Hebrews: How to be a Hero in God’s Eyes

What makes a person a “hero?” That word is thrown around these days without any concept of heroism. I always think of military men and women when I think of heroes. Or teachers facing a battlefield every day. I consider missionaries as heroes and anyone who braves oppression and persecution to preach the gospel. Merriam-Webster says that a hero is a person with “heroic conduct especially as exhibited in fulfilling a high purpose or attaining a noble end” (www.merrian-webster.com). There is no higher purpose or more noble end than bringing people to Christ.

The author of Hebrews grouped together several people that are considered heroes to the people of God – “Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets” (Heb 11:32). I’m going to ask you to stop right here and read Hebrews 11:32-38. Don’t skip it.

Talk about some heroes! These are the Bible stories we tell to children – their feats are renowned and their names are synonymous with courage, valor, bravery, and victory. They faced lions and giants and flames and swords. They fought and won in the power and Name of the Lord. Well not all of them won. Some of them were tortured to death, imprisoned, beaten, impaled, beheaded, and lived destitute lives of abuse and poverty. And the author said they were just as heroic and valued as the warriors.

It’s one of the great conundrums of the Christian faith – why do faithful obedient people face abuse and struggle? Isn’t life in Christ supposed to be goodness and blessings all the time? Let’s ask Him – the one who said, Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty (Matt 5:3-6). He said their reward is comfort, filling, even earth and the kingdom of heaven.  Check out what he said about those who endure persecution and insults and character assaults: “Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven (v. 11-12).

Suffering is the norm for the Christ-follower, not an easy-peasy life. I wish I could say I have some magic ball into all the reasons for it. What I do have is faith that God will keep His promises. You can too. Beloved, it’s faith, not heroics that God is looking for. 

The Word for the Day is . . .

You need it. I need it. Our kids need it. Our coworkers and friends and neighbors need it. Our pastors need it and the grocery store clerk needs it. What is it? Encouragement. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately because in this world-gone-mad, as well as in our own struggles, we desperately need to be encouraged. Look at the word – what do you see in the middle? Courage. Encouragement is about instilling courage in one another. Why do we need courage? I don’t know about you but without it, I will cower in the bed with my head under the covers all day. We need courage to get back up when we’ve been knocked down. We need courage to reject the wrong and stand for the right. We need courage to face the trials of life. Some days we need courage just to get out of bed. Most importantly, we need courage to be the people of God in a godless world. That’s my desire every time I write.

How can I give you courage today? With the testimony of the ages: Jesus Christ is alive and He rules and reigns! Paul declared, “[God] raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:20-21). No human entity has more authority or power than Jesus. If you have surrendered your life into His hands, that is encouraging news!

But wait! There’s more! Not only is He alive and on the throne – Jesus is coming again! “The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). This was great news to the weary and oppressed Christians.  It’s great news to us too.

The word for today, and every day is this: Be encouraged Beloved–the Lord is on His Throne and He is coming again!

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!”

Stepping Out in Faith

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Has God asked you to do something scary? Something bigger than you? Something you know you can’t do? Awesome! You are blessed! And you are in very good company.  Every “hero/heroine” in the Bible had the same calling. And every one of them had to take a step of obedience before they saw the power of God in their task. Take the priests of Israel who were preparing to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. They were to lead the way: “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people” (Jos 3:5). Okay, they’d done this before at the Red Sea. I’m sure they all said, “Remember when Moses parted the sea and we walked across on dry ground? I am sure God will do it again!” Well, not exactly.

The Lord told the priests: “When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s water, go and stand in the river” (v. 8). Oh, by the way, did I mention, “the Jordan is at flood stage” (v. 15). You gotta be kidding.  No, God never kids. But listen to what happened: “As soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing.  It piled up in a heap a great distance away . . .” (v. 15, 16). And just as before “The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground” (v. 17).

At the Red Sea, God parted the waters before the people started across, but this time was different.  This time the priests had to dip their feet into the water. They had to literally step out in faith. But as soon as they did, God not only stopped the flow of the river, but he instantaneously dried up the riverbed. They walked across on dry ground.

In all the time I’ve walked God has never failed me. Never. Not one time. And I know He will not. But I also know that God has asked me for a step of faith before He poured out His power.   I don’t know what God is asking you to do, but I’ll bet it’s pretty scary.  Go for it, Beloved. Your toes may get a little wet, but you will always walk on dry ground.

