Tag Archives: Civil War

Re-enacting to remember [God’s heart for the holidays, part 2]

6 Nov
Image result for gettysburg reenactment smoke

A few years ago the Gettysburg Battlefield celebrated the 150th anniversary of the terrible and momentous events of July 1-3, 1863 during our nation’s Civil War.  Because my family lives about an hour away, we visited the battlefield hoping to see re-enactors.  While we were there before any full battle re-enactment took place, at one point we viewed a company of soldiers perform various rifle assault formations, including firing their weapons.  It was eye-opening for me to see the variations used, as well as the amount of smoke their rifles emitted.  If the wind was low during the original battle, the smoke could have been like thick fog across the fields.  Re-enactment gave me a whole new perspective. 

In this series of posts we’re talking about God’s heart for holidays, and today we’re going to see how re-enactment is very important to God.  I don’t think I ever encountered that phrase before: God’s heart for holidays.  But as we continue studying Deuteronomy 16, God very clearly has a desire for his people to have regular holidays.  Why?  Doesn’t it seem like the God of the universe should have bigger things to fuss over than holidays?  Keep reading, and perhaps we can find out.

Yesterday we talked about how one particular ritual was embedded in many of Israel’s feasts and holidays, and that is the ritual of sacrifice.  In this post, we are going look at the first of three feasts described in Deuteronomy 16 in which Israel performed  sacrifices would take place: Passover, Pentecost (or Weeks) and Tabernacles. As we read about them, we’ll see that God gives the times of the year when these feasts are to take place.  The image below presents an annual calendar of when the various feasts take place, and you’ll notice that there are other feasts not mentioned in Deuteronomy 16.

Before continuing with this post, read Deuteronomy 16:1-8, which talks about the Feast Unleavened Bread and Passover. During the celebration of Passover, Israel was to sacrifice a firstborn animal at the place God chose as a dwelling for his name.  We already heard God, in 15:20, refer to the place he would choose as a dwelling, and he will mention it a number of times in the rest of the passage as well.  So what is this place? 

Remember that Deuteronomy is the second telling of the law.  Thus, these feasts have already been commanded of God previously.  Your Bibles most likely list the Scripture references where you can read the first time that God commanded these feasts. Passover, for example, is previously described in Exodus 12, Leviticus23 and Numbers 28.

You know what that means?  These are not new festivals.  In fact, the people of Israel have already been observing them every year for about 40 years.  So that place where God says they should come, the place that he will choose for his dwelling, that would have been the tabernacle, and eventually, hundreds of years later during the reign of King Solomon, that place would be the temple in the city of Jerusalem. Look ahead to verse 16, and we see that they were to go on a pilgrimage three times every year to this place. One pilgrimage for each of the feasts we are learning about.  That’s where they are to go with their firstborn and celebrate the Passover. 

See that word, “celebrate” in verse 1.  It literally means “prepare” or “keep” the Passover.  It has much more to do with the practice of observing the holiday.  No doubt about it, we’re going to get to the rejoicing and celebrating part.  But here in verse 1, God is instituting the habit of regular holidays.  This same word “celebrate” is repeated in verse 10 and verse 13.  It is the same Hebrew word that refers to preparing or keeping the holiday. 

That is very instructive.  God wants his people to habitually, every year, observe these feasts, these holidays, and for a reason!  What reason?

God wants them to regularly remember his amazing miraculous power that freed them from slavery in Egypt.  The word “Passover” refers to the last of ten plagues that God sent on Egypt in the process of freeing Israel from slavery. 

That final plague was the one where God said the firstborn (there’s that again) child of every family would die, unless they covered the frames of their doorways with the blood of an animal sacrifice.  That blood was the sign to God’s angel that the house was to be passed over and the firstborn inside would be saved.  All the people of Israel performed the sacrifice, used the blood to mark their doorways, and they were saved.  The Egyptians did not do this, however, and their firstborn died, leading the Egyptian king Pharaoh to finally allow Moses to lead Israel to freedom.  So the people of Israel gathered their belongings quickly, and left, beginning the long journey toward the Promised Land.

If you look through the description of the holiday in Deuteronomy 16, you see that God wants his people every year to re-enact what happened during the original Passover.  Of course it is not a total re-enactment, but there are elements of the celebration that remind them of the original story.

See how they enter into the drama and story of the event?  Every part of it is an act of remembering, as he says in verse 3.

We did this a few years ago when we had a Passover Seder dinner here.  It was so great to hear the story of Passover from a Messianic Jew, and learn of all the connections between Israel’s deliverance from slavery and the whole world’s deliverance from sin in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  What we see about God’s heart for the holidays, then, is that he wants his people to remember, and he wants them to practice remembering on a regular basis. 

In part 3 of this series we’ll look at the two other feasts mentioned in Deuteronomy 16, and as we study those feasts, we’ll continue to learn about God’s heart for the holidays.

Is there hope during these dark days of Christmas 2016?

