Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 18 January 2017

This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.”  Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.  Hebrews 7, verses 1-3.

Let’s talk about Melchizedek.   He’s been mentioned several times throughout Hebrews, and we’ve chatted about him a little bit already.   In the Genesis account of Abram’s life (before God renamed him Abraham), Melchizedek suddenly appears out of nowhere while Abram is journeying from Mesopotamia (likely in today’s Syria or southern Turkey) to Canaan (today’s Israel).  We know little about him other than he’s a revered man, a holy man, a priest.  He was king of Salem – the predecessor settlement to Jerusalem – and was God’s high priest there.   Not a pagan like the other inhabitants of Canaan, Melchizedek knew the true God and strengthened Abram’s faith.

Wikipedia reinforces much of this narrative.  It also discusses corroborating evidence about Melchizedek from early Hebrew Torah commentaries, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and even some Greek documents.   Even the pagan Quran, written centuries later, references Melchizedek.  At the end of all this ancient evidence, we’re still left not knowing exactly who Melchizedek was.   All that we can really know is that He was important to members of both the Jewish and early Christian faiths.  Indeed, if you read these verses closely it’s easy to see why many folks believe Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate Jesus (a “Christophany”).  It’s more than possible.   It’s also more than possible that (as we’ve discussed before) Melchizedek was actually Shem, the son of Noah, who had survived the flood and was the forefather of the Semites, Abram’s historic lineage.   It seems likely that Melchizedek was the vocational ancestor of all who would be ordained as either royalty or ministers.  But to tell you the truth, I don’t know; nobody does.   And to get wrapped around the axle about exactly who he was misses the main point about him.

Melchizedek represents unquestioning devotion to God.

Melchizedek is ‘king of peace,’ ‘king of righteousness.’   Melchizedek has no historical beginning or end since we don’t know where he was born or where he died.   He simply existed to give praise and meaning to God, encouraging the chosen man of God’s will at a time when Abram needed it.   Abram had traveled many miles from home for many years, living a nomadic life in obedience to a promise God made to him.  God had been faithful to His promise to bless all peoples through Abram, but hadn’t shown Abram just how He would do that.  Enter Melchizedek, who gives selflessly and provides an example for Abram to do the same.  In doing so, Abram’s faith was strengthened and his devotion sustained.   So much so, in fact, that Abram gave Melchizedek a portion of all he owned.   Some translations of Scripture (including the NIV I use) say it was a tenth of all he owned, perhaps instituting the precedent for the ten percent tithe many believers donate to God even today.   After Abram has won a battle against local pagan kings, Melchizedek visits Abram and bestows on him God’s blessings.  Then he disappears.  Melchizedek plays an important part in God’s historic family and then, like so many other believers, is simply gone, lost to history with his part in the play having acted out.

Again, in all these things, it doesn’t matter who he was but very much matters what he did and believed.  Melchizedek represents that unquestioning faith in God.   He followed God.   He lived a life devoted to God.   He was an example of and a precursor to Jesus, who became the inheritor of Melchizedek’s temporal priesthood.   Melchizedek did in act what Jesus would later do in both act and Spirit.

That’s a lot to understand from someone who is mentioned by name in only three places in the Bible (in Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and in the book of Hebrews).   If you consider it, however, that’s more than most people are documented anywhere in history.   Maybe God is trying to tell us something we need to remember.  Maybe God is trying to say “don’t worry about who he was.   Remember who he believed in.” Many thousands of years after he lived, that makes Melchizedek timely and relevant to us.

For further reading:   Genesis 14:18-20, Psalm 76:2, Psalm 110:4, , Matthew 4:3, Hebrews 2:17, Hebrews 5:6.

Lord, thank You for teaching about Melchizedek.   Thank You for his ancient example of faith in You that can still encourage me today.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 8 November 2016

As has just been said:  “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”  Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.  Hebrews 3, verses 15-19.

Today is Election Day.   Today we, as Americans, will elect either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as president.   We’re voting for the president, for members of Congress, state legislators and governors, local officials, judges and a host of ballot or state constitutional issues.   If you’ve followed politics this year, you may agree:   this election has divided the United States unlike any other in our lifetimes.  Thankfully, it’ll be over today (or soon after if it’s contested) and then the real work of governing and reconciliation will begin.

As we begin that work, perhaps a question, paraphrased from Hebrews, is appropriate:  are our hearts so hard that we cannot enter rest?   Have we become so divided that we can’t come back together and live in peace?   Or at least live in peace disagreeing?  The United States is culturally, economically, politically, ethnically, even racially more divided than at any time since 1860.   That year, the division led to civil war.   Are we that far gone?

I’m reminded of Matthew 19:26.   Jesus has been talking with a rich young man who wanted to puff himself up by chest-bumping the Son of Man.   Instead, Jesus reaches into the man’s heart and levels with him.   “Give up the world and follow me.”   When the young man walks away disillusioned, Jesus remarks, “With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible.”

With God as our first focus, all things are possible.   By going first to God in prayer, we can avoid hardening our hearts as we did in our rebellion, in entrenching these divisions.  God held the ancient Israelites accountable for their rebellion against Him.  They wandered in the desert in sight of the Promised Land until those who believed in the rebellion instead of God were dead and buried.   Redemption was possible but so was chastisement.

