A Christian’s Offerings

I’m struck by how many sacrifices people offered to God in the Old Testament. It wasn’t just the sin offerings and blood sacrifices we know pointed to Christ. There were also burnt offerings, grain offerings, and peace offerings given for thanks or as part of a vow, or voluntarily in worship and devotion to God (Lev. 1:1-3:17; 6:14-23; 7:11-36).

The book of Hebrews makes it very clear that Jesus fully filled all the offerings for sin, trespass, and atonement. This High Priest “does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Heb. 7:27). But how are the other offerings fulfilled today?click to read article, "A Christian's Offerings" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

I think most churches encourage monetary offerings and/or tithing, even if they don’t use those exact words. That’s not the only thing we have to offer though. In fact, it’s not even the primary sacrifice God expects from His people today.

Offering Ourselves

We’re to follow Jesus Christ’s example in all things, including offering ourselves. We won’t be the same type of sacrifice nor operate at nearly the same level, but in the most general sense that is what we’re expected to do.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom. 12:1-2)

God has everything He could ever need, yet He wants us.  We are a sacrifice that we offer to God with nothing held back as we fulfill the first commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Continue reading

Religion and the INFJ

I’ve often seen INFJs described as an intensely spiritual type. Yet a little while ago, in an online INFJ group, someone posted that most INFJs are atheist or agnostic. Being a type that appreciates truth, someone else set up a poll trying to see if that was really the case.

It’s a small, volunteer sample group, but the results were interesting. 36% identified as atheist, agnostic or non-religious. That’s the same percentage that identified with a Christian religious sect. The remaining 28% identified as “spiritual” or with a non-Christian religion.

INFJs approach religion much like we approach everything else: with an open, inquisitive mind looking for patterns, especially those relating to people. Our relationship with spirituality largely depends on how we were raised and the direction our lives took from there. But it also depends on our journeys of personal growth, how the religions we encounter line-up with our convictions, and whether or not faith “make sense” to us.

The Hypocrisy Factor

Many INFJs I’ve seen talking about being non-religious started out in a church of some sort and then left. As with many people who leave churches, hypocrisy is often cited as the reason. INFJs are exceptionally good at detecting deception. We can read people well and pick up on inconsistencies in their patterns of behavior very quickly. At the same time, we want to believe the best of people and it can take a long time for us to admit someone who we value would betray us. Continue reading

Battling Our Thorns In the Flesh

We’ve all “sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, KJV). We know this, and repenting of those sins in our pasts and accepting Jesus as our savior to wash them away was a first step in becoming Christian. Even after conversion, though, we’re not perfect. God keeps forgiving us when we repent, but we still fall short of perfect obedience. I think it’s also fair to say all or most of us have struggled with some sins more than others.

I’m sure we can all think of someone else like this. Someone who you’d think has been in the church long enough to “get over” their bitterness, or lust, or covetousness, or whatever the particular problem is. But if we think about it, many of us are in the same boat. We’re often more understanding toward our own struggles, but we still have them. Or perhaps we’re even harder on ourselves than we are on others.click to read article, "Battling Our Thorns In the Flesh" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

So what do we do? How do we deal with our own sin struggles and react to those around us when they come short of God’s commands?

The Simple Answer

There are several ways people with a tendency toward a certain sin might react. They could ignore and hide it, ashamed to have thoughts and desires they know are wrong. They might flaunt it, choosing to live in sin because “that’s just how I am.”

The problem with the first is we have to face our struggles and talk about them with God, at the very least. You can’t overcome something you’re ignoring. With the second, the problem is that people who are openly and willfully sinning can’t be allowed to stay in the church (1 Corinthians 5). If you’re going to follow Christ, you have to stop practicing immorality. Continue reading

Our Atonement Today

A blessed Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement to you all. Earlier this month, I subscribed to Bible Gateway’s newsletter Holy Land Moments with Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. It’s described as a way to learn about the Jewish background of Scripture by exploring the High Holy Days.

