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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Hebrews 9 – Does He Still Feel the Nails?

Why did Jesus have to die? This is a question that has been asked for two millennia. Why couldn’t God just say everyone was made whole again? Why couldn’t God just fix creation? Why did Jesus have to die? There’s not much about the answer that I really understand when it comes to blood sacrifice. I am reading the same passages you are reading and it is incredibly foreign to me. Our passage today tells us that blood is required and so we just have to believe it to be true and try and make some understanding out of it. As always, I’ll give my take one something I don’t fully understand.

I think the key to understanding what is going on in the temple and with Christ is to ask the question, “Why does God not just fix creation if it is broken?” The answer is that he does, just not in a way in which we would think he should. From the very beginning of creation God has pursued us on our level. He has desired relationship with us since the beginning. He has met us where we are rather than calling us up to where He is. Relationships by definition have to be two ways and cannot be forced. There has to be a response from the other side.

What God does for us in Christ is take care of the broken relationship on our end and absorbs our faults in Christ. In Christ, God has fulfilled what needs to happen for us to be back in relationship with Him leaving us with a simple response to be back in this relationship. God cannot fully fix the relationship because relationship requires some level of response. God has fixed everything that is broken but a response is required.

Once you are in this relationship does this mean you won’t have problems again? Of course you will! For too long we have presented a Christianity of guilt that when you mess up you have put Jesus on the cross again. I remember singing a song in the youth group that made my stomach knot with guilt every time we sang it, “Does he still feel the nails every time I fail? Does he hear the crowed cry “Crucify!” again? Am I causing him pain when I know I’ve got to change? ‘Cause I just can’t bare the thought of hurting him.”

The answer to these questions is found in 23-28, NO! He died once for all and continues to intercede for us. His sacrifice was perfect and final! Because of his blood we have confidence to approach God, our Father, in a relationship. Live in this reality!

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2013 in Bible Blog, Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 8 – It’s Just Better

The word “better” appears more times in the book of Hebrews than the rest of the New Testament combined.  It should come as no surprise since the author continues to comb through the Bible of his time, what we now call the Old Testament, providing passage after passage and then showing how things are even better with Christ.  We have a better High Priest, a better sacrifice, a better Temple, a better covenant.  Every time the author looks back at how things were, we are reminded that those things were good.  In fact, they were often very good.  But they anticipated something to come and we now know that is in Jesus and it’s all just…well…better.

So to review, the Hebrews writer wrote chapters 3-4 with his mind reflecting on and responding to Psalm 95.  The writer has been doing the same with Psalm 110 throughout chapters 5-8.  Now, the writer shifts in the middle of chapter 8 to a reflection upon Jeremiah 31 and will continue to do this until chapter 10 of Hebrews.  We have explored how Jesus is greater than the angels, that he will bring us into a more perfect Sabbath rest than Israel ever imagined, the Jesus is the true High Priest and replaces the function of the Temple.  We now move into a discussion of the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31 and will continue to explore this new covenant for the next several chapters.

All in all, the book continues to make a strong and compelling argument for holding on to Jesus rather than slipping back into the safer and more familiar Judaism that so many have left behind.  To go back would not only be foolish, but unfaithful.  While most of us don’t struggle with returning to Judaism (since most of us didn’t start there) we must be evaluating what it is that we must struggle to not go back to?  What familiar temptations and values did we give up for our faith?  Do we slip back into those?  Isn’t that just as foolish for us to do as it is for the Jews who are the first readers of Hebrews?  At the end of the day, when we choose our old ways, whatever they may be, instead of Jesus we are denying that the way of Christ is in fact….much better.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 7 – Jesus: More Than a Sin Fix

When we think of the problem of sin we quickly think of what keeps us from a positive eternal destiny. We over simplify the problem of sin as the same problem that every religion is trying to deal with. This is why it isn’t uncommon to hear claims that all religions are the same or have the same goal in mind, “to make us better people” or “to get us to heaven.” Every religion has a way of “appeasing the gods” and so it really just depends on what area of the world you are born in as to what religion you are. Is the ultimate goal just to appease God so that he will not smite you because of your sins? That seems to be a broken system, which will always require appeasement in order to not be zapped (I’m not sure what the past tense of smite is…smitten?!)

