Hebrews: Passing on the Blessing

A father’s role is different with every culture and every era. Dads today are more involved with the care and nurturing of their children than they were even in my generation. My Dad was the provider first and he taught my brother about working on vehicles. But the emotional care of my brothers and me was largely left to my Mom. He wasn’t really a disciplinarian either. He usually forgot that he had grounded me after a couple of days. But if Mom grounded me for a week it stuck to the minute. 

Still, some things haven’t changed. Fathers in the days of the patriarchs were also providers, then teachers especially of religion and the family trade. First-century fathers had one other very important role in their family – passing on the blessing. In Hebrews 11:20-21 we see Isaac and Jacob doing just that. “By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” That’s pretty cut-and-dried without any of the drama that surrounded them.

Isaac and Jacob were passing on the promise of God that had been first given to Abraham for a land of their own – Canaan. The author of Hebrews said those blessings were given “by faith” because the land that had been promised was not yet in their possession. Abraham believed God would be faithful to the promise and he passed that confidence and faith to his son and grandson. But it would be many more generations before they would take possession of the Promised Land.

But the promise and the blessing were about more than the land. The “everlasting covenant” the Lord made with Abraham was “to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Gen 17:7). For a season the Jewish people lost possession of the land. From the fall of Babylon in 586 bc until May 14, 1948, Israel was under foreign rule. But she was never without God. Nor are you. In their seasons of disobedience and rebellion, God disciplined them, but He also kept a loving eye on them and brought them back to the land – and to Himself. I find a lot of hope in that. You can too. Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). He meant it Beloved. Every word.

Hebrews: By faith Abraham . . .

“Abraham! Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love . . . and sacrifice him as a burnt offering . . . (Genesis 22:1-2).

As I meditate on Hebrews 11:17-19 (grab your Bible and read it) two questions come to mind: Why would God make such a horrific demand of Abraham and why would Abraham obey it? As I pondered those questions, two points emerge about Abraham and Isaac’s story.

To the first question, the author says that “God tested [Abraham],” (v. 17) and, as He often does, the Spirit whispered in my heart: “what does that mean?” The word “tested” actually has two meanings: to temp or to examine. How can you know which is happening? The difference is in the tester’s purpose: the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and sin; God tests that He might determine and sharpen true character, with no desire of making the believer fail. God was examining Abraham’s willingness to obey Him, even in the most difficult requests.  Sometimes it’s difficult to understand who’s behind the test, but the way through is always the same. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart firmly planted in the Word. In either case, you will emerge with deeper roots of faith and a testimony of God’s power and goodness.

As to Abraham’s part, I never understood how he could willingly sacrifice his son until I studied his story alongside this Hebrews passage and Romans 4:18 – 20: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.”  Did you catch it? Abraham believed the promise because of Who made it. He fully expected that God would still build a nation through Isaac and that meant Isaac would have to live. In his reasoning, he expected God to raise Isaac from the dead after the deed was done. But God stayed his hand at the last moment and provided a replacement sacrifice instead. The point is that Abraham’s faith was not in the promise – it was in the Promise-maker. And so must ours be.

Those are two solid truths you can build your life upon. God will never test you to make you fail and He will never make a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. Abraham is known for his great faith. Beloved, are you? Am I?

Hebrews: Don’t Turn Back

“I wanna go home!” Joy wailed in my arms.  It was the last day of VBS and everyone was in the “big church” for the grand finale. She wanted no part of it.  I coaxed her into sitting on my lap, but it didn’t last long.  She was trembling when her mommy took her out after just a couple of minutes. It’s not unusual when facing challenges to want to run back to what we know is safe. Even if safe is not God’s will for us.

