Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 18 March 2019

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.   2 Timothy 1:6 (NIV).

Laying on of hands:   that’s an old, old custom.  In the Bible, it goes back at least to Aaron, who would lay his hands on a sacrificial goat, pray the sins of the people into it, then send the scapegoat out into the wilderness.   Or how Aaron would also install his brother Levites as priests by laying his hands on them.  Or to his brother, Moses, who laid his hands on Joshua to install the son of Nun as the new leader of Israel.

In modern congregations, pastors are installed in Scripture-heavy ceremonies in which other, senior pastors lay their hands on the one being installed, praying over them and citing Bible verses to strengthen them.

When someone lays their hands on you in this way, they are symbolically infusing you with God’s power, His Spirit.  They’re doing something to set you apart for special work, for installing someone into a unique position.   As one website said, it’s a special way to connect the Message to the messenger (see https://www.gotquestions.org/laying-on-of-hands.html).  There isn’t anything magical about it; there isn’t anything required about it; there’s nothing in any service that says we must do this.   Yet it was originally a God-ordained command to Aaron (as the lead priest) for him to set aside people and things deemed sacred.

Like I said, it’s an old custom but it’s a good one, a custom worth revering.   As you can read, Paul believed it was important because he used laying on of hands to charge Timothy as a minister of Jesus’ Word.  It wasn’t necessary that Paul install his protégé in this way, but it was helpful.   It was special.  It tied back to Aaron, that first official minister of God’s Word.

You and I do this as well.   Have you ever prayed with someone and held their hand, or put your hand on their shoulder?   Have you ever been right beside someone when they’re going through a tough time (like childbirth, injury, or pain)?   We’re laying our hands on them to signify that we want God’s healing presence in and through them.   We lay our hands on our loved ones so that our prayers may be symbolically channeled through our hands and into said loved ones.   We want to connect them to ourselves and to something more powerful than ourselves.  It’s a unique way to pray over someone and to share faith with them.

Next time you want to feel a unique connection, when you pray with someone, try it.

For further reading:   Leviticus 16:21, Numbers 8:7-14, Numbers 27:18-20, Acts 6:6, 1 Timothy 4:14, 2 Timothy 6.

Lord Jesus, You laid Your hands on my soul and healed me, forgave me, invested Your love into me.   Ordain it so today that I will meet someone to share this gift with them as well.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 16 August 2018

And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 2 Thessalonians 3:2-3 (NIV).

Not everyone has faith.   Now comes the story of the grand jury in Pennsylvania that is accusing dozens of Catholic priests of molesting hundreds of boys and girls.

God strengthens and protects us from the evil one.

Perhaps that’s strange to say in light of that headline.   Physically speaking, God didn’t protect those kids from the monsters who assaulted them (nor did has He protected them from the church that covered it up).   Emotionally, God didn’t protect them from the terror and anguish that resulted from their being preyed upon.   So what do we really mean?

God can indeed strengthen and protect us from the evil one.   In the aftermath of these accusations, the people who were violated are still loved by Jesus.   He is still there with them, in their hearts, His Spirit working through their lives to build back from those terrible things.

There’s an almost callous side to saying that God doesn’t promise to prevent evil things from happening to us.   It gives tacit acknowledgement to the folks who say “God, why did you let this happen?”   Evil does happen, and God does tolerate it yet only so that His larger purposes may be satisfied, even those that involve our pain.

Where God strengthens us is where it matters most:   in the soul.   Deep inside, where the heart and soul are one, where our character and beliefs reside, where faith goes to work is where God strengthens us.  Sure, it’s His decision to strengthen our soul and our bodies at the same times; His choice, not mine.   But even if the body is wrecked by evil, the soul can stand strong through the God who gives us all things.

Let’s be frank:   we usually want more.   Sometimes (maybe even most times) we want God to both strengthen our spirit and strengthen our body.   We’re telling God “you aren’t doing what I want.”   It’s really saying “you don’t measure up, God.”  It’s a subtle idolatry; got skin, got sin.   Despite it, God still protects us from evil.   Satan is wily and talented.   There are more ways than we can know that he can mess us up, yet they don’t happen.   It isn’t chance or coincidence:   it’s God’s protection.  Even though we are rebellious, God still provides strength inside and protection outside, even for those who reject Him.   He gives us the strong power of free will, of “yes” and “no.”  He does it as long as we live.

