The Basics

You would think that it makes more sense to start with basics, and move to the more complicated issues. That’s how we typically communicate or train others: move from the simple to the complex. The author of Hebrews does not.

Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,”

Hebrews 13:1-5 (NASB)

After covering the supremacy of Jesus over all other competitors for our devotion, after going into great detail about the heavenly ministry of Jesus on our behalf, after listing off examples of faith from Scripture, and after pushing for endurance in the face of difficulty, we finally have the basics.

It seems that these things can’t be left out, but they aren’t part of his discussion either. What we typically leave to the end is the “punchline”, but this seems different, like it should be the basic call on how to live. It’s true that Paul doesn’t put those sorts of things right up front, but he didn’t typically leave them to the closing either (Exceptions might be: 1 Thes. and 1 Tim.).

But, what if this is the punchline? What if the writer has been leading here all along, and all that has been said, was said to support these words? Honestly, I don’t think that’s true. A house isn’t finished until the trim and painting is done, and I believe that’s what we have here.

The argument may be “complete” in a sense, in that all the pieces and parts are there, and laid out in order with the proper structure. But the life of a disciple of Jesus is not intuitive. These things cannot be left unsaid. They are not part of the argument supporting the supremacy of Jesus. But anyone believing the supremacy of Jesus needs to live according to these basics.

So, here they are in bullet form:

  1. Love your fellow disciples
  2. Welcome those you don’t know
  3. Identify with the persecuted
  4. Honor pure marriage
  5. Be responsible with money, not motivated by it

They’re pretty simple and straight forward. And they’re hard. They don’t allow us to be selfish, self-motivated, or self-centered. They don’t allow us to be comfortable.

They do allow us to be loving, they allow us to be at peace with our Savior. This sort of behavior is external evidence of inner holiness. And these things are things with which I struggle.

What I have discovered is that I have to persevere in the struggle, and not be content with my failures in any one of them. It’s not okay that I’m selfish. It’s not okay that I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it however I want to do it. I live for my King, and at His pleasure. I am not my own, and I am not home yet. Neither are you.

So, what’s your view through this knothole this morning?

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.

Yes And No

Are there contradictions in the Bible? Well, it was inspired by a Creator who put contradictions into His creation. We call them paradoxes, but in essence they are still contradictions. They exist all around us, and we are in the habit of creating and using them ourselves.

In Hebrews 9, the writer makes a case that blood was used under the law of Moses on everything, in order to sanctify it (make it holy). And he makes this statement:

And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Hebrews 9:21-22 NASB

The assertion is that forgiveness comes through the shedding of blood, and the assertion is attributed to the law which God gave to Moses. So, it is God saying that forgiveness requires the shedding of blood. But there’s a problem, or seems to be:

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Hebrews 10:1-4 NASB

Let’s start with the first verse of chapter 10, because it, alone, holds several…conundrums. First off, the goal of the process of the law seems to be perfection of those who worship. I don’t know that I would have drawn that conclusion from within the process, as one of the worshipers. It’s true in the sense that holiness (purity) is necessary to approach our Holy Creator. But, as he points out, this ritual purity was not “durable”.

So the problem is that the process didn’t stop the worshiper from sinning, and, therefore, becoming profane again. And that necessitated the repetition of the process regularly, daily in one sense, annually in another. The lack of durability, and that as the stated goal of the process is probably our first paradox: The solution provided by our Savior through Moses didn’t do the trick, but it alluded to the solution to come.

But, my question is, does “Jesus stop me from sinning? Am I ‘perfect’ now that Jesus is my Savior?” Paul doesn’t seem to think so (Romans 7), and neither does John (1 John 1). But they both claim there is a “freedom” from sin (Romans 8, 1 John 2), said in different ways at different places within their writings.

Perhaps a reminder of the problem being fixed is in order: access to our Creator. Nothing “unholy” or “profane” can approach our Creator. We, in our natural state, are unholy profane creatures, and it’s our own fault. The process of worship prescribed in the Law of Moses brought access through an intermediary (sort of, lots of “exceptions”). Jesus provides perfect access without dependence upon our holiness. Or, said another way, the holiness He provides is durable.

