DO THAT WHICH IS PLEASING . . . In other words, respond to God!

“Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good, so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21b from Hebrews 13:1-21 [Emphasis mine])

Any man or woman who can bless as Paul can bless can be forgiven much by me. And Paul does eventually get around to tell the readers of Hebrews what they must do in response to the gift and person-hood of Christ. That he leaves it to practically the end of the letter frustrates me, but then Paul has frustrated me before, and I am sure will again. And if I can expand on Paul, being in right relationship with God and others, insuring and executing compassionate justice, and working towards shalom should certainly be pleasing to God and Jesus Christ’s sight.

And having appropriated Paul’s theology, I would like to repay him by talking a little about his style of blessing. It is one that I have tried to emulate. There is a driving force in the combination of words and sentiments that comes through the translation from the original language to our modern day English – of course part of that can be attributed to the skill of the translators. Paul’s style reminds me somewhat of preachers and ministers who have run on prayers that just seem to go on and on because of well placed and often used conjunctive speech. It can get wearing and tiring because they do not seem to have a purpose or an end point. But Paul has a specific destination in his prayers, and a well laid out route. The reader is compelled to read further and further until Paul climaxes in his irrefutable basis for his theology of the prayer. Makes you just want to stand up at attention and raise praise to God! And please God who is the invisible and underlying author of all Paul’s prayers. So I reiterate, I can forgive a lot.

You may gentle reader be so moved by the compassion and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ that you strive each day to be at peace with all of humanity so that the Almighty God might be pleased with you. Selah! And shalom for your day!

PURSUE PEACE . . . Secure the grace of God

“Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it …that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.” (Hebrews 12:14-15a, 15c from Hebrews 12:1-29 )

In the missing section that is absent from this excerpt, Paul exhorts his readers to be sure “that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” But even with this piece absent, this verse is alludes to what in my opinion is the missing piece in Paul’s theological discourse. What we must do in response to Christ’s gift of grace. We must seek to be at peace with everyone, which is another way of talking about right relationships. We must be holy, from which comes the desire to be in right relationship and conduct our lives with justice, for ourselves and others. When we allow no bitterness in our lives and solve problems before they become trouble, we increase our chances for shalom. And if we have the grace of God, all other things will fall into place.

But if we lose the grace of God, or disregard the gift that Christ gives us and that God has ordained, then we have lost our way. No matter how wondrous or enduring God’s grace, we can still walk away from it.

I was reminded again on the evening of this writing that Paul would carefully design his letters for the purpose that he wanted to address. And scholars believe that this letter to the Hebrews was one of Paul’s best. So I have to believe there was a reason that only a slice of the “good news” was told. But don’t you, gentle reader, err by thinking that nothing is expected of us. Especially in this year where the focus is changing an enemy to a friend. And doubly so on this day after Thanksgiving when people had come together to celebrate family and friendships, and blessings received. Let the leftovers of that day remind us that right relationships and justice are for every day and for everyone. And that shalom can be glimpsed when come together in harmony and gratitude.

May you gentle reader pursue peace, and hold closely to you the grace of God and the holiness that it bestows. May trouble and bitterness be far from you, and may you be pure before our God. Selah! And shalom for your day.

APPROACH IN ASSURANCE . . . With a true heart

“Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us . . . and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith . . . “ (Hebrews 10:19-20a, 21-22a from Hebrews 10:19-39 )

I have spent the last few days railing against Paul’s “narrow” view of Christ’s role. But today, already weary, I am seeing another side of this; the compassion of Christ. Perhaps Paul has finally worn me down, or maybe the long-ness of the day is making me grateful for a warm and friendly welcome to the presence of Jesus and God. Granted, we need to come “a true heart” but Jesus has even done the hard work of that by offering us redemption. All we need to do is bring our forgiven selves. And maybe that is what Paul is has been trying to show his reader all this time. Christ says “Come over! The water is good, deep and life giving. The banquet table is set, and eternal life awaits!” What we need to do in order to deserve it pales in comparison to what Christ did in order to establish it for us.

This is not to let humanity off the hook. No! In fact, it should shame us into better behavior. Our response to Christ’s gift of grace should be our extending grace, compassion, care, mercy, right relationship and justice to others. Our response to Christ should as much as possible match Christ’s outreach to us.

May you gentle reader approach Christ’s sanctuary with a true heart and full assurance of welcome; and may you extend the same welcome to others. Especially on this day when many have gathered together to raise thanks for the blessings of the year. Selah! And shalom for all of us this day.

