The Meeting

Holy-of-Holies

The High Priest opened the curtain and slowly walked into the Holy Place. His hands were still damp from the recent experience in the water basin. He took a deep breath as he walked through the threshold and whispered a quick prayer during the initial steps.

He looked to the left and made note of the candelabra. This priceless piece was hammered out of one piece of pure gold. Until this point, this lampstand has been used for several generations, but one would have poor observation skills not to notice that the stand still looked brand new. He knew that there was deep meaning in all the pieces that were placed in the Temple, but there was something in him that understood that there was a far deeper meaning to this lamp than what he could currently comprehend. Perhaps the full meaning would be revealed in time…

As he shuffled forward, his robe nearly dragged on the ground. He, once again, became aware of the weight of his breastplate. When he looked to his right side, he remembered the 12 tribes of Israel. This was symbolized by the loaves of bread on the table. The High Priest closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose. The smell of freshly baked wheat filled his nostrils, and for some reason, as if it was forcibly planted in his mind, stories of the times that God was faithful to His people were recalled.

The path became shorter, and the priest saw the last stand that he had to navigate around. The closer he got, the more the scent of incense gripped him. This small table had great significance, and the placement made it so it was almost an obstruction to the final goal. As the smoke filled the air, he was made acutely aware of his mission and purpose. The incense symbolized the prayers of the people that he was there to represent. One concept that struck him, that he had never thought of before, concerned the placement of this table. It was strategic. When God gave the instructions through Moses to build the original Tabernacle, it seems as if He wanted to make sure that prayer was the closest thing to Him. Perhaps there is more power in this action that we often think.

With a bowl full of blood in his hand, the High Priest approached the final curtain. He opened it to see the Arc of the Covenant. His heart pounded harder and harder. He felt slightly dizzy and had to compose himself. The makeshift room seemed to be illuminated and he felt as if it was significantly hotter. Then, he gave thanks to Yahweh, and began sprinkling the blood on the artifact. The experience seemed short lived as he concentrated on the ritual. He exited.

Weeks later, the High Priest heard rumors of a baby that was born not too far away. This child was born during the empire-wide census in a stable among animals. People spoke of a scandalized mother, who was pregnant before she was married to her husband. After a while, word about this little boy seemed to fade away. Perhaps we may hear more about this story later.

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The Killing

lamb

The priest thrusted the knife into the lamb, and within seconds the animal was slain. After some the blood was collected for later, the fire was built to burn the remains. The first part of the atonement process was complete, and he was only beginning an intense spiritual journey on behalf of the people.

As he shuffled toward the water basin, he couldn’t help feeling very uncomfortable. All his life, he was told that contact with blood and death made one unclean. That was bad enough out in public, but it was sinful to enter the temple if you knew you were unclean. In s technical sense, he was sinning, but he knew that God required it, so it wasn’t sinful. Perhaps, then, he was representing sin.

He approached the water with calculated reverence but somewhat of an impatient anticipation. He ritually said a prayer and quoted the Torah then plunged his hands into the tepid water. The water became tinted, and he move on his way into the tent. He took a deep breath and prayed with each step.

He would never consider questioning God or His highest purposes, but admittedly he couldn’t help but wonder why blood had to be involved. If God wanted, He could require grain, coins, or some concrete action of devotion. Why death? Why such permanence? Perhaps, the High Priest thought, the answer is in the question. Permanence. When a created being is killed, there is no purpose left on earth for it. There is no turning back. Considering a second option such as something superficial we could simply take out of our personal inventory would not be as powerful, because we would not feel the weight of the action. Plus, the lamb symbolizes innocence. It is animate. It has breath. It has gender, and a role within its family. Taking away this creature disrupts life to an extent.

The High Priest entered the place and he was alone. Even though he just walked in, he could already smell the incense. He couldn’t think about that right now because that was near the end. His attention was grabbed by the flickering of the candle stand. His heart began to beat out of his chest. He felt a sense of fear that seems appropriate and even healthy considering the context.

As he slowly walked to his ultimate destination, the priest’s mind slightly wandered back to the mental picture of the slain lamb. He remembered the look in the animal’s eyes as it took its final breath. It was an odd combination of scared and peaceful.

He snapped out of his daydream and continued…

…to be continued.