The writer of Hebrews has made a case for this durable holiness using the Law of Moses in contrast to the work of Jesus, on the cross and in heaven. And, within the argument He comes upon this paradox: There is no forgiveness without blood (Heb. 9:22), but the blood of bulls and goats is insufficient (Heb. 10:4).

Keep in mind that part of his argument relies on the various exceptions, David, Abraham, Jacob, even Moses. The following quotes from Psalms in the remainder of chapter 10 are allusions to the “Role Call of Faith” to come in the next chapter. These exceptions clue us in to the holiness enjoyed by us through Jesus. It’s not our own holiness, it’s His. His holiness is as durable as He is!

So, yes, we are forgiven through the shedding of blood, not our own, and not the blood of bulls or goats. We are forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus, shed by Him on our behalf. That forgiveness and sanctification is durable, having been done once and for all time, backwards and forwards from the point in time when it was shed.

So, this paradox having been resolved, leaves the question, what will you do? Will you, by faith, rely on the durable holiness of our Creator? Or will you seek another route, perhaps to bypass the requirement of life-blood altogether? That is the nature of rebellion, attempting to bypass the design of our Creator. I don’t recommend it. It creates its own set of deadly paradoxes (Matt. 6:25-34, 16:24-26, Mark 8:34-37, Luke 9:23-25, James 4:4).

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

Take A Break

The Sabbath is one commandment that is kind of “out of character” from the others. The ones before are about the priority of God in our lives. The ones following are about how we treat others. What is this one about?

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11 NASB

There is clearly something about this practice that our Creator believes to be important. In fact, Yahweh says He did it. He created everything, and then rested. I doubt that He was tired. I doubt He needed some “ME time”, or to recharge, or whatever.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.

Isaiah 40:28 NASB

It seems that the Sabbath was not so God could rest up for His next big engagement. In fact Jesus says something rather remarkable about the Sabbath:

And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And He *said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:23-28 NASB (Emphasis mine)

According to Jesus, the Sabbath was created for the Creator’s human creatures, rather than the other way around. So, when our Maker rests on the seventh day, He does so for us, not for Himself. This became a marker, setting apart the Jews from the other peoples among whom they lived. And it became a source of ridicule, even nearly cost them their existence during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid rulers (see reference here).

So, the issue may have become more about being obviously Jewish, and less about sanctifying the day. Still, what was God’s point? Why did He sanctify the day in the first place? It wasn’t for Himself, it was for His creatures, but to what purpose?

I suspect that nothing sanctifies like the presence of our Creator and Savior. Whatever He touches becomes holy. Perhaps, because of this, this day is holy because it’s in contact with Him. And when we use a whole day a week to be with Him, that day is holy. In a sense, this law of the ten forms the pivot point where we move from them being about our Creator to being about the creatures. The Sabbath law connects the two sets through association of the two in relationship.

Do you use it that way? The whole day, is it devoted to your Savior? Would others observing your day claim that it is entirely devoted to time between you and your Creator? Is it truly “holy” in the sense that He has come into contact with it, and you? I doubt it. I find it nearly impossible to fill the day only with time with my Master. Perhaps you are more successful than I. If you are, that’s awesome, and I encourage you to keep doing it. If you don’t, if, like me, you struggle to get more than church attendance into it being about Jesus, then what can be done to change our attitude about it?

Perhaps time with my wife counts as I honor my Savior in my time with her. Maybe you have friends that get together after church for lunch or to spend the afternoon doing whatever. Can that time count as holy time? Has it come into contact with our Creator? I’m reminded that nowhere does it say that the Sabbath isn’t a corporate thing. Nothing says that it has to be practiced as individuals. In fact, isn’t going to church on the Sabbath a “group activity”? Why does the end of a church meeting mean the end of celebrating the Sabbath?

