Hebrews: Do You Need Some Rest?

My sleeping angel, Joy.

I kept my phone close, anticipating a call about a test I had undergone. Cancer took my mom away too soon – and I knew that increased my risk. The call finally came late in the afternoon. “The images were clear. There was no sign of cancer.” Relief filled my heart and that night I got some much-needed rest.  But what if I decided the doctor was wrong? What if I doubted the results? What if I continued to worry and toss and turn at night?

The writer of Hebrews drew from the Psalmist’s recollection of the Israelite’s in the wilderness and God’s declaration that this unbelieving people “Shall never enter my rest” (Psalm 95:11; Hebrews 3:11; 4:3). At the threshold of the Promised Land, Moses sent out twelve spies into Canaan to explore the territory and assess the inhabitants from a military standpoint. They returned with a glowing report of “the land of milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27), and an alarming report of the people they would have to defeat to take the land. They said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are!” (13:31) The people grumbled and wanted to turn back to Egypt – to slavery. Only Joshua and Caleb urged them to trust the Lord and proceed – and only Joshua and Caleb survived God’s judgment.  Because of their unbelief, the whole company would wander for forty years until the last of the unbelieving generation fell in the desert.

The author used them as an example of people who “had the gospel . . . but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Hebrews 4:2).  Faith, as the Bible uses it means belief and trust – with the implication that actions based on that trust will follow. Faith is not just ethereal thoughts – it is acting with confidence in what God has said. The Israelites heard about the Promised Land, but they doubted they could get the victory so they gave up on God’s rest. When the gospel is declared some will have faith and some will not. Some will rest in the promise of salvation and eternal life and some will live in hopelessness and anxiety.  The author adds, “Now we who have believed enter that rest . . .” (4:3a).

Beloved, are you weary? There is rest for those who trust in Jesus. Today and eternally.

Are You Sure About That?

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I was in the 5th grade and was doing my math homework one night (and anyone who knows me knows how much I hate math) and I kept asking my mom, “What’s so-and-so times so-and-so?”, over and over until she lost her patience with me and snapped, “Figure it out!” So I did. I added and added and added and . . . well you get the idea.  I know for certain that 7×8=56 and you can bet it will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Why do you believe what you believe? Because your childhood Sunday School teacher told you a Bible story? Because your pastor preached about doctrine on Sunday? Because you read something profound in a book by a smiling author? What we believe is too often just what we’ve been told – but not what we know. And there is a difference. What you’ve heard just sits in your ears, but what you know takes deep root in your heart and, like your circulating blood, affects every part of you. If your faith is built on other’s thoughts and opinions, how can you be sure you are building on solid ground? When someone challenges your belief, you can’t make a good defense and it all starts to crumble. But if your belief is built on what you have mined from the Scriptures and chewed on and have wrestled your heart and mind into submission then your faith will stand up against the questions of the world. Like my math equation, what you invest in stays with you. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). As Christians come under fire in the coming days, it’s more important than ever that you know what you believe, and why you believe it. And it’s eternally important that what you believe is the truth. Beloved, you don’t just need to know about religious-sounding stuff. You need to know and be convinced of the truth.

Have Faith

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What does it mean to “have faith?” And in what is our faith to be placed? In a culture with a thousand different philosophies, how can we know what to believe?  For the Christian, faith is what we believe about God and about what He has said through His Word, His Son, and His Spirit.  God spoke two distinct things about Jesus: that Jesus is His Son (Matthew 3:17), and that God has given us eternal life through Him (1 John 5:11).  Faith that honors and pleases God holds those two professions as truth. True faith stakes everything on them.

When I say I have faith in God, I am not making a statement about my assent to the truths of Christianity; I am making a statement about the truthfulness of what God has said about Jesus Christ.  I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth, lived a perfect life, died bearing my sins, was buried, and rose to life.  When I say that I believe in Jesus, I am putting all my hope and confidence in God’s power to save me as He has promised.  That is why “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).  I cannot see Jesus with my own eyes, nor have I ever seen heaven.  But I believe that He is the risen Lord and that His sacrifice is sufficient to save me and give me eternal life.

If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are blessed in every way; for this life and life eternal.  You are blessed because you stand on the confidence of God’s testimony, not on the traditions of men.  You are blessed because “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:10). But for us who believe, “we will see the glory of God” (John 11:40).  Our faith will be made sight and our hope in Christ will be confirmed.  In the chronicles of heaven, our names will be recorded among the great saints of human history, and we will be commended with those who pleased God by their faith.  Oh, what a blessing it is to believe!

