What Is This About?

March 29, 2019

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.  Hebrews 6:4-6

Can believers lose their salvation?  This passage is not talking about a believer who fell away.  It describes one who tasted, flirted, and whose behavior was even shaped by time in the company in God’s congregation. He sensed the aroma of the Holy Spirit and was inspired by the messages of the eternal age to come, but after all of that, he fell away.

Perhaps you’ve known him.  He spent time in church.  He knew the songs.  He cried a time or two at a tender story.  His reputation was upstanding.  He seemed to enjoy the community but if you looked for solid evidence of his sanctification, it was absent.  He stayed the same from day to day, year to year, and a testimony of real change was missing.  With time, boredom set in and he lapsed into indifference. The lure of the world’s culture worked its charms. Though he hung out in the company of Jesus, he was not overcome with His glory. He learned the stories and the Christian rhetoric as if it were a script for a play but the language failed to bubble out of a changed and grateful heart.  He was an actor.

How has he re-crucified the Son of God and held him up to contempt?  By being close to Jesus but not giving his life to Him.  His departure was a declaration that Jesus isn’t glorious and His offer of salvation isn’t worth accepting.  He would stand with the crowd who crucified Jesus and agree from the sidelines that this person is worth rejecting.  He sees the cross, beholds Love, hears the offer of forgiveness, but walks away unimpressed.  Jesus is humiliated and rejected all over again.

We are told to be a discerner of spirits.  In looking for spiritual fruit, I must remember that there is a counterfeit for every fruit of the spirit.  A pretender of the faith can do loving things while feeling nothing.  He can look joyful but feel angst.  He can appear to be peaceful while sitting on a ton of anger.  There is the appearance of the Spirit’s fruit but it is not authentic.  You and I know the difference.  There is a mimic who finds it difficult to keep up appearances.  Once he falls away, whatever warmth once drew him to Jesus’ company leaves and his heart is hardened.  The spirit of repentance will be even farther from him, just as it was for the likes of Esau.

Your lessons for understanding people are deep.  I cannot possibly understand this without the help of Your Spirit.  Translate this message in just the way I need to hear it explained.  Amen

Fixing The Malaise

March 27, 2019

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.  Hebrews 6:1 

I lose so much as God’s created child when I stay in shallow waters.  But you might say, “Knowing the Bible takes so much work.  I don’t have the time or energy for that.  And to be honest, I’m not sure the payoff is worth the investment.”  I’ve been there ~ initially questioning how much joy I’ll get from such a significant investment of time and energy.  Instead, I settled for thoughts about what devotional book to buy, what church would pour into my depleted reservoirs, what good deeds I might do in the way of service that would make God happy with me, segmenting my life into secular and sacred because God’s Word wasn’t familiar enough to help me merge them.

The writer of Hebrews is saying, “Enough already.”  Here is the same scripture in The Message.  So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place: turning your back on “salvation by self-help” and turning in trust toward God; baptismal instructions; laying on of hands; resurrection of the dead; eternal judgment. God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. But there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it! [The Message] 

God made so many different kinds of people with varying personality types.  Each one is made in His image.  So why should I be surprised to discover that His world, and the kingdom, speak to each person in ways that thrill them.  It speaks to me no matter how I’m wired.  What book can do that!  What person can do that!  It’s spiritual chemistry.

  • If I’m a person who needs a mission, God gives me that. It will take a lifetime to unwrap it.
  • If I’m a person who genuinely loves to help others, scripture gives me insight into people and what they need. I will engage in serving in the most meaningful way possible because God will energize it.
  • If I’m a person who loves to learn, there is enough science in God’s universe to span an eternal existence.
  • If I’m a person who loves to dream and create, God is my creative Mentor. Don’t I want a deep relationship with the One who made the world?
  • If I’m a person who loves to think and reason, the Scriptures are elegantly written and provide fodder for legal minds.
  • If I’m a visual person who thrives on beauty, the world of the kingdom is unveiled in great detail with vivid imagery. It will thrill my soul now, and forever.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is most important. You and I have a voracious appetite for God.  He made us for connection with Him and we are most alive when we live in Christ.  But when we are disconnected and the Spirit is quenched, we don’t feel the longing and can’t imagine that jumping into the deep end of the pool of the Spirit is what we’re really seeking. The most important prayer I’ll pray outside of the sinner’s prayer is this:

“God, awaken my heart to see Your glory and touch the eyes of my heart to see Your Word as You see it.  And then, help me feel what you feel about the scriptures.”  Amen

Isn’t The Difference Pretty Obvious?

March 26, 2019

But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.  Hebrews 5:14

Just as wisdom is layered and sometimes unpredictable, the same is true with evil.  It can be equally hard to recognize.  You may object and remind me that we teach our children to know basic right from wrong.  Lying vs. telling the truth. Working hard vs. laziness.  Envying vs. sharing another’s joy.  Hoarding vs. giving.  The good is obviously good and the bad even feels evil.

The writer of Hebrews says that I need to prize spiritual maturity because the solid food I get with it helps me distinguish between good and evil.  There is a realm where it’s not so cut and dry.  These are the deeper layers that are riddled with shadows of deception.  For instance, my blind spots prevent me from seeing good and evil clearly.  The deceitfulness of my own heart leads me to make wrong assumptions.  My motives are mixed, too.  Because of that, what appears altruistic might be giving my ego a huge payoff.

I can also make idols of my strengths and though it appears I’m using them for someone else’s good, I get a reward. I alleviate another’s distress with comfort and a gracious gesture, but it just may be that I relish the stories that will be told about my big heart.  What looks like ‘good’ is little more than self-serving behavior.

However, the flip side is also difficult to discern. What seems evil can really be good.   When I withhold an answer from someone who needs it, it can feel unloving but perhaps God has led me to step back so the other person can dig deeply in prayer to hear the Spirit for himself.  Or a rebuke can offend me as I feel it was un-Christlike and unkind, but God may use it to wake me up to something I’ve been unwilling to face.

Living on the milk of the word gives me a Kindergarten definition of good and evil.  The problem is ~ life’s issues have long left grade school.  Many times, I have taken a dilemma I’m facing to someone older and more experienced and it has left them stumped.  They just couldn’t tell what was what without a season of prayer.  Solid food, (i.e. the grasp of scriptural principles against the messy backdrop of life), provides an avenue for wisdom to emerge from around the corner.

My times are complex but Your voice untangles every web to make the way plain.  Write Your Word in my heart, make me a kingdom thinker.  Amen

“Now, You Go Do It!”

March 25, 2019

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. Hebrews 5:12-13

 How do I become good at something?  I learn the basic concepts from a teacher and then I go out and do it myself.  As long as I stay with the instructor and watch him do all the work, I’ll never be anywhere.  I need to be set free to begin personal application.

Think about something you’ve mastered.  Whether a profession, a sport, or something you do at home, you know how, through trial and error, you’ve learned how to master the subtleties.  Most likely, they are fine points you never knew existed when you began so many years ago.  One such skill for me has been singing on a powerful microphone in a studio.  My first experience was at age twenty-one when I recorded my first album.  I was given a little instruction by some industry people.  A producer and a few background singers were invaluable.  I was told that the microphone is so powerful that it’s like putting your voice under a microscope.  I was encouraged to sing with great attention to detail.  I was told that every flutter, breath, crack, and deviation from pitch (even for a second) would be magnified. While I’ve learned all of that is true, those realities are elementary compared to what I’ve learned over four decades in front of a mic.  When you put on headphones and close your eyes, you really get to know your own voice over time.  You learn your where your skill starts and stops.  You know that you might be able to sing a certain note but only in passing while others ~ you can hold strongly for a measure or two.  You learn about full voice and head voice and where each range lies.  You learn about doubling and harmonizing with yourself on multi-tracks.  You learn how to match yourself so that you don’t hear the slightest ripple as one pass rubs against the other.  Let one small imperfection go, and each voice added accentuates the mistake.  Experience has been the classroom.  Experience became the teacher.

