And here we go again! I started out with a plan to write about one thing, but somehow as I sought the Lord this morphed into something else.
If you come here often, you’ll know that I frequently draw themes for this blog from the Hebrew calendar. This past weekend, observant Jews recognized the Fast of Tammuz (Tammuz 17, in Hebrew-Calendar-speak). This is one of four fast days on the Jewish calendar commemorating the tragic Babylonian exile and the loss of the First Temple. While the summer’s bright and the days are long, the Jewish people are reminded to mourn some of their history’s darkest hours. Even the Holocaust fits into the picture, since the Exile ultimately set the stage for its horrors.
Sin of the Golden Calf: Tablets Smashed on Tammuz 17. Moses smashed the tablets on the seventeenth day of the month of Tammuz, after he came down from Sinai and found the people worshiping the Golden Calf. This tragedy was seen as prophetic….
First Temple and Babylonian Exile: Sacrifices Halted on Tammuz 17. Ezekiel forewarned that the Temple would be destroyed if the people refused to repent of their idolatry… (Ez 8:14-18) Tragically they persisted despite the prophet’s warnings, and on Tammuz 9 the walls in Jerusalem were breached by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies. Because of the siege, on Tammuz 17, the Temple service was disrupted [NOTE: for the first time since the Tabernacle was constructed in the wilderness!] due to a lack of animals required for the sacrifices. The temple itself was destroyed three weeks later, on the Ninth of Av.
Second Temple and Jewish Diaspora: Jerusalem’s Walls Breached by Titus on Tammuz 17. It was also on Tammuz 17 that Jerusalem’s walls were breached by the Romans under Titus, leading to the destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70 A.D.
…which is a great illustration of why I find the Hebrew Calendar so fascinating. It’s such a powerful demonstration that God is God. Things don’t happen randomly. They happen by Divine Appointment–to the very day. History is indeed His Story.
This fast on Tammuz 17 kicks off a period Jewish people know as the Three Weeks of Sorrow. The anniversary of the Temple’s destruction is also commemorated with a fast (Tisha B’Av), the two fast days serving as bookends for the Three Weeks of Sorrow.
Jewish tradition marks these three weeks as a period of mourning, and the weekly readings from the prophets all warn the people about imminent judgment from heaven. Spiritually, the season is marked by a renewed call for teshuvah (repentance)…
– John J. Parsons, Hebrew4Christians.com
I’ve gone back and forth on whether to join the Jewish people in this fast. Last year I decided against it (here was my thought process). But this year I fasted. Why?
Zechariah ministered to the remnant who returned from Babylonian exile. In Zech 7, some asked him whether they should continue this fast since they had been permitted to return to the land and the Temple was being rebuilt. He responded by reminding them why they were placed under judgment.
Then the word of the Lord came to Zechariah saying, “Thus has the Lord of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’ But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts.” (Zech 7:8-12)
What about the Second Temple? Its destruction was also foretold, by a prophet named Yeshua.
“For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:43-44
In the days before Messiah, “God… spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…” Heb 1:1-2. The First Temple was lost because God’s people “made their hearts like flint” and would not heed God’s prophets. The Second Temple was lost because the nation’s religious leaders would not recognize His Son.
But where does that leave us?
There’s a place where the Song of Songs feels like a “tale of two brides.”
So if Christ is our Heavenly Bridegroom, which bride are we?? Is God our all-in-all, or a passing affair to swoon over when it suits us?
Here’s my confession. I find myself pretty frequently asking the “why” questions—why God has allowed some circumstance in my life to play out in a way I find less than ideal. So, does God’s plan revolve around my comfort and convenience? Or does my life revolve around serving Him and His Kingdom?
Comfort and convenience, or the Cross and conformance to His image? Which bride am I?
We like to flatter ourselves that Israel is the adulterous bride. That that depiction doesn’t pertain to us–after all, it’s the Old Testament, right? But here’s the rub.
