5.29.15–>”Therefore…Since…Let Us: Hebrews 10:19-25″

Jesus-high priest

Hebrews 10:20

He has inaugurated a brand-new, living path through the curtain (that is, his earthly body). [KNT]

This section bookends what was started at 4:14-16, speaking to the pure awesomeness of Jesus.

Jesus, God’s superior provision for the path to Himself, is the High Priest of infinitude, having done for us what is the impossible, and  who stands at the ready always for us.

Therefore, since all these things are true, let us move forward accordingly. Basically, so now what? What do we do with all of this incredible reality?

We see four fundamental practices which precipitate from this great truth of Jesus’ person and work:

  1. Approach God in freedom and confidence (v.22). Since there are no barriers, why would we not enter the Holy of Holies, God’s presence, all the freakin’ time??? Go to God constantly about everything. Interact with Him all day everyday.
  2. Be steadfast and hold unswervingly to the faithful promises of God (v.23). God does not lie. Hold fast to God’s promises without doubting His goodness or the fact that He loves you and is for you. If you lose hold of this, your world crumbles.
  3. Constantly encourage and motivate each other to love and good works from that love (v.24). I like N.T. Wright’s translation of this verse: Let us, as well, stir up one another’s minds to energetic effort in love and good works.
  4. Commit to getting together regularly with others who are pursuing God (v.25). It’s pretty darn tough to live for Christ if you’re not meeting with others and interacting with them and being challenged and sharpened by them. Notice this is different than going to church, sitting in the back, then leaving. I’m no scholar, but I’m pretty sure that’s NOT what this author had in mind while exhorting these believers of the first century.

So if we’re practicing these four things–interacting with God, holding fast to His promises, encouraging one another, and meeting together regularly–chances are the result will be spiritual endurance and even the safe-keeping of our souls (see v.39).

If we’re not practicing these basics, chances are we are floundering spiritually.

Therefore–Since–Let us.

Always, Only, For my King

5.28.15–>”Stop Sacrificing For Christ’s Sake: Hebrews 10:1-18″

sacrifice

 

Hebrews 10:1-3,14

The old system under Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship.

If they could have provided perfect cleansing, they would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.

But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. [NLT]

When I worked at Outreach, Inc. with homeless youth, I adopted this mantra I had received from a training: “You can talk to me, even if you fail.” This was a good reminder for me and what I wanted to be for these very damaged street kids. One of the main things I tried to instill was that they could come to me with anything, even if it was awful in their eyes, whether it be failing a test, not showing up to class, beating someone up. This was a basic need, in my opinion, for working with these youth.

This is one of the ways I think we can most be like God to people. By being openly available no matter what. God has cleared the way for relationship with Him by lovingly removing all obstacles. So it’s really on us to recognize, accept, and live into this beautiful reality.

Some of my kids did not come to me when they failed. Though I was open armed to them, they were either ashamed, wanted to do whatever they were doing and not face it, or just didn’t believe me. So this hurt our relationship of course. It’s hard to blame them, for they’ve suffered abuse, manipulation, and being lied to most of their lives. Why trust this long-haired dude? And yet, that did not change the fact that I wanted relationship with them no matter what. I’d tell them we could work through anything, if they just come to me honestly. Sure, there may be some consequences for their actions, but coming to someone who is in your corner, who cares for you and is willing to fight for you is nite and day better than the isolated alternative.

The ultimate was my guy who confessed to murder. He felt safe to tell me of even this level of crime. Yes, he is locked up for a while, but he and I are in relationship as opposed to his living a lonely life on the run, not only from the authorities, but from his own conscience. He told me two weeks ago that one of his motivations for turning himself in was the fear that if he didn’t, he and I could not be friends since he would be on the run. That’s pretty heavy.

Sometimes we cry out for God and want Him to do something, and I hear Him say, “I already have.” Will we exercise our free will to embrace what God has done–cleared the path for relationship with Him so that we may live in concert with Him? Once you truly wake up to this reality, your life is one that is characterized by appreciation and love of others.

In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria

 

5.27.15–>”Loving Covenant or Transactional Contract?: Hebrews 9:11-28″

Holy-of-Holies

Hebrews 9:24

For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by human hands, the copy and pattern of the heavenly one, but into the heavenly one itself, where he now appears in God’s presence on our behalf.

It’s kind of a mind-bending thought that Jesus, upon his death on the cross, entered the actual Holy of Holies, God’s presence, and offered his blood to YHWH on our behalf.

