Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Peter 3: suffering for God's glory vs. "Save Yourself"

Don't get me wrong, I believe Scripture teaches God's plan for marriage is for husbands to lead and serve and for wives to follow and support. But I don't think that's exactly what Peter means when he says, "wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives."

If I want to be "like wise" bible students, I must understand to whom "likewise" refers: "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow in his steps...who when he was reviled, did not revile in return" (1:21).

Peter plays the "suffer trials for God's glory" song like a broken record. So far I count at least six references to obedience amid suffering; three by Christ for our redemption and example, and three by us for other's redemption and example, and all of it for the glory of God. I may not be the driest match in the box but I see that once again the Suffering Servant leads the way.....

My favorite passage is 2:18, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit." What heart can love Jesus and still protect its own rights above the needs of wife, the poor, the lost? Through mocking soldiers and Pharisees the Enemy screamed at Jesus, "Save Yourself." To this day the Enemy screams at me and my brothers and sisters, "Save Yourself." War, 401Ks, abortions, lies, fear, alcohol, trophy wives, and trophy wife divorces, the whole fearful, shallow, sordid mix, it's all the same infernal call: "Save Yourself."

But for his Father's eternal glory and mankind's redemption he calls me to lose myself in Christ and his-

Kingdom Beauty - "let it be the hidden person of the heart"

Kingdom Courage - the daughters of Abraham and Sarah "do good and are not afraid with any terror"

Kingdom Life - husbands and wives "being heirs together of the grace of life"

Kingdom Integrity - "he would would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit"

And, Kingdom Peace -"let him seek peace and pursue it"

There is only one Savior from the penalty, power, and presence of sin. And I'm not that Suffering Servant. Not my job. Ahhhh. I can rest now.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I Peter 2: A Decision about Living Stones

Reading I Peter 2 this morning at about 4 am (had to catch an early flight to Virginia), I drifted off into a dream where I was standing in a line in some kind of Kingdom of God city. With the help of someone who was apparently a rockpile caretaker, one by one the people in line decided which kind of Living Stone in God's temple they would be. I am not saying this is how it really happens. It was, after all, a dream.

So when I got to the head of the line, I told the caretaker - a nondescript fellow in dusty, shabby work clothes - I was thinking I wanted to be the kind of stone that lived in a happy, blessed family.

"That's a very popular choice," the caretaker said, gesturing to a large pile of attractive, comfortable looking stones stacked together, their rough edges made smooth by constantly rubbing action. The stones looked like they "belonged" there and in my heart I yearned to belong there with them.

But then I had another idea. "Maybe I should be a stone that is minister of the gospel, or a Christian businessman, well-known for my giftings and good works," I said. "There is so much I could do for the kingdom!"

"That pile is even more popular than the family pile," the caretaker said. He pointed to a towering, glittering rock edifice, each stone a spectacular work of art in itself, separate from and competing with the other rocks for visual pre-eminence. I could have marveled forever at each rock's awesome beauty.

And then, almost as an afterthought, I said, "I suppose I ought to ask which of these two piles the cornerstone came from." I asked this because I knew that the cornerstone of any building was the most important stone, and that the cornerstone stood for Jesus himself. That seemed important somehow.

The caretaker laughed and said, "the cornerstone? Neither pile. It was fished out of that pile." And he waved his arm at a tiny, distant pile of rubble, lying almost forgotten outside of the city gates. I walked over and was, to say the least, not impressed. I've done enough asphalt shingle roofing to know what a reject pile looks like. If a shingle's any good, it gets used, but if it's broken and cut up and cracked, into the reject pile it goes.

I noticed, however, that the little pile of stones had the same dusty, well-worn hues as the caretaker's clothing. Then I saw him pick up a stone and cradle it in his hands, looking lovingly at it from all angles, a master craftsman working in a much-loved, intimately understood medium, thinking: "Once I shape and strengthen this one, I know just the load-bearing spot for's perfect." 

And suddenly wanting more than anything to be honed and placed by his gentle, skillful hands, I asked:

"You use these broken, oddly shaped stones to bear burdens the other stones can't bear, don't you? You're him, aren't you? You're not just the caretaker. You're the Cornerstone."