Praying for Rain

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I’ve been praying for something (someone) for a long time – at least 15 years. I’ll be honest and tell you that I gave up on those prayers for a time.  I saw no way that God could work in this hard-headed, hard-hearted person’s life.  But in reality,  I had not given up on them, I had given up on God. James said that “the fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman) is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Do you believe God will answer your prayers? Acts 2:5-17 illustrates how often we pray without faith in God to answer.

The apostle Peter was in prison. His fellow apostle James had been beheaded by the evil King Herod, and now Peter, under the careful guard of sixteen soldiers (v. 4), was set for the same fate. The situation was very grim. Verse 5 says, “Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” Oh, the power of praying friends!

An angel of the Lord awakened the sleeping apostle, and hustled Peter out of the prison, miraculously passing all the guards and the iron gate, which opened by itself (v. 10). Peter quickly made his way to the house where his friends were gathered, praying for him. His knock was answered by a servant girl named Rhoda, who recognized his voice and ran to tell the group of prayer warriors. What was their response? “You’re out of your mind, they told her, It must be his angel.” (v. 15) But wait, for what had they been praying so fervently? God had answered their prayer and they didn’t believe it? They finally opened the door and were astonished. Jesus promised that God honors “faith as small as a mustard seed.” (Matt. 17:20)

Do you base your prayers on the person or situation for which you are praying? Or do you believe the One to whom you are praying? Beloved, the next time you pray for rain, don’t forget to grab your umbrella on the way out the door.

Do You Believe God or Just Believe in Him?

“In God’s kingdom, you get what you believe.”

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I love this quote by the great preacher and writer, T.W. Hunt.  It has challenged me over and over to believe God. Not just believe in God – the demons of hell believe in God. James said it this way: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (2:19).  The writer of Hebrews said that faith – the kind of faith that pleases God – “must believe that he exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek him” (11:6).  In other words, belief in God means lifting our needs to Him and watching with great expectation for Him to respond.

If you look at prayer in the Bible you’ll notice that people didn’t call to God and then walk away despondent because they assumed He wasn’t going to answer. They believed God heard and would act. How could they be so sure?  Because their prayer was based on God’s nature, and they trusted Him to respond out of that same nature.  That’s the “secret” to effective prayer.  It must be built on the foundation of God’s character: His holiness, love, mercy, faithfulness, trustworthiness, and sovereignty.  Bill Bright said, “Believing is at the heart of answered prayer. God does not require you to have great faith. You simply are to have faith in a great God.”

And, yes, I know, just this week I wrote about “unanswered prayers” and how God is not obligated to everything that we ask of Him.  This sounds like I’m contradicting myself.  But I think belief allows God to be God and still trusts Him to act in a way that is in line with His character and purposes.

If you pray to God yet do not believe He will care for your needs, you are saying you think God is not trustworthy. Isaiah declared: “You will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: ‘Here am I.’” (Isaiah 58:9) If we truly knew the God to whom we pray, the God of the Bible, we would say with Andrew Murray: “I know what I have asked from my Father, and I expect Him to answer.”  I expect Him to be God.

God, I have a Question

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Doubt is a dangerous thing for the Christian.  Doubt causes us to distance ourselves from God.  Distance leads to disobedience and soon we loose our desire to witness for Christ.  God wants us to believe without wavering. But we are finite humans and sometimes it is hard to believe, especially when all things seem to point the other way. If anyone should have believed without wavering, it was Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Even in the womb, he recognized the Lord, leaping at the sound of Mary’s voice (Luke 1: 41-45). John’s whole life was for one mission, “to prepare the way for the Lord” (Luke 3:4). He knew Jesus was the Messiah and he declared Him as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” This was confirmed to John at the Lord’s baptism – “I saw the Sprit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” He added emphatically, “I have seen, and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-34). Yet John asked a big question, “Are the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20). What changed? John was in a prison cell after speaking out against the Roman king and his adulterous marriage. John’s circumstances were certainly not what he had expected. He had faithfully proclaimed the coming of God’s Kingdom. He had rebuked the religious elite and the irreligious royals. And rather than blessings, his efforts brought down the wrath of Herod’s wife. He did what God asked of Him and the results were harsh. Can you blame the poor fellow? Haven’t you and I questioned God for less?
With all that he knew, John – weary and discouraged – began to doubt. But Jesus didn’t chastise John. He knew the man’s heart and that those doubts arose from the overwhelming blow he had been dealt. Jesus pointed John back to the evidence. “What do you see, John?” “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). Look beyond your circumstances John. You preached the coming of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 3:1). You spoke of my power (Mark 1: 7). Your own words are being fulfilled in Me. Then He added, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:23).
Questions are not the absence of faith. I have had many, many questions for God, and like John, my questions made me search for answers. And those answers strengthened my faith. God always answers honest questions. Don’t be afraid when questions creep in – take them to Jesus. He will not chasten you. He will give you answers that will ground and strengthen your faith. Ask your questions Beloved, Jesus not only has the answers, He is the answer.