Here’s another perspective, from a blog post by Dr. Richard Ross of Southwestern Seminary.
One of America’s best-known worship leaders recently confided a heartache to David Bryant. He said:
Often it feels to me as if, for many of our people, singing praise songs and hymns on a Sunday morning has turned into an affair with Christ.… Too many of us are far more passionate about lesser, temporal concerns…. But we rarely ever get that excited about Christ Himself, at least on any consistent basis. Except when we enter a sanctuary on a Sunday. Then for a while we end up sort of ‘swooning’ over Christ with feel-good music and heart-stirring prayers—only to return to the daily grind of secular seductions to which, for all practical purposes, we’re thoroughly ‘married.’…
Centrality is about keeping Christ at the center of who we are, where we are headed, and all we are doing. Supremacy speaks of so much more. Supremacy proclaims Christ’s right to keep us at the center of who He is, where He is headed, and how He is blessed. Jesus does not exist to come down here and make my life a little easier. I exist to stand before him in awe-filled worship and to join him in bringing his kingdom on the earth. It’s never all about me. It’s always all about him.
We sometimes say, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Perhaps it would be better to use David Bryant’s words: “God loves His Son and has a wonderful plan for Him, to sum up everything in heaven and earth under Him as Redeemer and Lord; and He loves you and me enough to give us a strategic place in it.”
A survey of 3000 teens reached the following conclusion:
The creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced. …
- “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
- “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
- “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
- “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
- “Good people go to heaven when they die.”
When it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and “whatever.”…This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy. “In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”… This God is exceedingly tolerant and this religion is radically undemanding….
All this means is that teenagers have been listening carefully…. They have learned from their elders that self-improvement is the one great moral imperative to which all are accountable, and they have observed the fact that the highest aspiration of those who shape this culture is to find happiness, security, and meaning in life.
As a church, are we all about us, or all about Him? (Granted, the research is a bit old, but I don’t see any reason to think the situation has fundamentally changed.)
After I read the post, the phrase “bolt-on faith” kept ringing through my mind. Is my faith something I “bolt on” when it’s convenient?
I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. (Rev 3:15-20)
Just as in the Song of Songs, Yeshua isn’t even inside!
The real Yeshua, not our “divine butler,” stands outside the door in all His majesty and knocks. It’s not too late to let Him in!
I often think about one picture Yeshua gave us of the last days–the parable of the virgins (Matt 25:1-12). Here are a few things that strike me:
“I do not know you.”
The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is one engagement I don’t want to miss! And yet this parable seems to indicate that many who expect to be there… won’t. The deciding factor? A lamp filled with oil.
There was plenty of light inside, I’m sure, but each virgin had to have her own lamp producing a little point of light out there in the darkness if she wanted to go in.
In “this present darkness” (Eph 6:12), does my faith produce a point of light?
In these “perilous times” (2 Tim 3:1), does my faith help illumine the narrow path?
Here’s a scripture that has literally haunted me for years:
And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:7-8)
We do live in a day when the voices of God’s persecuted elect cry out to Him day and night, from places like North Korea and China and India and Nigeria and Somalia and Iran and Egypt and Pakistan and the entire Muslim world. Last weekend, more than two hundred Christians were slaughtered for their faith in Nigeria alone. I wonder how many in other Christian nations–nations where we so easily get lulled into believing that we’re “wealthy, and have need of nothing”– even heard about it, thanks to the very selective focus of much of our media. And, dare I say it, our pulpits?
Brothers and sisters, time is short. Don’t get caught on the wrong side of that door!
If you’ve never opened God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus (Rom 3:23, 6:23), please please please be persuaded to do it now! It’s simple. Just tell God from your heart that you admit you’re a sinner that needs a Savior (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom 3:23), that you’re done running your own life, and that you’re ready to make Jesus Lord of your life.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Rom 10:9-11)
The decision that saves you is that simple!
Simple… But no one said living it out will be easy. Especially now.