Monday, March 31, 2014

Hebrews--Part 2

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."
Of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire." But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions."
And, "You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end."
And to which of the angels has he ever said, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"? Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? 
Hebrews 1:6-14
     According to my study guide, this section speaks to the Jewish tradition of the time that the Law was handed down by angels and points to the supremacy of Jesus over the angels. Considering the effect the appearance of angels had on people as documented in the Scriptures, this is not a bad distinction to be made. There is a nice juxtaposition of the unchanging nature of Jesus Christ and the angels, who can appear in many forms and be used for many purposes. However, if struggling with the hierarchy between the Son of the Living God and angels is not your weak point, there is still plenty here to ruminate on. 
     Two things in particular really stood out to me as I read through this section. The first is relatively minor, but it made an impression on me, and that is the fact that the author of Hebrews quotes extensively from the Old Testament in this first chapter, but he does not give credit to the original author as so many New Testament epistle writers do. In the context of this chapter, I firmly believe that is because he is pointing away from the human authorship and toward the Divine authority of the Scripture. It does not really matter what tool the Master inspired to pen His words. They are His words, and that is what we all need to focus on. I applaud you for that, author of Hebrews! I have to wonder if perhaps that is why he, himself, did not make his name known in this writing. . .

     What I really love about this passage, this collection of quotes, is how each quote points to the unchanging nature of God and of His Son. This is a rather critical and relevant point, I find, in today's world. It seems that most people, indeed even several who claim to be a follower of Jesus, do not want Him to be the eternal and unchanging Rock that He is. Many enjoy talk of His love and His forgiveness but want to forget that He has "loved righteousness and hated wickedness," or how that love and forgiveness is intended to inspire gratitude and devotion. Many more would like to believe that His decisions on what is and is not right are as flimsy and fickle as human culture. The Church of today is rife with worldly philosophies embraced by its members--philosophies and beliefs that frankly run counter to God's nature and make a mockery of what Jesus died to accomplish. But the fact is that He is unchanging, and all these philosophies and the pop-culture ebb and flow will dissipate or morph into some new, twisted up doctrine perhaps, but someday they will vanish all together. He will not. Even the works He has made--the heavens and the earth--will wear out, but He will remain just as He always has been, just as He always will be. I don't know about you, but this gives me enormous comfort.

     You see, there are times that I take my eyes off Him, times that I allow the crazy, cracked-up culture to worry me, times that I allow fear for the Church to overreach its bounds and encroach on my faith.  Then I remember: My Rock is unchanging. He is constant, solid, and He is in control. Things may come up that surprise me, but none of it surprises Him. He is today just as He was the day He walked with Adam in the Garden, just as He was the day He called Abram out of Ur, just as He was when He spoke to Moses in the burning bush, and just as He was the day that He wept in the Garden of Gethsemane (a beautiful, full-circle picture if you stop to think of it). He has not changed His mind about what is and is not sin, nor has He changed His mind about His one great and final offer of rescue from that pervasive disease. He gave His only Son so that we could share not only in His death but also in His new life, as we see in Romans 6.  He has given us a way out of the mess. It is through Christ. However, it is not something that we can have by default, this new life. It is something we must surrender to. We must be willing to bow the knee to the Lord and be willing to let go of everything else to obtain, even our very lives.
     The incredible thing here is this: the plan to send the Son of God into the world is not new either. In this, too, God has not changed. It was His plan all along; this horrible, tragic, spectacular redemption. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; none will come to the Father except through Him. This is the final word, the unchangeable and unchanging plan of reconciliation, the glorious portrait of the immutable compassion of an eternal and unalterably fatherly God. I can hardly read it without breaking into worship!


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hebrews-- Part One

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"? Or again, "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son"?
Hebrews 1:1-5
     Our group has been studying Hebrews lately, and I had the thought of sharing what I am learning in the hopes of keeping it around in the old grey matter a bit longer. We are further into the book, so the necessary review should help retention. At the present time, I am recovering from a long and nasty cold, so if the following seems disjointed, please accept my apologies. I have allowed myself to grow rusty and so must get the machine started up once again.

