Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hebrews 11:5-6 By faith Enoch. . .

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. ( Hebrews 11:506 NIV)

Enoch, who was the father of Methuselah and the great grandfather of Noah, has only four verses given to him in Genesis, chapter 5. He is listed in this genealogy chapter with a repeated pattern: “When ______ had lived _____ years, he became the father of _____. After he became the father of ______ he lived _____ years and had other sons and daughter. Altogether, ______ lived a total of ______ years, and then he died. Period. But in the passage describing Enoch, there are distinctions that no one else in this chapter merited:

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. (Genesis 5:21-24)

Enoch did not die. There are only two people mentioned in the Bible as having never died, but who instead were taken from the world by God: Enoch and Elijah.

We are told that Enoch “walked faithfully with God.” What does that mean to “walk” with God? Walking is the most natural and common means by which we move forward. It is not strenuous exercise, but casual, comfortable travel. To walk with someone is to keep in step with him, to go in the same direction side by side. This is an intimate activity. You know, if you walk with your friends or your spouse, it is a time of good conversation - of laughing and sharing the things that are on your heart. To walk with someone is to purposefully set aside time to be together and to connect. {All of this, by the way, from someone who avoids exercise of any kind like the plague :) }

To say that Enoch walked “faithfully” with God tells us that this was his regular habit. Enoch knew God well. Enoch and God apparently had a daily appointed time when they met to walk together. It was a priority with Enoch - and I am certain it was a priority with God, as well.

Think about that. How amazing that the God of the Universe desires to have intimate fellowship with us! He longs to walk through ALL of this life with us. Not just the dramatic, big times of tragedy or loss, but during the quiet times, the routine times, the small times. He wants to walk with you through the scary time of abandonment and divorce as well as during the daily grind of your work or the frustrating days of toddlers and tantrums, diapers and messy houses, which seem to last an eternity - and yet are gone in a blink.

In the Hebrews passage we read that Enoch “pleased God.” What does that mean? This passage tells us that is involves faith, because, without faith, there is absolutely NO WAY to please God! Jesus affirms this in the Gospel of John when Jesus was approached by a crowd with a very specific question:

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”  (John 6:28-29)

I have written on these verses many times, because I think they are so important. Jesus could have given them a long list of things to DO. In fact, that appears to have been their expectation, and I’m guessing, their desire. I imagine each of them thinking, “Jesus, just tell me what we need to do to get into Heaven. If you want me to tithe, I’m all over it. Attend temple every day? I’m your man! Give to the poor? Fast and pray once a week? Chant Bible passages? Meditate? Study your Word every day? Witness to my neighbors? I’m there, LORD! Just tell me what to DO!”

When we focus on what WE can DO, we are dealing with pride. We like the idea of self-effort and achievement. Surely, those things listed are good things. But Jesus gives us only ONE requirement - one imperative: BELIEVE in Him!

If we want to please God, we have to BELIEVE that He is - that He is Who He says He is - and that He longs to reward all who seek Him diligently. He guarantees that if we earnestly seek Him, He WILL be found (see Jer 29:11-14). He’s not playing hide and seek with us. He YEARNS to be found by us. And the truth is that HE. IS. the reward! Eternal life with Him forever is ours when we believe! This is the good news of the gospel. As my pastor loves to say, “Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”  Believe it!

Enoch was a man who pleased God BY FAITH. And that’s why he is numbered with the heroes in this chapter. Next up? Noah! Boy do we need rain about now. . .  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Hebrews 11:4-5 Even Though He is Dead August 26, 2015

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. (Hebrews 11:4 NIV)

One of the things I love about the Bible is that it is so true and real. We don’t have to go far into it before sin enters the world,and we have our first example of family dysfunction and murder! If this book had been written by mere men, instead of being God-breathed (as Paul describes it in 2 Timothy 3:15-17), everything would be written ideally with happy-ending stories. Instead, it very clearly portrays all of the weaknesses of these people, because this book is all about redemption from Genesis to Revelation. There isn’t one example of a perfect family - not even Jesus’s earthly family! From what we can tell, his siblings did not believe in him prior to the resurrection. In fact they kind of thought he was a bit crazy! (John 7:5, Mark 3:21)

So, right off the bat, we see Adam and Eve’s two sons had issues. We understand that sometimes there can be sibling rivalry, but this ramps up due to the extreme jealousy of big brother Cain over the acceptance of Abel’s offering to God and the rejection of his own:

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. 