Perhaps, like Jesus says, we need to think of the Sabbath as something our Creator created for us. And, like everything else He created, He made it to draw us closer to Him. So, if that’s what this day is about for you, about enjoying all that your Savior is to you, and all those He has connected you with, then perhaps you are dedicating the whole day to Him. Let’s discover that line of peace and rest between legalistically requiring rigid limits to activities, and blatant treatment of the day as just another day off to play. Maybe we can keep it holy together.

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

Close, But Not Too Close

Have you ever gotten “mixed messages” from someone you love? It’s typically only those you care about that give these messages that are conflicted, often opposing. You might think that our Creator and Savior, as the perfect Communicator, wouldn’t give mixed messages, but He does.

The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever.” Then Moses told the words of the people to the Lord. The Lord also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.”

Exodus 19:9-13 NASB

Notice that God is coming to the people, yet has Moses set bounds around the mountain, setting a penalty of death for any man or animal who approaches. And God then tells Moses to bring the people near when they hear the sound of the Shofar (ram’s horn). The Savior and Redeemer of the people of Israel comes close, tells them to remain at a distance, and then, to come out to meet Him. Those are mixed messages, but only to modern readers.

The Transfiguration is the same way. Jesus is God-in-the-flesh, bringing the transcendent Creator into His creation. Yet, only takes three to see Him as He truly is. And those three don’t really understand what they see. In the same sense, the message of Jesus brings our Creator close, but then, not too close.

But this message, again, is probably only a problem for modern readers. We would be the ones asking why only Peter James and John. Why would God show up, but then not want anyone to see Him? He sounds almost like He’s afraid of being seen. And I believe He is, but not because His creatures would see Him and not be impressed. I believe He doesn’t want them to see Him because the sight would destroy them. He wants them breathing.

The sons of Israel, they get this without it being explained. They have the legends of the gods of Egypt, the gods of Mesopotamia, the gods of Canaan, and probably the Hittites. There are plenty of reminders that people are not to interact with the gods because they can’t, except by invitation to the “realm of the gods”. But this God is coming to them, from His “plane of existence” into theirs. It’s not normal.

But this abnormal behavior is one of the markers of this Yahweh. He is El, the chief of the pantheon. He is Elohim, above all gods. He is the Creator, not one of several who helped create. And what He wants these people He has chosen to know about Him is that He exists. That’s what they need to know. He’s not content being ignored, not any more. He shows up in flame and smoke, and loud shofar, and speaks to Moses from thunder. He wants to speak to them, to reveal Himself to them, but He needs to do so through Moses. So, this dramatic appearance is really to validate Moses.

God wants to have a relationship with us, but on His terms. He has gone to extreme lengths for this relationship, unbelievable lengths. He draws us to Himself, but He also knows there is a limit in our current condition. Perhaps on the other side of “too close” we would step into His realm, and no longer be able to be in this one. Who knows? But the prohibition from touching the mountain or the one touching the mountain (19:12,13) has to refer to “holiness”. They have touched what has touched Yahweh, and have therefore contracted His holiness. Rather than profane their condition by touching others, they must be killed.

Jesus has redeemed Jews and Gentiles alike to be a holy people. We, by coming into contact with Him, have contracted His holiness. But, we modern people have no sense of what this means, no appreciation for it. Maybe it’s a “first-world” problem, and those in “underdeveloped” countries understand it better. But my fear is that holiness is disappearing from our Christian culture. Otherness, being different, living different, seeing this world and the people in it differently, these qualities are going away. At least I don’t see them around me often. Maybe I need new eyes to see, and perhaps, I need to exhibit this holiness more myself.

What about you? Do you embrace this mixed message of a Holy Creator and Redeemer? Do you walk in this “newness of life” seeing as He sees? Or are you taking the contracted holiness and profaning it daily? We choose, you and I. We can either share the holiness, allowing others to contract it from us, or we can profane it, contracting commonality from others. Today, what will you choose?

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

Knowing God Through Combat

The life of a believer, follower, or disciple of Jesus can be summarized as spent getting to know Jesus better.  The process of knowing Him more has the added affect of changing the disciple into the likeness of their Master.  The typical methods used today are prayer, Bible study, worship, perhaps service to others, or ministry within a church.  But what about combat?  What about the biblical method of learning about our God through learning combat?  You haven’t heard about that particular method?  Ah, then this entry is for you!

Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly).  These nations are: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. (Judges 3:1-3 NASB)

From the passage above, you can clearly see that Yahweh used the Canaanites in the land to teach His people about Himself through combat.  Does that seem a lot to derive from the word “test”?  Fair enough, then consider the next few verses:

They were for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the LORD, which He had commanded their fathers through Moses.  The sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. (Judges 3:4-6 NASB)

Does the testing seem more clear now?  And, not only the testing, but the people’s struggle to pass the test, becomes clear.  The people of Yahweh seemed content to live among the people, as Canaanites themselves!  Combat was the method Yahweh used with His people to distinguish them from their Canaanite neighbors, to demonstrate they were different than the Canaanites.  Through combat, His people became holy, it was a test to sanctify His people.  Instead, His people married among those they were supposed to oppose.

Do you see where this is headed yet?  We, as disciples of Jesus, are to be obviously different than our “neighbors”.  We are supposed to be holy.  We’re not supposed to look or act like “everyone else”.  Our priorities and goals are supposed to be different.  We’re supposed to be distinguishable from those around whom we live and work.  But, most of the time, we seem content to be different at church.  That we go to church at all seems to be difference enough for many of us.  While going to church is great, and necessary, it’s not “holiness”, or not nearly enough of it.

For a disciple of Jesus, the struggle to be different, for holiness, is not about being an individual.  It is personal combat against the pressure to be unlike Jesus.  This can be difficult, even in church.  But, the struggle for holiness can be easily forgotten in the rest of life.  It’s easy to forgive ourselves for not being different “out there”, after all, who wants to be “offensive”?  Well, to be clear, Jesus did.  John 6 is a great view into Jesus’ “Church Growth Strategy” – drive off inauthentic followers.  To be His disciple means we will be fearlessly offensive as well.

It’s not easy being a disciple of Jesus.  It takes whole-hearted determination, perseverance, and pig-headed stick-to-it-tiveness.  It takes study to get to know Jesus’ priorities, His point of view, and His goals.  It takes study of both Testaments.  The people of Yahweh, the sons of Israel, struggled with Yahweh.  That’s what their name means.  They earned it.  And it’s time for us, as disciples of Jesus, to enter into this struggle as well.

Suit up!  Grab your gear!  Let’s get out there, and fight!

That’s my view through the knothole this morning.  What do you see of our Master through yours?

Passion Week IV

When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. (Luke 19:29-30 NASB)

I suppose I could subtitle this “The Three Conditions of Holiness”, but I resisted.  It’s just that as I read and thought, something from the wording struck me as interesting.  The meaning of holiness is pretty much assumed in Scripture which makes it a problem for us today.  We have to surmise what they meant then by the term.  It’s not impossible, but it does do some really interesting things with the idea.

Holiness has come to mean something today which is often very different than what it meant to those in the First Century and before.  This can be seen when it’s pointed out that the word is actually Greek and was therefore used to refer to pagan worship and work as well.  Suddenly the meaning for many is destroyed since they tie it so closely to Jesus, Father, and Spirit.

I’ve covered that before…probably several times, and used the tag to make them easy to find.  What I’d like to point out here is the “holiness state” of the donkey/colt. I believe it demonstrates the various (I think 3) states of holiness in which things can exist.

The first state is neither common nor holy, so I called it “purposeless”, but that’s a really bad label.  It’s the state of something which has been “made” but not used.  It may have an intent of its maker/Maker, but that intent hasn’t been made actual yet.  Perhaps this is where some get the concept of “age of accountability” or something.  I’m not sure. But in this state something isn’t profane or common, and therefore is not “unholy”.  On the other hand it isn’t holy either, so it isn’t automatically restricted from common use.

