Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 11 October 2016

He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.” Hebrews 2, verse 12.

Men’s retreats and death:  in them, we do what verse 12, Psalm 22 and Psalm 68 all say we should do.  Verse 12 is a re-telling of these particular psalms, and I find them timely.

This past weekend I went to a Christian men’s retreat here in East Texas.   One of my favorite writers, a man named Chad Bird, was speaking on “life in the blood.”   50-60 of us Lutherans gathered at a lakeshore retreat center to spend a day with Chad learning about how God uses blood to atone for us and our myriad sins.  He described how the ancient Israelites worshipped God through the tabernacle, then tied that to the animal sacrifices there, then went into depth on why the blood of those sacrifices was the most important part of worship for the Israelites; how Israel was forbidden from consuming blood because life is contained in blood (see Leviticus 17: 10-12).   Finally, he tied this to the radical concept of Jesus instituting Holy Communion at the Last Supper and how this turned all he’d previously described upside down.

In all this, my friend and my fellow retreat friends were declaring God’s name to our brothers and singing His praises in our assembly.

Then came yesterday.   My wife and I attended a funeral.   It was a funeral for a man who died unexpectedly last week.   I barely knew him, but he was the husband of a friend for whom I’d worked during much of these last four years.   The man who died was retired and spent most of his time learning Hebrew so that he could learn to read the Torah in the original language.   That’s something even many seminary students don’t do, yet here was this improbable man spending much of his time doing exactly that.  Just so he could know God better.  His funeral service was at a small Episcopal church in south Houston.   I had never been to an Episcopal funeral and they used an Easter liturgy, proclaiming the Resurrection as the method for bidding farewell and committing a soul to God.   There were between 30 and 40 people present, and we all declared God’s name to each other while singing His praises at this assembly to bid farewell to a family member and friend.

Verse 12 paraphrases Psalms 22 and 68.   Psalm 22:22 says “I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.”  It was written by King David while he was still a fugitive from King Saul’s jealousy.  It is a prayer of an anguished man, a man unjustly pursued and threatened with death for wrongs he never did.   Yet in his state of terror, David praises God instead of wallowing in fear.

Then, in Psalm 68, David sings “Praise God in the great congregation; praise the Lord in the assembly of Israel.”   This psalm is a hymn, a processional of nine stanzas meant to be sung in masse by worshippers processing to God’s holy presence.  He wrote it as King David, as a hymn for his subjects to sing as they gathered in praise of their Lord.  It’s a far cry from David crying out in pain.   If Psalm 22 is the men’s retreat setting then Psalm 68 took place in the Episcopal church where I sat yesterday.

In both verses, the commonality is praising God.   The ancient Israelites praised God according to His specific instructions which (as they never truly learned) were for their benefit and not His.   King David praised God in the midst of being threatened with death.   He later praised Him as king and the leader of God’s people.   Centuries later, the author of Hebrews reiterates these ancient praises by stating how they praise and reflect Jesus, the true altar sacrifice, who gave his life’s blood for our redemption.   Who was pursued yet never turned from God.  Who praised in assembly the glories of His Father in heaven.  The same Jesus who was present at our retreat this weekend and who welcomed my friend home.

For more reading:   Leviticus 17:10-12, Psalm 22:22, Psalm 68:26.

Lord Jesus, I praise You in the quiet and I praise You in the presence of others.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 16 September 2016

He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. Hebrews 1, verse 10.

If a pitch for creationism turns you off, then ignore today’s message.   I’m going to make a shameless one.   Actually, I’m just siding with God and billions of other people. God makes the pitch on His own.

Zechariah 12:1 says “The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person.” Psalm 8:6 says, “You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet.” And chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis give God’s account of how He created everything. Today’s verse from Hebrews reiterates that account and affirms the statements from Zechariah and the Psalm.   Indeed, verse 10 affirms every statement in the Bible mentioning how God created the heavens and the earth. In fact, http://www.studybibleforum.com/htm_php.php3 says that the word “create” is mentioned 49 times in the Bible.   The same reference says “heavens” is mentioned 179 times, and it says “earth” is mentioned 861 times.

