What I discovered about drinking the blood

Single Glass Of Wine

Knowing the God of the Bible, it is no surprise to me that His book is unparalleled in its elegance. The symbolism and imagery is astoundingly sophisticated considering the time period over which it was written and the number of different pens put to parchment.

One of the strongest symbols in the bible is that of blood. It is the blood of a living being that carries its life, and it is innocent blood that must be shed to cover guilt.

Two compelling pictures of blood impacted me in a new way recently, as I received a fresh understanding of the significance of the communion drink.

The first communion occurred at Passover time, drawing a direct connection to that night when the Israelites, enslaved in Egypt, painted the blood of a lamb over their doors so that they might be saved from the angel of death. This blood acted as an external covering that protected them from the wrath of God.

Jesus does something amazing when he institutes the new covenant. No longer are we to paint this blood covering on the outside, but we are to consume it. The blood of the new covenant transforms us from the inside out. As we drink the cup, we willingly take into ourselves the symbol of the atonement. This metaphor of Jesus’ blood enters our digestive system and is absorbed into our own bloodstream. In this profound image we are not just covered by the blood, we are transformed by it.

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Why was the blood of animal sacrifice a ‘pleasing aroma to the LORD?’

blood sacrificeI’m reading Leviticus. It’s tough going. There are rules and regulations listed in extreme detail, and a lot of directives involving the blood, fat, meat and regularity of animal sacrifices.

My housemate told me that she loves reading the Old Testament because of what it teaches her about God’s character, so I’ve been really focusing on what I can learn about who God is.

He seems to like blood.

The picture of God as presented in Leviticus appears demanding and somewhat brutal. How can the God I know and love have been so keen on the constant offerings of blood and flesh, to the point where he considers it a ‘pleasing aroma?’ It seems sadistic.

So I’ve been praying and meditating, and last week God gave me something powerful: It shows his abhorrence to sin.

So often I just ignore sin in my life. But God really hates it. He cannot abide it. There is absolutely nothing good or worthwhile in sin.

God doesn’t like death either. He created a world without it. But death has in it one redeeming feature that sin doesn’t have. Justice.

In the disgusting brutality of the shedding of blood, there was something good: The pleasing aroma of justice, which covered the stench of sin.

God was willing to endure the death of animals, and even of His own son, so that the sin of humanity could be washed away. It was not the smell of death that pleased God, but the smell of atonement.

Why has God made Himself known to us?

a-sky-full-of-stars_426-19320899Have you ever really thought about the fact that God does not need anything beyond himself? This wowed me this week.
Not only is God completely self-sufficient, but He is completely happy in and of Himself.

He does not need our love
He does not need our approval
He does not need our company, or companionship or wealth or knowledge or advice or help.

He is the very definition of complete.

So why are we here? Why has He made Himself known to us? Why does He desire for us to know Him?

I think it is because creating and giving are completely within His nature. He created, because He is a creative God, and when He looked at His creation, He knew that knowing, loving and being in relationship with Him were the greatest and most fulfilling things that He could ever offer us.

So He wooed, He spoke, He gave and He loved, so that we could experience fullness of joy in Him.

God creates because He is a creator. He gives because He is a giver. He loves because He is a lover. We love because He first loved us.

Why did God require such strange things to be offered to Him?

straws--straw_19-126743I was reading the other day in the Old Testament about some of the offerings the Israelites were required to bring before God. Not just animals, but bread and olive oil and incense and all sorts of seemingly trivial things. I found myself wondering: ‘Why on earth did God want them to bring bread with olive oil?’

I’m sure there’s a deep theological answer about its significance and symbolism, but just as I was pondering it I was suddenly hit by something profound: it’s not that hard to make bread.

God had many reasons for instituting the sacrificial system. The minute details that had to be executed with perfection emphasized God’s holiness, but I also found within his decrees an amazing degree of grace. His requirements were detailed, but they were all doable.

It didn’t require great skill or wisdom. You didn’t have to be the smartest or the bravest, you just had to obey and be faithful.

God could have required his followers to scale the highest mountain or walk through fire to demonstrate their devotion to Him, but he’s not that kind of God.

He’s the kind of God who sees that we are dust, but wants us anyway. He does not require more than we can give, and He sacrificed himself because He knew that the blood of bulls and goats would never be enough.

He is full of grace, right down to the bread and oil.