The colt was in this state.  Jesus instructed His disciples to go put it into use on His behalf, therefore making it holy.  It’s at this point I realized that there is some sort of qualitative difference between “sanctified” and holy without sanctification.  What I mean is that the quality of something (or someone) who goes from “purposeless” to holy is a better quality of holiness than something which needs sanctification (common to holy).  So Jesus seeks a colt which will go from “purposeless” to holy, not a donkey which will need sanctification.

Things can go from holy to profane, or profane to holy, but never back to “purposeless”.  The only way to truly prevent conversion from holy to profane is destruction of the item/person.  This idea lies behind the breaking of a glass so that it will never be used for a “lower” purpose than holding drink for the last person who used it ( some weddings, ancient nobility, etc.).  Yet profane/common things can be sanctified into a holy state.  And holy things used for common purposes become common/profane.

Examples of people who have gone straight into a holy state might be John the Baptist and Samuel.  There may have been others, but those examples stick out in my mind.  The qualitative difference between these and others who weren’t so sanctified from birth is interesting.  Yet keep in mind that two characters from the entire gallery of faithful people means that this quality in people isn’t the critical quality.  Look at Sampson.  In and then out of holiness, and then back in just in time to die.  Yet he was set aside for holiness at birth.

My point is that holiness is something which can be transitive, but also has degrees of quality.  So it is in my life.  I’m supposed to sanctify by my presence, like Jesus did with His.  I have His Spirit within, so where I go and whatever I do is supposed to be made holy simply by my going and doing.  This means travel, work, even recreation; all is supposed to be sanctified by my participation.  But I don’t necessarily see it that way. I see these things as mine and therefore common.  Yet my Master sees them as holy, and urges me to see them that way as well.

It’s a lesson I learn, forget, relearn, forget, relearn, ignore, and so on.  I cycle through it because it’s hard to sustain.  Part of it is my ability/heart, and part of it is my Master in me working to sanctify me.  My intent though often derails His work in me.  He patiently waits for me to get back at it.  The process and final end is more important than the immediate issues I face.  I forget that too.  Trudge.  It’s the verb of recovering sobriety.  Often sanctification is exactly that, trudging along.

That’s my view through the fence.  What do you see through your knothole?

An Excursion Into Prayer

A Psalm of David.
Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of the mighty, Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in holy array.  (Psalm 29:1-2 NASB-U)

In the prayer acrostic “ACTS”, the first ingredient to prayer is Adoration.  This is a fancy word for praise (in case you weren’t aware), in much the same way “Ascribe” is a fancy word for “give”.  It’s just that “Ascribe” has the additional meaning of “to give to someone a quality when speaking to a third party”.  In other words, ascribe in these verses means to give something to God while speaking to others (the congregation in this case).

In these two verses which begin the “Storm Psalm”, the mighty are to declare the glory and strength of God.  Those considered strong are to praise God for His strength.  Those considered to be exemplary in a quality are to worship God for His over-abundance of that quality.  If these do so, then God must be so much more so.  It makes God look even better, and it ensures the humility of those who for whom these qualities can usurp God’s position.

Then the quality of the glory of God’s name is to be declared by those wearing Hadrath-Qoresh (holy clothing).  From 1 Chronicles 16, 2 Chronicles 20, and Psalm 96, it seems this is a reference to a select group within the temple worship, like the choir in robes or something.  But a “group” set apart for the purpose of praise is called on to declare the quality of God’s glory, bowing themselves to the ground to do so.  Again, a humble act of those who might otherwise have become caught up in their appearance or position.  Those in special robes are to hit the ground before the One truly displaying splendor and radiance.

These are only two examples of the Adoration element to prayer.  In each, I find that I’m supposed to praise my Master.  First off, He’s the only One truly worthy of such attention.  But second, such activity draws me out of myself and into Him.  What could possibly compete for such a result?  To be closer to the Creator, the One sustaining the entire universe, from massive to infinitesimal, has to be the greatest of all human endeavors.  What else accomplishes something so impossible or unimaginable?  In fact we doubt its effectiveness because we cannot imagine what’s actually happening when we worship.  It makes no sense, so we blur the event to make it seem less impressive and overwhelming.

