Tag Archives: Spiritual

Not of this World

“Therefore rejoice, you heavens
    and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
    because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
    because he knows that his time is short.”
Revelation 12:12 (NIV)

Several years ago I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers in which I talked about how the writers of the James Bond film, Skyfall, subtly tapped into themes of the Great Story in order to make Bond into a Christ-like figure (you can watch/listen here). I shared that morning, as I have many times in these chapter-a-day posts, that all good stories are reflections of the Great Story.

That came to mind this morning as I meditated on today’s chapter. The images of John’s vision like those in today’s chapter sound like some kind of bad acid trip to most modern readers, but to learned Hebrews and Gentiles of John’s day, they echo themes and images from familiar mythologies. Both the Greeks and Egyptians had myths of dragons or serpents chasing mothers to kill their young.

Once again this morning, I set aside the minute details in order to consider the larger picture being presented in Revelation and in today’s chapter. The Great Story told from Genesis to Revelation is ultimately a story of good and evil on a grand spiritual scale. I have observed along my spiritual journey that as an earthbound human who views reality through my brain and five physical senses, it is difficult to comprehend, let alone understand, what Jesus taught: that there is a spiritual reality that is not only “not of this world” but also more “real” than this world. I find it interesting that those who have had neath-death experiences in which they experienced heaven commonly relate two things: First, they didn’t want to come back. Second, they don’t have the vocabulary to express how amazing and how “real” it was. Having been to heaven, they realize how our earthly “reality” is but a shadow world in comparison to what awaits us in eternity.

Today’s chapter has two main characters. A woman “clothed” with the sun and moon and twelve stars on her head. Hebrew mythology and prophecy often referred to Israel as a “mother.” Joseph’s dream was of the sun, moon, and eleven stars (his brothers, the tribes of Israel) bowing down to him. The second main character is the dragon, which is also a recurring image in the prophets and the psalms, and the text tells us that it represents Satan.

The overarching theme of the entire Great Story is established in Genesis 3. Satan temps Adam and Eve. They are expelled from the Garden, cursed to an earthly life, and to suffer death. God establishes enmity between Satan and the woman, especially her offspring whom Satan will attack. God prophesies that Satan will bruise the heel of woman’s offspring, but He will crush Satan’s head.

Today’s chapter is a re-telling of this great spiritual conflict that lies at the heart of the entire Great Story. Once again, the story of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt is a microcosm of this grand spiritual conflict. The Dragon pursues the Woman to the wilderness (like the Egyptians chasing after the Hebrews). The Dragon attempts to stop the woman with water (like the Egyptians trying to pin the Hebrews at the Red Sea). The earth swallows up the waters (like the Red Sea swallowing up the Egyptian army).

In the grand spiritual conflict, Satan has always been seen as the ultimate heavenly accuser and prosecutor (cf. Job 1-2). In today’s chapter, as the end of the Great Story draws near, there is a spiritual battle in heaven and Satan is thrown down to earth with his hoard of fallen angels. Furious, Satan goes after “the rest of her offspring” which would, presumably, be the people of God left on the earth. This is, again, the overarching theme of John’s Revelation; The great spiritual conflict of heaven is coming to a climactic head on the earth.

In the quiet this morning, I come back to the familiar themes of the Great Story and all the good stories that echo them. Good and evil, the threat of death and the desire for immortality, the grand struggle, the threat and fear of a dark ending before the grand moment of eucatastrophe. There are many who revere Jesus and His teaching, claiming to respect His teaching as a guide for living on this earthly journey. As a disciple of Jesus, I find that His teaching for living and relating to others on this earth was ultimately not about this earth, but about His kingdom that He said is “not of this world.” John’s visions are glimpses of it, just as Jesus referenced it on His way to the cross:

A large number of people followed [Jesus], including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then

“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Luke 23:27-31 (NIV)

And so, I proceed on this another day of an earthly journey, believing not just that Jesus offered a helpful guide for behavior in this temporal, earthly existence, but that He came as part of a Great Story, pointing me to a Kingdom that is more real and beyond description with the limitations of human vocabulary. In fact, it might seem like an acid trip to my human understanding (based on friends who’ve told me about their acid trips). I choose to believe that my story is a part of that Story in ways that equally lie beyond my human comprehension.

