The Festival of Lights

Whether referred to as the Feast of Dedication or the Festival of Lights, the celebration of Hanukkah holds great significance for both the Jew and Christian alike. One of the main symbols of Hanukkah, the menorah, holds great symbolism as well. So, how did Hanukkah come to be? What is the historical and spiritual significance of Hanukkah? What does the menorah symbolize for the believer in Christ?

Let’s take a look…

In 167 BC, Syrian-Greco forces seized the Jewish temple and dedicated it to the worship of the Greek god Zeus. The Jewish people were, understandably, distraught, but fear of governmental retaliation kept them in check. Antiochus Epiphanes, the governor, then made the observance of Judaism a capital offense. Following that, in a move copied directly from Daniel’s experience in Babylon, the Jewish people were ordered to worship only Greek gods.

It was in the village of Modi’in that the seeds of revolt began to break through the hardened ground of apathy. It was there that Greek soldiers gathered the villagers and forced them to bow down to an idol. Then, in a move meant to pour salt on the wound, the villagers were forced to eat the flesh of a pig. It was when soldiers ordered Mattathias, the local high priest, to bow and eat that the unrest began. Not surprisingly, Mattathias refused submit. When a villager stepped forward and offered to participate on Mattathias’s behalf, the high priest drew his sword and, in a fit of rage, killed the Greek soldier and the indulgent villager. Mattathias’s five sons, along with zealous villagers, armed themselves and killed the rest of the garrison in the village.

Mattathias and his family fled the village to hide in the mountains, and other incited Jews later joined them. Eventually the revolutionaries, who came to be known as the Maccabees, were successful in taking back their city and ultimately in regaining control of the temple in Jerusalem. Mattathias, who by this time had died, had ceded leadership of the revolt to his third son, Judah Maccabee (Judah the Hammer). Judah ordered the temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be erected in place of the polluted altar of Zeus, and new holy vessels to be made. When all had been completed and the time of dedication had come, it was discovered that there was only enough olive oil to keep the light of the menorah lit, not for the full eight days, but for only one day. The priest lit the wick anyway, and the flame burned for eight full days!

In the years that followed, this became a major feast in the land of Israel. Because the word Hanukkah stems from a word meaning “to dedicate”, we find references to this feast translated in many English Bibles, not incorrectly, as the Feast of Dedication. The Jewish people commonly call it “The Festival of Lights” and that is because out of that celebration (which occurs in the winter, before Christmas) came a peculiar menorah. The traditional menorah has seven branches and illuminated the Holy Place, wherein was the table of showbread and the altar of incense. In the New Testament book of Revelation, the seven branches represent the seven churches of Asia Minor as well as the church across the years. Recall the explanation given in the Book of Revelation:

The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches. ~ Revelation 1:20

The tradition of the nine-branched menorah comes from the eight-day miracle and the ninth mystery candle. Some rabbis believe seven of the branches represent the traditional menorah while the eighth branch represents new beginnings (which, historically, is the meaning of the number eight).

Here is a clip from our show, Ron Phillips from Abba’s House with my friend Rabbi Curt Landry, explaining the significance of the menorah…

 

Contentment and Thanksgiving

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As we enter this week of Thanksgiving, consider these words…

 The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

With these words, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be the National Day of Thanksgiving. The interesting fact is that these words were penned in 1863 — right in the middle of the Civil War.

So how could President Lincoln be thankful in the middle of such a bloody conflict?

He found the secret in what the apostle Paul once said…

I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. ~ Philippians 4:11

From our family to yours, may you have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving!

‘Tis The Season…

Currier and IvesOnce again, the season of thanksgiving and joy are upon us. A week from today we will celebrate Thanksgiving, then begin the final stretch leading up to Christmas. As we think toward turkey feasts, holiday lights, Christmas trees, and seasonal music, our thoughts are filled with the love, joy, and goodness the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons bring. The memories of Christmas past, Currier and Ives, and “sleigh-bells in the snow” are a vivid contrast to the images we see in the news today…

The riots in Ferguson, MO.

The brutal beheadings at the hands of ISIS soldiers.

The recent synagogue attack and massacre in Jerusalem.

The continuing news about the ebola virus.

Stories like these are difficult to hear, not matter when they happen. However, they seem to be even more heartbreaking when they happen during the season of “peace on Earth, and good will to men”. And whether it is personal loss and tragedy, or something that is playing out on the national and/or world stage, the main question is the same…

“Why did God allow this to happen?”