     As I read chapter one, the opening verses really inspire awe.  That the Almighty Creator of all things would speak to us at all is somewhat shocking, if you really stop to think about it. He made us in His image, which is itself astonishing, and then, quite despite the fact that His masterwork veritably spit in His face, He continued to speak to us. Before the Fall, He actually walked with the first man and woman, speaking to them Person to person. Afterwards and because of the stain of sin that now besmirched His perfect image, He spoke through intermediaries--the prophets. Then, in the ultimate act of compassion and sacrifice, He sent His own Son in a final, desperate act to reach the hearts and minds of His rebellious creation. Jesus came and lived among us, walked the earth alongside of us, lived a life fully experiencing and yet fully resisting temptation, and then gave His life in our stead, paying the penalty of our sin in full. Gloriously, the story does not end there, for He rose again in a victory over death that changed everything for those who put their trust in Him.
     But I get ahead of myself. For now, is it not enough that He would even come and speak to us at all? That the Son of the Living God would, Himself, walk on the surface of His creation among His created and teach, love, heal, and instruct? The wonder of it all really gives me pause.

     Then there is this beautiful description of my Lord and Savior: "...the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature..."  This brings to mind so many other passage about Jesus being the Light of the world or references to God being light: John 1:4-5, and verse 9; John 8:12 and 9:5; 1 John 1:5, just to name a few. There is something awe-inspiring about this description, about this radiance, this light, this glorious Savior. Not only a man, but a God-man.
     Think about what it means to be the exact imprint of His nature. Sinless. Spotless. Holy. Pure. Undefiled. Perfect love, perfect wisdom... the very epitome of perfection. Though He was mysteriously and unfathomably fully God (one of those seeming paradoxes which are in actuality created by our finite cognitive ability and not by reality), He lived as a Man. Not just a man, but Man as man was meant to be; an unspoiled companion of the living God, sharing in an intimate and joyful Creator/creation love relationship like no other. For in other parts of the Scriptures, we see that Adam was the first man, the one through whom sin and death entered the world. In Jesus, we find the "second Adam" through whom comes new life (see 1 Corinthians 15:21-50). You could think of it as Jesus redoing what Adam was supposed to have done at the beginning: living in perfect obedience to God the Father. Only thing is that Jesus had to do it in a world ruined by sin, and thus His obedience was infinitely more painful than the first Adam's would have been. However, it lends a depth to the obedience that Adam never could have mustered. I revere Jesus for His obedience. Had Adam obeyed, He would not have inspired the same response.

     As I read the last few verses, I recall that when I studied this passage I did not at first understand the bit about angels, but our study guide soon shed light on that. It was a Hebrew tradition that the Law was given by angels (which is referenced multiple times in the Bible--a fact I had always overlooked).  The author of Hebrews, then, is banishing any idea that Jesus might have been just another angel or even on the same level as them. Perhaps I just took that for granted, but there it is, spelled out for anyone who may have doubted it. The remaining verses of chapter 1 continue that theme, which I may or may not get into at a later date.

     For now, for today, it was good for me to go back to the beginning of the study, to review chapter one of Hebrews. I needed to remember that God gave such a breathtaking gift, to step down into His creation personally and speak His Word. I needed to be reminded how beautiful is my Lord Christ, how resplendent and how brimful of power and perfection. I needed to recall that He has done the work and now sits at the right hand of God--the place of favor and of honor, the seat of completion. For there are many troubles that plague my mind, many concerns and sorrows that assail me. It is good to remember that these things are largely not my business at all. They are His, and He is the one Who can affect, alter, sustain, or end them.

And He is good, so I have nothing to fear.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Rant

     Let me state up front that this post is not so much a Biblical meditation or what God is showing me in His Word lately. Every word of it is a straight-up rant and I urge you to treat it as such!

     After a conversation in my community group, something finally clicked into place for me concerning the entire topic of "gay rights" or "how the Church should address gay-ness" or "gay anything else for that matter." I have long harbored a niggling...something...concerning this topic that was eternally present at the edges of my consciousness but would not present itself in plain language at the forefront of my mind. Finally, finally, thanks to some of the comments of my friends, I have been able to put my proverbial finger on it.