YHWH gave specific instructions to Israel way back in the day to construct the tabernacle to be an earthly, human-made representation what exists in the heavenly realm. The point was not the old Jewish sacrificial system itself, but to foreshadow the work his son would do thousands of years later.

As we’ve already said, the high priest descended from Levi would enter the Holy of Holies one day a year to offer blood for all the people’s sins. But this Jesus enters the real HOH, offering his own blood, as opposed to animals’, and offers it just one time, which is all that is needed forever.

Again, what we crazy Christians believe.

This is pretty out there, right? Yet, oddly comforting and beautiful when you think about it. Someone has gone to incredibly great lengths to be close to us. I think that’s the message, not that we’re so disgusting and Jesus had to save us from God. Obviously, we’re quite precious to God.

I can’t really wrap my head around all of this.

I see the reiteration of Christianity being a “done” religion as opposed to a “do” religion. We talk about receiving, but I wonder if a good word would be recognizing. Recognizing what already is, and then living into it.

Also, I’ve been thinking how American Christianity has been very transactional. The emphasis seems to be on the contractual nature of atonement rather than the covenantal picture we over and over in Scripture. Christ calls us to a loving covenant, not a transactional contract.

In the name of Jesus, Soli Deo Gloria

5.26.15–>”The Freedom of a Clear Conscience: Hebrews 9:1-10″

Hebrews 9:9

During this period, gifts and sacrifices are offered which have no power to perfect the conscience of those who come to worship.

guilt-free-peanut-butter-chocolate-cookies

I wonder how much more we could live and enjoy an entire day if we could go through it guilt-free.

You know, we are at our most creative when, well…we are bored. If you’ve got nothing to do, you’ve got the ability to come up with something creative to do. You need space to be creative. Not just time, but space within yourself. Think Maslow’s heiarchy here. If your basic needs are not met, it’s tough to think creatively. Most likely, you’re spending your energy thinking about where your next meal is going to come from, where you’re going to stay if it rains, how to protect yourself from predators.

One of our basic spiritual needs is a clear conscience. To be able to function well and creatively and to enjoy yourself, you need to be relatively guilt-free. That’s why they made “guilt-free cookies”–so that you could actually enjoy them.  You don’t have to think about all the calories you will need to burn later in chastisement of yourself for your careless splurging.

If we’re always occupied with thoughts of not being enough, not measuring up, how much we have to do, it’s extremely difficult to enjoy your day. It’s extremely difficult to enjoy God. Someone observed that most of us go to bed saying to ourselves, “I didn’t do enough today,” and we wake up saying, “I didn’t get enough sleep last nite.”

Never enough.

How imprisoning. So much energy is going to thoughts of not being or not doing enough, that we are not free to just be, to just enjoy God, ourselves, and one another. This is why the simple life is so appealing–less to think about.

I think this is one of the greatest things Christ brought us–freedom from a guilty conscience–and yet, very few seem to embrace this most wonderful of gifts. It is there for the embracing for each one of us. It’s just a choice away.

Imagine going one whole day without thinking at all about guilt over something or about not doing enough. Think of how much space, energy, brain power, and time it would free up! We’re all different, for some it would free up more than others. When you think about it, the energy we expend on this guilt and not-enough stuff does not actually accomplish anything. We do not get all the stuff done in a day because we stressed about it. We got it done because we did it. Why not choose to do the same stuff guilt-free? Paradoxically, we usually get more done when operating this way. But you can’t operate guilt-free in order to get more done. Then it doesn’t work so well.

I mean, did Jesus clear us or not? We Western Christians love guilt, don’t we? We’ve been using it and shame for centuries. I think sometimes we can even focus too much on being forgiven. Forgiven from all our terribleness. Yes we are, but then what? Can we stop for two seconds and move on to living the life that results from that forgiveness? If you’re feeling guilty all the time or that you’re just not enough, then you’re obsessed with yourself and not with God if you think about it.

Bask in the reality that you are indeed enough today. Revel in a clear conscience. Live today satisfied with what is, with what you get done or don’t get done. Think of the space cleared up by accepting the clear conscience that has been granted to you.

If this sounds too difficult, some may find it helpful to “trick” yourself into it. Think of watching a movie or sporting event that you’ve already seen before and therefore know the outcome. You can watch it stress-free and really enjoy it because you know how it ends. The hero saves the day. Your team wins. Imagine today that you already know the outcome, that God will totally take care of all that is needed at the end of the day, all those things you don’t get to. Imagine you “win” in the end no matter what. All you have to do is participate and embrace whatever is before you right now, guilt-free, pressure-free. Enjoy.

