The Main Thing

Anything written or said should have a main, central, point. It would be nice if it had some sort of connection with the listeners/readers, but it must have a point. Stories should have a point, and the plot should support the point. Speeches should have a main point, and each element should support the main point (this includes sermons, unfortunately more in theory than in practice).

In the convoluted complex set of arguments that Nicodemus (my new name for the writer of Hebrews) has so far, all have a “main point”. If you don’t believe me, read this:

Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.

Hebrews 8:1-2 NASB

And it literally has, “main point” in the text. The Greek word, “kephalaion“, is very common outside of religious writings, and only used twice in the New Testament. For the Greek philosophers, it means, “main point”, or “head of the topic”. And they probably extended the meaning from a more common meaning of “principal” (as opposed to “interest”) as in loaned amounts.

This should tell us something really important, and something merely interesting. First, Nicodemus is truly focused on the ministry of Jesus as our High Priest. To this point, he has demonstrated the superiority of Jesus over all the other pretenders to devotion, angels, Moses, even the law. Yet, the point of Jesus’ superiority is to demonstrate how His ministry is, therefore, superior to all other religious practice. The other pretenders all had to do with religious practice to some degree. Jesus and His ministry is superior to all.

So what? It all sounds very Jewish, and it is, which is why the letter is called “Hebrews”. But there is a massive meaning for us, church-going, Bible-believing, disciples of Jesus today.

How many fights, divisions, arguments, bitterness, and strife within church has come over “practice”? Which songs, what sort of songs, drums or no drums, decorations, lighting, traditional-versus-contemporary, all these things have divided our churches and congregations, sometimes virulently. And there are some who have taken their hurt, anger, and bitterness to their graves, and therefore to face their Savior. You think He is honored by that sort of gift? Really?

We have a movement within contemporary Christianity to get away from “religion” in favor of a “relationship”. All that means is that one group (the contemporary group) calls the other group (the traditional group) invalid and unspiritual. According to the inspired Scripture in the letter to the Hebrews, they’re both wrong.

The Nicodemus is writing to Jewish believers in the “Diaspora”, the dispersed community of Jews throughout the Roman Empire, mostly collected around the Mediterranean Sea. They all used the Greek text of their Scriptures. They were “strangers in a strange land”, keeping themselves separate as Jews, and surviving, sometimes thriving, in those lands.

For those of them that devoted themselves to Jesus as their Messiah, things changed in relation to their Jewish brothers and sisters. They were shunned, ejected from Synagogues, and sometimes persecuted in other ways. They were told that the followers of this “Way” were enemies of the Jews, adding them to a long list of “goyim”. How could these disciples of Jesus also be Jews? Wasn’t it practice that differentiated them from the communities around them?

Nicodemus points out that no human religious practice, even the practice given to Moses by God, supersedes the heavenly practice of Jesus. Therefore only His practice truly matters. It isn’t the keeping of the law, the sacrificial system, the priesthood, the music, the decorations, or the lighting that defines who is and is not relating to our Savior.

Is it traditional or contemporary? It’s both. Now, STOP FIGHTING ALREADY! Why can’t we see what Nicodemus clearly points out, that we are heading to REST, not chaos. When we, as the ambassadors of divine Peace, Joy, and Love, fight and divide over stupid stuff, we fail and Satan wins. Sometimes, it’s not a matter of being right, it’s a matter of agreeing in the Lord (Philippians 4:1-3).

For these besieged Jewish disciples, it wasn’t about being right. It wasn’t about being accepted by their brethren. It wasn’t even about being connected to their Jewish community. Those things may have been important, but they weren’t the main point. For them, and for us, the main point remains what our Savior, Jesus, our High Priest, does, right now, today, on our behalf. That remains the Main Point.

So, after all that, what’s your view through the knothole this morning?

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


The Para-Myth of Love

Myth. The word inspires images of unicorns and dragons, gods and heroes. We define myth as antithetical to fact, stories that may have a point, but no basis in truth. This is a cultural definition, not an ancient one. At it’s core, the word, regardless of culture, refers to a story. In our culture, that story is always false. But for the ancients, these stories inspired people, and taught them important lessons.

Today, we don’t use the word that way. We think in terms of false stories that people believe, and, most often, to their detriment. False stories or beliefs on which people base their lives can be dangerous. Because of this danger, we avoid myths, or try to. So, you may be surprised that this word is used, in a compound form, several times in the Christian Scriptures. Here’s my favorite:

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

Philippians 2:1-2 NASB

Did you spot it, the mythic reference? You may not, most people don’t. I missed it for years, and then one day I realized that the word I was drifting past contained the word, myth. The word in Greek is paramuthion, and can be found in the Strong’s Concordance at G3890. It’s made up of the Greek preposition “para”, referring to something alongside another. We get our word, parallel from it, two things laid alongside each other.

What is alongside here is a myth. And this myth comes from love, agape love. The context clearly implies that this “para-myth” of love is what is supposed to happen, so it can’t be a myth in the sense we think of myths. It’s not a false story, but a true story. And this story is what we’re supposed to gain from love. It’s a story to inspire and teach us. But what is it?

There are options for the content of this story. An obvious one is the content of Jesus’ life and ministry. From His life we learn what love truly is, how love is defined by our Creator. That is probably the best option for the content of this particular story. But I believe there are others as well.

Remember that Paul is about to use the life of Jesus, in a shortened form, to inspire the Philippians to regard each other in unified humility (Philippians 2:5-11). But I believe that part of unified humility is to follow in Jesus’ pattern in the stories we tell each other. Think about the sheer volume of reversals Jesus brings about in those He meets. A leper is touchable, an adulterous woman escapes judgement, the lame walk, the dead are raised, the hungry are fed, and fishermen become theologians. Life stories are retold, changed, becoming something completely different.

