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!