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.

Who’s In The Church?

“Then I remembered what the Lord had said: “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God? When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:16-18 )

One of the best things about most Nativity sets is that they include the three wise men. And if it is a really complete set, sheep and camels. I like that the three wise men are included because it tells me that both Jews and others, aka Gentiles, are welcomed to worship Christ. And that others, aka Gentiles, bring special gifts to the worship of Christ.

One of my favorite disciples, Peter, brings this wonderful story to the disciples and believers in Jerusalem. The believers there accuse him saying, “You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!” they said” (verse 3) as if being in close proximity to them and breaking bread with them would contaminate Peter. Maybe they sincerely thought it would. But Peter convinces the Jewish believers that rather than being contaminated, he was enlightened and edified by the encounter.

The God they believed in turned out to be a wider and more encompassing God than they had thought. Jesus might have learned that lesson as a very, very young child – too young to humanly remember. Maybe he saw the fancy boxes up on his mother’s keepsake shelf and asked where they came from. And his mother told him the story of the three strange foreign men who came to see him at his birth, and brought strange but wonderful and valuable things to him. Of course God had always intended to bring all peoples to the God-self, and during Jesus’ ministry on earth he connected with Jews and others. But I rather like the idea that it started early in his life, this acceptance of what strangers can bring.

May we gentle reader remember this lesson when we encounter people who are different from us. And may we welcome them and the gifts they bring as the Christ child and the God-self do. Selah!

The Church of Jesus Christ – The place to be?

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25 )

It is no longer breaking news that church attendance is down for all denominations. There have been upsurges in some places, but decreases in others. All sorts of reasons have been attributed to this phenomenon. And if indeed the day is approaching (comparatively speaking to when the book of Hebrews was written) it is a sad thing that church attendance is declining. The Confession, as one would expect, encourages and exhorts people to go to church. But Anabaptist history comes from a time when congregants were declining membership in the church of that day, and were instead forming their own circles of faith. The Anabaptists claimed, amongst other things, that the church (which was the official church of the state) was ministering and serving the people but was serving the interests of the state. Could such a charge be made to some current churches / denominations?

I am sure there have been studies done, and more I am sure will be done, as to why numbers of people are no longer attending church. What are people looking for in a faith community? Or are people still looking for a faith community? What then are people looking for? And how can we know if churches have what people are looking for? All of this leads to more questions about churches, their role in society, and what the give-and-take is between church and congregant. We live in a time and era when diversity in the global population leads to more shifting groups – people coming together for a particular purpose and then disbanding when that purpose has been accomplished.

All of which brings us back around to what the writer of Hebrews was saying in these verses – that people are not meeting in churches/temples/synagogues as often as they had been. The writer of Hebrews then encourages his readers to make time for church, especially in light of the fact that the day is coming when God / Christ will return. Where would you like to be found gentle reader when that day comes?

May you find a circle of faith to be a part of, and may you draw ever closer to your fellow believers as the days number down to God’s return. Selah!

The Church of Jesus Christ turning towards it source

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 )

The Commentary section in the Confession on “The Church of Jesus Christ” says, “The church depends on God for its very being and life.” And this is very true. But I like Paul’s way better. Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus reminding them they are members of God’s household and that Paul was called especially to preach to the non-Jews. And in the midst of his telling of his purpose and intent, and that he prays for them. He becomes so moved by his relating of the prayer that he breaks out in prayer for them in mid letter, turning from what he wants to say through his words to words directing praise to God, saying “Now to him.” who but God could do more than we ask or imagine. Whose glory in the church and in Jesus Christ. And who but God could do all of these things.

We too gentle reader need to turn toward God. That is our source and strength, as the Confession says. Now, as much good and worth that is in the Confession, it does not continue the type of prayers that Paul prays. I may have my disagreements with Paul, but I admire the man as a pray-er. Listen to what he says to the Ephesians; “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.” (Verses 16-19) May this pray be fulfilled in your lives gentle reader. Selah!

Character of Jesus? Dead!

“Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:34-35 )

In the past weeks a lot of celebrities that I heard of growing up have died. Marvin Hamlisch, Phyllis Diller, Neil Armstrong – to name three and fulfill the adage “death comes in threes”. I am sure there are more, and perhaps you gentle reader can think of some more quickly than I. And I wondered why so many of the names I have heard all my life have passed away. Then it occurred to me, maybe because I am “old” and people older than me – those who had established themselves in the media – are now becoming aged and passing away.

Who can one depend on to be there and guide the way? Not many options, considering that Jesus died too. Bummer!

