Eighty Pounds Of Wool

February 27, 2019


That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ Hebrews 3:10

Sheep follow any leader.  They are easily distracted.  Going astray doesn’t always begin with malicious intent.  The shepherd and the rest of the flock might move on while one lone sheep remains behind to enjoy a good meal.  Whatever the reason, the outcome is always to his peril.  Separation from the shepherd makes him vulnerable to danger.  It’s often predators, or starvation, or the accumulation of eighty pounds of wool that make him immobile.

What started out as a beautiful rescue in Egypt, morphed into moments of both ecstasy and tragedy.  As the children of Israel despaired, then trusted God, they saw Him move in such stunning ways that it made their enemies tremble.  After a Red Sea parted to allow them safe passage, and then proceeded to swallow an Egyptian army into its depths, one would think that a people would hang tight to their Great Shepherd.  He led them clearly; a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Never was a shepherd clearer to light the path in front of them.

Despite God’s kindness towards His sheep in an unkind wilderness, they strayed.  If I weren’t guilty of the same thing, I’d shake my head in disbelief at their behavior but after a lifetime of mountaintops, how many times have I despaired and then left the path to find more promising pastures?  I’ve been distracted.  I’ve followed other leaders.  I’ve been encumbered by the likes of eighty pounds of wool as the weight of my sin made it hard to move forward.  I languished under the wrath of God.  I knew the crushing weight of sin that made me long to see the face of a Savior.

God said that He was angry with His people for going astray. His fury was kindled by their infidelity.  It didn’t take long for them to complain, to feel entitled, and to build a golden calf.  It didn’t take long in their history to ask for God’s resignation as King so that they could crown their own.  God was longsuffering.  The Great Shepherd sent prophets to woo them back.  Because they were blind, He gave specific directions for their return.  Sometimes they listened, many more times they didn’t.

For the children of Israel, their sin was covered over by the next sacrifice.  For us, the wrath of God was poured out on His Son instead of on us.  Our sins were forgiven and eighty pounds of wool were lifted from our shoulders.  His Word, both the cloud and the pillar of fire, make the pathway on front of us plain to follow.  Jesus promises to lead with a clear voice, to know each of His sheep by name, to nurture intimate relationships so that other voices and other faces will be known as counterfeit.  ‘Astray’ begs to be my history, not my future.

As a child of Yours whose heart is full, I love Your voice.  You lead me to green pastures and banquet tables in Your presence.  I do not want and I need You today as much as yesterday to make my path.  Amen

You’ve Already Told Me That

February 26, 2019


Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works for 40 years. Hebrews 3:7-9 

One of the signs of getting older is telling others the same stories over and over. You think it’s not going to happen to you, but I find myself saying quite often, “If I’ve told you this, stop me!”  Most of the time, stories over lunch need only be told once.  But there are exceptions.  Teachers repeat themselves to get important facts across.  Parents repeat themselves to teach fundamental principles.  Lovers build a repetitive love language because they can’t help themselves and they know that you can’t say ‘I love you’ often enough.  I, perhaps like you, even have things I repeat to our pets.  I make up songs, poems, and enjoy calling them endearing nicknames. It’s fun to sing them and eventually, the animals come running when they hear something they recognize.

One thing about scripture is how often it repeats itself.  Jesus quoted the Old Testament 78 times.  Most books will also reference direct quotes from previous authors and there are also indirect quotes.

  • Direct quotes: 302
  • Allusions to other passages: 493
  • Possible allusions: 138

When God repeats Himself, as His child, I must sit up at attention to ask why.  God is not forgetful, so He is intentionally choosing to say something a second or third time.  There are no stray words that exit His mouth.  No word or phrase is insignificant.  Furthermore, God doesn’t even need language to make a point.

In today’s scripture, the writer of Hebrews reaches back to quote Psalm 95.  The topic is ‘being careful not to harden my heart.’  God not only repeated himself this once, but it’s repeated 42 more times.  It must be critical.  I must not know how easily I allow my heart to get hard and calloused.  It’s instinctive to my flesh and therefore I must be on guard to prevent it from happening.

