Monday, January 19, 2009

The Problem of Becoming Static and Regression

Hebrews 5:11-14

Concerning this we have much to say which is hard to explain since you have become dull in your (spiritual) hearing and sluggish [even slothful in achieving spiritual insight]. For even though by this time you ought to be teaching others you actually need someone to teach you over again the very first principles of God's Word. You have come to need milk, not solid food. For everyone who continues to feed on milk is obviously inexperienced and unskilled in the doctrine of righteousness (of conformity to the divine will in purpose, thought, and action), for he is a mere infant [not able to talk yet]! But solid food is for full-grown men, for those whose senses and mental faculties are trained by practice to discriminate and distinguish between what is morally good and noble and what is evil and contrary to ether divine or human law.

As a special education paraeducator, one of the major hurdles we deal with is regression. We may pour ourselves tirelessly into a student; offering him/her the best teaching practices available on a given subject, only to find that after a two week break for the holidays; the student has forgotten all or most of what was taught them. We call this regression. The reason for regression is really quite simple; the student has ceased to practice the skills that they have recently learned. For example; I may have worked with a student for a few weeks on the difference between long and short vowel sounds; practicing the difference between the words 'hat' and 'hate'. But the student goes on spring break. He gives no attention to reading, nor do his parents require this of him. He spends his whole break playing video games, staying up until midnight every night and rising at noon. The first week back to school he arrives in my classroom at 9 am. He's yawning and his hair is disheveled. He lays his head on the desk and is cranky when I tell him to sit up and pay attention. He has regressed physically from lack of sleep. He has regressed mentally from lack of educational stimulation. It can take a month or more to reteach what has been lost.
Look the text once more and ask yourself if this is a picture of your spiritual state. Have you become too lazy to feed yourself, requiring bottle feeding from the pastor? What are you eating every day, spiritually speaking. If it amounts to only a verse randomly pulled from a promise box or a once a week feeding on the pastor's message; face it; you are in regression.
According to verse 14, YOU are responsible to right the ship (having your senses and mental faculties trained by practice. )
Imagine how concerned, as a parent, you would be if your young child, having passed babyhood, refused to eat solid food. The child would lose weight, his strength would diminish and all sorts of terrible physical problems would begin cropping up. In the absence of vital minerals and vitamins found in 'grown up' foods, the child would begin to fail mentally as well. Lethargy would set in; with the child refusing to exercise and play; even communication would become limited.
Is this not the condition of many of God's children? How tragic. How unnecessary.
Our Father is not an unfit parent. He has set a table before us; and our cup runneth over. But He does not force us to eat.
This New Year, as many are making resolutions to eat better and exercise to gain physical strength; I challenge you and myself as well; to resolve to get into spiritual shape. To eat better and to exercise ourselves in the Word by practicing it daily. Let's start reading the Word like it means something to us; take it seriously. Let's move on from babyhood in 2009.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hebrews 4: The Rest of God

Hebrews 4 opens with a stern warning. We are exhorted to fear that we may come short of the 'rest of God', as did the children of Israel. (v. 1)

Verse 2 gives us the key to our ultimate success (or defeat) in our effort to receive the promises of God: Faith. The Word of God was not mixed with faith in them that heard it. And so it is today. How many of our friends or loved ones have sat in a service or across the table from a Christian friend and rejected the Word spoken to them? And the simple reason was; they did not believe what they heard. Dear friends, our entire existence, both here and eternally is based upon what we believe. People seldom accomplish anything unless they believe that they can do so; for they will be overcome by doubts and fear at the first sign of resistance. It has taken me many years to come to understand that every thought that comes into my mind is not true. I must be vigilant in comparing my beliefs with the only flawless source of Truth; the Word.

