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.


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

God's Last Will and Testament?

Reading Scripture carefully leads to the discovery of really weird things. Every once in a while, you will read something, even something familiar, and discover something not only new, but bizarre. Like this statement the writer of Hebrews makes about the “covenant”:

For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.

Hebrews 9:15-17 NASB (emphasis mine)

If you have ever read this before, did it ever strike you as odd that the first covenant was only valid once God died? It doesn’t say that? Read it again, look at what I’ve made bold. There was a covenant mediated by Moses, so there must, of necessity, be the death of the one who made it, right? So, how is it that the covenant of Moses wasn’t a “treaty” or “contract” between Yahweh and His people? How is it that this “covenant” was a “will”?

Well, for the covenant mediated by Moses to be a “will”, either God was the One who dies so the people can inherit, or the people die so God can inherit. The typical wording used throughout Scripture is that the people “inherit” the Promised Land, the land Yahweh promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That would mean that God dies, under the Mosaic Covenant. I don’t remember that ever being a part of the covenant made at Sinai.

So, is that what Nicodemus is saying? Is that what the writer of Hebrews, this man who has already shaken comfortable understanding, exploded traditions, and dismantled paradigms, means by these verses? Is he saying that God died when He made the covenant at Sinai? Well, not literally, but figuratively in the sacrifices, did they represent the people or God?

All along, the writer of Hebrews has been focusing on the ministry of the priesthood, specifically, the high priesthood of the Mosaic Covenant. In that ministry, one of the odd elements is the amount of blood used over everything, including the priest. He wears these linen clothes, and then they are sprinkled with blood. Gold items used in the tabernacle, beautifully made, also sprinkled with blood. Nice new stiff white outfit, now with blood spatters all over it. Lovely.

It’s the blood. We say that about Jesus’ death, and how He purifies us from all unrighteousness. It’s the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from sin. And here, the writer of Hebrews is explaining why that is true.

Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “THIS IS THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT WHICH GOD COMMANDED YOU.” And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood.

Hebrews 9:18-21 NASB

When I’ve read Exodus 24 in the past, I’ve studied it at what I thought was a thorough level. But when I read that Moses had the people sacrifice peace offerings to God, and sprinkled the blood on the altars, the people, and the book (verses 3 through 8), it never occurred to me that it represented the death of God. I always assumed it represented the death of the people.

Basically, if the covenant at Sinai was a “will”, who dies, and who inherits? Since the references have been to the people inheriting the promised land (Ex. 32:13, 33:54), then doesn’t that mean that God dies for it to go into effect?

Don’t panic. I figured you might be by this time. Don’t. Remember what Nicodemus is doing here: he’s supporting an argument for the intercessory ministry of Jesus on our behalf with the Father. Nicodemus has supported his assertion by replacing the priestly sacrifices under the law of Moses with Jesus’ self-sacrifice. So, in his argument, God dies (i.e. Jesus dies, but is resurrected), and the (new) covenant is established through His death, like a “will”.

The confusion is arising because Nicodemus is also trying to connect sacrifices with the ratification of the covenant. And the covenant at Sinai was ratified with sacrifices, and blood was sprinkled over everything, just as he claims. So, how does the self-sacrifice of Jesus, once-for-all-time, relate to the sacrifices at the ratification? That was different from the sin offerings because it sanctified rather than justified (as in forgiveness).

On the other hand, you could say that there really isn’t much distinction between sanctification and justification because sin is what makes people “unholy” in the first place. So, my questions may be taking the connection further than Nicodemus may intend. That’s why I didn’t want you to panic. The truth remains that we have a relationship with our Creator through His efforts alone in the death of Jesus.

So, it may not change anything to ask whether the first covenant was a “will”, but it may be an interesting rabbit to chase. What would it mean if the sacrifices ratifying the first covenant with Moses represented God rather than the people. And before you get all hot and bothered about such thinking disrespecting God, read Genesis 15. God moving between the carcasses He is subjecting Himself to the promise, so the sacrifice represents Him, not Abraham. If He’s okay with it, don’t be afraid to walk the same path, but only do so to explore the depths of the love of our Creator for His creatures, you and everyone else.

