Hebrews: Passing on the Blessing

A father’s role is different with every culture and every era. Dads today are more involved with the care and nurturing of their children than they were even in my generation. My Dad was the provider first and he taught my brother about working on vehicles. But the emotional care of my brothers and me was largely left to my Mom. He wasn’t really a disciplinarian either. He usually forgot that he had grounded me after a couple of days. But if Mom grounded me for a week it stuck to the minute. 

Still, some things haven’t changed. Fathers in the days of the patriarchs were also providers, then teachers especially of religion and the family trade. First-century fathers had one other very important role in their family – passing on the blessing. In Hebrews 11:20-21 we see Isaac and Jacob doing just that. “By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” That’s pretty cut-and-dried without any of the drama that surrounded them.

Isaac and Jacob were passing on the promise of God that had been first given to Abraham for a land of their own – Canaan. The author of Hebrews said those blessings were given “by faith” because the land that had been promised was not yet in their possession. Abraham believed God would be faithful to the promise and he passed that confidence and faith to his son and grandson. But it would be many more generations before they would take possession of the Promised Land.

But the promise and the blessing were about more than the land. The “everlasting covenant” the Lord made with Abraham was “to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Gen 17:7). For a season the Jewish people lost possession of the land. From the fall of Babylon in 586 bc until May 14, 1948, Israel was under foreign rule. But she was never without God. Nor are you. In their seasons of disobedience and rebellion, God disciplined them, but He also kept a loving eye on them and brought them back to the land – and to Himself. I find a lot of hope in that. You can too. Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). He meant it Beloved. Every word.

You Asked for it – You Got it!

As I was reading the book of Amos an old commercial from the 70s came to mind.  You might remember the jingle: “You asked for it, you got it. Toyota!” Amos was a prophet to Israel just before the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians. God sent him with a message of warning and destruction because Israel had rejected Him. But they told Amos, “Do not prophesy against Israel and stop preaching against the house of Isaac” (7:16). In other words, stop giving us God’s Word.

Well, they asked for it and they got it. The Lord said he was sending a famine – “not of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (8:11). That chills my heart. I do not think I could survive without God’s Word. But the present culture is making the same demands. “Don’t tell us what that antiquated fairy-tale book says! It has no authority over us. It is intolerant, racist, and sexist.” Isn’t it strange that the generation that shouts for “tolerance” is intolerant of the truth?

But let’s flip this. What would our world be like – what would our churches and homes and hearts be like if we sought the Word of God? If we store it up in our hearts (Ps 119:11), rejoice in it (v. 14), and meditate on it (v. 15), What if we delight in and never neglect it (v. 16)? What if we choose the way of truth and set our hearts on the Scriptures (v. 30)? What if we obey it with all our hearts (v. 34)? How might it change us if we love the Word of God (v. 47)? What if we put our hope in God’s Word (v. 81) and let it light our way (v. 105)? What if we stand in awe of the Holy Scriptures (v. 120)? What if we faithfully walk in God’s Word (v. 133)?

My goal as a Bible teacher is to teach myself out of a job. It is to help you see the wonder and beauty and truth in the Scriptures and fall in love with the Bible all on your own. Do you want that kind of passion for God’s Word? Ask Him for it, Beloved. And you’ll get it.

Jesus and John Lennon

The Beatles sang it in the mid-’60s and it is the mantra of our culture today: “All you need is love, love, love.” In a world of mass shootings, child abuse, hatred, racism, and war, love is the only antidote. And the Bible agrees. The problem is our definitions of love. John Lennon’s lyrics are empty. He called for love but said nothing about how to love. The culture deems love as permissiveness and approval to indulge in every kind of earthly attraction. But is that truly love?

In a sense the Beatles and the culture are right. Jesus said that the second most important commandment, after loving God, is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). But what does that look like? Whose meaning is right?  I believe the Author of love is the best one to define it.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom 12:10).

“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13).

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19).

“Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another (Col 5:13).

 “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16)

“Love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

Does that look like the kind of love the culture is touting? Do you see that in Lennon’s lyrics? No and no. But can you imagine how this love would change the world? How about just your family? Love is much more than an ethereal notion. It is practical. It has substance. It has hands and feet. It has a voice. Your hands and feet. Your voice. And mine. Truly, all we need is love – love for God and love for one another. Yes, John, you were right – love is all we need.