Maybe you have experienced loss or tragedy during this time of year, or know someone who has… I know I sure have. So, what do we do when these times come? How do we respond during difficult times? Here are a few things that may help…

Bad things happen because we live in a fallen world. Since the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, there has been a curse upon the earth (see Genesis 3-5). Bad things happen, and while sometimes there are things and people we can point our fingers at, sometimes there’s just not. It may sound trite, but sometimes the non-explanation is the only explanation.

Salvation from sin and death does not mean we “dodge the bullet” here on earth. Being a Christian does not make us immune to tough times. The Bible says that “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). As believers in Christ, our eternal home and reward are in Heaven — this world is just a stopping point along the way. “Keeping your eye on the (eternal) prize” can make a huge difference in your earthly perspective.

It’s ok to not have all of the answers. For all of the many ways that God reveals Himself to us through His word, there are things in the mind and heart of God that remain a mystery. Job said…

Can you search out the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? ~ Job 11:7

Faith is such an integral part of the life of the believer, for “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (see Hebrews 11:6). That which we can see, touch, and understand implicitly requires zero faith. One of the very things that gives Him joy is the fact that, even though we don’t have all the answers, we can have faith that He does.

You’re not alone. He knows how you feel, for He has known immeasurable, crushing loss as well. Maybe you are saying, “Where was God when…?” I’ll tell you the same thing I would tell anyone: He is in the same place He was when He watched His own Son suffer at the hands of His creation, and die a cruel and miserable death on a cross — for me, and for you. Our sins put Jesus on the cross, and if anyone deserved to be rescued from that horrific death, it was the sinless Lamb of God. Yet God loved us so much that He refused to intervene (see John 3:16). He knew that those events had to play out in order to make a way for our redemption.

thanksgiving cornucopiaSo, whether you have always experienced the picture perfect holiday season, or your Thanksgiving and Christmas experiences have been, in some way, tainted by tragedy, I pray that this season, you will find peace, joy, and FAITH that the One we give thanks to and celebrate has not taken His hands off the wheel, and has your best interests at heart.

Happy Thanksgiving to you… His favorite!

Pastor Ron

Grace… A Good Reminder

Through The Looking Glass2The movie A River Runs Through It is narrated by Norman… one of the main characters. He makes this statement:

“My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy.”

While we rightly view grace as a free gift, grace always costs someone something.

As Norman said, grace comes by art… but art costs the artist years of practice and preparation.

Grace releases an indebted person from their debt… but costs the lender the debt forgiven.

Grace sets us free from sin and death… but cost Jesus the pain, humiliation, and death of the Cross.

The grace God offers cost us nothing, but cost Jesus everything.

But, He did it all because He wants to spend eternity with you.

THAT is a priceless grace worth sharing.

Living in the Graveyard of the Past

As we begin to wind down another year (only 42 shopping days left until Christmas), it is only natural for most of us to look back at the year we’re leaving behind, assess the good and the bad, and try to make changes to improve the quality of life for ourselves and those around us. As someone once said, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result”. No one is interested in repeating the mistakes of the past with their tortured consequences, yet oftentimes, we become obsessed with the past (good and bad).

Grave 1We see this when someone dies tragically, and the mantra of friends and family becomes “If only they had (fill in the blank)”.

We experience this when we make bad financial decisions… “If only I knew then what I know now”.

We even see this in worship in our churches… The tendency after God works in an amazing way to try to replicate the experience whenever we do a specific chorus or song. Instead of a fresh word or experience, we want to relive the “feel-good moments” of the past.

Regardless of the context, in order to move on with God, we have to move out of the past, and its perceived security. God is all about doing a new thing in our lives regularly if we will let Him. It reminds me of a line from the C.S. Lewis classic, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Mr. Beaver and the Pevensie children are discussing Aslan, the character that represents Jesus in The Chronicles of Narnia.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver… “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Moving on with God means moving out of the security of our current environment into the unknown – a place where the only thing we have to hold on to is the goodness of God.

Decide to leave the cemetery.

You’ve got to be willing to leave the graveyard of the past. Make a decision to change. The very day Israel made the decision to change, the manna stopped. They got off welfare and went on God’s prosperity plan to gain the land that was theirs! As long as we operate in a circle of unbelief, complaining, “We’re short of money; we don’t have enough to try that path”—we will make it through the day and no farther. When every decision is based on only the resources at hand, we limit our vision and focus for the future.