Praying that God strengthens the victims of heinous crimes done by people of trust who gave in to something evil.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 1:9, Matthew 5:37, 2 Thessalonians 3:4.

Lord, praise to You for your strength and protection.   Thanks for giving me both!

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 16 April 2018

Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.   1 Thessalonians 4:8 (NIV).

Do atheists go to hell?   And what about suicides:   do people who commit suicide go to hell?

Let’s get the bad news out of the way:   if atheists say they don’t believe, actively reject believing in Jesus, then, yes, they are rejecting God Himself and absorb those consequences now.  Pascal’s wager plays out:  if you believe in God and He exists, or you believe in God and He doesn’t exist, or you don’t believe in God and He doesn’t exist, you are rationally better off than if you don’t believe in God and He does exist.  God offers the proof of His existence in many ways and it’s not only irrational and illogical to actively disbelieve in the miracles of nature, but it’s spiritually dangerous.   Jesus came to build relationships with every person, especially folks who don’t know Him or deny Him.   If any of us rejects the offering of salvation from Him, they do so at their own peril.

Ditto you and I with our pride because, let’s be real:   neither you nor I know other peoples’ hearts.   It isn’t our place to judge the heart.   Only God can know whether someone truly shuns Him or only claim to reject Him but secretly don’t.   Perhaps the best we can say in the matter is to simply say “we don’t know but the Bible says” and leave it at that.  Woe to the man who rejects the Son of Man.   Woe, too, to the man who judges the man who rejected Jesus.

What about suicides?   What about people who reject God’s ultimate gift of life by ending it themselves?   Same answer:   the best we can say is “I don’t know.”   Nowhere in the Bible does is say people who commit suicide are damned.   We could what-if the situation endlessly and still be left at the conclusion of saying it’s really up to God because only God knows the heart.   If someone rejects life, perhaps they are rejecting God; that isn’t up to me to decide.   Who knows a person’s last thoughts except God?  Perhaps it’s a whiff at the question but, in fact, it’s above my pay grade.

A called servant of Christ – a pastor, reverend, minister, priest – is someone who received a personal call from God to teach and proclaim Him.   Paul reminds us today that those who reject the words of called servants are rejecting God Himself.   Yet even called servants are fallible, sinful, human.   Only God has the answers we all seek.

For further reading:   Ezekiel 36:27, Romans 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:22, Galatians 4:6, 1 John 3:24, 1 Thessalonians 4:9.

Lord, I believe in You.   Help my un-belief.   Help those who don’t know you, or are hurting to the agony of death.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 16 November 2017

We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.  Hebrews 13, verse 10.

My Concordia reference explains this verse by saying this verse refers to the cross (the true altar), “which marked the end of the whole Aaronic priesthood and its replacement by the order of Melchizedek.  The priests could not eat of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement but we can partake of our sacrifice, so to speak – through spiritual reception of Christ through faith.   We have a higher privilege than the priests under the old covenant had.”

In the days of the ancient priesthood, the high priest was the only representative between the people and God.   He and only he was allowed certain privileges in how worship was conducted.   Priests were provided with free food out of the stock brought to the Lord and thus were very well fed.   Yet on the Day of Atonement, the day when the high priest went before the Mercy Seat of God to ask for atonement of the peoples’ sins, the priest was not allowed to consume any part of the sacrificed lamb.   He sprinkled its blood on the altar, and the remainder of the sacrifice was taken outside the Israelite camp and burned until nothing was left.

When Christ volunteered to die for your sins, He removed the need for the Old Testament system of sacrifices.  Ritual animal sacrifice as a substitution for an atonement was replaced by the real sacrifice of the pure blood of God Himself, who made atonement needing no ritual, animal, or substitution.  What’s more, we who believe in Him partake of this sacrifice – and thus of Him – in many ways simply by believing.   Our faith in Jesus is the food that feeds the soul, and feeding on the love of Jesus removes need for anything else.

Pretty tough stuff to comprehend, right?   Then let’s try it another way.  Translation:   you don’t need a go-between to get to God.   You get to consume time and the essence of your Savior in person, one on one.   Your faith in Him removes all obstacles between you and Him.

