What if God doesn’t judge us by the 10 Commandments?

So the other day I was watching some video supposedly about suicide and it ended up turning into a recruitment video complete with the “Are you a good person?” Test.

You can take it here if you’re ever sufficiently bored: http://www.goodpersontest.com/

At some point, it’ll say: “You may not realize this…

…but those are just five of the Ten Commandments.
By your own admission and the standard of God’s law, the Ten Commandments, you are a lying, thieving, blasphemous, murderous, adulterer at heart.

This masterful approach – isn’t the master’s approach. Jesus was never like: “Are you a good person?

Paul likened the law to a woman whose husband dies; so long as she is married, the law applies to her … but when he dies, she is released. He also says that obeying the law is never sufficient justification for one to enter heaven. So the good person test is in itself a cheat.

The truth of salvation isn’t in obeying the ten commandments, rather it is this:
“God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.” – Romans 2:6-11

So the questions we should expect on the final test won’t be our ability to understand the finer points of the tend commandments, it’ll be more like:
“Have you done good?”
“Have you been selfish?”

I’m afraid too many Christians have all the right answers for the wrong quiz.
Galatians has this really interesting way of putting it – he reminds the Israelites of Hagar and Sarah. He says that Hagar represents Jerusalem under the law that enslaved them as sinners and Sarah represents Jerusalem that’s yet-to-come, free from the law. He says that Sarah’s descendants are the children of the promise who are to live free from sin and free from the Law that defines sin.

I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to create the good person test – but it’s not really designed in a culturally and historically appropriate context.

The master’s approach was to say: “The kingdom of God is at hand!
He gave us the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
He told us that “Whatever a man reaps, he sows.
He told us to do good to those who do evil to us.

If we really want to pass the test into heaven, then this is the way of the master – no other way is the true gospel, the true way, or the true life.

The Notebook

We were a bunch of unruly high school students – he was a high school teacher when he wasn’t our youth group leader. Having worked with us the last few years, he’d won our respect and we’d come to a reasonable understanding and generally got along well enough.

One day, he gave each of us a notebook. He told us how keeping a spiritual journal had really changed how he understood the Bible and he challenged us to keep one, too.

He taught us how to use this journal – it was simple:

  1. Write down the reference – the whole verse or series of verses as the case may be.
  2. List everything that stands out – explain to yourself why it sticks out to you.
  3. Summarize it and think about it’s application.

On the first page, he had one reference written out – it was the same in all the journals and it happened to be his favorite verse:

“… 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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

From there – we could take it in any direction. We could start with that verse, or choose another. I guess because I was already a blogger, I never really bothered to use that particular notebook as a journal. Not that I didn’t put it to good use from time to time. There’s a handful of verses from the Bible copied from The Message, several of Murphy’s Laws, notes from The Truth Project, sermons, and other Bible Studies, as well as the lyrics to “All You Need Is Love” translated into Spanish, and the quote about our deepest fear from Akeelah and the Bee among other things.

I never really thought myself as much of a writer to be able to keep a journal or a diary anyway. But as I was reading that verse – the part about Jesus being the author and perfecter of our faith stood out to me. Faith – well, it always seemed to be to be something I had because of something I do – like when I pray or when I read the Bible, then I strengthen my faith just as much as anyone who walks or lifts weights strengthens their body by exercising. It always seemed to take some effort on my part. I’d never really though of faith as something that Jesus writes and perfects without any input from me whatsoever.

Coming from a “doing” church – it’s always been important to be “engaged” or “plugged-in”. There’s always the nursery asking for help or something to cook or clean a soundboard or computer to run – it’s never really been about “being” in the faith. Since I’ve been out of the church and not “doing” for a while, it feels like my faith is running on an all time low. I wouldn’t even know how to learn how to “be” if it doesn’t involve some “doing” to get there.

And honestly – I’m more than a little uneasy about actually journaling the Bible, I tend to deconstruct the text and look for meaning in the shades and hues of cultural context and not just take it for face value – which generally is the idea; to just accept God’s word, inerrant, infallible, and profound wisdom, and go from there. A question like: “What kind of racing was Paul using as an example to the Ephesians?” can send me off on a tangent trying to understand the things that went unsaid and unwritten in a culture that understood each other that didn’t translate into English.

I did pick me up a brand new notebook – it’s a blank slate … but I don’t even know where to begin.

