Shaking Things Up

I was born and raised in Southern California, so earthquakes were are part of life, sometimes an exciting part. I was never hurt, never in a building that was damaged, I was never that close to dangerous ones. But, on the third floor of a cinder block dormitory, feeling the outer wall I was leaning against sway…well, that was creepy.

I was able to accept earthquakes as something that happens, and knew what to do. Even so, there is still something that rocks you to your core to have the earth on which you walk, move. Your mind simply finds it difficult to accept that the “unmovable” just did. I believe that is true, to some extent, regardless of how many earthquakes a person has been through.

The writer of Hebrews refers to God shaking the earth and heaven quoting Haggai:

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.

Hebrews 12:25-27 NASB

Comparing the presence of God in heaven with His appearance at Sinai was to be encouraging. But the call to remain faithful continues with this warning. The reference to His voice shaking the earth “then” is probably Sinai (Exodus 19:18), but the passage in Haggai 2:6 isn’t a reference to Sinai. The reference in Haggai is part of the passage below:

On the twenty-first of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet saying, “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts. ‘As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!’ For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts. ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and in this place I will give peace,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”

Haggai 2:1-9 NASB (Emphasis mine)

This is the translation from Hebrew, and the text in Greek (Septuagint) is only slightly different than the Hebrew. So the Greek text of Haggai doesn’t really fit the quote in Hebrews either (at least not the edition of the Septuagint I have access to). Which leaves us wondering to what the writer is truly referring.

Haggai is writing to encourage the people witnessing the second temple in Jerusalem who remembered the Temple Solomon had built. The second temple was not as magnificent as the first, but God promises that “the latter glory of this house will be greater than the former.” From the context in Haggai, it also seems that “glory” means “wealth” or the beauty enhanced by gold and silver. This isn’t the point of the writer of Hebrews.

The writer of Hebrews is pointing out a more “end-times” perspective. The point he makes is that the shaking of the heavens and the earth will destroy the “created things”, leaving the “things that cannot be shaken”. He is pushing his audience to focus on the “unshakable” kingdom he has described as the Heavenly Temple. The second temple of Jerusalem was never again as splendid as Solomon’s. But the Heavenly Temple may be considered as never being as plain as Solomon’s either.

We have something indestructible to look forward to. This is another encouragement to focus on the sure promise of God through Jesus: promise of unlimited access to our Creator, promise of forgiveness from all unholiness, promise of an eternal city where our Savior intercedes for us. It’s another push to endure because this is not all there is, and what is to come is unimaginably superior to what has been.

So, if this world, this country, or even your community has shaken you up, consider the unshakable kingdom of our Savior, and press on. Press on in your love for others. Press on in your faith in your Creator and Savior. Press on in your hope of an eternal unshakable city. Press on.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


When It’s Not Fair

One of my pet peeves is when things aren’t fair. It’s actually funny how fast that gets me going. Even in a computer game. I play an online game that I believe has “balancing” issues, pairing me against players I have no chance with, and dropping me into the game in the worst possible place. I get frustrated for a while, and then I remember that they let me play for free, but to win all the time, I would need to spend money. The imbalance is a design “feature”.

But life, the big things in life, sweeping events of history, social and cultural trends, and opportunities, we tend to believe those should be fair. That may be a classic “Americanism”, honestly. I can claim that, about myself, perhaps. Although, I suspect that other cultures without that sense of “fairness” have lost it due to cynicism, they’ve lost hope.

The reason I suspect this is because of the concept, at least in Western thought, of justice. The statue is a woman, she’s blindfolded, holds an unsheathed sword in one hand and a pair of scales in the other. The ideas embodied in that image are compassion, a refusal to judge by what is seen on the surface, execution of judgement and equality. The blindfold was added later it seems, but the other elements have been around since the Ancient Greeks.

We have reached a point when one of the common lessons we pass on is that “life isn’t fair.” But think about that. Why do we need to teach that? Why is that expectation so deeply ingrained, it’s instinctive. Life is supposed to be fair, and it isn’t. The removal (or suppression) of that instinctive expectation leaves us with this blank, a cipher, a vacuum in our soul abhorred by our human nature.

