9 – Great High Priest

`But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. ~Hebrews 9:11-12

The role of priest and the physical temple were central to the Jewish faith in the Old Testament. Established under Moses, the first temple was constructed according to God’s explicit design, and Aaron became the first high priest. We don’t relate easily to the role of priest in the Jewish faith so a good question to ask is why is it such an important concept that the author of Hebrews devotes chapters to explaining it? In the Jewish faith only the priest made atonement for sins – only he was able to declare righteous, to approve sacrifices, receive tithes, and to confirm one’s relationship with God for another week or year.

The most significant sacrifice was on Yom Kippur or the Passover. The great high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to attain atonement (the appeasement of God’s wrath for sin) for all Israel for one year. The holiest day in the holiest location by the holiest individual in Israel – only one could do this act. The priests in the Old Testament were called to serve the people and the Lord. Hebrews 5:2 tells us that the priest can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Servant leadership in action as the greatest leader who must be the most humble.

When we understand the exchange that had to take place – the life/blood of a perfect sacrifice for sin, and that only priests could facilitate that exchange, then we begin to see the completion and perfection of the role of High Priest in Jesus. We had to have not only the sacrifice but also the priest – prior to Jesus Christ, the sacrifice had to be offered continually and never made anyone perfect. For since the law had but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:1,3-4). We were facing the wrath of Holy God. But Jesus became our perfect, all sufficient sacrifice as the Lamb of God. And He walked into the inner place behind the curtain as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever (Hebrews 6:19-20).

Remember, just like the priests of the Israelites, because of his humanity as our high priest, we can come with confidence to find mercy and grace. He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because He has been tempted but is without sin (Heb. 4:14) And this combination becomes an anchor for my soul in the storms of life and the flurry of lies from the enemy. He is my great Lamb – slain for all my sin as my propitiation to turn away God’s wrath from me. And He is my Great High Priest – seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up (Heb. 8:1-2). He is able to save to the uttermost all of us who draw near to God through Him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb. 7:25)

the vines

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. ~Hebrews 12:1-4

There are vines in my flowerbeds, vines that threaten to choke out the new growth, the established plants, and eliminate the blossoms and fruit that should grow. Interestingly, when I am weeding, I can actively see the vines that entangle the hydrangeas, hostas, and azaleas in my yard. They are obvious and an affront to me. How dare they take over my plants? However when I am just out by the pool, playing with my children, or walking through the yard quickly, my eyes can flick across the green landscape and the vines blend in. They are hard to distinguish sometimes because their tendrils wrap along the stems of the plant, allowing their leaves to lay alongside of the plant’s true leaves. The plant looks thicker, lusher even, at quick glance. As I gaze with intensity at the plants though, I can see the difference in leaves and slowly focus on the vines that wrap around.

Vines will also hurdle over the plant’s true stems, skipping right to the top of the plant, in order to gain the position closest to the sun. Their ultimate goal is not to dwell alongside the plant but to usurp the plant.  Left to their own growth, they will push the original plant down, limiting its new growth and weakening its stems. Whenever I strip the vines off of a plant, I am amazed at how the vines stunt the growth of the true plant causing fewer leaves and little to no fruit or flowers. Finally free of the crippling vine, the plant will begin to thicken and grow again filling in the gaps.

There are sins that entangle my heart, they wrap around my thoughts, crowd my affections and limit my growth. Weights of this world – responsibility, work, care taking – push down on my shoulders, and when coupled with sin, make me weakened, nonproductive, depleted, and bound. So whenever my desire to lead my children well becomes enmeshed with my pride rather than submitted to the Holy Spirit’s work in both of us, I have allowed the vines to grow. Whenever provision becomes about independence rather than dependence on Him, I have begun again to allow vines to shoot up and overtake. And whenever the unknown in the future seems to demand knowledge I don’t possess and I become fear driven and reactionary, the choking vines can block His light, His truth, and His lead.

