Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 October 2017

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands 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, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  Hebrews 12, verses 22-24.

One of my favorite Christian songs is “Days of Elijah.”   There’s a particularly good version of it by Twila Paris that’s not saccharin, not too rock & roll, not too corny.   It’s just uplifting, and one of the verses in the song says “out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.”  Look up the geography of Jerusalem and you see that Zion is the hill on which the first and second temple’s were built.   It was literally God’s home address on terra firma.  It’s where the Temple was located, where King David reigned and is buried, where the Last Supper was held, and it’s not far from Calvary.   In contemporary usage, Zion refers to the land of Israel itself, and to the cause of establishing the modern nation of Israel.  Yet in days of old it was where God lived.

That’s a lot to draw from just a few verses.  Then again, Jerusalem has been ground zero for most of human history, and Zion is the spiritual heart of Jerusalem.   There’s a lot to consider with it.

The writer of Hebrews invoked Zion to symbolize heaven made possible by Jesus.   It is the new heaven, the new dwelling place of the living God.   You and I get to go there, to worship in His true temple, to make our home with Him (to tabernacle with Him).   Where Sinai symbolizes our need for Jesus before heaven, Zion symbolizes our heaven with Jesus both here in this world and in the next.  Sinai was a place of power and fear:   Zion is a place where the greatest power in the universe – God’s love – took root and grew.   Sinai was law:  Zion is love.   Sinai was remote:   Zion is connection.

I can hear Twila singing about “righteousness being restored.”

Read, too, about Abel.   The writer recalls Abel, invoking that the sacrifice of Christ means more than the sacrifice of Abel (both the blood of the animal Abel sacrificed as well as his own as the victim of history’s first murder).  Abel gave a representation of divine blood in a sacrifice about his personal faith; Jesus actually gave His own blood as the faith sacrifice for all persons.

Read, too (again) about the firstborn.   Recall the story of Esau and Jacob (or, for that matter, Cain and Abel, or any of the first-born sons of the patriarchs).   Jesus makes us all as if we are first-born.   We ALL get to inherit the best of the family.   We all get to be treated as special because of what Jesus did in dying on that rugged cross.

“These are the days of Elijah declaring the word of the Lord.”   Elijah declared God’s word to an unbelieving world.   You and I get to do the same, thousands of years after Elijah, thousands of years after the Word of the Lord Himself.

Finally, there is the new covenant.   We’ve discussed how a covenant is more than just a contract or an agreement.   It’s a blood oath, a God-affirming vow made in faith and justice.  God had made covenants with humanity all through the age of the patriarchs yet all of them were made to point us to our need for His redemption.   When Jesus came, He delivered that redemption and made it possible for men to speak directly with God.   He restored balance by making the perfect atonement.   He made a path for us to spend both now and eternity in God’s presence.  The Old Testament covenants pointed us to our need for God, yet the covenant made by Jesus points us to God in our lives.  God has always judged all people yet now we get to see His judgment more clearly, more as an act of loving justice instead of punishing vengeance.   We get to see that God’s holy law from Sinai was made perfect by His holy sacrifice from Zion.   That the covenant Jesus made by Zion is one to which we can still be bound today.

Go download Twila’s song.   I guarantee you’ll like it.

For further reading:  Isaiah 24:23, Revelation 14:1, Galatians 4:26, Exodus 4:22, Revelation 20:12, Genesis 18:25, Psalm 94:2, Philippians 3:12,Galatians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:2, Genesis 4:20, Hebrews 11:4.

Lord, thank You for so many messages in so few words.   In these days of Elijah, help me to declare Your Words to those around me.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 July 2017

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.  Hebrews 11, verse 7.

Even unbelievers know the story of Noah.  The account of Noah and the great flood is perhaps more famously known than even many stories about Jesus.  God made a number of covenants with mankind, and the one he made with Noah was the second.   God first ‘covenanted’ with man through Adam.   The covenant with Adam consisted of blessings before and after the fall.   In Eden, God promised to bless mankind; after Eden, God promised to curse the ground because of mankind while sending a redeemer to redeem mankind.   Noah lived under that covenant, awaiting that redeemer…until the day God confided to him that He was going to wipe out all living things because of man’s sin.   That’s when Noah’s faith had to kick in.  So what exactly did Noah do by faith?

He built the ark.  Some scholars think it took almost 100 years to build the ark.   Up until the mid-1800s, Noah’s Ark, a craft of Biblical ‘legend,’ was considered to have been the largest ship ever made.   Noah, his 3 sons, and their families worked for decades to build the ark that would protect living creatures from extinction.   They did it based on a promise made by an unseen God.  I get frustrated if it takes me longer than a few days to complete a project on my farm.   Imagine how I would feel working on something, full time, for an entire century.   Morning, noon, and evening, for days, weeks, months, and years…then decades.   Imagine how Noah’s neighbors must have ridiculed him for what he was doing, all the more so when he answered “because God said so” when they asked him why he was building this thing out in the middle of nowhere.