The Waterworks

It was years ago – the church youth group had gone to an outing at some state park or another, I forget which one. Our teacher had us circle around a small pipe next to a hand-operated pump. We tried to keep our distance, the smell of rotten eggs was very strong.
“People used to come here from miles around just for this water … sulfur water. It was believed to be healthier than normal water. It was said to make crops grow better, food taste better, clothes be cleaner, and kids to grow up stronger. It wasn’t uncommon to see people bringing jugs that they would fill up and take home back with them.” The teacher began explaining.
And as our luck would have it, one of the campers from the nearby campgrounds happened to walk up and start pumping water into an empty milk jug. The fresh smell of sulfur burned in our nostrils. When the camper had gone, the teacher continued.
“Anyway, this pump wasn’t always here. It was installed to make it easier for people to access the water, to get it to them quicker. At first, it worked really well, but eventually, they realized that they had damaged it. As you saw just now, the water barely trickles out.”
In his conversation with the woman at the the well (John 4), Jesus told her about living water. It might be better to center the conversation on running water – as that’s close to what was meant. Wells and cisterns usually housed still water. One couldn’t always be certain how good the water was to use. (I saw a documentary where children in India were showing off their well, they explained that the fish in the bottom of it were serving an important purpose – if ever the fish died, they would all know that the water was polluted and it was unsafe for them to drink of it.) Running water, like water from rivers, was a powerful symbol of water that brings life. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why Revelation 22 tells us that from God’s throne will flow the river of the water of life.
If water is a metaphor for Christianity, then we have to consider what people can do to/with water. Ancient Romans were known for building their aqueducts – which directed and moved water. Cisterns stored water. Wells could be dug to find water. In the same way, Christians can build structures to direct and move Christianity, places to store it, places to find it. But we have to take care that we don’t damage it in the process – like the sulfur well, the best of intentions doesn’t prevent us from destroying the thing we’re trying to preserve. We are pretty far removed from what was – the original Christianity in it’s original form. We can’t return to what was – but that doesn’t mean that what is should be what will be from now on – like water, all things are subject to change.

Opportunities

The last time I was presented with an opportunity to teach, it didn’t work out quite as well as I would have hoped. I remember that there was a sort of Hyacinth Bucket – a woman who knew exactly what her vision was and how exactly I ought to realize it. It was more of a ‘warm body’ that was needed to push the play button and read out the questions from the book and less of a “I need you to use your knowledge and skills to teach the class” sort of thing.

Today the pastor mentioned that he had heard that I was being considered to teach, that is, if I get involved in Sunday School a little bit more. That’s nice, really, but I’m not sure I really want to teach. Especially if it’s yet another ‘warm body’ sort of thing. So I’ve had a few brilliant insights (apparently, I wouldn’t know,) here and there, but is that enough to make me a teacher? I’ve had all kinds of teachers and I just don’t think I’m like any of them. All I’ve really done is examine various teachings through this blog – which no one in my church even knows about. If they could look through it, they’d probably realize that what I do know is enough to make me dangerous. And yet, I don’t know nearly enough to do a proper job of teaching.

If I had my way, I’d begin the class with some contemporary music to break up the silence. I’d probably have it playing on low as people walked in. I know I’m not a people person – but I have to figure that everyone else is, so they’ll talk. And talk. And talk some more about the earth-shattering excitement that has happened in the past six days. Then I’d take a Bible and question everything in it and about it. I might refer to books such as “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes” to point out that our tendency to approach the Bible from a plain, literal reading is fraught with peril. I’d look at what the original languages have to say and how what was said makes a world of difference in meaning. But this is a Methodist church, they have things like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and other ideas that I have heard of, but don’t really know what they mean. I still feel a little too Southern Baptist to do them very much good. I don’t know what I could teach them that they don’t already know.

I think that first experience also took a lot out of me in terms of wanting to teach – being told that I had an opportunity to teach was an exciting thing … but it didn’t work out. Then being told that I had an opportunity to teach – it was like … “I’ve been there before, but I was disappointed. I don’t want to go through that song and dance again.” For one, it sounded as if I’d have to get more involved in Sunday School first. I already felt a little out of my element the last time I was in a class because almost everyone who will be in it will be nearly twice my age. Not to mention that they outnumber people who are near my age ten to one. Also, there’s the problem of the church itself – it’s been getting harder to attend and I’m not sure I want to commit myself to a church that I don’t really completely like. The only part of the church that I can stand is the preaching and even then some days it’s just easier to not go.