Hebrews pushes me to remember Jesus. Remember His death on the cross that paid the atonement for me. Remember His position now as victorious King who conquered sin and death, setting me free from the fears, self love, and pride that seek to encircle my heart and drag me down. The struggle against sin is real. It is fierce. It is ongoing this side of heaven. But victory comes from Him!

Sin sometimes is hard to see, it becomes a part of my life and my eyes skim over the lies I have believed. But the Spirit is faithful to convict and teach. He will reveal and refine me as I submit myself to Him. Misplaced weight allows sin to grow. God promises to bear every burden we have (1 Peter 5:7), to provide every need we have (Matt. 7:32-34), to walk before us into every future event (Is. 52:12), and give us the wisdom we need every step of the way (James 1:5).

So let me run with endurance. Steady my feet on Your ground. Strengthen my hands for the weeding with your wisdom and discernment. Enable me to throw off the weights and untangle the sin. Grow in me your fruit. Let my garden display Your glory for Your renown today. You are worthy of all praise!

Do all things

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. ~Philippians 2:14-16

I quote this a lot in parenting, but as I have been studying through Philippians these past few weeks, I am convicted that I may not be leading my kids accurately in the truth of this passage. It’s a convenient quote to get my kids to obey but it’s sadly out of context when I use it as a hammer to stop fussing.

Grumbling – a murmuring; a secret displeasure, not openly avowed. Grumbling is often secretive because we know we shouldn’t voice our displeasure towards the one asking something of us.

Questioning – a reasoning or calculation that is self-based with the fixed mindset that one is right; a hesitation about what is true and disputing from that position. Questioning comes from a place of pride or superiority. 

Holding fast to the word – to hold toward, forth or to present as a light to illuminate; to mark, pay attention to, note or heed.

This verse is an exhortation that follows Paul’s call to be like Christ in humility/position with others. He instructs us to work out our faith because God is doing the work in us – stay committed to Him, submitted to Him. And then the attitude of the heart flows outward as fruit. When we walk with an attitude of superiority or pride, we grumble or question. We wonder what it is we are doing. We yearn for something else, something easier or more palatable. When we walk in humility, we serve and look like Jesus. I cannot simply decide to be humble. I cannot summon up a likeness to Jesus Christ in my flesh. I need to understand His humility.

The call to humility flows through the tunnel of sacrifice. Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore as I am washed in the humility of Christ, as His saving death floods my heart of stone, I too must walk in humility. Andrew Murray in his book, Humility, writes, “If humility is the first, the all inclusive grace of the life of Jesus – if humility is the secret of His atonement – then the health and strength of our spiritual life will depend entirely upon our putting this grace first and making humility the chief quality we admire in Him, the chief attribute we ask of Him, the one thing for which we sacrifice all else.” My pride, my love of self, my sense of self entitlement, must die. And that is very hard. Oh it is easy to say, I am quick to nod my head, yet I embrace myself at every turn.

Grumbling and questioning are merely symptoms of a heart tied more closely with self than with Christ. So what is my hope? How do I loosen the grasp of flesh? Hold fast to the Word of life. Cling to Him and His truth. Let Him illuminate every corner of my heart, root out each pride holdout, and work in me to replace my self love with His love. The more I allow Him to blaze forth out of me, responding with His humility to those around me, the more the world will see Him and not me.

We shine as lights; we look flawless in a world full of flaws. In a world of darkness, we are beacons of light. And the lost will be drawn to His light. The hurting will gravitate.  This is our response to God and the leading of the Spirit. So I also need to be very careful how I wield this verse with my children. The Gospel is central and paramount for a life that does not grumble or complain. How am I communicating Christ to my child? Because what I do not want to do is somehow communicate that grumbling and complaining can be turned off like a spigot. No, they are the very essence of my prideful flesh, and the only power over them is Jesus Christ.

So what is the state of the light that shines within me? Do I complain about where He says go and what He says do? Do I doubt what He says? This is my testimony for this world, either way. So is it “Did God really say?” or is it “Where you go, I will go.”