Mediator of a New Covenant or a New Beginning . . . that can be us too!

“For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them …” (Hebrews 9:15a-b from Hebrews 9:1-28 )

I noted that this has been a sustained theme over 6 chapters – the role that Jesus Christ can play in the life of the believer, as an agent of grace, mercy, and salvation. However, I am chagrined to report that it took me this long to look back at the beginning of Hebrews; this letter from Paul is designed from the first to be an introduction to Christ the Messiah, and specifically that, his role as Messiah. Here Paul reveals Christ in the role of mediator which ties into the other roles that Paul has identified as Christ having. And I might have said again, yes/but, this is not all the Jesus does. Instead I have a different approach I want to make to this.

I don’t usually spend a lot of time with clients over the course of a year. First, most of our clients are stable in their lives and do not need some to monitor them. Second, most of them have other service providers who oversee their medical, physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. But not all. I spent several hours with a client who was in the midst of a client and needed to get services beyond what had already been established. My role was to advocate and insure the client got the needed services. So in a way I functioned as a mediator between the client and the location of services. It is not the first time I have done this, and most certainly will not be the last. As I read this verse, it gave pause.

Let me hasten to say that the services I mediated and advocated for were most certainly earth bound. Furthermore, they were not spiritual in nature. And finally, I am not the only one who can and has done this type of advocating and mediating. We are familiar with the term “mediator” because it is something that is done all the time in our culture and the global culture. It is a task that is quite often needed, especially as our global community because more broken and hurting. All of us at one time or another need fresh starts and new beginning.

I am aware that thus far I have not said much new or revolutionary. Nor perhaps have I explained completely why it gave me pause. Certainly I was pleased in a human earthly sort of way I helped by client by being an advocate and mediator. But it is the portion of the verse where Paul says “those who are called may receive.” From Paul’s perspective not everyone may gain the benefit of this new covenant or beginning. And that Christ is the mediator insuring that they are granted the new covenant. That it is ONLY THROUGH Christ, in fact, that this new covenant if available to them.

Now, if I was to tell you that my biggest role today was to insure that my client’s name would be called to receive treatment and receive exactly the treatment that was needed, perhaps the parallel would make more sense. So many people go to service providers of all types for treatment, but often they and their problems are minimalized or overlooked. It is very helpful to have someone there to make sure they are called back for services and treated correctly and appropriately. Is this not what Paul is saying that Christ does? I do not say this to place a spotlight on myself, but to show you gentle reader that while we may not be Divine, our actions can be life-saving to another. Do not think that what we do for another is inconsequential – for better or for worse. What we do matters. While we cannot bring any eternal to the other, we can bring grace, mercy, and compassion.

And the reason I am so adamant about this is because it is exactly what is missing from Paul’s theology in Hebrews. That Jesus is not only Highest Priest but Exemplar as well! Paul portrays a Christ who does most wondrous things, but does not teach that we should model as much and as best we can what Christ does for us!

May you gentle reader look to Christ for mercy and redemption for a new beginning; may you also work with and for others so that they might have new beginnings also. Selah! And shalom for all of us this day.

A MORE EXCELLENT MINISTRY . . . Mercy & Forgiveness just gets better & better! But . .

“But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.” ( Hebrews 8:6 from Hebrews 8:1-13)

Paul is continuing his theme of Jesus as high priest. And because Pal was very skilled in composing letters that both address and support his audience’s needs and theological perspectives, I am tempted to believer that this Hebrew audience clung to the need for a high priest to offer sacrifices and atonement. I have known contemporary Christians who also look to Jesus for this blessing. In fact, as Paul pointed out in yesterday’s scripture passage, for some this is Jesus’ primary purpose.

While I may believe it is a stilted view of Jesus, this theology is not without its profess-ers and supporters. Being at-one-ment with God and Christ is very important. And the belief that this can only be accomplished by Christ’s sacrifice is a valid one. As I said yesterday though, it is not all that Jesus is about. But there is no question that if one wants to be at-one-ment with God, having Christ accomplish it is the best option. And the one that is most likely to place one in right relationship with God, access a merciful justice, and in due time achieve shalom.

But that is not all there is to the Christian life. This year’s triune theme of right relationship, justice, and shalom covers and is appropriate for many scripture passages and theological issues. But it is not everything! Multifaceted Christianity can not be pinned down to one set of issues. Not even Paul addressed the same lineup of issues in each of his letters.

