Archive for October, 2012

Honoring Father and Mother

Posted in Uncategorized on October 30, 2012 by ancienthopes

We are, to a frightening extent, like God. When God made us in His “image,” he molded us into little models of Himself, in some mysterious way comparable and compatible, body and soul, male and female, to His incomprehensible Being. The great fifth commandment, that of honoring our parents, directly connects with the imago dei in us. Like God, we have the power to (pro)create children made in our image, and the power to direct and influence their lives and the lives of generations to come. This divine power is indeed frightening.

It dawned on me that when my children were young, they had little or no real comprehension of God. All they could comprehend was what was directly in front of them ─ me and my wife their mother. We were god to them. One of the great mysteries of life is why God would endow a sinner like me with such power over humanity. Fortunately for me, I have had good parents. What about those who have had bad or even abusive parents? How hard it is for them to ever be able to make a healthy transference from their parents to God Himself when they come of age! God has entrusted his reputation to all the parents of this world. All children gain their first impression of God through their parents! However mysterious this is, it must be so, for parenting is a necessary aspect of the image of God in us.

But this commandment is not directed to the parents; it is directed to the children. The one obligation God lays upon all humanity is to honor father and mother, with no proviso as to whether they are worthy of honor or not. The whole course of our lives is directly linked to how well we do this. There really is only one responsibility of every human being when it comes to being a child, and that is to honor his/her parents. We might even say that the very commencement of our spiritual journey to God is made by passing through the gates of this commandment. No doubt this is easier for some than others, but we must bring ourselves to think the very best of our flawed parents, serve them, love them, be gentle with them in speech and action, and when young, obey their wishes if it does not conflict with God’s righteousness. Doing the work of this commandment is to do the work of spiritual formation; it is the way that God transforms our souls and prepares us to be parents ourselves. We are all handed, to some extent, a “twisted baton” in the race of our lives. It is our responsibility to untwist it so as to hand to our children a straighter one. The future of the entire world depends on this.

A creation blessing accompanies this commandment. When God created the world, He then blessed it so that everything could function the way He intended it to grow and prosper. Parents are endowed with this same power. However, many parents, out of their own poverty, refuse or are unable to give blessings to their children. This is a serious failure, and many children carry this lack of a blessing all their lives. In spite of this, God promises to the ancient Hebrews (and to us His covenant children) who make the decision to honor their parents, that their “days will be long in the land.” This is nothing other than a creation blessing we can bring upon ourselves even when parents do not endow us with this blessing.

This great commandment is the great “swing commandment.” The first four are vertical in that they have to do with our relationship with God (worship and honoring God). The following commandments are horizontal in that they have to do with our relationship with others. In this commandment we find both dynamics in action; relating to parents in their divine function leads us to God, the great Father of all, as well as the horizontal aspect of relating to parents as human beings.

Living in the Eighth Day

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22, 2012 by ancienthopes

It is clear from the earliest accounts that Christians worshiped on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection (Matt. 28:1, Mk. 16:2,9, Lk. 24:1, Jn. 20:1, Acts 20:7, I Cor. 16:2). However, we have to understand how great a shift this was for the first generation Christians who were, for the most part, Jewish. The seventh day was absolutely sacred by law; it was, like their dietary laws, what defined them as Jews. How is it that they could make this shift when it is clear in the Old Testament that they must keep the Sabbath Day (i.e. the 7th day) forever?

The secret to this riddle lies hidden in the Gospel of John. The apostle structures his Gospel loosely around the seven days of creation. I chapter one we have the first 6 days. Day one: John the witness of light (1:6-13) and preparer of the way to Christ, the New Creation (1:19-28). Day Two: Jesus’ baptism where passing through the waters parallels the second day of creation and the separation of the waters above and below (1:29-34). Day Three: Calling of disciples is a separation of men from the world like day three of creation where God separates the fertile land from the watery deep (1:35-42). Day Four: Climax of Chapter One which concludes with Jacob’s ladder that reaches up into the heavens, uniting heaven and earth (1:43-51). This corresponds to day four of creation where God creates the sun, moon and stars.

The difficult verse is verse one of chapter 2 where it begins “On the third day.” We already have a third day in 1:35-42. The most natural interpretation is that the apostle is not slavishly following the days of creation out, but counts the “third day” here as the third day from the fourth day just before it in 1:43-51. This would make this third day of the wedding feast in 2:1-12 actually the seventh day. Indeed, since the next reference to a day like this doesn’t come until chapter 20:1, John would have us understand that the whole mid-section of the Gospel, from Chapter 2 through 19, happens on the seventh day where Jesus performs seven signs. The last great sign of the seventh day is the glorification of Jesus exalted on the Cross. The imagery and symbolism takes us back to the first seventh day in the Garden of Eden when glory was lost.