Note: I’m taking tomorrow and July 4th off. See you back here on Tuesday of next week.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“Every Nation, Tribe, People, & Language”

"Every Nation, Tribe, People, & Language" (CaD Rev 7) Wayfarer

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
Revelation 7:9 (NIV)

In yesterday’s chapter, the first six seals of a scroll were opened by Jesus. Today’s chapter is an intermission before the seventh seal is opened. John describes two different things revealed to him. In the first, the four winds are held back from the earth by four angels, while a fifth angel places a “seal” on the foreheads of 144,000 “servants of God,” 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.

The four winds was a metaphor of God’s wrath and judgment on the earth. The prophet Jeremiah used the same metaphor (Jer 49:36). A “seal” was used in ancient times to both protect documents from being opened and to mark who sent them. Metaphorically, this seems to indicate that these 144,000 “sealed” servants of God will be protected during the impending tribulation being held back by the four angels.

In the second part of the vision, John sees a multitude of individuals from every “nation, tribe, people, and language” who were wearing white robes. John is told that they had come “out of the tribulation.” This connects with the martyrs in yesterday’s chapter (Rev 6:9-11) who were given white robes and told to wait for the others who would join them. John is then told that they will serve the Lamb in his temple and be protected, provided for, cared for, and comforted.

There are a couple of things that stand out to me as I ponder these visions in the quiet this morning. The first is the reality that Jesus was very clear with His followers that following Him may very well be an earthly death sentence. The resurrected Christ told Peter that it would be true for him. Tradition says that this was true for 11 of The Twelve disciples (John is believed to be the only one who may have died of old age). It has been true for multitudes of followers throughout history. It’s still true for followers of Jesus today in places like Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, and China. This is both a sobering thought, and it stands in direct opposition to the “name it and claim it” televangelists or those who believe that following Jesus is the way to safety and prosperity on this earth.

The other things that stands out to me is that this is the second time in John’s vision that he describes people of “every nation, tribe, people, and language.” The greek word used for “temple” in today’s chapter specifically denotes the temple structure where God’s presence dwelt. Throughout the history of the Temple in Jerusalem, only Hebrew men could enter. People of other “nations, tribes, peoples, and languages” (along with females) were not allowed. Also, Paul was very clear that after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection a “Jew” was not someone with Hebrew DNA, but whose heart was surrendered to Christ (Rom 2:28-29). This raises the question as to whether the 144,000 “sealed servants” mentioned in today’s chapter are DNA Jews or Spirit Jews.

One again, I’m left admitting that I know that I don’t know the answers to some of these questions. There are couple of things, however, that I do know. I know that being a follower of Jesus is a path of surrender on this earth, and that very well means that it sometimes leads to suffering. I also know that heaven is a place for people of every nation, tribe, people, and language. Therefore, any thing on this earth that stirs up division, separation, and discrimination against a person or group based on nation, tribe, people, and language is incongruent with Jesus’ teaching.

Therefore, as a follower of Jesus, I enter this day endeavoring to surrender, to serve, and to love indiscriminately.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Spiritual Self-Exam

Spiritual Self-Exam (CaD Rev 3) Wayfarer

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
Revelation 3:17 (NIV)

Every year I have a physical examination with my doctor. While I am starting to show some of the natural physical signs of age, I’m happy to say that the appointment usually ends with Doc telling me to let Wendy know she shouldn’t be collecting on my life insurance policy any time soon.

Today’s chapter contains the final three of seven letters John is told to write to followers of Jesus in nearby Asia Minor. One of the common themes in all of the letters is Jesus’ desire for believers to see past their earthly circumstances to their spiritual realities.

The final letter was written to believers in the city of Laodicea, which was known for its wealth and commerce. The Laodiceans took pride in their wealth and self-sufficiency. When the Roman Emporer offered them funds to help them rebuild after an earthquake, the city refused the funds. The medical school at Laodicea was known for an eye salve that was produced there. Jesus makes a point that the wealthy Laodicean believers need a spiritual eye-salve so that they can see how spiritually poor they are.

