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, 9 October 2017

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.”  The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”  Hebrews 12, verses 18-21.

Are you seeing as I am that it takes effort and study to understand the Bible?   A few nights ago, a pastor I know said that he thought simply turning to the Bible and picking a random verse for advice was dangerous.   If you randomly pick a verse and expect it to give you life-altering advice, you’re subjecting God to a game of Russian Roulette where you hold the gun against the other guy’s head.  I understand his point, because context matters, background matters.   You may not have a degree in hermaneutics or have a bookshelf full of commentaries, but knowing a little bit about the verses you read might just help you to understand them (and what they’re saying) better.  A good website for this is http://thetorah.com/what-happened-at-mount-sinai/.

The background of these verses is, as you’ve guessed, from the time of the Ten Commandments.  God led the people of Israel to Sinai, His holy place.   There He would minister to them and give them His commandments for how to live in the world.   To protect them, He ordered Moses to set up boundaries so that no one would set foot onto God’s holy mountain in some disrespectful way.  It was for them, not Him.  Why wouldn’t God want His people to flock to Him?   The answer is in the millennial joke:  “it’s you, not me.”   Putting it simply, it was the people’s sins.

God can’t be unholy.   Un-holiness is against His nature.   He can’t tolerate it.  Specifically, it seems like the sin of disrespect would be one He would not tolerate.   For the people to accept His holy law, God wanted to ready them.   So He gave them instructions to follow.   “Stay off the mountain.”  Listen to God and He teaches.  God would speak to them through Moses, and in doing so He would affirm Moses’ leadership over them.   That’s a practical as well as spiritual matter, you know.   2 million souls wandering hungrily in unfamiliar territory needed a leader.  They didn’t need another pharaoh or some strongman:   they needed an authority.   God speaks to them directly from the mountain, but at a distance to gather their attention and to set up some ground rules.  By acting through Moses and by requiring the Israelites to follow directions, God installs Moses as leader and affirms that authority.   What’s more, when God speaks directly from Sinai, He has Moses stand above the people, in-between them and Himself.   He couldn’t have told them any clearer:   “This guy Moses is my spokesman here.   Listen to him.”

Then why would He allow un-holy Moses to stand in His presence?  There wasn’t anything special about Moses regarding his sinful nature.   Moses was a sinner just like the rest of the Israelites.   Perhaps it was that God knew how Israel would rebel in Moses’ absence.   Don’t forget that Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights, fasting and being made ready to receive God’s direct commandments.   During that time, Israel defied God and made itself an idol for worship, then they partied like a one-hit wonder on Grammy night.   Moses wasn’t a part of that (reaffirming again his status as above this sin).  Can you imagine the terror of seeing Moses descending from the mountain that first time, carrying two stone tablets, his anger burning stronger with each step down?   Can you imagine the thunder and shaking earth and the fire spewing from the mountain in front of you when God’s wrath was poured out on the rebellious deserters?

It must have been a fearful thing to have been one of the thousands freed from Egypt and then wandering to this strange place in Midian.   It must have been frightening to journey to a mountain where fire, smoke, thunder, and earthquakes were common indicators of the uncommon God occupying it.   It must have been terrifying to see God’s representative coming down to find that you’ve been unfaithful.   And it is always humbling to have to submit to someone’s authority when you know they have every right to rebuke you.

There is a better way.   The better way is to follow as soon as you hear you should.   God never leads people in unjust ways.   His path is always good and for good.   If you want to avoid the stern teaching of a harsh rebuke, or if you fear the fire and brimstone, then live your life in such a way as to make them un-threatening to you.   It really is that simple.  As Billy Currington might have said, thank God for good directions.

For further reading:  Exodus 19:12-22, Deuteronomy 4:11-12, Exodus 20:18, Deuteronomy 5:5 & 25, Deuteronomy 9:19.

Lord, thank You for Your fire, Your high standards, Your good directions, and the hard lessons You taught our ancestors..  

 

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 24 August 2017

By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.  Hebrews 11, verse 30.

After yesterday’s entry, let’s fast forward a few generations.   In the space of a few months, Moses went from a shepherd, to renegade troublemaker, to general and judge, to leader of a nation.   In the space of a few months, Moses followed God through the Red Sea, then led the Israelites into the desert of Sinai (likely in today’s Saudi Arabia).   Not long after, Moses disappears onto Mount Sinai (to receive the Ten Commandments), the Israelites rebel, Moses loses his temper, and God punishes Israel for its disobedience by making them wander in the deserts of Midian for forty years until all the rebels died out.  When that generation is gone, Moses dies and Joshua, Moses’ lieutenant, takes over as leader.   God then commands the Israelites to march around the Canaanite city of Jericho for six days, praising God each time and blowing their trumpets behind the Ark of the Covenant (minus Indiana Jones).  On the seventh day, they marched around Jericho seven times, and on the seventh time, they screamed out in praise of God that God had delivered Jericho to them.