When was the last time, you sat with the downcast, the depressed, or the mourner, and told them a new story? We do it, actually, we do it a lot of the time. But more often than not, we do it clumsily. We want them to stop bringing us down with them, so, we give them some other way to look at their circumstances that will cheer them up so they can refocus on us. Or, at least they may stop depressing us.

Jesus told a different set of stories than we do. To Martha, the woman who lost her brother, Lazarus, Jesus says that He is the resurrection and the life, and that whoever believes in Him will never die, and those that die will live again. She is encouraged to go get her sister, Mary. To Mary, Jesus tells a different story. He simply weeps with her, then raises her brother to life. For Martha, it could be a story about Himself, but for Mary it had to be tears. For both, it included an act of power.

If we can come alongside each other, and tell different stories from the love of our Savior passing through us into them, then completely fill up joy by being like-minded, together-souled, and of the same love. It doesn’t begin with these para-myths of love. But it includes them. Let’s not forget them. Jesus tells a different love-story to His human creatures, one they can’t even imagine.

He’s given you one, and He has one for the others around you as well. So, pass along the love-story He has for someone else. Tell them the story Jesus has for them, but from beside them, holding their hands. Do not tell the story from above them, or from in front of them, behind them, or below them. Sit with them in their pain, sorrow, frustration, or despair. And tell them the love story Jesus has for their lives.

Unity Requires Perseverance

We thought about it for a long time, “Endeavor to persevere.” And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union. (Chief Dan George, as the character, “Lone Watie” in the movie, “The Outlaw Josey Wales”)

One of my favorite elements of the the movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales, is the character interactions.  This “lone gunman” picks up a motley collection of misfits and outcasts, and they follow him on his journey, and they all surprise the viewer.  This scene, where “Lone Watie” is describing how he came to be in the predicament Josey Wales finds him in is revealing, partly for the scene he describes, and partly for Josey Wales complete disinterest.

The Native Americans are told by the Secretary of the Interior, in response to their pleas about land being taken and their people dying, to “endeavor to persevere”.  Then we have the quote above.  They are basically told that nothing will change, so determine to live through it.  They eventually interpreted that to mean to fight back.

What does it mean to “endeavor to persevere”?  Isn’t it redundant?  That’s probably what makes the line humorous in the movie.  It’s a ridiculous response to the Native American chiefs.  But what about to believers?  Is it redundant and foolish to call followers of Jesus to endeavor to persevere?

Paul uses a word sometimes translated “endeavor” in his call to the Ephesian church to be ‘unified’:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6 NASB)

In the New American Standard, the word is translated “diligent”, but in the King James and New King James, it’s translated “endeavor”.  The Greek word is “spoudazo“, and it takes two divergent paths in meaning.  The word can be to work quickly, or to work hard. In other words, you can have it done well or done fast, but not both, except in Greek where one word can do both (just not at the same time?).

A word that unifies both those concepts describes those anxiously waiting on an opportunity to apply themselves, and, when the opportunity shows, who quickly seize the opportunity, and work hard at it.  Those sorts of people easily bring out emotions in people, some positive, some negative.  As disciples of Jesus, students of Scripture, a people called by our Creator, we are to be these sorts of people.

Look again at the quote from Paul.  It’s difficult enough to be patient, tolerant, and humble, especially at the same time.  But, Paul adds, “…being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit…” to what is already a difficult charge.  Think about it, we’re supposed to be anxiously waiting for that opportunity to be unified to show, and then jump on it, working with a fever pitch to preserve it.  Our culture makes fun of such a thing in our movies and television shows.

Is it possible that Paul is aware of a trend in his day, which also exists on ours, where people are diligent in this way.  Only they are diligent in this way for dissent, not unity.  Names spring to mind when the word is thought of this way.  And it was most likely the same in his day, or he wouldn’t put it this way.  The Spirit inspires Paul to reverse the trend.  Be diligent the other direction.

Perhaps, in our day, the opportunities for unity are overwhelming in the face of how much dissent there is around us in the Kingdom of God.  There are different denominations, churches of no denomination, ministries, and “groups” all claiming to be associated with Jesus.  Yet Paul says in this passage that there is one of everything.

With the people associated with Jesus so fractured, it shouldn’t surprise us that unity takes such intense work.  The opportunities to unify abound in profuse array of variety and intensity.  Jumping in quickly and working feverishly to create or maintain unity is where we fail.  And yet, how can there be one of everything if we don’t?

John records that Jesus Himself prays for this very thing.  It isn’t until Jesus prays for all those coming to Him through the testimony of His disciples that He prays for unity.

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:20-21 NASB)

As the testimony of His disciples spread, unity would become more and more difficult.  So, Jesus prays, right before He faces the cross, for our unity.  Paul points out that unity is hard work that we must be quick to work on, and then work hard to keep.  We must endeavor, and persevere in our endeavor.  Unity never stops being hard work, and it never stops being necessary.

This is not to say, there should be only one congregation, one opinion or interpretation of Scripture.  But it is to say that there should be harmony between the congregations, tolerance of other opinions, and patience with other interpretations.  Where Scripture is exceeded, disregarded, or subordinated to human reason, unity is impossible.  But where the Holy Spirit of the Creator of the universe is free to explain what He inspired, unity should be an expected natural outcome.  Perhaps, the absence of unity is the clue that the Spirit is also absent.  That should worry you.  Does it?