In the quiet this morning I find myself taking Jesus up on His encouragement to the Laodiceans. I have an annual physical examination, what about a regular spiritual examination?

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve found that my spiritual health hinges on a few different things.

First is my spiritual diet. What I spiritually take in, and what I spiritually excrete.

What am I feeding my soul? What am I taking in? Am I getting regular spirit nourishment? That’s really what this chapter-a-day journey is all about, but what about the rest of the day after I publish my post and podcast. Am I continually feeding my eyes, ears, and mind that which is good for my soul, or do I snack on the spiritual equivalent of junk food?

Jesus told His followers to also pay attention to what my spirit excretes:

“It’s what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.”
Mark 7:20-23 (MSG)

So what do my thoughts, words, and actions say about the health of my heart and spirit?

I think the other important factor in my spiritual examination is the health of my relationships. First is my relationship with God, and it is a relationship. Then it’s the health of my marriage, my inner circle, my family, and my friends. It’s also with others in my community and circles of influence. Healthy relationships are about time and attention. Are things good? Healthy? Broken? Starving? Ignored? Strained?

My annual physical typically ends with a generally clean bill of health, but there are always a few things that Doc reminds me about that need attention. I feel a parallel in this morning’s spiritual self-exam. I don’t want to be like the Laodicean believers who were spiritually blind to the spiritual issues that threatened them. As with my physical health, I think my spiritual health is in generally good condition, but there are definitely some areas that need attention.

Here’s to health, both physical and spiritual.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Violent Times

Violent Times (CaD Jud 19) Wayfarer

In those days Israel had no king.
Judges 19:1 (NIV)

I observe of late that I live in violent times. Violent crime is on the rise in cities along with snatch-and-grab gang robberies. Political extremists on both sides call for violence against their enemies on social media, and political protests on both sides have turned violent. We are all aware of the latest in a long string of mass school shootings that occurred just a few weeks ago. A few months ago, in Green Bay Wisconsin of all places, a woman high on meth strangled her lover during sex, then dismembered the man and hid the pieces throughout his mother’s basement, leaving his head in a bucket. The murderer appears to have found pleasure in the act. She asked the police officers who took her into custody if they “knew what it was like to love something so much that you kill it.” The first time I read about it, I found the details so disturbing that it was hard to stomach.

That gruesome event was brought to mind as I read today’s chapter. This chapter is another one of the more difficult ones to stomach in all of the Great Story. An unnamed Levite finds himself and his concubine the guests of a fellow Hebrew in the town of Gibeah. In an act that is a direct parallel to what happened to Lot in the city of Sodom in Genesis 19, a bunch of men of the town beat on the door of the host and demand that the Levite be sent out to take part in their ancient version of a rave. The Levite sends his concubine out to appease them. After being gang-raped through the night, he finds her dead on the threshold of the host’s door the next morning. Appalled by what has happened, he cuts her body into twelve pieces and disperses the parts to the twelve Hebrew tribes to shock the nation and explain what had happened.

So, why is this even in the Great Story, and what am I supposed to glean from this? Meditating on this question, I came to a couple of conclusions in the quiet this morning.

First, the author includes this horrific story for a reason and he gives me the clue in the first line of the story: “In those days Israel had no king.” This is a line the author has repeated in each of the last two chapters. This is the theme of his book’s epilogue. He is sharing with his readers the social breakdown that occurred when there was no strong civic or religious authority.

Second, the entire story is about hospitality in the ancient Near East, which was a social expectation of such magnitude in that culture that we can’t really relate to it today. The Levites’ father-in-law in the first half of the chapter exemplifies “go the extra mile” hospitality to his guest. This stands out in stark contrast to his host in Gibeah in the gruesome second half of the chapter who should have protected his guest and not allowed the concubine’s rape to happen.

Finally, the bloody act of the Levite in dismembering his concubine’s body and sending it to the tribes was a call to action. It was meant to shock the nation into doing something about what was happening in their society.