Which He had.  On that seventh march, the walls of Jericho that had protected it for decades, maybe even centuries, tumbled down and the Israelites took the city.   Jericho had been a military, economic and political threat to Israel.   More than that, they were a city full of pagan’s who gave the collective Canaanite finger to the great I AM.   I AM brought justice and the threat was removed.

Great story, eh?

It is great, and it’s history, not just a story.   It really happened.   Excavations at Jericho confirm a cataclysmic destruction of an ancient city there:   an account that lines up with the book of Joshua.  All if it happened because the Israelites believed that God would deliver the city to them.   If it doesn’t make much sense to you, then you’re probably in good company.   The story seems illogical to us today because we focus on the improbability of it.   Marching around the city, blowing trumpets, no conventional military attack to achieve a military objective:   it all seems preposterous.

Thee focus of the story isn’t on the unconventional (though effective) military tactics.  The focus of the story is on the faith the people had that God would do what He said He would do.  God had told Joshua to lead his people to do these things and then the city walls would collapse so Israel could take the city.  That’s exactly what happened.  Imagine the curiosity, then anxiety, then terror felt by the pagan ‘haters’ who lived in Jericho as they watched this foreign army surround their city.   Imagine watching thousands of these marchers, coming back day after day.   How would you have felt?   Would you have laughed at first but, by the end of that sixth day, been thankful for the stone walls that kept the invaders out?   And how would you have felt when the walls came down?

What is Jesus saying with the account of what the Israelites did after Jericho fell?   If you don’t know, they killed every living thing there.  How can God be merciful in that?   Before you get all judgy, remember that God asks for faith, invites us to faith, proves the worth of faith.   Jericho had heard about these Israelites.   They knew what had happened since the time of Abraham.  They knew and ignored it.   More than ignoring it, they flaunted God.   How could God spare them?  Friend, it isn’t our place to judge God but to heed Him and obey His Word.

Tell me, my friend:   what walls have you built that need to come down?   Have you walled off parts of your heart?   Have you walled off your emotions, your feelings, your past, your dreams?   More than this, have you walled out God from your life, thinking there’s no way He could love you, forgive you, want you?   Do you hate yourself and your life this much?

Perhaps its time to march around your heart a few times and then blow the horns.   The purpose of the account of Jericho is, for you, to do what God asks of you and open your heart to change.  Watch what happens when God keeps His word.

For further reading:  Joshua 6: 12-20.

Lord, thank You for what happened at Jericho.   Thank You for the faith of the Israelites, and for the promises You make.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 15 March 2017

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.  Hebrews 9, verse 12.

Blood again.   This verse continues the ones from earlier in chapter 9, the ones that talk about how blood is needed for the sacrifice.  How do I put this?   I don’t understand why all this happened.   Logically speaking, I don’t understand the connection between Jesus’ blood and eternal salvation.  I really don’t.  He who could not die died.   He who could not sin took on all sin.   He who could do no wrong became wrong incarnate, through and through.   He who was completely innocent became completely guilty.  Why was blood required to make all that happened?   Yes, I know the history of it, the ties to animal sacrifices, the ancient Hebrew rituals commanded by God.   I understand the symbolism, and the physiological connection of blood and life.  I get all that.   I simply don’t understand WHY.  It’s lost on me.

That’s ok.   Love is illogical.  Love defies reason, logic, and process.   It’s simply the divine gift and there may be no fully explaining it in ways we’d understand this side of eternity.  The way out of this self-manufactured conundrum is to understand that I don’t need to understand it completely.   You don’t need to understand it completely.   It’s just fine that the finer points of ecclesiastical doctrine and Divine intention remain unknown when you get down to brass tacks.

Hint:   they were unknown to the high priest.   He could tell you, second by second, how to do everything he was doing and the history of it going all the way back to the first priest to enter the Most Holy Place.   I assume that would be Aaron, somewhere in the desert of Sinai, walking gingerly into God’s dwelling among men.  But the why?   Why did God require blood?   Why blood alone would make atonement?   I’m betting it was lost on him too.   I imagine that, if you had a long discussion with Aaron, his bottom line response would end up being “because God said so.”

That’s the ticket!   That’s the reason.   It’s reason enough.

It’s reason enough to know that God commanded it.  If you truly submit to God, you don’t need reason beyond that.  What’s more, it’s enough to know that God made it so for Jesus’ blood to be the only true sacrifice that would ever be needed to gain eternal salvation of mankind.   He who didn’t need to shed His own blood gave all of it up willingly, from the heart, from His soul.   He who was without sin and didn’t deserve to die, who hadn’t earned the death penalty for sin, willingly died for people who wouldn’t be willing to die for Him.   Why?   Because God said so.