For me, hardening my heart happens for several reasons.  When I want something different than what God wants for me and turn off my ears to a command, when I repeatedly refuse to embrace a promise as mine, when I refute His proclamations of love because He doesn’t relieve my pain, when I’m tested and get angry with the test, when people I love hurt longer than I think they should, when the person delivering God’s Word is someone I don’t like ~ these are often the catalysts.

God tested His people in the wilderness.  Testing was to bring about spiritual growth, to tone their faith muscles, but they strained under the lessons and chose the easy way out.  Unbelief and rebellion were always the result.  The long-term tragedy was that most in that generation never saw Canaan.  The cost for turning off God’s voice is more than I can afford but I think I’ll be the exception. Satan lies!  I’ll miss out on what I believe I’m seeking elsewhere ~ blessing and reward.

I’m asking this one thing today, Father.  Have I hardened my heart about anything that You’ve told me?  I am sincerely asking.  Show me.  Amen

Worshiping a Servant

February 22, 2019


Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.  Hebrews 3:5-6

Put yourself in the center of the plot of the following story.

Next Christmas, around December 1st, you receive a beautiful looking envelope in the mail.  It’s obviously a card of some type.  It’s as thick as a wedding invitation.  You wonder who it is that’s getting married.  You open the envelope and the inside of the flap is gold foil.  You gasp and remark out loud to yourself, “This might be the most beautiful stationery I’ve ever seen.”

Inside that envelope is another one, also foil lined, and you discover that you’ve been invited to a royal Christmas event at the home of a well-known and well-respected person.  You have several weeks to plan what you will wear.  You rehearse what you might say to the host to express your delight in being included on his guest list.

The day arrives.  You’ve got everything laid out.  You are more dressed up than you can remember being for some time.  This occasion has called for extra attention to attire and presentation.  You arrive at the home.  It is lit up so beautifully and the entrance takes your breath away.  At the door, you are greeted by the senior footman.  He has been entrusted to represent the owner and he is impressive.  His manner is gracious yet professional.  He makes you feel welcome and you are mesmerized as you watch this footman welcome each guest in the same way.

The footman further captivates you as you see his attention to the beautifully laid out table and his meticulous execution of the serving of the meal.  He never misses a beat and never have you seen a man so impressive.

The owner is there all evening and is extremely engaging.  He makes it clear that he’d like to include you at more estate events.  For some odd reason, you are in his favor.  But all these realities are mere distractions.  What arrests you, and leaves you speechless, is the footman!  You go home to tell of your experience. They are dying to hear all about your adventure but are incredulous that you never mention the owner and master of the estate, the one who initiated your invitation and signed it personally. Your stories revolve around a hired servant of the household.

Preposterous, right?  And yet, is this not what today’s scripture describes?  Moses, one of God’s servants, has become the focus.  The Son – who owns the house – is not glorified.

The Jew’s confidence was not to be in Moses, nor was it to be in Abraham, the father of their faith.  Their hope was to be placed in the Messiah.  Likewise, our confidence is not in those who passed down their faith to us.  Parents, grandparents, pastors and teachers; they are the servants.  May I never glorify feet of clay and lose the stars in my eyes for the Alpha and Omega who invited me to be His very own.  I’m feasting at His table and who else is there just pales in comparison.

Lord, I thank you for every faithful servant who has shaped my life. They testify of you and your glory begs to be seen.  I hold You high above my life and boast only of You.  Amen

Little God Makers

February 21, 2019


For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.  Hebrews 3:3

Oh, what little god makers are we!  No matter where we worship, if it’s not at the feet of Jesus, it’s both laughable and tragic.  Whether golden calves or statues of Athena, God made the gold and the bronze and He is not even considered.

If I read Hebrews and imagine Paul, or whomever, writing a series of verses as casually as he would write a letter to a friend, I misjudge him.  I render myself incapable of imagining the intensity with which he speaks.  At what hour of the night did he awaken to light a candle and pour out these powerful words.

“Wake up. Jesus is more glorious than Moses.”

