That's the Book: Hebrews
A couple of days ago I took a walk, grabbed my gear and parked myself at a favorite view. I sat and painted and pondered Hebrews. I've noticed some parallel lines.
The book of Hebrews is a visual book. It draws pictures of how Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mirror the heavenly reality. Hebrews spends a lot of time explaining how the temple, priesthood and sacrifices on earth are shadow copies of the more real ones in heaven. The things on Earth, while temporary, are important because they mirror the permanent ones. The forms help us understand our situation and our need for salvation. Hebrews then details how Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the sacrificial system which gives him the authority and position to act as high priest for our relationship with the Father.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain that is his body, and since we have a great priest over the houses of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10: 19-23.
Art mimics reality. Or reflects reality. Or it tells us something about truth we didn’t notice previously. In the same way, the temple reflected the real truth. When people get obsessed with rules, or the church’s structure or the legalism of a religious order they are forgetting that those symbols only reflect. They should point us to the real eternal truth. The symbols aren’t the valuable things themselves. And art, while lovely, doesn’t reflect perfectly. Especially for an artist in training.
However. Jesus himself reflects God perfectly.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and though who also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right had of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. Hebrews 1:1-4
Hebrews is calling us to live lives that reflect the glory of God. And faith -while not flawless- is strong enough to carry us to the finish line where it will be perfected.
Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case - the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. Hebrews 6: 9-12
And then we come to one of the best sections in the entire New Testament. Hebrews chapters 11 and 12. If you feel like quitting these are the verses to read. Read them out loud to your weary soul. Shout these promises. Write them on walls. I promise God will strengthen your resolve, steady your quacking limbs and put some starch in your spine.
Chapter 11 summarizes the stories of the Old Testament and calls us to notice how these people of faith did great actions and stood for truth in the midst of hardship by holding fast to the promises of God.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that her rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6
The end of chapter 11 is a great reminder we are not alone in any sort of suffering. The stories in the Bible include torture, flogging, chains, stoning, persecution and mistreatment. The world was not worthy of them.
Then chapter 12! The author calls you to apply the lesson to your own life.
THEREFORE, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes onJesus, the pioneer and perfecto of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12 1-3
I’ve been trying to learn how to draw trees for years. Finally can do a passable fir tree. But my leafy trees still look like green blobs. Kinda like a large green stuffed garbage bag. Not a tree. So earlier this week I saw a post Jini77 had put on an urban sketchers Facebook page. I decided to try and copy it. Perhaps my hand and eye would crack the code to the elusive deciduous tree. So I penciled in a simliar study. Inked and water colored. And while not nearly as nice as the original artist - I think my trees look more like trees than garbage sacks. Yay for progress.
When I looked around and mimicked someone who had it down I did better in my own art. And this is what chapter 11 and chapter 12 are saying. Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Not perfect people. But faithful souls who were reflecting the deep truth of God. Since we can see their lives let’s run like them. Not because they are worthy but because they reflect God so well.
I fussed over this painting. I second guessed the color. I enjoyed the time outside and wasn’t at all crashing on myself but I also wasn’t ready to post it anywhere. I had it laying on my desk at work while I pondered how art reflects what is good. And my friend came up and said she loved it. Said it was great. Said she wanted to hang it up.
See - when our lives reflect Christ we don’t have to second guess everything or over criticize. We can be a mess and slip frequently and still the reflection is what reminds people of truth. And so its worth painting. And running our race well.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled but rather healed. Hebrews 12:11-13
If I fall and get back up people around me gain more courage to get back up. When I quit their load is heavier. When you stay the course - you become a part of the great cloud of witnesses that tells others to keep their eyes focused on heaven and their feet on the narrow path. Keep on my friends. This dark time is not the end of the story. Don’t let your light go out. Don’t buy into the lie that its too hard. Too much. Too late.
I believe in Christ and His ability to carry you.
Therefore, since we have a great hight 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 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. h=Hebrews 4:14-16
Hebrews is a loud cry into the battle field to the other believers to NOT GIVE UP.
But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Hebrews 10:39
Jesus is the sacrifice therefore our sins are covered. Jesus is the priest therefore we have access to God. Jesus gives believers power to persevere therefore we can be faithful. The lines are drawn and we can hold onto that picture. Isn't it just gorgeous?
When we talk about art reflecting the glory of eternal ideas then we have to mention the team at The Bible Project. Their art definitely amplifies the glory of God and expands understanding for the viewers.
The team at New Spring Church has some fairly fantastic art in their infographics. Here is one for Hebrews.
www.chetsmom.com. had this beautiful rendering of Hebrews 12:1
That's the Book: Philemon
Sometimes in life you have to backup to learn anything. The book of Philemon is one of those times. You'll see what I mean.