This brings me back to my own times, in which I don’t have to look very hard to find acts of violence not that much different than the ones in today’s chapter. And, in the Levite’s call to action, I hear echoes of what our society is proclaiming right now: “We have to do something!”

So what do I take away from this?

Personally, I’m reminded of the human need for authority in both my social and spiritual life. Being a follower of Jesus means that Jesus and His teachings are my spiritual compass. As I submit to doing my best to follow His example and His teaching, I find myself with spiritual and moral guardrails on my thoughts, words, relationships, and actions. This even includes honoring, and being subject to, my civic authorities. Without those moral guardrails, I can only imagine how my life might cycle out of control.

But also, as a citizen of this representative republic, I play a part in this society and I need to do my part to participate in the civic and social process by speaking out, letting my voice be heard, and voting for strong leaders who will lead by action and example.

By the way, I voted yesterday.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

A Confession

A Confession (CaD Jud 16) Wayfarer

Then the Philistines seized [Samson], gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding grain in the prison. But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
Judges 16:21-22 (NIV)

There is an incredibly powerful scene in The Godfather Part III that seems largely forgotten among the many memorable moments in the epic trilogy. Michael Corleone visits a Cardinal in the Vatican, seeking assistance with a business deal he’s trying to make with the Vatican bank. Michael’s health isn’t good. Between stress and Diabetes, he’s suffering. The Cardinal, however, sees that what is really torturing Michael is the spiritual consequences of a life of violence, crime, deceit, and vanity. He urges Michael to confess.

Over the past couple of weeks, our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been focused on James 5:16: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” In my experience, confession is rarely discussed, and I find this tragic. Anyone who has made the spiritual journey of The Twelve Steps knows that it begins with admitting we are powerless over our addictions. That’s why every person in a Twelve Step meeting introduces themselves by confessing that they are an addict.

Today’s chapter is the climactic finale of Samson’s story. Samson’s tragic flaw, his perpetual lust for Philistine women, finally catches up with him in his love for Delilah. His blind devotion to her, despite the fact that she seems bent on learning the source of his strength for nefarious reasons, results in his tragic fall and the physical blindness that came with his capture and captivity.

In yesterday’s post/podcast, I unpacked the fact that Samson’s story is the story of the Hebrews. The parallels continue to the very end, and the events of today’s chapter prophetically foreshadow the future history of Israel. They will continue to chase after foreign gods, which will lead to their captivity and exile in Assyria and Babylon. The fact that God redeems Samson’s fall and uses it for His purposes foreshadows the redemption and return of the Israelites. Samson’s blindness foreshadows Israel’s own spiritual blindness to the Messiah who will be sent for their ultimate redemption.

In the quiet this morning, this leads me back to my own life, and my own story. I, like every other human being who has ever lived, have my own sins, flaws, and weaknesses. Left unchecked, my story would be far more tragic than it’s already been. Samson’s story is a reminder to me of two very important truths:

First, the path of Jesus, like The Twelve Steps, is one that begins with a choice to own my flaws, confess, repent, and follow in Jesus’ footsteps…every day. Without that, my own tragic shortcomings will eventually lead me to very unpleasant places, just like Samson.

Second, God is not about condemnation. God is about redemption. He ultimately redeemed Samson’s flaws. He ultimately brought His exiled people home. He ultimately, through Jesus, graciously provided a Way of forgiveness and redemption for any and all who will follow.

I have been a follower, a disciple, of Jesus for over 40 years. I confess to you that I’m not perfect, and admit to you that I’m still working on my own tragic flaws. Despite this fact, I’ve found God to be gracious, merciful, and faithful; God is about redemption. And so, I’m stepping out and pressing on today, one more day in the journey.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Childish Notions

Childish Notions (CaD Jud 11) Wayfarer

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
Judges 11:30-31 (NIV)

As a boy, I remember that my prayers were often contract negotiations. In my childhood, prayer was something that happened on three occasions outside of church. There was the prayer before meals which consisted of dad saying the Lord’s prayer or his other stock pre-meal prayer followed by all four kids chanting the simple pre-meal prayer in Dutch that grandma and grandpa Vander Well taught us. Then there was the bedtime prayer, which was the stock “Now I lay me down to sleep” version. The third occasion for prayer was when I desperately wanted something to happen and I had no control over it.