Hebrews 7 helps us see that the old system was weak and useless and a better system needs to be put in place. There needs to be a system that doesn’t just cover over sins but removes them all together. Christ came so that we could be the people that God created us to be, perfect. The consequence of sin is death and Christ conquered death. “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (v25).

Jesus was from the house of David, which qualified him to be the Messiah, the King of Israel. It seems to have been problematic that Jesus was not qualified to be a priest because he is not from the house of Levi. The Hebrew writer leans heavily on Psalm 110, that the King is said to be a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek, whose priesthood does not depend on ancestry but on the call of God alone.

We have a priest that isn’t making us better but making us new. To be made better as we are, is to fall short of what God desires for us. I hear people often say of themselves, “I’m a good person” as if that is what God fully intended for them to be. “I can be good without God” is another comment I hear often. To be honest, there are a lot of really good people in the world who don’t know Christ. Some of the best people I know are openly anti-Christian. The reality is, Christ did not come to make us “good people” but to make us new. One of the responses of this newness is that we live as Christ did in this world till this newness is fully realized in the resurrection. We do not live “good lives” in order to receive what Christ has done. We live in response to what Christ has done for us as we anticipate fully being made new in the resurrection. You cannot be good enough to “go to heaven.” If you could, Christ died for nothing. Heaven has come to you in Christ so live in response to that reality.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in Bible Blog, Hebrews

 

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Christian Response to a Post-Christian Society

Watch this video from CNN.

http://cnn.com/video/?/video/us/2013/02/07/nr-pkg-costello-atheist-movement-america.cnn

Back in 2004, I spent the summer working with a church and living in Dundee, Scotland. My three months there did more for me than I ever realized at the time. Growing up in the Bible belt I grew up with the assumption that everyone was a Christian in some way or another. My time in Scotland gave me a glimpse of what it is like to live in a culture where Christianity and God are not the assumption. The reality we live in today is that Christianity is not at the center point of our culture and society like it used to be. We have to ask ourselves a few questions: Why has this happened? Should we be ok with it? How do we respond?

I have a number of friends who are atheist or agnostic and I try to take time to listen to their stories as to why they do not believe in God or why they are frustrated about Christianity. In these situations I find myself sitting and listening mostly and sadly agreeing with a lot of their criticisms. The “Why’s” come down to Christians not being very Christ-like, Christians being judgmental, closed minded, angry, don’t care about the poor, hateful, etc. For a more exhaustive list of how Christians are viewed check out the book “UnChristian.” We talk a lot about the moral decline of our society and that it is because people aren’t going to church anymore. We have to ask why they have quit going. In short, people have lost interest in God because He doesn’t seem to matter to those who profess to follow Him. We would disagree but frankly they don’t see that He really matters in our lives.

Christianity is being moved to the margins of our society. Should we be ok with it? The answer is both yes and no. We shouldn’t be ok with it but not for the reasons you are probably thinking. We should have the overwhelming desire to live out the Great Commission and transform the world into the Kingdom of God but we need to rethink what that looks like. I don’t want to spend too much time on that right now but there is a lot of research about what evangelism looks like in a “post-Christian” society and what we are doing or have done just isn’t working (There’s a book about this as well if you’re interested). I’m sure Kent or I will have a post about this later but for now I’ll just use it for this point and will come back to it here in a min.

As Christianity has moved more and more from the center to the margins of our society we have responded fairly poorly on the whole. Three bad responses: Retreat – Some Christians have hid from society all together walling themselves in to where they can really have little to no influence on the world around them. Assimilate – As Christians have become the butt of more and more jokes the temptation for some is to become like the surrounding culture so that they won’t stick out too bad. Some churches have so starved themselves of Christ that they have become anemic in their presence to those around them. Retaliate – The reaction of Christianity overall has been to fight back. When the culture has yelled at us we have yelled back louder. There’s a lot more to be said here but that isn’t the point of this post.

Christianity is moving to the margins of society and we need to quit fighting it. When Christianity is at the margins of society it thrives there. Finding ourselves in the margins we need to find ourselves being faithful no matter what. Before Constantine institutionalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in the 4th Century it took great courage to be a Christian. After Constantine it took great courage to be a pagan. Pagans joined Christianity because it was a good political move, good for business, good for social status, etc. After Constantine, the church became anemic in its lack of Christ. Let’s be ok with being moved to the margins and allow Christ to take the center point of our churches and our lives and have power again.