What does it mean to “Believe in God”?

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“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 11:6

Humankind has been wrestling with the concept of belief in God for thousands of years.  The most brilliant minds from every side of the issue have argued for and against belief in God.  Lately the voices against have become louder and more widely accepted and belief in God is considered antiquated, foolish and a cause for scorn.  But for a person of faith belief in God is the starting place.  Everything else springs from this crucial point.  Without God our worldview – our understanding of the universe, of life, and of ourselves changes completely.  So, we must nail this one down – What does it mean to “believe in God?”  

Our key verse declares that faith believes in the existence of God and there are evidences all around to prove He does exist.  God has first revealed Himself through His creation.  Romans 1:19-20 says “What may be known about God is plain to [men], because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities- His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made; so that men are without excuse.”  David said “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands…Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”  (Psalm 19:1, 3).  The world around us professes to the reality of God.  When I was in seminary, I had to take Biology – which I saw as useless for a Biblical/Theological degree.  But the more I leaned about the science of life, the more I saw God in creation.  Gaze into an astronomer’s telescope to the farthest reaches of space and God’s handiwork is there.  Look through the most powerful microscope at the most miniscule parts of cellular life and God’s fingerprints are all over it.  There is too much intricacy to the greatest and smallest details of everything that exists to deny the work of a creative Designer.  People of faith believe that the universe and all life was not created by some “cosmic accident” It was created by God. The foundation of faith is the belief in the existence of God as evidenced by everything that surrounds us.

So, is that all there is to it?  Is believing that God exists enough?  Not according to the Bible.  “You believe that there is one God.  Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19).  If the demons of hell profess to the existence of God, then there must be more to faith than simply saying “Yes, I believe there is a God.”  Let’s revisit our key verse and the claim that we must believe that God exists.  The word “exists”  holds a deeper meaning in the original Greek than just being; it carries the impression of acceptance, companionship, belonging, involvement.  It means relationship.  To believe in God is not just intellectual assent, though we cannot miss out on that first vital understanding.  Believing in God means investing all I am in a relationship with my Creator.  It means that I am His and He is mine.  That’s the difference between how the demons believe and how faith believes.  Faith – genuine faith – is both mind and heart – recognizing the truth of God’s existence and making it personal through a relationship that impacts every aspect of our lives.

 I believe in God – and this is not just a rote statement I declare, it is the deepest conviction of my heart and it changes everything about my life.  Beloved, do you believe in God?

 

 

 

 

A Foundation of Faith

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“We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (John 4:43).

A sinful woman encountered Jesus one day and an entire village was changed.  The Samaritan woman found Jesus at a well.  He told her who she was, and then He told her who He was.  The Messiah.  She ran to her village and called her neighbors to meet the man who changed her life.  And they came.  And they believed.  Not because of what the woman said about Jesus, but because of what He said about Himself.  “Because of His words many more became believers” (v. 41).  They believed because they heard Him with their own ears and saw Him with their own eyes.  Second-hand faith is not a sustaining faith.  We must hear and know Jesus for ourselves.

I am so grateful for my time as a seminary student.  That experience stretched my mind and my faith in ways I never imagined.  In seminary I learned how to study the Bible for life, how to search out its treasures and discern God’s truth.  I learned how to think critically, how to compare and contrast the many messages I receive every day.  Most of all, I was challenged to consider what I believe.  I looked at everything I claimed to hold as true and examined it carefully, scripturally, practically – and truly made it my own profession of faith.  I took out everything I learned from childhood on and held it up to the light of the Word of God and the wisdom of the Church under the leading of the Holy Spirit.  I found some things needed to be challenged and changed, and some things needed to be nailed down as the foundation of my faith. I no longer stand on what others told me about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the Church and my faith, I stand on what I know is true and right.  I know what I believe and I believe what I know.

