Dear Loved One,
In a just few weeks, we’ll be well into the holidays. I enjoy the holidays! The feast on Thanksgiving and, well, everything about Christmas brings me excitement and joy. But, especially as our culture becomes shackled with troubles and trauma, celebrating is becoming a lost art.
Unfortunately, what has characterized the celebrations of our society is drunkenness, foolishness, and giddiness. It may have its moments of fun, but it ends in a letdown or a hangover. And many believers who have come out of that kind of celebrating, and don’t know how to really celebrate say, “Well, I know I’m not going to do that again! So I guess I’ll celebrate by doing nothing.”
Loved One, we need to learn to party!
Well, we need to learn to celebrate in a biblical way. And, as I’ll show you, this is not the first time that God has needed to teach His people how to truly party! In the Book of Nehemiah we find an example. Nehemiah 8:8-12 describes a scene in the open square in front of one of the great gates of Jerusalem, where the people had gathered to hear the reading of the Law. Ezra, the scribe, stood on a platform and read the Law, while others of the scribes and Levites helped the people to understand the words of the Law.
8 So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.
9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.
10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
11 So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.
These people had come together to celebrate the rebuilding of the temple and the city at the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles was one of three feasts in which everybody was to come to Jerusalem each year. While they were hearing the Word being ministered by Ezra and other teachers there, the people became aware of their own inadequacies—their failure to measure up to the standards of the Word. Sincere tears began to flow, and a peculiar thing happened: They were told to stop crying.
Now, it’s important to understand that there is an appropriate time to weep in repentance and to regret when you’ve walked in violation of God’s Word. But there is also a balance point. Nehemiah and Ezra instructed the other leaders to basically say, “Wait! You don’t understand! There is a right response of repentance, but this day is holy to the Lord your God. Don’t mourn or weep.”
The original derivation of our word “holiday” is from “holy day.” So when Nehemiah and Ezra said, “This day is holy to the Lord your God,” what they were saying was, “This is a holiday; it’s a time to celebrate, not to mourn and weep.” And they taught the people how to celebrate.
They said, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” - Nehemiah 8:10
In other words, “Go ahead and enjoy yourselves! Eat what you like.” Today we might say, “Go ahead! Have two desserts!” Give presents or food to each other—”send portions!” So, the people “ . . . went their way to eat and drink and send portions and rejoiced greatly because they understood.” – Nehemiah 8:12
Like them, we need instruction on celebrating in the light of God’s Word.
Why didn’t the people understand all of this in the first place? They had lived in captivity too long. Now, as a free people, they were back in the circle of the life of the Living God, but they didn’t know how to live in His ways. They didn’t know how to celebrate. They had to be taught all over again.
In a way, many believers have been living in captivity too. Maybe things such as fear, doubt, pain, sickness and loneliness have kept you shackled in various ways. But, God has declared your freedom and He wants you to celebrate!
Deuteronomy 16 names three feasts: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Tabernacles. For those feasts, everybody was to come to the national hometown, Jerusalem, for the celebration. Afterwards, they would return to their own homes where the celebration continued.
These celebrations were written into the law of God’s people. Everybody knows the Lord said, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not worship the idols that falsely represent God, and you shall not bear false witness, you shall not covet.” But here the Lord said, “You shall feast!” It was a directive on His part. He called everybody to do it. We need to see that the nature and the character of God is completely consistent with joyful celebration.
God’s celebrations have a very important context.
There are two great elements in all of the things that are fundamental to God’s order for His people: The first is sacrifice; the second is feasting. In sacrifice God was calling people to come to terms with their relationship with Him. Then, in the feasts He invited them to celebrate in the context of that relationship and to recognize the liberty that could be enjoyed by people who live in relationship with Him. The entire sacrificial system of the Mosaic covenant forecasted the final sacrifice at Calvary.
God provided a sacrifice for our sin. And we dare not be foolish enough to suppose that there’s reason for feasting, living in liberty, and rejoicing unless relationship has been established with God first. Therefore, on the grounds of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the Bible invites us to enter into the spirit of His liberty and rejoicing.
God’s party principles
In Deuteronomy 16:3-17 we find four principles of celebration that God has ordained. In verse 3, the Lord instructs how the Feast of Unleavened Bread (or the Passover) ought to be observed. He says that the primary reason for this feast is to remind Israel how the Lord brought them out of Egypt. In other words, the first principle of celebration is remembrance.
Secondly, in Deuteronomy 16:11, God’s people are instructed to rejoice. The Lord says, “You shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, and your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide.”
In verse 14, He says, “You shall rejoice in your feast.” And the feasting is to include all that are within your gates. So here it is in plain English: Gather together and praise the Lord with rejoicing at the worship center; then go to your homes with the orphans, the destitute, the foreigners, and all your relatives. Then the Lord said, “Feast in your house.” I can’t tell you how pleased I am that God says, “Feast.” When I sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, I am always very, very scriptural!
Finally, in verse 17 the Lord says, “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you.” Giving is involved—giving in the sense of offerings and in the sense of giving gifts. So celebration, as outlined in God’s word, involves these things: remembering, rejoicing, feasting, and giving.
The Lord Calls Us to Celebrate
I don’t know of anything that distresses me more deeply than the number of people whose notion of being godly is to remove anything celebrative in the context of the culture. Many have been systematically taught that if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ and believe the Word of God then there is a whole set of rituals that you need to observe or not observe. And I have dealt with people who are the shattered remnants of children who were raised in homes where parents said, “We serve God. You will not get Christmas presents because that’s the world’s system.” Or “We should thank God all the time so we don’t have a special day called Thanksgiving.” God wants to deliver His people from religious bondage that preempts the place of celebration.
It’s time to party!
God established a biblical base and pattern for it, and He calls His people to commemorate with understanding, to rejoice with a focus and to share and pour themselves out in service to others. There is something that seems woefully pathetic and withering about people who live under the notion that the only way to celebrate is the world’s way. But in Christ’s life and love there’s plenty of room for rejoicing established on the basis of His finished sacrifice and a relationship with Him.
We’ve selected some encouraging messages that will help you celebrate. To thank you for your support this month, I want to send you my 4-CD album, “Called to Celebrate!” With it you’ll reach a new level of freedom in your walk with Jesus and experience a greater level of celebration in your life. I also want to include my book, “Christmas Miracle.” I believe it will help you gain new vision and renew your joy.
Make a decision to truly celebrate the holidays. Be thankful and feast this Thanksgiving. Be grateful and giving this Christmas! There is release into the joy of rejoicing. Let’s live there!
Celebrating His love,
P.S. Make the holiday season ahead the time to truly celebrate in the Light of God’s love. CLICK HERE to find out how to get “Called to Celebrate!” and “Christmas Miracle.”
CALLED TO CELEBRATE!
To thank you for your special gift of $35 or more this month, we want to send you Pastor Jack Hayford’s 4-CD album, Called to Celebrate! and his classic holiday book, Christmas Miracle: Experience the Blessing.
In Called to Celebrate! Pastor Jack reveals how celebration can and should be a vital part of our relationship with God. This encouraging series includes these messages: Called to Celebrate, The Lost Art of Celebrating, The First Fruits of Thanksgiving and Kindling the Fires of Christmas Joy. This 4-CD set reveals God's love for us and His desire to celebrate His holy-days with Him. In Pastor Jack’s classic holiday book, Christmas Miracle: Experience the Blessing, you’ll learn to experience the blessing of the Christmas Miracle every day of the year. As you read its pages, you’ll gain new vision, renewed joy and even more reasons to celebrate God’s gift to us