Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 January 2017

He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.  Hebrews 7, verses 13-14.

Background matters here on the Third Rock.   It’s not the Harvard diploma that gets you the job, but the Harvard name can get you in the door.   It’s not the brand name Velveeta that you buy:   it’s that big block of cheesy love that makes great queso.  It isn’t the car brand that matters as much as it is the smooth ride.  Yet background still can matter to us:   you get a better ride from a Mercedes than you do a used Kia.   And you get a better queso from Velveeta than you do from store brands.   And you get more resume inquiries if you have an Ivy League pedigree than you do if you only graduated from high school.   But background isn’t everything, and background will only carry you so far.   If you want quality, you have to dig deeper.   You need to get past the superficial things that live in front of the background.

The verses since verse 11 have talked about how Jesus is like Melchizedek, the faceless, background-less king of Salem and high priest of God who met Abram in the Canaan wilderness.   The author illustrates how, if human qualifications were enough, we wouldn’t have needed Jesus.   Melchizedek had a pedigree; he may have even been Jesus Himself.  But we needed more reminders, so God gave us strict rules through Moses about who should be priests.   Moses and his brother, Aaron, were descendants of Levi; they were Levites.  The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy contain all kinds of codes for Israelite priests.  What to do, how to act, what to wear, when to offer sacrifices and how; it was detailed for a reason:   God’s reason.  Priests weren’t allowed to change the rules; only God could do that.

Becoming a priest in ancient days wasn’t for just anyone…literally.   To be a Jewish priest, you had to be a Levite, descended from Jacob’s son, Levi (one of Abraham’s great grandsons).   It was to the Levites and only the Levites that God had given the priestly calling.   Exclusionary and discriminatory?   Only if you’re shallow.   Look beyond those twenty-first century words and you see the reason from antiquity was two-fold.   One, God wanted His people to understand that His calling was set apart and unique.   And, two, that His calling would matter, that it would teach people about His glory if they adhered to certain processes.   God gave us these rules for our benefit, not His, so He used groups and symbols that we could understand.

Yet Jesus wasn’t a Levite.   He was descended, both on His father’s and mother’s sides, from Judah (another of Abraham’s great grandsons).   The referenced verses from Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, and Revelation talk about Jesus’ lineage from the tribe of Judah.   And when He wanted to institute a priesthood that would supersede anything earthly, God reminded us that He is the ultimate rule maker, that He is over those rules and not subject to them.   He sent His Son to live by every earthly rule, even those of the priesthood to which He wasn’t subject, yet was not bound by the restriction of being a Levite.   Indeed, Jesus’ human restriction was that He was descended from Levi’s father, Jacob, and grandfather, Abraham, and ultimate Father Himself, God Almighty.  In fact, word, and deed, Jesus ministered as a man in ways to both fulfill God’s priestly requirements and to demonstrate that, as God, He would supersede them for all people.

And Jesus’ background was meager.   He didn’t have a rabbinical background.   He wasn’t a trained Levite or priest.   He didn’t go to all the right schools, and He didn’t have any upbringing to set Him apart from anyone in particular.   Jesus was a simple carpenter’s son, from royal but undisclosed heritage, who hailed from a poor, simple town in Judea.  No Harvard degree; no Velveeta branding; no sweet ride for the streets of Nazareth.   When all will be said and done, Jesus matters more than the background.

For further reading:   Hebrews 7:11, Isaiah 11:1, Matthew 1:2-6, Luke 3:33, Revelation 5:5.

Lord Jesus, thank You for signs and things that matter here in this world.   Let them all be to Your glory and be ways that help me to point to You.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 January 2017

Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.  Hebrews 7, verses 4-10.

These verses contain some pretty detailed theology.   Let’s sum it all up:  give to God.   Give to Him generously.

My home church, Water’s Edge Frisco, espouses an idea:  live 90.  Like any church we want to encourage tithing and giving.   It’s a big way to give something meaningful to God from our hearts.   We also need to pay the bills, as does any organization.  Our leaders have found that the most Biblically centered way to build up giving attitudes is to stick to the Bible.   That means encouraging, not mandating, a ten percent tithe.   The church likes catchy phrases, so along comes “live 90.”   Live on 90% of your income and give the first ten percent to God.   That’s ten percent of the gross in your earnings, your possessions, and even yourself.   Tithe to God and then watch Him bless you in ways you might not have imagined.