Centuries before that, God confounded the language of men when men became too arrogant and rebellions at Babel.  It was the first major human endeavor after Noah’s family left the ark.   Rather than building a city in humility and thanksgiving, mankind build a skyscraper to ‘make a name for ourselves.’   Translation:   “(blank) you, God.   We don’t need you anymore.”   Division followed.   God gob-smacked people with dozens of new languages, confusing their ability to communicate and live together (and finish that audacious tower).  What seemed like chastisement was, in reality, a step towards the people’s redemption.   With God all things are possible.

We, as a people, aren’t much different and we shouldn’t expect any different treatment.  This isn’t some consolation if your candidate loses; this isn’t some pablum to reassure you that things will be ok if you have a bitter pill to swallow.   This is hard, aggressive truth.   ALL things are possible with God.  All through the history of the Bible people sought God, glorified Him, fell away from Him, and felt His wrath until they sought Him again.   All through the history of America we have sought God, glorified him, fallen away from Him, and felt His wrath until we have sought Him again.   All through our history, as we have built and succeeded, we’ve walked away from God.   If you don’t see how we, as a people, have walked away from God for decades now, and now we’re suffering accordingly, then you need to open your eyes.   It’s all good times until the good times run out and then we’re left with the bad ones.

And, at the end of those times, we sought God again.  The First and Second Great Awakenings (of the 1600s and 1800s, respectively) were evidence of this cycle.   Some think our nation is on the edge of a third Great Awakening while others think we’re at the start of the end times.   I think nobody knows.  But I also think – and deeply believe – that days like this contentious Election Day are good days to hold onto our original conviction, our faith in Jesus.  It’s a good day to remember that quote from Matthew 19.   It’s a good day to do our civic duty, then remember that, no matter the outcome, with God all things are possible.

For more reading:   Genesis 11, Psalm 95, Numbers 14:2, Numbers 14:29, Psalm 106:26, 1 Corinthians 10:5, Deuteronomy 1:34-25, Psalm 78:22, John 3:36, Matthew 19:26.

Lord God, I believe that You are over all things, that with You all things are possible.   Bless our divided nation, bless our new leaders, and thank You for the privilege of living here.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 31 October 2016

So, as the Holy Spirit says:  “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did.  Hebrews 3, verses 7-9.

Jesus is over you and me and everything we know.   Simple, right?  Why do we resist that truth?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”   Those are some of the most eloquent, meaningful words ever written.   They’re from the Declaration of Independence, and while they specifically talked about the most cherished beliefs of Americans, in reality they speak for all humanity.   All your rights are yours because God gave them to you.   Government doesn’t give you rights.   Presidents and Congresses don’t give you rights.   Most of the media doesn’t know what it’s talking about.   Your rights are yours because God created you and gave them to you and no government can take them away from you as long as you live in peace with your fellow man.   Yet the trend in the last 100 years has been to cede rights to authority, to have the government control more and more, giving we people less and less room to exercise our true rights from God.

Through it all, Jesus is over you and me and the government and our rights and He personally guarantees us that He is the ultimate freedom in the world.  So why do we turn away from this so often?

Last night, I was watching a Seth Rogen movie; “This is the End.”  I was channel hopping between the Dallas Cowboys game, Food Network, Game 5 of the World Series, and this Seth Rogen flick.   The movie was a drug-induced parody of the end times, where Seth Rogen and his Hollywood pot crowd survive the Rapture and await their ultimate end.   It was mostly tasteless and, to be honest, not very funny (like most of Seth Rogen’s movies), but it was actually interesting from the point of view of writing this blog entry.  It was all about the consequences of rebelling against God.   These self-indulgent movie stars poke fun at their self-indulgent ways and then try to “earn” their way into eternal salvation (which happens to include the Backstreet Boys in one final eternal boy-band boogie).  The characters in the movie hold up in a house while post-apocalyptic Los Angeles is gradually transformed into hell on earth.  In the end, they are either consigned to hell or jet-ported into the light of heaven (where they smoke marijuana forever dancing to Nick Lachey).

What’s the point?

We turn away from God in so many ways.   Like the people of Moses’ day did.   Like the folks watching the Cowboys win at AT&T Stadium did.   Like the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence did.   Like the first readers of Hebrews did (even before it was called “the book of Hebrews”).  You and I, we jealously guard our rights to things we cherish as Americans or simply as people, yet in doing so we sometimes rebel against God.

For forty years, the Israelites wandered in the Arabian desert of Sinai, rebelling against God.  He gave them His laws and they immediately started to lawyer Him.   They tested Him.   They flaunted His laws.   They thought themselves better judges of their hearts than Him.   And so they paid the penalty for doing this in that those who mocked God died there in the deserts and are lost to time and history.   Their children and grandchildren became the ones who inherited Canaan.

And still we turn away.  We have examples from the past and still we refuse to learn from them.

I don’t know how many people were murdered in Chicago this weekend but, if trends continued, World Series or not, there were probably a dozen or more.   Murder is outside of God’s design.   And I don’t know how many children starved to death in Africa yesterday; I’m sure it was hundreds, maybe thousands, and starvation is outside of God’s design.   I would bet that, just since last Sunday, worldwide there were a million or more thefts or stealing incidents.  And at the end of every sin, Jesus is still there, over all of us and imploring us to not harden our hearts yet again.   To turn back to Him and let Him soften what we, in choosing our sins, have turned to stone.

 

 

For more reading:   Acts 7:36, Acts 28:25, Hebrews 9:8, Numbers 14:33, Deuteronomy 1:3, Psalm 95:7-11

Lord, soften the heart for You that I’ve hardened.   Please forgive me of my sins, and teach me Your better way.