And he answered:

"I Am."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I Peter 1: two drops from an ocean of wisdom

Quick post today as I race from Colchester to Hyde Park to Cambridge to Burlington and back to Colchester again tonight, where I am dog sitting from my mom while she undergoes some tests. I Peter 1 deserves not just its own post, but its own book. It's chockful of awesome positional truth and applications. (It also sounds a little like Hebrews - "strangers in this world" used twice, and has a reminder that the new covenant demands more obedience than the old.) But time and space permit  only two paltry observations:

V. 7 - My faith response to trials will in glory, praise and honor for Jesus when he returns. So not only does my responding to death, sickness, loneliness, etc. in faith make life more bearable for me now, it will cause praise and honor fireworks in  heaven! Peter doesn't say how exactly that works. But it's even more incentive, were any needed, to say "yes" to God.

V. 22-23 - Every believing Saharan tribesman, every affluent, faith-filled Anglican rector from Lincolnshire, every old man with black skin lifting his hands in praise in an inner-city storefront gospel church, is my brother. Forever. And our father is God, who intentionally and irrevocably placed the same imperishable seed of eternal life in them that He has placed in me. I am a brother forever, bound by God's love and command, to every Baptist, Catholic, Democrat, Republican, and Scranton, Pennsylvanian who believes. I am a member of the biggest, most blessed family on earth. Or in heaven! Hallelujah!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

James 5: Beware, Rich Oppressors

I need to think more about what James 5 means to me, as one of the world's One Percent.

I am glad for the economic growth in India and China. As a kid raised on  horror stories of famine in India and China, I welcome their emergency from poverty even if my own country "suffers" as a result. America does not "deserve" economic prosperity any more than any other country, except to the extent that we use our material blessings to promote freedom, justice and relieve suffering. This Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I would add to my prayers of thanks prayers of repentence for not doing more for the freedom, dignity and welfare of the poor. I do not even need to pray "Lord open my eyes". I can hear him saying "I gave you eyes and you certainly don't need to look very hard to find ways to help the poor." David Platt says that the American tradition of throwing the occasional bone to the world's starving hundreds of millions is like the antebellum tradition of giving the slaves a chicken at Christmas.

To brothers who are suffering, James says: "Don't grumble against each other, brothers or you will be judged." I am reminded that two of my great Christian heros, Eric Liddell (the Scot from Chariots of Fire) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer both died in Axis prison camps in World War II. Their fellow prisoners remembered afterwards that none were more patient, loving, giving and cheerful than Liddell or Bonhoeffer. Schoolteacher and Olympic medalist Liddell would organize races for the little boys in the Japanese detainee camps, sometimes joining them  - racing the celebrity athlete, what fun! - his head tossed back in his trademark running style. Bonhoeffer was uniformly cheerful and considerate to everyone, guards and prisoners included, whether at Gestapo jails in Berlin or at Buchenwald work camp. I think both men knew that in the body, and in families, we make our own heaven and hell on earth, and the difference is whether we feed each other or just feed ourselves. How beautiful, the hands and feet.

"Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise." Praise you Lord for a full stomach, a full heart, a healthy body, the body of Christ, and the song in my heart.

Friday, November 25, 2011

James 4: But He Gives Us More Grace

James just won’t stop. Chapter One: my difficulties are REALLY God’s blessings. Chapter Two: be nice to smelly poor people in church. Chapter Three: my tongue is forever spewing restless poison.

Chapter Four: my quarreling and fighting with others is my fault. I “kill” (hate) others because I covet what they will not give me – their admiration and approval. I don’t have what I want because I don’t ask God, or I ask with the wrong motive – pure (or should I say impure) selfishness.  I am so friendly with the world’s way of being and thinking and acting that I have casually wandered into spiritual adultery.

AHHHHHHHHHHH!!! I am trapped in my hideous flesh in a diseased world, from whence cometh my help?

But he gives us more grace.

As great and real and formidable as those giants of trials, poisonous tongues, covetousness, selfishness are – and James does not diminish them – he gives me hope and life in those six monosyllables: “But he gives us more grace.”

James tells me the truth about me – I am spiritually destitute. Then he tells me the truth about God – his powerful hand extended in love and support. Able and perhaps entitled to push me back into the gutter, instead he would lift me out, if I will not foolishly shrink back. The LORD says to me:

“Submit to me, Guy. Does the devil trouble you? Resist him, he will flee, for it is me he sees in you now! Like a jackal to a lion he fears my roar, like a wolf to a shepherd he avoids my staff. Come near to me now, I will draw near to you. Does your sin trouble you? Wash its grime from your hands in my blood – no other fount will do. Drop like a bag of useless rocks your addiction to thinking that your ways are equal to my ways, your opinions equal to my truths. You were not made to be double-minded, any more than you were made to be sober one moment and drunk the next. You will feel lighter, freer, safer, and happier. It will do you good to grieve, mourn and wail for your past squalor, but my son – it is past! Go from false joy to gloom, and then – to true joy.”