Hebrews says the heroes of the Bible considered themselves “aliens and strangers” not just in the new lands they settled, but “on earth” because they were “looking for a country of their own” (Heb 11:13b-14). The place of promise. Abraham was given that very promise and he did settle in the land of Canaan, though it was not his possession. The writer added, “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return” (v. 15). They could have gone back home at any time. Case in point:

Abraham realized that he needed a wife for his son, Isaac, but not from the local, pagan women.  He tasked his servant with going back to his hometown to bring back a woman from his own people for his son. The servant asked, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back . . . shall I take your son back to the country you came from? (Gen 24:5). Abraham answered an emphatic “No.” “Make sure that you do not take my son back there,” (v. 6). Why? Because the promise of God was tied to the land of Canaan. If he went back the promise would be lost. Abraham was protecting the promise by his obedience (Gen 24: 6-8).

The writer of Hebrews was addressing Jewish believers whose conversion had caused heartache and struggle. Many abandoned their faith in Christ and returned to the laws and life of Judaism. They returned to a dead end. This world is the domain of the evil one; it will never be home for those who love and follow Christ. But our promised land is coming (more on that later). It’s tempting to take the easy way and return to the world. But the easy way is not the eternal way. “A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.”1. Beloved, you were made for eternity.

  1. John A. Shedd, 1928

Hebrews: Broken Promises?

I’ve wrestled with a lot of Scripture in my lifetime. Some have been difficult to understand. Some have been hard to submit to. Some say things that just grate on my nerves. But the passage we’re looking at today has been one of the most challenging. The writer of Hebrews said, “All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance” (Heb 11:13). “But,” you wonder, “I thought you said that the foundation of faith is the faithfulness of God.” I did, I still do, and I always will.

So what are we supposed to do with this seeming contradiction? God is faithful, but these people didn’t receive what they were promised. There are things that I am convinced God has promised to me. Salvation for a lost loved one. A future as a real writer. From my current vantage point, neither seems likely, much less possible. What do I do? I wait. And I hope. How do I keep my hopes up in the waiting? By looking beyond what I can see and looking ahead to what I cannot see.

Abraham was promised a nation of descendants that outnumbered the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the beach. He died with eight sons (Ishmael, Isaac, and the sons Keturah bore to him – see Genesis 25:1-4) – and only one of those was the “promised son.” Not exactly a nation. He was promised land on which his family could settle. Abraham died in a tent owning nothing more than the plot where his wife was buried. Doesn’t sound like God kept His promises, does it?

One reason I struggle with this is because of the western perspective of individuality. In Abraham’s world, the deceased lived on in his descendants. Promises made were not limited to fulfillment in the individual’s life. It would be the sons of the sons of the son of the son of Abraham who would become a nation. It would be many more generations after that before they would take possession of the Promised Land. Abraham didn’t see it happen, but he believed with all of his heart that it would. That’s the kind of faith God can build on. Beloved, is that the kind of faith you have?

Hebrews: Believe God

I was 31 years old when my son was born. I was considered “high-risk” because of my age. It’s not so uncommon now, but thirty years ago it was a cause for concern, for good reason.  He and I both faced several serious health issues before we brought our baby boy home. Old people shouldn’t be having babies. Abraham knew all about that.

Hebrews 11:12 said that “. . .from this one man, and he as good as dead came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” Abraham was seventy-five and childless when God declared that he would become “a great nation” (Gen 12:2,4). Twenty-five years later Sarah bore Abraham, at a hundred years of age, a son. One son. But that one child was enough for God’s promise to be fulfilled. Fast forward several hundred years and Abraham’s descendants were making their escape from Egypt. The Bible says “There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Ex. 12:37). Scholars figure more than two million people made that journey. From one son. From an old man and woman who were “as good as dead.”

In those twenty-five years between the promise given and the promise fulfilled, Abraham had a choice: believe God or give up. He did stumble in his faith when he agreed to Sarah’s plan of surrogacy, but ultimately, “[Abraham] did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:20-21).

As I meditated on that verse just now the Spirit brought another to mind: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38). The word “convinced” is almost identical to the phrase “fully persuaded.”