Live free. Be creative.

5.25.15–>”Christianity 101 according to Hebrews 8″

christianity-101

Hebrews 8 offers us a great starting point for either sharing what we believe, or even for renewing our knowledge of the very basics of our faith. And the author does so by showing that it is born out of Israel’s history with YHWH, as he quotes from the OT book of Jeremiah.

So what is the new covenant basically?

  • It is grounded in Judaism. Consequently, any adequate understanding of Christianity must grasp its Jewish roots and the implication of the roots for Christian belief.
  • It is about the internalization of religion, not merely the external practice of religion. God’s laws are written on the minds and hearts of true Christians. As such, transformation and intrinsic motivation form powerful, foundational elements of Christian life and living.
  • The new covenant is about relationship with God, not merely service for God.
  • The forgiveness of sins forms the basis for this new covenant relationship.
We see that Jesus moved the orientation for moral living from mere outward actions to the internal condition of the human heart. See also Matthew 5-7.

Biblical Christianity, as described here in Hebrews 8, must be understood minimally as involving the forgiveness of sins, a transformation of the inner life in accordance with the laws of God set upon the universe (new human operating system), and an intimate relationship with the living God.

This passage, with its quotation of Jeremiah 31:31-34, forms an excellent 50,000 foot view that God desires a committed relationship with us, that He has cleared everything out of the way that could possibly get in the way of that relationship, and that that relationship forms the foundation and essence for a superior way of living.

Without that specific energy source, the Christian life as we read it cannot truly be lived out. Trying to do so, without that covenant relationship, is the old way, which is obsolete. It’s kinda like trying to speak to someone who doesn’t know your language, and you just raise your voice thinking they will somehow understand you if you keep using English, but you do so VERY LOUDLY AND SLOWLY. Have you ever witnessed this? It’s quite embarrassing.

Keep trying to be a Christian without the intimate relationship with Jesus. It’s off-the-charts frustrating.

5.24.15–>”Have You Downloaded the New Operating System? Hebrews 7:11-28″

Jesus OS

great-high-priest

Hebrews 7:11-28

So if the priesthood of Levi, on which the law was based, could have achieved the perfection God intended, why did God need to establish a different priesthood, with a priest in the order of Melchizedek instead of the order of Levi and Aaron?

And if the priesthood is changed, the law must also be changed to permit it.  For the priest we are talking about belongs to a different tribe, whose members have never served at the altar as priests.  

What I mean is, our Lord came from the tribe of Judah, and Moses never mentioned priests coming from that tribe. [NLT]

Perfection could not be reached through the old covenant way of Law and priests. That covenant was a mere foreshadowing of the better covenant to come. The word “perfection” in verse 11 is teleiosis, which does not mean “without flaws,” but has to do with “arriving at a desired end” or “reaching a goal.” And that “desired end” is the establishment of a healthy relationship between God and His people, between God and…you.
The aim of God for humanity is healthy relationship with Himself. And being the loving Initiator of relationship that He is, God provided the means for that relationship–Jesus. All of history led up to and radiates out from that point–the consummation of Jesus Christ as eternal high priest.In referring to the Old Testament and proclaiming Jesus as a “priest forever,” the author of Hebrews is saying that God’s new covenant way of relating to people has replaced the old and will never be altered. It continues in this paradigm forever without change. “Consequently, Hebrews’ view of reality, grounded in the eternal high priesthood of the Son of God, offers us lasting stability for life,” says George Guthrie in his commentary on this passage.

For us today, chances are, we are not tempted to relate to God via Levitical priests or goat sacrifices. But what false, non-God-given ways do we try to relate to God? What do we need to turn from in order to relate rightly with YHWH? What paradigm do we still cling to that needs to shift in order to be in healthy relationship with our Creator? For some, maybe you need to repent of reading your Bible or going to church in order to be close to God. Maybe you need to turn from relating to God as wrathful, eager-to-punish task master since that is not the truth as revealed by Jesus. For others, you need to stop running yourself ragged serving God, ministering to people, doing good deeds for the purpose of intimacy with God. For that comes only through a humble clinging to the one and only mediator between God and humans–our eternal High Priest. Many of us still live the old sacrificial system, it’s just not goats, bulls, and rams.

Verse 18 says that the old rule was set aside because it was weak and useless. Pretty strong language. With Jesus, the old way is now obsolete. The term for “set aside” was even used in business documents for a legal annulment.

