Hebrews: It’s for Your Own Good

My parents had very different approaches to discipline. Dad grounded me once for the rest of my life. I guess he didn’t notice that at some point I snuck out of the house, got married, and lived my own life. Mom, however, did not play so loosely with me. She grounded me once for two weeks and I was stuck at home with no t.v. until I had served my time – to the minute. Yep, she wrote it down and held me to it. Dad disciplined in anger, and once his anger had passed, he stopped paying attention. Mom disciplined with a purpose, to teach me that I had best plan to make it home by curfew.

The writer of Hebrews said that, as hard as it may be, God, too, disciples with a purpose. We touched on verse 10 last time: “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” Verse 11 says that God’s discipline “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.” So God’s purposes are holiness, peace, and righteousness. But look at one other thing in verse 11 – these are benefits “for those who have been trained by it.” My Dad’s discipline was reactionary, Mom’s discipline was to train me to pay attention to the clock. God’s discipline is a training ground.

Now you can look at me and see that I’m not into physical training, but I sure need to be. I need to develop the discipline of exercise and better eating habits so that I enjoy the benefits of more energy and strength.  But I’m flabby and out of shape. The writer has a word for me: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees” (v. 12). Now we know he is not talking about the physical but the spiritual. This comes as Isaiah is prophesying the Babylonian captivity for the nation of Judah. The first part of this book is warnings and woes, but then the tone changes as God promises comfort and restoration. And Joy. He declares to the fearful and weary captives, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come . . . He will come to save you” (Is 35:4).

So as we’re lifting weights let’s lift high the name of Jesus. While we’re running in place on the treadmill, let’s run away from temptation. When we exercise to strengthen our core, we need to also “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (Eph 6:10). The benefits of God’s discipline are worth all the sweat and strain. As my Mom would say – this is for your own good Beloved – and also for God’s glory.

Hebrews: Written on Your Heart

I love to find connections between the Old and New Testaments. It’s like a divine “Aha!” moment. But then, everything in the Old Testament points to the New Testament and to Christ. Even the covenants God made with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David are reflections of the new covenant He would make with man through Christ.  In fact, the word “testament” is synonymous with the word “covenant” and our Bible is divided into the stories of the two covenants. The old covenant was based on obedience to the Law – something that the Israelites never could master. But that covenant set the stage for the new and better covenant, the one the writer of Hebrews continues to point to. He quoted from prophet Jeremiah: “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.” (Heb. 10:16, from Jer 31:33).

“After that time” is a reference to the Babylonian exile when the people of Judah were taken captive and their beloved Jerusalem destroyed. Before this, they only attempted to obey His Law when they go into trouble. (Boy, does that sound familiar!) The Law of God was an afterthought in the minds of the Israelites because they didn’t love Him with all their hearts. When they were released to return home, they had a new attitude about the Law – they were obsessed with strict obedience. But again, not out of love for God, but to prove their own “righteousness.”  It was like a pendulum that swung from one extreme regarding God’s Law to the other. And neither end was about loving the Law-giver.  God promised that the new covenant would be different. Because it would not be written on tablets of stone but etched on their hearts and written on their minds so that obedience would be an act of love and knowledge, not self-righteousness.

God also said, “Their sins and lawless acts I remember no more.” (v. 17, from Jer 31:34). Under the new covenant – the one signed in the blood of Jesus – sin was forgiven and forgotten. That’s very good news. All your past sins – all the things that the enemy keeps bringing up to you –have been erased from God’s mind forever. He will not hold them against you because Jesus’ sacrifice covered them all. Do you know what that means, Beloved? You can forget them too.

Obedience is the mark of the believer, but it is obedience that comes from the heart. Right where the love of God overflows (1 John 4:16).

Where Was God?

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“Where was God?” the atheist demanded. “Where was God?” the frightened widow cried. “Where was God?” the shocked nation asked. Even Christians looked to heaven and said,  “God, where are You?” It was the most tragic and horrific day in American history and twenty years later it still makes us weep. I imagine the same question was going through the minds of the Jews when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. The event even sounds very similar:  “[The Babylonians] set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.” (2 Chronicles 36:19).

A memorial sits at the very spot in New York City where the buildings fell. People come every year to remember and pay their respects to the thousands who lost their lives that day.  Every year religious Jews come to Jerusalem to pray and fast in remembrance of the destruction of their Temple, first by the Babylonians in 587/586 BCE, and again in 70 CE at the hands of the Roman legions led by Titus.

Where was God when the Twin Towers fell? The same place He was when Jerusalem fell. In His heaven, ruling over human history. How can that be? I wish I could give you a simple answer, but this is the age-old “problem of evil” that men have pondered for thousands of years. It has been used to deny the existence of God and His goodness and sovereignty and quite honestly, I cannot answer it. But I can tell you that evil may have claimed a few battles throughout human history, but it has already lost the war.