The question for us all is, “How will we respond to the unfairness of this life?” Will we stop and complain, for a very long time? Will we stuff those feelings, and “soldier on”? Will we weep for what is lost, and seek that which is missing? I believe it’s fair to say that everyone chooses one of those three options, however they define the option or describe the outcome or benefit.

As disciples of Jesus, how are we to respond to the unfairness of this life? Well, consider Jesus, as Paul did, in Philippians 2:5-11.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (NASB)

Was it fair that Jesus emptied Himself? Was it fair that the Divine took the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of the creature, though He is the Creator? Was it fair that He humbled Himself becoming obedient to the extreme of death by crucifixion? Was that fair? No. And the sheer unimaginable magnitude of the Divine Creator choosing to endure all of that offsets overwhelmingly the scales of justice. Now it’s unfair, but in our favor.

Really? It doesn’t feel that way when I get up in the morning. It doesn’t feel that way when I watch the news. It doesn’t feel that way when I talk to my family and friends enduring stress. It doesn’t feel as if the scales of justice and fairness have been tipped in my favor. It feels like the opposite, like I’m being oppressed, spiritually and emotionally, if not physically. But the truth is, I’m not being oppressed, in any way.

So, what do we, as disciples of our Divine Savior, do in response to the apparent inequality of this life? The answer found in Scripture, inspired by our Creator who saves us, is this: Hope in Heaven.

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling.”

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

Hebrews 12:18-24 (NASB)

Do you see the contrast? The world, those outside the kingdom of Jesus, they see the first part, the blazing fire, the whirlwind, the darkness and gloom. It’s still our Creator, but it’s frightening, terrifying in fact. And it is true, He is all of that, and more.

We see the holy city and temple described in the next. We hope in the city with angels the assembly of those called out first, those perfected, and, best of all, our Creator, Savior, and Judge. Our Mediator, the One interceding for us is right there! That is what we hope in, that is why we can endure this life full of inequality, injustice, pain, and death. Those are the hallmarks of the devil, but the hallmarks of our Savior is abundant eternal life (John 10:10).

We, as disciples of Jesus, are to see things differently, act differently, speak differently. But this isn’t just about ourselves. If we see things from the perspective of our Creator, then we are to call out the works of the devil for what they are. We are to be different, and we are not to tolerate evil in silence. We are to speak out as our Savior spoke out while He walked this earth, loving Samaritans, honoring women, and blessing Gentiles. He wasn’t the typical Jewish male. Nor are we to be the typical human where we are.

What can you do in your community to push back against the darkness of the devil’s kingdom with the light of the abundant life of Jesus within you? Do that.

Enabling All The Rest

I remember, as a kid, going to “camp”. It didn’t really matter what sort of camp, they all had one thing in common:  a list of what to bring. In a sense, we attempt to do the same thing with our relationship with our Creator, act like there was a list of what to bring. But there isn’t. Every bit of our righteousness is like dirty rags. Paul writes of “putting off the old man” and “putting on Christ Jesus”. Yet that’s a difficult concept to receive and live out.

But here’s why that is so crucial, if we bring anything with us in our relationship with Jesus, our hope is divided. We may hope in Jesus, but we also hope in whatever we bring. And hope is essential for faith and love. 

Now faith is the  assurance of things  hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1 NASB

How can faith be assurance of something we don’t have? And if we have it, but it isn’t entirely in Jesus, then how is our faith in Jesus alone?

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13 NASB

Faith, hope, and love remain, or abide, or dwell, live together. The greatest is love, although they come as a set with the other two, and, as the previous verse makes clear, there’s no faith without hope. Hope is essential for faith, and, as it turns out, love.

Think about the idea of hope for a minute. Does it bother you? Is there a little fear, fear that it will not be fulfilled? That’s common, and the best indicator that our hope is mixed with Jesus and something else. But what does hope in Jesus look like?

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.

Hebrews 12:14-16 NASB

Hope in Jesus looks like disciples actively pursuing peace with all men, pursuing the process of being made holy to Jesus, working together to ensure we reach the grace of God together, ensuring roots of bitterness are removed even as they spring up, and not permitting godless or immoral activity among disciples as if it were simply part of our culture. Why? Because we are pursuing something not of this world:

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:13-16 NASB

Paul applies the call to follow the pattern of thinking in Jesus using himself as an example in Philippians 3:7-16. In Philippians 2:5-11, he lays out the pattern of Jesus, in 2:19-23, Paul uses Timothy as an example of Jesus’ servanthood. In 2:25-30, he uses Epaphroditus as an example of Jesus’ obedience to the point of death. But the emptying of Himself, for that element of Jesus’ pattern Paul uses himself as the example in 3:7-16.

