Tag Archives: Covenant

“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By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.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 😉

 

Just like…

“In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it.”
Nehemiah 9:38 (NIV)

One of the benefits of studying God’s Message over time is that you eventually begin to make connections and see patterns across the Great Story.

In today’s chapter we have the Israelites gathered together. They’ve been defeated and enslaved by the Babylonians for 150 years, but the King has allowed them to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. They return, remember anew the Great Story and renew their commitment to God and His laws. They make a “binding agreement” to be faithful.

Just like when they were gathered in Sinai and Moses gave them the law to begin with…

Just like the multiple times they got rebellious and stiff-necked during their forty-years of wandering and renewed their commitment…

Just like at the dedication of Solomon’s temple…

Just like during the time of King Josiah when the law of Moses was found and read for the first time in a generation because the people had abandoned their faith to pursue pagan religions…

Just like… me and the countless “binding agreements” I’ve made with God at camps and conferences and workshops and worship services through the years, only to prove myself faithless again and again.

One of the themes of the Great Story is the same theme I see in my own spiritual journey. People are people. No matter how hard I try and however many well-intentioned “binding agreements” I make with the Almighty, I always fall short of keeping them. But, that’s the point:

[Jesus] saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)

…if we are faithless, [God] remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)

When in my repetitive, never-ending, cyclical faith-less-ness I finally stop trying to earn my spiritual merit badge, then I finally begin to understand the depths of God’s mercy, grace, and faith-full-ness. That’s when I truly begin to understand the Great Story. That’s when real Spirit-ual growth begins to occur.

Marriage as Metaphor

Michael Buesking illustrates another prophet, Hosea, whose adulterous marriage became a word picture of God's relationship with His people. Buesking's artwork can be found by clicking on the image or at prophetasartist.com
Michael Buesking illustrates another prophet, Hosea, whose adulterous marriage became a word picture of God’s relationship with His people. Buesking’s artwork can be found by clicking on the image or at prophetasartist.com

“Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.” Ezekiel 16:8 (NIV)

Across all human relationships, the marital relationship is unique in many respects. Two people choose to enter into a covenant relationship with one another, to be exclusively faithful and more completely intimate with that person than with any other. Marriage is the closest thing we have on Earth to embody the relationship God desires to have with each of us, and God uses the marriage relationship over and over again to embody the intimate relationship He desires to have with each of us.

In today’s chapter, God once again instructs Ezekiel to use marriage as a metaphor describing God’s relationship with the people of Israel. He uses imagery around the marital traditions of that day. God chooses Israel as His bride and enters into a marriage covenant, but Israel commits adultery by chasing after other lovers in the form of the many gods and idols that were popular in that culture.

God makes it prophetically clear that He will not ignore the unfaithfulness of His bride. There will be disgrace and consequences in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Yet, in the end of the chapter God makes it clear that He will continue to honor His covenant; There will be a remnant who will survive and return to Jerusalem. God says he will make atonement for the adulterous sins committed; He will send His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for sin, once for all.

Today I am struck that God, through Ezekiel, has been speaking the same message in many different metaphors and word pictures. I find that in the human experience not everyone “gets” a message the same way. Some people connect with one medium, some with another. A word picture may be profoundly revelatory to one person while another person remains blind to the message. Across the book of Ezekiel I am impressed at how God is desperately trying to get through to His people, His spouse. He keeps trying to get through.

Tragic Misperception

English: The ark of Noah and the cosmic covena...
English: The ark of Noah and the cosmic covenant / L’arche de Noé et l’alliance cosmique / 04 CATACOMBES NOE ET LA COLOMBE SAINTS PIERRE (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Revelation 7:3 (NIV)

I have been watching with interest the trailers for the movie Noah. It will be interesting to see what Hollywood is going to do with the story. If you remember, the story begins with God being fed up with the evil of man and deciding to wash the slate clean with a flood. After this act of divine judgment, God makes a covenant never again to wipeout all living creatures on the earth with a flood.