Which is sort of why I thought the teaching thing was odd – perhaps they had read that millennials tend to disappear from churches that don’t offer a place for them and decided to open the door to me to teach just so I’d have something to stick around for? I wish they’d make it an easy decision and just add a contemporary service – then there would certainly be a reason to stick around. As it is, I just don’t know. Teaching is a big deal and it just may be a bit more than I can chew.

 

 

Seamless: Sew Long

Every single time I read the story of Paul, it slays me. This week was no different. I can’t help it. You’ve got this man who was vehemently opposed to Jesus, who made it his life’s mission to destroy Christ-followers and he ends up being the writer of the majority of the New Testament. It’s stories like that that give me hope and I really pray that they do the same for you.

To be fair, Paul really didn’t know that he was writing part of the New Testament. It’s not as if he imagined that his letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, among others, would one day be collected, translated into English, and bound into a single book. In case one is interested in the statistics, the author of Luke and Acts wrote more of the New Testament than Paul did in all of the epistles combined. Sure, Paul wrote a majority of the books of the New Testament, but it wasn’t the majority of the New Testament itself – though he did come close.

… And I know that there are all these things that stand out different for us in Scripture in different parts of our lives, sometimes we read a passage and it will jump off of the page and amaze us and other times we skim over that and something else jumps out at us that we’ve never noticed before. I love that. For me it was reading the words of Paul as his life comes to a close I guess you could say that kind of lit a new fire in me. Because it wasn’t enough that he had had a radical conversion to Christ, for him that was just the beginning of the story. And I want that to be true of me. I want to stare tomorrow in the face, whatever it brings me with full confidence that the God who began this work in me will bring it to completion. Philippians 1:6 ESV. As we saw in Paul, that meant preaching more often from prison cells and not necessarily country clubs. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but often the words echo loudest in the world when they come from places of deep hurt. From places that reached what might be seen as our darkest hour and still we refuse to call him anything but the great hope of our lives. So this video, this closing session, that’s what I’m urging for you – that’s what I want you to hear. He’s given you this hope so you can carry it out into the world. What is it that makes your story specific to you? What are the wounds of your life? How can you hide them in the wounds of your God so that they’ll bring him glory? I know that I’ve talked about my wedding day several times during this study, I’m sorry I couldn’t help it. It’s just the most beautiful analogy that I could come up with to describe the relationship that we have with our God…

It is my firm belief that any Bible Study ought to actually study the Bible. Sure, there are room for a great many anecdotes, jokes, and random stories – but this consistent redirection of bringing the main point home – to you and to me always distracts from Scripture itself. There’s plenty of metaphors for God’s various relationships with humanity in Scripture: creator and creation, father and child, mother and child, husband and wife, husband and ex-wife, fiancé and his fiancée, general and his army, as well as the trinity relationships: father and holy spirit, holy spirit and son, and father and son. All of them have some beauty to it, and all of them have some problem with them. When it comes down to it, we can use relationships to describe how we relate to God, but we can’t stamp all relationships with God and expect them to work. Anyway, back to the Bible study – we left off with a discussion of author’s wedding and her family.

I think I love Paul because I get it. I’m a pragmatic person. I spent most of my life ignoring or disputing these words because to me they seemed kind of like a fantastical version of a world that would just distract us from reality. Fairy tales. An escape. A place where people could go when they wanted to get away from feeling heavy about their life. But sometimes God lets us get to the end of ourselves because He knows that’s the only place we’ll find Him. Although I would have said that I was a Christian before … there was something in me that shifted that night, all the sudden it went from theory to concrete, it went from possibility to absolute,it went from pages to a person. And the last thing I ever wanted to do in my life was to sit in front of a camera and talk and wonder what people on the other side of the lens would think about me…