Let me stop hindering my prayer and worship, and let Him have all of me as I let myself be drawn to the foot of the throne of God Almighty, Lord of the armies of heaven.

What has the Spirit taught you from the beginning of this Psalm?

Giving = Sanctifying?

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table.  The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.  And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?  But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.  (Luke 11:37-41 ESV)

I don’t know if it’s every church, but the one’s I’m most familiar with have problems in that the people don’t tithe.  So, the pastor and elders and leaders all work to persuade people to tithe.  We use various means, but typically it boils down to their devotion to God is reflected in their giving (guilting them into it).  But I think I’ve found a different approach in this passage.

As you read through this dinner party where, again Jesus seems to make His host and other guests uncomfortable, He also throws in this strange statement in the middle.  It’s weird so it’s easy to miss: “But if you give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.”  The problem I have with it is that Jesus attaches several elements together that I find difficult to connect.

Giving those things that are within makes some sense, if those things are good.  Of course if I give those things that are within as “alms” I suppose that would necessitate those things be good.  What sort of heart would produce something to give to others as “alms” if it wasn’t good, or striving to be good.  But Jesus connects those things that are within with “alms”.  How do I give what is within as alms?

Those things that are within are what?  My love (as God understands it).  My compassion?  Mercy?  Perhaps the ability to overlook negative judgments of others, what they look like, dress like, or smell like; how they talk.  Maybe what I can give as alms from within is my time, or a smile.  Perhaps a conversation, not trying to fix them, but getting to know them.  I honestly don’t know what it will or should look like, but these are possibilities.

But whatever the interior alms look like, giving them has a very unexpected effect.  The context of this statement has to do with washing the hands before eating a meal.  The statement Jesus makes is that the effect of giving alms from the interior is that “everything is clean for you.”  How does one affect the other?  How does what I give to others from those things that are within have anything to do with the cleanliness of what I eat?  Does Jesus even refer to the cleanliness of what I eat?  The context suggests that, and it would definitely be on the heart and mind of a Pharisee and lawyer (it probably never left their mind).  But how do the two connect?

I honestly don’t know.  I’m wracking my brain to get my head around this concept, and I’m really struggling.  Cleanliness of what the Jews ate is way too often rooted in safety or in health reasons.  I think most of the “Holiness Code” of Leviticus was more defining the Jews as distinct from those around them.  There may have been a practical side to the laws in that code, but there was one common thread that transcended “wisdom”.  It was simple obedience.  What truly made the Jews distinct was their whole devotion to the rules of God.  Sure some of those rules kept them safe from dangerous food and difficult laundering problems, but some were simply inexplicable as pragmatic rules.  I think it was supposed to come down to devotion to God.

In that case, what one eats is less important than devotion to God.  Therefore, perhaps Jesus is prioritizing the law of loving your neighbor over don’t eat certain animals.  Later on in this passage Jesus says, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”  I think that also applies here.  The Pharisees and lawyers were focusing on those rules that showed strict adherence to certain laws that made them look good to others.  But avoided adherence to those laws that actually cost them in their dealings with others.  They strove to merely look good to others rather than be good before God.

In that case, we, I, are just like them.  Churches are full of these people.  Superficiality is easier than true devotion.  Devotion to God really is inconvenient and disruptive to our lives, our activities, our work, what we do for fun, and our schedules.  My wife and I made the decision to search for a house that would enable more ministry.  God directed us to one that fit our budget and was more home than we imagined within our budget.  But it requires more work to keep up.  It requires more time to keep it available to ministry.  It means having to sacrifice our personal space.  Hospitality isn’t mine or my wife’s gifting it has become more our “calling”, so it doesn’t come easy.

But really that’s easier than others around me to make even greater decisions to inconvenience themselves for the Kingdom of God. What we’ve done helps us feel better about having a nice house, but truly we benefit tremendously from it.  Others have made decisions to be devoted to God in ways that hurt their business, endanger their work life, and possibly endanger their families.  We haven’t done that.  But we know enough of inconvenient devotion to God to know that we, even as limited as we have been, are weird in church.  We should be on the bottom of the devotion ladder, not near the middle or top.  That’s just embarrassing, or should be.  I believe Jesus is calling these Pharisees and lawyers to be authentic with their beliefs.  But what they heard was Jesus tearing down their practices.  He wanted them to be real Jews, but they heard Him try to remove their distinction from Gentiles.

