Saturday, June 26, 2021

Luau: Let’s Celebrate Our Joy in the Lord!

Photo by Nicole Bratt 2005
As the summer season of celebrations and holidays has officially begun, may you enjoy this repost from the archives about the traditions of the Hawaiian custom of the luau, which is a popular summer party theme. Much of the symbolism of this ceremonial feast has a parallel in Christian beliefs.   

In Christ we have great reason to celebrate, no matter what our circumstances, because we have joy in the Lord (Psalm.32:11; Isaiah. 61:10; Matthew. 25:21,23) and the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah.8:10). Even while chained in a cold, gloomy prison cell for preaching the Gospel, the apostle Paul was so filled with joy that he said to Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4) 

The luau is held not only to celebrate, but also as an occasion to show hospitality to those outside our immediate circle of family and close friends. Scripture tells us to be hospitable even to strangers, because we may be entertaining angels without even knowing it! (Hebrews 13:2). When Abraham offered a feast to three strangers who dropped in, it turned out to be the LORD and two angels, and he was blessed by the news that Sarah would give birth to a son in her old age, giving rise to a great nation (Genesis 18). 

In ancient times in Hawaii, men and woman ate their meals separately, and women were not allowed to eat foods that were served only to men on special occasions. However, in 1819, King Kamehameha did away with these religious laws and taboos (Romans 14:2-3) and ate with all the women during the luau, with everyone enjoying the special dishes formerly given only to men. 

This reminds me that Jesus Christ, Who is King of Kings (Revelation 17:14; 19:16), is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), for all who trust Him are equal and all one in Him (Galatians 3: 26-28). Regardless of sex, race, nationality, or religious upbringing, all those who place their trust in Him will take part in His marriage supper, which will be the most amazing celebration of all time! (Revelation 19:9)  

To honor the guests of the luau, the host gives each one a lei, which is a garland or wreath given as a symbol of affection. It can be any series of objects strung together, like a necklace of beads, but it is usually made of fresh natural plants such as flowers, leaves, vines, fern fronds, nuts, and seeds. 

On May 1 of every year, Hawaiians celebrate "Lei Day," so named in 1927 by poet Don Blanding. Since World War II, it has been the modern custom in Hawaii to give a lei with a kiss. The apostle Paul four times in his letters tells believers to greet one another with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26).  But the traditional custom is to give a lei by bowing slightly and raising it above the heart as a sign of love, allowing the person to take it, because raising the hands above another's head, or touching their face or head, is considered disrespectful. 

This reminds me of the apostle Paul’s encouragement for us to submit ourselves to one another (Ephesians 5:1) and to be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another (Romans 12:10). Even in relationships where one person has rightful authority over another, such as parent to child, boss to employee, or teacher to student, we should still consider the needs of the other person over our own. If we brag or boast or lord our authority over someone, God will bring us down, but if we have a servant’s heart toward others, God will lift us up (Matthew 23:12). 

Hawaiians honor leis and what they represent by never throwing them away casually. If they cannot return leis to the place they were gathered, they return them to the earth by hanging them in a tree, burying, or burning them. Because a lei symbolizes the love of the giver, to toss one in the trash would be a sign of disrespect or ingratitude. Many types of lei can be left in a window to dry, allowing the natural fragrance to fill the room.  

On Memorial Day, we remember and honor those who went home to the Lord before us, especially those who lost their lives for our freedom in self-sacrificing love, reminding us of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice (John 10:15,17; 15:13; 1 John 3:16). I am thankful for the Godly legacy left me by those who went before me, and their memory lingers on like a sweet-smelling fragrance.  

Although we typically think of a lei as a flower garland, more loosely defined, a lei is any series of objects strung together. In Hawaii, children, family and sweethearts are poetically referred to as "lei." Paul describes the church as we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another (Romans 12: 5). So we, as members of the church or body of Christ, can be thought of as a lei, bound together in love as a family.  

