Hebrews: Telling Our Faith Stories

I love being a Bible student and teacher and writer. But one of my most important roles is being Joy’s Nana and teaching her stuff. We’ve spent many Saturday mornings learning how to make pankins (pancakes). Last night she learned how to spin her pink bracelet on her finger by watching me do it.  But above all, I want to teach her my story with God – and how she is part of it. I didn’t grow up around my grandmothers, so I don’t know their faith stories. But I will make sure that Joy knows mine.

Sharing faith stories was how the Hebrew people taught their children and grandchildren about God. Joseph is a good example.  The writer of Hebrews said, “By faith, Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones” (11:22). There’s a lot packed into that verse. Joseph was Abraham’s great-grandson. Abraham was already deceased when Joseph was born, but he knew his great-grandpa’s faith story and he made it part of his own.

God promised Abraham, while he was childless and a nomad, that he would have countless offspring and that they would have possession of the very land on which he stood (Genesis 15). But He also told Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved for four hundred years in a foreign land. Then He said, He would rescue them and “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here” (Gen 15: 13-16). Abraham told Isaac who told Jacob who told Joseph. On his deathbed, Joseph told his brothers, “God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . . and you must carry my bones up from this place” (Gen 50:24-25). Joseph believed in the promise that had been passed down to each generation. More to the point, Joseph believed the Promise-Maker. Four hundred and thirty years later, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him . . .” as he exited Egypt (Exodus 13:19). Promise made. Promise believed. Promise kept.

I don’t know the God-history of my ancestors, I don’t even know much about the faith stories of my parents. But Joy will know mine. She will know that God has been faithful, good, gracious, generous, and mighty in my life. Beloved, who needs to know yours?

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?

How to Calm a Restless Life

I almost did it. I almost gave you a devotional with a verse taken out of context. I’ve taught the importance of context, context, context for years and I was about to break the rule. Let me explain. James 1:6 says, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” This verse, plucked out of the surrounding passage, sits nicely on a platter of “pray and believe and you will receive.” But wait. What is that “but” all about?

James was writing to encourage Jewish believers who were under great oppression and persecution for their faith in Christ. He said their trials were God’s tools to make them “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (v. 4). Then he adds, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (v. 5). Put all the pieces together and James is saying that wisdom is the mark of a mature, complete Christian and that God will give wisdom to anyone who asks.

But there’s the “but” and that’s where verse 6 above comes in. By now you know that believing = obedience. The wisdom God gives is not just a head full of theology, it is practical action He expects you to take. God doesn’t speak just to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed. The opposite of believing is doubt, so the corollary to our equation is doubt = disobedience. “Doubt” means to make a judgment and thus to hesitate. When we doubt God’s Word, when we hesitate to obey we are judging His wisdom – or more to the point, judging Him – and deciding to reject His Word – and His authority. Hesitance is disobedience.

James calls that being “double-minded” and “unstable” (v. 8 ). A double-minded mind is a divided mind – a mind with two opposite opinions. A double-minded heart is a divided heart – a heart with two opposite affections. Being unstable means being inconsistent – acting first one way and then another. It’s a restless life. It’s no wonder the person who doubts God’s wisdom is “blown and tossed by the wind like a wave of the sea.” 

Beloved, if you’ve been tossed around by life lately, maybe it’s time to take God’s Word – all of God’s Word – to heart. Obedience is a sturdy foundation.

Blessed Faith

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“Did that really happen? It must have been a dream. I have been so anxious over all the preparations Joseph and I are making – it must have caused me to have this strange dream.” Mary was traveling through the hill country of Judea on her way to visit her dear relative, Elizabeth. The angel in her dream had said something strange about her too – that she was going to have a child – in fact, he said she was in her sixth month. Elizabeth – of all people. She and Zechariah were too old to have a baby. Yes, this had to have just been a dream.JBut what if it wasn’t.Could she really be with child – with THE child – the Messiah? Why would he have chosen her? She was nothing special, wouldn’t God have chosen the wife of the high priest for such an honor? Someone in a lofty position in the temple, someone more mature, more wealthy, more righteous. No. She shook her head as if to shake loose the crazy idea. This was just not possible. She saw the familiar house and spied her relative in the doorway with her back turned toward the road. “Elizabeth!” Mary called out and gasped as the older woman turned to face her. The smile on her face was warm and welcoming, but the bulge under her dress was a shock to Mary’s heart. It was true! Elizabeth was pregnant! If that were true – then . . . “Mary! Dear Mary!” Elizabeth exclaimed, and then as if from deep within her spirit she began to speak. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for Joy” (Luke 1:42-44).

Oh, it was true! It was all true! Elizabeth was pregnant. That meant she really was pregnant too – with the Messiah! Then, as if reading the thoughts the younger woman had carried with her along the journey, Elizabeth took Mary’s hands in her own and said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (v. 45).

Beloved, faith is the sweetest blessing of all.