This takes us to the “first day of the week” in chapter 20:1. Here we have a new garden where Mary Magdalene, who symbolizes here a new Eve, meets her Lord, mistaking Him for a simple Gardener (20:15). She, like Eve, had a sinful background, but is now the first to see Jesus. Adam was the first gardener, but Jesus is the new Adam fulfilling what the old Adam should have been, speaking life into Mary (v. 16). Jesus is God breathing life into His apostles as He did as YHWH at creation breathing life into Adam (20:22). Thomas symbolizes the redemption of fallen Adam who, despondent and disbelieving, confesses Jesus as His Lord and God after seeing and touching His wounds (20:24-31).

What is going on here is something completely different from the old order of creation dominated by the fall of humanity and the old days of reckoning. Indeed, the ancient fathers understood this “first day of the week” of John 20:1 as not just another day of another week, but the “Eighth day,” the day of a completely new order. The power of the resurrection is so profound that time can never be thought of the same way as before. Therefore, the first day of the week, Sunday, the day of worship, is really not the first day of the week, but a reminder that we live our whole lives in a complete new world order called the “Eighth Day.” The old Sabbath belongs to the old order. As the last day of the week to which the ancient Hebrews looked forward to, it was, in fact, fulfilled in the creation of the Eighth Day, the day of resurrection.

The question for us, then, is, do we live in the exciting new order of the Eighth Day by the power of the Holy Spirit that raised Christ from death, or by the old order dominated by the dull deathly slumbers of Adam? Let us enter into the joys and the glories of the Eighth day we celebrate on Sundays!

The Mystery of Rest

Posted in Uncategorized on October 16, 2012 by ancienthopes

Every person I have ever met has this in common; they want rest! Oh, I need a vacation! Perfect rest translates into images of lounging upon the sands of the Bahamas. While “getaways” can be a good thing at times, the problem is that wherever we go, we bring ourselves along with us. If there is not rest within, there really can never be true rest without wherever we may be, or however ideal the setting.

In continuing our meditations on the great Sabbath commandment, we wish to explore the mystery of rest. Again we go back to creation. The seventh day is the great culmination of creation, and the word “rest” is given to describe the essence of this day. We have seen that rest is not mere inactivity. In my flesh, there is hardly a day that goes by that I do not long, on some level, to get away from stressful situations and the rough grind of life. Rest therefore means no responsibility, of wearing a big sign that says “do not disturb.” Oh for the hammock, that great symbol of bliss! However, the idea of rest in the Bible is deeply theological and will not yield to such superficial interpretations.

Rest in the Bible is closely associated with the idea of blessedness. God blessed His creation, and in doing so, empowered everything He made to function according to its design. To be at rest, then, is to be in a state of creation blessedness, functioning as God designed us to be and function. Another term associated with rest is ‘peace.” “Shalom” is also a creation word linked to blessedness. Peace is an interior state of being that entails being in harmony with God and creation; the blessedness of the seventh day. It has nothing to do with self centered desires to be left alone without any responsibilities. Indeed, such longings lead to the deadly sin of sloth, where we lose our will to strive for perfection, and desire to be served rather than to serve.

God’s rest, supernatural rest, is a paradox of interior rest birthed in blessedness and peace, with action. As with all paradoxes, one must search out its mystery. It helps to have a model of what such rest looks like, and there are many saints that have exhibited this supernatural rest. However, there is no model better than Jesus Himself. Look at how He moves about each day. Oh so busy! Oh so responsible! Oh how He spent Himself for others! Oh how physically tired! Yet, He never is in a hurry, never stressed, never is afraid, always in deep peace and blessedness, and at one with His Father. Jesus claimed that He was “Lord of the Sabbath.” By this He meant, along with His authority, that He was the Sabbath, He was rest itself!

We penetrate into this mystery of rest and action by love. Love energizes us for action, yet brings a state of interior blessedness and peace. Such love comes from an ever deepening life of prayer where our wills come in union with God. By nature we are fighting God with our wills, and this brings on restlessness, fear, and anger. In contrast to this, Jesus invites us to take up His Yoke, for His burden is light! Rest is the harvesting of the fruit of the Seventh Day of creation. We instinctively sense it in persons who have attained it, don’t we? Ah, let us long for this kind of rest!

Sabbath Joy

Posted in Uncategorized on October 9, 2012 by ancienthopes

What in the world is the big deal about keeping the Sabbath Day, or for us Christians, keeping Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, holy? We can understand the urgency of the other commandments, because they seem to be clear ethical matters, such as stealing, adultery, or as we talked about in the last post, taking the Lord’s name in vain. But why bother ourselves with keeping a day special? Are not all days for the Christian to be special? Moreover, even when we go to Church on Sundays, doesn’t it usually amount to giving up just a small portion of the day? Isn’t the rest of the day spent in activities not all that spiritual, such as lounging around watching football? Do we even know what it means to keep a day holy?