Each of us is like a flower, different, but more beautiful and fragrant to God when we come to together in unity of spirit than we would be separately. Throughout the book of Acts, we hear of Christians in the early church acting together with one accord, accomplishing far more to spread the Gospel than they could if each were to act separately (Acts 1:14;2:1,46; 4:24; 5:12,7:57, etc.). 

The Haku lei is a type of lei crafted by braiding three cords together. Haku mele means to braid a song. A song composed out of affection for an individual is considered a lei, because it is words and notes strung together in love. Paul encourages Christian believers to speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19). 

The three cords of the Haku lei remind me of Solomon’s wisdom that a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12), meaning that friends who are united in their faith in God strengthen and build up one another through trials and temptations (Galatians 6:2; Proverbs 27:17). 

The threefold cord is also reminiscent of the Trinity (Matthew 3:16-17). Christ is the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9). When our heart believes in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), the Holy Spirit enters us (2 Corinthians 1:22) to teach us about Jesus Christ, Who is the only Way to God the Father (John 14:6).  

So as we enjoy summer celebrations, may we remember the legacy of those who went before us and encourage fellow believers. May we celebrate our joy in the Lord, show hospitality and love to one another, and be united in Christ, like flowers woven together in a threefold lei!
© 2014 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives
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Saturday, June 19, 2021

A Father’s Legacy of Faith

When we consider the story of how God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to God on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:1-19), we typically view it as an example of Abraham’s great faith. Yet this test proved Isaac’s faith to be just as strong.

Isaac was the child of promise, whom God had promised to Abram and Sarah when they were very old and had no children. Even more amazing, this would be the child through whom Abraham (his new name) would be the father of a great nation, in whom all would be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3), with descendants as innumerable as grains of sand on the seashore or stars in the sky (Genesis 22:17).

Sarah laughed when she heard that they would have a child, for she was aged and barren (Genesis 18:10-15). She had grown weary of waiting for God to allow her to conceive, and took matters into her own hands by persuading Abraham to have relations with her handmaid Hagar (Genesis 16:1-8).

Sadly, Abraham acquiesced, and Ishmael was born from that illicit union. This lapse in faith proved not only that Abraham was human, subject to the same weaknesses as all of us (Romans 3:23), but also that God can and will use those who love and trust him, even when they have gone astray as Abram had done several times before  (Genesis 12:10-20).

But every choice has its consequences. The birth of Ishmael caused strife not only in Abram’s own household, particularly after Isaac was born to Sarah as God had promised, but also engendered constant warring between the great nations born of Abraham’s offspring – Israel and the Muslim nations (Genesis 16:8-12).

Nonetheless, Abraham was a man of great faith in the One True God, which I believe is the greatest legacy a father can pass on to his children (Ephesians 6:4). His faith began when God first spoke to him, asking him to leave behind his home, pagan beliefs, and seat of power to journey through the wilderness (Genesis 12:1-3). God spoke of the Promised Land and said he would lead Abram there, and make of him a great nation (Genesis 12:1-7).

What amazing faith it took to trust God to do this when Abram had no idea where he was going or how long it would take to get there! But even that faith pales in comparison with what happened later. God tested Abraham’s faith by asking him to take his only son Isaac, whom he loved, and to offer him as a burnt offering on a mountain of Moriah that God would later specify (Genesis 22:1-19).

What must have raced through Abraham’s mind, and how must his heart have ached as he heard this! There was no mistaking God’s command. He specified “his only son” Isaac, making it clear that he referred to the child of His promise, and not the illegitimate son born through the weakness of Abraham’s flesh.

God clearly knew how much Abraham loved Isaac, making His command all the more repugnant and incomprehensible. Any loving parent would rebel at sacrificing their child, and most would even be willing to sacrifice their own life to spare that of their child, if they had the opportunity. Yet God was asking Abraham to lay Isaac on the altar, slay him with a knife, and then set his body on fire!