I don’t really have any opinion to the author as a person. I think she was pretty much a regular person (as regular as anyone can be who is married to a famous personality) who was challenged by a difficult time with the loss of her child. She blogged, struck a chord, and received a fair amount of attention. I think LifeWay saw this, imagined dollar signs that could be rolling in – if she’s this popular as a free blogger, how much more money could she make them in the form of a Bible Study? As a bonus, she could get out the word and talk about God and the Bible and Jesus. Her study also checks all the boxes for what makes a great women’s Bible study: it’s not too theologically deep, it does not place too much demands on a woman’s time, it relational, it’s emotional, it has some humor in it, it contains a context for women in it’s use of marriage metaphors, and it’s pink all over the place. The video I’ve been watching just exudes southern charm; it’s really quite lovely. But what makes it a perfect women’s Bible Study also makes it a less than useful for me. I don’t need an overarching understanding of the fundamental layout and meaning of God’s word achieved by seamlessly tying the people, places, and promises in the Bible together into the greater story of Scripture. I don’t need a pink hers version of the Bible or the story it contains therein. I need the story for the context of my life – not for somebody else’s life experience that is totally different from my own. So many times the author relates to the gospel through her experiences as a wife, it gives the marriage metaphors in scripture a personal meaning. Not everyone has that. Another thing – growth. You get a certain amount of growth depending upon what nutrients you provide. If women tend to be given more emotional and less theological Bible studies, then one should expect to see emotional growth more quickly and very little theological growth if any at all. What kind of Christians do you want to see as a result of this study? People who the Bible like a tourist knows all the major sites? Or people who are locals who know all the sites inside and out? Ones who can talk about Eve, Jacob, the Israelites, and David? Or ones who happens to know who Oholibamah was, what Gehazi did, and what happened to Nehustan?

… I get it. Obviously I’m totally kidding. Over the past few weeks as I’ve prayed about these sessions and over what I would say I want you know that the enemy who met us in the Garden has been alive and well and feeding my own insecurity. He’s whispered things to me that I’d long forgotten. He’s spit on my heart when I finally started feeling any kind of courage about it at all. And I say that to you because I know you get it. I know that wherever you are and whatever you’re facing, you’ve heard his lies, too. And so it all comes down to the question that we started this study with: What is it that you think of God? Because if he really is who he says he is, then we’re wasting our time if we’re doing anything other than telling everyone exactly that. 2 Timothy 4:7 ESV. It makes me want nothing less than to say those same words with every breath he gives me. It should compel us to tell the story. To tell this story. And so I want to ask you something: How will you leave this room today and tell it? Where are the places he’s called you? To bring this?

Sometimes I think Christians can give too much credit to Satan, the Devil, a.k.a. the enemy. Instead of owning up to our own fears and failures, it’s often easier to blame the devil. “The devil’s tormenting me today, he’s temping me.” “The devil’s attacking me today, he’s brought on an episode of depression” “the devil caused my panic attack.” I really don’t believe he’s that powerful. Look at the story of Job – Satan had limits what he could do. And we’re not even Job, not really worth the trouble it would take to destroy all our possessions, our families, our health – it’s not as if God or Satan has anything to prove by causing us to suffer.

So she continues with yet another mention of her wedding, how the guests were invited to her marriage reception and was also reminded of the one in Revelation 19:7 ESV followed by Hebrews 12:28 ESV … We open these pages with three simple words: in the beginning. And now we close it. Not with a sense of finality but rather of expectation of celebration of urgency this seamless love story has wound it’s way from the garden to Gethsemane and eventually to unending glory. This God, this exact God, has placed a calling on your life to go out and speak of the one who rescued you, the one who renamed you, who redeemed you, who brought you to repentance, who reconciled you, and who will receive you at the table of grace … These words are trustworthy and true – Revelation 22:6 ESV … and so like any great story, it isn’t over yet. But also like any truly great story we know how it ends. And so until then, beloved, cling to Him as the spotless bride he has made you to be. Let your life be a living testimony of his goodness, his faithfulness, and his holiness. And all God’s people said, amen.

And that’s a wrap. This Bible study is almost exactly a year old. I guess it excels at being an introduction course for adults who didn’t grow up in churches learning them from a young age. There is a need for resources for such things – however, anyone who is like me, who already knows these stories aren’t likely to learn anything they don’t already know. Women’s Bible Studies have long had this reputation for being full of fluff. It’s slowly getting better, but there were a lot of opportunities that were missed to write studies to help women grow.

Hebrews 5:11-6:3 says,

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.”