“Come, take my hand. Let me lift you up. I have spent my life caring for you. For the rest of your life, we will be together.”

Thursday, November 24, 2011

James 3: Dead Meat

My tongue is three ounces of pure, restless poison. Like a rattlesnake it strikes at the slightest provocation. Because of it I am Dead Meat, doomed to be shipwrecked, thrown to the alligators, or burnt alive. I am Dead Meat Walking, waiting to be marinated, chopped, or cooked Extra Crispy. My brothers, this should not be! How can I remove the poison? I can’t. How can I make my restless tongue stop spewing the poison? I can’t. James my brother, help me out.....

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How a young man KNOWS he is really a Christian....

When I was a young and single buck, I knew I was really a Christian when a beautiful young single woman and a shabbily-dressed homeless man walked into church at the same time. I knew I was really a Christian - or at least acting like one - because, remembering James 2 and not favoring the rich over the poor, I went over and greeted the homeless guy.

He then said, "good for you, young man, I am really a millionaire and this young woman is my assistant. Because you have been such a swell Christian, I am making you my heir!"

Well, no. He didn't say that. Back to real life. He just mumbled and smiled and shook my hand. At that point in my life I could have cared less if someone was rich or not, I just knew that she had something I wanted and he didn't. I was on the verge of being asked by James, "have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"

A Jewish judge wasn't just an interpreter of the law, he was also its enforcer. He was supposed to stand up for the weak. James tasks his readers for being "on the take", so smitten by the rich that they are given preferential treatment.

I can hear some modern Church Growth Leader saying, "you must court the wealthy if you want to build and maintain good buildings and programs." Maybe churches should think twice about any initiative that requires pandering to the rich. If preachers are reduced to dancing for their supper, then who needs Jesus?

James preaches love and mercy. Rather than judge the poor - for example, welshing on our debt of love with Darwinian condemnation and poorly interpreted scripture ("the poor will be with you always") - we are called to show mercy, "because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful." And then James says what is probably my THIRD favorite scripture:

Mercy triumphs over judgement!

That is Jesus, so that is us, or should be.

Monday, November 21, 2011

James 1 – the pure joy of trials, and my second favorite verse

I love James. Written (probably) by the brother of Jesus to Jews scattered throughout the world, it “sounds” like Jesus. You can almost hear the Sermon on the Mount. This is no accident. The Lord’s brother was preserving the flavor of His earthly teachings. I am just guessing here, but I wonder if some early believers considered James the inheritor of the ministry, the logical viceroy of the departed King. Theirs was a family-based culture, after all. Martin Luther disliked this letter, calling it “the epistle of straw” because he thought it over-emphasized works, not faith. I disagree on both the particular objection and the general characterization. James is just dripping with both holiness and mercy, whether the subject is God the Father or distressed orphans.  

James gets right in my face. “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds,” because trials + perseverance = maturity. Stop whining and let God use your circumstances to make you the man you are meant to be!

Hmmm….my trials…..well, a guy my age and family status can typically expect some of the following: loneliness, aging, money trouble, children in difficulty, and health problems. In my case loneliness has prompted me to make many new Christian single friends, with blessings all around, and to see myself as a unique, distinct member of the Holy Bride, loving Him and the other unique, distinct members according to the grace and gifts given to me. That’s rewarding and exciting. Aging – an increased realization that I’m not getting any younger has prompted me to take better care of my temple. That too has been a blessing. Financial trouble – well….not so much, thank God. Compared to the rest of the world I’m a One Percenter, with an embarrassing overabundance of shelter, clothing and food, not to mention transportation, toys, books and spatulas. I have a good job I enjoy. My family has been provided for. Could I grouse about others having more than me and worry about the future? Sure…..but instead I think I will just “take pride in my high position” as a Prince of the King and an Inheritor of Heaven. Satan, you chump, I wouldn’t trade all of the kingdoms of the world for the high position you tried and failed to prevent. Children? All three healthy and saved. Health problems? Nothing much and if something Big does come, I’ve seen firsthand that His grace is sufficient.