I could have rescued one more

IMG_20140804_182030Last night, I sat in church, listening to the story of a man who had been saved from poverty after years on the brink of starvation. His name was Richmond Wandera and he was a Compassion child. Today he has a bachelor’s degree in accounting, and travels the world as an advocate for those children who are still in his home community in Uganda. He speaks of how they play, as he did, on sewer-flooded streets, hoping daily to escape the threat of malaria as the beast of hunger lurks, ever in the shadows.

 Now he sponsors a child, and works tirelessly to find sponsors for those who still remain, trapped, with a lid on their potential, until someone moves to release them. He challenged us to live simply, so that others may simply live.

 I thought of my sponsor child in India, and I felt the battle in my heart: Surely I’m doing enough? But in the back of my mind was a gnawing quote from Oskar Schindler: “I could have gotten one more person… and I didn’t!”

 I do not want to get to the end of my life, and lament that I could have freed one more. It is a temporary sacrifice, for an eternal impact.

 I’m no hero. So far from it! I choose myself over others far more often than not, but I pray that God will continually convict my selfish heart and give me the means and the strength for ‘one more.’

This post is for my new ‘sponsor son’ Cristian. I do not know him, but I pray that God will unleash his potential, and use him mightily in the Kingdom.
If you would like to help free a child from poverty in Jesus name, please visit http://www.compassion.com

What I learnt at my first Passover

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Last night was Passover. The full moon shone on me as I drove across the city to the home of a man I’d never met. A friend of mine had invited me to come and share Passover with a group of her Israeli friends, and I happily accepted.

As I drove, I felt the weight of what I was about to do. I was about to participate in a ceremony that has been passed down generation after generation for thousands of years; a ceremony instituted by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; a feast steeped in tradition, but not just any tradition, tradition that is close to my heart because of the people who carry it and the God who gave it.

When I arrived, I was (strangely) expecting Australians with a bit of Jewish heritage. I got Israelis. I was instantly captivated by the elegantly set table, and the babble of Hebrew language around me. They were fabulously friendly, and quickly welcomed me, an outsider, into their circle.

Close to 9pm everyone had arrived and we sat around the long table and began the Passover feast. For the first half hour, we didn’t eat. We read in Hebrew from a book (reading right to left) that fortunately had English translations. Sometimes they asked me to read it for them in English and then exclaimed in delight over and over about how good my English was and how great it sounded.

Sometimes they sang the lines in Hebrew, quite disharmoniously, and everyone would laugh and argue and say ‘stop, it’s my turn!’ It was quite clear at times that they had no idea what they were doing, but we ploughed on until finally we were allowed to eat something. First a stick of celery (bitter herbs- not sure of the connection) and then some unleavened bread with raw Chinese cabbage and a ball of what tasted like walnuts mixed with dates and spices.

After the first lot of formalities were finished (we’d passed wine, dipped wine, broken bread, hidden bread, sung and read, all with a good amount of laughter and shouting) we could finally eat the meal. There was fish in a buttery garlic sauce, and eggplant with tahini. We ate potato salad, tuna salad and green salad, and some kind of mince wrapped in onions. We ate and talked and ate and argued and eventually everyone was full. Some people went outside to smoke and others started to clean up. The rest of the ceremony was forgotten as people lay on couches and ate fruit. The rest of the ‘cups’ were never drunk, and the hidden bread was never found. And that was that.

I’m pretty sure that as far as Passovers go, mine wasn’t particularly ‘Kosher.’ But I did learn a couple of things:

First, I’d somehow always imagined that everyone in every other religion was devout. I knew it wasn’t strictly true, but I’d kind of believed that Christianity was really the only one that had multitudes of people who claimed it by name, but really had no idea what it was about.

These people were certainly Jewish. They had Jewish mothers and Israeli citizenship, but I didn’t get the impression that they really understood what they were doing. They knew I was a Christian and assumed I had been born that way and were confused when I said that my belief system was basically Jewish except that I believed that Jesus was the Messiah. I’m not convinced that some of them realized that they were waiting for a Messiah.

The second thing I learnt was that Jesus was so much more the Messiah than I’d ever realized before.
The Jews are (supposed) to drink 4 cups at Passover. The first is called the Cup of Sanctification, the second the Cup of Judgement or Deliverance the third the Cup of Redemption and the fourth, the Cup of Restoration.
When Jesus was celebrating Passover with his disciples, he came to the third cup and said ‘This is my blood.’ His blood was our redemption. He then said that he would no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until he drank it with his disciples in His father’s kingdom. He didn’t drink the fourth cup. Restoration was still to come.

