Step Through, Together

How many scenes in Hollywood films have portrayed a group of kids, holding hands, and stepping through a “portal” together? There’s a shimmering blue flat wall or membrane, and they need to be on the other side. It’s scary, so they hold hands, and step through the…what is it? Could it be a “veil” concealing another world?

Before Hollywood, the writer of Hebrews posited this same scene (sort of) to describe our approach to the Father. We approach through the “veil” to the Throne of God.

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:19-22 NASB

What’s on the other side of the “membrane” is the Throne Room of heaven. It’s like the High Priest passing through the temple or tabernacle “holy place”, the outer chamber, into the Holy of Holies. Only now it’s us and we stumble into Heaven itself, right before the throne of our Creator and Savior. It’s another world. This was the experience of Isaiah when he enters the temple only to stumble into the very presence of God (Isaiah 6), and it’s supposed to be ours. 

We think of prayer as communing with God, but do you think of it as entering through the temple courts, past the altar, through the golden walls of the Holy Place with the lamp and table, past the incense altar, through a heavy drape. But it’s not a “heavy drape”, it’s lighter, and light streams through from the other side.

Our Savior, Jesus, has made a way, a path for us to follow Him, into the presence of the Father. And there He intercedes for us, there we have the ear of the Creator of the universe, and He gives us His attention. It is a terrifying place with creatures who’s voices shake the earth as they praise their King, and yet we are invited, we are called, we are compelled to go! But not alone…

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:23-25 NASB

We go together! There is power in being together. We are bolder together, stronger, often smarter. We can encourage each other as we pass through the temple into the throne room, together. Is your worship like this? Shouldn’t it be? Why can’t our experience be the very presence of our Creator, the Son, our Savior, the four creatures and the unnumbered throng worshiping the One having saved us from death? Shouldn’t that be the very definition of worship? I suppose if it were, there would be fewer of those who were in the habit of not assembling together.

It may be more difficult now, assembling together, perhaps it’s online, Zoom, or Facebook. However your congregation meets, meet! Sing the songs, read along with the Scripture, take notes on the sermon, participate in every opportunity. Worship our King together, because even apart we are joined together through the One Spirit, and we enter into the same room before the same throne, and bow before the same King.

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


Why a High Priest?

Jesus is our Prophet, King, and Priest. He is our “High Priest”, but according to the order of Melchizedek. And you may think you know how He is our High Priest, since He became our “sin offering”, as Paul points out (Romans 8:3 and Ephesians 5:2). And notice He offers Himself, according to Paul. Yet, Paul never refers to Jesus as our High Priest. So, what is it about Jesus that makes Him our High Priest?

The writer of Hebrews is, as far as we can tell, the first Christian writer to refer to Jesus as our High Priest. There are several problems with viewing Jesus in this way, even though Paul may allude to it in his “sin offering” references. The biggest issue is that Jesus is not from the tribe of Levi, nor from the Aaronic or Zadok line. And that is more significant than you may think.

Jesus’ lineage is probably the biggest reason for the writer of Hebrews to refer to Jesus as a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. But that doesn’t explain how or what Jesus does that indicates how He functions as our High Priest. The writer alludes to Jesus’ death on the cross, but even that isn’t what is used to define His role.

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 5:7-10 NASB

So, when did this happen? If you are familiar with the Gospel accounts, it may seem like a reference to the Garden of Gethsemane. But there, Jesus prayed for the “cup” of suffering to be removed, and it wasn’t. The reference above sounds like Jesus received what He asked for. Perhaps it’s more likely a reference to the “High Priestly Prayer of John 17. But, honestly, we don’t know. There could have been lots of places where Jesus prayed this way, any given morning, and a good case can be made for the Garden of Gethsemane prayer as well. Not knowing when Jesus did this doesn’t change the fact of it as His qualification.

Jesus prayed and He learned obedience (which sounds weird for someone already perfect) from suffering. Because of these two things, Jesus is “designated” High Priest, becoming the source of eternal salvation. Again, salvation is predicated on “obedience”, so it sounds like “works” salvation, but isn’t. The obedience is “perseverance in faith”, not performing elements of the law for “worship”, “festivals”, and so on.