Well, maybe those that have passed from this life to the next do leave a legacy behind. I have read biographies and autobiographies of famous people and I have learned a lot from theirs lives, what to do and what not to do. While I have not read the biographies of Hamlisch, Diller, and Armstrong, I am sure there are teachings we can take from their lives. Come to think of it, I have read about Jesus too. In fact I read the prequel to Jesus’ life story. Good stuff in there – one could learn a lot from reading about Jesus and the history he came out of. Would be even better if he came back to life to teach us more. Wait a minute! He did!

May you gentle reader look to the greatest celebrity ever known to learn the most important lessons of life. Selah!

The Church of Jesus Christ – That’s Us!

“You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, O Lord, have become their God. “ (2 Samuel 7:24)

I had two thoughts when reading this verse, one coming very quickly after the other. The first was that any church or denomination name could be substituted for the word “Israel” – try it out, and say it/think it really, truly, deeply. Then live out that reality. And encourage the brothers and sisters in your faith circle to believe it and live it out also. The other and second thought is that you do not have to be part of a group – God “establishes” individuals as well. Now, think or say this verse putting your own name in, meaning it really, truly, deeply. I’ll go first: “You have established Carole as your very own forever, and you, O Lord, have become her God.”

This verse is from the passage in 2 Samuel where King David had made the decision to build a house of worship for God. But through the prophet Nathan God told King David not to build a house for the Lord, but that the Lord would build a royal house for him and his descendents. And King David is overwhelmed. He thanks God for the Lord’s blessings to him, and the chapter ends with a prayer that I would like to leave you with, with some modifications and adaptions that reflect where we are in this life now.

“O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, God of Israel, I/[we] have been bold enough to pray this prayer to you because you have revealed all this to your servant[s], saying, ‘I will build a house for you—a dynasty of kings! [or believers]’ For you are God, O Sovereign Lord. Your words are truth, and you have promised these good things to your servant. And now, may it please you to bless the house[s] of your servant[s], so that it may continue forever before you. For you have spoken, and when you grant a blessing to your servant[s], O Sovereign Lord, it is an eternal blessing!” Selah!

The Church of Jesus Christ – The “λαόςs” [laos]

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2: 9-10 )

While I am not a world traveler, I have traveled around enough to visit places that were hardly big enough to merit the word “village”, much less a town or city. They have such picturesque descriptions as a combination gas station/grocery story/post office/ town hall. There is a place near here (Eugene, OR) called Cedar Flats which is just the name of a collection of houses and a gas station that does not even merit a post office or anything else. But to a bunch of someones (a small bunch) it is home.

Such is it when taking about groups of people. The writer of 1 Peter says that at one time these believers were simply people living out their lives with no sense of a past and no hope of a real future (okay, I am taking some poetic license to prove a point). But now they have a sense of purpose and a reason to live beyond themselves. They are a “called people” who have been invited by God to be a part of the Divine’s work in the world. And there is no better or higher calling.

It is in the “Commentary” section of the Confession that we find the reference to this verse and comments on the meaning in and behind the verses; “New Testament references to the church as God’s people (1 Pet. 2:10) show that the early church depended on the Old Testament for much of its self-understanding (Exodus 7:6; 2 Samuel 7:24). As in Old Testament times, the New Testament people of God see themselves as a covenant community, relying on God’s promise of steadfast love and sustaining mercy. They are “a chosen race, a holy nation, God’s own people”.

The beauty is, as God’s people, they can be God’s people wherever they are. It is not a geographical designation , but an identity that they can claim anywhere and anytime. In fact it goes beyond location and time to include generations in the past and generations to come. We never need be alone again. Consider the isolation of small towns where nothing changes. For some that could be a terrible way to live. For others the bigness of cities and metropolitans is frighting and completely undesirable. But being a part of God’s people means that we always have a place to call home and people who will welcome us into their hearts and their lives.

It is my hope and prayer gentle reader that you have people to call your own who will support you as God calls all of you out into the Lord’s missional work. Selah!

The Church of Jesus Christ – Both earthly and heavenly

“Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”     (Matthew 28:18)

As Jesus’ ministry on earth drew to a close in the book of Matthew, Jesus called is disciples out to a mountain in Galilee. There Jesus speaks to his disciples through human voice one last time. In this passage is also the “Great Commission” which is to spread the news of Christ to all people.

There are several denominational/theological perspectives of what the church is based on. Mennonites believe that the church is both a component of earthly life – a gathering of believers who support each other, speak of their faith, model Christian living, and further God’s mission in the world. And a component of heavenly life – that God’s rule of love is supreme and all that entails. The Confession says, “But the church is more than a human organization. The church depends on God for its very being and life. Its foundation is Jesus Christ. It relies constantly on the Holy Spirit.”