From Now On

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. ~Colossians 1:9-14

Paul wrote many prayers out in detail for the different churches and people he addressed in letters. This prayer is one that has become a benchmark prayer for me as I pray for my children or friends. Specifically I am praying this for one child who is overseas on mission and one who is serving this summer at a camp as they grow in and walk out their faith. As I studied the passage again this morning and working out exactly what I was praying for and how it applied to each child, I realized that Paul’s emphasis in this prayer is often different from my own. And the Spirit began refining me again. You see if I can confess one thing (if you haven’t yet figured it out from reading other writings of mine), I like to check a box or please others with performance. So the outward display of my actions compared to my heart has always been a refining ground for the Holy Spirit. God is interested in the heart. Period. And Paul prays in line with that truth.

I so often will pray this prayer skipping straight to the part that says walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Isn’t that what we want for our children? for ourselves? that we would please God, bear His fruit, increase in our knowledge of who He is and all He’s about? But what slayed me this morning was the sentence structure and Paul’s order. You see that’s not what Paul is praying for – those things are products of something else. Looking back into the scripture, Paul prays that they may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding and then flowing from that filling is the walk.

My husband and I have been having on ongoing discussion about how we disciple our children, remaining faithful to the Word and navigating all the different obstacles, storms, and troubles that come. One of the big ditches on this journey I believe is that I can get my equation wrong. I will focus on the walk – the fruit I see or don’t see, the manner in which they walk – is it pleasing?, do they know God more and more?, constantly examining perhaps in minutiae the lives of my children with a measuring stick which I don’t even truly possess.

Oh God forgive me. How often have I missed the great truth – Paul prayed that the church would be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. So what is that? When I look at the words using a concordance, Paul is praying that they would know with first hand experience God’s preferred will to bless mankind with Christ with all clarity and wisdom as well as a discernment that can apply His gospel to their lives. That was his focus. That was his prayer. That was his mindset. He knew that a life rooted in the Gospel, in what Jesus Christ did to pay for sin and redeem from wrath, will outflow into a life that pleases Him and bears fruit. The Spirit that indwells the heart of the believer will see to that process.

As believing parents we can’t get this out of order. But we do.

We look for the outcome, the results. We wonder about fruit, we perseverate on performance, and we teach our kids that God is after their actions. And truthfully kids can fake it. If they care at all about looking good or not getting into trouble, they can fake good for awhile. But then the church becomes a rule based organization that binds and condemns. Or they just reject it all because they’re honest enough to know they will never measure up. When the truth is we never have to measure up. We never have to have it together.

Speak the Gospel to your children. Teach them the truths of God’s holiness, man’s depravity, Jesus’ sacrifice and redemption, and our great forgiveness. Let their hearts see yours singing the joy that is only found in the freedom of Jesus. Fruit comes from trees planted in good soil. Don’t demand fruit. Tend to the soil.

So I am to pray constantly. Yes, never ceasing just like Paul was committed to doing for the church at Colossae, I will pray fervently that my children will know the heartbeat of God, His will that offers redemption and freedom at the cross. I intercede for them that they will know God’s great forgiveness of their depravity and that they will live their life for Him because they have experienced His great love for them. From now on, I will speak of the Gospel at every turn, pointing to the One who delivers from the domain of darkness and transfers us into the kingdom of Jesus Christ, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins!

 

The other side of the masterpiece

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. ~2 Corinthians 3:18

In my limited perspective, I will fix my gaze on my loved one, wondering why the great Potter isn’t “really working” on my child. I see the need for eyes to be carved in order for my child to see Him, ears to be fashioned for hearing His truth, I long to see a mind aligned with the Gospel and a mouth He can use. And I chafe because all I see are bare imprints or slight markings indicating where these features need to be. I worry about my role in creating this new clay – am I saying the right things, parenting in ways that encourage a relationship with Him?

And then in His great patience and steadfast love, both for me and my child, everything turns.

And the masterpiece He has been hard at work on is displayed.

And I realize I have been looking at the base while the great Artist has been at work on the heart and soul of my child.