Such is the case with scripture.  If I spend my time learning about scripture but never exercise it, I am nowhere.  My walk with Christ might be built on the basics but without personal application, I never enter into what experience begs to teach me.  Only with repeated application will I learn the ins and outs of a spiritual concept.  I will learn how faith works within my own personal makeup. I will learn how well I trust in some areas but fail to trust in others.  I will learn my own limits and be able to predict failure.  I will learn more about the fine points of my own vulnerabilities and be able to guard against an enemy who strategizes to specifically target them.  I will understand more about God’s promises; both what He meant when He promised it and how it is actualized.

To stay in the schoolroom is to live on the milk of the Word.  I’m a chubby baby without refined spiritual muscles.  To gain vast experience, to know myself and to know my Lord, I must leave the nest and live on solid food.  Maturity results when knowledge is tested through application, one day at a time.  The more the experience, the more wisdom is revealed, layer upon layer, precept upon precept.

The real question that comes to me today is this, Lord.  What specific thing haven’t I applied because I’ve been too afraid.  When will I take the leap? I’ll be looking at that.  Amen

Language With Unique Descriptors

March 22, 2019

As he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 5:6

Every language is limited in descriptors.  For instance, the word ‘love’ is vast.  Saying that I love pizza and I love my child are far removed from each other.  If you tell me that your father was the kindest person you’ve ever known, I would ask you, “Tell me how he was kind.”  Your stories would help me understand kindness as it related to him.

These challenges in language apply to attempts to describe Jesus.  When I read that He was compassionate, I can think of compassion as something I have experienced from others.  The problem is that the compassion of Jesus is way outside the box of normality. Take any of His attributes and they are so far out on the continuum that they test our ability to comprehend them.  This wordlessness is the foundation of worship and the beginning of awe.

Today’s description of a high priest is related.  First, if God hadn’t instituted the office, there would be no such thing.  We wouldn’t put the word ‘high’ with the word ‘priest’.  The tribe of Levi would have no distinction.  But God always thinks and plans outside the box.  If you were a contemporary of Aaron, how could you have known that the concept of a high priest would be so important in a book called Hebrews?  How could you have known that a Messiah would come and be known as the great High Priest?  Aaron would have asked, “And what will make him a great high priest, a priest like none other?”  Descriptors are needed yet again.

To help you and I understand that Jesus is distinct from all other high priests, God created a man named Melchizedek.  He lived in the time of Abram, many generations before God’s people would be delivered out of exile, far before the Levitical system would even exist.  Yet because God is eternal and lives outside of time, He knew that Melchizedek’s life was significant for believers down through the ages as a way for us to understand how different Jesus was from all other priests.  He was not from the tribe of Levi as Levi hadn’t been born yet.  Melchizedek might be the only character in the book of Genesis whose lineage was not unwrapped.  He comes out of nowhere.  He is a king, and a priest, and blesses Abram so powerfully that Abram tithes to his ministry, the first instance of a tithe in scripture.  Melchizedek’s name means ‘My King is righteousness.’  To say that Jesus is of the order of Melchizedek is to set him apart from all other priests.  Jesus had no beginning and will have no end.  He does not have a lineage either as He is not begotten of anyone.

Melchizedek is a big descriptor of Jesus as High Priest.  Equating him with Aaron and the sons of Levi is as limiting as saying that God is loving as you and I are loving.  I’m so glad that God wrote history and included a King of Salem in our history to influence our understanding of how different Jesus is from the mainstream of High Priests down through the ages.  This High Priest is the sacrifice and is the only One worthy of worship.

This is so deep, Lord, that I can’t take it in.  What a story You have written down through the ages.  You connect the dots like no one I’ll ever know.  Amen

Priests Throughout All Time?