That’s a lot of mutually exclusive self-proof. I’ve often debated atheist friends in the creation-vs-evolution harangue and I remind them that you can’t use creation to disprove evolution (nor can you use evolution to disprove creation).   Both concepts are replete with scientific holes and are directly competing for the same airspace.   To prove one you need both belief in it (also called “faith”) and corroborating evidence from the same concept/theory.   When you look at the concepts in this way, evolution is still full of scientific holes (millions of years of them in fact) while creation is quite unified, sequential, and holistic.

Don’t take it from me.   Like I said, to believe in one ‘theory’ or the other requires faith.   You have to accept what it says and accept there are things about it that don’t line up with your understanding.   Fair enough, so investigate it on your own.   If you’re intellectually honest about the whole pursuit, you’re going to end up back here with what I just said:   evolution doesn’t add up while creation adds up quite nicely.

None of us fully knows why the author of Hebrews included this mention in the book. Most likely, he was giving a praise to God that would be commonly understood and acceptable to the target audience of believers.   But isn’t it interesting that, coming on the heels of verses 8 and 9, which talk about God proving Himself to us and his royal pedigree, the author includes a praise that proves how that shouldn’t surprise us because God is the ultimate creator.   All that we think, sense, and live among comes from the brilliance of His soul.   He thought of all this, then He spoke and it came into being.

Try doing that sometime and let me know how it turns out.

Frankly, I don’t understand it.   I count myself as highly educated, thank you very much, with educational, vocational, and bibliographical pedigrees to back that up; yes I have a lot of books.   Big freaking deal. At the end of all that smarty pants talk, I still don’t understand how God made life.   How He made babies, bumble bees, birds, and birch trees that all live as part of nature, are all genetically and atomically diverse, yet all are replete with that same mysterious force called “life.”   I don’t understand how gravity works and why every other force in the universe is affected by it. I sometimes don’t understand why some healthy species or organisms die out while others succeed; this became especially apparent as I farmed pumpkins all summer long. When you strip away the college degrees, there’s more to this world that I don’t understand than I do.

Are you in the same boat?   Einstein was; so was Issac Newton and they’re much smarter than me, and maybe you, too.

What’s missing is faith.

Faith explains to me how everything was made by God to serve and grow His glory.   My faith is re-affirmed when I am blessed to absorb a little of the beauty of nature.   My faith is grown when I read the words of verse 10 and the other Bible verses that support it, reading how greater men than me had the good sense enough to praise God for the obvious wonder of His creation.   They didn’t understand how He did it all any more than Einstein, Newton or Charles Darwin did.   I don’t understand it either. But I believe in it, and I’m thankful that God did it, and that I get to be a part of it today.

For more reading:   Psalm 8:6, Zechariah 12:1, Genesis 1-2.

Lord, I praise You for Your creation!  

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 8 September 2016

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Hebrews 1, verses 5-6

There is comfort in knowing some of the intricacies of faith that contribute to its rich history.

These first two verses do some heavy hitting in the early church.   The Gospels tie Jesus and His lineage to the Jewish Patriarchs (Luke takes it all the way back to God Himself through Adam), but these verses in Hebrews tie Jesus directly to God the Father through the Psalms.   That matters.

According to the NIV, Psalm 2 is heavily messianic; I encourage you to read it.   In it, the Lord speaks to His people in song saying both “you are my Son” and “you are my son in the line of King David.”   Remember that Jewish men were instructed in the synagogues on the Torah and the Psalms.   The Psalms were hymns they sung, poetic verses they memorized and carried all their lives. Psalm 2 is traditionally credited to King David as the writer.   Thus, a tie to Psalm 2 is one that early churchgoers would have easily understood and absorbed, especially since the author then ties it to (what were at the time) contemporary eyewitness accounts from Matthew and John, as well as the (then) contemporary writings of Paul to the church in Colosse.

As if that wasn’t enough, the reference from 2 Samuel (which is the story of King David), then also ties Jesus directly to King David.   Of David, the book said “you will be my son” who would be punished on behalf of the people for wrongdoings.   As Jesus was a direct descendant from David – something that may not have been fully understood at the time Hebrews was written – the author is, thus, tying the Son of God to the revered royal lineage of Israel’s most famous warrior king.

Pretty heavy indeed.   Here’s a bit more heaviness for you:   so what?

I mean, so what?   What does this matter to us today?   Jesus and David have been dead for thousands of years, many centuries.   Why does that matter?

Really.