Christianity is like a bottomless endless pool (or well) of living water that is sufficient to sustain all of humanity. If one person wants to dip in and bring up a certain flavor of “living water” be he/she be blessed through it. But not think because Paul says Jesus “high priest” ministry is “more excellent” that it is the only one.

May you gentle reader be ministered to and blessed by Jesus the highest of priests. But may you also know Jesus in different roles, each most excellent! Selah! And shalom for your day.

JESUS MAKES INTERCESSION . . . And a whole bunch of other stuff

“Consequently Jesus is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25 from Hebrews 6:13-7:28 )

I am starting to have a firm appreciation for the Aramaic Bible in Plain English. The way most of the other translations have this verse it sounds like Jesus’ prime purpose in being alive is to make intercession for us. A very nice concept, but Jesus being divine is capable of more than just that. The Aramaic Bible in Plain English has verse 25 this way – “And he can give life for eternity to those who come near to God by him, for he lives always and offers prayers for our sakes.” The emphasis should be on Jesus’ immortality and not on one facet or aspect of Christ-hood. Actually his primary purpose and goal is being God in Jesus form.

Paul, however, writing to the Hebrews who are big on atonement and sacrifice. Paul has been describing Jesus as the ultimate high priest, sinless and blameless so he never has to atone for his own sins but can be atoning for the sins of all humanity. Again, the Aramaic rendering into English does a good job because it separates out the fact that Jesus lives always and forever, and during this unending living he is offering prayers – actually, speaking to God – on our behalf. Amongst other things. Because, God is listening to the Divine’s Jesus facet unendingly, amongst other things. This is Divinity, gentle reader. Accomplishing all things that need to be accomplished simultaneously.

It is also insuring our right relationship with God, acquiring a justice that liberates, and working towards a shalom for all creation and humanity.

May you gentle reader not forget these things. And may you praise God and Christ our Lord for what is being done on your behalf. Selah! And shalom for your day.

APPROACH WITH BOLDNESS . . . But not swagger

“Since, then, we have a great high priest . . . Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession . . . . Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14a,c,16 from Hebrews 4:14-5:10 )

 

Whenever I read this verse, I imagine a person (okay, the person is male but I don’t want to appear biased) approaching the “throne of grace” with swagger and smug confidence saying, “I’m going to get forgiven!” And I do not think that is what Paul meant; but for better or worse that imagine is stuck in my brain. The idea is, I know, that we do not have to be afraid of approaching or confessing to Jesus because he knows how strong temptations can be and that a lesser divine being might give in. The different translation I looked at said either “boldness” or “boldly” or used the term “confidence.” The Aramaic Bible in Plain English uses the term “publicly” which gives the passage a different feel and meaning. Now my ubiquitous generic person is emerging from the crowd and walking quietly & calmly to the “throne of grace” making public the need for confession and forgiveness. Not afraid to show him/herself as sinful. But not brazenly either. Just completing a long over due task, but hopeful that it will work out well. Or perhaps not confession and forgiveness but needing to have a conversation with God and knowing that one will not be challenged in approaching but will be welcomed.

 

May you gentle reader be assured of welcome and hospitality whenever and however you approach the “throne of grace.” Selah! And shalom for your day.

BE SUBJECT TO AUTHORITIES . . . At certain places and times

“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy.” (Titus 3:1-2b from Titus 3:1-11 )

Christianity has come a long way since Paul wrote this letter to Titus. Some types of Christians protest and rabble-rouse on a variety of issues and for a number of reasons. Some have little respect for any civil ruler or authority. Others are as quiet and meek as Paul would have them be. Paul was somewhat of a rabble-rouser himself, and there were some rulers & authorities that he paid no heed to. There is every reason to believe that Paul’s letter to Titus was addressing a specific situation where quiet and tact were required.

This reads like a private letter to Titus that apply to the specific place – “I left you behind in Crete for this reason,” (Chapter 1 verse 5a) where he is at and particular to the believers who are there – “ ‘Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.’ That testimony is true.” (Chapter 1 verse 12b-13a). So it may be that Paul would not suggest such obedience on all occasions – although he has said the same thing on other occasions.

But it is a good reminder for us to be in right relationship, show respect for justice, and work towards shalom. One strong aspect of shalom is civility and respect. But never should civility be prompted above justice. Shalom and justice can be achieved a variety of ways. And being in right relationship does not mean the other has the “right” to stomp and trample over you or other people.

May you gentle reader navigate carefully when you are in relationship with others. May our Lord guide in what is right to do – being quiet and obedient, or speaking out and making noise. Selah! And make you make shalom yourself and others.

