July Fun at the Lake

Wendy and I got to spend some time at the lake in late June and early July. We were joined by our friends Kev & Beck and their kids for the weekend before the 4th of July. We enjoyed all of the normal summer fun with trips to Bear Bottom and the Red Head. We also enjoyed visiting friends David and Lola who have a place on the lake, as well. Kev, Beck and the kids had to take off on the afternoon of the 4th, but we were able to enjoy fireworks from Captain Ron’s together on the evening of the 3rd. Always lots of fun with that crew.

Wendy and I worked remotely from the lake that week and then enjoyed a weekend visit from Matthew and Sarah. We packed our two days together with dinner at Captain Ron’s, laying out on the chill raft, steaks on the grill, a trip to Bear Bottom, lots of conversation, and a movie night watching The Shack.

 

Walking Backwards Into the Future

Remember those earlier days…
…So do not throw away your confidence.
Hebrews 10:32,35a (NIV)

Just yesterday, in a Facebook post, I was reminded of my college days and my dear group of friends from Judson Theatre. It’s funny how one thought leads to another. I went to bed thinking about my friends and my college days. Perhaps that’s why this morning I was reminded in my  quiet time of a word picture one of my profs shared in a chapel service. It’s a word picture I’ve never truly forgotten, though I have to dust it off once in a while on a day like today.

Picture a person walking across the platform facing backward, but with his/her hand stretched out behind their back as if being led. This, my prof argued, was what God continually asks us to do. Hold out our hand to be led by Him, but perpetually face backward. Look back across the journey and remember all of the ways God proved faithful: providing needs, guiding, leading, fulfilling promises, healing, restoring, and filling.

This is what the Hebrews did. This is why their exodus from slavery in Egypt is referenced time and time again. It’s referenced by the prophets Haggai, Micah, Amos, Hosea, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. It’s referenced again and again throughout the Psalms. As they progressed on their journey through history they have continually looked backwards and remembered all that God has done to faithfully guide, lead, and preserve.

Why? Because remembering all that God has done before reminds me that I can have faith and be confident that God will see me through whatever I might be going through today.

This all came to mind while reading today’s chapter. The author of Hebrews perpetuates the walking backwards word picture by urging his/her readers “Remember those earlier days…” and references a particular period in which the early Christians were persecuted severely. God had brought them faithfully through the persecution. The author then ends the paragraph with “So do not throw away your confidence.” There it is. Turn backwards. Remember. Then have faith. Press on confidently with your hand outstretched to be led.

This morning I’m thinking about the road lying before me on this life journey. I have many questions about where the path is leading. I also confess to more than occasional bouts with fear, doubt and anxiety.  I’ve been reminded this morning by a memory and a word picture from college. I’m taking a little time in the quiet to glance backward instead of ahead. I’ve been following Jesus on this life journey for over 36 years. I’ve experienced many things from God’s miraculous power to God’s presence and peace amidst tough times to God’s quiet faithfulness in the everyday mundane. In the remembering I’m reminded that I can trust God’s power, presence, peace and faithfulness for the road ahead, as well.

Hand outstretched, I’m going to keep walking backwards…confidently.

Featured photo courtesy of Mandee Johnson via Flickr

Foreshadowing

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Hebrews 9:24-26 (NIV)

Foreshadowing is a literary term that refers to a device in storytelling both in print and in film.

Those who read the first book in the Harry Potter series would have completely glossed over a reference made at the very beginning of the book when the giant, Hagrid, delivers an infant Harry via flying motorcycle to Dumbledore on Privet Dr. When asked where he got the flying motorcycle Hagrid says he borrowed it from “young Sirius Black.” We don’t find out until book three just how important Sirius Black was to the entire story arc of the Harry Potter epic. That’s foreshadowing.

If you watch Star Wars epic there’s a moment when Anakin’s mother is kidnapped by the Sand People and Anakin’s hatred overtakes him. Listen carefully to the music playing underneath the scene and you’ll hear Darth Vader’s theme woven into the score. That’s foreshadowing.

I continue to run into people who want to ignore, discount, or dismiss all of the ancient books that we commonly refer to as The Old Testament. These dear individuals limit their reading and study to the Jesus’ story and the letters of Paul. Some even argue that “it’s all you need.” That’s like saying you only need to watch Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope (the original 1977 film) because everything you need to know is contained therein. If all I watch is episode IV I have no idea who Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader really are!!If I ignore Jesus’ back story, laid out across the Old Testament, I lack a full understanding of who Jesus really is. In doing so, I limit my own spiritual journey.