So, how do we respond? Follow Christ faithfully. If that sounds like too simple of a response, we need to rethink what following Christ looks like. We need to reexamine what it looks like to “take up our cross and follow Christ.” We need to reexamine what our lives look like when we look down from the cross at every situation. How do our marriages look when we’re on the cross in them? How do we conduct ourselves in business from the cross? Our driving? Our schools? How do we respond, from the cross, to a world that hates us?

Peter reminds us that we are to live as foreigners here (1 Peter 1:1, 2:9-12). Our citizenship is not American but Christian and we are not to confuse the two. When we say that Jesus is Lord we are claiming that America is not. How do we respond to being moved to the margins and the persecution/accusations we receive? “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).

In the first few centuries when Christians were being persecuted, they willingly went to their deaths (the death of a martyr) willingly because they knew that this life meant nothing and death had been conquered for them. Rome killed Christians in horrible ways in order to keep others from becoming Christians. The opposite was the outcome. People looked at the peace that Christians had as they went to their deaths and wanted whatever it was that they had. When the plagues came through and Rome abandoned the sick, the Christians went in and took care of them even though many of them died doing so. When the surrounding culture asked why they did what they did, the response was always the same. Christ came to serve and we’re here to be Christ. When the world cursed God, the response was love. When the world slaps the church in the face, the response is love. Like Christ standing before his accusers he willingly goes to the cross. This is the example we have been given and the example we should live out. As Christianity moves to the margins it becomes more and more important for us to embody Christ in this world, not just as “good moral people” but also as people who are willing to hold “the least of these” up above ourselves. We need to show the world that Christ’s death and resurrection matters for life and how we live.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2013 in Hot Topics

 

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Hebrews 6 – Beyond the Basics

When it comes to learning, foundations matter.  I remember as a kid in school that every fall we had to relearn everything we had covered the previous year (and then went and forgot during the summer).  My teachers knew that if my foundations from the previous year were not strong they could not continue teaching me new things.  On a side note, it’s this principle that actually makes me an advocate for smaller summer vacations since there is a more continuous teaching process and less “foundation repair” required.

For Christians, we cannot simply stay in kindergarten our entire lives singing the ABC’s.  We must master our letters and then move on.  This is the natural order of things.  Can you imagine walking into a high school classroom and hearing the teacher say, “Students, please stand up and all together let’s sing our ABC’s”?  And yet there are basic foundational teachings of Christianity that people struggle with all of the time.  But it’s often not because we mastered them and then forgot them, but more often is because we never knew them in the first place.

So what are these fundamental teachings the Hebrew writers hopes we have all mastered so we can move to more difficult teachings needed for mature Christians?

  • Repentance from acts of death (sin)
  • Faith in God
  • Instruction about cleansing rites (baptism)
  • The laying on of hands
  • Resurrection of the dead
  • Eternal judgment

I am going to completely ignore the fact that not many churches today to much of anything that looks like the New Testament practice of laying on of hands.  But how much do most Christians know about the reasons we get baptized (or in some cases don’t get baptized)?  How much do we know about the resurrection of the dead, which in the New Testament is shown to be a bodily resurrection?  If we understood this, we would likely have fewer pictures of people floating in the clouds with wings and harps.  Certainly modern Christians have room for improvement in the basics before we even more on to maturity.

The text then talks about how those who move beyond these things and then walk away from their faith cannot come back.  I don’t personally think that Hebrews is attempting to deal with the larger theological question about whether or not fallen Christians can return to their faith.  I understand it to be a continuation of this idea
that dropping out of Calculus to go practice your simple addition is counter to the way things are supposed to work.  Once you are “in” and “beyond the basics” keep moving forward towards maturity.  I think personal experience has brought most of us in contact with Christians who fell away for a time before being restored to their faith.  This passage doesn’t tell us that isn’t possible.