So, it seems that the role of High Priest isn’t predicated on the self-sacrifice of Jesus, but rather the activity of Jesus in prayer (interceding) for others, and suffering. Perhaps the “suffering” is a reference to His death on a cross, but it may not be. Notice that the “One able to save Him from death” heard Him, and yet He still died. While not definitive against seeing “suffering” as a reference to His death, it does seem a strange way to put it if it were.

Jesus removes the penalty of our sin through His work on the cross. He empowers our life through His resurrection. But it’s His passionate prayers and obedient suffering that fulfill this role of High Priest. If Philippians 2:5-11 is a pattern set by Jesus, then how is this? If Jesus is our High Priest, aren’t we called to be “priests” (see 1 Peter 2)? So, we too are to be passionate in prayer for others, and obedient through suffering. We are to follow this pattern set by Jesus, and, in this way, continue in faithful perseverance.

This is another place that I see I am to be active in my faith, but I am not. I see the call to passionate prayer for others, but it seems I can’t be bothered. I see the call to obedience through suffering, but I’d rather not, I’d rather remain comfortable. What about you? Are you passionately praying for others? Are you pursuing obedience, even though you suffer for it? I need to turn this are of my life around, over to my Master, and commence changing my attitude.

What do you see through your “knothole”?

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

The Negotiator

It’s very easy to read the Hebrew Scriptures about characters from the Late Bronze Age, and be prejudiced about their intelligence and sophistication.  It’s one of the ways we read into a passage assumptions based on our own culture and practice.  The author of Judges, and Jephthah the judge, are two such people for whom I am guilty of prejudice.  But I’m learning…

Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and chief over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah.  Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the sons of Ammon, saying, “What is between you and me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” (Judges 11:11-12 NASB)

Jephthah is an outcast.  And those who cast him out brought him back to be their leader, all he had to do was defeat the “Sons of Ammon”.  The Sons of Ammon are like the Sons of Israel, in that they are descendants from Abraham’s family (actually Lot, Abraham’s nephew).  Because of this familial association, Yahweh has defined boundaries with Israel and how they interact with Ammon.

Where my prejudice begins is in my assumption that the people of the Late Bronze period in Canaan weren’t literate.  So far, we’ve run across two instances where that wasn’t true, one where even a youth can write, and Gideon can read it.  It’s not as uncommon a practice as I thought.  And now we have Jephthah, a rogue surrounding himself with vagabonds, who now recounts the specifics of the history of his people entering the land, and the relationship with Ammon.  That’s a lot of detail to remember.

From verses 15 through 27, Jephthah replies with a detailed history of why the King of Ammon is wrong to claim the land between the Arnon and the Jabbok, two prominent rivers feeding the Jordan Valley from the east.  This region wasn’t Ammonite, it was Amorite, and there is an important distinction.  While the Ammonites were “family”, the Amorites were not.  The Amorite king, Sihon, attacked Israel, and was defeated.  Israel took that region from this Amorite king.

The important things here are that 1) God had set apart Ammon as family, and Jephthah still honors that position of God, and 2) Jephthah remembers these details from 300 years of Israelite history.  He negotiates with Ammon because God wants Israel to treat them better than the Canaanites, and Jephthah does.  Some commentators will criticize Jephthah for being wordy, or sending so many messengers, or other details of his negotiation tactics, but they, too, are prejudiced.

The writer of Judges has an audience among the people of Judah’s kings, and it is they who need read this negotiation.  For whatever reason, this detail helps them understand better their relationship with Yahweh.  Jephthah is represented as faithful.  God honors him, and he’s honored among the people of Israel, right up through Hebrews 11, where he’s listed among those having lived by faith.

But to be that negotiator, Jephthah has to be able to read, write, and be educated about his heritage to a very high degree.  He didn’t find a book while cleaning the Temple in Jerusalem.  He didn’t discover a lost scroll, or find a scrap of some historical record in a jar.  Jephthah knew the story already.  He knew the history from hearing it or reading it.  And clearly, he knew it well.  He knew the details, the order of events, their significance, and from that, what God wanted him to do in this situation.

And therein lies the value of such study, searching Scripture, sifting through narratives and poetic lines and prose, all to learn what God would have us do in a given situation.  Like Jephthah, we study before we encounter the situation.  Then, when the situation arises, we’re already prepared.  We study, seeking the purpose and character of our Master, so we too will be able to act according to His character and desires.  We’ll know Him so well, we’ll know what He would do in a given situation.