Well, as all these laws, the law of the Sabbath day is anchored in creation and the created order. By divine design, creation’s goal and climax is the last day, the seventh day. It is called the day of rest, and if you look closely at Genesis 2:1-4 you will notice that this day alone is not said to have an “evening and morning” like the first six days do. Scholars have long interpreted this to mean that the seventh day was meant to be ongoing; God made creation to be a perpetual seventh day. Since we are made in God’s image, we are expected to be like God in every way; we are to live in divine “rest.” This doesn’t mean that we were made for hammocks, snoozing, and sipping of lemonade. Certainly God was not tired out after the six days of creating. Rather, for God to “rest” at the end of His creative activities means to stand back and enjoy what He has made, and with satisfaction to observe how it works.

“Rest” is therefore not a passive and inactive idea in the Bible. Rather, it is an active concept where God maintains His creation with an expectation of its usefulness and providentially upholds it. Like God, Adam and Eve were busy in the garden in the context of the seventh day, working with the soil, shaping, and naming, all aspects of dominion. Humans were made to be creative like God in His six days of creation, but to stand back and enjoy is also to imitate God on the seventh day.

Have you ever made or created something and just stand back and look it over in happiness and admiration? Of course you have! This is not pride (although it could be perverted into pride). Rather, it is evidence of the fact that you were made in the image of God. It is a “God-thing” to joy in creation. Perhaps this captures the essence of the Sabbath law more than anything else; to observe the Sabbath is to step back, like an artist at a canvas, and rejoice in God and His creation, and indeed, in what God has done and is doing in your life.

The opposite of this is a slave mentality. The reason for keeping the Sabbath in Deuteronomy 5:15 is to remember that the Israelites were once slaves in Egypt. “Egypt” to the Israelites symbolized “the world” as we experience it in the fall. It is a place that enslaves and devours our humanity. In the world today, slavery takes on many forms. We become slaves to our work, slaves to our entertainment, slaves to our carnal passions, slaves to our computers, and live in a slavery that take us away from any real childlike joy in God for who He is and what He has done.

By keeping the seventh day, the last day of the week, God taught Israel to live the hard days of toil under the curse on the earth in anticipation of the last day, thus living the week in hope of a day where the covenant people of God can stand back and see what they were truly made for, the joy of God! Without the Sabbath day, there would be no hope for Israel, and where there is no hope, they could not help by fall into dismal habits of daily drudgery, and become like their pagan neighbors. Everything hanged on the Sabbath day for the ancient Hebrews, and we see that it really is a moral issue! Without the Sabbath, there was no hope, and where they is no hope, there is not only no joy, but no incentive to live moral lives before a God who will one day restore the seventh day of rest to humanity.

Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain

Posted in Uncategorized on October 1, 2012 by ancienthopes

I have often wondered how Jesus’ name is on the lips of everyone, from saints to sinners, from the faithful to atheists. Even from the same person the blessed name of Jesus comes out at times in praise and blessing, and at other times in anger and a curse. How does one explain the power this name has over the human race?

It is well known that in the ancient times names were considered inseparable from one’s identity, a very part of a person as much as a hand or a leg. In fact, sometimes persons have more than one name, one of which they keep secret, for fear that their enemy might find it out and bring a curse upon that person through magic. This is hard for us to imagine today because, for many of us, names are mere proper nouns, random verbal sounds chosen for auditory effect. In other words, we tend to choose names for how they sound, with little thought that they might have any connection at all with our child’s actual character or person-hood.

The only way to explain the third commandment of not taking God’s name “in vain,” is to understand names in their ancient context. The name “YHWH” (pronounced Yahweh) can be understood to be something like God’s secret name that He revealed to His people in the intimacy of covenant. By giving Israel this personal name, He was giving something of His very self to them. God was making Himself vulnerable, for by revealing the name, He was placing it in the power of His people. They could choose to keep it most holy, using it only in worship and praise, or they could profane it by using it in false testimony or in curses or for magical purposes. The prophets were forever accusing Israel for profaning the name that God revealed to them out of love.

We have seen that the first two commandments are highly relational ideas in ancient Israel. All of life is lived “before the face” of YHWH, and the making of idols so as to manipulate the gods by magic is contrary to the covenantal ideal of relationship. Likewise, the name of God, that special name YHWH, has everything to do with relationship. What a precious name is YHWH! For Christians, the Spirit convinces us that the YHWH, the “Lord” of the Old Testament, is Jesus in the New Testament (I Cor. 12:3). The very name of Jesus is in fact an extension of the Incarnate God! What power is in this name! One cannot remain neutral with it. We either love it and keep it holy, or we profane it. In fact, by “swearing” with the name Jesus or God, however casual it may be, we are actually involving ourselves in an occult act, for it is, however crude or thoughtless, invoking God’s name in a curse. What is “God Damn” if it is not a curse formula? A curse is only as strong as the name that is invoked. This is why humans intuitively use the name Jesus for good or ill; it is proof of His divinity! It is a very great sin to bring down curses by invoking the name of God.

If we are honest, we know how close our heart is at any given time, given the right provocation, to misuse the divine names. It comes up from the deep dark depths within. This commandment forces us to face this dark fact about our human hearts, and take stock of how deep and true our relationship is with the Lord. To guard the divine name is to guard our very hearts.