Vs. 13 – 18: God does not tempt with evil, instead he gives good gifts. In fact He is the only one who does. The wise man can tell the difference, and if he can’t, he should ask God for help. Sin gives birth to death, but the word of truth gives birth to life.

Vs. 19: my second favorite verse in the Bible, I think: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” How many times have my kids hear me declare that one, sometimes with voice raised above the fray? As a natural “high talker” I haven't always obeyed it, but I’ve been blessed just about every time I have consciously done so. That's good because "man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Holy anger demands justice for another, but carnal anger just wants its own way. Holy anger: get out of God's way. Carnal anger: get out of my way. James goes so far as to say that anyone who can’t keep a tight rein on his tongue has a worthless faith.

My favorite verse, by the way? From Psalm 119, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

During December and January, JCC readers of David Platt’s “Radical” will be challenged to clarify what God has taught them and how they will apply it. This process is intentional and goal-oriented, like the behavior of the godly man in 22-25: “but the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.”

The mercy and holiness I mentioned above? Vs. 27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Favorite verse of Jon Svitavsky, founder of the Burlington Emergency Shelter.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hebrews 13: Zombies and the Moreh's departure

Our brother Tim Steiner offers the following comment about Hebrews 12:3, "consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." I must confess that as I type this AMC's "Walking Dead" is playing on my television....

"I get a glimpse of Jesus as the only living, healthy one in a sea of `Zombies,' (a theme enjoying great popularity for some years now).  In fact, compared to him, we all fit the classification very nicely, and all the more when we put forward our own righteousness--as we are all skilled at doing--and profess how good we are.  To him, it must look like animated corpses with this and that kind of rot staining every square inch of us.  Yet, he loves us, passes out crosses to each to help us finish off this beast that we are, and pulls us up into the divine fellowship of walking in his Spirit and of Eternal Life." 

And so - what does a spiritually de-zombified human look like? For the answer, I return to the first century.......

* * * * * * * * * * * *
In the final moments of the final sermon of the Moreh's final week with us here in our smalltown synagogue, he describes how a keeper of the New Covenant acts.

1. Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Yet cast your net of love wider, to include strangers, those in prison, and those mistreated by the world.

2. Do not yourself be caught in the world's counterfeit net of love: the love of money and sexual immorality. Keep the marriage bed pure, and be content with what you have.

3. Imitate the godliness of your leaders, but always remember that they are bound by time, culture, sin, and the remnants of their own zombiefication. Follow Jesus the Shepherd, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

4. Go with Jesus outside the city gates, where the world sends those it rejects as impure and unworthy. Bear the disgrace he bore.

5. Continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise.

And with this final exhortation, and a few words of greeting to and from other brothers and sisters, the Moreh strode alone into the sunset, a pair of scripture scrolls hanging from his belt. As we watched him go, we knew our little town would never be the same again. A man turned to me and said, "who was that man?" And I answered, "I never did get his name."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hebrews 12: The Mighty Cloud, and my vision

This will be the Moreh's final Sabbath at our small synagogue. His words have indeed cut through the sinew and marrow of my rebellious flesh. I look forward to reading a copy of the letter he is writing to the Faithful of Israel.

Like the Queen of Sheba, I can say that before the Moreh's visit I had known of the King of Israel, Judah and David's son, but now I know Him better and in person and His glory is like none other. Unlike the Queen I have no gold to give, but freely give Him the gift of my broken and contrite heart.

The Moreh encourages us to live holy lives, inspiring us with the example of the holy saints who have followed the Moses of the New Covenant, Jesus, on the hard, joyful path through the wilderness of Death to the Promised Land where they now live and wait for us -

"Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God....the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousand of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect..."

During his first week here, the Moreh spoke of “the Gifts of the Holy Spirit being distributed according to His will.” As he speaks, I am blessed with such a gift – a prophetic vision. In the place of the Moreh, holding not a strange-looking Holy Book – shaped not like a scroll, but like a box that opens - I see a man with strange clothes and straight hair and skin even whiter than the Romans, closest in appearance perhaps to the Germanic tribes the Romans employ in their farflung legions. Strange in appearance, but kindred in spirit. He is a follower of Jesus, a righteous Gentile, a defender of Israel against a mighty Pharoah of the future bent on destroying not only the first-born, but all of the children of Israel. I too am dressed in strange clothes like this as I sit in a large hall of worship in the city of Londinium, a northern outpost of the Roman empire. Sitting next to me is a member of the Great Cloud, a little boy whose flesh was destroyed by the wicked Pharoah and its ashes blown with hundreds of others out of a smokestack, but not before his joyful spirit had ascended to the heavenly Jerusalem. Our brother with the fair skin and strange clothes, the Moreh Dietrich, says:

No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward to being released from bodily existence.

Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up - that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death? ... Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God's Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.

How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world?

Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.

When Moreh Dietrich finishes, the little boy leaves, headed for a sickbed in a place called Vermont to comfort a woman named Diane who will shortly after join him in the Mighty Cloud.

And I? I will not be disobedient to the heavenly vision. Until the day I join the boy, and Dietrich, and Diane, and the Moreh, and all of my other brothers and sisters, by God’s grace I will follow the teaching of the Moreh: endure opposition from sinful men without growing weary or losing heart. Endure hardship as the discipline of a loving Father, anticipating the harvest of peace and righteousness it will produce. Strengthen my feeble arms and weak knees, so that through me the lame might be healed by Messiah. Make every effort to live in peace with all men, to extract and burn the root of bitterness, to keep my marriage bed pure. And worship in awe and reverence our God, who is a consuming fire.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hebrews 11: for the persecuted church, Faith is the Victory

Our persecuted brothers and sisters sitting in jail cells, they need faith.

To survive, they need to know, down deep, who they really are. And Whose they really are. They need to know they are free. They need to know they are winners, conquerors, prayer warriors in the battle that is not against flesh and blood.

Because everything and everyone around them is screaming the opposite. Mocking them for being stupid. Guilting them for abandoning their families. Threatening them for being treasonous. Spitting on them for bucking the system everyone else accepts.

They are walking the road of the Cross, well-trodden by their fellow-suffering King and High Priest, who heard the same voices:

"He saved others, but he cannot save himself. We have no king but Caesar. For the sake of the nation, this man must die. What is truth? Prophesy - who hit you?"

And they endure this abuse when they are tired, in pain, hungry, thirsty, deprived of medicine, good food, the normal comforts, and above all isolated and unable to respond at will. A perfect storm of misery, with God seemingly standing by and conversing with the Prince of Afflication, "Behold my servant Job."

And yet, by faith they know He is NOT just standing by. By faith they know Christ is with them in example and spirit, the ultimate brother in suffering. By faith they know he will deliver them from that suffering, coming on a white horse. By faith they know He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and their pain will be remembered no more.

The old hymn says, "Faith is the victory, we know, that overcomes the world."

Said another way, faith is only the overcoming victory if




After I sang a song I wrote about and for the persecuted church last week at Jericho Congregational, a brother with a relative in severe family distress asked me for the words. We agreed that there are all kinds of prisons, not all of them have bars we can see.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hebrews 10: the good things that are coming, and.....charge!

Hebrews 10 begins, "the Law is only a foreshadowing of the good things that are coming, not the realities themselves."

I like that - "the good things that are coming." No guilt, no sin, and God's law written on our hearts and minds. Forgiveness and life everlasting. With what's at stake, NO WONDER the author of Hebrews admonishes,

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the day approaching."

"Hold unswervingly. Spur one another on. Let us not give up, but let us encourage one another." It sounds like a determined cavalry charge. Cannon to the right of them, cannon to the left of them, cannon in the front of them, glory and thunder, into the Valley of Death rode the 600, Forward the Light Brigade! And indeed we would be marching as fodder into the world's heavy artillery, were it not for the White Rider (and I'm not talking about Gandalf!) leading us. There's sister Becky to the left of me, brother Tim to the right, and the rest of God's army all around me, and together we spur and encourage, not swerving away from death's cannon blast......and unlike Tennyson's gallant but ill-fated Crimean War cavalry charge, the Gates of Hell will not prevail against us, because we are led by the One who has been to hell and back, kicking butt and taking names, the White Rider of Revelation 19, Faithful and True. And someday, He will ride for the final time with the host of heaven behind Him. I hope I'm there to see it. I hope I'm there to ride!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hebrews 9: Something from the Outside

All that stuff in the Sanctuary, the gold, the blood, the bread, the sacrifices, the high priest himself - it couldn't save. How could it - it was from earth, the same sin-soaked, sin-cursed earth from which the blood of the innocents cries out, going back all the way to disobedient Adam and Eve and their murderous son Cain.

No matter how fancy the script or famous the signature, a bounced check is no good.

