Showing posts with label Hebrews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hebrews. Show all posts

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Broken Window Sins

All sins create distance between man and God.

Still, even before the sun rises tomorrow, the proud man can stick a pin in his swollen ego; the narcissist can begin to learn empathy; the drunkard can put the bottle down before his liver finally packs it in; the liar can start telling the truth; and the thief can commit himself to making his victims whole. John the Baptist taught wholesale, on-the-spot lifestyle modification to all he baptized. When you just stop doing certain things and start doing the opposite, all kinds of wonderful stuff can happen.

Then there are the “broken window” sins.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Anonymous Asks (263)

“What does ‘despising the shame’ mean?”

Hebrews 12:2 calls Jesus “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God”. I always love verses that talk about Jesus being exalted to the Father’s right hand. That’s our security as believers: the Father’s pleasure in the finished work of his Son. Every demonstration of that is a confirmation that we are loved and protected, and that the penalty for our sins will never come back to haunt us.

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Servants and Sons

“Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.”

Servants and sons operate on different levels, says the writer to the Hebrews. Two differences right there in this single verse. First, Moses the servant was, Christ the Son is; that is to say the Son still being faithful when the servant has long ceased from service. Second, Moses the servant was in the house, Christ the Son is over it. Those are different spheres of responsibility.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

An Islamic Court Finally Gets Something Right

Malaysia’s top court has ruled that non-Muslims can no longer use the word “Allah” when referring to God. This despite the long-standing trend of Christians and other groups using the same name to refer to God in scriptures, prayers, songs and normal conversation.

The word isn’t a local Malay one, but rather a borrowing from Arabic. However, some Malaysians have no other word in their current vocabulary to refer to the Supreme Being. But apparently the two-thirds of the Malaysian population that profess Islam are now going to have exclusive use. Authorities worry that failure to distinguish Allah as a unique understanding of Divinity could result in confusion and lead people to be converted away from their religion. So they’ve legislated away the confusion.

Sounds about right to me.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Failure to Launch

Stock characters are those fictional roles we recognize instantly: you know, the incompetent police officer, the clueless secretary, the crooked lawyer, the rebellious teen, the uptight schoolmarm … and so on. You see them on TV all the time.

There’s a new one going around lately: the adult child. This is the mid-twenties son or daughter who still lives in his parents’ basement, having his meals cooked and his laundry done for him, blithely confident that the world outside — the world of careers, responsibilities and independence — is overrated. His harried, weary parents pray for him to move out and make his way in the world or for some nice girl to come and snap him up. But he knows very well that for now he has it good. Being too old for his parents to control but too needy for them to abandon, he is free to devote his time and assets to playing video games, going to clubs, flirting with girls and hanging out at the beach. A periodic trip to the employment office is all that is necessary to convince his parents of his helplessness.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Trampling the Birthright: Hebrews 12

The book of Hebrews was written to Hebrews. We need to understand it in that light.

Following the display of Pentecost, many Hebrews believed or professed to do so. In the light of that, the writer says in Hebrews 10, “Recall the former days” — for now a number of years had passed since that time — “when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”

These Hebrews had suffered a great deal.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Neglected Salvation

“How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”

The “great salvation” spoken of in Hebrews provokes a variety of reactions. Some who hear it are offended by the message itself. After all, it tells them the very best they can do in this life is of no account to God, and that there is no way to approach the Infinite on anything but his own terms, which turn out to revolve around glorifying a Jewish carpenter rejected and murdered by the world of his day.

You can understand why people might initially find that proposition makes them grind their teeth. It seems like nonsense to them.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Anonymous Asks (206)

“Are Christians obligated to attend every meeting of the local church?”

The way you instinctively feel about this question will likely depend on the type of church you attend. Christians in a declining work that is still trying to run all the programs it did when the meetings were better attended often put pressure on one another to get more involved and to fill the empty shoes of the departed with any fresh body they can draft into service. On the other hand, a highly organized institutional church may be paying people to fill those roles, with the result that Christians can easily come and go from church as they please without feeling that their presence at any particular meeting makes much difference to anyone else.

Of course, the more important question is What does the Lord think?

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Acts of Faith That Aren’t

Some things in my life that might look like faith to the uninitiated are really just me being me.