March 20, 2019

And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.”  Hebrews 5:4-5

Self-imposed honors are out of bounds for the child of God.  Seeking to self-advance goes against every intention of a holy God for children.  He owns His creation.  He knows what’s best.  He makes poor and makes rich.  He promotes and He also humbles.

He is the One who must initiate a holy call.  Every other calling to a holy office is a counterfeit.  Not only is the counterfeit not appointed, he will not be anointed.  In Old Testament times ~

  • A high priest had to be called by God.
  • Jesus also waited to be appointed by God.
  • He could not assume this position because He believed himself to be qualified.
  • Jesus, who was qualified in every way, did not usurp His position either.
  • A high priest offered gifts and sacrifices to atone for the people’s sin.
  • Jesus offered the gift, and the sacrifice, of Himself to atone for people’s sin.

He humbled Himself to walk as the God-Man, but He was the Perfect Man, leaving for us an example to follow in His steps.  If He chose obedience, even in His perfection, how can I think of deviating one iota from every Word of God!

Finally, in every society since the beginning of time, there has been the presence of a priesthood system.  Ancient Assyria had priests.  So did Babylon.  Even Egypt had priests and Joseph married the daughter of one.  Mankind has always been conscious of his own sin; aware that he was morally corrupted.  There is a Chinese proverb that says: “There are two good men ~ one is dead, the other is not yet born.”  The fact that priests have existed in every culture and in every religion seems to point to the fact that mankind knows he cannot take care of his own sin-sickness.  Even pagans long for a pardon.

In every culture, sacrifices to please the gods involve the shedding of blood.  “The life of the creature is in the blood.”  Leviticus 17:11  Gruesome deaths occurred, and still occur in a perverse attempt to receive atonement.  The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus satisfied all requirements of the Law by offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice.

You are my perfect High Priest, appointed by Your Father.  You assumed Your position through much suffering.  Thank you for pardoning me.  Amen

How Could You Do Such a Thing?

March 18, 2019

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.  Hebrews 5:1-2

Condemnation is a terrible thing.  It’s bad when I inflict it on myself but it’s just as bad when I bring it down on someone else’s head.  If I set myself up to be above them, then I will have a negative reaction when they fail.  I’ll say, “How could you do such a thing?”  This drives the one I am condemning away from the cross, not towards it.  It multiples shame and makes it that much more difficult for that person to accept God’s love and forgiveness.

Choosing a high priest was a serious business.  He was to take sin seriously but within the parameters of his own personal humility.  He was called to serve the spiritual needs of others, not use his position to make them feel small.  He was to deal gently with their failings because he was very much in touch with his own weaknesses.  How easy it was for priests to become drunk with their own importance and create more laws for the common man.  They made their burden heavy and that’s what Jesus condemned!

I am to take this scripture in on a personal level.  In the New Testament, I am told that as a believer, I am part of the kingdom of priests.  I am here to serve others’ spiritual needs, to be an agent of reconciliation, bearing them up with humility and patience.

  • Am I soft on my own sin, excusing my own behavior?
  • Am I soft on others’ sins because my sensitivity is dulled by my own waywardness?
  • Have I found the balance between loving righteousness while living in God’s grace?
  • Do I have an innate understanding of how easily I am tempted to do the unthinkable?
  • Do I offer that same consideration to others?
  • Do people around me find me someone to whom they can confess their sins and share their burdens?

The qualification for priests has not changed.  What has changed is who it is that serves in the role.  It is now you.  It is now me.  If I am authentic on my journey about my own propensity to sin, if I am generous with stories about my need for confession, and if I am brimming over with personal accounts of God’s mercy and forgiveness, then I fulfill the qualifications of today’s scripture.  A brother or sister who has lost their way will find me an agent of healing as they return to cross centered living.  What I daily receive, I can give away effectively.  But what I try to teach outside of personal experience, this will always falls flat.

Show me if my own sin still condemns me.  I need You to be my High Priest today before I can help anybody else. Amen