Examples of these things that I desperately wanted typically involved girls. For the record, I never experienced the “girls a dumb” phase of boyhood. I had my first crush in Kindergarten and things only grew more intense from there. There were also the four Super Bowls in my childhood that involved the Minnesota Vikings. Those were, perhaps, the most desperate contract negotiations with God of all time. History will tell you how that worked out for me. I’m sure I made God all sorts of promises and vows on those Super Bowl Sundays. Sports, in particular, were the catalyst for contractual prayers: “God, if you see to it that my team wins, then I will….”

Today’s chapter is one of the most difficult and disturbing in all of the Great Story. It involves a man named Jephthah who utters a contractual prayer as a vow to God. If God grants him victory then he’ll sacrifice the first thing that walks out of his home as a burnt offering to God. He is victorious, and the first thing that walks out of his home is his only child, a young daughter.

I am fond of remembering that these stories come out of the toddler stage of human civilization when humanity’s knowledge and understanding of life, self, and God was about as developed as your average three-to-five-year-old is today. There are a couple of other contextual observations I must ponder as I mull over this tragic story. One is that the author of Judges reminds me twice that during this period of time “everyone did as they saw fit” (17:6; 21:25). Jephthah’s vow was incongruent with God’s law, yet this was also a time when the Hebrew people regularly worshipped the gods of neighboring peoples and participated in their rituals, including deities like Chemosh and Milkom. It is well documented that these religions would at times practice child sacrifices and the practice was viewed as a very serious act of religious devotion. In Jephthah’s day, his actions were, sadly, understood and accepted. His actions stand as an example of why God so desperately wanted His people to forsake these other religions.

Paul wrote in his epic love chapter: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” As I look back at my childhood and my childish notions about God and life, I am both amused and ashamed to have thought and believed such things. At the same time, they stand as a benchmark and a reminder of my spiritual progress over fifty-some years. The real tragedy would be to look back and find that my spiritual understanding had never progressed beyond contractual negotiation for trivial gain.

In the quiet this morning, that’s how I find myself viewing and mourning Jephthah’s tragic story. After over 40 years of reading and studying the Great Story, I am mindful that it contains stories that are examples to follow and stories that are warnings and examples to avoid. Today’s chapter is the latter.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Goal

The Goal (CaD Heb 6) Wayfarer

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

Religion is relatively easy. I was raised with religion. It was simply a set of ritual tasks that was woven into. Go to Sunday School and the church service once a week. Give a few bucks. Say the Lord’s prayer before family meals along with the Dutch prayer Grandpa and Grandma Vander Well taught us. Pray when I go to bed if I think about it. Volunteer once in a while. These are the basic motions. Repeat.

When I surrendered my life to Christ and became a follower of Jesus, I remember realizing that all of my religious motions had simply that – motions. They didn’t really have any effect on the person I was. The religious rituals had no soul penetration, no life penetration. On Sunday morning in church, I’d sing the hymn Just As I Am and the rest of the week I did just that. I remained just as I had always been.

Early in my spiritual journey as a follower of Jesus, I walked among a group that appeared to be rabidly devout about their faith. What I quickly discovered is that they were simply religion on steroids. They had countless rules of appearance and behavior that were thickly layered on top of the religious rituals. I soon noticed that my peers were spiritually immature. They didn’t have to think, they just had to obey. The result was that there was no development of a person’s heart and soul. There was simply adherence to the prescribed rules so that those in authority within the system could see me toeing the line. Along my life journey, I’ve come to believe that there is a corollary relationship between religious fundamentalism and spiritual immaturity.