My perspective is so off, and I have believed the lie that no one can love my child more than me. When in truth, the comparison of love shows that my love may be as great as a tea cup compared to the vast ocean of love He has for His child. He is trustworthy with our children and He is at work where the work needs to be done. You see, I would have carved a face into the base or on some place completely wrong for that child. I would have demanded features where nothing is needed. But He knows exactly how and where to work in the heart of each one of us in order to create His workmanship, fashioning and carving, working the clay to bring out life.

We talk all the time about how to parent, how to lead, how to help our children navigate this life. Sadly we have become hyper focused on producing a product in 18 years rather than investing in an individual designed by God. When I spend time with my child in pursuit of the Gospel, loving them according to how He has created them, trusting Him for the fashioning of this soul, God reveals the ways the Gospel impacts their lives right where they are.When we talk about poor behavior, the conversation is purposed to dive into the heart to the underlying belief/lie that has led them astray from the truth. Then the truth in God’s Word can slice through the lie, tending the hurt with tender care, replacing bondage with freedom.

So when I am loving on a resistant two year old, the Gospel speaks to his need for Jesus to help him choose to obey and be kind. Jesus is his helper, his friend, and the One who loves him most. When my preteen wrestles with friends and value, the gospel declares how full of value she really is. Success and failure are not defining measurements; rather who she is in Jesus becomes the litmus test. Practicing patience and self control at any age is pointless unless it is layered with the truth that only the Spirit within you can develop these fruits. But the fullness of the Spirit has been given to the one who is saved, child or adult. He is the Transformer.

God is committed for the duration. He is at work on a glorious image bearer for His glory and His namesake. And He works in His timing, moving each of us from one degree to another, patiently and steadfastly engaged and never discouraged. When I keep my eyes focused on the Carver and not the carving, trusting His hands at work rather than my fumbling, I am invited into the great reveal. The other side, the work unseen by me but His focus, is glorious.

The Bends in the Road

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.  ~Ephesians 4:12

just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. ~Ephesians 1:7-8

As parents we get to watch God in action. I mean really watch Him molding and scraping and crafting one of his people. In the middle it often seems as if He’s not really making any changes; and if that person happens to be one of my older children, I can get a little nervous! I begin to orchestrate, implicate and manipulate in order to assure a result, to see the finished product I desperately long for. I have been guilty many times of comparing my children to those around me or to the false picture of what I believe they should look like.

 What God is teaching me is that my responsibility as a mother is to be more like Epaphras, who was characterized by his faithfulness to the Gospel and intense prayer. In Colossians 1, Paul recounts his hearing about the Colossians’ faith and love because of their understanding of the grace of God that they learned from Epaphras.  Epaphrus was a faithful teacher of the gospel who sought to establish new believers and mature them in their faith. Centering my own parenting on the gospel alone means drawing everything back to 4 major pieces: who is God in this, who are we, who is Jesus and what did He do for us, and finally what does that mean for you and me? Faithfulness to the Word involves not compromising on the truth for the sake of relationship ease but with humility sharing how the Gospel intersects this moment with my child.

My prayers for my child are vital. Often I lessen their power and heighten my own power of persuasion. Engaging in prayer for my child is not and cannot be an afterthought or a quick plea on the way out the door. Epaphrus struggled on behalf of the Colossians in his prayers. His prayers contended or struggled as in an intense athletic contest or warfare; as with an adversary. Do I have this same concept of prayer? When I plead before the throne for my child rather than lecture my child on a certain subject, consistently and faithfully God has done mighty works of faith and belief in my children’s lives. Most importantly, their heart changes are just that — their own in their budding walk with God, and not a response to a parent that often can be fleeting.

He is at work. And that is a mighty statement.

He is committed to these precious gifts far and away more than I am, and He can see around the bends. He knows the truths now that need to be shaped into my child’s character in order for him or her to walk out the moments around the bend. I am limited in my perspective and desperately want to protect my child from pain, hardship, or struggle.