I’m not alone in this. Like many other Old Testament saints, Jacob’s faith rates a mention in Hebrews 11. But it’s interesting to see the act of faith for which he is commended, and to consider the many acts for which he is not.

It would, of course, be foolish to think the Hebrews list of acts of faith is exhaustive: the writer concludes with the words “time would fail me to tell”, which statement strongly implies numerous acts of faith left unmentioned among which may well be a number of Jacob’s.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Happy Accidents

My college painting teacher had a name for improbable color choices or brushstroke combinations that gave a pleasing and unexpectedly-mature aesthetic to student-level work.

He called them “happy accidents”.

Most often he was correct. Sometimes things happen at random that just work.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Does the Church Really Have to be Israel?

A recent YouTube video from Australian pastor Matt Littlefield is introduced with this statement:

“Since the middle of the 19th century there has been a large movement in the Church to make a distinction between Israel and the Church, as two separate peoples. This distinction is unbiblical. The Church has to be Israel, otherwise the New Testament makes no sense.”

Can we amend this to “makes no sense to me”? Those are two very different claims.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Bible Study 08 — Context [Part 2]

Another instalment in the re-presentation of our 2013-2014 series about studying the Bible using methods deduced from the Bible itself. The series introduction can be found here.

The second Bible study tool we are discussing is context. For justification, see the previous post on this subject.


It should come as no great surprise that the Bible is full of quotations, most of which are from some other book of the Bible. New Testament writers especially tend to reinforce their points with quotations from the Old.

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Command Performance

I’ve been thinking about the commandments.

People say that in the Old Testament, God is full of these things. Rabbis claim there are 613 of them, as a matter of fact — an odd number, to be sure. Why should God have an opinion on these particular items? Why not 614? Why not fewer?

And the nature of the commandments — everything from killing each other, to what people eat, to how they wash, to how they match their fabrics … and still the list is not exhaustive, for it leaves many aspects of life totally unmentioned and spends what we might deem far too much time on others.

Why does God care about all these particulars?

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Fearful Expectation of Judgment

“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

What does it mean to “go on sinning deliberately”? That’s a very important question. Our sense of security in Christ and our enjoyment of the experience of following him in this world depend on how we answer it.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

An Unnecessary Insertion?

In Matthew, the Father declares that he is “well pleased” with the Son three times.

“Three?” you say. “I can think of two.”

Sure: the baptism of the Lord Jesus and his transfiguration. But there is a third reference to the Father’s pleasure in the Son found in Matthew 12. It’s a familiar quote from the book of Isaiah.

“Oh, a quote. That’s kind of cheating.”

Thursday, October 22, 2020

What You Don’t Know Can Kill You

He was a walking nightmare — tall, balding, all angles-and-bones, a vulture of a man. His beady eyes peered out predaciously over his hawk-like nose, and his battered tweed jacket emanated chalk dust clouds as he strode up and down the aisles. We students cowered in fear, praying he would not ask us the next question. Chances are we couldn’t answer it.

Hey, chances are we couldn’t even understand it, so high over our heads was his vocabulary.

But cowering would not save us. He would pick someone at random. “You,” he would say. “What does ‘ephemeral’ mean?” His respondent would not know. He would repeat the question, stepping closer to the cringing child. No answer.

He would persist: “Don’t you have a dictionary? … Can’t you ask anyone?”


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Marching to Where?

I’m a bit cautious about the practice of grabbing verses out of the Old Testament and some parts of the gospels for the benefit of Christians living in the Church Age.

Notwithstanding the fact that there is centuries of historical precedent for appropriating Israel’s promises to ourselves in hymnology and liturgical language, this practice is quite unnecessary: the church has its own unique place and promises in the plans of God.

Generally speaking, when we replace our own promises with those made to national Israel, we are trading down.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Your Church Building is NOT the House of God

I’m hearing it all the time now in public prayer: “We thank you, Father that we are able to freely gather in the house of God” and other similar thoughts, where the words “house of God” are unquestionably being used to describe the building in which we are sitting.

A similar misconception is given voice by people who insist upon referring to the auditorium in which a church meets as a “sanctuary”, as in (from mother to child), “Don’t run in the sanctuary! Don’t make noise in the sanctuary!”