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:2-5 NIV)

Most commentators focus on the what of the sacrifice made by the brothers: Abel offered a blood sacrifice of the best part of his flocks, foreshadowing the redemptive work of Christ and representing a reliance on the blood for forgiveness; Cain offers the fruit of his own efforts. However, just as important it seems is the heart attitude or the why of the offering. Abel’s heart was right, which is why, in the Hebrews verses he is commended by God for his FAITH demonstrated in the offering. It was his FAITH that made Abel righteous in God’s eyes. Cain, on the other hand, displays his heart when he doesn’t just pout about the situation, he gets “very angry.”

What I find remarkable in the Genesis passage is the grace of God in this incident. First, He speaks a warning to Cain when He sees the attitude of his heart. He warns him to beware of the sin in his heart. Even when Cain ignores the warning and actually murders Abel, God offers him a way to confess and repent, but Cain turns a deaf ear with a snarky retort:

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9)

Again, even though God could have immediately instituted capital punishment, He shows grace to Cain. God drives Cain from His presence, but He marks Cain with a protective marking so that no one will harm him. (see Gen 4:10-18)

So, Abel, our first hero of faith mentioned in Hebrews, is also out first example of God’s plan that from beginning to end, salvation is by faith. What do we learn from this story? It isn’t what I DO for God that matters as much as how I approach Him and serve Him. Am I serving from a heart of love, with an awe of the majesty of our holy Creator God? Or am I serving to be seen as “righteous,” doing things to be approved by men rather than God? When I serve, am I doing it for an audience of One? Or do I toot my own horn and post on Facebook the wonderful things I’m doing so that my FB friends will “like” my efforts?

Most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have our moments of doing both. Sometimes we spontaneously respond to the overwhelming grace and love of God by complete surrender of our will to His and offering up a heart that just wants to serve Him by serving others. When we do that, the rewards are eternal. But sometimes we all fall into the trap of wanting to be acknowledged for our works, and relish receiving the accolades from men. When we do that, the reward is temporal - it’s here, then gone.

What was Abel’s reward? My very favorite part of this section of Hebrews 11 declares,“And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.” Thousands of years after Abel’s death, Paul says his faith still speaks to us! I have written in the margin of my Bible next to this, “Let that be said of me!” No one remembers people after they die beyond their immediate family and maybe the next generation. The reality is that, beyond the grandchildren, we are pretty much forgotten. The dusty photo albums evoke little or no emotional connection to faces we have never known in person.

Even if there is a building with your name on it, no one cares beyond your own generation. I took classes every day in Royce Hall when I was at UCLA. Do I have the vaguest idea who Royce was or why he merited a building? Nope! And I don’t really care. However, I have the knowledge of the prayers of my paternal grandmother and my husband’s paternal grandparents who fervently prayed for our families. My older sister, Jodi, did a lot of genealogical research on our family and traced a consistent ribbon of faith throughout. I am confident that the prayers of my ancestors reached down to July 16, 1976, when I received Christ as my Savior. Even though they are dead, their faith still speaks. That’s a legacy I want to leave. How about you?  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hebrews 11:3 By Faith. . . August 24, 2015

Just in case you miss the point that Paul is making in this letter, salvation is and always has been by faith - not by our own efforts. The whole appeal to the Hebrew believers has been to remain in the grace they had received from God and NOT to return to the religious requirements and rituals that no one could keep. Christ has completed the work of salvation on the cross. It is a gift of God from beginning to end, and NOTHING we do can add to that.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)

In this chapter of Hebrews, Paul will show that it has ALWAYS been by faith - even before the Law of Moses was given. The phrase “by faith” appears in this chapter about twenty times for emphasis. And the very first example of faith expressed starts with the basics, believing in the invisible God. Unless you can believe the first four words of the Bible, “In the beginning God. . .,” you will have a hard time with the rest. The Bible never tries to argue the existence of God - it assumes it. If you can’t buy that, if that isn’t obvious to you just by looking at the creation we have in evidence all around us, none of the rest of the book will make sense.

Therefore, assuming that the first four words of the Bible are TRUE, Paul begins to explain in Hebrews 11 the first “by faith” example:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3 NIV)

He’s saying that everything we see around us was spoken into existence by God, Who created it all from NOTHING. He did not gather up some ingredients and put them in a pot and create all of the things we see in the universe. He didn’t start the world in motion and step away as all of it eventually worked itself into what we see. He actually spoke and created everything we see, uniquely with a special purpose and joy. Genesis chapter one specifically tells us that, as God made each aspect of our world, He declared it “good.” He was pleased with it. When he created man, however, we are told that He created man in His own image. Mankind is unique among all the uniqueness!