     What bothers me about the entire issue of how the church should address the gay movement is really two-fold. For one, due to the very nature of the issue, I am being forced to think about how someone else exercises a certain biological function that should remain entirely private. It isn't just gay sex that I find repugnant, it is thinking about anyone else's sex life at all that is odious to me. Perhaps I am a prude. I'm fine with that. But what I do not see is why, in this age of everyone defending their "rights," I do not have as much right not to have the entire world -- in movies, in magazines, and yes, in the gay movement -- jamming its sexuality up in my face and parading it in front of my children as the rest of the world has to make a public spectacle of themselves. I'm not asking for anything extravagant. I would just like to live a simple life free from discussions and visual aids to other people's private lives.

      Folks, seriously here, if we are going to exalt something in humanity, surely we ought to choose something other than our sexual behaviors, deviant or otherwise--something unique to humans, maybe, like music or the ability to read?  Don't mistake me here: there's nothing at all wrong with sex in and of itself... in its proper place (which is another rant for another day). However, when we strip sex of the purposes for which God intended--intimacy, children, family--we are not glorifying it but reducing it to its animal function. All the steamy movie scenes, all the rampant cleavage and seductive posturing, really only brings to mind animals in the rut. It is dehumanizing. To reduce an entire person down and define them by their sexual behavior is dehumanizing. I am troubled by the willingness of an entire group of the population to entirely debase themselves for the sake of a biological function that is less important than eating or breathing. That is one of my objections.

    My second major issue is the media propaganda, which many in the Church are chomping down hook, line, and sinker, and that is the accusation that the Church has abused gays in the past and so now we must go to extreme measures to "show love" to them. Well... we do need to love them, yes, as we should love all people. That should go without saying. However there is "love" and there is "special consideration." Most of what is asked for these days is not to have compassion shown, but to have special consideration above and beyond what the average person should expect, and all this dressed up in pitiful array and pawned off as seeking to be "loved and understood."

     One example of such drivel would be an expectation for a church to conduct a "gay marriage." That is just plain silly. If a person is participating in a homosexual relationship, they are already proclaiming that you do not believe the entire Bible and are positioning themselves outside the Church. Why, then, would a person want a church wedding if  they do not embrace the church or are unwilling to lay down their life for the cause of Christ? It's just a craving for controversy, pure and simple; a desire to have things as one wants them and to hell with the feelings of others. In essence, it is doing to the Church what the Church has been accused of doing to the gay population. The controversy over whether or not the Church should be made to perform gay weddings is not a picture of a downtrodden and oppressed people group looking to rise above their oppressors; it is the adult form of a spoiled toddler throwing a temper tantrum when he doesn't get his way.

     "What's the big deal?" you may ask. I'm glad you did. Think about it in these terms: A junkie should not reasonably expect the church to provide a smorgasbord of  illegal substances to make them want to worship. A serial murderer would not reasonably expect the church to provide him a box to stash his weapons within while he sat in the pew. A porn addict should not reasonably expect the church to provide adult-content magazines in the men's room, nor should an adulteress reasonably expect the church to support her extra-marital affair.  A gay couple should not reasonably expect a church to "marry" them. It patently absurd.

     All of these folks--the junkie, the murder, the porn addict, the adulterer, and the homosexual alike--should expect to be told that Jesus's death was sufficient to cover the most heinous sins possible, that they can be forgiven but that they must repent, and that while He calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him, He is worth following even to physical death and always, always worth the death of our personal preferences. Anyone who truly loves Christ and therefore truly loves you will tell you the same. Your sin, whether it is homosexuality or lust or anger, is still sin and to be redeemed you must first repent of it, turning away from the sin and turning heart, mind, and soul to God. At the point of repentance, THEN any humbled sinner, no matter what their sin, ought to be received with wide-open arms as they work through the difficulties of living a repentant and renewed life in Christ and the pain of shedding the old self and putting on the new. But a person does need to be willing to let the old self go... and so we can see that my agreeing with God on what does and does not constitute sin is nothing personal. It is simply my new self loving my Father enough to say that His words mean more to me than my feelings or social approval.