That’s what the author of Hebrews is trying to unpack for his/her readers in today’s chapter. Just like a veiled reference to Sirius Black in the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or a hint of the Darth Vader theme in Star Wars Episode III, the system of sacrifice given through Moses around 1400 years before Jesus was an earthly foreshadowing what God was going to do, and did do, on a cosmic level through Jesus. The Moses system contained a secret place where God was present that was veiled by a giant, thick curtain. Only the High Priest could enter via the sacrificial blood spilled to atone for sins. Jesus’ sacrificial death, His innocent blood spilled, made atonement “once for all” that we could have access to God’s presence. That’s why Luke (the author of Jesus’ biography, not Skywalker) is so careful to reference that when Jesus’ died the temple curtain was torn in two:

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:44-46 (NIV)

This morning I’m once again awed and appreciative of the layers of theme and narrative that God weaves into this Great Story. Last night Wendy and I sat on our back patio and marveled together at some of those layers, and how they foreshadow our very own lives and personal story! That’s the cool part. The Great Story is still unfolding, and our very lives are a part of it.

And so begins a new day in the Great Story. A story constantly unfolding in each moment of each day.

“This Changes Everything”

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
Hebrews 8:13 (NIV)

Have you stopped to think how radically technology has changed in our lifetime? How clunky does a first generation iPhone seem to most of us today? Or a flip-phone? The first iPhone was just ten years ago. Think about your first personal computer. How different was it from what you use today? My first computer was an IBM PS1 and it didn’t even have a hard drive. I had to buy and install a 300 Mb hard drive and I thought that was all I would ever need! Oh my, how the landscape has changed on this life journey.

Yesterday over breakfast Wendy admitted to me that she doesn’t enjoy the book of Hebrews that we’re wading through on this chapter-a-day journey. Her sentiment is shared by many, I’m guessing. I understand it. We tend to love books like Proverbs with its simple wisdom, Psalms with its emotional poetry, or the Gospels with their fascinating take on Jesus’ story. Hebrews, however, rarely gets mentioned as a “favorite,” even by me. Perhaps that’s why it’s been five years since the last time I blogged through it.

One of the reasons I think we struggle with Hebrews is that the letter was written to a very specific audience for a very specific purpose. The author was writing to first century Jews in an effort to unpack the tectonic, theological paradigm shift  they were experiencing. For the original readers, this was life changing stuff. This was a rotary-dial, chorded phone to an iPhone 8 kind of shift in thinking about God. It’s hard for us to appreciate just how radical of a change this was for them.

In Jewish thought, the concept of “covenant” was/is an important one. Covenant means agreement, like an official binding contract. Throughout the Great Story there are a number of important covenants God makes with humanity. The most important of these covenants to the original readers of Hebrews was the covenant God made through Moses that included the ten commandments, the “law” along with an entire system of sacrifices, offerings, and feasts.

Jesus was a Hebrew as were all twelve of his inner circle. The early Christians were known simply as a Hebrew/Jewish sect before the teachings of Jesus spread through the Greco-Roman empire and “turned the world upside down.” Now, the author of Hebrews argues, God fulfilled what was prophetically foretold by Jeremiah 600 years prior. Like emerging technology is to us today, this was emerging theology for first century Hebrew believers. It’s just as the Apple ad for the first iPhone said: “This changes everything!” God is making a new covenant through Jesus that makes the covenant of Moses obsolete.

One of the overarching themes in the Great Story is rebirth, regeneration, renewal, and resurrection. Old things pass away, new things come. Death leads to life. The old covenant has given way to a new covenant. That’s the point the author of Hebrews is getting at.

This morning I’m sitting and pondering the many things that have “passed away” in my life across my own personal journey. I’m thinking about the many new things that I’ve experienced which were unthinkable to me in my earlier years. This is part of the fabric of creation. It’s part of any good story line. Few of us would read a book or watch a movie in which nothing happens.

In the quiet I find myself expressing to God my openness to embracing wherever it is this journey is leading. This includes being open to things that may need to pass away, and new things that may emerge unexpectedly…whatever those things may be.

Btw, I’m not talking about the iPhone 8 😉

 

It Was Never About the Rules

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
Hebrews 7:18-19 (NIV)

When our daughters, Taylor and Madison, were young girls they were subjected to a fairly substantial system of rules. There were moral rules (don’t lie, don’t take what’s not yours, don’t hurt another person, et al). There were rules of health and hygiene (wash your hands before meals, no snacks before meals, cover your mouth when you cough, take a bath regularly, et al). There were rules of the family system (do what mommy or daddy says, put away your toys before bed, say your prayers, et al).