Reading Jesus’ teachings, this was the very thing from which Jesus came to free me. The word picture He used was that of a beautiful, ornate mausoleum in the cemetery. So pretty on the outside. Full of rotting flesh and dead bones on the inside. My zealously religious friends were concerned about my purity; The purity of my doctrine, obedience, appearance, and social behavior. From what I read in the Great Story, Jesus is most concerned about my spiritual maturity. Because the deeper my spiritual roots descend, the more living water I imbibe, the more mature my growing spirit becomes, the more spiritual fruit my life produces. The goal is not lifeless obedience to a set of rules, the goal is a life that is spilling over with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Those aren’t fruits of religion, they are fruits of Spirit maturity.

One of the major reasons that the author of the letter to the Hebrews was writing to his fellow Jewish believers was precisely for this reason. The Hebrews were big on religion. They had an entire system of ritual tasks, rules, sacrifices, offerings, and festivals. It was so ingrained in them that it was hard for some to give it up. That’s another thing I’ve observed about religious devotion: Once a person is used to it the ritual rule-keeping feels natural and comfortable. It’s like being a spiritual couch potato.

And that’s why the author of Hebrews is urging his fellow believers toward the things Jesus taught: spiritual maturity, spiritual development, and growth of soul that leads to maturity and a life marked by increasing spiritual fruit. You know what’s funny? The more I grow spiritually, the more Life I find in some of those old religious rituals and traditions. Without the Spirit, they were just life-less motions. With the Spirit, they become a vehicle of further growth and development.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Matthew (Jan-Feb 2022)

Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of Matthew published by Tom Vander Well in January and February of 2022. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

Matthew 1: Adding it Up

Matthew 2: God of the Foreign

Matthew 3: Herald

Matthew 5: Alignment of Being

Matthew 6: Two Retirement Funds

Matthew 7: Simple Difference

Matthew 8: “Ins” and “Outs”

Matthew 9: For or Against

Matthew 11: A Hobby Kind of Thing

Matthew 12: Two Guys Alone in a Mall

Matthew 13: Heart and Words

Matthew 13: Finding Forrest

Matthew 14: Between Quiet and Noise

Matthew 15: “Leave Them”

Matthew 16: Jesus’ PR Pitch

Matthew 17: Behind the Veil

Matthew 18: The Debt

Matthew 19: The Sticky Wicket

Matthew 20: The Old Couple Who Lived Up on the Hill

Matthew 21: Jesus vs. the System

Matthew 22: The Context

Matthew 23: “The Weight”

Matthew 24: Hot Times and Cold Love

Matthew 25: Three Stories, Three Questions

Matthew 26: The Contrast

Matthew 27: Mob Justice

Matthew 28: The Presence

A Die-Hard Tradition

A Die-Hard Tradition (CaD Heb 4) Wayfarer

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16 (NIV)

Priest (prēst) n. : Someone who is authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and God.

I’m wading into some deeper weeds today, but it’s something that has been important for me to understand in my spiritual journey, and it’s understanding the concept of a priest. A priest is a human mediator, go-between, or intermediary between another human being and God. A human goes to a priest to receive sacraments, confess sins, and be absolved of sin. The priest is a spiritual gatekeeper between the average joe member and almighty God. “Priests” have been a traditional part of religion forever. Growing up, the only “priests” I knew about were Roman Catholic.

The first time I remember stepping into a Roman Catholic church I was about 24 years old. I was there for the funeral of a young person who had taken his own life. In the years of my childhood, there were still small remnants of centuries-old antagonism between Catholics and Protestants. I remember that most towns had separate graveyards for Catholics and Protestants. I remember lectures from fundamentalist professors damning all Catholics to hell, which I found to be silly.

I was actually fascinated by the Catholic funeral that day and the rituals I witnessed for the first time. I was moved by the imagery. My study of the history, traditions, and theology of the Roman Catholic church has led me to a wide range of emotions from great appreciation to rage to honor and to sorrow. To be honest, I can say the same of Protestant denominations, as well. Human institutions are all human systems and are therefore given to the tragic failings of human beings and our nature. My observation has been that Roman Catholics make priests an official part of their system, while Protestants say they don’t have priests before treating their pastors as if they are exactly that.

For the Hebrew people who were first-century followers of Jesus, the priestly paradigm was a cornerstone of their religion for over a thousand years. The system God set up through Moses had a high priest who was the only human who could enter the “most holy place” of God’s presence in the temple. Only descendants of Aaron (Moses’ right-hand man) could be priests. It was an exclusive class of individuals who stood between the average human and God.

