This is Huge!

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Sometimes I can read a verse a hundred times and on pass 101 something clicks and blows my mind. Last night was #101 for Hebrews 5:14. The writer had been admonishing his readers for refusing to grow up in their faith and take in the rich, nourishing “meat” of biblical truth. They were satisfied to know just enough to ensure their salvation. “What’s wrong with that?” you may ask. “Isn’t that what Christianity is all about?” The core of Christianity is the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. But for the spiritual babies among us, and for this “mature” teacher, there is something huge that we’ve been missing.

“But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). Pay attention to “by constant use have trained themselves.” Remember that the writer had declared that they were lazy and undisciplined in their spiritual growth. He was urging them to consistently and vigorously “exercise” in the Word of God. For what purpose?” And this is where I have holy goosebumps. “to distinguish good from evil. “Yeah, yeah, that’s good.” But wait, there’s more – and the only reason this caught my attention is because I wrote a school paper recently that made this very point.

Go back to the Garden of Eden, and Genesis 3 where Eve is having a foolish conversation with a serpent who said, “God knows that when you eat [the fruit of the tree of the knowledge good and evil] your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5). And it happened just as he said; they ate and they suddenly knew things they’d never known – evil things. But it was knowledge they could not bear for they did not have God’s divine capacity, in knowing good and evil, to distinguish good from evil. There’s a difference. That’s why I am so excited about this verse. Hebrews 5:14 says that by consistent, disciplined training in God’s Word we can distinguish one from the other.

 “Good and evil” is used only five times in the Bible – four of which appear in the Fall narrative. “Good from evil” only appears once in the entire Bible – right here in our key passage. Do you see it? This evil knowledge that was unleashed on the human race by Adam and Eve’s sin can only be brought under control by consuming and applying the Scriptures diligently and purposefully.

In my spirit, I am standing on a table shouting: “YOU CAN OVERCOME EVIL THROUGH THE WORD OF GOD!” You can and you must or you will forever struggle with the sinful nature you inherited from the first sinners. This is huge! This is life-changing. I implore you, take this to heart. Pick up your Bible Beloved, and be set free.

Hope in Days of Evil

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Another day, another multi-victim shooting, another child abused, another murder, another robbery, beating, and theft. I remember the day when such things were shocking; now they are commonplace. I read just yesterday of a mother who killed her child and I want to ask, “Why?” But I know the answer. Because Adam and Eve ate the fruit. And their actions ushered in sin that has infected the human race at a far greater pace than COVID 19. It is part of our human make-up. It’s even part of our culture. And the Bible makes it clear that it’s only going to get worse.

Jesus said as the time for His return draws near, wickedness will increase, and “the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Love – love for what is good – will die and evil and wickedness will grow at alarming rates.

Paul added, “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:2-5). Can anyone doubt that we are in the last days?

Does that frighten you? It should if you don’t belong to Jesus Christ. But if you are His, if you have surrendered yourself – heart, mind, soul, and strength – to Him, the state of the world should concern you, but not scare you. It should compel you to share the gospel. It should urge you to live in holiness. It should move you to intervene for the innocent. But it shouldn’t frighten you. Because the increase of wickedness means a decrease in our wait for Christ’s return.

Jesus said when the world turns more and more to evil, and the heavens and the earth react to it (because they are also subject to the curse of sin), we need to look up. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky . . . the nations of the earth . . . will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30). And every evil, wicked, sinful thing will be cast out. Yes, these are evil days, and there is likely more to come. But lift up your head, Beloved, that means the Lord is nearer now than ever before.

Hebrews: Do You Believe God?