I’m not going to enter into a long treatise regarding creation - so many have covered it far better than I can - but two example speak volumes: the human eye, and atoms. The eye is arguably the most complex organ in our bodies - and the most unique to each individual (other than DNA itself). The retina of the eye is 2,000 times more unique in individuals than fingerprints. For that reason, retinal scans are being used for security purposes to identify people. In India, more than half the population has already submitted to retinal scans for security purposes because of this uniqueness. The eye has a built-in cleansing system: each time we blink we irrigate, lubricate, cleanse and protect the eye. And we do it more that 4,000,000 times a year!

Have you ever wondered why we can’t do eye transplants? We can transplant so many vital organs, but not the eye. That’s because it is actually an extension of the brain. It’s wiring system to the various pathways of the brain are much too complex to be able to accomplish such a difficult task.

The eye is amazing, and yet it is just a teeny tiny part of what God has done to amaze us! Whether contemplating the vastness of the universe, or wondering over the infinitesimally small atoms and subatomic particles, creation screams that there is a Creator. When I taught the fifth grade chemistry unit, I always marveled that all sub-particles (protons, neutrons, and electrons) are identical to their kind. The only difference between one element and another, between oxygen and gold, for example, is the number of the subparticles in the nucleus of the atom! And there are only about 100 elements that make up all of the diversity we see in the universe! That boggles my mind! There is really nothing random about creation - it definitely has design and purpose.

So why doesn’t everyone believe that God exists if we can see His hand so clearly in our world? Well, according to Paul, it’s not that people CAN’T believe, not that they don’t have enough evidence, but rather that they WON’T believe. They choose not to (see Romans 1:18-32 for Paul’s explanation). Because if we believe that there is a God who created us, then we must be accountable to Him. “No thank you!” says most of the world.

In today’s verse, we have been told that it is by faith that we believe in God as the Creator. We have to first believe what His Word tells us about Him before we can see Him. And this has always been true. Up next is our look at the first example from the Old Testament that proves Paul’s point. I’m excited to learn about our first hero of faith: Abel. Join me!  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Hebrews 11:1 Faith Defined April 30 oops! June 13, oops! August 18, 2015

I am back. This has been one long year! When God called me to go into leadership in the teachers’ association, I was as eager to do it as Jonah was to go to Ninevah! It didn’t take a whale to get me here, but conditions were such that He made it desirable! So this has been the most unusual, trying year, even though I am so grateful for the people I work with and the fabulous teachers I represent. When the burden presses down on me, I remember whose it is to carry, and I’m so thankful that He is the sovereign LORD, the Almighty God of angel armies, who is in charge and who loves the children and staff of this district much more than I can imagine.

As you can see, I started this entry more than four months ago - but I’ve been in the midst of a strong spiritual battle at work, and every day I remind myself of this verse.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

The battle raging around us is one we cannot see! And that is why I’m finding comfort today in finally getting to Hebrews 11!!! So, here it is! The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a favorite of many. It is often referred to as the roll call of faith.

One of the reasons many believe that Paul was, indeed, the author of Hebrews is because of the structure of this letter. Jon Courson points out that Paul always began his epistles with doctrine (who Christ is, what He accomplished, who we are in Him), and then made practical applications telling readers how to live out this Christian faith. In the final three chapters of Hebrews, the writer now shows practically how faith is expressed in the real world. ( see Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 1493). Having argued to Jewish believers to continue in their reliance on Christ alone, not their traditions and rituals, he now shows them how, even from the very beginning, salvation has always been by faith, not by works. He begins with a definition of faith:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

After If we can actually see something, we don’t need faith. Faith requires that we believe even though we DON’T see. The world says, “Seeing is believing.” But faith says, “Believing is seeing.” It’s amazing how your eyes only open to see once you take the step of faith to believe!

This is what the ancients were commended for. (vs. 2)

As we go through this chapter, we will see how carefully the author - I’m just going to assume Paul, if that’s alright with you - chose the specific examples of faith he outlines here. It’s also significant that many names are left out. But what truly amazes me, is how EACH of them BELIEVED God without SEEING. None of them had the advantage of reading about their stories in the Bible. 