I’m finding it fascinating. I grew up keeping these Holy Days, but not always with much understanding of the Jewish perspective on them. While some of the Jewish tradition doesn’t relate to Christian observance of these days, they often teach a perspective that deepens my understanding. Take the Days of Awe for example. Using the 10 days between Trumpets and Atonement for self-reflection and repentance deepens the meaning of and my engagement with this holy time. And sometimes, the Jewish perspective sparks a thought about how my Christian perspective differs, such as today’s comment in the Holy Land Moments newsletter:

The central part of the Yom Kippur service is missing today. Chapter 16 of Leviticus is dedicated to the description and instructions for the Yom Kippur service that was performed when the Tabernacle and later the Temples stood. Today, we no longer have a high priest, nor do we participate in ritual sacrifices. So how do we achieve atonement?

Those who believe Messiah has come have a different answer to this question than those who don’t. Rabbi Eckstein writes,”There are three keys that take the place of the service performed in biblical times” and they “can undo our wrongdoings and change things for the better.” These things are “repentance, prayer, and charity.”

Our Atonement Today | marissabaker.wordpress.com

original photo credit: Nick Fullerton, CC BY via Flickr

While those things are important, I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord that I’m not trying to atone for myself. There’s no way I could ever do enough or be good enough to undo my own sins. Today, we do have a High Priest and He has filled the ritual sacrifices with His perfect sacrifice (Heb. 7:23-28). The “central part” of Yom Kippur isn’t missing for Christians who keep this Holy Day — it’s more real than ever. Continue reading

Why do we care about old writings?

A few years ago when I was in college, one of my professors organized a small group of interested students and took us up to the Cleveland art museum. The purpose of our visit, a touring exhibit of religious artifacts from medieval Europe, was interesting, but that wasn’t what lured me there. It was the museum’s permanent collection of illuminated manuscripts.

These manuscripts date from the Middle Ages. Every page was carefully copied by hand, and they didn’t just stop there. Illuminating a manuscript with (real) gold, silver, and bright colors in illustrations and elaborate first letters turned them into works of art. The sort of books you took the time to create like this were held in high value (many are religious texts).

Why care about old writings? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

photo of Cleveland’s “The Glory of the Painted Page” collection

It’s no secret I love books. But most of the books on my shelves are, in the strictest sense, disposable and replaceable. They were impersonally mass-printed in a factory. Any meaning that particular copy has is unique to me. But for the handwritten manuscripts each copy is unique. They’re irreplaceable. And they were created with love.

That’s also true of the ancient writings I saw yesterday. The Ancient Hebrew Scroll Project is one of only 2 or 3 complete sets of the Tanakh (Old Testament), and it’s the only one you’ll ever have a chance to see. It tours in public and there’s never any admission fee. The oldest scroll is a 600 year old Torah. Others are around 250 years old, with the exception of some scrolls too rare to obtain old copies (those are newly commissioned). Several survived the Holocaust, including a Haftorah that was bayoneted six times by Nazis.

Why care about old writings? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

The beginning of Psalm 119 on a scroll written in 2009. Notice you can see the lines are written in sets of 8, each starting with the same Hebrew letter (that’s why it’s divided alphabetically in your English Bibles; because of the type of poem/song it is)

Every single Bible scroll, the new and the old, was created the same way. Two Levites stand holding a completed scroll open before a scribe. The scribe reads one word aloud, then writes it using a pen made from a turkey feather dipped in ink made from gall nuts, gum-Arabic, and ash. He does this for every single word with the exception of the YHWH name of God. For this word, he will not speak it aloud and before writing it he washes his hands and takes up a pen only used to write the Name.

Once the scroll is finished, the scribe counts every letter to make sure it adds up to the correct number for that scroll. If it passes that test, he gives it to another scribe for re-counting, spell-checking, and format inspection. If that scribe gives it the go-ahead, it’s given to another scribe. Only after two scribes double-check the first scribe’s work is the scroll kosher.

