For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with us in our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all these things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Satan is well aware of those windows of opportunity by which we are most vulnerable to the reaching of his grip.
A few months ago, in what appeared to be a stable season of my life, I found myself in battle. For one day, I felt a force threatening to keep my mind, body, and soul from grasping onto hope. It was the peak of a descent into a darkness of which I had never before experienced. I literally felt a heaviness that kept pressing down on me; making the transition from laying in my bed to standing up nearly impossible. Yet, in the midst, I pulled out my armor and fought.
The point of evil’s intrusion occurred as I was struggling with an unexpected mood change. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for a several years. Not surprisingly, the seasons of stability have given way here and there to brief phases of losing my footing. Those moments challenged me but I always found the ability to arise and keep walking forward.
I refused to let Satan draw me back from finding the place where God was leading me. I recognized the tactics of discouragement, unrestrained anger and hopelessness. (Read about another battle here: http://stephaniejthompson.com/2016/08/31/if-god-can-raise-a-man-from-the-dead-why-cant-he-keep-my-crockpot-from-falling-2/)
When I found my spirit listening to voices which beckoned to surrender hope, I cried out to Jesus to help me claim victory over them.
Struggles of the mind and body are not indications of a weak faith or losing “favor” with God. They are consequences of the broken realities of the world in which we reside. This place points to the complete restoration which is possible in our Heavenly home but may not be experienced in it’s complete form here.
However, we are offered wholeness in our spirit through the grace of Jesus. He not only triumphed over the power but wrestled with it himself. Until the end of his life.
“…yet without sin.”
What is the significance of these three small words in reference to the act of being a high priest?
Being a high priest brought with it a significant amount of responsibility. He acted as God’s representative to proclaim that the offering for sin had been redeemed. Reconciliation to God had been achieved.
These individuals were specifically chosen based on character and knowledge of the Jewish law. But, their humanity still existed. Very possibly, they had committed the same sins as those who came to them seeking forgiveness.
Only Jesus could wear the title of “high priest” and yet also become the offering at the same time. By doing so, he removed the “curtain” that separated the humanly appointed righteous from the humanly designated unrighteous.
In addition, his humanity left him vulnerable to the temptations of the flesh.
But did he really experience the same temptations as we do? We could spend hours analyzing his life; searching for specific examples of weaknesses of the flesh.
Does it matter?
Jesus experienced the suffering that accompanies our spirit and possibly our minds and bodies when evil powers try to lure us away from where God has placed us.
For each of us, those temptations make look different. The consequences of refusing to follow those voices may result in remaining in a place of discomfort. Or they may not.
Regardless, we look to Jesus’ strategy in keeping his feet planted: calling out to his Father.
We share the same one.
He relied on God’s word to root him when his feet were tempted to move. And it’s no different for us.
Fortunately, our high priest will always be advocating for us. He liberated us from evil and knows of its force firsthand. Furthermore, he has assumed his position as king.
“Therefore, LET US draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.”
Charles Spurgeon writes, “It is a throne of grace where no ordinary monarch presides, but where one is sitting who is infinite and
all sufficient, one who can bestow upon us more than we ask, or ever think of asking, and yet not
impoverish Himself in the slightest degree! Always remember, beloved, in coming to the mercy seat,
that you are coming to a King and to one who gives like a King! Always open your mouth wide and ask
great things of the King who is so ready to bestow them upon you!”
What does the Church look like?
I’m not talking about architecture. What does it look like? In my last blog I pondered what it takes for people who don’t follow Christ to begin to take notice of the Church. I believe that the Old Testament gives us a “pre-christian” understanding of community. There is a realization that one’s actions benefit or hurt another.
Everyone’s intention is to live in a way that the whole community is built up.
The New Testament paints a broader picture because not only do we see ourselves as part of a community but it’s one that is made up of imperfect/diverse people with the common goal of following Christ and living in the constant grace that is woven through the fabric of their life together. Acts 2:42: All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper, and to prayer.
In 2016, communities of Christians living together do exist. I know first hand of one and, just like any group of believers, they have their places of strength and areas of struggle. The book of Acts is not requiring that all Christians must live together everyday. The point is that they share life together: a life guided by Jesus who infuses us with a desire to live in a way that may run counter cultural.
Verse 47 adds, ” 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. More and more people were added. hmmm.
Was it due to a high end audio system?
A hip pastoral staff?
Perhaps, it was watching a group of very different people(different ages, varied abilities, clashing personalities) come together to intentionally become Jesus’ Body on Earth. Not an easy task at all. Even the disciples had arguments.
Not easy, but possible.
Not easy, but transformational. In fact, despite the early persecutions and deaths, Christianity spread rapidly in the early years.
Here are just three contemporary examples of what happens when the Church IS the Church.