Though this letter was written to Jewish people, and though most (to this day) still revere their heroes of the faith, I am easily as guilty of holding God’s creations in reverence. I can dream of meeting Moses one day because he held the 10 commandments in his hand and saw the face of God.  Why am I not as taken with beholding the face of God for myself? I hold something greater in my hands than a tablet of stone; the completed revelation of God.  At this moment, it sits inches away from me as I write.  At great cost to Martin Luther, and others, it has been translated into English so that I could enjoy the privilege of opening it and feasting at God’s table.

I can worship a famous musician, a sports star, a well-known Christian author, a childhood home, even things such as a rare collection of cars, teapots, Hummel figurines, gold coins, rare books, and grey tabby kittens.  The list is endless and whether man, or object, each is preposterous.

The writer of Hebrews has beheld Jesus in all His glory.  The message is clear and compelling.  Look up.  See who is in front you.  You’re overlooking the creator and fixated on His creation.  You’re missing the greater glory.  Your awe is misplaced.   Hear the distant thunder of hooves.  The glorious One, with more glory than you can ever comprehend is coming for you.

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” Revelation19:11-16

Banishment and the Call to Paradise

February 20, 2019


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Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house.  Hebrews 3:1-2

 “Consider Jesus, the high priest of our confession”.  At every point of frustration, I consider Jesus who lived the same.  At every stinging loss, I choose to remember Jesus who suffered bereavement.  In every kind of struggle, I should consider that Jesus, my perfect High Priest, chose to come and live it too, and then save me.

Why would God send His Son on such a mission?  Why would Jesus willingly engage and not think twice about all that it would mean for Him?  Because you and I were under a curse.  As macabre as Walt Disney plots are for children, as high as the suspense is after the main character drinks poison, is cursed and then sent to a dark land, our plight was much worse.  We had no possible way out of our imprisonment after the pronouncement of the Fall.  There were no loopholes, no one making promises that if we did this or that, we could be freed from the land of banishment.  Paradise was truly lost.  The once lush, evergreen landscape of our beginnings became as gloomy and ravaged as an abandoned house that was falling in around itself.  If not for Jesus, we’d live and die there.

So I consider Him.  He looked at us and saw that our sin held us in captivity.  He had seen His Father’s private tears when the curse was explained to Adam and Eve.  He sensed the agony of all that God felt about the implications of the curse, things that Adam and Eve could never know.  He knew that eating one piece of fruit from a forbidden tree would birth an endless sea of every imaginable evil to curse generations to come.  He saw that there was a great chasm between His Father and those under His wrath. There was only one way to save God’s precious creations.  The wrath that was upon them must be lifted off and borne by someone else in their place.  If that person was to sacrifice himself for the sins of everyone, he must be perfect.  That disqualified every single candidate except one.  Jesus.

There was no hesitation.  Within the omniscience of the Trinity, this had been foreseen.  Jesus had weighed this decision way before the earth ever felt the breath of the Spirit upon its cheek.  He knew He would be the Lamb as His Father whispered it across the empty spaces of time.

Every time I am overwhelmed by my past, I consider my High Priest who signed up to remove God’s wrath and offer new mercy; the wonder of a clean slate every single morning.  Every time I am pierced by the sins of others, I consider Jesus, the One was pierced for my own sins.  There is nothing too dark, too tragic, too hopeless, too confining, too defeating, that is able to define my life or my future.  Paradise has been restored.  The curse has been lifted.  My inner landscape, once eaten up by the twisted vines of a darkened forest, is now a stunning landscape.  The Spirit of Jesus has made me His home, His tabernacle, and as He lives, breathes, and hovers in the realms of my own spirit, all things flourish.  Banishment is history.  The call to Paradise is the song I’m learning to sing.

I consider You. I am aware of You. I am stunned by You; my High Priest, by whom I live and breathe in everlasting Paradise.  Amen

Do You Really Understand?