Oh, satan thought he was victorious when Jesus drew His last breath and cried out, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). But he was trembling when the ground rumbled as the stone rolled away. He was dumbfounded when the angel told the women, “He is not here; He has risen!” (Matthew 28:6). He was horrified as Mary Magdalene ran back to the disciples with the amazing news, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).

So today I will remember the lives lost twenty years ago and pray for the still grieving. But I will not fear evil. I will keep my eyes on heaven and celebrate the risen Lord who dealt evil a fatal blow. No, the war is not yet over, but Satan has already lost. God has already won. God always wins.

Ancient Paths

 

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths; ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.            Jeremiah 6:16

Though God had called them to be His own people, rescued them time and time again, provided, protected and cared for them, and blessed them with His presence in the Temple, the people of Israel had rejected Him, disregarded His laws and worshiped pagan gods and their own pleasures.  At one time they were God’s holy and righteous nation, but slowly, in seemingly insignificant ways, a drift away from God had been taking place.  You know – a small compromise here, a tiny little concession there – just to get along, to make living among others of different beliefs a little easier.  Before long, they discovered that they had drifted far from the ways of God – and right into captivity. Psalm 74 is written during that captivity.  The writer Aseph, a servant in the Temple of the Lord, grieves the presence of the enemy in God’s holy Sanctuary. Verse 4 says “[The enemy] have set up their own standards for signs. And in verse 9 he says, “We do not see our signs.” (emphasis mine) The people could no longer see the signs (the root meaning of “signs” is “a line of measure”) that the Lord had given them, they were lost and confused, and easily draw into captivity without them.

We would like to believe that we are a wiser people in this “age of enlightment,” people who would not be so easily drawn away from the truth, but human nature really hasn’t changed very much.  We are still a people adrift in compromise, concession and a desire to “go along to get along.”  The Christian Church today has drifted dangerously away from the moorings of the truth.  We have slowly, imperceptibly allowed the world to influence the church’s beliefs and standards, and we have allowed the heart of the church to become cold to God, His Word and His ways.  The church has been taken captive by the world, and we didn’t even realize it was happening.

Least we forget, the church is you and I.  And if the church has been taken captive, it is because you and I have been taken captive as well.  If the church has drifted, it is because you and I have drifted. The church is not where we go, it is who we are.  The church is not the buildings, nor the Pastor and leadership.  The true church is every person who claims themselves to be a Christian.  Notice I didn’t say “religious” or “a person of faith,” but those of who have identified with Jesus Christ; who have accepted His death on the cross as the atonement for sin and His resurrection as the promise of eternal life.  I mean those who have chosen to live by His truth, His teachings and His example.  If the church is to turn back to God, it will only happen when Christians turn away in repentance from worldly influences, deny our selves the pleasures of sin, and seek God’s face in whole-hearted devotion.  The church – you and I must turn our hearts back to the Lord.

Jesus’ half- brother Jude, in his epistle, called believers in Christ to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. (verse 3)”  His is a call to return to the basic tenants of the Christian faith, the words, ways and truth of Jesus, and to stand firm against every false teaching.  How can we know what those tenants are?  By studying God’s Holy Word and an old article of faith, called “The Apostle’s Creed.”  Every Lord’s Day, in churches all around the world, people of God still recite the Apostle’s Creed, as an Affirmation of our Faith and a reminder of the foundation on which the Christian Church was built.  The Apostle’s Creed is not just for the church, it is a very personal statement of faith for your life and mine.

THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God the Father Almighty

Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell

The third day He rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit;

The Holy catholic* Church;

The communion of saints;

The forgiveness of sins;

The resurrection of the body;

And the life everlasting.

* or “universal”

We will begin looking at this ancient creed in a series of Thursday devotionals over the next few weeks, understanding its original message and its application for Christians today. Please join me in studying the “Deeper Roots” of our faith.

Remember the lament of Aseph, the Temple Servant?  Though the enemy had set up their own standards in the Temple, Aseph knew where his salvation and his loyalty lay.  In Psalm 74:9 he says, “Yet God is my King from of old, who works deeds of deliverance.” Aseph knew that only by keeping his heart devoted to God and to His ancient ways and words, would he be delivered from the hands of the enemy.  His deliverance is our deliverance too.  Only through faith in and wholehearted devotion to Jesus Christ, who is “the same, yesterday and today and forever,” will His church, His people – you and I – be delivered.

Ancient of Days, Your Name, Your Word and Your ways are eternal and timeless. You are the God who is, who was, and who will forever be.  Teach me to walk in Your ancient ways.  Amen