It’s crucial for the disciple to grasp this, because it is the application of hope. That is the effect on us of having hope. And it is the antithesis of what we are seeing in our nation, in Hong Kong, in Indonesia, in India, and all throughout our world. People, without hope, will follow the pattern of the devil, stealing, killing, and destroying. Only Jesus came that we might have life, and have it to the full.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Not In This Alone

We are not alone. There is a lot of possible inference possible in that statement. Who is “we”? That’s probably the first question to ask. So, if I told you that ‘we’ refers to “disciples of Jesus”, that would clear up only part of the meaning. The other part, “why are we not alone, who is with us?” remains unanswered.

Scripture clearly teaches that we are never left alone by our Savior. His Spirit lives within us, so, in that sense, we are never alone. But there is another sense in which we are not alone that tends to escape us. It has to do with an anomaly in English where the same word is used for the second-person pronoun whether singular, or plural. This obscures for us when Scripture teaches something for many and for a singular person.

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Hebrews 12:12-13 NASB

For instance, the “your” in the above passage, the pronoun that reveals the writer of Hebrews is asking his audience to work on themselves, it’s a plural reference. That’s not surprising, and may be obvious to anyone thinking it through. Why would it be singular? Even so, we want to take this and apply it ourselves, individually, which would be wrong. That’s what escapes us.

Perhaps to call it wrong is to overstate the problem. The letter was written to a group, and this section details the application of the previous 10 chapters to that group. Therefore, when we seek to apply it to an individual, we apply it in a way it wasn’t designed. It may allow for such application, but that wasn’t the intent. How can I know that? Let’s read further…

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.

Hebrews 12:14-16 NASB

The verbs beginning these verses are imperatives (commands), but guess what “person” they are in. If you guessed second-person-plural you would be right. That first imperative sets up the remaining verb, “see to it”, which is also plural. The verb “falls short” is also plural, but in reference to “others” it’s third-person. These are clear in Greek, but understood only by inference in English.

The context of these admonitions to apply the truth of the supremacy of Jesus, of His supreme covenant, and the discipline of our Savior as proof of our acceptance, all this application happens in groups. All of it. Yet we are slow to apply it to ourselves within church, although we may judge others by it in church. We are slow to let this command to “live at peace with all men” sink into our souls. Instead we allow hate, anger, even what some may refer to as “righteous anger” drive us. Yet the anger of man never accomplishes the righteousness of God (James 1:20).

I don’t think it is a sustainable position that people out of control doing damage and breaking Scriptural laws glorifies our Creator. I don’t think it is a sustainable position that there is any excuse for it because, from the above passage the root of bitterness defiles many. Just because our Savior died for our sins does not give us leave to create more for Him to die for (Romans 6:1). There are alternatives to wanton mob violence. Although such violence seems to pervade our planet, we, as disciples of Jesus, do not have leave from our Master to join in such things.

So, it falls to “us” to “see to it that no one falls short of the grace of God.” We are to speak out, to call out the sin, to call out the disregard for our Savior. But, let’s do so living at peace with all men, not by joining the violence or starting our own. And, let’s be clear, mobs respond to perceived injustice, and are often right about that injustice. But they also often follow a horribly wrong response.

Many people reading this blog may not know that this isn’t just Minneapolis, it is Hong Kong, Delhi, and places in Indonesia and more places. All of them are violent mobs, but no one religion, no one race, not even the same “injustice”. It is still the same destructive response which falls short of the grace of our Creator and Savior.

So, this isn’t an entry to a single person, but to all y’all claiming Jesus as your Savior, to all y’all following Jesus as His disciples, and to all y’all having “tasted the heavenly gift” of Hebrews 6:4. To all of you, pursue peace with all men and sanctification of the Spirit of Jesus. Please drop the torches and pitchforks, and make peace and holiness your goal and purpose.

So, Now What?

