Saturday, April 23, 2005


Tonight begins Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. I have just led a seder for the members of my church and it was a good evening to celebrate past deliverance from slavery and today's deliverance from sin.

Coming home I revisted an earlier post of mine that celebrated this season. On re-reading it, I found that I liked it more than the day I originally wrote it. Here is the link to DAYENU

Thursday, April 21, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 19

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

A Parenthesis on Maturity

To me it looks like the Writer began his treatise on Jesus and Melchizedek and then realized how hard it was going to be for his readers to understand what he was saying. As soon as he introduces the topic, he drops it in order to exhort his readers about their spiritual life. He then picks up the Jesus/Melchizedek theme again.

Here is how he begins this side trail:

And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:9-14, NASB 95)

"Concerning him we have much to say..." With these words, the Writer exits his thoughts on the high priesthood of Jesus and addresses a problem with his audience, "you have become dull of hearing." The rebuke assumes an earlier state when his readers were not dull of hearing, "you have need again for someone to teach you." He illustrates his point with a picture of someone who has returned to a liquid diet, because he can no longer tolerate solids. His hearers have caught a spiritual disease and must be brought back to health.

His diagnosis is one of my favorite personal mediations, "For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness." By this, the Writer defines solid spiritual food as that which produces maturity and righteous living. The word that is milk relates to faith, salvation, God's love and mercy: All the things that are pleasant to our ears and go down easy. Solid food is what inspires us and leads us to become diligent disciples of Jesus Christ.

I especially like what the Writer says next, "But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil." From this I deduce the following practical characteristics of the maturing Christian:

  • He makes mistakes. That is what is meant by practice. You read the scriptures, meditate on them, and then apply them to situations. Then he examines the outcomes. Were they what he expected? Having come through the experience, were there other principles that would have been better to apply?
  • Study, mediation, practice, and learning from mistakes produces an innate wisdom. That is what the Writer means by "trained senses." Over time you get a feel for what is right or wrong about the things that come up in life.
  • The goal is discernment. We Christians love to talk about "absolute truth." The usual way we bandy about this term is that there is an absolutely correct answer and response to every event in life. We usually mean that life can be lived by a set of clearly spelled out rules. Such a notion works fine when there is a clear choice between a good and an evil. Discernment is needed when their is a choice between 2 evils or 2 conflicting goods. Let me illustrate. Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place contains an incident in which a Dutch family hides a young Jewish girl who had blond hair and blue eyes. Because of her appearance the girl lived openly with the family. One day a German soldier entered the house, pointed to the girl, and asked directly, "Is she a Jew?" Put yourself there. You are caught between two principles of good: 1. Tell the truth and 2. Protect an innocent life. Which do you choose? Rather than speak of "absolute truth" we should speak of "objective values" against the "subjective values" of relativism. Through practice we can discern which among several objective values best fit the situation at hand.

The Writer is not yet done with this side topic. I will have more to say about this next time.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 18

To start at the beginning, click here.

A Better Priest than Aaron

In the first section of Hebrews, the Writer measured the Son against all previous messengers ("angels") and found the Son far superior. Because of this superiority, we need to pay greater attention to His message.

In the next section, he measured the Son against Moses and found the Son superior. Consequently, it is important all the more to not harden our hearts in the manner of those who first heard Moses. Moses led God's people to promised land. Jesus brings us to the very Sabbath rest of God.

Now the Writer measures the Son against the priesthood:

For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.

And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him,

You are My Son, Today I have begotten You;

just as He says also in another passage,

You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:1-10, NASB 95)

This is a clever and important bit of introductory work on the part of the Writer. The Jewish priesthood consists very specifically of the descendants of Aaron. It is a Biblical position that carries on to this day in the synagogues. Jews who have last names like Cohen--from the Hebrew COHAIN meaning "priest"-- are known to be descendants of Aaron and have special status.

But Jesus is not a descendant of Aaron. He is, rather, of the tribe of Judah. He has claims to be Israel's king, but no claim to be her priest. Society was setup on a very strict separation of the two. But the Writer of Hebrews has the goal of lifting the Son above all important institutions of Judaism. He connects Psalm 2 that connects the Son to the throne and he then quotes psalm 110 that connects the throne with a different priestly order--and the Son becomes the Priest-King.

It is clear that the designation of priest came after Jesus' death and resurrection--and it is also clear that this priesthood is forever.

So over the next lessons, I will explore the ways and means of this new priesthood.

Test everything, cling to what is good.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Star Trek--Star Gate--Timeline and Evidence for the Soul

I am not doing Hebrews today. In part, this is because I slept in. However, that is just an excuse to take a break and write on a more off-the-wall topic.

I am a fan of science fiction. Such literary taste is somewhat rare in Christian circles, I think, because a lot of science fiction incorporates, directly or indirectly, Humanist thought. It is not the genre you read to find out the state of Christendom in 100 years. For the most part, religion is not mentioned. On the other hand, it is a great vehicle to see what persists when an atheist puts thoughts to pen and writes about the ideal world of the future, or intriguing possibilities in the present.

I have found that science fiction authors find that it is impossible to escape the idea of a superior being who kindly watches over the affairs of mankind. Take, for instance, the "Foundation" series by Isaac Asimov. Isaac Asimov was a president of the American Humanist Association and, before his death, an avowed atheist. Yet his foundation series contains humans with miraculous powers and culminates in a single robot named, Daneel, who has been watching over and protecting the development of humanity. To me this series revealed a man who, in denying the actual reality of the Living God, needed to invent a substitute--something greater and wiser than mankind.

Which brings me to relate some fictitious technology in three popular science fiction motion pictures. I am refering to Star Trek's Transporter, Star Gate's Wormhole, and Timeline's Quantum Foam. Each of these technologies are based on the destruction of the original body and its recreation on the other end. In watching these programs, we take it at face value that the Captain Kirk on the Enterprise is the same Captain Kirk on the planet. The Micahel Jackson at Star Gate command is the same Michael Jackson emerging on Abydos. The Professor in Timeline who sends a call for help from the past is that self-same professor.

Such technology requires that there be a soul. The issue is, for the greater part, never even raised or discussed. To its credit, the movie Timeline, briefly dealt with the implications when one of the archaeologists refused to make the trip because his current body would be destroyed. I find the idea amusing, because many of the authors of these stories would deny the soul's existence--the concept sneaks in like a trojan horse able to get past their atheistic defenses and ultimately hold them accountable to truths they never quite wanted to acknowledge.

To see what I am saying, I must ask you to pause before the wormhole. If there is no soul, the body, which represents you in totality, is about to be obliterated. To be sure, a copy of you will appear on the other side--and to everybody else it will be you. And because of reconstructed memories, that copy will have all the memories to feel like you. The "being" in front of the wormhole, however, will be no more. Without a soul that represents "you" apart from the body, the wormhole represents your death--you will cease and a separate and distinct copy of you will live until it ceases to be and a third copy emerges back at Stargate command. So standing before this device, do "you" want to step through--or do "you" want to go get dinner?

The point that I am trying to make is that the "fact" of our soul is so fundamental to who we are that those who would deny the soul completely depend on its being there to make sense of their fictitious world. It is so fundamental that it is unquestioned.

On the other hand, Christianity acknowledges that our being is separate from the body. We all look forward to the resurrection from the dead. In the meantime, our bodies will have completely decayed and gone the way of bug and plant food. And yet, we understand that we go on and will one day animate a new body. We do not doubt that it will be us.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.