Abraham could not take courage from the stories of Abraham, he had to LIVE them. Noah had no idea what a flood would look like since he’d never seen it rain. He had not read about Noah and the flood. He did not know about the rainbow promise, but he believed that God would fulfill the promise to judge the earth! In the same way, Paul and Silas (not mentioned in this chapter), who had been brutally flogged and thrown into prison in Acts 16, were singing in prison, not because they had read the story of Paul and Silas! They had no idea how the story would turn out. They were worshiping God in the midst of their agonizing pain, believing He was in charge and that He was worthy of praise no matter what the outcome.

You and I are in the midst of our faith stories. We have no idea how they will turn out. Will God rescue us from our trials or through them? Our act of faith is to believe that God knows what He is doing; He knows where He is leading; and He has a Kingdom purpose that He is accomplishing through it all. The way we join these other heroes of faith is to just believe that He is Who He says He is and that He will keep ALL of His promises! Our story is NOT dependent upon OUR faithfulness to God, but on His faithfulness to us! Hallelujah! It’s so good to be back in here. Please pray that I will be able to stay here faithfully in the next few months to complete this study!  

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Hebrews 10:32-39 The Righteous Will Live by Faith

“Keep doing what you’re doing!”

 “Carry on!”

“Proceed with your day!”

These are all exhortations to keep going - to persevere. [The last one was a funny text message from my grandson, Beau, to his mom the other day.] This is the message the author of Hebrews now gives to his readers. “You know the truth. You have been walking in it for years, now carry on! Keep doing what you’re doing. DON’T TURN BACK!

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, 
“In just a little while,

    he who is coming will come

    and will not delay.” (Hebrews 10:32-39)

He’s saying, “Don’t give up! Remember the joy of your early days with Christ, when you gladly suffered persecution, because you had a heavenly perspective. So now, keep your eyes on the prize, on the hope of your calling. Christ will be coming soon. You don’t see it now, but you KNOW it will happen, because He who promised is faithful!”

And then he quotes Habakkuk to remind them how we are to live in view of that promise:

“But my righteous one will live by faith.

    And I take no pleasure

    in the one who shrinks back.” 
But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (vs.38-39)

Those of us who know and follow Christ do it by faith! We do not see with our eyes, but we believe with all of our hearts that God’s Word is true, and that Christ will return one day. That is the hope that sustains the believer no matter what his circumstances!

When we have actually seen or experienced something, it is no longer faith. But most of our walk with God is done by faith, before seeing anything. We believe and trust that God is sovereign in our lives, and He knows where He’s taking us, even if we have no idea - and even if the path is through the valley, or into the wilderness or into the heart of a raging storm. God is doing a work in our lives to make us more like Christ.

Sometimes the refining process is painful - even excruciating. I like what Beth Moore has said about this. In view of eternity, our life here, no matter how long or short, is about 5 minutes. And we can do anything if we know it’s only for five minutes! That perspective gives us clarity as we go through the rough spots! We can persevere in the knowledge that God knows what He’s doing. So continue to walk BY FAITH. We begin in grace, we grow in grace, and we walk in grace. Don’t turn back to your own meager efforts that gain you nothing!

This is Easter weekend. Tomorrow is Sunday, the day that changed history and all of our lives. We can rest as those who walk by faith, because HE LIVES! Next stop: Hebrews 11 and the roll call of faith! Can’t wait! Happy Easter, indeed!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hebrews 10:26-31 A Dreadful Thing

I have to admit I’ve been having a hard time getting to this next section of Hebrews 10! Tucked away in this letter are the following verses, which describe what happens when we ignore the mercy and grace of God and the provision of salvation in Jesus Christ. These are verses which are hard to read if you believe that God is just love:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)

So, I turned to my trusty Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament for some help. He said this section is often as jarring as it would be to read the following sign posted near a convent:

- Sisters of Mercy 

Courson reminds the reader about the purpose of the letter in order to make sense of this stern warning from the author of Hebrews, because context is everything! Remember that the author is trying to persuade the Hebrew believers to remain in the freedom they have with Christ, to rely solely on what He he accomplished on the cross, and to refrain from returning to ritual and self-effort to add to Christ’s work of salvation.

So, in these verses he is saying that, if they returned to reliance on sacrifices and offerings to win God’s approval and secure their eternal lives, then they would have trampled on the grace of God. They would have denied that what Christ did was sufficient to save.

Courson points out that this passage has been misused by Satan throughout the centuries to confuse those who love Christ. Just as he whispered to Eve in the garden, “Did God really say...?” and even as he misquoted scripture to Jesus during his temptation in the desert, Satan will use this verse to cause some to worry about their salvation.