But knowledge without experience leads to destruction.  We need to add to our study time in prayer.  We need to spend time listening to our Master, prayerfully seeking His face, so that we will be able to discern His Spirit from the other spiritual noise around us. Prayer and study combined into a daily practice opens us up to the presence of our Master.  Let’s be characterized by the mindset of Jesus.

What’s your view through your hole in the fence?

Open Minded

While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” (Luke 24:36 NASB)

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”  (Luke 24:44-47 NASB)

Understanding is elusive.  The moment it is achieved, awareness of more that is unknown accompanies it.  The more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know.  Bible study is like that.  There’s always another question.  But there are two things from this encounter with Jesus that help.  In fact, they are what make Bible study possible.

The most obvious is that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures”.  He opened their minds.  It was something that happened to them.  They didn’t simply “have an open mind”, their minds were opened.  So, understanding of Scripture comes from God.

If this is truly and experience we can have, then there’s no room for pride in what we find.  On the other hand, it’s very common to focus on what God shows me, when it’s not about that either.  That’s a Western Cultural problem of a self-centered focus and paradigm.  It is more true, or more often true, that God will use His people to help deepen and broaden our understanding of Scripture.  And in that sense, what He shows us is not just for us.

The other, less obvious, thing which helps our understanding of Scripture is Jesus’ statement when He first arrives:  “Peace be to you.”  Peace, or the traditional Jewish greeting of “Shalom”, is what Jesus says.  This peace isn’t the absence of strife.  This peace is a wholeness of being.  Peace is not being divided in purpose, or fractured in spirit.  It is more than serenity, or, perhaps, it is serenity divorced from the circumstances, immediate or remote.

When the peace from Jesus characterizes us, then study of Scripture is much easier, and more effective.  Sometimes, in order to regain this peace, prayer must replace the time spent in study.  In other times, the peace enabling study drives us to pray.  In either case, this peace of God is tied inexorably to prayer.  Jesus shows up and brings peace.  If we want Him to “open our minds”, then we must be in His presence.  The surest way to know that we are in His presence is to sense the fruit of His Spirit, one of which is peace.

Years ago, my Master called me His servant, but also His “knight”.  Later He revealed to me that, as His servant and knight, I am to wait, worship, and walk before Him.  It sounds simple, but consider that a knight is called to strife, yet to be in His presence instills peace.  In order to walk before Him, I must live prayer.  The result of this is a life characterized by peace.  This peace, which should characterize me, is the context in which I fight as His knight.  The only reason this sounds contradictory is that we have different definitions of peace and strife from God’s definitions.  The challenge is let Him redefine my understanding of both.

As you study, what view of God do you gain through your knothole?

Passion Week XXI

Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.  And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.  When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:43-46 NASB)

Why is it we remember Jesus sweating drops of blood but not the angel comforting Jesus as he does?  Luke adds two details, only one of which have made it into common imagery of Gethsemane.  We don’t have verses 43 and 44 in the other Gospels, and, honestly, they are missing from the majority of the early manuscripts (Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and especially the Bodmer Papyrus).  There is a single reading in the Sinaiticus “original hand” which supplied an early witness, yet a “corrected” version doesn’t have it; as if it were removed later from that manuscript.  The rest of the evidence is from later copies of these.  So, our best evidence is that it was written, disappeared, and shows back up nearly 800 years later.  Weird.

So, why do we remember the intensity with which Jesus prays but not the strengthening angel?  Perhaps it’s because the angel comes, but Jesus still sweats blood (or like blood); as if we don’t think the angel was all that effective.  On the other hand, the intensity with which Jesus prayed purged His will in total submission rather than obtained His own will.  The prayer aligned Himself with the divine purpose rather obtaining an alternative.  How often have we prayed with such intensity to purge our own will?  How driven are we to obtain alignment with our Master that we will sweat out thick dark drops as we pray?  Probably not as often as we pray to gain our own will.

Rising from this intense prayer for submission to His mission, Jesus finds the disciples sleeping.  Only Luke provides the reason of their sorrow.  The other Gospels record that their eyes were heavy, but we assume they were simply tired because it was late.  Luke has the detail that their weariness came from sorrow.  After the intensity of the meal they just shared, sorrow seems a fitting reason.  Reading John 13 through 16, gives us a very intense picture of that event.  It had to be confusing, yet leaving an indelible sense of Jesus’ doom.  Just as Jesus had surprised them by changing the meaning of the Passover itself, He forced changes in their view of the purpose and work of the Messiah.  It made no sense, yet left the impression that this was His end.