Hebrews: Faith

Several years ago I posted a question on social media and asked, “What is faith?” The answers ranged from a shield to a conviction to a gift. But the most consistent answer was “trust.” And I believe that is the essence of faith in a single word. As we (finally) come to the well-loved “Hall of Faith,” we are greeted by the writer’s summary first: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for” (Hebrews 11:1-2).

“Faith” gets used a lot in churches and Christian circles – so much so that it has lost its meaning. In the modern Christian culture, we say we have faith because we think about God and talk about Bible verses. But biblical faith is not just sitting around with our ethereal musings. By definition, faith is a belief that leads to a corresponding action – even when the reasons for that action are unclear and the results are uncertain.

Mind you, faith isn’t “blind” either. It sees the improbability of what God is asking. Faith does it anyway. Because faith “sees” God. This thing that we “hope for,” that “we do not see” is God. The NLT says “faith shows the reality.” The reality is God is trustworthy. He is faithful. He is true. Faith allows us to step out into the unknown, confident that He knows the end from the beginning and every step we will take along the way.

What has God asked of you that requires great faith? Trust Him and do the thing whether you understand the reasons or not. Do it when it doesn’t make a bit of sense. Do it even though you can’t see the outcome. If your knees are knocking – do it afraid, but do it. Then when God slides His hand in place just as your foot reaches the empty space, you will stand on the most solid ground you’ve ever known. Have faith Beloved. Just do it.

Hebrews: Everything Old is New Again

New Testament writers often referred back to the Scriptures – what we know as the Old Testament to confirm the fulfillment of prophecy. The writer of Hebrews is one of them. One key I learned in hermeneutics (how to study the scriptures) is to go back to the OT reference to gain the writer’s context.

In Hebrews 10:38 the author loosely borrowed from one of the OT prophets when he wrote, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”  Verses 19-39 are a call to persevere in Christ. The promise of Jesus’ return was given in verse 37 and is followed by this “gentle” warning. So what was happening in the OT that influenced this NT verse?

Habakkuk prophesied to Judah in the final days before Jerusalem fell. He lamented the injustice, violence, strife, lawlessness, and wickedness in the land. Does that sound familiar? God’s answer was to announce judgment – the nation would be destroyed and taken captive by the Babylonians, a “ruthless and impetuous people . . . bent on violence . . . guilty men, whose own strength is their god” (1:6,9, 11). Habakkuk questions God’s plan and the Lord responds by contrasting the evil Babylonians with “the just” – the one who remains righteous despite the circumstances. The one who perseveres.

This was the author’s theme throughout Hebrews. The Babylonians would take the Jews that survived the onslaught and either enslave them or indoctrinate them into their culture and completely erase their way of life in God. Just as the enemies of the believing Jewish community were trying to do. Just as the world, satan, the culture, and our own sinful nature are trying to do today.

“But,” said the author, “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved” (v. 39). He expressed his confidence in their faith and their ability to persevere in it under the most dire circumstances. Our enemies may look different today, but they all spring from the same root – satan, the devil, the enemy of God and God’s people.  The call to persevere is as important today as it was thousands of years ago. Only those who stand firm in their faith please God and inherit eternal life. I want that.  And I want that for you, Beloved. Let’s hang on to Jesus together.

Hebrews: The Disgrace of being a Christian

I became a Christian at nine years of age. I still remember sitting in the pew after I was baptized and feeling the water dripping from my hair and down my back. I remember standing in front of the church and receiving “the right hand of Christian fellowship.” One of my teachers hugged me in class on Monday and congratulated me on my decision for Christ. But for first-century believers, being a Christian was vastly different.

The writer of Hebrews said, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publically exposed to insult and persecution, at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated” (Hebrews 10:32-33). For a Jew to make a public profession of faith in Jesus was, at best, to open yourself to public ridicule and often worse. Many lost their employment or the community would cease doing business with them. Sons were disowned by their fathers and wives faced severe repercussions from their husbands, including beatings. They were stripped of their possessions, even their homes, and many were imprisoned just for taking hold of new life in Christ.