February 19, 2019


For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.  Hebrews 2:18

Just after Ron and I were married, we had a neighbor we got to know quite well.  Her first question when seeing either of us was, “How are you?”  If one of us said that we broke our ankle, her reply was, “I’ve done that!”  If you had pancreatitis, again she would say, “Oh, I’ve had that.”  Whether the flu, thyroid imbalance, or an ingrown toenail, she’s always ‘had that.’  It became a joke.  How effective do you think her empathy was for whatever we were facing?  Not very.

When scripture says that Jesus is perfectly able to help us in our time of need, there is His incarnation to back it up.  I’m sure He understood us well without coming to earth but I don’t think we would have a deep assurance that He did.  We needed to know that He lived here, made friends with those like us who were flawed, that He got sick, that He struggled with family, that He truly understands the layers of complexity that go with human pain.  A year’s illness doesn’t just make you feel physically sick.  It’s accompanied by temptations to question God, to explore how prayer works and wonder, at times, why God doesn’t answer the way you want.

No one can comfort like the one who has really walked the same road.  If I experience the death of a child, I’m going to turn to one who has also lost a child.  They are well familiar with the days surrounding the death.  They know the numbness, the shock, and the surreal experience.  They know the auto pilot that sets in at the funeral.  They know that the absence of tears doesn’t mean there isn’t any grief.  They can predict that three months down the road, there will be a moment when the loss will be more real and overwhelming.  They know that I will really need comfort then, maybe more comfort than at the beginning.  These subtle understandings of the journey are only found in those who have walked it.  All those who say they understand probably don’t.  And in our gut, we can tell the difference, right?  The one who quotes a bible verse offers a Bandaid and is probably a quick study from someone else’s story.

There’s a difference between sympathy and empathy.  “You poor thing” is not something any of us want to hear.  It is not helpful nor is it encouraging.  Empathy, however, is being able to feel another’s pain from firsthand experience.  How comforting to hear, “There’s not a thing I can say to you right now but I want you to know that I’m here and I care.”

Jesus empathizes.  Whatever crisis of faith you are experiencing, He understands and can walk you through it to generate faith instead of fear.

How many times have I heard you say in prayer, “I know.”  I trust Your embrace and Your comfort.  Amen

The Path of the Perfect High Priest

February 18, 2019


Therefore, He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17

Propitiation is a word we usually pass over when it appears in a scripture verse.  It’s intimidating and hard to pronounce but it just means ‘substitute’.  Jesus was our substitute sacrifice.

Man was born with an awareness of his estrangement from God.  Worshippers, even in the world, knew this well.  They would bring their sacrifices; animals, even newborn babies, and kill them at the altar, all for the purpose of appeasing angry gods.  While their faith was misplaced, their conscience was right in know that a god who bore wrath needed to be appeased.  Praise God that He sent Jesus, who bore God’s wrath for us, so that we could appear guiltless before His Father.

William Cowper, a prolific hymn writer, came to Christ through understanding the meaning of propitiation.  Orphaned at six years old, he was sent to a boarding school where he suffered extreme mistreatment by bullies.  He was a frail child with an artistic temperament, an easy target for peers who abused power.  In 1756, when he was just 25 years old, he was committed to an asylum to supposedly live out a life sentence.  He is quoted to have said, “My sin!  My sin! Oh, for some fountain to cleanse me.”  The torment which fed his instability was little more than recognition of His need for forgiveness.

God heard.  He sent a doctor who was a gentle old man, a follower of Christ.  God used him to bring William to faith.  When He shared Hebrews 2:17 with him, the power of Christ’s death washed over this broken young man and he understood the magnificent implications.  He embraced Christ and the powerful experience was captured with his pen.

There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;

And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,

Lose all their guilty stains.

Many have ended their lives in suicide because they were overcome with guilt.  Others live out a life sentence of depression and regret as they rehearse their failures like a favorite old movie.  The track record haunts them like a ghost.  Some with OCD scrub their hands till they bleed in order to find a kind of cleansing that brings relief.  All if offered in Christ.  Complete cleansing, one that lasts forever, is offered in the fountain of his blood.

I stand in the flow and, with tears, say thank you. Amen