In today’s chapter, the author of the letter to early Jewish followers of Jesus is starting to address a huge paradigm shift in this priestly tradition. It’s going to continue to come up in upcoming chapters, and it has tremendous spiritual implications, so it’s important for a 21st reader to understand. Four times so far, the author has referred to Jesus as “high priest” and what the author is saying in today’s chapter is that Jesus was God come to earth, who was tempted but didn’t sin. Any believer can go directly to Jesus in our time of need, He understands our human struggles and will extend mercy (He won’t hold our sin against us) and grace (favor we don’t deserve).

In the quiet this morning, I find this simple truth so powerful. No more human mediators are required. Any believer can seek Jesus directly, access Jesus directly, confess our sins directly, and receive forgiveness, mercy, and grace directly. Why? Because my body is God’s temple and God’s Spirit lives in me. Because this is true of every believer, Peter says that every one of Jesus’ followers belongs to a “royal priesthood” (In Jewish history the monarchy and priesthood were separated, but Jesus unites the two as both king & priest). Paul wrote to Timothy: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

So, according to the author of Hebrews, according to Peter, and according to Paul, no other human priest is required as a go-between a human being and Christ Jesus Himself. Yet, some institutions and denominations continue the practice based on tradition.

I’ve observed along my life journey that human traditions die hard.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Presence

The Presence (CaD Matt 28) Wayfarer

“And surely I am with you always”
Matthew 28:20 (NIV)

This past weekend our local gathering of Jesus’ followers had what we call Original Works Night (OWN). The auditorium is set up in a coffee house atmosphere and a gallery is set up inside. Throughout the evening people perform their original songs and poems. The gallery is full of paintings, photography, and artwork in various mediums. We even had three musicians who improvised an instrumental piece to end the evening and it was awesome. I’m always blown away by the talent and creativity represented.

It was at an OWN a few years back that a group of children had done a creative project. On blank 3×5 cards, they had written various affirmations and decorated the card. It was set up in a display and attendees could exchange affirmations. You write one yourself, place it in the display, and you got to take an affirmation one of the children made. The affirmation I pulled out was quite simple: “God is with you.” It hangs on my dresser where I see it each morning when I prepare for bed each night.

“God is with you.”

Today’s chapter is the end of Matthew’s biography of Jesus. He leaves us with the resurrected Jesus telling His followers to go to all nations and share His story, making disciples everywhere they go. He then ends with “surely I am with you always.”

Matthew’s account begins with Jesus being the prophesied “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” It ends with “I will be with you always.” As a believer, I believe (and have experienced) there is Oneness between me and God through His indwelling Spirit. Perhaps the most radical paradigm shift Jesus unleashed was that the “temple” was no longer bricks-and-mortar but flesh-and-blood. No longer do I go to a building thinking that I meet God there, pay Him a visit, and hope that He shows up. I am the temple and God is with me always.

This is a basic spiritual truth of being a follower of Jesus and being a believer. It’s one that I observe differentiating those who have, by faith, experienced the transformation of Christ’s indwelling Spirit and those who are simply religious church-goers.

The church building is not God’s house. I am.

Why would I pray for God’s presence? He’s with me always.

About 25 years ago I was going through a stretch of my earthly journey in which I was willfully choosing to make life choices and behave in ways that were completely antithetical to being a Jesus follower. Even then, I was fully aware of God’s presence amidst all of the foolish, rebellious things I was doing. My relationship with God continued and I had regular conversations with God filled with anger and selfishness. That’s the thing I’ve discovered about surrendering my life to Christ and inviting Him in 40 years ago. Even when I choose to “walk away” He goes with me.

“God is with you.”

In the quiet this morning, I am grateful to be in a much better place on life’s road. I’m grateful to be made in the image of the Creator and for the ways that we can express inexpressible truths and experiences through art and creativity, even as children. I’m thankful for one child’s simple artistic affirmation of such an unfathomable spiritual reality.

“God is with you.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.