So I suppose the question for you is, “What do you hear Jesus saying to you?”

Who’s For Dinner?

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table.  The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.  And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?  But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. (Luke 11:37-41 ESV)

I keep telling my fellow believers that Jesus was a most dangerous dinner guest.  They pretty much do the same thing, nodding with a wan smile and roll their eyes.  I’m crazy.  Who wouldn’t want Jesus to come to dinner?  Well, funny thing you should ask.  As it turns out, this passage is an excellent illustration of why we should be very careful to invite Jesus in for a meal.  As He says in Revelation, He stands at the door and knocks, and will come in and eat with anyone who opens the door.  So, should you?  Well, let’s see what you might be in for if you do.

Jesus has just finished castigating the “generation” asking for a sign and, before that, claiming He casts out demons by the power of their prince.  In Mark and Matthew, it seems it was the Pharisees who spawned that particular line of attack.  So, here in Luke it’s somewhat ironic that Pharisees are missing from the preceding events, and are now inviting Jesus in for a meal.  Seems nice enough.  Jesus accepts, just as He says He would later in Revelation.  So here we go, it’s dinner time!

This dinner discussion is broken up into two parts, one for the Pharisees, and a special edition for the lawyers.  But it begins with washing of the hands (literally “baptizing”).  Jesus doesn’t.  The Pharisee host is “astonished”.  He’s not angry, frustrated, patronizing, contemptuous, or other possible negative responses.  He’s surprised that Jesus wouldn’t wash His hands.  Ironically, many today would be scandalized if someone didn’t wash their hands before a meal as well, regardless of religious background.  Jesus’ response to the astonishment is what astonishes me.

Jesus’ response to the astonishment of the Pharisee drives at two layers of Pharisee life.  First their love for and priority of appearance.  Second their assumption that any righteous person would be just like they are and see things from their point of view.  Jesus points out that what’s inside is far more important for determining “cleanliness” before God.  In fact Jesus makes a rather shocking statement to this Pharisee, “But give as alms the things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you” (emphasis mine).

Do you see it?  The way Jesus sort of obliterates this essential difference between the Jew and the Gentile before God, did you catch that?  What? Everything being clean?  That can’t be right.  Of course making clear what Jesus meant by “give as alms the things that are within” isn’t exactly easy, but it isn’t rocket surgery either.  In its simplest form, perhaps it could be called a definition of love.  It doesn’t have to be complex.  It would connect well with much of Paul and 1 John 4:7,8 because between his teaching and John’s we learn that love is the “fruit” and “fingerprint” of God’s sanctifying presence in  a believer’s life.

Invite Jesus in for a meal when He knocks, and you will learn that it’s not a sanctified lifestyle that ushers us into His presence.  Rather His presence sanctifies our lifestyle.  It’s grace, but grace that influences change rather than justifying stasis.  This Pharisee host was challenged by his guest to completely change his paradigm.  Are you ready for that? You see, you and I are blind. And most people are happy and content that way.  Invite Jesus in for a meal, and suddenly He turns the light on (see verses 34-36).  Suddenly we see ourselves and our world as Jesus does.  Don’t think it will be pleasant.

The question for us is, “Are we willing to abandon our paradigm for His?”  On the surface, sure!  But as Jesus begins to assault our assumptions about holiness, acceptance, submission, obedience, change, perhaps our willingness may wane.  See, what happens is we assume we’re in good shape, so dinner with Jesus is the best thing we can imagine.  But the reality is that we more closely resemble one of the seven churches of Revelation, and will be challenged to change.  He influences us, He doesn’t force us to change.  So, will we?  Will I? Will you?

What do you learn from this divine Dinner Guest?  He’s knocking…it’s  decision time.