Jesus brought a new operating system to humanity. What did Jesus mostly talk about in the gospel accounts? The Kingdom of Heaven. He said it is here now, and He even said it is within you. What if by “Kingdom of Heaven” Jesus meant a state of consciousness that He brought? A whole new way of seeing and relating. The new operating system into which humans may now be rewired. How much have we missed over the years by making Christianity about mere mental assent as opposed to a new way of seeing the world. A new way of being. The old word for this is “regeneration.” Without the new operating system, you cannot live the teachings of Jesus. Operating under competition, scarcity, sacrifice, and the human effort of trying harder and convincing yourself of what is true, you’ll just keep defaulting to places of hypocrisy and burnout.

Perfection, God’s desired end of healthy relationship with Him, comes through Jesus Christ, our means, guarantor, saver complete, and eternal intercessor. The paradigm for relationship with God shifted cosmically with Jesus, and was set never to shift again.

In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria

5.23.15–>”Who the Heck is Melchizedek? Hebrews 7:1-10″

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hebrews 7:1-10

This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High.

[Pictured is Melchizedek blessing Abraham]

For years I’ve wondered about this enigmatic priest whose narrative takes up just three verses out of the entire Old Testament (Genesis 14:18-20) and then gets a mention in just one other verse, Psalm 110:4. Yet he gets a whole chapter in Hebrews devoted to him.

The author of Hebrews makes a strong typological connection between Jesus and Melchizedek. (The word “typology” comes from the Greek term typos, which can mean “pattern, prefiguration, model, impression, foreshadowing.”) He has already shown that Jesus is superior to the Jewish tradition, including Moses, the Sabbath, the Law, and even angels. Now he will show the priesthood of Jesus, foreshadowed by Melchizedek, as superior to Levitical priesthood, which like Ron Burgundy, was “kind of a big deal.”.

So who was Melchizedek?

Melchizedek was a priest-king of the city Salem (which later became Jerusalem), who met Abraham as he returned from routing some invading kings. In the OT narrative, four kings marched on a confederation of five kings from Sodom, Gamorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela. The armies of these five were defeated in a valley called Siddim and their cities plundered. Abraham’s nephew, Lot, was among the captives taken from Sodom. A servant who escaped the battle went and told Abraham this news. Abraham went all “crazy eyes” and pursued these captors to Dan, where he staged a night-time attack and took his nephew back. After his return home, both the king of Sodom and Melchizedek came to meet Abraham. The author of Hebrews focuses on Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek, in which Abraham gave him a tenth of everything and received a blessing from him.

The author points out that Melchizedek’s name means “king of righteousness,” alluding to the Hebrew words melek (which means “king) and seleq (which is commonly rendered “righteousness”). Further, he interprets “Salem” as coming from the root salom, meaning “peace” or “well-being.” Thus he is also “king of peace.” These concepts of righteousness and peace are appropriate for one who prefigures the one through whom will be the true approach to God, superseding priests in the line of Levi, as well as animal sacrifices.

The author uses what was a common exegetical practice known as “argument from silence,” capitalizing on what is not mentioned in the text, namely a genealogy. Big figures had their ancestry listed in sacred texts, but there is nothing when it comes to Melchizedek. So he concludes the eternal quality of his priesthood and shows that it did not come through the line of Levi as all Jewish priests did. He doesn’t have the qualifications or the parameters given by the law of Moses concerning Levitical priesthood. Levitical priests died. This Melchizedekian priesthood goes on forever as Psalm 110:4 tells us.

The other major point that’s made is Abraham giving a tenth of the spoils to this Melchizedek, meaning that he was greater than Abraham. Levi came through Abraham’s family tree (he was one of Abraham’s great-grandsons), so Melchizedek was way greater than Levi and all the priests who would come down through that blood line.

So la de frickin’ da, right? What’s the point?

Well, there’s a couple points to take in. We see how to view and interpret Scripture from the example of this author’s exegesis*.  First off, we see he uses “verbal analogy”, meaning he lets Scripture interpret Scripture. We see this by his comparison of Genesis 14 with Psalm 110. This is solid practice which has been going on for a long, long time.

Secondly, he interprets his Old Testament Christologically. This is huge for us as Christians. We believe that Jesus is the key that unlocks all of life and all of Scripture. Have you ever seen The Sixth Sense or The Book of Eli? The ending changes everything, and you have to rethink the whole movie to make sense of it. You want to immediately watch it again in light of your illuminating discovery. This is what Jesus did for Scripture. We believe it now comes together, making sense in ways the original authors may very well have had no knowledge of or even intention toward. Without Jesus, we read this OT account of Melchizedek and probably would just think, “Wow, that’s strange. Why is that in there?” Now we know.