He built the ark out of fear.  Noah built the ark because God told him to, and Noah walked with God.   He knew God and pursued God’s heart.  To do that, like his ancestor Enoch, Noah feared God and respected Him.   He understood his place as a man yet also his place as God’s cherished creation.   A thousand or more years before Moses recorded Genesis, Noah listened to stories told by his ancestors about the Father’s indescribable power and love.   Yes, Noah built the ark out of fear:   a healthy fear born in love.

He had faith that God hadn’t forgotten him during the long days on the ark.   Noah and his family lived on the ark, floating on the world-wide ocean, for nearly a year.   Imagine how it must have felt hearing things crash up against the side of the ark.   Think of how they must have felt to hear the muffled screams of people pounding to get in as the rains poured and the waters rose.  Think about the somber loneliness when those screams stopped.  I can’t imagine taking care of dozens, maybe hundreds of kinds of animals for all that time.   Perhaps the eight people on the ark kept so busy that they didn’t have much time to think about it, but I imagine there must have been times on the ark when they wondered if God had forgotten about them.   Noah probably clung desperately to his faith because that faith of 500 years had persisted through a century of building, and a year on the waters, and all through everything that happened afterward.

After the flood, when God caused the waters to recede and it was safe to leave the ark, God covenanted with Noah to never again destroy the world in a flood.  God made Noah the heir of righteousness so that, through him, the world would eventually know redemption.  Noah had faith that God would use all this to change things for the better.  And that’s exactly what happened, even as it would take many generations before Noah’s descendant, Jesus of Nazareth, would come to make it so. These days, in America, the rainbow has been co-opted by the gay rights community as their ‘pride flag.’  Yet even this serves God’s purpose for He gave rainbows to the world as a reminder of his ancient promise to Noah:  to love and sustain us and never again destroy the world in the way He had once done.  What mankind would twist for his own ungodly devices our God is still overseeing for His better purposes.   Perhaps that’s part of what kept Noah going all those years ago.   Even unbelievers can understand that.

For further reading:  Genesis 6:13-22, 1 Peter 3:20, Genesis 6:9, Ezekiel 14:14-20, Romans 9:30.

My patient Lord, thank You for the life and account of Noah.   Thank You for the rainbow reminder of Your love.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 March 2017

But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.  Hebrews 8, verse 6.

Super.   It’s Monday and that’s just super; uber rah rah already.

Let’s talk supersessionism.  Up until this morning, I hadn’t even heard of that word, but some online research about this verse brought it up.  In a nutshell, it’s the concept of the new covenant superseding the old covenant.  Islam has a similar tenet, namely in how Islam says it supersedes every other faith (sort of like arguing with a kid and they say “no, you are” over and over until they finally say “no you are infinity”).  But the long and short of it is that, when you come to faith in Jesus, you begin to understand how Jesus superseded any and all prior covenants with His redemption of mankind.  That doesn’t invalidate those earlier covenants; God still promises unconditionally.   But, legally speaking, all the conditions of them are complete with the resurrection of Christ.

So, another thing that happened this morning was that, yet again, I was grousing about church hymns.   I like all kinds of music but am turning into a curmudgeon about hymns.   Yesterday, as is the wont of many music leaders, the leader at our church in Paris changed the words to a beloved hymn.   He isn’t the only one to do this; Chris Tomlin and other Christian musicians frequently do this in their new music, altering the lyrics to beloved songs.  The bottom line is that it irritates me.   It annoys me, especially if said altered song is one dear to me (as this one was.   We sang it at my dad’s funeral).

Let’s be clear about this:   this is a first world problem.   Compared to North Korean missiles, hunger in Africa, and non-existent anthropogenic climate change, this is a problem that only a spoiled first worlder such as myself could air.  Yet air it I did and found that, not surprisingly, some agreed with me and some didn’t.  A pastor friend of mine reminded me that pastors will sometimes do this to reinforce the message they’re communicating that week; that’s true.   And, quite honestly, if it gives constructive praise to God – which it did – then even if a few feathers are ruffled it can be a good thing; that’s true as well.

What’s the point?   Do newly doctored songs replace the old ones (I hope not).   No, the point is that we’re free to debate this.   We can talk, agree to disagree, and still be in unity as believers & friends.  That freedom is ONLY possible because Jesus superseded all previous covenants that His Father had made with men.  The covenants of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David were loving efforts by God to bring man into unity with Him.   Not surprisingly, mankind messed them up.   We NEED a covenant from Jesus, the God-man, to restore full balance between ourselves and our God.  We need Him to redeem us; we need Him to make us righteous in front of a Father who can tolerate only righteousness; we need Him to make us clean again and take away the consequences of our sins.  Just like we need air and water, we need Jesus.

That need could only be satisfied by Jesus making us truly free.   In fact, the more you study Scripture, the more you begin to see that faith in Jesus is the only foundation for true liberty.   Our Founders knew this, even as not all of them were practicing Christians.  Freedom through legalism isn’t freedom at all.   No government or contract really makes you free.   If anything, governments and legal contracts are supposed to protect one’s freedom even as they more frequently limit it.  Being bound by the constraints of a human contract limits your ability to say or do what you do.  Thus, when people implemented the old covenants, the result was legalism.   When you do that, you get the Pharisees (or American academia).