Jesus still returns to call them to prayer in order to avoid temptation.  There is no statement about weak flesh and willing spirit.  And there is only a single instance.  Matthew and Mark both have 3 repeat prayers.  John, as we’ve said, has none.  And Luke has just this single instance.  It’s likely that there were 3, and that Luke sees no need to repeat, and John sees no need to repeat the other Gospel writers.  Therefore, that Luke has only a single prayer isn’t a disagreement, but a literary compression of the event.

It may be more important that Jesus repeats His call to pray to avoid temptation.  Jesus sees their need differently.  Matthew and Mark both have Jesus desiring that they “watch” with Him rather than praying to avoid temptation.  Luke records a different reason for their act of prayer, just like He records a different reason for their sleep.  Praying to avoid temptation is critical, and not praying a critical error on the part of the disciples.  Is prayer our first defense against temptation?  Or is it more often that we try another tactic to avoid it.  Or would it be even more accurate to say we react against temptation rather than try to avoid it at all?  Praying that we avoid temptation would sure simplify our struggles against our propensity to give into temptation.  Perhaps we would do so much better to “keep the barn door shut” rather than trying to shut it as the horse bolts or after it escapes.

I have resisted praying to avoid temptation.  Sometimes I prevent myself from surviving temptation because I want to fail.  By not being proactive I have an excuse in that it caught me off guard.  Yet simply being proactive would have prevented the problem from appearing, and once appearing from overwhelming me; or at least providing an excuse for my failure.  I have to want to succeed to pray consistently to avoid temptation.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning.  What do you see?

Passion Week XX

And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him.  When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:39-42 NASB)

Honestly, I’ll be looking at the Garden prayer and arrest in much less detail than it warrants…seriously.  You’d be amazed at how much can be found simply in comparing the four Gospels to each other just with this event.  It’s amazing.  I believe that, together, they paint a very powerful picture of our Redeemer.  Unfortunately, I blog three days, teach the fourth, and prepare through the weekend, and blog three days.  It’s a pattern I’m strapped into until I either retire or am fired.  So, less detail is all I have time for.

Jesus and His disciples were “camping” in the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mount of Olives.  They were probably not alone since the Passover brought people from all over the world to Jerusalem, and I’m pretty sure camping was common.  The Mount of Olives would have been popular for historical and religious reasons as it provided the best view and proximity to the temple.  Tonight, though, there would be no rest.

In Luke, Peter, James, and John (or the sons of Zebedee) were not set apart from the rest as they were in Matthew and Mark.  Jesus simply tells them all to pray to avoid temptation.  While Jesus doesn’t go into detail as to what sort of temptation or to do what exactly, it needed prayer apparently to be avoided. There’s no comment that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”.  There’s one prayer, not three.  Luke is so focused on prayer throughout his Gospel, yet here there only a single prayer of Jesus.  Luke seems focused on the effect and purpose of prayer, not the number of prayers; to avoid temptation, and relinquish the will.

There is this prayer that seems to be Jesus wrestling with what comes next.  It is not the will of Jesus to go through the suffering, death, and resurrection?  I have a very unpopular idea of what that actually looked like for Jesus, but I still find it makes the most sense to me.  If I’m right, then Jesus had more suffering to face than we can imagine.  In fact, the reason it’s so unpopular is that it’s impossible.  My contention is that the impossible is sort of God’s “wheelhouse”.  I believe Jesus was facing something that was creation-shattering huge.  It will cause all of heaven and earth to gasp in horror; and hell to roar in victory.

Somehow, please let the cup of suffering pass from Me!  Yet, I relent to Your will.  The first scene in the Passion of the Christ is this prayer.  It’s dark, and it’s being overseen by Satan.  The relinquishment is of Jesus’ will to avoid what comes.  I don’t think it’s the beatings He wants to avoid.  The relinquishment is of Jesus’ will to find another way that doesn’t include such a high price for the sin of all creation.  But as the stars of heaven declared His arrival, so the clockwork skies would herald His death; set in motion before the first sin was even an option.  There was no other way, not from the beginning was there another option.  And Jesus already knows this even as He prays.

That’s my view through this knothole.  What does God look like through yours?

What Do You Want?