Instead of falling away though, what we should do is stay firmly attached to God’s Kingdom.  Verse 19 goes on to talk about how our Christian hope is an anchor.  Although the metaphor is a little odd because the anchor isn’t on a boat or in the water.  Rather, the anchor goes behind the curtain.  The Jewish audience would have immediately recognized that the curtain was the boundary to the inner sanctuary of the Temple, where God lived among his people.  But Jesus doesn’t anchor us to the Temple.  Rather, Jesus goes behind the real curtain to the real throne room of God, that is heaven.  Our hope in Jesus is the chain that holds us firmly and safely attached to God’s throne room in heaven.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 5 – Like God Like Us

A successful businessman from my hometown goes to my parent’s church and is on the board of trustees for Oklahoma Christian. You can’t go very far in Wichita Falls without seeing his name. He’s managed to purchase pretty much all of the car dealerships in town making himself one of the most successful people in town. Over the years I have seen his son working in just about ever part of their business. He has sold my family cars, worked with us through the financing, driven are car off to be washed, and now runs his own section of his dad’s dealership. He pretty much knows every part of the business and understands the needs of the different areas. When different employees come to him with complaints or suggestions, he has an idea of where they are coming from because he has been there to at some degree or another.

Jesus is not the disconnected son of a CEO who has no idea what is going on within the interworking of the family business. Jesus came down to where we are. He represents us, not as someone who stands on high looking down on us lowly people, but as one who understands what we are going through because he lived like us, suffered like us, and knows the struggles of this life.

There are verses in this section that I am not quite sure what to do with. “He learned through his sufferings to be obedient. When he was made perfect…” Where I find hope in this is that the writer of Hebrews seems to be continually promoting the humanity of Jesus to make sure we understand that we have a representative that not only is God but is also is one who has lived as we do and sympathizes with us because he has been there. When we go through trials and sufferings, we learn to be obedient. We learn that we must lean on God to make it through this life. We learn to lean on God first and the sufferings becomes less and less.

Learning to lean on God and allow God to take care of us is to move from drinking milk to eating meat. A prayer that was prayed over me and a group of other new Youth Ministers at our Youth Minister’s conference has stuck with me for all of these years, “Lord selfishly we pray that nothing bad will ever happen to these new ministers but in good faith we as for everything to happen to them that needs to happen to them that will make them depend on you completely.” That prayer has stuck with me because I want to be able to do this on my own but I am continually reminded that God is my source of strength and I can’t do it on my own. Allow suffering to produce obedience and mature you into the adult in Christ you’ve been called to be.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2013 in Bible Blog, Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 4 – Psalm 95 Unlocks the Meaning

If you have been reading Hebrews 3-4 without considering Psalm 95, then you are missing a lot of what’s going on here.  Psalm 95 is the key that unlocks this passage.  That Psalm tells the story of Israel, wandering in the wilderness, struggling to maintain confidence in both God and Moses, losing faith at the spies’ account, and wandering for 40 years before the next generation finally entered “God’s rest.”  It’s important to know that in Psalm 95 the phrase “my rest” is talking about Israel completing the wandering (much of which is alluded to in Hebrews 3), completing the conquest, and finally entering the Promised Land.  Of course, no conversation of “God’s rest” exists without reminding us of God’s complete rest on the seventh day of creation, and the establishment of the Sabbath rest in Israelite law and custom as a weekly remembrance of that first event.

So when we read about a future Sabbath rest for the people of God, we are reading about a third rest.  The first was God’s rest following the creation.  The second rest was given to Israel following Joshua’s conquest as they occupied the land that had been promised to them by God.  And now the writer of Hebrews speaks of a third and final rest that the people of God has invited into.  However, we must make sure that unlike those who lost faith in the wilderness, that none fall away, become disobedient, or harden their hearts.  So let us make every effort to enter that rest.

Are you reflecting God to the world and the world to God?

And just as Christians have a new and future Sabbath rest, they also have a new and more perfect High Priest.  The Hebrews author continues to show how Christianity and the church provide greater fulfillments of many of the Jewish faith traditions.  Jesus is the great High Priest, functions as both the provider of the sacrifice, the one who carried it out, and also the sacrifice itself.  Jesus, as a human, was like us and knew every temptation.  Now, as our High Priest, he is truly qualified to stand in the gap between God and humans (as both God and human in and of himself) as our mediator.  It’s a very powerful image when you realize how uniquely qualified Jesus is to be the representative of God to humanity and the representative of humanity to God.  It’s perhaps equally powerful that we are called to join Jesus in that role today as the mediators between God and the world we live in.