I’m tired of living in worry over provision, aren’t you? I’m looking for a land flowing with milk and honey. I’m ready to drink out of a fountain with waters from which I’ve never tasted. I want clusters of grapes so large that it takes two men to carry them! I want my portion of fruit from that new land. I’m ready for some milk and honey!

Grave2aIn the academy award-winning movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, Sissy Spacek won the award for Best Actress, effectively and believably portraying singer Loretta Lynn. For me, the scene most compelling in the movie is the moment when Loretta’s father dies. Loretta had just made a record, scraping up what money she had to complete the project. But when her father died, in her biography we find that she secluded herself beside his remote grave for over a day and a night, refusing to leave.

Frustrated, Loretta’s husband, Doolittle, plows up the side of the mountain with a bulldozer, as there was no road up to this graveyard. He basically says to her, “Lorettie, we’ve got all these records and we’ve done all this. You’re going to have to make up your mind whether you are going to do this singing thing or not.” Turning, he leaves her by the grave and goes and gets back on the bulldozer. In a minute she leaves the graveyard, climbs up on the back of that truck and says, “I want to sing.” He says, “What did you say?” “I want to sing.” “What did you say?” he asked her for the third time. “I want this.”

All the success and fame could have been forsaken in that critical moment in Loretta Lynn’s life. She could have sat by her daddy’s grave and mourned the past and talked about how it used to be in the good ‘ole days. “You know, one time I made a record,” she could have said. Her whole destiny, and perhaps even the history of Tennessee and country music, changed when she crawled away from that grave and got on the back of that bulldozer saying, “I’m not going to live in the past anymore.”

It is possible to sit by a past personality and miss the future. You can sit by a past hurt and nurse your pain and miss the future. You can sit by a past grievance and be so angry that you can’t hear anything about what God is saying. You can be hooked to somebody’s past failure or mistake, even if they have asked for forgiveness, that you can’t forget it and you become chained to that place in the past.

I’m encouraging you today to go to prosperity and success. I’m not just talking about a financial situation. I’m talking about true eternal prosperity: embracing a life that counts! A life that counts must say goodbye to some of the things of the past. They are not coming back. They’ll never be here again. It’s time to move on.

Don’t get me wrong… stepping into the future can be full of uncertainties and insecurities. It doesn’t always feel safe. But you know what? That’s ok, because — to paraphrase the sentiments of Mr. Beaver — the (plans of the) King may not be safe, but He is good. He’s trustworthy. He has YOUR best interests at heart.

So get up from the graveside… your destiny is waiting for you!

— portions of this post adapted from my book,  A God-Sized Future
© 
Copyright 2012 by Ron Phillips, published by Charisma House

In Case You Missed It ( #AHPastor35 )

Last week, some of us in the offices at Ron Phillips Ministries hijacked The Heart of Abba to share with you some info about Pastor Ron’s 35 anniversary as pastor of Abba’s House. Well, the celebration was great with a wonderful retrospective, testimonies, and a surprise message by Pastor Ron’s good friend, Rick White, pastor of The People’s Church in Franklin, TN.

Thank you to all of you who honored our pastor this past week with your kind words, notes, messages, and comments on social media and the blog. For those of you unable to make it to the celebration, we thought we’d bring it to you. We hope you are blessed!

 

 

Thirty-Five Years of Faithfulness ( #AHPastor35 )

Ron & Paulette2We gave Pastor Ron the day off from the blog (ok… we hijacked it) to share some news about an exciting event happening this Sunday at Abba’s House in Chattanooga, TN. This Sunday, November 9, we will be honoring Pastor Ron and Paulette Phillips for their 35 years of faithful service to Abba’s House and Ron Phillips Ministries, and we would love for you to be a part…

If you are near Chattanooga, we invite you to join us on Sunday morning at 10:30a.m. as we celebrate the Phillips family during the morning service at Abba’s House. There will also be a reception from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. in the Awaken Worship Center (on campus) where you can come, meet Pastor Ron and Paulette, and let them know what their ministry has meant to you.

RP & PauletteIf you cannot make it to Chattanooga, we invite you to leave them a note of encouragement either here on the blog (below), or on our other social media sites. You can leave them a message on Facebook by clicking here.

You can also leave them a note on Twitter by clicking here.

If posting on social media, please you the hashtag #AHPastor35

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We hope to see you this Sunday as we celebrate
the ministry of Pastor Ron and Paulette.