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?

The Voice of the Lord

My voice is naturally loud, especially if I’m excited – like when I’m teaching about the Bible. Sometimes I want to type in all caps when I’m writing a devotional so I can pump up the volume. Voices communicate more than words. Our inflections reveal what’s happening in our hearts. The tone and timbre of my voice change when I talk to Joy depending on what I’m trying to relay to her. If we’re playing together, I will use a silly, happy voice. If I’m comforting her my voice is soft and gentle, and if she has picked up the cat for the third time, my voice is firm and somewhat sharp.

In Psalm 29 David was meditating on “The voice of the Lord.” He said the Lord’s voice “thunders over the mighty waters” (v. 3), it is “powerful” and “majestic” (v. 4). “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars” (v. 5), “strikes with flashes of lightning” (v. 7), shakes the desert” (v. 8), “twists the oaks and strips the forest bare” (v. 9). Those are frightening images of the fierce power of God’s voice.

But God also speaks with a softer voice. The prophet Elijah was at his lowest point, running from the wicked Queen Jezebel who wanted to kill him. He was worn out and worn down. He told the Lord, “I have had enough” (1 Kings 19:4). He was hiding out in a cave when God called him. Elijah listened for the Lord, expecting to hear Him in “a great and powerful wind,” an earthquake, and a fire. But God was in none of these. He came to Elijah in a “gentle whisper,” in “a still, small voice” (vs. 11-13).

I have not always walked faithfully and obediently. I have made some big, ugly mistakes and fallen into sin. God has never once yelled at me or spoken to me in anger or disgust. He has always spoken in a gentle voice, especially when I am broken. Just as He speaks to you, Beloved. Even if he has to chastise you He speaks with grace. Those harsh voices that shout at you are never God. If you listen closely you will hear that the voice of the Lord is always the voice of love.

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.”

Listen!

She was in trouble and she knew it. She turned her face away from me. “Joy, I need you to listen to Nana so you can get out of time out.” But she refused and stayed in her chair for another minute. I can’t count the times I’ve said: “Listen to me!” How often do you think God says that to us?

Believe it or not, listening to God is not difficult. Everything He wants to say to you and me is written in His Word. So often when we read God’s Word or hear it being read it comes across like the grown-ups in a Charlie Brown special. “Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.” Solomon knew what it meant to listen to God. Grab your Bible and read Proverbs 2:1-5 – I’ll wait for you.

Solomon offered several keys to listening. (Yes, this passage is about wisdom, but the principle applies.) Accept the Bible as the true, authoritative Word of God. That means that the Bible calls the shots. If the world or your flesh says “do this,” but the Bible says “don’t” the Bible wins. Store up Scripture –That memorization. You don’t have to have it word-for-word, but have enough that you can use it when you need it – cause you’re gonna need it. Ask God for insight and understanding. I was not a Bible geek until my 40’s. I got a tiny taste of the depths of the Word and I wanted more. So I asked God to make me hungry. Twenty years later and I’m still ravenous. But I had to decide it was worth it. I had to regard it as a hidden treasure to be mined. I had to invest time and effort in it. I had to get up early and turn off the T.V. I had to put down the phone and pick up The Book.

There’s one other key to listening that comes from Paul who said, “the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). You and I have to shut down every other voice but the voice of truth.

Eve listened to the serpent. Adam listened to Eve. Neither of them listened to God. Beloved, who are you listening to?

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.

But I don’t want to, God!

I love the Word of God with all my heart. The Bible has transformed my mind and heart and life. It has become my passion, my calling, and my ministry. I believe every verse is true and right. I believe as Paul said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man [or woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-7). I honor the Scriptures as the authority over all creation – especially over me. But I don’t always like what it says. Sometimes the Bible meddles. Like Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without complaining or arguing . . .” Uh-oh.

I believe that obedience to the Scriptures is vital to God’s people. It was a major issue with the Israelites. They wanted God’s blessings without obedience. I strive to obey God every day. I don’t always get it right, but I so want to follow Him and walk in His ways. But sometimes I do so with a chip on my shoulder and a bit of an attitude. “I’ll do it God, but I really don’t want to.” “I will make this sacrifice, but it’s not fair, they’ve done nothing to deserve it.” “Why do I have to take this on God? Don’t I have enough on my plate?” I’m like a petulant child stomping her feet in protest on the way to bed. I sure hope you’re nodding your head in agreement, otherwise, I’m the worst kind of Christian.

But Paul said God expects obedience with a humble and grateful spirit. That is exactly what Jesus did. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus went to the cross – to His death with Joy. How could that be? Crucifixion was a horribly painful and humiliating way to die. Because He knew what the end result was going to be. Granted we don’t have that same advantage. But we have the same Heavenly Father who has never failed us, who works all things to fulfill His good purpose. We have a God we can trust when we are told to do something hard.