It’s been over 200 years yet people are still quoting Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.   It has been decades and we’re still quoting John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Ronald Reagan.   If for only historic reasons, it matters that, centuries ago, ancient writers used (already) ancient texts to tie Jesus of Nazareth – someone of their own time and day – to Jewish tradition and royal lineage.   Doing so helps us today understand the religious, social and even political impacts that the new Christian faith was having on the world at the time.   That helps us to better understand how things came to be.

Yet move beyond that to matters of your own heart in the here and now.   Your faith is a supernatural thing.   Having faith in this Jesus is highly illogical, something that the world dismisses because it requires putting trust in something you can neither see nor feel.   Yet you can sense it.   You can sense the very real peace and clarity that come from expressing faith in Jesus Christ.   You can’t touch it, but you can know it’s real.

Even though this is so, you and I still experience moments of questioning.   It’s natural; it isn’t abnormal; it isn’t even condemned by Jesus, who restored Thomas’ faith after logical doubts threatened to cloud his continued belief.  Having occasional questions or doubt doesn’t make you un-Christian:   it makes you a normal person. It is growing that doubt into dereliction of faith, rejecting God, that is a sin, not occasionally questioning or doubting His purpose or movement in our lives.   Even Jesus doubted, screaming “My God why have You forsaken me” as He was dying on the cross. In moments of question and doubt, it helps to know there are corroborating proofs, independent evidence, supporting what you believe.   It helps to know there were other people who did the same, men like King David and the author of Hebrews, who sang both praises and mourning through the Psalms, as expressions of the faith they had in God.

For more reading:   Psalm 2:7, Matthew 3:17, 2 Samuel 7:14, John 3:16, Colossians 1:18, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 97:7.

My God, thank You for weaving these intricate histories into my faith in You.   Thank You for the deep proofs, then subtle meanings, that come with believing in You as my only Savior.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 9 February 2016

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Mark 14, verse 26.

A word about music and hymns, actually hundreds of them.

Pick up a hymnal at any church and you’ll find somewhere between three and six hundred of them printed in the book.   Some are ancient, going back to before the days of Jesus.   Some go back to the middle ages.   Some were written by famous people.   Some are nearly brand new.   One of the things I find most difficult about going to new churches (especially contemporary ones) is when hymns and songs are shown on overhead screens.   The words are shown while the band or choir sings along, but you have no music to read in accompaniment. This makes it difficult for me to follow sometimes, especially when the band gets ahead of the overhead projector.

Yet I’m thankful for music.   To be honest, I’m not much of a musician.   I like to sing, but I’m embarrassed by it. When I was growing up, over the years I played piano, violin, viola and trombone; today I’ve forgotten most of what I learned about any of them. From time to time I like to pick up a guitar and I’ve learned a few chords yet not enough to say “I can play guitar.”   But none of this means that I don’t like music.   I like it very much.   I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on music downloaded to my iPhone.    If you pass my car on the road and I’m alone in it, look over and you might just find me singing. And I have great respect and admiration for people whose muse inspires them to actually write new songs.

What’s the point?   The point is that I’m not uncommon.   The radio dial is full of music stations.   You can download any of (literally) millions of songs online through any number of services. Go into most any store and you’ll find music playing in the background.   And a big part of any movie it the music on the soundtrack: it harmonizes with the story or the action you see to better appeal to our senses. Music is a big part of our lives.   It’s no coincidence that young people, especially, are affected by music because music appeals to both emotion and reason in ways we can’t really explain.

It was a part of the Last Supper.   If you attend a Jewish seder today, you still sing a psalm at the end.   That’s what Jesus and the Disciples did.   The “hymn” they sung at the end of their meal was a psalm, centuries old even then.   It was a hallel psalm; a praise song that included repentance and revelation, sin and anguish, praise and thanksgiving.   The song they sang was a cap on the evening’s celebration and a replay of its solemnity.   It was a way for the Disciples to express their sorrow and joy at this living future in which they found themselves, as well as an expression of unity with their Hebrew past. It was common then; it’s common now.

So if you’re like me and embarrassed to sing, then consider that Jesus Himself used to sing, that He did so freely and enthusiastically on the night on which He was betrayed. It makes the miracle of that time seem more human and beautiful.

Lord Jesus, thank You for music.   Thank You for singing, for the gift of song, for using music to speak matters of faith to our hearts.

Read Mark 14, verses 12-26.