This bible study effectively laid the foundation of repentance and faith in God – it offers milk for spiritual infants. That’s what it offers, and that’s what it’ll create. The women of my church have been Christians for decades, but they’re not in a place to be teachers. Why is this? The Methodist denomination doesn’t bar women from being pastors. But my particular church doesn’t seem to offer much potential for growth. I remember when I was tasked with reviewing Designed to Shine for my previous church. I told the woman who would be leading the study that it was a terribly shallow book that was more about it’s authors auto-biography than it was the Bible itself. The teacher said that anything deeper would be too much. I told her the study was just not enough. Same goes for Seamless, it’s just not enough to start women down the path toward becoming teachers. Some of that might be because of a rather complementarian view of Scripture that tends to create a divide between men and women: in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 lays down the rule that women are not permitted to teach men. Elsewhere, older women are told to teach younger women (Titus 2:3-5). Women only need to know enough to relate – to take the stories and connect them to what they are feeling because women are emotional (except for me and hundreds of thousands of other women). Since women aren’t allowed to teach men, then there is no need for them to know as much or the same kind of knowledge that men are supposed to know. In essence, since women can’t be teachers the same way that men are, they aren’t being taught how to be teachers the same way that men are. Which is to be expected of a LifeWay Bible Study, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptists; but it should not be taught in Methodist churches without somebody pointing out everywhere their teachings conflict and where their emphasis differs from the one they know. Until Bible Studies are capable of turning students into teachers, it’s up to each and every one of us to take up the challenge ourselves – to learn what the Bible Studies don’t teach. To take as much time as it takes to really get into the tapestry of scripture and trace where each of the threads take us, wherever it may be.

Seamless: Veiled

I so pray that as you went through the Bible study assignments this week you saw something new from Scripture as you read. I’ll tell you this, I probably could have recited the story of Christ’s birth and his life and his death for many years, but it wasn’t until I was moved to tears did I finally understood it. When I read my Bible, and I want to encourage you to do this too, I put myself in the scenes – I try to imagine every detail around me. I want to know what it might have smelled like. I want to know what it might have tasted like. What it sounded like to be in every single moment. I want to just feel those words come alive in my soul … And sometimes that means trying to erase other people’s interpretation of different events in Scripture. Sometimes it means trying to erase the temptation to just see them as stories. And sometimes … it means recognizing the places I tried to erase reality for the sake of avoiding true comprehension and the acknowledgement of what happened on Calvary. Because the truth of the matter was that it was a real crown of thorns that pierced his head and they were real nails that drove through his flesh with the brute force of human hatred. And I understand that we would be crazy not to try and look away from something that horrific but the truth of it is that we would be crazier to actually do so. And so I know it’s tempting to avert your eyes, but in doing so I think you might avert your heart. And that’s more than we can afford to do. As the breath of life left Jesus’ body for the very last time,the Scripture says in Matthew 27:51 ESV … Maybe before now you didn’t have the context to appreciate that. But it changed everything. Everything. The torn curtain changes everything.

All of our lives, people give us their interpretation of different events in Scripture. From the pastors we grow up listening to, the televangelists we watch, the celebrity pastors we stream from the internet, to the books we read – everywhere we look people are interpreting Scripture for us. More than that, what we have come to understand is the result of hundreds of years of interpretation from historical greats, the pastors of the Great Awakening, the Reformers before that, and the Church Fathers before them. The very words on the pages of the Bible are the the result of the translators interpretation of the original language into modern English. Even this Bible Study happens to be it’s authors interpretation of different events in Scripture. I don’t think we could erase all our past influences if we tried. The trick is weigh them all and ask ourselves: “What fits best with what we know about the cultures in the Bible back in the day?” It just doesn’t do to put ourselves into the Bible as a bystanders, dressed in American clothing, speaking English, and wondering why everything is so different from what we expect.

One question that I’ve been think about lately is whether or not it’s okay to look at God. I was watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – an episode where Kai Winn talks about how she would do anything to look at the faces of her gods, the prophets. Her thirst for acknowledgement drove her to ultimately reject them when she went unfulfilled. Kira, on the other hand, tends to look away and this is interpreted as true humility, that she gets that she’s not worthy to look and that’s exactly what makes her worthy to look. In the Bible, there have been instances of both, where people could not look at God and people could look at God – it just depended on the context and the person’s heart. It seems that one’s own motives go a long way to deciding on whether we’re doing the right thing or not. The point is, looking away doesn’t prove that our heart is in the wrong place any more than looking toward something prove that it is in the right place.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved the idea of wearing a veil and being a bride … I always wanted to have a veil. For me that was the moment that kind of make it feel like a wedding… The veil has always been this beautiful symbol of separation and purity …

I remember reading the other day that because of Jacob’s marriage to Leah, a new custom was made so that before the wedding, it was the groom who covered his bride’s face with her veil so that he could make sure he was about to marry the right woman. Roman brides even wore bright orange veils on their wedding days to protect them from evil Spirits. The world over, veils have different meanings to different cultures: modesty, immodesty, purity/virginity, protection from evil spirits, the groom taking possession of his bride as his property and/or lover or the revelation of the bride to the groom for his approval, symbol of what was about to happen during the wedding night, for use in belly-dancing, etc. I just wanted to say that the continued use marriage-metaphor language is extremely annoying. How much do you want to bet that a men’s study wouldn’t go there? If men can find a way to relate to God outside of a marriage context, then why not women?