The Approach

altar-bronze

If you think about it, the High Priest and the Lamb are two sides of the same spiritual coin. Neither one could fulfill their life’s purpose without the other.

The High Priest, as he walked and guided the lamb down the center of the city, briefly closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He concentrated on the dressing ritual he just finished and went through the mental task list to make sure there was nothing he missed. He was interrupted by the savory smell of mutton cooked in olive oil, and immediately he remembered the task at hand.

He looked down and made eye contact with the precious animal he was guiding, and he mentally noted the ironic beauty in the events of the day. This small creature had no idea what its job was for the day, yet it seemed perfectly content with the way things were going. There was a bliss in the ignorance. With each step, other sheep from various households would bleat almost as if to tell this lamb what was about to happen. In utter joy or perhaps stupidity, the animal would answer back as if not believing what they were saying. It was almost a shame that its end would come very soon. No matter though. It had to be done.

Taking each step, the priest became more and more aware of the weight both figuratively and literally. Figuratively in the sense that he knew that what he was doing was something that he could not afford to mess up. Literally in the sense of the physical discomfort he felt wearing the necessary garments. The vest alone weighed him down, but it was a vital piece of the overall ensemble.

The High Priest silently prayed as he walked to make sure his heart and attitude were right. For a little while he could concentrate on the blessings that he as praying, but as he came closer to the Temple, he could hear the near-deafening activity that was happening in the courtyard. As he entered the front gate, a domino effect of attention was directed at him, and one by one people took notice of the fact that he was entering. The sound started to diminish, and even the commerce halted.

After the introductions, quotes, songs and psalms, the priest went about his duty and bound the feet of the lamb to bring about full submission. He readied the bowl in which he would collect the blood and looked up to make sure the fire was burning.

He raised the ceremonial knife and said a final prayer. His hands shook as if it were his first time.

The crowd went completely silent.

…to be continued

The Dressing Room

temple

Staring off in a daydream, the bleat of a lamb from the outside of the room breaks his trance. It’s almost as if this innocent creature knows what is coming. As always, even though he is completely experienced in what he was about to do, he can’t honestly say he is used to doing it. Each time a sacrifice occurs, he is at the center, and there is a great responsibility on his shoulders. After all, he is the High Priest and his job is to become unclean and kill for the cleansing of an entire nation. When he finds his focus once again, he finds himself staring into the slightly distorted reflection of a highly polished bronze mirror. It is time to get dressed, and he begins the clothing ritual.

His hands tremble as he puts on each requisite piece of clothing. With each article, he not only feels the physical weight, but he also acknowledges the spiritual, emotional, and mental gravity of what he prepares to do. The ephod goes on comfortably, but when the specialty pieces are assembled on his body, the realizations flood into his mind. There is a sense of pride that occurs due to his office but is dampened with a healthy level of fear. He runs through a catalog of memories of recent events and tries to recall any sins that he may of knowingly or unknowingly committed before going any further. After a deep breath, he continues.

It is great to be dressed as the High Priest in public. People respect you, and there is a certain celebrity status associated with the position. That however does not negate the gruesome task at hand. He looked at his reflection a final time before he tied a rope around his ankle. Tying this rope forces him to think about the importance of what he is about to accomplish. The braided rope is also a visible sign that he is imperfect and doesn’t deserve to be in God’s presence. It symbolized a possibility that he dares not think of. He thinks of the stories in which his own people treated the holiness of God with a casual apathy, and thus were struck down. He could easily die in a matter of hours. This would invalidate the absolution of an entire people group. He needed to be right with God. As the mediator of the people, he closes his eyes and breathes a desperate prayer. The only comfort he has with the thought of dying is the fact that someone can pull him out of the Holy of Holies using this rope if it does occur. He tames his beard with a little olive oil, nods his head at the mirror, and walks out of the room. He avoids eye contact with the lamb that is roped to a post outside of the room, and then their journey begins to the Temple.

God is waiting…but there is much more to do before they meet.

…to be continued.

The Problem With the Cross

crossIt had already been a long morning when we find this bloody man dragging a torture device through the center of town. People were yelling, shaking their fists, and some were keeping quiet for fear of being ostracized for their position that reflected the minority opinion. Many people have met their doom in this way, but not many have received such publicity.