Verses 4 through 9 have been a source of perplexity to me for years; the King James wording seems confusing and almost contradictive. However, the thought that the author is trying to convey here is really quite simple; the true Rest of God is not, as the Hebrews believed, the 7th day (Sabbath), or the entering into the promised land of Canaan. This is proved by reference to the scriptures that in several places and times refer to a rest; which apparently had not yet been experienced by God's people. (And if your margins don't clarify it, please note that in verse 8, the name 'Jesus' is actually referring to Joshua, the Hebrew equivalent name for Jesus. So even though Joshua led the Children of Israel into Canaan, he did not lead them into the promised Rest of God.)
Verse 10 gives us a clue to the spiritual nature of this rest; telling us that as God rested from his own works on the 7th day; we must cease from our works to in order to find rest. This becomes a bit of a problem for those who depend upon their religious efforts or good works. And the following verse is an absolute conundrum, an oxymoron, if you will; for it admonishes us to labour to enter into that rest; while one sentence earlier it said to cease from our own works! Oh Dear! It almost seems that you can't get there from here! This passage used to so frustrate me that I would finish reading the chapter in a rather cursory way; all the time feeling that I would never find this promised Rest of God. My best advice at this point is to finish reading Hebrews 4; taking special note of verses 14 through 18. Once completed; turn to Leviticus chapter 16 and read the entire chapter.
Leviticus 16 starts out on a sober note. Aaron the High Priest's two sons had just dropped dead. They had tried to act in a priestly capacity and offer an offering to God that was not as he commanded. Big mistake. So was God being hyper-sensitive or just plain 'picky' in killing Aaron's sons? No, actually it's not so much that God killed them, as that sin killed them. God is Holy, and nothing sinful can stand in his presence. We read time and again of patriarch's who found themselves in the presence of God and felt that they were going to die. God is a consuming fire, says the scripture. Remember the reason for the explicit instructions regarding the office of the Priests was to allow them to come before God's presence.(This is a privilege that man lost in the Fall.)Aaron's sons presumed to appear before God without having properly dealt with their sin. As a side note; how many people today are doing that same thing; attempting to come before God under their own terms? God straightened Moses and Aaron out; instructing Aaron to wash and anoint himself, clothe himself in fine linen garments and have sacrifices prepared before trying to tread His courts. Having been properly prepared , on the 7th month and the 10th day he was authorized to go in. Leviticus 16:30-31 states FOR ON THAT DAY SHALL THE PRIEST MAKE AN ATONEMENT FOR YOU, TO CLEANSE YOU, THAT YE MAY BE CLEAN FROM ALL YOUR SINS BEFORE THE LORD. IT SHALL BE A SABBATH OF REST UNTO YOU AND YE SHALL AFFLICT YOUR SOULS BY A STATUTE FOREVER.
It then becomes clear that the rest of God is freedom from sin, and peace in His presence.
Now returning to Hebrews 4, we understand that Jesus, our High Priest has (unlike Aaron's sons) effectively satisfied the Holiness of God and offered a perfect sacrifice on our behalf. Note that in the old sacrificial system (Exodus 28: 34-35) bells were sewn into the hem of the priestly garment for an indication to those without that the Priest was still alive. Some theologians say that a rope was tied onto the priests foot so that he could be pulled out of the Holy of Holies if he died there. (This is not confirmed by scripture.)
In any case, consider this fearful approach toward God and compare it to Hebrews 4:16 - Let us come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Why can we do this? Because our sins have been purged. Not by any great efforts of our own, by by the spotless sacrifice of Jesus.
This is why Jesus said, "come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Think back to Eden and the fall. The curse of sin brought labour, and a neverending striving to overcome the effects of sin in our life. God desired to return us to our pre-Fall condition. Jesus achieved it for us. He is our rest. We may now bask in God's presence without fear of recrimination or reproach (or as in Levitical times, dropping dead!)
The sin issue is dealt with and all that is left to us is mercy and grace! The sacrifices we are now to offer are praise and thanksgiving.
Now, when we read about the Throne of God in Revelation 22:1 we see the water of life flowing from it, instead of death and destruction. For the believer it is indeed a Throne of Grace.
So with the Hebrews writer I urge you to hold fast your profession of faith. Your High Priest has offered the perfect sacrifice for you, and for you; this is the Rest of God.