Enter Jesus who, as the verse reminds us, mediates a new covenant between ourselves and our God.  The former covenants, misunderstood by we humans, had been twisted to be constraining.   Jesus makes a new covenant that removes those constraints by simply asking us to believe He is God, and He takes care of everything else.   Life?  Done; it’s yours.   Provisions for living?  Done; they’re yours.   Forgiveness of all your sins and the guilt that dog-piles on with them?   Done; yours again.   All we do is believe.   From there, Jesus takes the load and leads us now in His better way.  The goal of life isn’t to toe the line:   the goal of life becomes loving others to help them with their burdens in life.

All because Jesus’ covenant of life superseded all those before it in the ultimate act of supersessionism.   That includes curmudgeon grousing about church music.  Pretty super after all.

For further reading:  Luke 22:20, Galatians 3:20.

My Lord, I praise You for superseding the old covenants that blessed all my ancestors (and even me).   Thank You for making it possible to walk and talk with you and my brothers and sisters.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 February 2017

And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:  “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’”  Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.  Hebrews 7, verses 20-22.

Zero in on that last sentence.   “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.”   God swore an oath on Himself.   There is no higher guarantee possible.   Nowhere in the universe can you find a surer promise than one God makes and swears by Himself.   It WILL happen.   Nothing can deny it, nothing can stop it, nothing can change it.  When God says He loves you, He loves you unquestionably.   When God says He will provide for you, He will ALWAYS provide for you.   When God says He forgives you, He completely and fully forgives you in every way He promises.  When God guarantees the better covenant of His salvation, it is permanently guaranteed.

Just last week He proved it again to me.   He didn’t need to prove it, but He did.   You’ll recall in the last proverbial how I confessed my bitterness against my former employer.  I’ve been out of a full-time job, and I’ve felt deep anger over it.   I was working part-time in a new job but it wasn’t getting us by.   It seemed like a waste of their time and mine, and I was beginning to feel despondent.  Through all of my sin, God still promised “I love you, I will provide for you, I forgive you, trust Me and Me alone.”   I never doubted that, but I also never fully surrendered to it either…until I did.

You can’t make this stuff up.  That was Thursday.   Friday morning I went back to my part-time job which had been challenging me all week.  And Friday morning I was supposed to have heard news from a recruiter, news about a new position; I didn’t.   By noon, still nothing.  It was deeply disappointing, and I didn’t want to stay with the call center.   I sat there thinking of anything I could do to change the situation, but there was nothing…nothing except God.  About 1:30 or so I finally made peace with Him.  More appropriately, I surrendered to His will.   I silently prayed “if this is where you want me, Lord, I’ll give it my all.   I’ll give it my best.   I’ll do whatever You want me to do here.”   It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was what God wanted.   He had me where He had me for a reason and He would never let me down even when He provided what I didn’t expect.  Not five minutes later, I got the call about the new job and accepted it.

Stop right here for a gut check.   This isn’t some prosperity gospel; this isn’t some “God will be good to if you only do X, Y or Z.”  That kind of thing is a lie.   God isn’t a wishing well.   God isn’t some Pavlov trainer where if you give him a prayer He gives you a treat.  God chose to bless me by answering a prayer on HIS schedule, HIS way, not mine.   He could just as well have not given me what I wanted.   He could keep me there; He could send me where He wanted to.   I don’t start the new job for a week or more, and it could indeed turn out that the new job is a bust, or a harder challenge, or a path to more unemployment.   That doesn’t matter.   What does matter is that a man surrendered his will to his God, and His God always kept His promises.   God had kept His promise even before I realized it.   He always had.  God had been providing for me all along.   God had loved me all along.   God had blessed me where He had me even before the job search started.

All that is because God swore by Himself that He would always be God.   He then proved it by sending the God-man, His son Jesus, as our only Savior and as the true priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.   I don’t deserve it; neither do you.   We’ve never done anything to earn it or deserve it or make it happen…but God did.   He did it because He’s God.   We aren’t.

Sure, you can pooh-pooh all this.   You can say that my Indeed.com application was processed and that my new employer and I negotiated an arrangement.   You can insist it was all started as coincidental, and that we engineered the outcome we desired.   You can say those things and I’ll even listen to them, perhaps even find a few grains of truth in them.   Then I’ll tell you that my God is bigger than all those explanations.   He’s bigger than a job, or a website, or some process, or anything you or I could engineer here on the Third Rock.  God is bigger than us, or our emotions, or our plans, or anything we can conceive.   And He’s pure love.   His pure love is guaranteed by the better covenant that He Himself engineered on our behalf.

For further reading:   Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Malachi 3:6, Romans 11:29, Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:6, Luke 22:20.

My Lord and my God, You alone are God.   You alone are good, and You alone saved me.   Thank You forever for that, and for providing for me, and for giving me what I don’t deserve.