I have heard many people say that God revealed in the Old Testament and God revealed in the New Testament are different. They describe God in the Old Testament a God of judgment while God in the New Testament as a God of love and grace. After my multiple journeys through the whole of God’s Message, I must respectfully disagree. When I was a child I perceived my parents as largely persons of wrath and judgment, but as I matured I perceived the depths of love and grace that were beneath the wrath. I have come to believe that as God’s story is revealed over time and as civilization has matured, we are able to more fully comprehend the person of God as God revealed Himself through the law, then the prophets, then through the resurrected Jesus and God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.

While God revealed Himself as righteous judge in the Old Testament, He also revealed His grace through the salvation of Noah’s family and through covenants with Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David. Jesus, in His New Testament arrival and ministry, certainly revealed God’s loving heart and desire for all to choose salvation, but He also spoke often of the Day of Judgment, of death, and of hell. We can see in today’s chapter that God near the end of the story is still a God of judgment. Four angels given power to wreak destructive judgment on the earth are present and ready. They are held back, however, by God’s loving desire to seal and protect His servants on Earth.

Both grace and judgment are part of God’s nature. To choose to see one part without the other leads to misperception. Misperception can lead to all sorts of tragic places.

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 29

getting arrested in Knoxville, Tennessee
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…lest some poisonous weed sprout and spread among you, a person who hears the words of the Covenant-oath but exempts himself, thinking, “I’ll live just the way I please, thank you,” and ends up ruining life for everybody. Deuteronomy 29:18 (MSG)

Much of the life-pain any of us experience can be traced back to the type of covenant breaking attitude expressed in this verse from today’s chapter. Moses was dealing specifically with the laws God gave him for the nation of Israel, but in any society the laws and social constructs are a covenant between the people and the community around them. I have both experienced this pain due to the wreckless attitude of others and have heedlessly broken covenant which has created considerable pain to others.

  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant with my community by getting drunk and then getting behind the wheel of a car to the endangerment of everyone in my path.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant with spouse by sleeping with another, thus wreaking havoc in expanding concentric circles of family, friends, community and society.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant by ending another human life, thus denying the being and the community to benefit from the touch and limitless potential good of that life, permanently diminishing my own soul and respect for life on the whole of the community.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” by refusing to work and contribute to society when I am perfectly capable of doing so, choosing to drain the society of resources as I drain my own soul of purpose and dignity.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant by turning a selfish eye away from the needs of others to focus on myself, thus expanding societal problems while reducing the health of my own soul.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant by cheating on studies, taxes, time cards, and/or responsibilities, thus slowly eroding my own character and breaking covenant with the community as a whole.

Our penchant for breaking covenant, in small ways or large ways, hurts ourselves, our loved ones, and our community. And still, we choose to do so. God made a covenant with human beings who could not, would not keep covenant with Him. Covenant, and our breaking of it, reminds us all of our need for grace and forgiveness – and our need of a saviour who will save us from our own selfish attitudes, words, and actions.

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Chapter-a-Day Romans 4

If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract! That’s not a holy promise; that’s a business deal. A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure that you will never be able to collect. But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise—and God’s promise at that—you can’t break it. Romans 4:14-15 (MSG)

There is a locked safe in the closet of my home office. Inside that safe is a marriage license which is stamped, notarized and filed with the county. My wife and I are legally married. Not once, however, have I had to pull out that contract and remind myself or my wife of this fact.

Before there was a contract there was a promise and a relationship. I love my wife, and she loves me. We are bound together by promise and trust, and this is reflected in thought, word, and deed each day as we live in relationship with one another. And believe me, with both of us working in our home office, we spend more time together than most married couples I know.

No wonder God uses marriage as a word picture of our relationship with Christ over and over again. I am drawn to Jesus by His promise, and by trust in what He has done for me (laying down his life). To think that my good works or legal obligation to perform religious duties are required to consummate the relationship, only perverts the beautiful picture of a gracious covenant relationship.

Today, I’m thankful for a relationship with Jesus that has nothing to do with me earning religious merit badges.