One of the things about criticism, especially accurate criticism, that determines the quality of it, is encouragement. That may sound peculiar, but I’m not sure how else to put it. Encouragement following criticism, or as part of it, helps frame the mind around a positive purpose. That is, perhaps, the most important ingredient to criticism, a positive purpose. Cynicism is not true criticism.

The writer of Hebrews doesn’t just tell his audience to, “buck up and take it with a smile.” He explains that difficulties are proof that we are legitimate children (12:8). Which is great, but who wants to be children of suffering? And, let’s say I do accept the challenge to “suffer with a smile” (which he never says to do), what do I do during the suffering? Well, it’s like an airline emergency response:

1. Put on your own “mask” to protect yourself:

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Hebrews 12:12-13 NASB

At first, it may sound like the writer is asking his audience to take care of those “other” weak ones, but as he continues, it becomes clear he’s speaking of taking care of themselves. The verb, to strengthen (or rebuild, look it up here), is an active imperative, which can imply helping another, or transitive action. It’s the following statement about “paths for your feet” that make clear the writer is referring to helping themselves.

And this is necessary for us. If we neglect this step, we are in danger of being a plank-eyed minister to others, and that is no help at all. Not that we have to be perfect before helping others, but we do need to exercise to be able to avoid the impairments that prevent us from being useful to others.

For instance, I don’t help others with areas I know I’m already in danger of failing. Why set myself up for failure? And there are areas I struggle, and probably will for the rest of my life. On the other hand, having had some success with other areas of my walk with my Master, I can be of service to others helping them succeed as well.

Basically, I need help in some areas, and can help in others. One way we strengthen those impaired limbs is to recognize, and deal wisely, with our weaknesses (brag in them, as Paul says). Only then can we help others is areas our Savior has made us strong (gifted us?).

2. Help others with their “mask”

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

Hebrews 12:14-17 NASB

Service is a foundational discipline of a disciple of Jesus. If we are not of service to others, then we squander the gift given us by our Creator and Savior. We endanger our walk with the One who loves us passionately, enough to suffer agonizing death on our behalf, in our place. We must give back what our Master pours into our lives. He does so for the specific purpose of using us in His Kingdom.

The writer lists it this way:

  1. “Pursue” peace with all men/people
  2. “Pursue” sanctification (the process of being “set apart” for our Creator)
  3. “Oversee” that no one fall short of our Creator’s grace
  4. “Oversee” that no root of bitterness springs up, defiling many
  5. “Oversee” that there be no “immoral” or “godless” person among us

What sometimes happens is that people will skip the first one, and dive into the “overseeing” part. I numbered it on purpose. Do number one first, then 2, and so on. And notice that “sanctification” is a process pursued in the context of a group. It’s not solely personal.

When a “body” of disciples is characterized by these 5 activities, then they will be, as a group, moving toward the throne of Jesus. But they will be suffering as they go, being disciplined by our Father as beloved children. Yet, even so, they will be driving on toward the curtain to the Most Holy Place, to finally reach the foot of their Savior and Intercessor, Jesus. Can you imagine a better pursuit?

So, let us put down the torches and pitchforks, leave off storming the castle of our neighboring church, and practice the love for our fellow disciples that was shown to us by our fellow Savior. How about we give that a shot? That root of bitterness should be weeded, it’s not a garden plant, trust me. Or, trust Nicodemus, the writer of Hebrews.

In Retrospect

It gets said a lot, but it’s true: Things make more sense after the fact, looking back, in retrospect. Sometimes, the context of the whole event span of time enables understanding of the event with more clarity. I wish that were always true, but sometimes, things will not make sense before we stand in the presence of our Creator in heaven.

I play an online video game that arranges two teams in competition. I believe it really struggles to fairly balance teams, and members it puts into contests. But I also believe that is a “feature” not a “flaw”, at least from the designers perspective. I’m pretty sure that they count on players getting frustrated loosing and opting to spend money on the game to improve their competitive abilities.

Until I remember that, I can get very frustrated. But, eventually, I get it, I remember that it’s a game, that this is supposed to be somewhat unbalanced. But something inside me still cries “That’s not fair!” And it isn’t. But it’s not supposed to be either.