Why care about old writings? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Latter (aka “Minor”) Prophets. Scroll written the late 17th Century

“So what?” some people ask. Who cares about hand-writing things like this in the age of computers? And yet this is how the Bible was preserved intact and unchanged for thousands of years. It’s the only way any writing from pre-1440 got passed down to us. There’s something about the process itself that lends meaning to the books and scrolls created with such careful attention.

New, fast, and disposable isn’t always better. There’s value in taking time to pour love and great care into something that will last. That’s one of the lessons the old writings teach us. They give us a chance to stop and ponder what we value. Something preserved in this way has to matter or it’s not worth taking the time.

Why care about old writings? (or, On Torah Scrolls and Illuminated Manuscripts) | marissabaker.wordpress.com

If there were no computers or printing presses any more, which writings would you value highly enough to copy by hand letter by letter so nothing was lost?




Return to The Lord

Have you ever felt like your relationship with God wasn’t what it should be? I think if we’re honest, we’ve all had seasons in our lives where we knew we weren’t quite right with God. Some of us are going through that right now. Sometimes we know what put that distance in our relationship with Him, sometimes we’re not quite sure how we drifted away. We just know we need to get back.

The Jews and Messianic believers say the month leading up to Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets) and the 10 Days of Awe between Trumpets and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are a season of teshuva. This word literally means “return.” It is derived from the word shub (H7725), which is the form used in scripture. When the Old Testament talks about people turning away from their sins, this is the word typically used (examples: 1 Kings 8:47; Eze. 14:6; 18:30). We also translate shub and teshuva as repentance.Shabbat Shuvah | marissabaker.wordpress.com

  • (Side Note: the English word “repent” in the KJV Old Testament is usually translated from nacham (H5162), to be sorry, and is most often used of God. However, our modern understanding of repentance is better expressed by shub or teshuva.)

The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says that all the “idioms describing man’s responsibility in the process of repentance … are subsumed and summarized by this verb shub. For better than any other verb it combines in itself the two requisites of repentance: to turn from evil and to turn to the good” (entry 2340).

Four Steps

Today is the Sabbath between Trumpets and Atonement. It’s traditionally known as Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Return. While repentance is something we do year round, this is a fitting season to think more deeply about where we stand with God and in what ways we need to turn back to Him. Continue reading

Top 5 Reasons for Christians to Keep God’s Holy Days

Today we celebrate Yom Teruah, also called Feast of Trumpets and Rosh Hashanah. But why? After all, I’m Christian and most people think of this as a Jewish holiday. Same goes for Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, which we’ll observe 10 days from now, and Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles that starts in two weeks.

I believe these festival observances, along with others already completed this year, are for Christians today. When Jesus came to this world, it wasn’t to set up a new religion. He was the next step in God’s plan for the world and these days are part of the covenant He makes with His family. He’s still inviting us to gather for “reunions” at certain times of the year.Top 5 Reasons for Christians to Keep God's Holy Days | marissabaker.wordpress.com

1. They Belong To God

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts.” (Lev. 23:1-2)

The holy days aren’t Jewish or exclusively Old Testament. They belong to God Himself. We talk about Leviticus 23 as the chapter where God gives Israel the Feasts, but that’s not quite accurate. God doesn’t say, “Here are your holy days, Israel.” He says, “These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times” (Lev. 23:4). Continue reading

Crash Course In Romans

We’re going to talk about all of Romans in one blog post. That looks like a crazy idea as I type it, but I think sometimes when we zero-in on just one section of Paul’s letters we miss the bigger picture of what he’s trying to say. Perhaps there’s merit in studying overall messages as well as minute details.

