankind. Not only this, but Paul also speaks about Jesus Himself becoming the “Firstfruits” of the harvest of salvation:

“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” (1 Cor 15:20-24)

We can conclude that Jesus’ resurrection was the opening of the season of the harvest, and that God has called us all to understand how we are to take part in this season. Each of us has been sent out into a different part of His harvest, and are called to be faithful to Him in the field that He has placed us. Later this year we will talk about the end of the season which happens at the Feast of Tabernacles, and how it is a symbol of the completion of “bringing in the harvest.” No wonder the prophet Zechariah prophesied about the end times saying:

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.” (Zechariah 14:16)

 

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Salvation and Passover

Every year, during Passover, we remember that God stepped into the history of an obscure family of slaves, and performed mighty acts in order to deliver them from their bondage. It is amazing to read how after 400 years of silence, God, who with no army and no help, used one man to free a powerless group of slaves from a powerful empire in Egypt. 

As a memorial to the deliverance that God brought about for His people, He commands the observance of the Passover every year. The children of Israel were to pass down the story of God’s salvation to every generation. As wonderful as the story is, once the deliverance was complete, why would God command such a penalty for those who do not observe this feast?

“But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and ceases to keep the Passover, that same person shall be cut off from among his people.” (Num 9:13)

In other words, if you do not have a legitimate excuse, and you do not commemorate God’s deliverance every year, you will be cut off from being included among God’s people. That sounds harsh!

The reason God was so insistent on His people remembering and commemorating His mighty act of deliverance is because the story was not complete. This was ACT I of God’s plan and was a taste of the complete deliverance that was going to come later. Throughout the scriptures, we see how the Israelites were indeed delivered from the bondage of slavery in Egypt, but they were still “slaves to sin”, (as Jesus describes in John 8:34). The Passover was a signpost along a path, but the path would lead us to a fulfillment that would be completed by a Savior who would set us free from the real bondage we all have and that is to sin.

As Jesus sits down to have His final Passover dinner with His disciples:

“He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:15-20)

In the Body of the Messiah in Israel, we celebrate our Passover because by doing so we remember the mighty act of how He delivered us from our slavery to sin. This act of memorial is more than the ceremony of communion that Jesus was talking about; He was telling His disciples (and us) that He is looking forward to celebrating this same feast one day with us in His kingdom. We hope that you, who have experienced the same deliverance of God through the Messiah, will also commemorate His wonderful salvation with us until we all can celebrate this feast with Him in His Kingdom.

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The God of Restoration

Religion can be so detrimental to attaining an understanding of God’s ways. The essential elements of most religion recognizes the brokenness of the human condition because of sin and that the solution to this brokenness is erecting barriers to keep people from sinful action. The true revelation of our Scriptures is that what separates us from fellowship with God is not just what we ‘DO,’ but what we ‘ARE.’
The brokenness of our human condition is exactly the reason we need the promise of God’s restoration to be so clear. On an individual level, when Jesus was here, He extended a healing hand of restoration to people who had no hope of being whole or holy. On a national level, the story of Israel is so significant because it is the example of God’s continued faithfulness to us in spite of our faithlessness.
One of the lowest moral points of Israel’s history is during the time of Jeremiah. The people had turned away from God to such an extent that destruction and judgement were on their way, and there was no stopping it. However, even Jeremiah, during a time where doom is imminent, and he seems to have nothing but bad news for God’s rebellious people, there is a thread of hope in his message. The promise that even after coming to total destruction, and the rightful judgement of God against His people, He is already thinking about their restoration. Before they have even repented He is already working out their salvation.
“At the same time,” says the Lord,” I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.” Thus says the Lord: “The people who survived the sword Found grace in the wilderness —Israel, when I went to give him rest.” The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with loving-kindness I have drawn you.”…..
“Behold, I will bring them from the north country, And gather them from the ends of the earth, Among them the blind and the lame, The woman with child And the one who labors with child, together; A great throng shall return there. They shall come with weeping, And with supplications I will lead them. I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters, In a straight way in which they shall not stumble; For I am a Father to Israel, And Ephraim is My firstborn.” (Jer 31:1-4; 8-9)
Today, when we see the Jews returning to the Land of their ancestors, we are the witnesses of the miracle of God’s faithfulness both to His chosen people and by extension to us. We have the amazing opportunity to wonder at how faithful our God is in that He would keep His promises to a people who had seemed to have lost all hope, and if He deals so faithfully with them, will He not also deal faithfully with us?
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