It isn’t a gimmick; God isn’t a Pavlov reactor or a divine wish factory.  God doesn’t care whether or not we give anything from our incomes or our talents.   God DOES care very much about the heart behind that giving.  He wants us to give selflessly.   He wants us to want to give to Him “just because.”  Just because we can.   Just because we want to share with Him some of what He’s shared with us.   God wants us to live for Him in an attitude similar to how we live for other people we cherish.  God wants us to express that attitude with things that mean something to us, knowing that other believers will use those things we give – like money  and possessions – in ways to further His Kingdom.

As you can see, it stems from this passage about Abraham and Melchizedek.  Abraham had just won a large battle against pagan Canannite kings and had, accordingly, won great plunder of gold, property, and livestock.  Along comes Melchizedek to bless Abraham.  God had promised that all people would be blessed through Abraham, and Melchizedek reinforces that blessing.   What’s Abraham’s response?   He gives generously to Melchizedek.   He gives ten percent or more of his boodle to a stranger.

Later, as an expression of the blessing, God institutes the formal priesthood through Abraham’s descendant, Levi.  Levi was one of Jacob’s twelve sons (meaning he was Abraham’s great-grandson).  Levi’s family formed one of the twelve tribes of Israel, his tribe being the priesthood.   It would be the pleasure and the purpose of Levi’s descendants to share God’s message – His promises and His promised blessings – with people forever.  That calling reflects the royal priesthood of this stranger, Melchizedek.   We’ve already discussed how Melchizedek’s true identity remains unknown; he might have been a Christophany (a pre-incarnate Jesus), or he might have been Shem, or he might have been someone else altogether.   Whoever he was, he worshipped and praised the true God and did so in ways that would demonstrate the ministry God wanted instituted among His people.   To honor this, Abraham tithed to Melchizedek.

What did Melchizedek do with that enormous plunder, with that selfless tithe given to him by Abraham?   We don’t know; it doesn’t matter.   We can all decry, sometimes rightfully, the excesses that some of today’s ministers flaunt with tithes from God’s people.   Huge churches, lavish lifestyles, rock-star followings:   was that what Melchizedek, Abraham and Levi had in mind?   Probably not.   Yet consider 1 Kings, chapters 2-11, especially chapter 10.   In these, King Solomon’s splendor is described.   Solomon, a descendant of Abraham, was extraordinarily blessed by God with wisdom, wealth, and success.   It wasn’t because of anything Solomon did:  it was because of God’s grace, God’s generosity.   Solomon started life asking for wisdom and was blessed with it and so much more.   Though his life ended in him wandering away in pagan beliefs, God still blessed him.

All that splendor was paid for with tithes from the people.  The people gave of their hearts to God’s purposes, and God chose to bless both them and their leaders in extraordinary ways.   He still does so today.  And it goes back to the precedent set by Abraham and Melchizedek.

So the next time you do your budget, before you pay your bills, say a prayer of thanks to God and then write a check to Him.   Consider giving things to others, giving things that are meaningful and that others may need.  Give of yourself and your time and give generously without expectation of anything in return.  Live happily on ninety percent of what you’re blessed to earn.  Give that other ten percent to God’s purposes.  Through churches, charities, and ministry activities, God will use this to bless others in extraordinary ways.   When you do this, you’re siding with Melchizedek, Abraham, Levi, and Jesus.

For further reading:   Genesis 14:18-20, 1 Kings 2-11, Psalm 76:2, Psalm 110:4, , Matthew 4:3, Hebrews 2:17, Hebrews 5:6.

My blessed Lord, thank You for blessing me.   Thank You for Abraham and Melchizedek and the practice they began.   Thank You for opportunities to still give in those ways today.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 19 October 2016

For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Hebrews 2, verses 16-17.

Diving deeper into these two verses, let’s talk briefly about Jesus becoming “a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God.”   We’ll only spend a brief time here because, when we get to chapters four through eight we’ll dive into greater detail.  The easy answer to “who is that merciful high priest” is, as you’d expect, Jesus; duh!   But what about his representatives?  In this day and age, is your pastor a merciful and faithful high priest?