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Buckle your seatbelts, because today we’re going to cover five verses: Hebrews 3:15-19 (woohoo!). But we’re going to focus on just one word. Verses 15-19 serve as a commentary 7-11, which recalled Israel’s rebellion and subsequent forty years of desert wandering. The writer of Hebrews, in describing this band of wanderers said that they “rebelled” (v. 16), they “sinned” (v. 17), and they “disobeyed” (v. 18). All of these verbs culminate in one word, see if you can figure it out: “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (v. 19). Rebellion, sin, and disobedience are all symptoms – the deadly disease that killed an entire generation of Israelites was unbelief. Here’s the key: those who believed and those who did not believe heard the same promise from God: “See, I have given you this land” (Deuteronomy 1:8). An entire generation of “bodies fell in the desert” (v. 17).

But they weren’t the first to doubt God. A long, long time ago God told a couple in a garden, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Then along came the serpent who asked, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (3:1). The serpent wasn’t trying to clarify what God had told them. His question went to Adam and Eve’s heart: “Did God really mean what He said?” We see that in verse 8 when he completely and exactly contradicts what they had heard: “You will not surely die.” They took the bait because, in their hearts, they didn’t believe His word was true.

The essence of unbelief is not rejecting God but rather doubting if God is trustworthy. Like Adam and Eve and the Israelites, we act on our unbelief with rebellion, sin, and disobedience. To believe God is to take Him at His Word – that He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do* – and then act on what we heard. That’s what we’ll find in the “Hall of Faith” a few chapters ahead. So the question then is, Beloved, do you believe God?

*From Beth Moore’s study: “Believing God.”

Chocolate-covered Doughnuts

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Someone brought doughnuts to our office again. And the battle is on. Will I or won’t I. I promised myself that I would eat better and try to lose some weight. But doughnuts. Oh, no! Chocolate covered at that. I love chocolate-covered doughnuts. How do I know the box has chocolate-covered doughnuts? Because I walked over to the table and raised the lid.  Now my hand is reaching out and grabbing this delicious pastry. The first bite is so good. I have given way to temptation. I have succumbed to my weakness. I have betrayed my promise to my body.  But my fall, much like in the garden of Eden, didn’t happen with my first bite, or even raising the box lid and reaching in. It happened when I kept looking at the temptation from my desk. It happened when I began to justify to myself what I had every intention of doing.

The Bible says, “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).” Oh, how I wish it just stopped at “He will not let you be tempted.” I wish it said that God would not let anyone bring chocolate-covered doughnuts into our office. I wish it said that God would make chocolate-covered doughnuts repulsive to me. But no, it says I will be confronted with temptation. I will have tempting things cross my path. I will have tempting thoughts and desires. It’s guaranteed.

What God has promised is an escape route – a way out when temptation strikes. I wish that meant that all the other staff members would gobble them up before I could get to the table. Sometimes God does intervene in physical ways, but most often the way out is internal, it’s self-control – or more to the point, “Spirit-control.”  It’s listening and responding when the Spirit reminds me of who I am and why I need to separate myself from the temptation. Yes, God provides a way out when we are tempted. The question then is am I willing to look for the way out? When I find it am I willing to use it? And once I’ve used it, am I willing to resist the urge to leave a forwarding address?

Hebrews – God speaks

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Hebrews is one of the most challenging books of the Bible for contemporary Christians. It is full of references that would be familiar to a Jewish-Christian congregation but less so for you and me. To grasp the author’s original intent, we will be dipping frequently into the book of Leviticus to understand the many references to the Old Testament sacrificial system. Don’t worry, it won’t be boring!

The most prominent subject in Hebrews is Jesus.  His Name – and names (more than twenty) –  and roles are the core of this message. There are also significant warnings we’ll discuss, warnings that may not sit too comfortably with the 21st-century church. But we will be faithful to the Scriptures and will sprinkle no sugar on the text to make it go down easier.

Hebrews opens with the reminder that God has been speaking faithfully for a very long time.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,” (Hebrews 1:1). The forefathers would be Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendants – the earliest generations of the Jewish people who would become the nation of Israel.  The prophets were men like Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the rest. 