For Christians, Christ is the ultimate point of reference for biblical truth, indeed all truth. He is the North Star by which we get all of our bearings. I’m not sure we always grasp how Christ transcends everything, even OT. That can sound heretical to some, but seems obvious upon a close reading of NT writings.


*Critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture.

In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria

5.22.15–>”Should We Sit & Pray?”

centering prayer logo

A quick detour from Hebrews

I’ve just been thinking this week about people I’ve read about whose lives are characterized by spiritual power. They have a couple of things in common.

They’re sold out surrendered to God, meaning, they’ve given up all that could be in the way or a hindrance to their relationship with God.

And they pray for hours a day. I mean they sit before God and pray, much of it in worshipful silence. I’m not sure I know anyone who does this. Consequently, I’m not sure I know anyone whose life is characterized by spiritual power.

Would it do us any good to set aside an hour or more a day to just sit with God while doing nothing else?

Or is that a waste of time.

Does that not work anymore.

It’s 2015, we have so much more important stuff to do than sit around.

There’s no time for that.

Does anybody want to experiment and try it? Clear out the hindrances and dedicate large amounts of time to just sit with God? Is there a point? Would anything change?

Are we missing out on another way of living?

These are my questions.

What if we in ministry spent more time in prayer than actual “ministering?” Is that wrong?

In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria

5.21.15–>”Hope, A Sure & Steadfast Anchor of the Soul: Hebrews 6:13-20″

Anchor2

We have this hope as anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.

The spiritual life is not overshadowed by anxiety and fear, but rather confident that it would be “impossible for God to prove false” (v.18).

All spiritual formation is founded on the trustworthiness of God’s character and the truth of God’s revelation in the person of Jesus Christ. This conviction leads to life-sustaining hope, and hope is a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”

The security of our souls rests firmly in the eternal, high priestly work of Jesus Christ, by which he has entered into God’s presence on our behalf and made a way for us to follow. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” I think he means into God’s presence.

God says that life is more than what can be seen immediately, and he offers us a wealth of spiritual resources to be found in relation to Jesus Christ.

God’s “oaths” help us see beyond our limitations to His limitless power and provisions. Encouragement comes from knowing we play a part in a life both full of meaning and lasting. Thus our current circumstances can never adequately define who we are or what we are about.

Our souls are ever attempting to anchor our lives, to catch hold of something outside ourselves that will transform our detached existence to a state of stability.

Things in this life are ever changing and, therefore, do not make great anchors for life. For example, I was noticing my cat, Dr. Bucko von Spankenfloppy’s face has been changing from kittenhood to adult. I miss his cute little kitten face, sure, but it can’t stay that way forever.

If you’re gonna anchor your life to something, make sure it’s stable.

5.20.15–>”Are You a Beneficial Crop, or Thorns & Thistles?: Hebrews 6:4-12″

Hebrews 6:4-6

For once people have been enlightened–when they’ve tasted the heavenly gift and have had a share in the holy spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the coming age–it’s impossible to restore them again to repentance if they fall away, since they are crucifying God’s son all over again, on their own account, and holding him up to contempt.

These are some of the most disputed and controversial verses in the entire NT. Many devoted and learned scholars differ widely on the interpretation of this text.

Working from the known to the unknown, we can at least say that the author is offering a stern warning in this passage from falling away from faith in Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 4:7-8

You see, when rain falls frequently on the earth, and the land drinks it up and produces a crop useful to the people for whom its being cultivated, it shares in God’s blessing. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it’s useless, and not far off from being cursed. What happens in the end is that it will be burned up.

It’s good to examine ourselves and test ourselves to see if we are a benefit to the world or a hindrance as far as the things of God. The NT is clear that we are created for God and for good works (fruit). Good works are an outward sign of an inward reality. They can look an infinite number of ways, I’m sure. Some help a hundred million people learn how to read, and some mother children lovingly for God. But you might take note, and warning, if you are “thorns and thistles.” I’ve known so-called Christians who were always complaining, tearing people down, hateful even. Is this sharing God’s blessing?

The author ends this section with encouragement in perseverance. That seems to be the exhortation and point here.

Hebrews 4:11-12

I want to encourage each and very one of you to show the same energetic enthusiasm for the task of bringing your hope to its full, assured goal. You mustn’t become lazy. There are people who are inheriting the promises through faith and patience, and you should copy them!