“What do you want Me to do for you?” And he said, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” (Luke 18:41 NASB)

It’s hard for me to read this without hearing Annie Potts in Ghost Busters answering the phone saying, “Ghost Busters, what do you want?” in a very grumpy angry voice.  And I am on phones all day long, so you don’t even know how often I’ve wanted to answer them like that.  Sometimes my day isn’t fun, the circumstances aren’t the way I want, and I’m stuck still waiting for that “idea” I had to produce fruit.  I’m still waiting.  You never know though.  God brings about amazing things.  So it’s not a question of can or will He, it’s often a question of Him looking into my eyes and asking, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

What do I want?  Sometimes that question speaks so much more loudly of my human relationships than the relationship with my Heavenly Father.  Sometimes the two are so intertwined I can’t see any distinction.  But at other times, very infrequent times, my answer will have everything to do with Him and His Kingdom.  Those are the ones I don’t feel guilty for asking Him to do.  But my day is often overshadowed by the requirements of my job, the ever-present pressure to produce, the push to make more calls and therefore more money.  And, yes, “I’m in sales”.

I know enough about myself to know I’m no sales person.  I’m a problem-solver who cares about people.  I don’t want their money, I want them to work better for less.  That last part creates a problem because I’m actually measured on how many people give me their money.  Whatever.  I have my own canon of measure, one I borrowed from my King.  It frustrates my manager, but she understands.  I produce enough to keep my job, but find the tediousness of the process grating.  It’s the people I talk to that I enjoy the most.  I get to know them, help them through the problem they face, and they call back to get more help.  Sometimes in that process they spend money with me.

The challenge is to really know what I want.  Honestly, I don’t want to be the best, to make the most, the adulation of my peers, or my manger’s job.  I’m good where I am on this “food-chain”.  I wouldn’t mind jumping over to a different chain, but I’m not relocating to do so. So here I am.  What do I want my Master to do for me?  Maybe I’m so consumed by the enormity of my struggle with work that I’m missing another view.

If I look up and around me, what I want my Master to do for me is transform my community.  But that entails changing my church, which means we commit to Him and submit to Him.  And that means so many people changing their priorities, which means they somehow make that “leap” to seeing the benefit.  Which means they “buy into” some point of view that discipleship, which costs so much, returns so much more.  That’s a lot for which to ask my Master.

The blind man wanted to see.  What he wanted was to be changed.  So perhaps I need to ask for what I want Jesus to change in me.  It would be different than changing my circumstances (work) or my environment (community).  What do I want Him to change in me?  My attitude toward work?  Yes.  And perhaps my attitude toward my community? Yes.  If He asked me what He asked the blind man, both those things would be things for which I need to ask.  I need an attitude change.  I need it at work and at church.  That’s what I need, but is it what I want?

What do you want Jesus do to for you?  What’s your view through your knothole?

Who Are You Thankful To?

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’  (Luke 18:10-12 NASB)

The point of this parable, as described in the introduction, is that some trust in themselves for their righteousness.  So Jesus contrasts two men from very different segments of their society.  The Pharisee begins his prayer with thankfulness.  That makes sense, until we see what he’s thankful for. He thanks God, but he lists the things he’s thankful for as things he does.  In other words, he sounds right on the front end, but his actual content indicates a huge error.

It’s easy to spot.  It’s easy to criticize in others.  You’ve probably heard the prayers of others with such content.  But have you ever truly analyzed your own prayer content?  I have discovered that mine is often peppered with things I want others around me to know.  Sometimes, in private prayer, I’ve discovered that I’m actually telling God what to do rather than asking for what He wants to do.  Sometimes I’ve tried to “paint God into a corner” so that He is honor-bound to answer my prayer.

Sure, I can poke fun at those who seem to punctuate their prayers with “Lord God” or “Oh Lord”, or whatever.  But I’m discovering that their actual prayers mean a lot more than mine do.  I often find that there is a lot less of them in what they actually say to God than there is of me in what I say.  And before you point out that I’m paying way too much attention, comparing myself to others, may I just point out that I’m also learning what my Master has from me by working out my salvation with others.  I’m learning.  And hopefully, growing in my faith and practice.