You and I, as followers of Jesus, don’t need a high priest to sprinkle blood on the Ark of the Covenant.  We don’t need a priest to slaughter an animal in our place.   We don’t need to follow the intricate, ancient rituals of old to make ourselves righteous before God again.   And we don’t need to wait until just one day in a year for someone else to take our case before God.   Even as a believer, some religions still insist a priest is necessary to intermediate between you and your God.  Yet the Bible says this simply isn’t true.

Right here, right now, wherever you are, you GET TO commune with Jesus one on one.   He came to you; you don’t have to go to Him.   He meets you from within, and your saying “I believe” puts your faith in Him.   In doing so, you accept that He did everything possible and necessary to make you right before God again.   You have communion with Him and share in His death and resurrection right now, today, in this very moment, and all the time.   When you periodically observe Holy Communion, you get to remember Him further, in different ways, partaking in elements that point us directly to Him as the true Spiritual food.   Right here, right now you get to go to the altar of the cross and lay down your sins, lay down your successes, lay down your pride, lay down everything you have and are and love, and submit it all to Jesus.   In return, He guides you as friend, Savior, and fellow, and says “I’ve made it right for you.”   You don’t need me or anyone else to tell him on your behalf or to sacrifice for you.   He did it all and you and I get to each meet Him where we are.  Right here, right now.

For further reading:  Hebrews 8:5, 1 Corinthians 9:13, 1 Corinthians 10:18.

Lord, I praise You for doing everything needed in faith.   For loving me enough to die and rise for me.   I praise You for being the food my soul needs to thrive and the true living water to quench my eternal thirst.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 February 2017

Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer.  Hebrews 8, verse 3.

Think about that first statement:   every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices.   I’ve never been part of a committee to hire a pastor, but I know a little bit about the process.  The pastoral calling is a calling, to be sure.   But it’s also a job.  Like other jobs, you’re vetted by potential congregational employers.   You network with other pastors and peers.   You can move around from place to place, moving  up, down, and around the pastoral chain of command.   And you can be fired or promoted.   You’re called by God into the ministry, but you’re hired by people to do the job.   You’re appointed.   You’re appointed specifically to perform pastoral duties that other leaders in other careers don’t perform.

Except Jesus.   Jesus wasn’t a Levite; we’ve talked about this before.   Jesus wasn’t part of the political structure in the synagogues or at the Temple.   Jesus was taught and trained by rabbis as a younger man (so much that He was frequently called “rabbi” (or ‘teacher’) by His followers), but he wasn’t an ordained priest.   He didn’t serve in the rotation to offer sacrifices at the Temple.  No, Jesus was the high priest simply by virtue of Him being Himself.   It wasn’t that the rules didn’t apply to Him:  it was that He kept them so perfectly that they no longer mattered.

So if Jesus isn’t an appointed priest, why does He need to have something to offer?   You know the answer:   He doesn’t, at least not by virtue of His being divine.   No, Jesus offers His personal sacrifice not for His sins, which were none, but for yours and mine, which are legion.  The priests of Jewish antiquity would slay animal sacrifices, then sprinkle the blood on altars and on the people as a way to remind them that their sins were paid in full.   Once a year, he would even sprinkle blood on the Ark of the Covenant to fulfill God’s command and serve as yet another reminder of that salvation.   Jesus sprinkled His own blood on the sins of all mankind so that all men might benefit once.  Those animal sacrifices would no longer be necessary.

If you’re an unbeliever, this is the part where you’re saying “so what, big deal.”   Fair enough; yes, actually, fair enough.   Your lack of belief in the need for all this would be understandable.  Yet Jesus still offered it for you as well.   And what else He offers is something that wouldn’t have been available any other way except by the shedding of His own blood:  access.   Jesus offers access.   You reject that access if you choose to dis-believe, but He offers it too you anyway.

Jesus offers access to real peace, tranquility while living out the rest of our lives here on the Third Rock.   Jesus offers access to understanding of how belief in Him is the foundation of intellect and the purpose of reason.   Jesus offers access to the communion of saints, participation in a millennia-old following of the greatest people in history.   Jesus offers access to freedom, freedom from guilt and shame and all the negative things that can bog a man down.  And Jesus offers access to Himself, an opportunity for you to have a personal relationship with Him, one on one, so that you might share in His love and glory while giving those things to Him as His due:  all by loving other people as an expression of loving Him.   He created everything in love.   You get personal access to Him, our creator, because He offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for things He didn’t do.