You don’t need to go to seminary to build a strong foundation of faith.  All you need is the Bible and the courage to examine your beliefs through the lens of God’s Word and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.  We’re going to do that together over the next few weeks.  We’re going to ask some critical questions, and dig for the answers.  We’re going to become Bereans. Acts 17 tells about a church that took what Paul taught and lay it along side of Scripture, “to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).  We’re going to find out if what we believe is really true.  That’s the kind of faith that stands firm against the winds of the culture, against the “wisdom” of the world, against the threat of suffering, persecution, and death.  Do you really think the martyrs of old would have died for something they weren’t convinced was true?  You and I need to be sure of our faith and our convictions too. We need to be certain that we have a faith that’s worth living – and dying for. 

 

Will Your Faith Stand?

“Do everything without complaining or arguing.” Philippians 2:14

Three days. That’s all it took for the complaining to start. Three days from blessing to grumbling. Three days from rejoicing to grousing.

The Israelites were three days out from crossing the Red Sea in miraculous fashion, and they were already complaining. They had witnessed God’s power and might in rescuing them from slavery and defeating the Egyptian army. They had fled Egypt, carrying the wealth of their captives with them, and the Lord had guided them in a pillar of cloud and fire to the edge of the sea. They watched as the presence of the Lord moved to form an impenetrable wall between them and their enemy. They saw the waters part, felt the dry ground beneath their feet as they moved between two walls of water and then watched the walls collapse onto the Egyptian army.

They sang and danced and rejoiced, proclaiming “The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation; Who among the gods is like You, O Lord-majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” They sang of their trust in Him, “In your unfailing love You will lead the people You have redeemed…You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of Your inheritance.” (Ref. Exodus 15:2, 11, 13, 17.)

And everything changed. They found themselves in a desert with no drinkable water, the one spring poured forth bitter water. Now that’s not a little problem, mind you. Water in a desert is a big deal. Water for as many as two million people or more is an even bigger deal. They were in a serious situation. So they turned on their God-appointed leader and “grumbled against Moses, saying ‘What are we to drink?’” (Ex. 15:24). We might think, “Are these the same people that crossed the sea on dry ground and witnessed the power and might of the Lord?” Well, yes, actually they were.

And so are we. The truth is, I can very often turn from praising to grumbling in thirty minutes. At least it took them three days. Are we really any different than the Israelites? Like them, we have often forgotten God’s faithfulness and goodness in the past and complained about the circumstances of the present. It is a pattern that shows up over and over again in their wilderness journey. We see it again in Exodus 16, as they grumble about the lack of food, saying “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted” (Ex. 16:3). In chapter 17 they are grumbling about water again, and so it goes, until they stand at the edge of the Promised Land. Rather than rejoice in God’s faithfulness thus far and move ahead with confidence they grumble and cry and moan, until finally that generation lost the Promised Land altogether.

If you and I are honest, wouldn’t we admit that the same pattern shows up in our own lives as well? Why do we fail to believe that the God who sent His Son to die on the cross for us will also provide for, protect and bless us? Paul asks the same question in Romans 8:31-32, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, gracious give us all things?” Why do we, like the Israelites, fail to trust the Lord who has proven Himself faithful again and again and again?

In a word: unbelief. The very same unbelief that demoralized the faith of the Hebrew nation undermines our faith and confidence in God today. The exodus from Egypt was the great expression of Yahweh’s love to the Israelites. But because they had grumbled all along the way; at would should have been their defining moment of faith, they stood at the edge of the Promised Land and balked. “All the Israelites grumbled…and the whole assembly said, ‘Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?’” (Numbers 14:2,3)

Are you believing God today? The cross of Jesus Christ is God’s ultimate expression of love to you and me. Every day we are surrounded by reminders of His care and devotion to His people. Yet still, when we are faced with a challenge, we grumble. Rather than believe God, we doubt. We question. We whine and complain. And God asks, as He asked of Israel, “How long will these people refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?” (Num. 14:11).

There is a day coming when Christians will be faced with their defining moment of faith. We need only to read the Scriptures and look at the world around us to know it is not far away. Have you and I walked in faith, believing God? Will our faith stand?

Jesus posed a question, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8)? What if He comes today?

Holy Father, my faith is often so small. I cry out like the father in Mark’s Gospel – “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).