Okay, my view through the knothole was really more questions than answers, but there you are. What’s your view through your knothole?

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

Passion Week VII

On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell Me:  Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?”  They reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’  But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.”  So they answered that they did not know where it came from.  And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Luke 20:1-8 NASB)

Did you every hate it when your parents would tell you to obey “because I said so”?  Have you ever heard the term, “it is what it is” (probably original with Yogi Berra)?  Well, this word “authority” used here in Luke is sort of like that.  In Greek usage, the word has both a legal and a simple “unhindered” usage.  In other words, it refers to actions which are not prevented for some reason, but also to the right or legally granted right to act.

But the elders questions are not redundant because they examine two options.  They first ask, “…in what sort of authority…”, and then “…who gave you this authority?”(emphasis mine)  The connecting conjunction is “or”, meaning that both were not assumed to be true.  Either Jesus had this authority derived from some quality, or the authority was derived from another Person.  They didn’t consider it being both.  It was ironic that, in Jesus’ case, it was actually both.  He explains this ironic situation in His parable that follows.

Jesus explicitly refuses to answer.  He bargains with them asking them to reveal what they thought of John’s Baptism.  They feared the crowd stoning them (seriously?), so didn’t answer.  Therefore Jesus refused to answer.  But had He answered, what would He have said?  How could He explain that He had the authority by qualitative nature of being the Son of God, and it was therefore also derived from God the Father?  How do you explain that to people looking at a man in rumpled robes, dusty sandals, scraggly beard, and bad breath?  He didn’t appear in such royal powerful qualities one would expect of Deity.

The truth we often miss is that the people saw a person, much like them.  He was at least so much like them that He was too far removed from God to be any more like God than they were.  How could they have been expected to see beyond the human before them to the divine beneath?  We wouldn’t.  So Jesus’ refusal to explicitly answer the question isn’t strange at all.  In a sense, He also feared the crowd’s response.  It wasn’t time, not yet.  But soon, the crowd would be seeking His death, and it would be granted.  Again, He explains that in the parable that follows as well.

So, what is my lesson?  It has to do with authority.  I believe that, as children of the Creator of the universe, we have authority.  And I believe that, like Jesus, our authority is both qualitative and given.  Our authority is derived from our status as children and given to us by our Father.  I know I behave as if I have nothing, I’m poor, I’m wretched, I’m worthless, etc.  But if I truly believe that my Master has redeemed me, then how can I believe those things about myself?  Certainly my status before my Savior cannot be founded upon a personal quality within myself (self-righteousness).  But He has justified me, and is sanctifying me.  That means I am righteous because of His qualities.

I know that I tend to debase myself, probably in false humility, so that I don’t appear proud.  But authentic assurance in qualities derived from my Master is not pride, it’s faith.  I have authority derived from my Master, I ask and act in His name.  In fact He commands me to act and ask in His name.  I really struggle with this because it’s very easy for me to rely on myself and my abilities or knowledge.  I can appear to “have it all together” to other people.  The problem is that maintaining that facade drives me to crash and burn.  I can’t believe my own press, for my own good.  Instead I have to acknowledge the derived quality of my authority, and act authentically in His purpose and design.

I can dig further down, but that’s deep enough for one entry.  What’s your view through the fence?

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?

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.

What Do You Have To Share?

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45 NASB)

My dad, a computer geek back from the early transistor days, loved the adage, “Garbage In, Garbage Out!”  Now it’s a cliche, but he used it when it was still new, working on guided missiles in the late sixties and early seventies.  Weapons he worked on are still in use today, back when we made them right!  There was a lot of good “garbage” going in in his day.

Continue reading “What Do You Have To Share?”

A Facet of Holiness

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.    If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.    If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. (Luke 6:32-34 NASB)

Holiness is one of those terms people inside the church think only relates go God, and people outside the church think is a “church word”.  So few seem to understand a few, rather key, facets of the diamond that is holiness.

Continue reading “A Facet of Holiness”