Taylor and Madison were both good kids, though they were certainly not perfect. Let me make two very important points:

First, I love Taylor and Madison dearly, but not because of the perfection with which they obeyed my rules! I love them because they are my daughters. They are God’s uniquely beautiful creations. They are inherently lovable, valuable and capable beings.

Second, the rules that I as a father subjected them to as young children had nothing to do with earning my love. Certainly there was a measure of pride and joy when they were obedient (which they did most of the time), and there was disappointment and even anger if they willfully disobeyed (trust me, I have stories). However, neither their obedience nor disobedience had any effect on my underlying love for them. The rules were about teaching them how to live healthy, productive lives, how to successfully live in relationship with others, and how to contribute meaningfully to the lives of others and the world as a whole.

In today’s chapter, a very similar distinction is being made that is critical to our understanding of both God the Father (God for us) and Jesus, God the Son (God with us). The law of Moses (that would include the Big Ten commandments and the more than 600 other rules) was the guiding force of Hebrew religion. The Hebrew priests, descendants of Aaron, along with the descendants of the tribe of Levi were in charge of these rules and the rule keeping. Rule keeping became the focus of the Jewish people as if being perfectly obedient to the rules put you in right standing with the Father. But no one became a perfect person by religiously adhering to a set of rules.

A priest is a “go-between.” Some one who represents others, intercedes for others, mediates for others, sacrifices for others before God. Jesus perfectly fits the definition of High Priest, but the author of Hebrews continues to make a very important distinction, that Jesus was not a High Priest  in the traditional, Law of Moses prescribed genetic line of Aaron. Jesus was a High Priest in the line of the cosmic, eternal, mysterious figure of Melchizedek.

Why is this important? It tells us that perfection of religious rule keeping was never the point to earning God the Father’s love any more than my love for Taylor and Madison being hinged on the perfection of their keeping the rules of my house. We are loved by God inherently because we are His uniquely beautiful, lovable, valuable, and capable creation. So loved, in fact, that Father God (God for us) made the ultimate sacrifice of sending Jesus (God with us) to free us from our silly religious rule keeping and to show us the deep, abiding, full, limitless, abounding, abundant LOVE that defines God. When conversing with God the Father, Jesus used the word “Abba” which is defined more commonly as we would use “Daddy,” “Papa,” or “Pops.” Jesus came as Priest, Mediator, and Sacrifice so we could understand that kind of loving relationship with Father God.

This morning I’m thinking about the ways that the rule-keeping paradigm keeps sucking me back into its false economy. I’m mindfully pondering how I actively continue my process of understanding “Abba” and digging into my relationship with Him. I’m reminding myself this morning of the reality that I know deeply as a father of Taylor and Madison: It was never about the rules, or the rule keeping. I am loved inherently for who I am as God’s child.

Relationship and Maturity

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity….
Hebrews 6:1a (NIV)

The other night Wendy and I were having a conversation with friends. I can’t even remember the entire context of the conversation as it flowed across many subjects and meandered down several tributaries of thought. At one point, however, I remember Wendy making the observation regarding how our relationship has matured over the years we’ve been married. I remember quietly chewing on that fact for a while.

Wendy and I have a great relationship, and we continue to enjoy a wonderful marriage. It has, nevertheless, changed over the years. We’ve pushed into understanding and appreciating one another’s unique and contrasting personality types. On the Enneagram I’m a Type 4 (Individualist) and she’s a very opposite Type 8 (Challenger). [cue: sparks flying..it can be one of the most volatile combinations] You don’t simply skate through life and relationship with such differences and remain unchanged. It forces growth. This is especially true when you journey down the paths of blended family, teenage daughters, infertility, live-in siblings, and house building. And those things are on top of traversing the normal marriage builders of finances, sex, and the management of life’s every day stresses.

The other day I wrote about some of the misconceptions I had about God and spirituality as I grew up. One of those misperceptions was that spiritual life is a compartmentalized part of life, confined to a few hours at church on Sunday along with scattered nods of attention during the week like sporadic prayers or quiet times. Jesus came, however, to make possible our relationship with God. It’s a relationship, in fact, that God likens time and time again to a marriage. Mature marriage relationships in which intimacy and oneness develop don’t happen in an environment of compartmentalization.