     One point I must make here that seems to be misunderstood in today's culture: Being told to repent is an act of love. It is a love that is not concerned with the short term but the long term, just as a parent forces vegetables into their children's mouths for the benefit of the child's future health. Sure, there are better and worse ways to do it just as there are better and worse ways to tell someone they have a boog hanging out of their nostril. Whether done tactfully or without tact, it is usually done out of genuine and sincere concern for the eternal soul of the unredeemed person. If it isn't, well, that is between the teller and the Lord, and I would not personally stand in the way. Jesus told people to repent out of love, and it is for that reason that I, along with all who are truly members of the Body of Christ, will say, "Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" It is not because I am angry and hateful. It is because I love you and want to spend eternity enjoying the presence of the living God with you.

     As for the church abusing the gay community  in the past, I'm sure there are isolated instances of gay persons being abused by people within the broad context of the church. Goodness, for that matter, every church congregation is riddled with unbelievers who are there being churchy but who do not actually know and love the Lord! Naturally in the church, with humans involved the sin nature can be seen clearly displayed and mistakes and problems happen. Any person, gay or otherwise, may have been hurt or abused by any other in the church. Even the most steadfast of Christian makes mistakes and is capable of slipping in the most vile ways, including the abuse or mistreatment of another human being.  I have done it. Many of us have. The thing the media leaves out is this: if the abused peoples would search their own hearts, they would see that they have done it, too. We all botch things magnificently when it comes to relationships. It's called sin, and it's the reason for Jesus. The key is not to sit around licking your wounds and measuring them against the wounds of others (to each person, his or her wounds are always worse than their neighbors), but to extend the same forgiveness towards those who have abused you as you expect to receive from those you have abused. This is a teaching of Jesus, but it is also good, plain, common sense.

     Besides, I am equally sure there are also instances of gay persons -- as well as straight persons -- feeling abused by the church because they objected to some of the less liberal teachings of Jesus. I can think of countless instances in my own life before I knew Christ that I was convinced someone was "judging" me when all I really felt was the uncomfortably squirmy feeling of conviction twisting my heart. So please let us take this media blitz with a grain of salt, Christians. Have you, personally, abused anyone, gay or otherwise? If yes, repent and ask forgiveness both to God and to that person. If no, then continue on your way, Soldier of the Cross, and do not let yourself be distracted overmuch by alleged faults charged to anonymous people that you have no control over. What is it to you? You follow Christ. That is all any of us must do.

     These are really my two main objections. Now, allow me state for the record that I do not hate gays, nor do I think God does. Frankly, that is a cop-out designed to distract from the point. God does hate sin, and if a lifestyle is a lifestyle of sin, than that lifestyle is objectionable.  I can hate drug addiction but feel compassion and empathy for the addict. It is no different. I object to the gay lifestyle--as much because it is flung in my face as anything else, and I do not object one iota more than I object to infidelity or promiscuity. In none of these cases do I object to the person, to the one who is deceived. In all cases, I feel empathy toward the deceived because I, too, once bought into lies concerning my sexuality (among other things) and while I never participated in any homosexual activities, I do not consider my sexual sins "better" than those of a homosexual. Mine were just as bad, and I object strongly to my past sins as strongly as I do any present sins, my own included.

     I am incredibly thankful that I was rescued out of my sin by Christ--and you can be, too, no matter how tremendous your crimes against the living God. But if you cannot separate yourself from your behavior--for example, if you are merely "gay" and not just a person who struggles with that particular bent of sexual sin--than that is your affair. I cannot help you, but I do feel pity for you. I promise you that you are more than just your behavior, and I promise you that laying down any aspect of behavior or of personality for the sake of Jesus is worth it. You will not be sacrificing pleasure; you will be learning to take pleasure in new things--in fact, taking pleasure in the very Author of pleasure Himself!  Even more, even if your sacrifice brings you only hardship and trial for the next 50-70 years, what is that compared to eternity? To follow Christ, we are asked to give up this world. That does not mean that all fun will be drained away, it simply means we will find ourselves drawn more and more into Him, loving Him more and more as the process of sanctification is worked out and the pleasures of the world will grow more and more faint. We are asked to give up this brief little life for an eternity so wondrous that our minds cannot even conceive of it.

     I cannot make anyone believe that, of course. But I do with all my heart, and it is why I reject my own sin every time and in every way that it shows itself and have turned -- and keep on turning -- away from sin and toward God, my beautiful Redeemer, the Author and Perfecter of my faith.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 
But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 17-20