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.”

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!

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.

I Believe

“I believe in God the Father Almighty,

Maker of Heaven and Earth”

From “The Apostles’ Creed”

“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

What does it mean to “believe in God?” What must you believe about God?  Why should you believe in God at all?   Man 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.  We make it so complex with our human perspectives. But it really is simple: “God is who He says He is.”  Belief in God is the very foundation of faith, in fact, it is the foundation of our lives.

The Apostles’ Creed makes it first bold statement of affirmation by saying “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.”  Our intellectual world would stop us right here and argue against the existence of God.  But a person of faith believes that He is.  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 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.”  The Psalmist 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.  This world was not created by some “cosmic accident” It was created by God, who also created man and He gave earth everything necessary to sustain life.  God is “the Maker of Heaven and Earth.”

A person of faith knows and believes in God as both Creator and Father.  He is exalted in Heaven, over all of His creation; yet He is a very intimate and personal Father.

The first mention in Scripture of anyone professing to believe in God was Abram – Genesis 15:6 says “Abram believed God and it was credited to Him as righteousness.” Abram (later renamed Abraham) believed in the existence of God, but He also believed God.  His belief, his confidence was revealed by has obedient actions.  But the first point of decision – to believe God or not believe Him – was exhibited in the Garden.  For Adam and Eve, God’s very first created human beings, believing God was not a matter of “is He real or isn’t He?” – but “will we believe what He has said is true?”  They walked with Him daily (Genesis 3:8), so His existence was never questioned.  They knew He was real.  Their crisis of belief came, not with a challenge to His reality, but with the serpent (the Devil) planting a seed of doubt – “Did God really…” (Genesis 1:1).  When Satan cannot cause us to doubt the existence of God, he will cause us to doubt the heart of God. He has been using the same line to plant, cultivate, grow and harvest huge fields of doubt in the hearts and minds of men ever since.

By definition; believing is “to accept something as true, genuine or real; to have a firm conviction; to consider to be true or honest, to accept the word or evidence of.” (www.merriam-webster.com) Belief in God is not wishful thinking or just an opinion we hold to; belief in God is based on the actual evidences of His existence and of the truth of His Word. Belief in God is belief in His character of faithfulness and truth, belief in His power and goodness; it is belief that trusts and obeys.

I do believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth. This is not just a rote statement I declare, it is the deepest conviction of my heart.

Do you believe in God?

God Almighty, You have made Yourself known through nature, Your Word, Your Son and Your Spirit.  Please open our hearts that we may believe.  Amen.

In The Beginning…Faith

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  Genesis 1:1

What is the basis of faith?  What must we know to believe in God?

I had a conversation recently with a friend who was asking some very deep and provocative questions.  He asked me what I believe about the Bible.  Is it true? Is it real?  I told him I believe wholeheartedly in the truth of the Bible, that it is inspired by God, without error and completely trustworthy.  It is the real and living Word of the real and living God.  It has been proven throughout history and time will continue to prove its reliability.

He then asked me about the Biblical account of creation – specifically did I believe that God created the world in 7 days as we understand a 24-hour day, or is the Genesis record of “days” actually much longer stretches of time?  I told him what I thought; but I told him too, that the point of faith is not how long it took God to create the heavens and the earth, but that we believe He did it.

Throughout the Bible, its writers affirm this very basic truth. God addresses Job’s complaints by saying, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation…laid its cornerstone… made the clouds…gave orders to the morning… ?” (Job 38:4, 6, 9, 12)  Acts 17: 24 declares, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth.” In Hebrews 11: 3 we read, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command…”  The Apostle John wrote: “He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all thing were made…” and again in Revelation 4:11, “You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being.”    Over and over the Bible declares that “The Lord [is] the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 115:15)

You see, faith is more than knowing exactly how long it took for the universe to be formed.  Faith is knowing Who formed it.  Hebrews 11: 6 says, “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.”  Faith believes that God is who He says He is and that He can do what He says He can do. (Henry Blackaby, “Experiencing God” and Beth Moore, “Believing God”) Paul said in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

From the beginning of creation, Satan has challenged God by trying to cause the created to doubt the Creator.   His words to Eve still reach the ears of men and women today:  “Did God really…?”   He wants us to doubt the existence of God.  He tries to cause us to doubt the Bible.  Like the philosophers of Athens (Acts 17: 16-33), he sends us chasing for answers that seem religious, but do nothing to encourage us to believe the truth.

There is a new theology forming today, people who choose to believe nothing.  What a sad way to go through life.  What a tragic way to face eternity. I choose to believe God.  I choose to believe the Bible. I choose to live a life of faith that pleases Him.  I choose to seek Him and know Him with all my heart.  I hope that you will choose God too.

God – You are everything You say that You are, and You are everything to me.  Amen.

Go deeper: Genesis 1-2; Job 38-41; Acts 17:16-33