So from outside of fallen earth, God sent a tiny seed to die. Embedded in the fertile womb of Hebrew virgin, the uncorrupted seed grew into a holy King (gold) and High Priest to give his (perfect) blood as a (perfect) sacrifice. As a child the King received gifts of gold, as a man he fed thousands with bread that would perish and hundreds of millions would bread everlasting.

And unlike the foreshadowing stuff of the temple, Jesus saves - because he was/is not Of This Earth. He was/is from Outside, the final destination of the Gospel train: "So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bringt salvation to those who are waiting for him."

All aboard!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hebrews 8 - the old, the new, the yet to come

This may be the Moreh's last Sabbath in our little synagogue. Seeming to need to stuff all of the last two Sabbath's wonderful, mysterious teachings about High King, Prophet and Priest Jesus into one nutshell, he says,

"The point of what we are saying is this: we do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man."

Blessed be the maker of heaven and earth, I have seen with my own eyes the Great Temple in Jerusalem. I have prayed in its courts. No matter that it is a shadow of Solomon's temple, where once dwelt the Shekinah Glory Presence of God. When I pray in the temple I know that I am in a holy place, set apart for His praise and sacrifices.

What could be better than that? And still better than that which is better than the temple? My heart receives with a joyful witness of "Yes!" that in the new covenant of the High Priest and King Jesus, no longer need you and I say to each other "know the Lord" for we will ALL know him, the least to the greatest, as prophesied by sad, persistent Jeremiah. Even now in Word and Spirit he walks among us, and forgives our wickedness, and remembers our sins no more. Blessed be His name!

And what is to come - pardon my enthusiastic use of the vulgar tongue but Maranatha, Lord! - a place of worship not built by men limited by time, money, materials, skill, love, and vision, but a holy place built especially for us by the Father who possesses all these without limit, and pours them out unstintingly in the great mysterious work of the New Heaven, the New Earth, the New Jerusalem, and the Eternal Sanctuary! Blessed be His Name - Maranatha Lord!

In fact it makes me want to sing:

Maranatha Holy High Priest
Usher us into your new holy place
Maranatha Jesus our King
Now we see darkly one day face to face
Now I see darkly one day face to face

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hebrews 7: the great High Priest Melchizedek, King of Peace and Righteousness

I will say this for the Moreh: he can extract Big Truth from a little story.

Do you recall the story of Melchizedek? No? Do not be surprised. Like the little village down the road, blink and you will miss it. On your slowest donkey.

So pay attention now: in Genesis 14, Abram defeats wicked kings and rescues his idiot nephew Lot. Melchizedek, king and priest of Salem (called Jerusalem now), greets Abram with bread, wine and a blessing. In return Abram gives Melchizedek a tenth of the battle’s plunder.

That’s it. A jot and tittle is all Moses gives Melchizedek. The Moreh sees deeper. To him, Melchizedek is like Jesus the high priest of the new, stronger covenant, and Abraham is like the old, weaker covenant of his great-grandson, Levi the priest.

The Moreh tells us in many ways how the new is greater than the old:

As a father blesses and son and not vice-versa, so the greater always blesses the lesser (Melchizedek blessed Abraham).

However the lesser tithes to the greater (Levi – through ancestor Abraham – to Mechizedek).

Melchizedek was both priest and king – a king of Peace (Salem) and Righteousness (the name means King of Righteousness)! He was a king/priest combo. Neither Levi nor his great-grandfather can boast this.   

There is no record of Melchizedek dying. Jesus is a high priest of Indestructible Life. He always lives to intercede. The Levite, he lives he serves he dies. Another takes his place and so on and so on.

God swore no oath to Levi, but he swore one for the Messiah: “The Lord has sworn, and will not change his mind. You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” And so he is, this son of Judah of the Kings and not Levi of the priests. Both a king who delivers, and a priest who sacrifices and intercedes, the Prince of Peace shall reign forever and ever -   Jesus!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hebrews 6: Greater blessings, greater tears

I feel the rhythm of the Psalms in the Moreh's magnificent sermon:

Christ is greater than angels,
so don't fall away
Christ is greater than Moses
so don't fall away
Christ is greater than the high priest
so don't fall away
Maturity is greater than childhood
so don't fall away

How ingrained in us and our teachers are the awful consequences of Israel's centuries of disobedience to the angels, to Moses, to the godly priests, to even the elemental teachings of the Commandments from Sinai. Of such holy grief and horror were the Pharisees and their synagogues born, including this one. Have you seen the Tzaddiks, the great rabbis? I am told they cry. On behalf of their people they cry graeter and graeter tears of grief and mourning and repentance for the just punishment and suffering visited on Israel.