How did these early believers respond to such awful treatment? Better than I would have. “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property . . .” (v. 34a). They found Joy in the persecution they faced. Why on earth? Because they weren’t thinking about earth. “You knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (34b). They were thinking about heaven and eternity. They were thinking about what Peter called, “an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:4).

They remind me of the apostles who, after being beaten by the Sanhedrin for preaching the name of Jesus, rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

I live in the US where the cost of being a Christ-follower is mild compared to the early Christians and to believers today in places where faith in Jesus is tantamount to a death sentence. We might get insulted on social media, and some factions are working through the liberal courts to shut down Christian businesses, but on the whole, being a Christian here is not a hardship. And maybe that’s the problem. But I am certain it’s coming. The cultural winds are shifting to the left and blowing in real hatred for God and His people. You and I need to be ready. It takes a firm faith and an eye to eternity to rejoice in the face of persecution. Beloved, are you willing to suffer disgrace for the Name?

Home Keys

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My typing teacher taught me a mantra that has stayed with me for forty-plus years: “Start with your fingers on the home keys.” Home keys are the center row of letters on a standard “QWERTY” keyboard. Here’s a little history for you: The QWERTY keyboard was invented by Christopher Sholes who redesigned the earlier keyboard because fast typists had problems with the strike bars colliding with each other and getting jammed. So he arranged the keys in a pattern where the most commonly used letters were spread apart to slow the typist down just enough to prevent jamming. Keyboard manufacturers even make it easy to identify the home keys by putting raised marks on the “F” and “J” keys where your index fingers go. It’s as natural as breathing to me to put my fingers on the keyboard and rub the marks to make sure I’m on the home key row.

Unless you live under a rock, a lot has changed in the world – even in my own lifetime. And those changes have crept into the church, some for good, but many have caused great harm to the Body of Christ. Most noticeably, the Word of God has been twisted and misconstrued until it’s unrecognizable. It’s almost as if the church is retyping the Bible into gibberish because they don’t have their fingers on the home keys.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah has a word for us: “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” (Jer 6:16). The God of the universe established His Word as the authority for His people. He has not changed His mind nor His message to accommodate the changes in the culture. What was sin is still sin. What was holy is still holy. What was wrong is still wrong. What was right is still right. And what was the path of peace – Jesus Christ – is still the only path. The ancient ways of God are just as firm as they were when God spoke His Word to men through His Spirit. The world’s message will take you on the wrong path away from God. But the Scriptures are the “home keys” of the believer’s life. Beloved, look for the ancient marks of truth and stay on the path of rest and peace.

Spiritual Battles

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Do you ever feel like life is a war? That’s because it is. Believers in Christ are in a battle, a constant fight of good vs. evil.  The enemy launches his attacks every day, from the culture, from the unbelieving world, even from our friends and family. Anyone who is trying to live a holy and righteous life in these evil days is standing on a bullseye. And our enemy fights dirty. So how do we gain victory in this battle?

I like the example of one of David’s “mighty men” who fought by his side in his many battles.  The Bible says that Eleazar “stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword” (2 Samuel 23:10). Eleazar had a literal sword with a sharp blade and a hilt that was shaped to fit his hand. You and I have a better sword, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph 6:17). If you study the armor of God in Ephesians 6 (and I strongly suggest that you do) you will find that this is the only offensive weapon we have, but it is all we need because Satan trembles at the sound of Scripture. It cuts him to the quick and it cuts through his lies. Like Eleazar, we have to keep the sword in our hands at all times, until our fingers are permanently shaped to grasp and use it. The enemy doesn’t take a break so we can’t just pick our sword up and put it down. By the time you reach for it the enemy has already struck. The Word of God has to become part of us, written on our hearts, planted in our minds, and always on the tip of our tongues. That requires an investment of time and discipline. But it’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

But there’s one more thing about spiritual battles you and I need to know. The victory has already been won. The enemy has already been defeated. When Jesus took our sins to the cross and the grave, satan thought he had won. But when Jesus’ chest rose with his first resurrection breath, the devil was forever defeated. And he knows it. He just doesn’t want you to know it. Everything he throws at you has no power against you – unless you drop your sword and shield. God has “given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). His Word and His Spirit are the weapons that will give us victory. Beloved, be assured, you are not fighting a losing battle.

