Hebrews: Cheerful Courage

As I was studying Hebrews 10:19-25, the next Hebrews passage, one word caught my attention.  “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus . . .” (Heb 10:19). This passage has a lot to say to us, far more than just one word, but when the Holy Spirit draws my focus with a divine highlighter, I’ve learned to pay attention.   The word is “confidence,” and no, the writer isn’t talking about “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities” (Google’s definition). The word he used in this context means “boldness, freedom in speaking.”  It always brings the story of Esther to mind.

Esther was a Jewish girl living in Susa, a province of Persia. The king of Susa had fallen in love with Esther and taken her to be his queen, but she hid her Jewish identity, as her people were not very popular in the region. In fact, they were so disliked that one of the king’s aides decided all the Jews in Susa should be killed in a mass extermination. The king put his “stamp of approval” on this heinous plan. Esther’s uncle begged with her to go to the king and plead for the lives of her people. But she knew that any person who approached the king in his inner court will be put to death unless the king extends his scepter as a sign of acceptance. Even his wife. Esther swallowed her fear and, dressed in her finest, walked across the palace’s marble floors and into the king’s presence. As God would have it, the king accepted Esther and she was (eventually) able to make her request.

There wasn’t anything in Esther that made her bold and confident, it was the God whose mission she had accepted, which brings me to the other definition for the word confidence: “cheerful courage.” Now I have had to do some very hard things that required a lot of courage and I pressed on into it, but it was “suck-it-up” courage and my knees were knocking. There was nothing cheerful about it. So how can I – as a sinful woman – have cheerful confidence to enter into the very dwelling place of God? Only by the blood of Jesus.

As we sang in worship yesterday, “There to my heart was the blood applied – glory to His name!”

Rock the Boat!

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When I read in the Scriptures about the early church, I’m jealous. They had such an incredible experience witnessing “many wonders and miraculous signs” (Acts 2:43).  I long for the sense of purpose and community that they had: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v.42). They met daily and “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God (v. 46). And He blessed them greatly: “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (v. 47). What an exciting, fulfilling time to “belong to the Way” (9:2). Even the community outside of the faith appreciated them, “they enjoyed the favor of all the people” (47).

Well maybe not everyone.

After healing a man who had been crippled from birth, Peter and John proclaimed the gospel to the astonished crowd.  A great number of people believed and that angered the Jewish authorities. They questioned the apostles who then boldly proclaimed the name of Jesus to them. They commanded Peter and John to stop teaching in His name. Their response? “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (4:19-20). Later they arrested and flogged them. Remarkably, they rejoiced at their mistreatment “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (5:17-41)

How very different from our modern, western culture, where religion is regarded as a personal preference and not a life-giving entity. In the US the battle cry is “separation of church and state,” and in our workplaces, schools, the public square, even among our peers, we are told to keep our religion to ourselves. Unlike the bold apostles, we do it because we don’t want to rock the boat. But true Christianity is all-or-nothing. It spills over into every aspect of our lives because “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” We’ll gladly take the scorn of the world for the Name. Besides, it’s only going to get worse, not better. Beloved, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, it’s time to not only rock the boat but get out of it and walk on the water.

You’ve Been With Jesus!

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There’s a verse in Acts 4 that has been on my mind lately. It comes in the narrative of Peter and John before the religious leaders. They had been arrested and were being questioned by the ruling Jewish council. Luke said that these fishermen turned preachers astonished the learned and (self)righteous men and “they took note that these unschooled, ordinary men had been with Jesus” (v. 13). How do people know that you and I have “been with Jesus?”

This story says the council “saw the courage of Peter and John”  who had just boldly declared the name of Jesus of Nazareth before them. Boldness and courage were the tell-tale signs for the Lord’s disciples. You and I are going to need their boldness and courage in the days ahead. We get that when we spend time with Jesus.

Peace is also another way that others can see that we have been with Jesus. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). When you and I can face the challenges of life with peace others will notice. They will want to know how, and we can tell them, “I’ve been with Jesus, the peace-giver.”

Probably the most definite sign that we have been with Jesus is love. He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Love is the hallmark of those who have been with Jesus. You cannot be around divine love without it “rubbing off on you.” Love one another.