Way back in the book of Exodus God established a particular tribe to be His priests.   Moses’ brother, Aaron, was selected to be God’s high priest, and the tribe (or clan) from which Aaron was descended was that of Jacob’s son, Levi.   The men of the tribe of Levi were to be set aside as special for God, serving as His priests.  That seems like kind of an extreme thing by our standards, taking a whole clan of people and saying “they’re mine” but that’s what God did.   What’s more, all Levite men were to serve God and some were to serve Him as ordained priests, offering sacrifices to God in the Tabernacle (and later in the Temple).   Not all Levites were priests but all priests were Levites.   Indeed, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan describes how a priest and a Levite (different men) walked by the man who had been robbed.   Only a strange foreigner – a pagan and outsider of Jewish law – stopped to show the man God’s love.   It shows that even God’s special people make mistakes.

Just like our pastors today.   I’m friends with more than a few pastors.   More than just a handful read this blog.   More than a handful of them sometimes message me and give me their thoughts on the thoughts I share here.  I take it as a great compliment that men and women of the cloth would take time to try to make sure I’m doing good credit to their calling.  Some of them – most of them actually – send me great feedback that helps me understand perspectives I hadn’t considered, things I haven’t learned.   Some of them send me things with which I disagree; in fact, they piss me off.   And some of them have made mistakes, said things that turned out to be self-serving and selfish.   Some pastors are jerks.

Just like the Levites of yesteryear.   Just like you and me.

When I was growing up, my view of clergymen in general was jaded by the tele-evangelist scandals of the 1970s and 1980s.   Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Robert Schuller:   they were all disgraced in one way or another by their sins.   Sins of adultery, sins of deceit, sins of greed:   they were the undoing of great, self-made men who led huge flocks of believers.   The public and their parishoners held them to a high standard, and these men didn’t make it.   They sinned and, in some cases, rightfully paid dearly.   I mean, they were ministers.   They were supposed to know and be better!

At the same time, I learned from listening to great pastors I personally knew in church.   Guy Newland, Ann Haw, Reuben and Paul Youngdahl:   these were people I knew and learned from, people I listened to and admired.   They were devout, honest, and real.   You’ve probably never heard of them, though if you’re Lutheran you might know about the Youngdahl’s, especially if you’re from Minnesota.  They were sinners, too, but their sins were their own, I’m sure, and not exposed for trial in the court of public opinion.

Just like most of the Levites and just like most of our pastors today.

And yet none of them are Jesus.   None of these good, flawed, even admirable yet sinful priests could serve as a minister of God the way Jesus could.   None of the priests in the Temple of Jesus’ day could stand blameless in the Holy of Holies to atone for peoples’ sins the way Jesus could.   None of them could offer their blood as the real atonement.   No pastor or preacher today could ask for or grant forgiveness the way Jesus does.   No teacher of God’s Word could teach the way the perfect rabbi from Nazareth did.   They know it:   it’s a hard blessing with which to live in your calling.

Yet we need them.   We need men and women to minister to us.   We need people who are called, impassioned, and entrusted with the knowledge of God’s Word to translate it for us.   They aren’t Jesus and neither are we.   Yet we need their talents to help teach us things we might not otherwise learn because theirs is the calling to be God’s merciful and high priests.   More than ever, pastors and priests have more resources than at any time in history to fulfill their good calling.  And, again, more than ever before, perhaps more since any time since AD70 (when Rome destroyed the Jewish priesthood), our world is hostile to their work.   ISIS, atheism, the antagonism of leftism, socialism and communism once again on the rise, an unfriendly media and popular culture, official antipathy:   next time you talk to your pastor or priest, thank them for what they do.   Maybe give them a fist bump instead of a rhetorical fist to the jaw.    Not just anyone can be a merciful, faithful high priest of Jesus.   I can’t; Could you?

For more reading:   Hebrews chapters 4-8, Genesis 14: 18-20, Luke 10:31-32.

Lord Jesus, You and only You are the perfect high priest but thank You for your representatives of the cloth here in our world today.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 10 December 2014

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Mark 2, verses 15-17.

Are you sick? I love it how some of the greatest spiritual leaders that I can think of consider themselves to be the sick sinners they are.   I have great admiration for Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, Pope Francis, Pope John Paul II because one of the common threads that connects them is their humble recognition that they are sinners who, without Jesus, are nothing but sick in the soul, damned dirty dogs. We don’t need to catalog their sins or shortcomings any more than we need to catalog yours or mine; they had them and so do we. Instead, the point is that they realize they need a Savior who is perfect and forgives them of all their sins.

More than that, they – and we – have a Savior who meets us in the middle of our sins.   He isn’t Allah, who demands we slavishly come to him.   He isn’t the god of serenity or meditation who says we can reconcile our lives to nature.   No, Jesus is God Almighty, who humbles Himself and meets sinners still living in the world. Indeed, He meets us sinners still living in our sins, still unhealthy in our sickness.

