How does SYNCing relate to believing?
Believing can end in your head. SYNCing can't. It always turns into action because you are connecting to Christ, and he is working a plan. If you "believe" but do not do anything about it, you are not in SYNC with the plan.
For example, people may say they believe that the Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost, and they may truly believe it happened, but that does not mean they are in SYNC with it. It can be a dead or empty belief that does not influence them at all.
A boy may honestly believe a certain girl will accept if he asks her out on a date, but his belief is dead if he does not ask her. On an opinion poll, many people will say they "believe in God," but their belief is dead. They are not in SYNC with God at all, and they have no interest in SYNCing. They move to their own rhythm.
When we SYNC, we bring our beliefs into line with God's game-changing actions like Pentecost, and we bring our actions into line with our beliefs. We put our money where our mouth is.
Isn’t SYNC simply another way of trying harder to be a better person?
No, not even close. Like dancing or running, SYNCing goes wrong if we try too hard. Runners tighten up if they think about how hard they are trying. They have to think about running, and that frees them up. SYNCing is like that. We think about Christ, his life, his rhythm, and that powers us as we relax into him and trust him.
In SYNC exercises we don't focus on working harder to score points with God. That would tie us in knots of worry because we could never know whether we scored enough.
"SYNC" is sort of the opposite of "try harder." If you SYNC with something, it is something that already has a life of its own. It is moving and you move with it. Its life brings you to life, like the beat of a drum brings you up to your feet to dance. Dancing is different than "trying."
By contrast, you do not "SYNC" with a rule book. It is a dead thing. It does not move. It gives you only instructions, no power or motivation to keep them. All the power has to come from you, so you have to keep trying harder.
What is taking God's rhythm so long to work? Why not end all the suffering right now if he can?
He thought of that. The holdup is that when he comes back to forcibly end all suffering, his grace period ends. Judgment falls. The longer he waits, the more chances he gives for people to welcome grace and escape judgment. (2 Pet. 3.9)
Some people try to create a Catch 22 situation for God. If he permits evil and pain today, he is not good. If he intervenes to crush evil by force, he is judgmental and cruel. Either way, he loses. The only way out of this trap would be for God to end evil by magic without hurting any of the evil-doers. In other words, zap them so they would never think another evil thought or make another evil choice.
Voila! No more suffering. Nobody gets hurt because nobody chooses evil. Their "choosers" have all been zapped into conformity and submission. Is that the world anybody wants?
The world we are actually in is a world of real choices and real consequences, good or evil. Our comfort is not guaranteed, or even our right to be treated fairly by other people, but our significance is.
What is the "Day of Atonement"?
And how is it a game-changer?
The "Day of Atonement" (in Hebrew, "Yom Kippur") is the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar. It is the day the nation renews its special link with God. It gives the perfect analogy to explain how Jesus’ sacrifice created a similar God-link and group identity for anybody, Jewish or not, who honors him as King.
The Day of Atonement was the only day the Jewish High Priest went into the innermost room of the Temple to renew the sacrificial blood on the gold-plated chest that represented the presence of God. What the High Priest did annually on earth for the Jewish people, Jesus Christ did once and for all in heaven for all peoples.
After he died, rose to life, and ascended, he took his rightful place in heaven as King and High Priest. Then he presented his own sacrificial blood on the heavenly altar, making atonement for us all. That changes our status with God, opening the way to a God-connection we could never have created ourselves or done enough good to deserve.
God's standard is perfection, and we were not going to reach it. But Christ's atonement is perfection. In Christ we are connected to God. "But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ." (Eph. 2.13, NLT)
Every Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is a perfect opportunity to remember that perfect atonement. And every day in Mercy Season we declare to be a "Day of Atonement," a day to remember and celebrate what Christ did once and for all.
What does ritual purification have to do with the 21st century? Aren't we past all that?
People are still doing things to us that are too horrible to forgive, and they are doing nothing to deserve forgiveness for them. Strange as it sounds, Christ's "ritual purification" in heaven is what gives us a constructive way to deal with horrible, 21st century wrongs and recover from the damage they did to us.
Ritual purification sounds like primitive hocus-pocus to many in the Western world today, but in human history and for the majority of people globally even today, it was/is a very important part of life. For example, a political leader may be required to go through a purification ritual during his/her installation, a young man may be ritually purified before his initiation into adult male status, or a house may be ritually purified after someone had died in it.
These rituals are all about status relative to the society and to unseen forces or powers in the spiritual realm. They sync people with those forces, opening the way to do things that are prohibited or considered dangerous for un-purified people. Such rituals are meaningless to people who do not believe in a spiritual realm at all.