Courson writes the following:

Therefore, the warning is this: If you return to the temple to offer sacrifices for your sins, you are missing the point totally because the price was paid completely when Jesus died in your place. There are no more sacrifices that can be, need be, or should be offered. The Way is open. The Work is complete. Going to confession, getting rebaptized, making a promise, or signing a pledge will not make you right with God. 

None of these sacrifices will do any more than the sacrifice of bulls, rams, or goats. You can’t add to what Jesus did on the Cross by promise keeping, confessing, working, or giving. Don’t fall into that mind-set, for if you do, you tread on what the Lord has already done. 

Thus, contrary to many well-intentioned sermons, the warning in Hebrews 10 is not so much in reference to backsliding as it is to back-turning - turning one’s back on what Jesus did on our behalf. . . Jesus died not only for our sins - but for the sins of the whole world. How dare we, then, say what He did on the Cross is insufficient or inadequate? How dare we trample the body of Christ. If you want to see the anger of the Father, say that what Jesus did at Calvary is inadequate without your additional efforts. (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 1492)

This is such a strong reminder that God’s love for us is CONSTANT! It does not change on a whim, nor is it moved by our behaviors. God doesn’t love me more on days when I sit at His feet or write a devotional. Nor does He love me less on days when I skip out on a Bible study or speak sharply to my husband. His love is eternal. He proved it in sending His Son to die in my place on the Cross while I was still a sinner! That act is what saved me. And nothing I can do can either add to or subtract from that amazing act of love.

The Hebrew believers were in danger of denying Christ’s work by going back to their own works to secure their place with God. They needed to understand that a reliance on our own works is a denial of Christ’s.

LORD, some of us love our rituals. And while they can actually be lovely memorials to what Christ has done, let us remember that they do not save us, and keeping them does not give us greater standing with You. We can have no greater standing before You than what Christ has already provided!  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hebrews 10:19-37 Therefore, Let Us. . .

Years ago I heard a pastor say, “When you see the word “therefore” in the Bible, you want to check to see what it is there for!” The writer of Hebrews had been passionately exhorting the Hebrew believers to let go of their reliance on religion and ritual to save them and, instead, to cling to Christ alone. Having established Christ’s superiority as the Sacrifice for sin, now the author gives us the “So what?” Here is a call to active faith:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,  by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:19-25 NIV)

Look at how he encourages us to respond to what Christ has accomplished for us, with the three “Let us” statements. “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings...” Because of what Jesus did on that cross, we can boldly draw near to God. He WANTS us to draw near, and Christ has made that possible. We can have full assurance, not because we are worthy, but because Christ is worthy!

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. HE who promised is the faithful One. It is not my faithfulness that is my security - it is HIS faithful character, the One whose Word is true and sure, the One whose promises never fail - HE is the One who is faithful!

We have 21 real examples of believers who held unswervingly to their hope this past weekend. The 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded in Libya by the evil ISIS BECAUSE of their faith in Christ, did just that. They did not deny their Savior, even though it might have saved their lives. They were looking toward that heavenly home, fully assured of what their faith would bring. [For an outstanding blog on this subject, see what Ann Voskamp wrote about these 21 men, by clicking here]

Finally, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” We live in an area, in South Orange County, in which we suffer nothing for our faith. Maybe that’s the problem!

We have what I call the “31 flavors” of great churches in this area. You can go from church to church and hear great teaching and amazing worship - and lots of people do just this. They wander to the next “best” church in search of the perfect one - the one with all the programs for the family, the one with the best musicians, the one with the most entertaining pastor. We also live in an area in which I’ve seen several churches pop up and then die out, because people won’t commit to the church they are in. I had a pastor who once said, “If you want a new pastor, pray for the one you’ve got.”

But the Church is not a program, it is not a beautiful building, it’s not the most eloquent pastor. The Church is the body of Christ. We were meant to be connected to each other, to encourage one another, to hold each other accountable, to spur one another on. Especially as we see the Day approaching. Christ’s return is 2,000 years closer than when the author of Hebrews wrote this - and all signs seem to point to the imminent return. Even so, LORD Jesus, come quickly!

Lord, help me to never take for granted the amazing grace that allows me to draw near to You! Help me to remain steadfast in my hope, because great is YOUR faithfulness. And help me to remember to do all of the “one anothers” in your Word, because you have given us this Body as a gift, that we might remain in you to the end.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Hebrews 10:1-18 He is Sitting Down!