We know from our study of the Old Testament that a blood sacrifice was necessary for the forgiveness of sin. And here we learn about the coming of Christ and His eventual death on the cross. His spotless life kept a law that we never could and his blood poured out for all of our sin it reconciled us with a perfect God whom we had been separated from since Eden. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice and what he did for us on Calvary shattered the need for any other type of sacrifice. He was our atonement, he is our high priest and now there’s no more need for an earthly mediator.

Here I thought it would be a good point to consider that when it comes to any theological point, we have a number of different positions that could be considered valid interpretations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement_in_Christianity – They’re a result of all those different interpretations of events that people have had over the last few millennia. Sometimes the best thing to do is to consider other perspectives, to see where the weaknesses in our own positions are and what the strengths of other teachings are.

So when you think about what it is that we learned in the Old Testament about the temple you can imagine the role of the curtain. This veil that separated the people from God. Only the high priest could enter once a year to present offerings in order to cover the sins of the people and if he did the slightest thing wrong, he would be put to death. This veil was no delicate thing either, it was probably about twenty feet high and thirty feet wide. It was this thick costly piece of fabric, purple and gold, in-wrought with figures of cherubim and as we read in the Gospel of Matthew 27:51 ESV Does it matter that it was torn from top to bottom? It does, actually. Because it signifies that only God could have done that, not human hands. And so this tearing it, it indicates something far more precious than fabric being destroyed. It’s the institution of the new covenant that God has made with his people and in effect it destroys the old one. Where the old covenant – promise – was based on law and condition, the new law is not. Hebrews 10:1, 19-22 ESV, The new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, the old standard is gone the conditional if/then way of thinking is history and now for the sake of the glory of his father, Christ came to do away with the former ways. And so now we see the new standard it’s faith, it’s belief, it’s not action, it’s not behavior, it’s not anything we can do at all. It’s a radical shift in thinking and so you can see why people revolted and maybe you can understand why they still do because up until now, they had something to do in order to get to God and now it’s just Him. It’s only him, it’s completely utterly unmistakably Him.

It was inevitable that talking about wedding veils would lead directly to the Holy of Holies, the curtain that served as God’s veil for the purpose of separation. One interesting point to consider: Herod’s Temple was a segregated one. Gentiles could only go so far as the court of the Gentiles. Women could meet at the Court of the Women, but couldn’t go further up or further in than that. Not everybody would have been able to see the torn curtain for themselves. God might have destroyed the separation between him and his priests – but in a big way, women and gentiles were on the fringes and still separated from God by the men. That has not changed even to this day. Women don’t have direct access, they must be covered by and therefore go through men to get to God. Only with the covering of her husband’s authority, can she be properly submitted to her husband, and therefore, to God as well. Such a teaching obviously leaves out anyone who isn’t married. Which is why it’s stretched to say that unmarried women are under the spiritual authority of her father. Some women even choose to wear a physical covering to remind themselves of their spiritual covering. They remain veiled, wearing a veil that God never chose to tear in two.

For all of our human efforts, we cannot even begin to come close to the holiness that He demands, so he sent his son to take our place and close the gap we can never close … Now we as Gentiles are allowed into the family of God. It’s no longer only for the Jew, but for anyone who believes. Is there a part of you that struggles with that, that’s all there is to it? … Here’s the deal, faith is the lamp that makes the rest of the world dim. The problem is that we’re so used to holding onto our own candles that we don’t even know how to live in the light that he’s given us. It seems too easy. I mean believe, that’s it? Anyone can do that. And that’s exactly the point. It is only because of the groom who loved his bride and came to reconcile her … The veil is torn beloved, your groom has come for you and nothing – nothing will ever be the same.