SYNC assumes the spiritual realm exists. So for us who are doing SYNC exercises, the question is not whether we need ritual purification but how we are going to get it. In other words, how can impure, imperfect people become purified enough to have a special link with a 100% pure God and live in SYNC with his plan for a world of peace?
There is a very common idea that status with God depends on our good deeds outweighing our bad deeds. If we are over 50% good, that tips the scale, and God accepts us. But God is not interested in 51% or 80% or 99% purity any more than a bride would be interested in a groom who vowed to be 99% faithful or than you would be interested in a bag of candy that was labeled, "99% free of bird droppings."
Since purity is a yes-no issue not a percentage, we cannot achieve adequate purity by working a little harder. Purity will be total and it will be officially conferred on us somehow. The question is how, and the answer is through the blood of Christ presented on the heavenly altar once and for all.
Believe it or not, that altar is where we find the power and motivation to forgive unforgivable things today. Christ's death was not hocus-pocus. It happened in Jerusalem on a Friday about 2000 years ago. He did not draw out his sacrificial blood for the heavenly altar by ritual cutting or ritual suicide. Humans tortured it out of him. He was cruelly executed as a danger to society.
That misguided decision to execute him--the worst decision ever made by the human race--poured out the blood that he presented as atonement on the heavenly altar. That is what purifies us. God takes the worst ever human mistake and transforms it into the best ever blessing for humanity! Does that sound like a "judgmental" God? What angry god would come up with an atonement plan like that?
If I forgive others, won't they take advantage of me?
Not if you do it right. Forgiveness is never supposed to be seen as permission for the next time.
Forgiveness does not mean the behavior is acceptable or excusable. It means the forgiver has decided not to require compensation even though the behavior was unacceptable and inexcusable. The forgiver graciously chooses to let the offender off the hook anyway.
For example, if an abusive husband beats his wife and the wife forgives him, she may still take action to prevent future abuse. Forgiveness means she will not let his abuse destroy her desire for his welfare, which means she will not hit him with a frying pan while he is asleep. Neither will she trash-talk him. Neither will she stop fixing dinner or having dinner with him, trying to make him pay for the wrong he did to her.
But she may make express her pain to him so he realizes how serious the problem is. She may avoid situations like the one where the abuse happened, and make an emergency plan if it starts to happen again. She may talk to someone privately to get help. Such efforts may get her kicked out of the house, or she may even decide she has to move out at least for a time, but none of her actions are taken as retaliation. We cannot forgive and retaliate at the same time.
If the husband abuses her forgiveness, assuming she will never object to his behavior, he is like people who abuse Christ's forgiveness. They ask Christ to forgive them but they refuse to forgive others. They want to have their forgiveness cake and eat it too. But Christ is no idiot, and he does not stand for that sort of manipulation.
Why are these books chosen as the Bible readings for Mercy Season?
Mercy and forgiveness are prominent themes in each of these biblical books. Together they paint a complex, beautiful picture of mercy.
Genesis 37-50. The story of Joseph forgiving his brothers who had betrayed him
Leviticus. The priestly and sacrificial system of forgiveness under the Law of Moses
Ezra. Recommitment of Israel as they are resettling in their homeland, experiencing God's mercy (Ezra was written later than Jeremiah; see below)
Jeremiah. As Israel was about to be captured by Babylon, this prophet promised that God would eventually show his mercy and restore them
Hosea. A shocking example of forgiveness of an unfaithful wife, an analogy for Israel as a nation
Joel. God calls Israel to repent, and promises mercy when they do
Jonah. God teaches mercy to a judgmental prophet
Luke. Known as "the gospel of forgiveness," with many examples of despised people who received mercy
1, 2, 3 John. Countering the view that some of us do not need to receive mercy
Jude. Strong warning not to see mercy as permission to keep sinning
Should I try to catch up on the Bible readings if I miss some?
No. Too easy to get discouraged if you try that. Concentrate on SYNCing with Christ in whatever the reading is for today or this week.
Do not aim to achieve a perfect checklist of readings. If you do, you will be too tempted to pat yourself on the back if you make it or to get discouraged and quit if you don't. Either way, the focus is on you--what you did or what you did not do.
Look elsewhere! Concentrate on the relationship between you and Christ. A perfect checklist does not guarantee that relationship, and a spotty checklist does not prove the relationship cannot be good and growing.
Exception: If you are using the daily reading list, there are a few "review" days built in. If you did not miss too many chapters, you might use a review day for a little catch up, but don't overdo it.
Last ditch alternative for perfectionists: If missing a reading is such a big thing to you that you can't concentrate on today's reading, try this plan. Instead of using today's reading time to catch up, read today's reading today. Set another block of time, perhaps on a weekend, when you will do all your catch-up at once. Meanwhile focus all your perfectionistic energy on perfect SYNCing instead of a perfect checklist.