Make no mistake about it:   Jesus Christ is the central figure in all of human history.  It isn’t Marx; it isn’t Confucius; it isn’t Mohammed; it isn’t the Buddha.   It is Jesus and Jesus alone who stands at the center of all human history, human endeavor, human thought, and human potential.   He appointed Himself to supersede and make complete the need for and history of ritual sacrifices.   And in doing so, while at the center of all that is, He offers true access to what only He can offer.   Tell me, good friend:   why would you resist that?

For further reading:  Hebrews 2:17, 5:1, 9:9, 9:14.

My Lord and my God, I praise You for offering Yourself as the only atoning sacrifice for my wrongs.   I praise You and thank You for giving me access to You and, through You, to an eternity of love.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 19 December 2016

…and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.  Hebrews 5, verse 10.

Still holding off a few more days in talking fully about Melchizidek, although, as you know, we’ve already said a few things about him.   Yet consider the context of why the author of Hebrews says this phrase again, mentioning this (today) obscure figure from Biblical history.   In doing so, I think you might reach a particular conclusion.

The reason why he keeps mentioning Melchizidek is because being that high priest was Jesus’ primary mission here.

Duh.

But think about it.   Yes, Jesus came to save us from ourselves, to forgive all of our sins so as to restore the relationship He intended for mankind.   Yes, Jesus was the only person in all of human history who could do that very thing.   Yes, Jesus taught many things that are brilliant life lessons for us here even today.

It’s because He was our real high priest.

Priests are intermediaries between people and God.   They’re called servants whose calling and vocation is to be God’s heralds in the world.   Pastors and priests proclaim Jesus’ good news by the lives they lead, the words they speak, the actions they take.   They are Jesus’ representatives here; a special elect who intercede for people with God.   Pastor’s carry out church justice, minister to souls, interpret all things Biblical and Godly for those not uniquely called or religiously trained.

Again, duh.

But their primary role is that intercession role.   In this way, priests and pastors are not unlike lawyers, equipped and educated to take matters to and from God on our behalf.   It’s not that they have a special relationship with God that others can’t have.   But it is that priests and pastors have that calling, equipped with ecclesiastical education, that prepares them to interpret God’s word to and for us, and to minister, rebuke, praise, and correct as we all walk along our sinful paths through life.

They learned it from Jesus.   It’s what Jesus does for us now, sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven, interceding for us.   God the Father demands holiness from us.   It was how He created us to be, and He loves us enough to respect our choices even when we’ve chosen paths that take us away from Him.  Every time a contemplation of the justice we deserve crosses the mind of the Father, there’s Jesus right beside Him, in union with Him, whispering, “have mercy once again, Abba.   They made a mistake.”  God’s Spirit moves our hearts to repent; God’s Spirit communicates the love of the Father and Son to us, reminding us to repent, and remembering our sins no more.

Sounds like what a priest does.

The Apostle Peter was a burly, brusque man, used to hard manual labor and worldly ways.  And yet Simon Peter was the man who Jesus chose to lead the church after Jesus ascended back home.  Peter wasn’t formally trained for the job, though he had learned everything He would need to know about the faith directly from the face of the Savior.  But it probably wasn’t the life Peter imagined for himself during those long days and nights spent fishing in the years before he met the Christ.   Our pastors and priests today have university degrees, often learning to speak Latin, Hebrew, and Greek so that they might study original versions of Scriptures.   Even back in Biblical days, the priests in the temples and synagogues were rabbinically trained, spending years under the tutelage of senior rabbis.   None of that was available to Peter.   He had to learn things as he went.  Peter didn’t envision founding what became the Roman Catholic church – and Christianity – but that’s what he and his compatriots did.  Doing so eventually cost him everything.

Yet Peter did it willingly.   He and the other Apostles founded practices and bases that we still use in worship today.  Peter was the first pope, the fisherman and fisher-of-men in whose traditional shoes every pope, priest and pastor have since walked their call.   And Peter modeled his behavior on that of his Savior, brother, and friend, Jesus.   He did so because he understood that Jesus was our true high priest.