The book of Philemon is a short one chapter appeal. Paul is writing a letter to a co-believer Philemon. Paul is asking Philemon to grant freedom to the runaway slave Onesimus. The book is also one of the more misapplied books of the Bible throughout history. So before I summarize what I believe we can learn to apply from Philemon there is an important distinction I have to cover first.
Let’s talk about what Philemon is not.
A validation of slavery.
Especially any sort of bondage that dehumanizes another soul. The chattel slavery of the US history, the caste system in India, or any sort of human trafficking for work or sex is not Biblical and Paul didn’t endorse it. Want proof? Read the text.
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do... Philemon 1:8a
According to Paul what Philemon should do under the authority of Christ is to set free his slave. If you read the full Biblical narrative you'll conclude God's heart is for equality and freedom. Major themes in the Old Testament call for freedom. When Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, it is framed as a major sin. One only God had the power to redeem. when the Israelites were captives in Egypt, God sent Moses and most of the book of Exodus being about freedom for the slaves and justice to the captors. The requirements in the law spelled out in Leviticus require a year of Jubilee where everyone is given freedom. Most of the grief in the prophets and the promise of a redeemer center around when Israel was in slavery after the fall of Jerusalem). In the New Testament Jesus makes clear he came to set free those in bondage. And Paul's other books call for treating anyone under any kind of authority with equality.
I believe we end up in trouble with the Bible when we use any verse out of context to justify behavior outside the cohesive message of the whole text. And Philemon is no different.
He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. Philemon 1: 16b
Paul asserts here that the slave Onesimus has equal value as both Paul and Philemon. His status as a man is one of fellow. So Paul is confirming what the rest of the Bible maintains - that all humans are created in God's image and have equal value. So any system which would undermine this truth is outside the Biblical narrative and is heresy. There is no room under the cross for dehumanizing language. So using Philemon (or any part of the Bible) to argue for slavery is flat out wrong.
We can now talk about what I believe the book of Philemon is;
A brilliant approach to advocacy and persuasion.
Sometimes a strong fight and an authoritative move is necessary. If you know children are in danger a call to the authorities is important. If violence is about to occur. you better buckle up for some action. An example would be the American Civil War. Although necessary, the fight is costly. And sometimes - especially when the one who needs to make amends is a believer - the right approach is an appeal through love. A good example is William Wilberforce's extended legislative action in England. William Wilberforce used logic, poetry, legislative bills and lots and lots of words to convince the public in England that the slave trade was a moral travesty. Paul's letter to Philemon is a good pattern to follow if you are working for change. Here are what I see as some critical steps.
1. Start with what is right.
I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. Philemon 1; 4-5
2. Make a clear call to action.
It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus-- that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Philemon 1: 9b-10
3. Establish trust and invite partnership.
I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. Philemon 1:12-14
4. Lay in deep. If you have the truth on your side - ask the big question boldly.
So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ Philemon 1: 17-20
5. Move forward in action.
Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. Philemon 1:22-23
The thing I love about the book of Philemon is that Paul is asking a fellow believer to step out in faith in a way that is expensive, counter culture and focused on love. What can you ask today?
The team at The Bible Project had some thoughts on this book I hadn't considered. Check it out.
Since this post was about slavery I want to direct you to some great organizations fighting slavery world wide right now. And sadly....slavery is still an issue in the United States.
Check out International Justice Mission HERE. This awesome organization is using courts and advocacy world wide to set free modern day slaves.
Check out Shared Hope HERE. This Vancouver, WA based non-profit is fighting for better laws to stop sex trafficking here in the United States.
That's The Book: Titus
I have been tracking a few goals for the past month. Make my bed (good start to the day, gift to my future self). Read my Bible. Do something in art. Write at least 100 words a day on That’s the Book (Eleven more books to go for those of you keeping track. Probably only me. And maybe my mom. And probably my spouse and kids but they are keeping track likely only so I’ll quit talking about it.) And I’m also trying to MOVE every day. This is the tough one.
The last ten days I’ve been getting up early to do a morning YouTube video. Just a little light tone and yoga. Mostly it’s about balance. I don’t have a ton. I tried this morning to do a side plank. Not quite gonna happen yet. I tip over.
Balance is a trick in life too. Focus too much on one side and you end up obsessing over details. Veer too far to the other side and it’s a crazy free for all with no forward motion. I sometimes tip over.
The book of Titus is from Paul to one of his co-workers Titus. The basic purpose of the book is to encourage Titus to keep preaching truth and to encourage the church he serves to hang onto the main message and avoid diving into surrounding controversy. Paul's main message is that the Christian faith is the most persuasive when the church practices the truth. The goal is to honor God and welcome the wounded world by living consistently with what Jesus taught.
Here is the extreme on one side Paul is advising people to avoid.