If you think about it, the whole circumstance was a rather impractical way to die. The individual hung on a cross for a long period of time in public view for the sole purpose of humiliation. Death was a secondary bonus as far as the Romans were concerned. The act of being displayed before and during expiration was the modern equivalent of a billboard propagating the idea that this government was supreme.

So, here was this man, who was declared publicly innocent by the governor thus giving the screaming mob an out to possibly assuage their own guilty conscience. Minutes later he is beaten and forced to drag a cross for the amusement of hundreds. His countenance reflected someone with courage and missional resolve. He didn’t put up a fight, and acted almost as if he was marking items off of a task list. His heart was fixed on what was next, but at the same time his mind was meditating on what had already come to pass. Generations of people who claimed to know and love God…and every one of those generations falling into disobedience. Not this time though. He was going to end this cycle. This story started with the perfect couple, who doubted God’s perfect word. The story reaches its pinnacle here. A story defined by stripes, blood, and sacrifice.

This story has become so common in Christian ritual. It is something that is taught to children in a more tame setting, and conveyed to nonbelievers in a way that does not offend. We wear beautiful representations around our necks as fashion accessories, and buy them to match our home decor. Here is the problem with the cross. It is ugly. It is dirty. It is cruel. Yet, for this man, who made this event his vocation…it was strangely comfortable. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it was infinitely painful, but there was a peace about it that follows anyone who finds themself being funneled into the center of God’s will.

Here is another problem with the cross. It demands for us to be more than we think we can be on our own. We can look at Jesus and agree that this story is life changing, but it really isn’t if we never allow it to penetrate our hearts and change our direction. There is something about this story that should cause us to fear what could have been. If Christ would not have done this, we would have been a goner. The problem with the cross is that we can’t take it back. It happened. We wish we could change things, but we can’t. We caused it, and now we have no right to complain about it. Our sin brought this upon Him. It is our fault.

Yet…that was not what was on His mind. We were. His love for us consumed Him. That’s the ultimate problem with the cross. We deserve it, but he accepted it.

-Landon DeCrastos

7 Questions Christians Need to Ask Themselves | In Other Words

countrychurchOn a daily basis, hundreds of questions come to mind about this faith that I profess. As a pastor, sometimes it is hard to admit that there are times that I need to be intentional about my spiritual growth. This type of progression doesn’t come naturally, because I think humanity’s natural tendency is to follow that which is comfortable and easy. “Comfortable and easy” has me written all over it. Even though this is the case, there are frequent occasions when I need to get real with myself and ask the hard questions. Allow me to take the time to invite you into my own growth process for a few minutes…It is possible you may have to ask yourself these questions too.

Among hundreds of others, I think there are 7 Questions Christians Need to Ask Themselves.

1. Why Do I Follow Jesus? 

I often think about the stories in the Bible about the amazing miracles Jesus accomplished. Whether it was turning water into wine, healing a sick person, or making food appear when supplies were limited, each time He performed these feats His “fan base” would grow considerably. People would follow Him around and immediately come to His side when He showed them something incredible. This was great, but I can imagine that many followed in hopes that He would do these great things for them. In today’s Christian culture, there are many who simply follow Jesus because they want to have their eternal destiny “locked in”. I am not diminishing this concept, but I fear that if this is the only reason we follow Jesus then our faith becomes about what Jesus has or can do for us instead of the light we should be in the darkness.

2. What Gives Me Joy?

So many Christians get the concept of happiness and joy mixed up. In our most immature state, it is easy to want to “abandon ship” when a series of tribulations come our way. I often get discouraged about things that simply do not affect the flow of the kingdom AND, I tend to forget that God has answered much bigger prayers in the past. I have seen miracles and He has spoken to me. Wretched, poor, nothing-to-offer; me. What brings me joy is a delight in knowing that the same loving force that created the universe has everything under control, and loves me…even when I am experiencing temporary chaos.