But this way of walking with the Father demands I trust Him with my children. It means taking my manipulations out of the equation and granting Him the time needed to do His mighty work. It means laying aside my time schedule, my pride to have raised “good” or “godly” kids, and my understanding and instead bow my head to the One whose ways and thoughts are not my own.

But what I can also confirm is that suddenly the Mighty Potter allows his creation to turn! And then His forming masterpiece is seen! The works sown in daily life will bear a harvest mighty for His kingdom and for His glory. He is trustworthy and faithful.

the simplicity of parenting

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. ~John 15:12-13

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” ~Matthew 22:36-40

I am often asked about how to parent. People assume that since I have so many, I must be some sort of expert on what to do. While I may have more experiences to draw from when encountering something new or difficult, I still often feel clueless and deficient. I think that is the posture that God desires most – when the answer to my feeling of ineptitude is to run to Him. I encounter moms all the time who feel completely inadequate and worried that what they are doing or not doing may result in failure in mothering.

There was an article making the rounds in different social media platforms (and there are always these articles) that detailed the things that well adjusted children needed from their parents in order to avoid mental disorders and unhappiness in life. I will just be honest, these kinds of articles infuriate me. They are the workings of the enemy – perhaps not the express desire of the author, yet that is what they are. The premise of the article is that if the parent will just do this checklist of things to some hidden level or degree, then the child will become a happy, well adjusted adult ready to succeed in life.

And we as believers fall for it!

We believe the inaccurate and discount the truth. We are led down the path using bondage and fear to tie us to behavior with an invisible measuring stick in order to receive a result we cannot ever control. God offers truth in parenting, and I believe He keeps it simple. He calls us to love: love Him and then love others. To love them with a love mimicking Jesus’ love for us – a sacrificing, humble, fully engaged, fierce love.

Our culture screams self love, self care, and self fulfillment. Yet the masses are lonely, hurting, unfulfilled, and desperate. There is no peace apart for Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection open the door to the wonderful relationship of a loving Father with all sins forgiven. He gives us a new name, a new purpose, changes our heart, indwells us, and gives us His power for this life. He loves us perfectly!

And we are called to love Him and others in this way. Love doesn’t always look pretty or easy either. That is a false story told by one who wants us all to find ourselves lacking. Love often has to slog through mess and dirt, carrying the wounded or supporting the limping. It costs us time and often infringes on our own agendas. Love hurts because often it is initially rejected. But Christ never retreats, and neither can we.

In parenting we are called to love deeply and fully, with all our heart, soul and mind, laying down the things of “my” life in order to serve and lead a precious child to her Savior. So I think there are some very real concepts as a parent that I must ascribe to as I walk out this time with my children. I need to reject the cultural dogma that says that I deserve a break or better kids or more time for myself. While we all may need rest or quiet time, true rest and rejuvenation are found in Him. But I confess that “me time” often doesn’t include any time alone with Jesus and instead includes a lot of time for my selfish wants. Loving well also doesn’t align with either helicopter or laissez faire parenting. Neither of these examples are what we see in how God loves us. When I succumb to micromanaging, I have denied God’s real leadership in the life of this child, and instead I believe that I control the outcome. On the other side, nowhere does God show us love by allowing us to wander without influence, wisdom, and counsel. In fact he clearly commands us to walk with our child, daily discussing their lives in light of Scripture, filtering every part of their world through the true lens of God’s love.

God designed this child, idiosyncrasies and difficulties, talents and gifting. This child is His creation, for His purpose and His glory. And I am invited into His equation to help till the ground and create an environment in which He can be displayed. The God of the universe, who designed this wonderful, magnificent child and positioned him in my home specifically with me as a parent, promises to equip me to meet him with great, true love. And by my obedience in loving my child, I love and worship God. But His sovereignty trumps my actions or inactions. He doesn’t require my input, but He delights in walking with me in parenting His child. He is the One who woos and calls. He is the One who opens blind eyes to the truth of salvation. He is the One who will change me, teaching me and giving me insight into each child. And He is the One who will walk with my child.