Romans is a confusing letter, especially when you read pieces out of context. To really get a sense of what Paul is trying to say in any given chapter or verse, we have to read the entire letter. That’s true of any book in the Bible, but I think it’s more true for Romans since Paul connects his arguments so closely. Especially in the first half of the letter, he frequently makes a statement that could lead readers to make an incorrect assumption, then he asks that assumption as a rhetorical question and refutes it.click to read article, "Crash Course In Romans" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Also, even though we’ll stay mostly in Romans, it’s important to remember Paul wasn’t writing in a void. Reading Romans (or any other book of the Bible) by itself can lead to misinterpretation. We must frame our understanding of this letter in light of the Old Testament (the only scriptures around for Paul to reference) and the teachings of Jesus (for Paul would never contradict our Lord’s words). Doing that well would take a book instead of a blog post, but last week’s post serves as an good introduction to this one.

Doing The Law

Romans opens with a discussion of “ungodliness and unrighteousness” which brings people under the judgment of God (Rom. 1:16-32). Paul then takes his readers to task not, as some assume, for keeping the Law but rather for teaching it and then acting in a way that dishonors God (Rom. 2:1-29).

After saying, “not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified,” Paul shifts to explaining that even if you do keep the Law you’re still “under sin” because we’re not perfect. He also says it is righteous with God to judge the world, which is guilty before Him because the Law gives knowledge of sin and cannot justify us in God’s sight (Rom. 3:1-20).

Continue reading

Could Unselfishness Be The First Step To Overcoming Shyness?

Once again, I failed to introduce myself to someone. I’m 27 years old — by now I should have mastered the incredibly complicated art of walking up to someone visiting my own church group and simply saying, “Hi, I’m Marissa. Welcome. What’s your name?”

It would probably come out more as a squeaky “Hi” followed by awkward silence as I frantically tried to come up with words resembling normal small talk.

*sigh* So much for INFJs being “the most extroverted introvert.” Perhaps some INFJs are, but I’m not. I’m shy. I thought it was getting better, but apparently I still need more work battling my social anxiety.

click to read article, "Could Unselfishness Be The First Step To Overcoming Shyness?" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

photo credit: “Viene and friends” by Barry Pousman, CC BY via Flickr

Introversion is healthy for introverts. Shyness … not so much

Despite Google’s antiquated definition of introvert as “a shy, reticent person,” shyness and introversion are far from the same thing. “Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments” (quote from “Are You Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither (and Why Does It Matter)?” by Susan Cain). Shyness produces anxiety in social situations, while introversion means you lose energy when around other people. The traits often go together, but extroverts can also be shy.

Introverts who aren’t shy still prefer the inner world of thoughts and ideas to the outer world of people and things, but they’re capable of socializing and even enjoy it. Extroverts who are shy want to spend their time in the outer world, but they’re scared of people.

One of the most genuinely friendly extroverted women I know was once shy. For her, the turning point from shy to social was when she realized her fear of talking was rooted in self-focus. It was about “I’m scared to talk with people,” or “Socializing makes me nervous,” or “What if they don’t like me?” Continue reading

Walking In The Spirit: God’s Character In Us

One of the biggest problems in modern Christianity is an extreme either-or mentality. We lack balance, straying from one ditch to the other. Consider the Christian’s relationship with the Law. Some will say we must keep the whole law slavishly and seek part of our salvation in it (legalism), while others reject it entirely and say God doesn’t care if we keep His commands as long as we have Jesus (license). Both views miss the point.

Most arguments that the Law isn’t relevant today start with Paul. But Paul’s letters contain things “hard to understand” which people who aren’t well-grounded in the entirety of scripture can “twist to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). When we’re going to study a complex subject like this, we have to start somewhere more straight-forward. I can think of nowhere better than words directly from Jesus’ own lips.

Using The Law Rightly

When Jesus came to this earth, He didn’t tell people He was done with the Law. Instead, He said, “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). This word, pleroo (G4137), means to fill to the fullest extent. Or, as Thayer’s says, “to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfillment.” Continue reading