It ultimately must leave each of us asking two questions, “Am I helping to bring God to other people and am I helping to bring other people to God?”  If not, then shouldn’t you be stepping up to help guide them towards the third and final Sabbath rest?

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2013 in Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 3 – The Master and the Masterpiece

I have a huge appreciation for the arts. I’m amazed by artist’s ability to paint pictures of our world that we cannot see with our eyes but they have made it brighter and shown us a different way of looking at things. I’m far from being an enthusiast of art though. I enjoy going to galleries and looking at other’s work but I’m not the type to look at a splash of paint on a canvas and be able to tell you about the feelings and emotions displayed within each dot and splatter. Part of me feels like people are making a lot of the stuff they say up anyway.

When I went to Paris back in 2006, a Korean man shared the couchette car with us on our overnight train into the city from Germany. He was by himself and asked if he could join us touring the city. We went to the Louvre where some of the greatest art in the world is displayed. As we walked through the Louvre my new Korean friend looked at me and asked if I thought these paintings were originals. I choked back my laughter and informed him that for what we paid to get in they had better be.

I was in awe of many of the paintings I had seen as a kid in textbooks. I was amazed by the vastness of some and the simplicity of others. Reading our passage in Hebrews today I’ve thought back to my time in the Louvre. I imagined standing and looking at Rembrandt’s famous painting “Evangelist Mathäus und der Engel.” I have always loved Rembrandt’s work and I finally get to see it first hand. (Kent actually bought me a poster copy of “The Return of the Prodigal Son” for Christmas, a painting that captured me years ago.) While I stood in amazement by the simple power of his work, a man standing next to me leans over to tell me that he helped rehang the painting during the remodeling a few years back. I thought that was kind of neat and I quickly went back to looking at the masterpiece. Moments later Rembrandt appeared next to me and introduced himself. I shook his hand and went back to gazing at the brilliance of his work. He started telling me about himself and how this work reflects bits of himself and how as you look at the history of his paintings his life is revealed in them. I’ve read that about his work before and while it is very fascinating I was a bit annoyed that he would interrupt my time with the painting by going on and on about himself.

It would be ridiculous to give the person who rehung the painting too much credit. He has merely been a servant to put the painting and Rembrandt on display to be glorified. On the other hand, to ignore Rembrandt to only look at his work to try and see him would be abysmal. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Moses receives honor (more so than the person who rehung the painting) but his honor in no way comes close to the honor that is due the builder himself. We can become so focused on the church that we completely lose sight of the one who built the church. Recognizing that we are the ones who are the building, the masterpiece, we realize that much like Rembrandt’s paintings, we say something about the painter. As God’s masterpiece put on display in this world, we say something about God to those who gaze at us. For us to be the best masterpiece we can be, we need to know who the painter is so that we can best reflect him in this world. We see the perfect representation of God when we look at Christ. In looking on Christ, “we hold on to our courage and hope.”

“So, as the Holy Spirit says:” The author of Hebrews then goes on to quote Psalm 95 in order to help the readers think of themselves in some way like the generation walking through the wilderness on the way to God’s promised future. The call is to not make the same mistakes that the Israelites did. The difference

between us today and the Israel of yesterday is that they lived in anticipation of “tomorrow” while we live in the reality of “Today.” God has acted in Jesus the Messiah to bring about the “Today” that will be fully realized in the “Tomorrow.” We live in a time of already but not yet. We are still on the journey but we have already received, to some extent, our destination. While we are on this journey, the Hebrew writer encourages us to keep from hardening our hearts and falling into rebellion. Walk faithfully because we are in the reality of “Today,” the New Creation that has taken place in us and will fully be realized when Christ returns.

I’ve taken people backpacking a handful of times. For the most part these people have never roughed it before and some of them always remind me of Israel in the wilderness. They spend most of their time complaining (and when I cook they often look at the food and say “what is this”). The journey is typically hard but the views from the mountaintops are always worth the pain. They allow themselves to become so disgruntled with the journey that they fail to fully arrive on top of the mountain. Others complain along the way but at the end they see the reward and realize they pain along the way was worth arriving on top of the mountain. We are called to follow Christ faithfully because he has blazed the trail for us to follow. He has been faithful for us and has called us to be faithful to him. Sitting down and not continuing is not an option. Allow Christ to be strong for you and journey on.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Bible Blog, Hebrews

 

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