In today’s chapter, the author of the letter to Hebrew believers addresses those who have flirted with a relationship with Christ. They have “tasted” of marital relationship as a couple riding the bliss of infatuation into experimental living together while keeping entire parts of themselves compartmentalized and self-centered. The author urges them to push towards a relationship that matures only in a committed 24/7/365 journey with all of its shared peaks and valleys.

This morning I’m again thankful for Wendy, for our marriage with all of its moments of unheralded creativity and, yes, occasional volatility. I’m thankful for the maturing of relationship and what it teaches me about myself, Wendy, and God who is both Life and Love. I am reminded of the necessity to press on and into maturity of relationship, and not be seduced and deluded into spiritual, relational stagnation and compartmentalization.

 

Mysteries Within Mysteries

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 5:8-10 (NIV)

The further I have progressed on this life journey the more I have come to understand that I must embrace mystery if I am going to progress spiritually in certain places. This flies in the face of a system of reason in which I was raised and educated. Our culture is one that places what I have come to understand as an undue premium on knowing. Theories are stated as certainties quite frequently whether they come from the institutions of religion, education, politics, or science. I find that our culture has lost sight of the value of embracing the knowledge of knowing that we do not know or cannot know.

I have found that the desire to try to replace mystery with false certainty is a fool’s errand. I see this repeated over and over again in history. It leads down all sorts of silly and hurtful paths. Minor issues become major battlegrounds, honest exploration is sacrificed on the altar of exclusionary social litmus tests, and institutions make all sorts of embarrassing mistakes (sometimes with deadly consequences). Embracing mystery, on the other hand, has pushed my heart and mind to new avenues of possibility, exploration, discovery and faith. I love how Catholic mystic Richard Rohr puts it: “Mystery is not something we can not understand. Mystery is something we can endlessly understand.”

The letter to Hebrew believers has always been shrouded in mystery, not the least of which is the identity of the author. Two centuries after it was penned we are still not certain who wrote the letter. My fundamentalist Bible professors taught me that I must believe it was Paul who wrote it. Textual critics in education laugh at such a claim, telling me it certainly couldn’t be Paul. Arguments have been made for a host of first century figures (i.e. Luke, Apollos, Barnabas). More recently, some scholars have argued that it was most certainly a woman, Priscilla, who was among Jesus larger circle of 70 disciples and travelled with Paul. I find this possibility fascinating and stimulating. It has led me to discover more about this amazing woman through whom God did amazing things. I know, however, at least one of my fundamentalist professors would have said it most certainly wasn’t Priscilla and would certainly have marginalized and subtly punished me educationally had I steadfastly held to the possibility in his class.

I do not know who wrote the letter to the Hebrew believers, and that’s perfectly fine for me. It is a mystery that has much for me to discover in its exploration of possibility.

In today’s chapter we encounter yet another mystery in the revelation of Christ as eternal High Priest. The Hebrew believers who first received this letter would have intimate knowledge about how the Hebrew priestly system worked as prescribed by the Law of Moses. Only descendants of Aaron (Moses’ right-hand man) were to be priests, and the High Priest could only come from those genetic ranks. According to the prophets, however, the Messiah was to come from the tribe of Judah and the house of David as Jesus did. Remember Christmas? Mary gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, the “City of David.” Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for the census because they were both descendants of David in the tribe of Judah.

But now the mysterious author of Hebrews lays out a claim that Christ is our eternal “High Priest,” the cosmic conduit between God and man. But the Hebrew readers would know that Jesus was not from the line of Aaron, so how could He be High Priest? The author reveals Jesus as High Priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” In Genesis 14:18 Abram (who would soon be known as Abraham) meets a mysterious King of Salem named Melchizedek who was “priest of God Most High.” He serves Abram bread and wine (remind you of anything?) and blesses Abram. Abram in return presents the priest Melchizedek an offering of a tenth of everything.

That’s all we know about Melchizedek. This mysterious person was “priest of God Most High” before Abram was Abraham, before Israel was a people, before the Law of Moses was given, before the Hebrew priesthood was defined as descendants of Aaron. It’s a mystery, and the author of Hebrews attaches the mystery of Christ the cosmic High Priest to the lineage to the mysterious Melchizedek who appears within the Hebrew tradition but outside the system of Moses.

This morning I’m once again perplexed, stimulated, and inspired by the mystery of Melchizedek, of Jesus, and of Hebrews. As I humbly embrace the mystery I push deeper into that which can be endlessly understood and so take another step forward on the path of faith and Spirit.

Just another wayfarer on life's journey, headed for Home. I'm carrying The Message, and I'm definitely waiting for Guffman.

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