Being disciplined can be like that too. Often, we don’t see what’s happening as “beneficial” except in retrospect. And this isn’t just true for our relationship with our Savior either. Think about how brilliant your parents become the older you get. So, we should not be surprised when we discover, in retrospect, the wisdom of our Savior in His treatment of us. The first-century disciples of Jesus struggled with this very thing, and here’s how the writer of Hebrews addressed it:

Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Hebrews 12:9-11 NASB (Emphasis mine)

In retrospect, it often makes sense. A lot of the time, looking back, the context of the entirety (or as much of it as we can see) gives meaning to what our Savior does. Is it a “universal truth”? No, unfortunately not. We don’t have the full context yet, and even then, we may not really understand everything. But this we can be sure of, our Creator, our Father in heaven, disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness.

Knowing that may not make it easier to endure. Being told to just wait it out, endure to the end, may not ease the pain any. It probably makes it more painful. We want to see the light at the end of the tunnel and know it’s not a train. Sometimes, it is a train. But as we are “run over” by that train, remember this:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

2 Corinthians 4:7-11 NASB (Emphasis mine)

We’re not home yet, and so, there’s still work to do, struggles to endure, and a bright shining home ahead. One day we will stand in the presence of our Creator and Savior. One day He will wipe the tears from our eyes. We will be a part of a “mega-church” worship like we can never imagine. We will all be changed. But for now, we trudge sod of this world, joyfully seeking the next.

Hard Life with God

Who doesn’t like to hear all the good stuff they have to gain by accepting something or making changes? Who eats healthy because it tastes better? Who exercises because it feels good? Well, that one isn’t a good example, done right it, after a while, does feel good. Still, it takes discipline to do difficult, uncomfortable, or painful things for the eventual good they produce. We know that, but for some reason, we don’t apply that to our life with God.

How would you describe the life of a disciple of Jesus? Fun? Exciting? Full of rainbows and unicorns and kittens? Someone from the outside might describe it as the path of complainers, maybe if they followed me. The life of a disciple of Jesus is hard, and it’s designed that way:

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,

Hebrews 12:4-6 NASB

The writer quotes Proverbs 3:11, 12. That chapter of Proverbs is famous for verses 5 and 6:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

But verses 11 and 12 are not nearly as popular. Ironically, we find trusting God a great idea, until the discipline starts. Then we’re confused, wondering why we’re being punished. Why do bad things happen to good people? This may surprise you, and for some you will vehemently disagree, but I believe our Creator teaches us through Scripture that all things that happen to us, good and bad, come from Him.

Yes, as James says, every good and perfect gift is from our Father above (James 1:17), but he also teaches that our Father puts us through fire to develop us (James 1:12). But he also teaches us that this same Savior does not tempt us. So, the trials and temptations are different. Trials are meant to develop us, discipline us to be better disciples of Jesus. Temptations, on the other hand, come from us (James 1:13-15).

The writer of Hebrews claims that the difficulties faced by disciples of Jesus actually legitimize our relationship with our Savior (Hebrews 12:7,8). Think about that for a moment. You are legit because of difficulties, not because you don’t suffer. We suffer, and we ask, “what did we do wrong?” Instead, these very difficulties legitimize our relationship with our Savior. It’s not easy to wrap your head around.

I hate it when stuff doesn’t work, computers (especially), cars, people, business processes, departments at my employer, all sorts of things. And when they don’t, I can get pretty bent. It’s my expectation that these things do what I want, when I want, the way I want. I expect them to operate as designed, and finding the design flawed interrupts my goals, my desires, whatever I’m trying to do. You’ve been there. You know the frustration.

The truth is, these things are designed, and flawed in that design. But what I miss is that they are also part of my Master’s design, part of His plan to discipline me into a person more available to His purpose, His plans, and His Kingdom. When I miss that, I may miss an important goal He has for me. With this in mind, read Acts 16:6-10 again. You may be familiar with this passage, even how Paul was prevented and hindered by Jesus, but now think about that in terms of this concept of being disciplined by our Father in heaven.

Let’s not miss our Macedonian Vision because we’re fighting the One for whom we live and work in the first place. Let’s, instead, permit our difficulties guide us to where our Savior wants to use us, to do those things He wants us to do, and let go of our goals, asperations, dreams, and focus. That’s what the writer of Hebrews is saying, “Don’t get upset with your computer, but let that difficulty guide you to the thing our Savior wants to do in and through you at that moment.”