In His Hands

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“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Yes, I know, you’ve heard this verse a thousand times. It’s an old favorite of the church and might even be a bit overused. But that’s because it is true and hopeful and if ever we needed hope, I think it’s now. It seems like the whole world has gone crazy, doesn’t it? Or perhaps the world is too big to contemplate, but your life has been crazy lately.  You find yourself asking “Why?” and wondering if God has forgotten about you. Let me take you on a ride through history to show that the Lord is still very much in control.

In 332 BC, the nation of Israel, along with much of the known world was conquered by Alexander the Great, a Greek warrior and king. Alexander’s conquests were not meant for destruction, but rather for assimilation into the Greek empire. All nations were educated in the Greek language for unification. Alexander ordered the ancient Hebrew Scriptures to be translated into Greek, a work that was accomplished in 70 days.

In 63 BC, the Roman Empire conquered Israel. Though known for their cruelty and harsh rule, they were also known for establishing strong infrastructure wherever they went to enable swift transport for their military. Roads were laid by the Romans throughout the European and Asian continents.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus persecution drove His followers from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria and throughout the region. As they went, they walked along Roman-built roads and shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the unified Greek language. The story of God was read and taught everywhere they went because the language was the same wherever they went.

While all these events seemed to be unconnected, harsh circumstances, it’s clear that the God of heaven and earth was “working all things together” for the spread of the Gospel. Now, don’t you think this same sovereign God is able to manage the circumstances of your life? Not only has He not forgotten about you, but He is “perfecting that which concerns you” (Psalm 138:8). He’s got the whole world in His hands – and that includes you Beloved.

Last Words

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“Drive carefully.” “Have a good day.” “Call when you get there.” “I love you.” Last words. When your kids are climbing out of the car, when your wife heads off for a weekend with her friends, when your nephew leaves for college. It’s our final opportunity to connect and leave them with something important. Many times those last words express our heart more than voluminous conversations.

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote about wisdom, immorality, marriage, freedom in Christ, spiritual gifts, love, and the resurrection. Out of all these very weighty topics, Paul’s final instructions to his friends were: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of good courage; be strong. Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). Firm faith. Good courage. Love in all things. What powerful watchwords for Christ’s church! And we still need them today.

Corinth was a multi-cultural, polytheistic culture – they had people from many backgrounds who held to many different beliefs. It was so easy to take a little bit from each one – including Christianity – to make a self-serving religion. That sounds very much like our world today, doesn’t it? Paul reminds us to stand firm in our faith in Christ and Christ alone. But he also assures us we don’t stand on our own.  He opened this letter by telling the Corinthians, “[The Lord Jesus Christ] will keep you strong to the end” (1:8). Firm faith leans heavily on Christ for strength and courage.

Why do we need courage? Have you been out there lately? The powers (human and spiritual) that rule the world are trying to destroy the Christian faith. We need courage just to walk out the door. We need courage to resist the enemy. We need courage to stand for truth and righteousness. In a day and age when sin is celebrated, we need courage to say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

And oh, how important love is. Jesus said love is the defining factor in the lives of His followers – “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). And love, more than any other means will draw men to Christ. In everything – our jobs, in school, in our families, in our relationships, in good times and hard times, in peace and in disagreement – let love be the rule.

If today were my last day on earth and I wanted to leave you with the most important words, I would say the same thing.  Beloved have faith, be courageous, and live in love.

Waiting Well

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It seems as if we’re always waiting. Waiting for the baby to be born. Waiting for school to let out. Waiting for your kid to come home. Waiting for a call about a job or a medical test. Waiting is an unavoidable part of life. You and I need to know how to wait well. Thankfully the Bible – especially the Psalms – has a lot to teach us about how to wait.

Psalm 5:3 tells us to wait expectantly – “Oh Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” I love how the NKJV renders this verse: “ I will direct my prayer to you and I will look up.” The heart of expectation is watching intently for what you are certain will come.

Likewise, Psalm 33:20 says, “We wait in hope for the Lord.” Hope and expectation are synonymous.

Psalm 27:14 says to wait courageously: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Courage is a by-product of hope and expectation. Courage is the best cure for doubt.