Then there is the story of the woman who anointed Jesus prior to His death. She came with her alabaster jar of perfume “which she poured on His head” (Matthew 26:7). As I meditated on this scene, it occurred to me – now Jesus smelled just like her and she smelled just like Him. She brought her love and worship to Him. He welcomed and received her fragrance – and her – and in return He shared with her His grace. She was there to pour out her worship on the Lord and when we worship Him, He joins with us and we share in His sweet fragrance.

That, Beloved, is how the world will know that we have been with Jesus.

Don’t Give Up on God

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I hope you’re not tired of hearing about my cat. Celina is a black-and-white Bible teacher with a tail. Every morning I stumble into the kitchen headed for the coffee maker. Celina runs ahead of me and parks herself in front of her food dish and begins her usual cries of lament. “Feed me. Feed me.  Feed me.” Never mind that the bowl still has food in it. As I’ve shared before, she demands a fresh scoop to start the day. This morning I was a little distracted and slower to respond than usual.  She continued to meow – but each one got softer and quieter. It was like she was slowly giving up – losing hope that I would take care of her.

Some of you, like me, have a prayer you have carried for a long time. And nothing is happening. God is silent. You are starting to losing hope that He cares and will answer you. You are slowly giving up. Don’t.

Jesus told two parables reminding us to be persistent in prayer. In Luke 18:1-8 He tells us about a persistent widow who kept coming to a judge seeking justice against her adversary. Luke introduces the story with this comment: “Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and never give up” (v. 1). Luke 11: 5-10 is the parable of the man who goes to his friend at midnight asking for bread. The friend is reluctant at first, but “because of the man’s boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs” (v. 8) The word “boldness” means shameless, barefaced persistence. Jesus completes this parable with the reminder to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened” (v. 9). The original Greek used here literally reads: ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking. The key to these two parables is that the pray-er was persistent because they knew that the one hearing their prayers would come through.

You and I can be persistent in prayer because we have faith in the one who hears our prayers. Don’t give up on God, Beloved. ASK – Ask, seek, knock – again.

Boldness and Awe

“Then Moses said, ‘Now show me Your glory.’” Exodus 33:18

 The way in which we see God influences our relationship with Him.  To some He is a combination of Grandpa and Santa Claus, out of touch with reality, but still sweet and giving.  To others He is “Big Brother” with a huge club, watching us for any opportunity to smack us for messing up.  A God who is benevolent, but powerless is no help to us in our time of need.  A God who is powerful and unfeeling breeds fear that drives us away from Him.  We would have no God if He were either of the two scenarios. It is vastly important to see God as He really is, as He has revealed Himself in His Word.

The truth is, God is both benevolent and powerful, which is why we can approach Him with our needs and know that He is both able and willing to help us.

Hebrews 4:16 tells us to come before the Throne of Grace with “parresia” which means boldness, confidence, frankness, openness of speech; bringing everything about the matter to God.  Paul says that “In [Christ] and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.  This confidence stems from our trust in God – which literally means “to be persuaded or convinced,” terms that carry legal weight.  We can come before Him boldly because we are confident that He will receive us, we are convinced of His love for us, and we are persuaded that He can and will come to our aid.  We come before Him with boldness because He has opened the way for us through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.

But in addition to boldness, we must also come before God with awe and reverence. Solomon, the great king of wisdom, said “God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:2)  While we are welcome into God’s presence as His dearly loved children, we must never forget Who we have come before.  We are approaching the Lord who is Holy (Isaiah 6:3); Righteous (Psalm 119:137); and Sovereign (Daniel 4:25).  Hebrews 12:28-29 reminds us that we are to “be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  Rather than seeing Him with terror, we should regard Him with holy reverence and thank Him for His love and mercy to us.

To see God only as harsh and uncaring is to turn Him into a mean-spirited ogre. To see God as Father, but not as holy is to make Him into a one-dimensional entity.  God is all loving, and He is all holy.  Not in perfect balance, but in perfect fullness.  Peter made a wonderful observation in 1 Peter 1:17 – “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”   Peter recognizes the love relationship we have with our Heavenly Father, and reminds us that He is also the Sovereign and Holy God Almighty who judges in righteousness.  He is our Father, and He is our Lord-overflowing compassion and overwhelming holiness.

He is the one who holds our lives in the palm of His hand.

Oh what a glorious place to be – cradled in the hands of One who is so mighty and awesome, and who loves us with an everlasting and consuming love.

Lord – Jesus called You “Holy Father” – the perfect Name for the One who is both awesome in holiness and perfect in love.  May my heart always belong to You.  Amen