For more reading:   Hebrews 2:17.

Lord Jesus, thank You for being the true priest and pastor.   Thank You for interceding for me, for ministering to me, for Your mercy and Your grace, and for all You do.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 December 2016

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”  And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  Hebrews 5, verses 5-6.

First let’s discuss the Son and Father:  there is nobody else in all of human history who can hold that title other than Jesus Christ.   Christ is the only Son of God the Father while still being one with the Father.  He could have taken on the glory of accepting God’s calling to be an ordained high priest of the Jewish faith, but He didn’t.   He could have assumed God’s glory for Himself, but He didn’t.   If He had done these things, He wouldn’t have been the perfect Christ who satisfied the hundreds of Old Testament Biblical prophecies about the Christ.   And yet Jesus did become the ultimate priest, the ultimate pastor and Good Shepherd of God’s flock that is the church.   It is only Jesus who intercedes for us with the glorious Father, who demands perfection to satisfy His just holiness.   It is only Jesus who sacrificed Himself so that something could be done that had never been done before and couldn’t have been done since.   Only Jesus could atone for all of humanity’s wrongdoings; nobody before or since has so satisfied all the requirements of being the penultimate and perfect Passover lamb.

And then there’s Melchizedek.   Verse 6 quotes Psalm 110, which says “you are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizidek.”  Perhaps ancient Jewish discussions focused a lot on Melchizidek, who is a minor, almost obscure figure in the early part of Genesis.   But he was important.  Melchizedek is the “king of Salem” who came out to meet Abraham and to whom Abraham gave a tenth of all he owned (providing precedence for our practice of ten percent tithing).   Historically, almost nothing else is known of him though it’s interesting to note that “king of Salem” likely means that Melchizedek was the ruler or high priest of Salem.   That location was, according to some scholars, what became Jerusalem.  How fascinating is it, then, in knowing this considering the later importance of Jerusalem to the stories of King David, King Jesus, and even in our world today.

Some Bible scholars say that Melchizidek may have been a pre-incarnate Jesus, come to reside for a short time with His people but, as the author of Hebrews notes, “a priest forever” (and the only priest forever).  Other Bible scholars think Melchizekek may actually have been Shem, the son of Noah.   Shem had been on the Ark with Noah and the rest of their family, and is regarded as the father of the line of Semites (“Semite” being derived from the name Shem).   Shem was the son whom Noah blessed after Noah’s post-Flood sin of drunkenness.  He lived an extraordinarily long life both before and after the flood; after the flood he and so many others bore many children to repopulate a lonely and empty earth.  If you flow out the timeline, you find that there is a short period of overlap in the lives of Shem and Abraham, so the theory becomes possible, maybe even plausible.  That about exhausts my non-internet-researched knowledge of the topic; if more is to be known, we’ll have to consult Google, Bible scholars, or both.

In a few chapters we’ll talk more about Melchizidek; much of Chapter 7 is about him.  Whether he was the pre-incarnate Jesus or Shem or someone else altogether, if we navel-gaze about who he was we miss the point of what he represents in this verse (and in Psalm 110).   Melchizidek was the example of an ultimate high priest, one who would be able to intercede for man on man’s behalf.   Pastors do this.   They are men of character who both minister to us in ways we need, and pray to God on our behalf, which we also very much need.   The priesthood was and is a necessary function to human existence even when we don’t hold it in regard.   Pastors and priests, other than Joel Osteen, don’t make much money.   We hold them in high esteem yet we insist that the most effective of them live in near poverty.  Like God Himself, when times are good most of us don’t seem to want our pastors around, but when we fall on hard times we want them there immediately.   Whether he was Jesus, Shem or someone else, this is the kind of person Melchizidek must have been.   He must have been a deeply spiritual man who sought God’s will and God’s wisdom.   He must have been a man of impeccable character.  Melchizidek is a man from whom we can learn much even if we actually know very little about him.

Hold on to these thoughts…we’ll need them in a little while.

For more reading:   Genesis 14:18, Hebrews 6:20, Hebrews 7:1-22, Psalm 110:4.

Lord Jesus, thank You for the life of Melchizidek, and for the example He set in how You want Your priests and pastors to live here.   Indeed, Lord, for how You desire all of us to live.