See, the problem isn’t my prayer, it’s my heart.  My intent and focus is too much on myself and what I want when I pray like this.  When I notice it in myself or when I realize my prayers so different from others, I realize I’m letting my “old nature” live too much.  It’s part of my repentance, part of my sanctification, part of my death that I learn these lessons.  I must decrease and He must increase; it’s my reality not just the one John the Baptist found himself in.

But this is the path of discipleship.  It’s a path of death by cross that I carry myself.  It’s a life of loving my Master so much it seems I hate my family and myself.  It’s a path where the mind of Christ Jesus wakens in me the compulsion to empty myself and take on the form of a servant.  It’s a life lived in the constant presence of the Creator God of the entire universe, from quarks to galaxies.  It’s actually kind of cool, but it includes these inane examinations of my prayer life to make sure the my nature doesn’t show on the dipstick.

On that note, how’s your prayer life?  What’s your view through the knothole?  Are you more “Pharisee” or “tax collector”?  Oh, and if you think you’re not as bad as me, if that actually went through your brain…well you probably get the point.

Why The Parable?

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, (Luke 18:1 NASB)

And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?  I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:6-8 NASB)

It’s real easy to criticize.  Even when there’s nothing gained, no point for the person being criticized, or when the criticism is unfounded, it’s still easy.  What’s not so easy is understanding.  Sometimes, understanding comes from re-reading, reevaluating, and stopping to think.  It takes time for impatient people to understand when criticism is so readily available.

Take the parable of the unjust judge for instance, the reason given for the parable on the front end is persistence in prayer.  Yet Jesus says on the back side that God will answer swiftly.  If God answers swiftly, why the need for persistence?  And before you think this is simple, justice is becoming a hot-button topic in the world, and religious persecution, especially of Christians, is on the rise.  Obviously, there are examples of injustice to believers where God did not answer at all, at least not with the justice prayed for.

But it’s not that hard to understand either.  In the parable the widow (a disenfranchised person within that culture) was persistent in asking the unjust judge for legal protection.  What happens is she wears the judge down.  Jesus’ point is that God loves us and doesn’t need to be worn down to answer.  On the other hand, the speedy answer of God is justice for those crying out to Him day and night.  They were persistent in prayer.

But clearly when people have been persistent, God doesn’t necessarily answer the way they want.  Good parents don’t just grant their kids request because they’re persistent and wear them down.  Parents who want their kids to shut up might do so a couple of times, but then learn it doesn’t work and actually reinforces the problem you were trying to prevent.  God doesn’t give us whatever we want because we want it and persistently ask for it.  He gives us what He wants to give us because He loves us and knows what we don’t.

The difficulty here is that justice is something different than a toy, a car, success at work, or a nice house.  Justice is something that humans sort of expect or have some sense about when it’s absent.  Often justice becomes the coin of our relationship negotiations.  And yet it’s something most of us would have difficulty defining clearly.  Simply put, justice is receiving the decency due every human being.  Justice is present when people are treated with respect regardless of their characteristics.  That’s an oversimplification, but I think it’s close enough for our discussion.

Justice is received, not taken.  So, we can control what we dispense it to others, but we cannot control what we receive.  The penalty for injustice varies, but in general you only get back what you dispense.  And I believe that this is one of the primary reasons God teaches us as He does.  God is a just God.  And yet, to appease His sense of justice, He took our penalty on Himself.  As He does so, He also teaches us to follow His pattern in our human relationships.  We are to give justice without the expectation of receiving it back.  In other words we’re to give justice in exchange for injustice.

The whole point of the parable is to continue in prayer.  I think God loves our company more than anything.  And the justice we seek is actually already present in Jesus and what He has already accomplished through His death, burial, and resurrection.  We are justified before God, Maker and Sustainer of the universe.  What’s better than that?  Persistence in prayer puts us constantly in His presence, and that changes our sense of justice.  Mercy becomes the quality people see in us.  Mercy gives justice in exchange for injustice.  In a sense, we appease the injustice we receive by taking the penalty on ourselves.

So, as I face opponents in what I do for my King, injustice will often be what I receive as part of the deal.  My response to those people is supposed to be that mercy I received from my King.  The more time I spend in prayer to my King, the more often mercy will be my response.  As far as speedy justice from God, I think I have all I need already in Jesus.  But I will definitely keep praying for my brothers and sisters in persecution elsewhere.  They are legion, and the need is great.  Therefore I will need to be persistent on their behalf.

That’s my convoluted view through this particular knothole.  What do you see?

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?