22 Dec

Image result for people walking in darkness

Just in the news on Monday 12/19/16:

  1. The Chinese Navy intercepts a US Navy underwater drone.
  2. A Turkish man assassinates a Russian Ambassador.
  3. A man drives a truck into a Berlin, Germany, Church Christmas market killing 12, injuring dozens more.
  4. The American Electoral College elects Donald Trump president, a candidate whose major proposals included building a wall to keep immigrants out of the USA, and deporting Muslim people from the USA.
  5. Lots of discussion about whether Russia interfered in our election process through hacking of emails.
  6. People fleeing the bombed-out Syrian city of Aleppo.

That was all on one day.  Geesh.  Kinda gives me the shakes just looking at it.

The other day I was driving my car down the road to the church as I always do, and it struck me how normal the drive was.  People in other cars passing me.  Houses.  Trees.  All very normal.  And then I thought, I wonder how life will change in these next four years with our new president.  Will driving down the road be just as normal as it is today?

That might sound like a ridiculous question.  But I wasn’t really thinking about the act of driving, or the technology of a car.  We know that car technology is changing, and in four years from now there will be different cars, with different technology.  Maybe there will be cars that drive themselves, or cars that talk to one another.  Maybe it will be a safer way to travel.  But that’s not what I was thinking about that day.

In my mind I was thinking about the world.  I was thinking about the news and how troubling it all is.  Any one of those news items I mentioned are serious and in bygone eras have been acts of war that led to devastating conflicts.

I think about the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”  You know that song?  Here’s how it goes:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

You’d think the song was written for our time.  But it wasn’t.  The lyrics of the song are based on an old poem.  One of America’s greatest poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote the poem “Christmas Bells” on Christmas Day 1863.

Think with me about what was happening in our country in 1863.  The Civil War.  In March of that year Longfellow’s oldest son, joined the Union Army without his father’s blessing.  Longfellow found out in a letter.

Longfellow wrote the poem on Christmas Day just a month after getting the news that his son was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church in Virginia.  Two years before that, Longfellow had lost his beloved wife of 18 years when she was terribly burnt in a fire.  It was a dark Christmas day for him.

We might not be in Civil War, but the world feels very dark this Christmas Day, doesn’t it?  As we have been learning this past month studying Isaiah, the world was a dark place for the Judean Israelites during Isaiah’s day too.   Armies from all around were constantly threatening to invade them.  The world was dim.  In the next prophecy God talks to the people walking in darkness.

Into that dark world, both theirs and ours, God gives Isaiah a prophecy.  Join us this Sunday, Christmas Day at Faith Church, as we look at Isaiah 9:1-7.  Will we find light and hope to encourage us in the darkness?  I trust we will.  I know this.  We will learn the end of the song.  There are more verses…

The Power That Fueled Lincoln’s Greatness

8 Feb

Do you ever wish you had more power for living?

I’m nearly finished reading Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk.  Now 150 years since Lincoln’s passing, my suspicion is that most people view him in a mythic sense.  But take a look at this photo of Lincoln inspecting a battlefield in 1862.  Though grainy, it is very telling.

Allan                                                           Pinkerton                                                           (left),                                                           Abraham                                                           Lincoln, and                                                           John Alexander                                                           McClernand                                                           (right),                                                           October 1862

Granted, in 1862 things were generally not going to so well for the Union armies, and thus for Lincoln.  But in our day, even when things are going poorly, we expect a Commander-in-Chief to also be the Morale-Booster-In-Chief, to put on a big smile at all times and rally the troops.  Look at Lincoln’s face.  Pretty drab, I would say.  This might seem shocking to those of us who think of his amazing speeches, such as the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, or to those of us who credit him with leading a divided nation during Civil War back to unity and inspiring the end of slavery, or to those of us who visit his massive statue at the Lincoln Memorial or see his face on pennies and $5 bills.  Lincoln has become legendary, to many the best president ever.

There is another side to Lincoln’s story.

Shenk tells us in his book that depression, commonly called melancholy in those days, was a very visible part of Lincoln’s life, including during his years in public service.  Lincoln struggled with severe depression nearly all throughout his life, and even on certain occasions nearly committed suicide. So it is perhaps equally shocking to hear Shenk say that depression fueled Lincoln’s greatness. How do you feel, what do you think, when you hear that?

Those struggling with depression have shared how debilitating it can be.  No doubt, it was so for Lincoln too.  But somehow he plodded on, especially during his tenure as our president, which is amazing because under his watch about 620,000 Americans died in the war.  That number is staggering. Consider what it would feel like for 9/11 to happen every day for nearly 7 straight months.  Also during this time, imagine the stress of the very real possibility that the nation seemed about to split apart permanently. How did this melancholic president stay the course?  How did the depression not overwhelm him?  And to the contrary, how did depression inspire him, even fueling his greatness?

We’ll discuss this further tomorrow when we continue our series studying the 1st letter Paul wrote to the Christians in the city of Corinth.  In the middle of an extended discussion on unity, we have arrived at chapter 2, and Paul has some things to say about what fuels greatness in God’s eyes.  What is true power for living?