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11-14 NIV)

In the first half of this chapter of Hebrews, the author is repeating and summing up his argument to the Hebrew believers who were so tempted to return to their old ways under the Law. He reminds them that the sacrifices made by the priests annually under the Old Covenant were a reminder that in spite of all of that continual flow of the blood of the lambs offered on the altar in the Holy of Holies, the people were still sinners! Nothing had changed about their condition before God. The priest had to come back year after year.

But the sacrifice of the Lamb of God settled the issue once and for all. The price for our sins, past, present, and future, was paid in full. So much so, that Jesus is now sitting down at the right hand of God. As Jon Courson notes in his Application Commentary: New Testament, Jesus isn’t wringing His hands or worrying or pacing or running in all directions trying to figure out how to save us. He already completed the work of salvation. So, He SAT DOWN!

Courson points out that in Luke 22:19, when handing out the bread to His disciples at the last supper, Jesus told them, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” We weren’t to do it in remembrance of our sin - we aren’t to dwell on our sin, because He has taken it away. We are to remember the Savior and His finished work. Communion is not a sacrifice that takes away our sin. It is a celebration of the Savior who already took that sin on Himself and paid the price for our salvation.

The writer completes his argument with a reference to how the Holy Spirit pointed to this in the Old Testament:

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 

“This is the covenant I will make with them

    after that time, says the Lord.

I will put my laws in their hearts,

    and I will write them on their minds.”  

Then he adds: 

“Their sins and lawless acts

    I will remember no more.” 

 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. (vs.15-18)

Oh my goodness! How I love that last verse! Jesus is our superior Sacrifice, our superior High Priest, and our superior Savior! The Old Covenant showed us our need for Him, but the New Covenant settles the issue of sin once and for all. And this is the end of the author’s arguments, as well. As we move into the final chapters of Hebrews, we will see the turn in the book to the “So what?” Okay - if our sins have been paid for -what does that mean to you and me practically in our everyday living out? What does that look like? That will be the focus as we move forward into what I think is the best part of this book. Cannot even wait!!!  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hebrews 9 Once and For All!

I’m back! Been working like crazy in this new job, and I’m on a different schedule, so I’m trying to adjust. But there is so much ahead for us in this book of Hebrews, I cannot let it go!

Chapter 8 of Hebrews began to sum up all of the previous chapters, reminding us of the superiority of Christ’s priesthood. In chapter 9, the writer extols the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice. The writer reminds his Hebrew readers of the annual sacrifice of blood made on behalf of the people by the High Priest. The High Priest entered into the Most Holy Place of the temple once a year to offer a blood sacrifice. The writer indicates that these sacrifices, which were prophetic symbols of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice were made over and over, because they could not fix the problem of sin on a permanent basis:

This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.  They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order. (Hebrews 9:9-10)

However, Christ’s sacrifice did what the blood of animals could not do:

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.  He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.  The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.  How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!  

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (9:11-15)

Notice the emphasis by repetition of the word eternal. He obtained eternal redemption, through the eternal Spirit, so that we might have an eternal inheritance. There is nothing temporary about the work Christ accomplished. This is why He could say from the cross, “It is finished.”

Repetition of another phrase stands out in this book: once for all. The writer uses this phrase three times, in verse 11, verse 28, and then in chapter 10, verse 10.

Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.  Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,  so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (9:25-28)

Because Christ’s sacrifice did the work of our salvation, it does not need to be repeated over and over. It’s done. The writer is reminding these Hebrew believers, who were missing their old ways and were tempted to deny grace and go back into a system of works, that Christ’s sacrifice is so superior to the shadow of the Old Testament sacrifices. Why in the world would anyone want to return to and cling to rituals that did nothing to save us, when Christ has accomplished that work?

I’m going to point out one final verse here that I think should not be overlooked. Verse 27 says, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. . .” This is a reminder to us that we only get one life, one chance to receive this gift of salvation. Once you die there is no other opportunity to receive Christ’s sacrifice. There is no reincarnation with multiple times to improve. If there were multiple chances to come back and learn and grow spiritually, wouldn’t the world be getting better and better as everyone improves? All evidence is to the contrary!

There is no preaching on the other side to convince someone of the truth. We have this one chance to receive it and act on it. Since none of us knows when that day of judgment will be for us individually, shouldn’t we take this seriously? Shouldn’t we settle it and then do all we can to tell others?

Just sayin’. . .