In the days of the first humans, God communed and communicated with Adam and Eve, “walking in the Garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). Wouldn’t you love to hear those conversations? I like to imagine God telling them about how He created all the things they saw as they walked. I wonder if they laughed together over the platypus? But then along came a snake with an apple and the gentle conversations were over. From then on, the Lord God had to talk about sin and death. And, thankfully, redemption. The Bible tells the story of our Redeemer. With every word in the Scriptures,  God spoke about His Son, and then “in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:2a – emphasis added). And what the Son speaks is important. At the transfiguration, while Peter was rambling about booths, a bright cloud surrounded them, and “a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.’” (Matthew 17:5). (When we finish Hebrews, we’re going to study the Red Letters.) John opened His gospel by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” . . . “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:1, 14).

This study of Hebrews is all about what God said in His Word – the Bible – and through His Word – Jesus. Are you ready to hear the Word of God speak, Beloved?

Are You Hiding From God?

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“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?'” (Genesis 3:9)

Did God really not know where Adam and Eve were? Is it possible that the omniscient, omnipresent God was clueless to His beloved creation’s whereabouts and actions? Not a chance. I believe God was asking Adam, “Do YOU know where you are?” “Do you realize what you have done?” They had walked with God every day in the goodness of His creation, but now they feared His presence and thought they needed to avoid their Creator. Sound familiar?

When you and I fall to the temptation of the enemy, when we surrender to sin, our first inclination is to hide, to cover ourselves so God can’t see our shame, and to avoid Him at all costs. But do we really believe that He is unaware of our actions? Do you think God doesn’t see us cowering in the bushes? We can’t hide from Him. We can’t cover up our sin. But the love of God can (1 Peter 4:8). The blood of Jesus covers over our sins and makes us acceptable in God’s sight.

When David sinned, he tried to dismiss it, but it was futile. Eventually, he had to confess “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3). You and I know that too. We can try to dodge it and hide it and pretend it didn’t happen. We can even rename it and make it sound like less than a sin, but it’s always there. When David finally came clean with God, confessed his sin with brokenness and sorrow, he found sweet forgiveness. His spirit was renewed, The Joy of God’s salvation was restored and he now had a testimony of redemption. (See Psalm 51)

Where are you? What are you trying to cover up? God knows all about it. It’s time to bring your sin out of hiding. God will forgive you. He will hide your sin under the blood of Jesus. He will restore your Joy and turn your failure into a beautiful testimony. Come out of the bushes Beloved, your God stands ready with arms open wide.

Death to Life

You may not know this, but I have a granddaughter – I know, I rarely ever speak about her. 😊 She is awesome. Funny, loving, generous, a wonderful dancer, brilliant conversationalist, and gives hugs that can cure whatever ails you. She is so very sweet and precious. Almost perfect – but not quite. At 17 months, she can be rebellious and stubborn. She knows she is not to stand on her toys. But she will do it while looking you dead in the eye. She also has a temper. I may know where that comes from. Bottom line: she has a sin nature. She got it from her parents. They got it from their parents, who got it from their parents, and on and on it goes all the way back to the original sinners, Adam and Eve.

This semester I’ve been digging deep into their story.  Uniquely made above all God’s creation, they were fashioned by His own hands out of the dust of the earth and given His own breath to bring them to life. They were also given His image to enable a relationship between the Creator and the created. They were perfect. But sin entered the picture through a chatty serpent who deceived them into doing the only thing they were forbidden to do: eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That one act condemned every human being ever born to share in their punishment – death (Romans 6:23). Not merely the ceasing of life, but death in the sense of separation from God. He alone gives life, and apart from Him, there is no life. Oh, we’re breathing and walking around in this world, but spiritually, we are dead. Dead people walking in our sin nature. Meanwhile, the image of God has been put to sleep in man.

We need to reverse that. Paul wrote, “Wake up, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph 5:14). The sin nature needs to be put to death and the image of God in man reawakened. It’s the only hope we have. I can’t do it and neither can you. But Someone did. Paul said, “Those who received God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17). Through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the sin nature is put to death and the image of God is awakened. It’s not just the only hope you have Beloved, it’s the only hope you need.