You and I need something constant upon which we can build our lives. Abraham was persuaded that God is able and faithful to fulfill His promise. Paul was convinced of the unfailing love of God. Beloved, are you?

Hard Things

“He is the God who breaks down walls!” “He is the God who conquers your enemy!” “He is the God who parts the seas and makes the sun stand still and calls the universe into existence!” “Impossible? No not for God! Nothing is impossible for Him!” The speaker was pacing the stage, calling the women in the arena to faith. Hearts were being stirred. “If God is asking the impossible from you, it is because He intends to do the impossible through you! He is the God of the Impossible!” Women were on their feet, hands raised in the air, shouting their agreement. Except for one who sat near me. She wore the face of a weary soul. Sad. Tired. Longing to believe, but too exhausted to hold on. I knew her and I knew her story. I knew about the harsh struggles she faced each day. God pricked my heart for her, so at the break, when everyone ran to the bathrooms and the merchant tables, I walked over and sat beside her.

“Are you enjoying the conference?” I asked her. “Oh, yes!” she said, “It’s all very hopeful and encouraging.” “You don’t look very encouraged,” I gently said. Her hands fell into her lap as she dropped her smiling mask. She sighed. “God hasn’t asked me to do the impossible, just something that’s very hard. Something that requires so much physical and mental energy every single day.” I hugged her and said, “Sweet friend, He is not just the God of the impossible, He’s also the God of this-is-so-hard.”

Some things we face in life are not impossible, but just really difficult. They are the things that wear us down and wear us out. It may be a person – big or small. It may be a demanding job or strained finances. It might be long-standing grief and deafening silence. It may be a physical issue, a nagging disappointment, or an overload of responsibility. It’s not parting the sea or taking down giants. But it’s hard. Every. Single. Day.

Maybe you don’t need the impossible – you just need some strength to get through the next day. God’s got you, Beloved. Genesis 18:14 asks, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” I can assure you, on the authority of God’s Word and personal experience, that the answer is “No.”

More than Live, Love, Laugh

This week in VBS we are learning about the value of life. One night our lesson was about God’s design for us. We were made by a Designer for a wonderful purpose. I asked the 5-6 graders what are the three purposes for which man was designed. One student blurted out “Live, Laugh, Love.” Somebody’s mama loves Hobby Lobby. The correct answer was “to know God, to praise God, and to love God.”

Jeremiah 24:7 says, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” Paul said that everything God does in this world is so that “men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him . . .” (Acts 17:27). Of all the things that God created – which is everything – only man was designed to know his Creator. When we miss getting to know God, we miss the foundational purpose of our lives.

We were also made to praise God. The psalmist said, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). Praise is the natural response to knowing God. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, seen the Eiffel Tower, and witnessed both sunrises and sunsets and my reaction is always the same: “Wow!” How much more so when we see even the smallest glimpse of God.

We were made to love God. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Your heart is the foundation and seat of your thoughts, passions, desires, and intelligence. Loving God with all your heart is an emotion driven by reason or conscious thought. The mind is the part of the inner person that thinks and processes information into understanding. Loving God with your mind involves making choices driven by a thoughtful process of information. The soul is the immaterial (and eternal) part of the inner person, Loving God with all your soul involves emotion fueled by desire and affection; a special connection to the beloved (in this case, God).  Strength is a marker of great degree or quantity, something beyond measure. Loving God with all your strength denotes a measure of quantity, abundance, and ability, in other words – obedience. When we know God, praise God, and love God all the rest falls into its proper place. Beloved, do you know your purpose?

Jesus and John Lennon

The Beatles sang it in the mid-’60s and it is the mantra of our culture today: “All you need is love, love, love.” In a world of mass shootings, child abuse, hatred, racism, and war, love is the only antidote. And the Bible agrees. The problem is our definitions of love. John Lennon’s lyrics are empty. He called for love but said nothing about how to love. The culture deems love as permissiveness and approval to indulge in every kind of earthly attraction. But is that truly love?