God’s command seemed to fly in the face of His very nature, which cannot change (Hebrews 13:8), as He later would forbid child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5). His own Son loved little children and held them up as an example of the type of faith needed to enter His kingdom (Matthew 19:14; 18:3). Abraham did not have the benefit of knowing this, yet he believed that God would keep His promise to make him the father of a great nation, which could only happen through Isaac.

Abraham’s faith is clear in his detailed obedience by getting up early for the journey, saddling and loading his ass, taking two companions for the trip, and bringing the wood for the burnt offering. He traveled for three days, and must have had to silence whatever doubts and fears gnawed at his soul as he resolutely headed for the mountain (Genesis 22:1-4).

At the base of the mountain, Abraham told his companions to stay there with the ass, and reassured them that he – and Isaac – would return after they had worshipped God (v. 5). What faith he showed to trust that God would somehow spare Isaac’s life!

Then it was only Abraham and Isaac ascending the mountain. The father carried the fire and knife, and the son bore the heavy burden of the wood to be used for his own funeral pyre. It foreshadowed Jesus struggling under the weight of the cross that would be the cruel instrument of His death (John 19:17).

Finally Isaac voiced the question that must have been troubling him, and to which he already knew the answer – where is the lamb for the burnt offering? (v. 6-7).

At this point Isaac was a strong young man, and his feeble father more than a centenarian. Isaac’s faith must have been just as great as Abraham’s faith, to obey God to the point of death, just as God’s only begotten Son Jesus would millennia later (Philippians 2:8). That type of faith is not born in a vacuum (2 Timothy 1:5), but from the living faith Isaac saw daily in his father Abraham.

Almost as if trying to convince himself, Abraham told Isaac that God Himself would provide the burnt offering. A man of lesser faith than Isaac would no doubt be tempted to escape as Abraham prepared the altar and wood, or to wrestle free as his father laid him on the altar and then raised the knife to slay Him  (Genesis 22:8-10).

Yet Isaac held fast without complaint or struggle, submitting himself to God’s mercy, just as Jesus did when He was led as a sheep to the slaughter to pay the debt for our sin (Isaiah 53:5-7).

God rewarded the faith of father and son by sparing Isaac’s life, sending the angel of the Lord to keep Abraham from harming Isaac (Genesis 22:11-19). This test proved through their obedience and submission to God’s will that not only Abraham, but also Isaac, feared and trusted God. This came as no surprise to God, Who knows all things (Psalm 139:1-6), but it must have been an amazing confirmation to both men of God’s faithfulness and of their own faith.

God rewarded them further by providing a ram for the offering and by expanding upon His promise:

“That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.”  (Genesis 22:17-18).

All nations would be blessed through Jesus Christ, Who would be born to the house of Abraham (Matthew 1:1-17) and be the Savior of all who trust in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6).

But Abraham’s legacy of faith did not stop with Isaac. His firstborn son Jacob, later renamed Israel because his faith was so great that he spent all night wrestling with God until He promised to bless him (Genesis 32:24-30), gave rise to the great nation of the same name, God’s chosen people. When Isaac was on his deathbed, Jacob acknowledged that his God was the God of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham (Genesis 32:9).

Similarly, when Israel was on his deathbed, he blessed each of his twelve sons, progenitors of each of the twelve tribes of Israel. These included Joseph, himself a great example of faith in God working all things together for good (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). Israel described Joseph as blessed “by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above(Genesis 49:25).

As God had promised, the lineage of the Messiah would stem from Abraham’s seed, namely through Israel’s son Judah, direct ancestor of Jesus, Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5), from whom the scepter of kingship and the lawgiver would not depart (Genesis 49:10).

On Father’s Day, we honor our earthly fathers and thank our Heavenly Father for their Godly influence and other blessings on our life. May our earthly fathers bless their children with the greatest legacy – the gift of faith in our  Lord Jesus Christ! 

© 2021 Laurie Collett