How long must we wait? Psalm 25:5 tells us to wait “all day long.” Wait for the long haul. Wait until we see God act. That’s why we need hope and courage.

I don’t want to include this one, but here goes: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7). Waiting is an act of patience and we all know how we learn patience. I’ll just leave that one there.

Psalm 119:166 adds a new wrinkle: “I wait for Your salvation, O Lord, and I follow your commands.” In the waiting, we are still obedient. Those small steps of submission will often lead to the very thing for which we are waiting.

There’s one theme in all these “waiting” verses that is key to waiting well – it’s not what we’re waiting for but whom.  Psalm 62:5 says, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” Wait for God alone. Not for the desired outcome, but for the living God of heaven. Wait for Him, not just for what He can do for you. His ways and acts are wonderful, but the true treasure is the presence of God in your life. Don’t just wait, Beloved, wait well.

Not a Princess

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I stood next to a table filled with t-shirts at a woman’s conference and a pink one caught my eye. It had a sparkly crown on it and the words: “I’m a princess!” My Daddy is the King of the Universe” The woman next to me picked it up and handed over her credit card. “Don’t you just love this?” she asked me. “It’s very cute,” I answered. In my head, though, I said, “But I don’t want to be a princess.” Princesses are fluffy, and I’m not the fluffy sort.

I want to be a queen. Like Esther, who wore her very best dress and crown to go to battle for her people. She could have let Haman slaughter the Jews because she was safe and well-kept in her palace in Susa. But when her uncle Mordecai told her, “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14), she waged war against her people’s enemy with feminine wisdom and godly courage.

I want to be a warrior. Like Deborah, who was the only female judge of Israel mentioned in Scripture. When the commander of Israel’s army refused to go into battle without her, Deborah accompanied Barak and ten thousand men to a great victory, singing, “March on, my soul; be strong!” (Judges 5:21). I want to be like Jael, who lured the enemy Sisera into her tent and drove a tent pet into his temple as he slept (Judges 4:21).

I want to be the Lord’s handmaiden, like Mary, the mother of Jesus, who, when told she would endure a scandalous pregnancy, said “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38). I want to tell everyone about Jesus like Anna (Luke 2:36-38) and the Samaritan Woman (John 4:39) and Mary Magdalene (John 20:18). I want to be like Dorcas, who was full of good works which she did (Acts 9:36).

No, I don’t want to be a fluffy princess. Crowns are for heaven – to be cast at the feet of Jesus. Right now you and I need the helmet of salvation. There’s a war on and the Kingdom of God is calling us into battle. Are you ready? “March on my soul; be strong!”

No, You’re Not Enough, but You Have All You Need

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The Christian life is not easy. I hear your “Amens.” We have all struggled and stumbled and become weary.  We’ve all felt like giving up. So what would help?  Do you need more faith? Could you use more courage? How about more strength? Patience? Wisdom? Love? Trust? Peace? Self-control? Mercy? Grace? Yeah, me too. To all of the above. And here’s an inside secret: The enemy will constantly reinforce your belief that you are lacking in all these things. Satan wants you and me to be handicapped by worry and fear. Lately, his mantra to me is “You don’t have enough faith for this trial.” And it triggers a spiral of anxiety and fear.

Yesterday a young friend and I talked about how to take our thoughts captive and reject satan’s lies (2 Corinthians 10:5). That’s a powerful lesson – but it’s only half the battle. We then have to fill that empty space with the truth.  So if I reject satan’s lie that I don’t have enough faith, what truth do I need to plug into that space? “God is able to make all grace about to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will about in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8-emphasis added). In one sense satan is right – I do not have enough faith on my own. I am sorely lacking in all the areas above. But we know he is a liar and the father of lies.  – because God said that I have all I need to not only persevere through my trials but to emerge victorious through them. And so do you if you are in Christ. What the enemy doesn’t want you to know is that, because you have the Holy Spirit living in you, He fills in all the gaps in your faith, courage, strength, and all the rest. You and I just have to give Him those places where we feel we’re lacking. My prayer for more faith is met by the Spirit’s abundance.

Beloved, I know you are tired. I know you feel like you’re failing. You’ve told me so. But you have the promise of the Word of God who is ever faithful that He will give you all you need to not just survive this life, but to thrive and to bring Him glory. You have all you need. That’s not spiritual arrogance, that is a promise from God.

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.