The remarkable thing about the Gospels is the high value it places on women. Women are at the foot of the cross, the first to the tomb, the first to deliver the news. And yet, they’re also not allowed to see the torn curtain of the temple with their own eyes. They were last in the temple and last in the world. There’s some debate about the meaning of the Holy of Holies having been torn, but all other curtains in the temple being intact. In a significant way – nothing will ever be the same and yet nothing has changed at all.

Seamless: King me

So this past week you got a bird’s-eye view of a really, really dark time in the history of God’s people. It probably didn’t surprise you at this point that they have continued to move away from trusting God and wanting power for themselves instead of acknowledging Him. And what I want to do here is just so say that while we may be tempted to move past this and see ourselves as being different the truth of the matter is that we need to study them so that we can identify the patterns of our own sin. We see this huge shift in 1 Samuel 8 as the Israelites tell Samuel that they want a king. (1 Samuel 8:4-7 ESV)

To be honest, I think that the “wanting power for themselves” is a stretch. Consider their most recent experience with their Judge’s sons: Joel and Abijah concerned themselves with dishonest gain, accepted bribes, and perverted justice. The Judge’s sons had failed to keep the Law of Moses. Perhaps confidence in the Judge system had reached an all-time low. Perhaps they saw that as bad as things were, things would get far worse when Samuel died. Who knows? At least the verse does tell us that they wanted to be like all the other nations. Having a Judge made them different, but most of us really don’t want to be different at the end of the day – not when it singles us out as not like everyone else.

This is what God says, Samuel, they’re not rejecting you, they’re rejecting Me. And that’s the heart of all of this pride all of this sin all of this selfish ambition that they, that we have. It makes us reject God. It’s when we refuse to see that He really is our king. Now he knows that they’re going to do this, He knows that we are going to. He’s given us that freedom, and when the people ask for a king, we see what he says to Samuel. (1 Samuel 8:9-10 ESV) Tell them they’ll regret it, that they’re making a mistake. But they don’t care. They want what they want. And so they say: listen, all the other nations have kings and we want kings. But the whole point is He brought them here to be set apart. To look different. And they want to look like everyone else. So they persist and God tells Samuel “Give them what they want.” (1 Samuel 8:22 ESV) … So He’s going to show them what it looks like in this ideal world where they have all the power and are ruling over things. Saul is elected, he’s handsome, he’s tall, he’s strong – from all these earthly standards he fits all these great criteria for who is worthy to be king. But GOd doesn’t judge according to what we see, He judges according to the heart and Saul’s heart was not right with God.

The Ancient World didn’t have much use for looking different or set apart. The world was a harsh place where the strong fought their way to the top and it didn’t matter how many lives were lost in the process. The system was a tried and true method for measuring oneself against the standards of the day. The Israelites didn’t have a concept of how looking different and being set apart could work in that context. They were used to seeing mighty, strong, and tall warriors. They couldn’t fathom an army of weak and short fighters could hold their own. They were using to seeing massive cities surrounded by thick stone walls. They couldn’t imagine how a straw village without a wall could survive given the dangers the region presented them. To them, having a king could have represented the graduation from having been a band of former slaves to being on their way to being a proper kingdom, one that had begun to take it’s very first steps into becoming a regional power. Imagine what it would be like to negotiate a truce between an alliance of three or four kings … and Israel’s sole judge. Did the Israelites think that they weren’t being taken seriously because they were different? That they weren’t seen as kingdom because they didn’t have a king? It’s really easy to read a verse and assume we know the motivation behind it, but it’s really, really difficult to actually be right.

1 Samuel 12:14-15 ESV… So here’s the deal, you can’t have two true kings. There is only room for one. Who are you going to serve? What does this look like in your life? Or are you worshiping a false master? Maybe it’s a job or a person. Maybe it’s a desire that you’ve elevated to the position of king. We’ve all got them and there’s one critical difference – it’s what matters in the end.

That’s probably one of the hardest “you” questions yet. We have a lot in common with the Ancient Israelites. Day in and day out we aren’t really sure we see proof of God. We don’t get the awesome displays of His power – our enemies destroyed or fleeing before us, lightening, storms, fire falling down, bursts of wind, hordes of insects or frogs. Worse yet, science explains to us a lot of the natural phenomena that the ancient world likely attributed to God because they didn’t know how things work and anything they don’t know how it works has to be a God-thing.