AVOID QUARRELS . . . . and Youthful Passions?

“Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace . . . . Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly . . . correcting opponents with gentleness.” (II Timothy 2:22a, 23-24a, 25a from II Timothy 2:1-26 )

I get the sense sometimes that Paul does not have much regard for youth and youthful pursuits. To Paul life was a very serious matter, and it was important to make sure a person was on the right path in life. Of course Paul also believed that Christ would return in the not too distant future, so there was little time to prove one was a serious Christian.

Some faith systems do not allow for a long period of childhood before acceptance and compliance with theology is expected. Other faith systems do not place any expectations on the young, and in fact do not specify any time when a person should join the faith. The setting aside of youthful passions, I believe, should not be forced or happen quickly. Of course, I have not tried to discover what Paul might have meant by “youthful passions.” He was talking/writing to his mentee, Timothy. And had sent Timothy into a ministry position. Perhaps Timothy was ready for this position; or perhaps he felt that he was too young, and may not ready to set aside the passion of youth.

I like most of what Paul says here, both excerpted portion and the fuller passage. But I disagree with the shedding/shunning of youth passions. Properly directed, passion (whether young or old) can do amazing and wondrous things. Maybe was thinking of his own youth, and the correction that the Lord did to his passions on the road to Damascus. Often the elderly look at the instances of their “misspent” youth and advice the young to give up such “foolishness.”

While I would not wish the young to get into trouble or ruin their lives before they have matured, each person has to make their own mistakes in order to have something to learn from. Better to approach life with passion and vim than to plod through youth and young adulthood walking a conservative and dull life. Passion in youth sets the stage for wisdom and experience in the mature years.

May you gentle reader live your life the the fullest, knowing what it feels like to have strong and vibrant experience. Dullness does not necessarily mean peace. Love should be lived and acted out with passion. And faith without passion is a listless devotion at best. May the Lord who gave meaning to “passion” enliven your life no matter your age. Selah! And a passionate shalom for your day.

REKINDLE THE GIFT . . . Power . . . Love . . . Self-discipline

“For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God within you . . . . for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (II Timothy 1:6a,7 from II Timothy 1:3-14 )

I am sick. Not I have a cold or the flu or a bad cough or any of the other “just not feeling well” things. I have a long term progressive illness. And today has not been a good day. It does not matter how far ahead I write/how long ago I wrote this; no doubt when you read it I will still be ill and it will not have been a good day. I have been writing about this on my other blog, Pondering from the Pacific , especially the posts using the word “certainty” and “uncertainty” in the title.

So what, you may ask, does this have have to do with the scripture for today? Well, I have learned several things during the onset of this illness. First, I need the Lord even more. When I am in pain or suffering from one of the other symptoms my exclamation of “Oh God!” is not just an outburst but a prayer to help me get through whatever it is I am facing. It is also an admission that I am scared and not sure what to do. It is the Spirit that carries me through those times.

Second, I have felt the love of family and friends as they rally around me and support me. I have also been more intentional about telling people I care for them and cherish them. It is important to say such things while you have time to say them – yes, it is serious.

Third, strangely enough, is the need for self-discipline. I tend to push myself, and I have learned I cannot expect myself to do as much as I used to or do it as intently. I have to ease back and give myself rest. But I also cannot let myself wallow in self-pity, which is why have not said much about this before, and why I will probably only occasionally speak about it in the future. I am certainly not the only person who has even developed a serious illness; my agency does care for many clients who have illnesses and conditions that leave them worse off than me.

Last, I am appreciating more the gifts I do have and the work and contribution I can make through my work and caring for my family. I am also aware that I have diverse gifts and if my energy and strength in low in one way, there are other ways I can use the gifts that God has given me.

I am trying not to be a “coward” about this, but am facing it firmly and head on. I am sharing the news slowly and carefully, not wanting to burden anyone. But I do have my times of weakness and uncertainty – hence the titles of some of the posts on “Pondering from the Pacific.” It is normal and expected.

So there you have it, gentle reader. My very personal testimony on what Paul wrote to his mentee Timothy. Paul knew that Timothy would face many trials and challenges ministering where God (and Paul) had sent him. Paul did not wish to send him out without giving him guidance and encouragement. To be strong in the Lord, using the gifts God had given him, and asking the Spirit to be with him.

May you gentle reader call on the Holy Spirit for the good gifts of courage, power, love and self-discipline. Selah! And shalom for your day.