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

By Name Only

There are jokes we know so well, only the punchline is needed to get us laughing. They’re not that funny, honestly, it’s the memory of the laughter and fun they brought. And then there are those who had never heard the joke, but, often from peer pressure, laughed anyway. Over time, the joke was lost, but the punchline is remembered, and funny, but nobody can remember why. “Rectum? Dang near killed ’em!”, will usually bring a smile, but no one remembers the joke (although you can look it up).

In the same way, we can remember stories of characters simply by naming them. And yet, often, we can’t remember the story, only that the name is important for some reason. It’s like history: it happened, and we remember the names, but the details of what they did are fuzzy, and we can never remember the dates. Again, we can look it up if we like.

The writer of Hebrews, toward the end of the “Role Call of Faith” stops telling stories, and begins listing names. And it is supremely ironic to me that most of the names are from a book which most disciples of Jesus consider a collection of faithless mistakes of Israel.

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32-34 NASB)

Four of the six names are from the book of Judges. And of the Judges listed, the writer seems to have chosen the ones we consider the worst examples of faith. Gideon needed to test God three times, Barak wouldn’t go into battle without a woman present, Samson is simply famous for his mistakes, and few people remember Jephthah because he’s so embarrassing pastor’s don’t teach on him. And yet, there they are, considered paragons of faith to God, held up as examples to follow.

Is it possible that we’ve become so jaded by what we have been told about these men that we have missed the perspective of their Savior? Oh wait, you don’t think they were saved, you say? Samson and Jephthah clearly didn’t get it, and can’t possibly be saved?

Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:35-40 NASB

These were looking for a better resurrection. Why look forward to disaster? They were looking forward to the Savior, as we do. Yet, their names made the list. Maybe just their names, maybe not their stories, but I wish their stories were told. I want to know how the writer of Hebrews understands their stories. We are ashamed of them, and our Savior isn’t. That should tell us something. That should shout loudly to us. A man who sacrificed his only daughter to Yahweh made the list. How is that? Perhaps we miss something in their stories.

Are we missing something in other stories? What about the stories in the lives around us? Is it possible that we have become so judgmental that we consider common what our Savior has sanctified (Acts 10:15)? The context of Acts 10 should scream at us that we, as Gentiles, would have no part in the Kingdom unless those in the Kingdom followed whatever God deemed holy.

These listed here in this collection of failures were considered holy by our Savior. Maybe we should revisit their stories to discover what we missed. It seems the punchline isn’t enough, we need the whole joke to truly get it. And once we have a better grasp of our Creator’s perspective, perhaps we will understand those around us better as well.

Just a thought.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

“Bad Tactic” Faith

Be honest, how often have you considered the things you find in Scripture to be impractical for our modern world? Turning the other cheek, not resisting an evil person, going the extra mile, and so on, all seem like they would cause you to fail today. Who really thinks the meek will inherit the world? They certainly won’t conquer it, which is what we consider valuable.

But even those are possible to believe, they have the potential to be successful, and there is value in kindness even for atheists. But what about when God asks you to do the stupid? “I know how we can take down the huge walls of Jericho, lets walk around them for 7 days!” Really? How about that sort of faith, how likely are we to adopt that level of belief in our Savior?

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.

Hebrews 11:30-31 NASB

Consider for a moment the absurdity of the siege of Jericho. It really wasn’t a siege at all. The sons of Israel only encircled the city during the day, as they walked around it once. After that, they simply watched it (Joshua 5:13). So, while the city was “tightly shut”, anyone could conceivably make an escape. I’m not sure that was the point, but it could have been.

Clearly, the sons of Israel had no concept of siege tactics currently in vogue at the time. No ramps, no ladders, no siege weapons, nothing expected. The Egyptians had used “siege towers”, and it’s very possible the people of Israel would have seen those depicted on the walls of the cities they built. But they still didn’t even try to make any.

Yet, by faith the walls of Jericho fell down. And when they did, one of the people who lived in the wall was saved. By faith, part of the wall fell down, except that portion where Rahab lived. And she lived in faith, believing that saving the spies was good for her and her family. And it was. She became an ancestor of David and Jesus, a testimony of faith, and made the role call by name. A prostitute in the genealogy of Jesus? Yes, because of her faith.