How much greater these terrible consequences if we disobey the One who is greater than and above them! We who have shared the heavenly gifts, the Holy Spirit, the goodness of the word of God - if we then revile the cross, a bride spitting on and spitefully whoring away from her gracious bridegroom, subjecting him again to the public disgrace and humiliation he bore for us for love's sake - can we return? The Moreh thinks not. The Moreh thinks that we would be like a useless field bearing only thorns, fit to be burned and replanted with another's seed.

But the Moreh hastens to add, take heart, God is just and loving. He is not a capricious husband who gets up one morning in a bad mood and casts his wife's shoes out the door. Only let us be diligent in serving God in grace. As the Moreh says:

"We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised."

And what a GREAT promise!! I swear by the temple, but the Master of the Universe swears by his name - because he wanted to make the unchanging nature of his promise very clear to its heirs. Therefore our hope is like an anchor for the soul, secure not in the silt of some harbor but in the very Holy of Holies of the Temple, where the High Priest provides sacrifices for sin and intercedes for us. And the High Priest is Jesus, and the sacrifice is universal and effective, and the Father hears his prayers, and as long as we live the Holy Spirit will be the deposit on the full inheritance of what is promised.

How much greater now is my understanding of the Shemah: Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One God!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hebrews 5: there are high priests, and there is the High Priest

After the Moreh compares Jesus to Moses, the lawgiver, deliverer, and prophet, he compares him to Aaron his brother - the first High Priest of Israel. Far from our small rural synagogue, his successor in Jerusalem makes decisions for what he says is the good of Israel, decisions like "for the sake of the nation one man must die." Even if the man was Jesus. This is the man that represents us all before God! How far our high priests have fallen from the likes of Ezra, the priest who led Israel back from captivity. I do not speak ill of the office, but of the men in it.....they say the high priest is selected not of his own will, but by his peers, and ultimately by God. As if Annas and Caiaphas had to be dragged kicking and screaming into taking the job! It is power they love, not the power of love.

Sometimes I am glad I pray and hear Torah far from Jerusalem.

But I am comforted by the Moreh's words about the one true High Priest. Instead of offering sacrifices given by the people (and keeping much for himself), High Priest Jesus sacrificed everything, his very life. Instead of giving orders and strutting around in pride like a Roman emperor, Jesus deals gently with the ignorant and those gone astray. Rather than take this honor on himself, Jesus was called by God from the very womb. Like a good priest he offered up for us prayers and petitions with pleading and tears, not for himself but for His people. And he became a priest like Melchizedik, to whom even Father Abraham gave gifts of homage.

Of such a wise servant I say with love and confidence, "may the government be upon his shoulders." As it now is, of the Kingdom, and shall be one day of the whole world.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hebrews 4: Another Sabbath in the Synagogue - Of Sabbath Rest, and Sacrifice

Today is another Sabbath. As I enter the hall and take my seat with the other men, I see with delight that the gifted Moreh who preached to us has returned. We sing Psalm 95 - "Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts" - say the Shemah, hear our rabbi read from the sacred scrolls, and then settle in for another sermon.

He is talking about the Sabbath, and Sabbath rest. He is saying that God rested from his labors on the seventh day, and so must we, and my tired body says "amen!" The workingman next to me is snoring again, now that is really showing off, he is restinger-than-thou.

But seriously this rest of which he speaks is not a Sabbath nap. He talks of the rest Joshua brought Israel, every man neath his vine and fig tree living in peace and unafraid of the Midianites and Philistines. But even that is not the ultimate rest of God, just a foreshadowing; no, the real rest of God comes when we stop striving to please Him and accept than through Yeshua God is pleased with us because of His sacrifice. Yet this rest I do not just fall into out of exhaustion, like my friend the workingman. Getting there demands "every effort" the Moreh says, and I think my part is choosing to yield to the Word of God.