Being human, the church is not perfect. Being heavenly, the church tries to model itself on the perfection of heaven. Caught between the two, it can be a muddled mess. How you ask? Each person or group has his/her/its own idea of what the perfect church should. And because we have only the records that are left behind of the apostle who were with Jesus, we try to interpret them as best we can. It would be easier – far easier – if Jesus had left a definitive instruction manual. Some say that is what the bible is. But we know that the bible was written in stages and phases, and not the absolute that some hope it is.

We pray, “on earth, as in heaven” but we do not know for absolute how it is done in heaven either. So, we muddle along. I rather favor the muddle actually; it allows churches to include a wider diversity of people. If we had enough churches that were varied enough that each person could find a “church home”, that might be pretty close to heaven. But because we squabble, argue, and fight about how church should be done, we are firmly planted on the earth.

Christ begat the church, sending his disciples to all people. Let us not cut and carve that work by excluding people and disallowing authentic Spirit-based churches. May you gentle reader savor your church home, and nurture and encourage church homes for others. Selah!

The Church of Jesus Christ – Making a home for angels

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Of all the types of people that I know, the ones most likely to be angels are young children. You can look a child in the eye and just know if they are a “little hellion” or an “angel.” Of course all parents think their children are angels, but being a parent myself I know that it is not always true. But still, you should not treat a child with anything but compassion and care. Because you do not know if that “impish” grin is masking a true innocent.

Now it is true that angels can also come in adult form. Although, I have never met an adult that I thought was an actual angel. I have known good people who rise above the average, but in those cases I know them well enough to know they are not messengers from the Divine. If you treat all the adult you meet with consistent care and compassion, I do not think you need to be watchful that they are angels. But I would also encourage you to treat children with extra special care. And the reason for it is this; any adult who is an actual angel will see the extra care and concern you give to children. And if the child is an angel, then you have already done what is needed!

You may think I am making light of this, but I am very serious. Too often in our society we do not pay much heed to those who are small and/or marginalized. The point of this verse to make sure you treat the most unassuming and unlikely of people well. And who is more unassuming and unlikely than a child? If you train yourself to see the little children, you will also become aware of others how are small and easy not to notice. So notice people; all kinds of people actually. But smile a child. Take the time to insure they are happy and well cared for. It will lift their spirits as well as you. And any angels around will see your efforts and smile to.

May you gentle reader notice those people who are needy of notice. Selah!

The Church of Jesus Christ: A joyful, patient, and faithful community

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12: 11-13)

I have never attended church halfheartedly – at not since I have been an adult. For the “requisite” amount of time by adolescent rebellion I declined to go to church, but other than that my church attendance has been with enthusiasm. There have been periods in my life when I have not been able to attend church, but never has my appreciation for church dimmed.

Whether by happenstance or deliberate church, I seem to move quickly from a “pew-sitter” to being involved in some sort of organization or facet of the church. One task that I have done at several churches is contribute to the church publications. As I write this I am remembering that at one church I wrote a series on the weeks leading up to Easter – or was it Christmas? At two others I had an ongoing column in the church newsletters. (This is what gave me the courage to propose myself as a columnist on Third Way Cafe, and led to this blog.) Another task at two of the churches I have attended was designing the visual displays at the front of the church. At two churches I taught an Adult Sunday School class and at one of those also a children’s church time class. At another I was a frequent worship leader and worship planner. As a young parent I also did my time in the children’s nursery of two churches. And I have served on numerous committees.

I have had times of great zeal and felt a level of spiritual fervor that spurred me on to serve the Lord and my fellow believers. I have felt and encouraged hope, struggled through my own afflictions and supported others as they have felt their own, and have prayed both for and with my fellow believers. And in all things, I have shared what I have to give.

It seems to me these three words – joyful, patient, and faithful – describe perfectly what the church of Jesus Christ should be like. Not everything will be joyful, and you need to be patient as things work themselves out. But if you are patient and faithful, the joy will come and in unexpected ways. And the memory of that joy will carry you and your fellow believers through those times of affliction, and help you be patient.

Never be lacking in zeal, gentle reader. Be excited for the church and the people you worship with. While I was growing up, I was fortunate to grow up in a church that had deep roots in the community, and to live close by those who went to the same church I did. There is a special blessing to go to school and play with those you also sit with at church. For a child it is a reminder that faith is not just for Sundays, but for every day of the week too.

May you gentle reader know the blessing of being in close community with your fellow believers. I wish you joy, patience, and faithfulness each day. Selah!