In a sense the Beatles and the culture are right. Jesus said that the second most important commandment, after loving God, is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). But what does that look like? Whose meaning is right?  I believe the Author of love is the best one to define it.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom 12:10).

“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13).

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19).

“Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another (Col 5:13).

 “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16)

“Love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

Does that look like the kind of love the culture is touting? Do you see that in Lennon’s lyrics? No and no. But can you imagine how this love would change the world? How about just your family? Love is much more than an ethereal notion. It is practical. It has substance. It has hands and feet. It has a voice. Your hands and feet. Your voice. And mine. Truly, all we need is love – love for God and love for one another. Yes, John, you were right – love is all we need.

A Day of Life and Joy

Exactly four years ago today, we came back home about as low as we could get. All our worldly goods were crammed in a U-Haul and discouragement and anxiety were piled high and heavy on our shoulders. And I was seriously ill and in tremendous pain. We were both jobless with very little in the bank. My husband had become disabled. I was nearing 60 and struggling to find a job.  We didn’t know what we were going to do, how we were going to survive – or even if we were going to survive, We were broke and broken.

In a few months, God opened a door to the best job – my dream job at a small Bible college, and the opportunity to continue my education. I’m still there and I’m still studying. In the months between He provided as only He can.  We never lacked anything. He continues to do it today.

Then exactly one year to the day from the worst day of our lives came the best day of our lives when Joy De’anna Andrews stole our hearts. Today is her third birthday.  May 29th has become the epitome of Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and Joy.” That verse has been a lifeline to me for more than thirty years. It was the verse I clung to through seven years of infertility until our son was born. I’m holding on to it still as I pray for him to surrender to Christ. It is one of my “go-to-verses” when life gets hard. Let’s just say I go there a lot. It reminds me to never give up on God.

I say the same to you – if things are hard today, do not give up. God has been so faithful and good to us and I know with all my heart that He will do the same for you. Beloved, as long as your heart is beating – even if it’s broken – God is not done with your story. I’m living proof. He turned this once sad day on the calendar into a day of Joy! Hold onto hope. Hold onto God. Life and Joy are coming.

A Mother on her Knees

I believe the heart of a mother comes closest to God’s own heart than any other on earth.  I love mothers in the Bible like Hannah who prayed for many years to have a child, and Lois and Eunice, a grandmother and mother pair who passed their strong faith on to Timothy – Paul’s “son in the faith.”  And, of course, Mary who, when told of her unconventional “assignment” from God simply said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). At this stage in my parenting I most identify with a mother who’s not in the Bible, but her influence on the church is remarkable.

Monica lived in a.d. 300-400.  She loved God passionately and also loved her son deeply.  Monica’s son was a young man with a – shall we say – “zest” for all the world had to offer.  He pursued pleasure and made choices that broke his mother’s heart.  Monica prayed fervently and faithfully for her son.  She wept and pleaded with God to bring her son out of the darkness and into His Kingdom.  Her son later wrote these words about her, “I cannot adequately tell of the love she had for me, or how she continued to travail for me in the spirit with far more anguish than when she bore me in the flesh.”[1]  As Monica sought godly counsel for her son, she begged the local bishop to help him find God.  “Finally,” said her son, “the bishop, a little vexed at her persistence, exclaimed, ‘Go your way; as you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.’”[2]  Monica and God won the battle for her son’s soul and he came to salvation at the age of 32.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him – Saint Augustine of Hippo – one of the greatest fathers of the Christian faith. 

Motherhood is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But I want to encourage you to take a look at the mothers of the Bible and the Church.  The one common denominator in every one of their stories is a mother on her knees for her child.  Come join me in the Mother’s prayer room – we’re all in this together and best of all – God is in it with us too.

[1] Saint Augustine, Confessions of Saint Augustine, Edited by Tom Gill. (Alachua, Bridge-Logos,2003),117.

[2] Augustine, 72.