Consider the dinner at Levi’s. Levi had just started following Jesus.   He invites Jesus and the other disciples to dine with him along with several of his other tax collector, “sinner” friends.   Liars, cheats, whore-chasers, adulterers, pagan-followers; today we might call them “Lutherans” or “Baptists” or “us.”   Anyway, Jesus goes and Jesus meets them in their sins. He doesn’t become tainted by those sins; He doesn’t join in the fracas.   Instead, He serves to serve them by forgiving them where they are, where they need Him.

He does the same for you and me.   Whatever you or I have done, Jesus walks with us every minute of every day saying, “let Me help.   Let Me ease your pain.”   It doesn’t matter what we’ve done; nothing is too much or too big for Him to handle. He wants to heal us right where we are.

And there’s more. He confronts the ‘judgy’ Pharisees, who were the experts in Jewish law; think of them as professors or maybe reporters for the networks.   They judge these ‘sinners’ to be below contempt.   How ironic is it that they judge Levi and his contemporaries while eating dinner with them, while sharing in their feast.   And yet Jesus is right there with them, gently but firmly instructing them on a better way.   Without demeaning them, He brings them up short on their judgmentalism, reminds them that they are sinners too, and offers them the same remedy He offers to anyone else: “let Me help. Let Me ease your pain.”

It’s powerful medicine.   So I’ll ask you again: are you sick?   Whose healing do you need?

Jesus, heal me of my many sins and sicknesses of my soul.

Read the whole story again in Mark 2, verses 13-17.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 9 December 2014

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. Mark 2, verses 13-14.

Follow…what does it mean to follow?   I mean, I follow the news.   We follow people on Facebook. Kids play Follow the Leader.   “Will you follow,” was the message from “Braveheart.”   But what does it mean to follow?

Consider Levi, also known by the name of Matthew, who became Jesus’ disciple.   Levi was a tax collector, meaning he was the dirtiest of the dirty in Jesus’ time.   Tax collectors were treacherous scum who collaborated with the Roman occupying force to defraud people of their money.   Very often, the tax collectors of Jesus’ time would extort much more from taxpayers than what was simply owed.   Like now, when the tax man calls on you, you pay.   They were lying, conspiring, powerful cheats. This was the kind of man who Jesus encountered on His walk beside the lake.

Jesus spoke to Levi/Matthew, and immediately Levi/Matthew got up and followed Jesus. Levi didn’t go home to put things in order. He didn’t say “first let me do something.”   He didn’t go to buy a new pair of sandals. No, immediately – right there and then without delay – Levi left his job as a tax collector and walked away with Jesus.

Go ye (we) therefore and do the same, right?

Yes.

Yes, because Levi wasn’t intimidated by the fact that Jesus was a prophet and rabbi of growing fame and stature.   And we shouldn’t be either. Jesus had spoken to Levi and touched him deep inside, addressing Levi’s deepest need:   the need to be loved.   Nobody loved the tax collector, not even the Romans who oversaw his vocation. Yet Jesus loved him.   Jesus loved Matthew enough to say “I want you with me right now, out of the life you’re living because there’s so much more than this.   There’s me.   I want you, Levi, to be with me.   Follow me.”

So Levi did.   Where Jesus walked, Levi walked.   Where He rested, Levi rested.   The people Levi met were the people Jesus met.   You get the picture.   It became a life-long friendship, namely that, for the rest of Jesus’ earthly life, Levi was one of the men by his side.   And for the rest of Levi’s life, Jesus was his guide, inspiration, and Savior.

Go ye (we) therefore and live the same, right?   Absolutely.

We absolutely need to do this because Jesus is calling you and me to follow Him right now, in these words, at this very moment.   Maybe you already do; He’s calling you to encourage you on your walk today.   Maybe you don’t know Him; He’s calling you to introduce Himself.   Maybe you reject Him; He’s calling you to say He loves you, He forgives you, He wants you for just who you are.   Wherever we find ourselves, Jesus is immediately calling to us, in whatever our predicament, to leave who we are now and follow Him.   He promises the road we walk with Him will be worth it.   It may be – no, it will be – tough, and much will be demanded of us during the walk. Yet He promises that we, like Levi, will love following Him because He loved us first.

Lord, I will follow You now, wherever You lead me   Strengthen me for this journey and thank You for choosing me.

Read Mark 2, verses 13-17.