They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach - and that for the sake of dishonest gain. Titus 1: 11. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for anything good. Titus 1:16
And the balance he recommends;
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “NO” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope - the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Who gave himself for us to redeem us from wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2: 11-14
I love some of the phrases in Titus. The book is only three chapters long so you really should stop reading this and go read it - nothing like original sources. But to persuade you to do so here are a few of my favorite thoughts.
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
Titus 3:4-5In the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time. Titus 1:2
Hope and kindness and love. Good ways to balance a life. Imagine being Titus off in a lonely church trying to hold the faith. And imagine receive a letter from Paul which focused on the hope of heaven and the kindness of God. I bet it brought Titus back to center ready to face the challenge. This message is for you too. If you've veered off to one extreme of legalism where the weight of trying to do more or be more is tipping you over come back to center. If your life has toppled over to the other side with no guardrails and the license on your behavior has driven you to extremes causing pain can I recommend the same? Come back to center. Life is best lived there.
Why reinvent the wheel? The guys at the Bible Project know how to summarize better than anyone. Here is their take on Titus.
This is a fun song to memorize Titus 3:5. I love it and am going to sing this one with my kiddos.
That's the Book: 1 Timothy
Ever seen sheep fight? Ever been to church? Sadly its sometimes the same thing.
1 Timothy is an important book. Its a personal message from the church leader Paul to his protégé Timothy. The book is written to encourage Timothy to not quit and stand firm on issues in a fractured and fighting local church in Ephesus. All kinds of crazy was being preached and the important message of Jesus was being compromised by the reputation of the fighting church. Sound familiar? I'd say 1 Timothy is an important book for believers today.
We too have a contentious discussion happening amongst people who claim Christ. Most clearly seen on social media and the sharpest blades come out on Twitter. Lots of people are advising the best approach is to flee and drop any portion of faith which offends. Some are picking up viral campaigns of anger. Some are valiantly standing up to abuse. Some are using bad doctrine as a fundraising mechanism. All very familiar themes found in 1st Timothy.
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work - which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. I Timothy 1 4-5
Somethings are heresy and some are simply different interpretations - and the letter from Paul to Timothy contains advice on when to stand and fight and when to be silent. This book tells me there are s specific times when silence is the appropriate response. And clearly other times when kicking bad doctrine out the door should be our resounding corporate shout. The trick is to know which and when.
My best guess says when abuse is happening, when exclusion, when one sin is shamed and others tolerated or celebrated we better not shut up. I'm not impressed when grace is cheapened into license or when the law is elevated to a whipping stick. But on all the minors - for the love - can we tap down our disagreements and elevate the main thing?
When the grand story from Genesis to Revelation is what we teach.
We’re in a good place when the cross is the main message.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2 : 2-6
1 Timothy has some of my least favorite verses in the Bible.
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 1 Timothy 2:11
When I run up against verses I don't understand or frankly don't like. I do my best not to just ignore them. Sometimes those hard verses have the best lessons. And clearly sometimes silence IS the right and often neglected approach. But these verses also seem to contradict Paul's great esteem mentioned in other books for women preachers and leaders. So off to study I go. I love Beth Moore's recent advice on Twitter.
"Do your homework. Study the Scriptures, Genesis to Revelation. Study them hard. Know the NT from end to end. Learn to distinguish between differing interpretations that are well within the bounds of orthodoxy & actual heresies. The ESV has 757,439 words in it. That’s alotta Bible."
Contest is everything. When the grand story from Genesis to Revelation is what we teach we don't get side tracked as easily by controversy.
1st Timothy also has some of my favorite affirming verses.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12
Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. 1 Timothy 5:1-2
Seriously - our #metoo culture could be solved if people would treat each other as family - with absolute purity. Good advice.
Paul finished up the book with a clear fight against any sort of profiteering off faith and a final exhortation to Timothy not to quit.
These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. 1 Timothy 6: 2-5
For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. But you man of God flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the pretense of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6: 10-12
I'd say the same to you. Let's approach our faith with a clear heart with a goal of love, a commitment to the main message of Christ's redeeming sacrifice and the goodwill to one another to figure out what matters most. Baaaaaaa.
As always - the Bible Project is helpful. I especially like how the team allows for different interpretations of the text while pointing out the salient and clear issues. Love it.
Free Book - Perfection Collides with Free Will by Gary Williams
When I run up against verses I don't understand or don't like I try not to just ignore the content. I try to wrestle with the text until I understand or at least have a perspective to put the verses in context. Contest is everything. And sometimes I read what other people who have done the research think. Working through 1 Timothy I read and asked some knowledgable friends questions. This pass along came through those discussions. Gary Williams is finishing up his book Perfection Collides with Free Will. He'll be publishing soon but offered this FREE PDF DOWNLOAD for people interested in the nuances of relationships in ministry for men and women. Thoughtful.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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