These are not new Christians. It makes me wonder if they really know what the house of God is or what the term sanctuary means. I think in many cases they do, but have through inattention lapsed into language that is potentially misleading.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Good Applications and Bad Ones

Billy Graham noted that the character of our loved ones, friends, and acquaintances may change. Jesus does not.

TL Osborn says that because Jesus Christ does not change, you can count on being healed from sickness, just as he healed the sick in the first century.

A commenter at Christian Forums says the fact that Jesus Christ never changes means dispensationalism is false teaching.

We all agree that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” However, it is evident we do not all agree about precisely what that means.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Stating the Obvious

When you make a life-long habit out of reading other people’s mail, strange things tend to become commonplace.

I should probably unpack that a bit.

I’m enjoying the book of Hebrews once again, as I make my way through the New Testament in my morning reading. But the problem with having been acquainted with the scriptures since before I could read them for myself (and it’s not the worst problem in the world to have) is that arguments which should puzzle any modern, thinking, Gentile reader seem perfectly normal to me. My familiarity with the passage makes it difficult for me to be surprised by it, though it should surely surprise me.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Purpose of the Sacrifices [Part 5]

Continuing an examination of the sacrifices of the Old Testament. We started with what the sacrifices WERE NOT and are now examining what they WERE.

In my last post we examined the way in which the sacrifices served the very practical purpose of providing food for God’s servants and their families.

What other purposes did the sacrifices serve?

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

The Search for Faith

“[W]hen the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

The answer to this question matters. God loves faith, not least because it is faith that produces every work which pleases him.

Hebrews 11 catalogs a variety of wonderful things faith does in the lives of believers, all of which delight the heart of God.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Christ Where He Doesn’t Belong

Back in the days when my brothers and I were happily misbehaving in the back row of open Sunday School, we quickly learned how to answer questions for treats. Like performing seals, we tried to outdo one another for a pencil, badge or snack.

Horrible, really, when you think about it.

The idea was that when the superintendent asked a question, the kid who got his or her hand up first won the prize, which naturally encouraged all kinds of cheating. The most effective way to cheat was to stab your arm up into the stratosphere long before the question was finished, and sometimes before it started. The downside was that you really didn’t have a clue what you were supposed to be responding to.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Command Performance

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Anonymous Asks (48)

“Why doesn’t God interact with us today the way he did over the periods covered in the Bible?”

It is important to notice that God did not always interact with men and women in exactly the same way over the periods covered in the Old and New Testaments. In fact, he revealed himself at many different times and in many different ways. There were also long periods in between these self-revelations — sometimes ten generations or more — during which God appears to have been silent, and no new word from heaven was forthcoming.

All the same, I think we have a good idea what’s being asked here, and that is this: Why does it appear there is no longer any absolutely categorical, personal, undeniable, back-and-forth interaction with God available to us?

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Semi-Random Musings (12)

I cannot say what the process of becoming honest is like for the occasional white-liar, but people who practice deceit definitely have great difficulty quitting.

I have probably detailed in some post or other my own experience of giving up the practice of lying cold-turkey by forcing myself to publicly confess every single new falsehood I uttered, and doing so the moment the words left my lips. It involved a level of red-faced humiliation and personal exposure I was very much unused to. Rarely was a confession received in quite the way I expected.

I suppose all bad habits are hard to break.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Why Do Christians Disagree?

Religious skeptics, along with many sincere believers young and old, find the lack of agreement among Christians to be a most perplexing and off-putting fact.

Denominationalism is only one manifestation of its reality. Within virtually all denominations we can find numerous ‘minor’ convictions still considered significant enough by their proponents to justify breaches of fellowship with those who hold different views, amicably or otherwise.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Anonymous Asks (22)

“What if I have doubts about my faith? What should I do?”

I’m going to try to answer this in a very general way, since you don’t specify any particular issue that is troubling you.

I like to think of faith as that not-quite-quantifiable thing that bridges the gap between the evidence I already have in front of me and my will to act on that evidence. That’s not a theological definition, but it works for me. Properly understood, the biblical definition, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” seems to me to amount to much the same thing.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Inbox: Thoughts in Progress (2)

God has dealt differently with mankind during different eras of human history. That is not disputable. It is evident to anyone who reads the Bible with anything more than cursory attention.