At the beginning of the Passover ceremony, three pieces of unleavened bread are taken. The middle one is broken in two. Half is placed back between the original two, and the other half is wrapped up and hidden away somewhere in the house, for the children to find later. While this may be a somewhat strange ritual for the Jew, for the Christian the depth of the meaning is amazing. When Jesus broke the bread he said ‘This is my body.’ He is the second piece of bread between three, broken and hidden away.

My experience of Passover is limited to a rather unorthodox rendition of the feast. It didn’t have the weight of tradition and sanctity that I was expecting, but to me it was profound.

I may disagree with them on my most fundamental of beliefs, but I have a deep respect for these Jewish people, who, sometimes without even knowing it, have faithfully passed on and preserved the laws and traditions of the God who led them out of Egypt. These are the same people, and the same God, who brought forth our Messiah, so that we, irrespective of race, may be brought into the family of God. May they one day see their Saviour for who He truly is: Their Passover lamb, the broken bread and the cup of redemption.

Money: When the Empty Cup Runneth Over

I know it’s not considered polite to talk about money. But I’m not entirely a stranger to the art of openly talking about social taboos, so today’s blog is about money.

I was talking last night to a friend about that amazing paradox that she and I and many others have experienced: that the more you give to God, the more you seem to have.

SAMSUNG TECHWIN DIGIMAX-340I’m not talking in some form of spiritual metaphorical jargon. I have actually personally experienced that sense of confusion on realizing that the numbers just don’t seem to add up. That there must be more money going out than coming in, and yet, somehow, my cup runneth over.

One of the best lessons that my parents taught me from a young age was to give first to the Lord. Not first when I think of it, or when I can afford it, or when I ‘feel led,’ but first every time. First when I can’t afford it. First when it means sacrifice.

I do not give in order to receive. I give as a reflection that God comes first in my life. And yet the amazing paradox is that somehow, the more I give, the more I seem to have. And I know it’s not just me.

 

How can I trust God when He gives no guarantee things will get easier?

cliff-drop-warning-sign--information_19-133742Anyone who has come face to face with the call to trust God in the midst of suffering will understand these feelings of trepidation.

The Christian, never having been promised an easy life, is still supposed to trust God, knowing that He may lead us into hardships. Sometimes it feels like you’re standing at the top of a cliff, fearfully putting your trust in someone who may well push you off, against your wishes and with no warning.

I remember wrestling with this during one of my most unwell times. ‘How can I trust someone who may allow me to go even deeper into this pit of suffering?’ It’s a very real question. If I can’t trust a God who loves me to protect me from what I fear most, then what can I trust Him for?

Sometimes I think we forget what it means to be a Christian. It means that we’ve been crucified with Christ. Crucified! We have given up all of our earthly rights in the hope that we can be restored to relationship with God; that we have a home in heaven; and that all things will, ultimately, work together for our good.

We do not chiefly trust in God to make our lives easier. We surrender our lives, to share in His sufferings, because we believe it is the greatest possible trade we could make. Our trust is in God, not for earthly pleasures, but for the glory that will one day be revealed.

My Anchor within the Veil

chain_2152701I love the metaphor of Jesus as an anchor. Sometimes I can almost physically feel it. On days when it seems as though the world is falling down around me, I remember Him as my anchor and I feel a certain strength through my core; a grounding in my feet.

About a year ago, I was introduced to the song Cornerstone by Hillsong United. (You can listen to it here)

One of the lines of the song says ‘My anchor holds within the veil.’ Had it not been explained to me, I don’t think I would have grasped the significance of the lyric.

In Jewish history, before the time of Christ, a veil separated the Holy of Holies (the dwelling place of God) from the rest of the temple. Only the high priest was allowed to go there to sprinkle the blood of atonement on behalf of the people.

Significantly, at the very time that Jesus died on the cross, that veil was supernaturally torn in two.  No longer was it a priest who had to represent the people, but Jesus, our Great High Priest, made a way for each of us to ‘boldly come before the Throne of Grace.’

Jesus is our anchor, holding fast our access beyond the veil. He gives us a constant, grounded connection to that most holy place. He is an anchor that cannot be moved. He is our security that we, when faced with a Holy God, will stand.