As I listen with a softened heart, like a knife through warm butter His word penetrates deep, deep into my thoughts and attitudes, nothing hidden. By grace my flesh is not frozen, clenched in resistance, stiffnecked, unyielding to the knife. Like a skilled Levite butcher in the Temple, the Word cuts through the sacrifice's joints and marrow, exposing the meat, which can then be offered on the altar of sacrifice and service of our faith. What comfort to know that the high priest who supervises this holy sacrifice of me is able to sympathize with my weaknesses, because He himself has been tempted to hardness, to withdraw from the sacrificial knife. But he did not withdraw. He Himself is the sacrifice. As always, Jesus leads the way.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hebrews 3: more from the Moreh on Moses and today

Our Sabbath meeting at the synagogue is drawing to a close, the sun is setting on the day our gentile oppressors named after their false god Saturn. The visiting Moreh (teacher) is wrapping up his sermon for this week. He mentions the name that stirs the heart of every godly Jew with love, awe, humility, and gratitude, the name of Moses, the one who stands above all  of the other Mighty Men of Israel:

MOSES OUR PROPHET – through him God warned the oppressors of the Hebrews against their destruction, and it came to pass.

MOSES OUR DELIVERER – through him God delivered his people from Egyptian slavery and brought them through the Red Sea.

MOSES OUR JUDGE, LEADER, AND CAPTAIN IN BATTLE – through him God led His unruly tribe of homeless Hebrews for 40 years in the wilderness, despite famine, peril, sword and strife, back home to the Holy Land, where every man ‘neath his vine and fig tree could live in peace and unafraid.

MOSES OUR BREAD-GIVER – through him God fed our starving forefathers with manna from heaven.

MOSES OUR INTERCESSOR – because he pled for mercy God changed his mind and refrained from destroying stiffnecked Israel and just start fresh with a new tribe with Moses as patriarch.

And above all –

MOSES OUR LAWGIVER – through him God gave us the commandments on Sinai and the holy Torah – the law of God in five books.

There was a time when I would stop my ears against any challenges to the greatness of Moses. I fixed my thoughts of the teachings and greatness of Moses, none other could compare to him. I scoffed when I first heard that a rabbi from Nazareth – Nazareth! - was being proclaimed as Greater than Moses! Ha! But so much has changed in my mind and heart since then, praise be to the God of Israel and yes of Moses too. Jesus is all Moses ever was and so much more! The Moreh says to us:

“Therefore holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest who we confess. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.

“For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house.”

God’s house? God’s house? You mean the temple in Jerusalem, Moreh? But Moses died before Solomon, and though Jesus cleansed the temple of the moneychangers, he did not pretend to oversee it. And the Moreh clarifies:

We are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope in which we boast.”

And I understand. God’s shekinah glory, his very Spirit, will be present and honored in and through us today if we hear His voice, if today we encourage each other, if today we do not harden our hearts.

Then the Moreh sits down. And as the sun sets and the people disperse I pray:

“O builder of this house, Lord of all of the servants of Israel including Moses, today I choose to hear Your voice. Today I choose to say “yes” with a heart that is as a weaned child towards its mother. Today I choose to encourage my brothers and sisters to do the same.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hebrews 2: more musing in the synagogue

The moreh is interesting but the day grows longer. The dusty workingman beside me slumps over and begins to snore. The woman in the back of the synagogue gabble, as much to stay awake as anything else. Seeing this he says,

"we must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away."

I smile at his double meaning. And it occurs to me that it is an odd custom to sit hardworking people down in a warm stuffy building with cushioned benches for hours at a time and then expect them to NOT fall asleep. You'd think the followers of the Nazarene carpenter would know better.

And speaking of Him - and thinking of Him - and listening of and from Him - and yes sometimes half-awake woolgathering about Him - that is the lure of the Sabbath to my living spirit, which brings me back week after week in a way that no commandment could impel my dead flesh. I love to hear first-person testimonies of Him whom I never met, and to hear of and sometimes even witness myself the signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit that he distributed to us, his Body, in the absence of his physical body. He is here. He is here. He is here, my brother Israelite Jesus Emmanuel, crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death for everyone, bringing many sons to glory.

And the moreh speaks aloud my thoughts:

"the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers."

So often I ask myself why my wife is sick, why I must tell my children no you cannot have that, there is no money; and why there are others even poorer and sicker and sadder than I. And I am comforted to know that to destroy the works of the dybbuk, even the Son of God had to learn to suffer as I do and worse. It is a mystery of God but I receive it as true that had Jesus not suffered, he could not have delivered others; perhaps this is true of his brother, too. Perhaps it is a family trait. And Jesus my brother - I am not ashamed of you, either.