How we think about this truth is not one of those issues too heady and esoteric for anything but the rarefied atmosphere of a roomful of full-time theologians. It determines how the average believer reads the Old Testament, how he uses it, and the place he gives to it in the Christian life. It may affect how he thinks about the nation of Israel. It molds his expectations about the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ. It certainly impacts how we read the Sermon on the Mount.

And it does all these things and others to us even if we have not consciously developed our theology with respect to the various periods of human history.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

An Islamic Court Finally Gets Something Right

 The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Failure to Launch

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Breaks in the Pattern

I was talking to my son the other morning about the parts of the Bible that are hard to wade through. You know, the repetitive bits, or the ones that contain such an excess of specific detail that they should by all rights be of interest to few people other than architects and historians.

The chapters you find yourself skimming rather than reading carefully.

I reminded him that while “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable …” it is not all equally profitable. It is also not all equally relevant to your current circumstances or mine.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Broken Window Sins

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Right Place, Wrong Way

Christendom is full of people getting to the right place the wrong way.

“Well, that’s a good thing,” we might say. “The important thing is that we get there, right?”

That’s certainly true. Correct conclusions matter. They affect what we do and how we live. But how we arrive at them is often just as important.

In his new book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Dr. Jordan Peterson gets to a pretty good place by examining dominance hierarchies in lobsters. No, I’m not kidding.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

What You Don’t Know Can Kill You

 The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

There Is No ‘Plan B’

I have a friend who regularly sends me emails full of ‘Christian’ content, mostly the type of cookie-cutter platitudes and cheesy, sentimental anecdotes popular on social media. One or two have actually been pretty decent. I have no idea where he finds them all.

I assume he sends them my way because he knows I’m a Christian and expects that they’d be of interest to me in the same way that, say, NHL trade rumours interest a hockey fan, or an article on Jeff Tweedy may interest a fan of the band Wilco. It’s a nice gesture on his part.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (4)

A commenter at Christian Forums attempts to refute the Dispensational view of the Bible. Leimeng says:

“Much of Dispensationalism is a false teaching in the same way that calvinism, arminianism and pelegarianism are. The Bible clearly states that God is not a God of Changes, and that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

The statement that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever comes word-for-word from the book of Hebrews, but I don’t believe it means at all what Leimeng claims it means.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

When to Stop

Scientists who subscribe to the the Big Bang Theory seem compelled to seek out some earlier cause for each event in their chain. Everything happens, they reason, because something else happened first. So, for instance, this astronomer argues that the “highly concentrated ball of matter” from which the universe is supposed to have begun was the product of decaying photons.

We might try to frame this sort of argument in the language of the book of Hebrews by saying this: something “visible” (in this example, light) eventually gave rise to “what is seen” (in this case, matter).

But obviously the writer of Hebrews would disagree with that formulation.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Private Interpretation

I believe all scripture is breathed out by God. That’s not a new idea and it won’t shock anyone here. Holding and maintaining that view of the Bible is one of the marks of orthodoxy going back to the first century.

I’ve been enjoying the book of Job recently, every word of it God-breathed and profitable. But that does NOT mean every word of it is correct.

No, really.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Too Big to Fail

My morning walk/prayer reverie was disrupted by the sight of a bumper sticker that read like so:

“God is too big to fit inside one religion.”

Interesting. On the surface it sounds like a compliment — this guy has a big god. Big is good, right?

Well, yes and no.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Race Metaphor

Yesterday I talked a little bit about images and figurative language in scripture. I think sometimes we can end up reading more into a Bible metaphor or simile than the Spirit of God ever intended. Or we get caught up in the details of the picture itself and fail to grasp the spiritual reality it is meant to depict.

The writer to the Hebrews talks about running a race:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us …”

Here the writer and his original Hebrew audience (that’s the “we”; the rest of us are simply reading someone else’s mail) are compared to men and women running a race. We do well to ask ourselves two questions. Firstly, what is this “race” that is to be run? Secondly, what are the specific intended points of agreement between running and whatever it is this “race” is intended to typify?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Acts of Faith That Aren’t

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Too Clever For Our Own Good

“And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?”