What is the end result of our humble obedience? We “become blameless and pure children of God [who] shine like the stars in the universe” (v. 15). In other words, we become like Jesus. And that is the desire of my heart. How about you, Beloved?

These Gray-Hair Years

I stopped coloring my hair about two years ago. The copper penny red has given way to a silvery-gray and now I look more my age. Why am I talking about my hair color? I’ve been reading and meditating on the Psalms this morning and a few verses have caught my attention.

From Psalm 71: “You have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth” “You have taught me, and to this day I declare Your marvelous deeds” (vs. 5, 17). I grew up in church – most of us southern kids of the sixties did. It was the culture of our time and place. In summer we went to every Vacation Bible School in town. Churches staggered their VBS dates so moms could have some much-needed breaks while we were out of school. I loved it all. And I learned things. Things that have stuck with me to this day. Like how to make a paper-mache globe (“He’s got the whole world in His hands”) and coconut cookies do not taste good dunked in orange Koolaid. And of course, I learned all the Bible stories. And most of all – that Jesus loves me.

But I grew out of Sunday School and VBS. We moved to Germany and church on base was not the same as in my little hometown. I went a few times at first then drifted away. By senior high school, church was a distant memory. In my early adult years, it was not even on my radar. Except for this little faint voice whispering: “Jesus loves me.”

Now I nod my head as I read verses about being old and gray. The psalmist pleads with God not to cast him away and forget him – “till I declare Your power to the next generation, Your might to all who are to come.” So do I. I prayed this morning “I want these silver-haired years to count for Your kingdom Lord. I want to make an impact on this world that will outlive me.” Especially in my granddaughter’s life. Then the Spirit sent me to Psalm 92 and these precious words. “They will still bear fruit in old age . . .” (v. 14). For all of us gray-hairs (even underneath the dye) God is far from done with us. There is a whole world of opportunity for us to serve the Kingdom. Beloved, the next generation needs to know “Jesus loves me.”

Who are You Praying For?

We know that praying for others can make a big difference in someone’s life. James said, “The fervent prayer of a righteous man [or woman or parent or grandparent or sibling or friend or – well you get the idea] is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). But sometimes we struggle to know how to pray. We feel the weight of the need but just don’t know where to start.  That’s when I turn to the Bible.  When I pray for someone, I like to use prayers from the Scriptures, for they are God’s own words and we know that His word “ will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire, and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Paul’s letters are always a good source for prayers, and Ephesians is a gold mine of inspiration.

For someone who is struggling with a difficult situation, I pray that they “May be given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, and the eyes of their heart may be opened so that they may know the hope to which You have called them” (Ephesians 1:17-18).

For someone who is depressed and discouraged I pray that they “Being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that they may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-18). (I also pray this one over my granddaughter every day.)

For one who has wandered from God, I pray that they may “Live a life worthy of the calling they have received and be completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with others in love and making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

But sometimes we don’t even know the need – how do we pray then?  I borrow from Lazarus sisters’ prayer in John 11:3: “Lord the one You love needs You.” He has the wisdom to understand the need, the heart to care about the need, and the power to meet the need. Remember the friends who lowered the paralytic through a roof to Jesus (Luke 5:17-26)? That’s what we’re doing when we pray for others. Beloved, who can you bring to Jesus today?

For the Foolish People (like me)

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The more I read the Bible the more I am amazed at God’s goodness to fulfill His plan even in the midst of our foolishness. Sarah schemed to give Abraham an heir to fulfill God’s promise. The mess she made of it all is still felt in the world today. Yet, God didn’t abandon His plan in retaliation. He still allowed the foolish Sarah to bear a son – the child of the promise. When Isaac married and his wife finally conceived, God told Rebekah that her younger son would rule over his older brother, but she still schemed to make sure Jacob – the younger son and her favorite – got his father’s blessing. Then he had to run to his uncle far away to protect himself from his brother’s wrath. While there he married two sisters and started a family with them and their maids (and people say the Bible is boring). Out of all this deception, manipulation, and foolishness, God still gave twelve sons to Jacob – sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel and eventually a nation that could not be counted, just as He promised Abraham.

That gives me hope because I have made some major messes in my life, done some foolish and, yes, sinful things.  I have heard God say, “turn to the right,” and I ran instead to the left because the grass looked greener there. It was just an illusion. I have made choices because I thought I knew better than God what would make me happy and only found sorrow and struggle. I have reaped the whirlwind of my stupidity many times. Yet God has never given up on me. He has never turned His back on me in disgust or frustration. He has never left me to rot in the pit of my choosing.  And He has never failed to turn it all around and still fulfill His good, pleasing, and perfect will. Beloved, I know He will be faithful to do the same for you. He is a good and gracious God – even when we mess it all up.