3. What Am I Doing to Grow?

Do you think farmers get upset because their crops need water and sunlight? Do you think they feel as if it is legalistic to assume that their livestock need fed in order to eventually feed the multitudes? Of course not! A good farmer does what it takes to make sure they are planting and harvesting as much as they can each year. They take advantage of the fertility of their land so that their yield will be bountiful. When a pastor stands up in front of his or her congregation and talks about “legalistic” things like spiritual disciplines (scripture reading, giving, community worship, prayer, etc) they are simply teaching their people how to effectively feed their soul. They are teaching the farmers to farm and experience their own personal harvest. Do we, as Christians, rely on one hour every week as the sole means for our spiritual growth, or does it carry throughout the week?

4. Have I Sacrificed Anything to Follow Christ?

Now, please hear me when I say that this is not a question I publicly ask to send the accuser your way. I think it is a genuinely innocent question that all need to ask themselves. Whether it be in the areas of time, talent, or treasure can we really think of a time in which we had to release something we valued to God? Sometimes we think that we are being persecuted because someone made fun of our prayer time before our lunch break, or we see the direction the government is going in a certain political area…but…what would our faith look like if it was all we had left? Many do operate this way. Just something to ponder…

5. Do I Value Comfort Over Christ?

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people complain about the taste of the communion wafers at various churches I have attended. Really?!?!…Really?!?! We are remembering a time in which Jesus just got done saying “goodbye for now” to His followers and indicated death was coming, AND for some reason we complain because of the taste of a cracker. Okay…that part of my rant is complete, but in all seriousness, when God asks us to become uncomfortable for His purposes, how do we react? Do we disobey, or give our all?

6. How Do I Treat Non-believers?

It may come as a surprise to many, but non-Christians have no reason to act like Christians. Yep, you heard correctly. So, with this as an understanding, why do we base our judgement of non-Christian behavior using Christian values? Granted, I believe that Christ-following is the source of an abundant life, but we can not expect people who don’t know Him to fully live as if they do… God has sent the Church into the world to serve these people regardless. They are human. They are loved by God. We were in their shoes too at one point. Do we treat people who don’t know Christ with compassion, understanding, and love? Or, do we spit venom at them to inflict mortal wounds? Sure, we must share Christ with all, and be the light of Jesus in this dark world but do we really accomplish this when people flee from our sight when they learn our affiliation?

7. How Important is My Faith?

Assuming that mostly Christians are reading this blog today, the question I have is about how we view the priority of our spiritual life. Ask yourself if your faith is a hobby, habit, or a hunger. When we look at things in this way, it will help us honestly evaluate our relationship with God. Whether it comes to church attendence, giving, prayer, or general growth, can we honestly say that we have a hunger for the things God considers a priority. Is our faith a hobby that we take part in when we don’t have anything else to do or when everything is running smoothly? Is it a habit we have always taken part in, but there is no real meaning attached? Or, do we have a deep hunger for God’s spirit to guide, grow, and send us daily?

When we take the time to honestly evaluate our faith, things can get rather hairy. It may cause us to *gulp* change some things and go a different direction. This is just how it works. Trust God to reveal the sharp edges He wants to chisel as you ask these questions.

Keep Him the center. The world is at stake. Hell hates it when you do.

Love you all

-Landon DeCrastos

What is Love? (baby don’t hurt me)

“…love is patient, love is kind…” -1 Corinthians 13

I have both officiated and attended several weddings in my lifetime. Almost all of the weddings I have attended have included this verse (including my own). This is a very popular verse that gives inspiration to many, and the tone that it is read in often instills feels of warmth and relaxation. We imagine the author writing with a big grin…with weddings in mind.

When we read the history behind this passage, however, a different intention is revealed. Paul was writing to a church that was experiencing struggles, infighting, and an attack on the message that they have come to know. Rivalry between social class, families, and members of the church had emerged and threatened to destroy the community that God had built.

So, Paul, with this understanding, pleads with this church. He wants them to understand what true love looks like. He wanted them to know that this love that comes from God is patient, kind (infighting), it does not boast (social class)…and deserves more than just lip service. Christ’s death on the cross was meant to convey power…not counterfeit feelings.

Paul realized that these people who called themselves Christians could do everything they were told to do, but if they did not do it with love…then their actions would be worthless and their speech would be just noise (resounding gong or clanging cymbal).

What we say and what we do can help or hurt if depending on whether love is our driving force. This passage is not meant to be lovey-dovey, but a plea of frustration.

The concept of love is not a weak. It is the power that created the universe…and the blood spilled in the war for your soul.

-Landon DeCrastos