Because God said so and predicted the need for it going all the way back to the fall of man.  Before He even spoke to Eve or Adam about their sin, He cursed Satan the tempter and laid out the penalty that Satan would pay.   “Cursed are you…He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”   Sin would be separate from God, intolerable and cursed.  There would be blood – and there weren’t even animal sacrifices yet; there wouldn’t be for hundreds of years – and it would forever vanquish sin.  It would then forever re-establish communion between men and their creator.  But it would require blood, first to represent and teach, then to actually do all that was necessary.

Why?   Because even way back in Eden, just before God expelled men from that paradise, God said so.   And then, because God shed His own blood to restore that communion between His favored beings and Himself, He, Jesus His Son, was fully able to re-enter heaven and present full atonement for all of mankind’s sin.   From Eve and Adam all the way down to Dave Terry, you, and everyone else here on Earth, Jesus entered the Most Holy Place of the presence of God and presented Himself in our place.   Nothing more is required; nothing more is necessary.   Indeed, nothing more could ever make it better or more complete.   Indeed, pursuing more would itself be an act of vain sin.   Best to turn away from that.

We don’t need to understand God’s motivation beyond knowing that He did it and that He loves us.   When all reason and logic fail, these will endure.  When you consider God’s ‘why’ in that light, ‘because He said so’ isn’t some response to a petulant child.  In that light, it’s the greatest gift He could ever give.

For further reading:  Leviticus 16:6, Hebrews 10:4, Hebrews 10:24-28, Genesis 3:14-15.

Lord, thank You for Your sacrifice of Your blood, for how You love us that much.

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.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 September 2016

For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  Hebrews 2, verses 2 and 3.

What does that mean?  It sort of seems like two different thoughts ‘smushed’ together.

My NIV concordance says that “the message spoken through angels” references God giving the Commandments to Moses at Sinai.  Some reading from Deuteronomy tells that “myriads of angels” accompanied God in giving Him praise when He revealed His law to Moses (who then shared it with the world).  A little online research corroborates that opinion.  What about the rest of the verses?

Yesterday at church the theme was “good enough.”   Pastor Mark talked about how we, as people, constantly strive to prove we’re good enough.   Every religion on earth is a choice between following Jesus or not.   If you aren’t following Jesus, then you’re doing something, anything, to prove you’re good enough.   Good enough for Allah, good enough to reach nirvana, good enough to prove your worth, good enough to make up for things you’ve done, just good enough:   that’s the point of all faiths other than following Jesus.  You’re either a following Christian or you aren’t.

I don’t say this to denigrate other faiths.   It’s just a fact.   If your faith isn’t put in Jesus, you aren’t putting your faith in the only one who can save you from your sins.  You’re striving to do something, most likely to prove you’re good enough to rise above the wrongs you’ve done.   And be real:   everyone does something wrong.   Wrong equals sin.   We all sin; we’re all thick with sin.  There’s nothing we can do to undo the consequences of those sins, both against other people and, as believers, against the righteous justice of God.   If you aren’t following Jesus, you’re doing something to overcome those sins.  THAT point segues directly into verse 3, where the verse talks about salvation.

Only Jesus has atoned for your sins.   Only Jesus can save me, you, or anyone from the eternal consequences of our sins.  God is perfect and just and righteous and all love.   He made us to love us and for us to live in perfect harmony with that love for all time.   Yet, to maintain that just, righteous, perfect love, God can’t tolerate our sins.   He gave us the free will to follow completely or sin.   Being a loving parent, He allows us to choose what we do, including the consequences.  But to maintain His perfection He can’t allow our constant imperfections to taint Him.   If He did, He wouldn’t be perfect, He wouldn’t be God.  That can’t be allowed, and let’s keep it real:   we wouldn’t really want it.

I am not perfect and I’m not just or righteous on my own.   I can’t atone for myself.  I can make some amends for the wrongs I’ve done to God and other people, but in truth I can’t atone for everything.   As an absolute, if I can’t atone for everything then I really can’t atone for everything.   I’m not God.  Neither are you.  We can’t save ourselves from the punishment we deserve:   damnation and separation from God.

Jesus did.

He did and He did it as fully man and fully God all at the same time.   It’s a mystery, THE mystery of the ages, how Jesus lived, died, and atoned for all sins.   He took on Himself the eternal damnation that even the least of my sins deserves and He made it right.   He made unclean man right and righteous again so that we can again live in the harmony with God that God originally intended.   The truly good news of all history is how He saved us from the eternal consequences our sins deserve.   All of Scripture is God testifying through men how He did this.   Those twelve men who Jesus taught during His ministry here inspired dozens, then hundreds, then millions of others to share this good news with others.   The Bible does this.   Pastors, ministries, whole lifetimes do this.   Even our words here together do this.   It’s all because of what Jesus did those thousands of years ago.   On my own, I’m not good enough.   Jesus is and with Him, He made me good enough.

What do two verses really mean?   As it turns out, quite a lot.

For more reading:   Deuteronomy 33:2, Romans 11:22.

Lord Jesus, I follow You.   Thank You for saving me, for forgiving me, for doing what I can’t.   Help me to live in ways to share this message with the world.