So, our Creator uses the faith of those we would never consider to achieve greatness. And He uses tactics we would never imagine. People and methods we would reject become His favorites. Think about that. In some sense that’s you and I. In another sense, it’s the people you and I discount every day, those living in parks, under bridges, in mansions, or even next door.

Will you and I have the faith to be obedient to the foolish commands of our Savior? Will we be willing to risk being unpopular to do His will? Rahab risked more than unpopularity, she risked her life, twice, if you think about it. Noah built an ark impossible to hide. Moses wandered in from the desert to confront the king of Egypt, and Joshua walked around a city quietly for seven days.

What is our Savior asking you to do? What does our Creator want from you? Who have you possibly marginalized, someone our Savior desires to use in your life? Are you open to that? Are you willing to be obedient when it seems silly? Will you listen to the voice of your Master as He speaks through the unexpected person around you?

What’s your view through the knothole this morning?

Interpreting Moses

Surely this has happened to you at some time, you see a movie that you thought was okay, but not great, only to have someone else describe it in glowing terms. When you press them for details, they bring up a bunch of stuff you didn’t see, or didn’t see that way. Or, perhaps you are on the other side of that, you are the one who catches all the details others miss. Either way, it’s amazing how two people can see the same events very differently.

Storytelling can be the same way. Different people can walk away from a story with very different ideas about what it was about, the quality of writing, even details about the main characters. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are many different interpretations of Scripture (and yet, it still rankles some people).

Even so, it still surprises me how the writer of Hebrews interprets Moses. In Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, he claims that Moses was “beautiful” (II.9.6), in agreement with the writer of Hebrews (11:23). But they diverge in their assessment of Moses’ parents in that Josephus writes that the parents feared death for being found harboring the child (II.9.4). The writer of Hebrews views it differently:

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

Hebrews 11:23 (NASB)

This isn’t a huge sticking point because what is meant by the writer of Hebrews could be that they acted in spite of fear, or bravely. But the next assessment of Moses is very peculiar:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.

Hebrews 11:24-26 (NASB)

Ironically, the entirety of the Exodus summary of Moses early life with his adopted mother is as follows:

The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. And she named him Moses, and said, “Because I drew him out of the water.” Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren.

Exodus 2:10-11 NASB

That’s it, no detail at all. One moment he is weaned, the next, witnessing the beating of his “brethren”. Josephus has far more to say, with chapter 10 of book II being about Moses defeating the Ethiopians in battle, much to everyone’s surprise.

Interpreting Moses’ response to the beating of a Hebrew as “choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” may be a stretch. On the other hand, if he were happy and content being an adopted child of Egyptian royalty, why go look over the people at all? Why would they be “brethren”? Why kill the Egyptian? It makes a lot of sense to accept this interpretation of “Nicodemus” (the writer of Hebrews).

To take it further and claim Moses was looking for more, for the “reward”, of heaven, if we accept the context, might also be a stretch. But there was an awareness of God, of God’s people, of Patriarchs, and promises, so, it could very well be that Moses looked for something from this God, so different from those of the land in which he was a prince.

But, then there is the reason Moses leaves Egypt. For Josephus, Moses leaves to escape a palace plot to take his life (Antiquities II.11). He says nothing of witnessing the beating of a Hebrew, or Moses’ killing of the offending Egyptian. For the writer of Hebrews, Moses leaves in what sounds like defiance of the king of Egypt:

By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.

Hebrews 11:27 (NASB)

Moses records the reason in Exodus slightly differently:

But he said, “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and said, “Surely the matter has become known.” When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the presence of Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian, and he sat down by a well.

Exodus 2:14-15 NASB

So, was it defiance? Was Moses fearless to leave Egypt? Again, I think that the writer of Hebrews brings out a good point. Moses is obviously aware of something more than politics or economics when he tries to defend the Hebrews. His faith may not be huge or mature, but it’s growing. It becomes strong enough to defy Pharaoh, it becomes strong enough to enact the Passover. It becomes enough to lead the difficult people to Sinai.

So, how are we any different in that regard? Our faith may be immature. Our faith may be weak right now, we may be running scared. The thing is, are we running in the direction God wants us? Are we running from Him or to Him?