There is tremendous irony in Paul’s statement here that he is “accused by Jews” over his belief in resurrection.

Jews, who claimed the Law of Moses as their inheritance and the prophets as their own. Jews, who claimed there was one God and that he belonged to them exclusively. Jews, who claimed to believe in YHWH but many of whom balked at the concept of resurrection. To be accused by Greeks, Romans, Syrians or Asians, sure: their gods were not like YHWH, much less powerful and more human in their interpersonal dynamics.

But accused by Jews for hoping in resurrection? There’s cognitive dissonance for you!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Commentariat Speaks (8)

TechCrunch editor John Biggs mourns the fact that social media is no longer a place where you can air an opinion without fear of adverse consequences:

“Our errant Twitter thoughts can make us targets and we often don’t know we’re being watched. A prominent writer and friend recently mused about what would happen if he posted some political rants. The first thing that leapt to his readers’ minds was the potential for SWATing and doxing and then a visit from the FBI. Then, as evidenced by the above CEO example, you get fired.

Social media has become a very real, very visceral, and very censorial force and it can now only worsen the human condition.”

Now, none of this is news. Ironically, it’s John Biggs’ fellow Democrat voters who fired the opening salvos in the online equivalent of the nuclear arms race.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Just Play the Hits

Bear with me. This is trivial. And then maybe it isn’t.

Last night I dreamed I drove down a long, winding highway in the dark to a great lodge, festively lit. Upon parking, I was greeted deferentially and shown to a huge stage with sound, lights and seating for thousands. People with tickets and drinks in hand were gradually being seated, talking among themselves. A crew was wiring up mics and amplifiers, a sound man was testing levels. A buzz was in the air.

I looked at my watch: it was 7:25. My host said, “You’re on at eight.”

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Command Performance

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Lie from the Pits of Hell

Is it Rachab or Rahab? Well, it depends on your English translation of the New Testament, doesn’t it.

For some people, translations are a reason to get into a major snit. For example, this nice Jewish fellow says:

“The common teaching in churches is that Rahab the Harlot is listed in the genealogy of the Messiah. That is a lie from the pits of hell.”

From the pits of hell. Okay, then; that’s pretty serious. Let’s capitalize the word “harlot” too, just so nobody ever forgets where Rahab came from.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Inbox: Booking It

In connection with the episode in Exodus 32 where God says, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book,” WD wonders, “What about those who repented (if any did)?”

Good question. I think this might be the first mention of such a heavenly “book” in scripture (assuming we take the reference literally), but similar language comes up in other places more than once. The Hebrew in Exodus is çêpher, an umbrella term for all kinds of written decrees, long and short, variously translated “book”, “letter”, “scroll” or “evidence”. The sense of the word is not merely a communication but a communication that has legal force.

That part we can all agree on. Don’t worry, it won’t last ...

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Higher Learning

The martyrdom of John Lambert came up in discussion with my fellow blogger IC last week. Lambert was burned at the stake in 1538 for refusing to retract his objection to the doctrine of transubstantiation. As he died, Lambert is reported to have cried out over and over again, “None but Christ! None but Christ!”

Subsequent to our conversation, IC sent me a link to a video clip of an episode from the otherwise-execrable TV series The Tudors, in which John Lambert meets his end. Interestingly, the show’s producers opted to change Lambert’s dying statement to “All for Christ! All for Christ!”

So what? Such minor tweaking of dialogue takes place all the time in the process of bringing real stories to big and small screens alike. It’s still a powerful scene, and the viewer’s sympathies are fully with Lambert, which is presumably the writers’ intent.

Still, there is a difference in meaning, and I think it’s one worth noting.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Sincerest Form

Imitation ... or caricature?
My uncle, having lived in England all his life, has an accent. It is strong and distinctive.

On occasion, my brother deliberately imitates him to humorous effect. You might think his version of my uncle exaggerated until you hear the real thing, when it becomes clear my brother’s homage may well not go far enough. Other times, in conversation with my uncle, one or another of his Canadian relatives finds himself unconsciously picking up and mimicking my uncle’s speech patterns.

Imitation may be conscious or unconscious, but it is always an action (as opposed to a state of mind). It is something you have to DO. Thinking about imitating someone is not imitation.