1 Samuel 13:14 ESV… What was different between Saul and David? True repentance … the pure expression that results when someone realizes that he or she has grieved the heart of God … True repentance is us saying to God: “I have failed to make you king and as much as these consequences wound me they don’t touch the pain that comes when I realize how they have wounded you.” … 1 Samuel 15:24-26 ESV … Saul gives the perfect confession right? Wrong. All the right words don’t change a heart that’s wrong with God … Psalm 51:1-2 ESV … David use the same words (like transgressed) but his repentance was true because he realized that he had offended a holy God. True repentance doesn’t have a selfish motive. It simply has selfless acknowledgement.

I’ve noticed that much of the focus isn’t exactly on the seamless story of the entire Bible, but there’s a side-plot that points a common evangelism scheme – it’s in the subtle use of the language. I guess I noticed it because I don’t talk this way: “If we understood that he’s a holy God” “I know that we don’t deserve to be in his presence.” It suggests an assumed Calvinistic framework that highlights certain aspects of the story by glossing over other parts of it. We talked about sin in the first session. Eve’s sin, the sin that causes the Flood – that “these really weren’t good people” and the sin of the tower of Babel. They sin, we sin. The second lesson focuses on name changes, how we’re destined to get a white stone that absolves us of sin with our new name on it. But how? Here we are talking about repentance. While we’re talking about the seamless story of the entire Bible, we’re also hitting the major highlights of the Roman’s road, just the Old Testament version: There’s none righteous. God made a way to forgive us. It’s repentance – turning from our sins. If his whole side-plot was eliminated, that would represent a large chunk of time that could actually be spent talking about the seamless story of the entire Bible.

David’s not allowed to build God’s temple. Solomon did. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the same heart for God that David did. The kingdom splits apart and eventually the Israelites are taken from their land into captivity. During the time before the captivity all the way to the eventual return of the exiled portion of the Israelites, God raises up prophets to warn the people and their goal is to urge the people to remember God and honor Him. Now let’s think about this, we’ve seen chapter and chapters with disregard, disbelief, disrespect for God. We’ve watched towers being raised and cities being swallowed. If it were a movie, we’d be furious at the antagonist at this point. We see this loving groom take on his unfaithful wife. Over and over again he’s stood by her, she’s cheated on him, she’s snuck away in her sin, she’s offered herself to the highest bidder. She doesn’t care about Hosea and in the movie version that maybe we see in our mind, there is no cinematic score that could bring us to a place where we even care what happens to her next. She’s had her chance. She’s had more chances than we could count. If we were watching the movie we would be tempted to say give up Hosea, she doesn’t want anything to do with you. You’ve tried. But God is an altogether different director. In the book of Hosea we see Hosea track down his wife and as she goes up for auction, he takes out the money that he has brought with him and he ransoms her. Don’t miss the subtle language that happens right before this though, it is so beautiful. God is telling Hosea what He is wanting him to do. And keeping in mind that Hosea’s relationship with Gomer is symbolic of God’s with the church, listen to what God says. Hosea 3:1 ESV… This ungrateful, selfish bride – He’ll ransom her because He loves her. And as the Old Testament closes, things are spinning out of control. His bride has made it clear that He wants nothing to do with Him. She wants another king, she wants any other king. She’s refused him over, and over, and over again. And where we would just be likely to just shake our heads and turn our backs, he does nothing of the sort… The story continues 400 years later and we’ll be looking at a husband standing before his bride offering the highest ransom so that he can bring her home once and for all.

As a student of language (a hobby really) I find that unclear language is terribly frustrating. In this section, I’m not really sure if she’s talking about Hosea and Gomer, God and Israel, God and Judah, God and the Church, or God and you or me or us … it strikes me that she’s leaving it open as if to say that she’s talking about all of the above. I know, this marriage metaphor appears frequently in scripture, but God is also  divorce. The Bible uses divorce as a metaphor to explain why Israel and Judah lost his favor shortly before the Babylonian captivity. You know that if/obey thing? They couldn’t manage it. Isiah 50:1 and Jeremiah 3:8 go into more detail, I suggest you read both chapters fully. If we count Israel and Judah as God’s first two wives – maybe the third, the Church – will be the charm … the lucky one that doesn’t repeat history. The thing is, if it’s contingent on our obedience, then we’ve already lost. But it’s not. That’s where the redeemer / ransomer comes in. He’s the only one who can be obedient. It’s not even a question of “if”. He was born for that.