Ravenswood Covenant Church on Chicago’s northside began a ministry to High school mothers. They began a partnership with a local high school where the church provides resources (daycare to their children, education on various topics and mentoring) to support them. At a vulnerable time in their lives, these young women receive the help of Jesus’ hands and feet without judgement or condition. I’m sure setting this program up involved many logistics, some concerns (“what about insurance liabilities?” “we’re helping a teen who got pregnant?” ),…..But they did it because Jesus is living in them.
Christ the Servant Church in Olathe, Kansas partnered with a local prison ministry. The congregation desires to offer “unsuspecting acceptance.” to criminal offenders and their families. Each month, the Sunday worship service is led by a group of former prisoners who travel to different churches to use share their gifts with the greater church community. Afterwards, the congregation and worship team share in a meal together. A man who attends the church originally came because he supervised some of the offenders. Following his visit he told the pastor he would be “willing to attend a church that would welcome ‘men like this'” .(www.covchurch.org/news/2013/6/03). He later became a follower of Christ as did his family.
The Bridge Teen Center in Orland Park (http://thebridgeteencenter.org), Illinois offers a safe space for teens to explore their identity as well as build relationships with others. My kids love it! Programs are divided into different “buckets” which expand both heart and mind: Community Connections, Mind/Body, Expressive arts, Educational Support. Best of all: the programs are all FREE! And if that wasn’t enough, bus transportation is provided to pick students up at their school and bring them to the Bridge. Walking into this place, you feel validated in every sense: the decorations and furniture themselves shout “You are worth it!” No 70’s couch and mismatched rugs here. Chic, comforting, functional for the teens who find refuge here. Want to know what it’s like to be a teacher? meet one and ask questions. Interested in honing culinary skills? cook with a local chef in the commercial grade kitchen. Need to chill after a bad day? Nap in the padded quiet zone nooks Having problems with family? vent to a trained adult leader. Although it is not promoted as a Christian venue, the center was founded by a former youth pastor-Priscilla Steinmetz. Biblical principles form the foundation and drive its mission. She and 200 volunteers work to engage the community in every possible angle to ensure that lives can be transformed here. Change lives, impact an entire community.
47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
So…..what would happen if these examples were commonplace in the Church? What are the implications for our nation; in particular? What kind of transformation would take place? How would that impact the debates about government based programs to the vulnerable? How would the Church be redefined?
When have you witnessed “The Church Being the Church?”
My neighbor and I have some lively discussions. It’s refreshing; actually, since our demographics differ greatly. He is an 80 year old widower, father, grandfather, vet; and agnostic I am 50, wife, mom, and Christian. We talk about everything: parenting, economics, the state of the country, gardening and when the Spirit opens a window of opportunity-religion. Although his wife was connected to a church family, he had (and continues to have) no desire to learn more about the character of God nor be part of the body through whom the Holy Spirit here on Earth.
The funny thing is, we share similar philosophies regarding many issues such as parenting, lifestyle and a belief in right and wrong. The difference of course is that I see my worldview reflecting the “kingdom” on Earth in which I live. One that is supposed to radiate light to others; one that should bring a salty flavor to those who encounter it; one that turns the human ways of looking at things on its head. It is indeed a Kingdom that began as God chose to be in covenant with imperfect human beings and through whom would show the other nations that “I am your God”.
As our recent discussion turned to the issues of abortion and valuing life, I heard him passionately state his sadness and anger at the act. Personally, I believe abortion to be more than a legal issue. I think there are a plethora of social layers that must be addressed in order to decrease abortions, I stated to my neighbor, “Well, it would help if the Church would be the Church.”
He stared at me for a minute before replying, “You know…that’s a good one! That is really true. ‘If the Church would be the Church’, he mumbled to himself. “I’m going to remember that.”
When I said that, I wasn’t referring to protesters outside clinics or social media comments. I was referring to being the hands of feet of Christ who bear the image of God through actions that seek to restore and bring wholeness-providing, shelter, materials, friendship, help along the journey of giving life. Hopefully, it would result in reducing the possibility that abortion would even be considered as an option.
Because of Ray’s reaction to my statement, I am left pondering the question, “Why is he not seeing the Church?”
Who else is not drawn to it because its visibility has diminished; it’s saltiness has become stale; its light-dim?
Certainly, we, in our humanity, can’t fix everything. Earth is a taste of Heaven. But at the same time it’s just that-a taste. Shouldn’t there be something about living in God’s Kingdom that would make people walk away from life as they know it in order to be part of such a place?
Casting Crowns’ song, “We are the body” so eloquently asks the questions we as the church should be asking. (the song is based on James 2)
But if we are the body
Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Why aren’t His hands healing?
Why aren’t His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t His feet going?
Why is His love not showing
them…..There is a way?
As Jesus is the way.
In my next post, I will share some creative ways that the body of Christ’s arms reach others in their dire circumstances and show them Jesus is the way.