Pigs and Kings at the Manger

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Like all little kids, my granddaughter loves to talk and she has a pretty extensive vocabulary for a 2 ½-year-old. With a few malapropisms which I love. She will say “Will you pick my up?” “I want your cup (meaning her cup).” And she calls Sunday School “Honey” School which it will forevermore be. She will get them right eventually, but for now, I think they are adorable and I have no intention of correcting her.  Sometimes it’s okay to not get things right. But the Bible is something we always want to get right.

Take the Christmas story for instance. Every nativity scene comes with a stable with Mary and Joseph and the Baby in the manger. There are shepherds and angels and some animals. My best friend, a Bible nerd like me, once saw a Fisher-Price Little People nativity set and noticed a pig among the animals. She wrote to the company and explained that a Jewish family would not have a pig among their animals because pigs, according to the Jewish Law, are unclean. Want to hear a Christmas miracle? They took the pig out. The scenes also have three kings bearing gifts. This comes straight from Matthew 2 which reports the visit of the Magi. Only Matthew never said how many wise men there were, only that they presented three gifts: gold, incense, and myrrh.” John Henry Hopkins said there were three kings[1] and we just took his word for it. And they didn’t come to see Jesus at his birth. Jesus was about 2 years old when they made their way from the east after seeing the star (see Matthew 2:16).

Now pigs in a kid’s nativity set and three wise men at the manger don’t seem like such a big deal. But they are the small, seemingly insignificant ways that the culture has altered the truth and the church has accepted it as fact. Which makes it easier to accept other changes, more important changes like Jesus was a great teacher and humanitarian but He really wasn’t God. Mary wasn’t really a virgin. Jesus fell into a coma-like trance but He wasn’t really dead when they buried Him in the tomb. Which leads to God really doesn’t forbid certain sins because He wants us all to be happy. Even Madonna (the singer) said that Jesus would approve of abortion. Do you see what a slippery slope that becomes?

So should you move your Magi away from the stable, maybe put them on a table on the far side of the room? I’ll leave the decorating to you, but I will say that you and I need to be certain we are hearing and believing the truth from the Word of God. There is more at stake than pigs and kings.


[1] “We Three Kings” written by John Henry Hopkins Ó 1857.

Blessed Be The Name of the Lord

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I remember when “cool” was a temperature, then it became a word of affirmation. Sometimes it’s used to describe someone that is aloof – but it also describes someone who is fascinating. Then again, the weatherman said a cool front is passing through this week. And don’t forget about Paul Newman’s movie “Cool Hand Luke.” I think I’ve confused myself here. But consider how important words are. Words we used in the past are now banished because they are deemed demeaning and offensive. On many college campuses, some words are forbidden because they might “trigger” an emotional response of fear or anger. Yet today, words that were once spoken in reverence are spat out like curses.

Consider how our culture uses the words “Lord,” “God,” “Jesus,” and “Holy.”  Yet they identify the Righteous Creator and Sovereign King of the universe. Tradition says that in the medieval days when monks were transcribing the words of the Bible and they came to the Name, they would leave their table, wash themselves, get a new quill, write the Name then break the quill. This was to ensure that they did not approach the Name of God in an unclean state and that the pen that wrote the Holy Name would never be used to write something profane. That may be a bit over the top, but oh, that we still venerated the name of God!

One of the ten commandments says: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name” (Exodus 20:7). When we speak these designations of God as mere words in anything less than reverence we are misusing God’s name and identification. When we say “Good Lord” it should only be to praise Him, not register frustration. “Oh my God!” should be spoken as a prayer, not an exclamation of surprise or excitement or – worse – disgust. “Jesus Christ” is the name of the Son of God and our Savior, and is not to be spat out like a curse. And “Holy” is the highest description of the Lord God, and should never be joined to farm animals, bodily functions, and sexual slang.

Yes, our words carry meaning. Beloved, let’s consider carefully the words we say and use our mouths to speak of our God and Savior in the reverence due them.