What if . . .?

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“Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’ . . .” (Gen. 3:17).

I am working and studying a lot in Genesis 3 for school. This is the account of the sin of Adam and Eve and the fall of mankind. It’s the hinge-point of the entire human race. I’ve asked a lot of “What if . . . ? questions of these Scriptures.

What if Eve ran from the serpent?

What if Adam, as her head and protector, pulled her away?

What if they rehearsed God’s words over the serpent’s lies?

What if they refused to eat the fruit?

What if they called on the Lord to deal with the evil intruder?

So much would be different in the world. There would be no evil, no hate, no sin, no destruction, no disasters, no condemnation, no judgment, and no death. There would be peace. There would truth. There would be paradise and freedom. There would be everlasting life.

I turn those questions on myself. What if I ran away from sin?  What if I drowned out the temptations of the enemy with God’s Word? What if I refused to take the bait? What if I called on the Lord to deal with my tempter? So much would be different in my life.

And then I remember Jesus. He took all my sin on the cross. He bore my punishment and shame. He saved me from the power of sin and death. He assured me of eternal life when He rose from the grave.  Genesis  3 is not the end of the story for humanity, just as my sins and failures are not the end of my story. They are the dark backdrop for the brilliant light of God’s redeeming work. Oh, I wish Adam and Eve and not fallen into sin. I wish they had not caused me and you to have to deal with evil and temptation and sin. Wishing won’t change the reality. But Jesus can. Beloved, your story doesn’t have to end with sin and death.  It can be a story of peace and Joy and life. Jesus is the hope you need. What if you trust Him today?

The God who Restores

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I saw something very cool this morning as I was reading in Revelation. “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (2:7). Do you recall the last time we saw the tree of life? It was way back in Genesis, chapter 3 to be exact. After the fall of Adam and Eve, God banished them from the Garden of Eden and said “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever” (3:22). Because they knew evil (notice the passage said they knew good and evil, but not good from evil) it would be a cruel thing to allow them to live forever with that burden.

Yet the Revelation verse shows that man is restored to all the good things God created for him to enjoy. The bounty of His blessing, the delight of His presence, and the promise of eternal life.

God restores. It is His nature to restore things that are broken. And not only in heaven but also here and now. I have seen broken marriages restored. Broken dreams reignited. Broke relationships knitted back together. Broken minds healed. Broken lives renewed. And broken hearts made whole. He is Elyshib – the God who restores. And He is working to restore you.

God’s Christmas Gift to You

 

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“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15

My oldest brother opened a Christmas gift that contained a single bar of soap.  He looked at it, shrugged his shoulders and tossed it into the pile of wrapping paper in the middle of the room.  My other brother opened a box that also held a bar of soap.  But he decided to dig a little deeper, thinking that Mom had something up her sleeve.  He peeled back the wrapper on the bar and found a $100 bill wrapped around the soap.  My older brother took one look at it and made a dive into the pile of wrapping paper to retrieve his.  Mom had struck again.

God has presented us with a gift far more valuable than a $100 bill.  He has given us the gift His never-failing love.  But for so many, the gift seems valueless and it is tossed away as we search for something “better.”   The world offers a different kind of “love,” but it always leaves us empty and wanting something more – something real and lasting.  That is because at the very core of every human being is a longing for the love only God can give – and it can never be satisfied with anything less.  The more we chase after other loves, the less satisfied we become.

The first humans choose sin to fill that deep yearning and humanity has followed suit ever since.  The desire for love remains, but our sense of what will fill that desire has been crudely twisted away from God.  And the hunt is on.

Jesus came to reveal the Father to us, to show us that the love we crave is only found in Him.  He came to be the bridge between sinful men and women and our holy, loving Creator.  The gift of holy love is available to anyone who will accept it.  Beloved, don’t toss away the most valuable present you’ve ever been offered.