Hebrews: How to be a Christian Neighbor

The culture knows Scripture – at least a few verses that they are passionate about. “Judge not” (Matt. 7:1), “God is love” (1 John 4:16), and “Let him who is without sin . . . cast the first stone” (John 8:7). I found them a new one that I think they will really like: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men” (Heb 12:14). What’s interesting about these cultural favorites is that they are only partial verses or plucked out of their context so that their meaning is skewed. It is a favorite ploy of the devil, who knows more Scripture than most people in the pews. When he came to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, he quoted from Psalm 91:11-12, but he stopped just shy of his own demise in verse 13. (You should go look that up. In fact, I encourage you to look up all of these verses and read their surrounding context.)

Hebrews 12:14 has a second part that colors the whole verse differently. “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” Oh. When you add verse 15, it becomes clearer: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Now, before I started digging deeper into this verse, I thought it meant something like “let no ill feelings take root” but I was wrong (that’s not easy to say!). First, the word “bitter” metaphorically means “extreme wickedness” and literally means “poison”. Poison kills.

This reaches directly back to Deuteronomy as Moses was reiterating the covenant they had made with the Lord God. He said, “Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those [pagan] nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison” (Deut 30:18).

I’ll be honest, I’ve wrestled with this all week. It’s not an easy passage. But I believe it means to live in peace with your neighbors, especially your unsaved neighbors, don’t condemn them or harasses them over their lifestyle. Don’t cause them to turn to wickedness because of your self-righteousness. But you – and remember, the writer is speaking to the community, not to individuals – live a holy life, set apart unto God. Because Jesus showed us that a truly holy life is attractive and winsome to a lost world. And so must we be.

Surrounded

One of my favorite Bible accounts is in 2 Kings 6. The prophet Elisha and his aide were pinned down by the Aramean army. Through God’s secret wisdom, Elisha had been giving away Aram’s location to the king of Israel, giving Israel a decided advantage in the war. The Arameans had surrounded the city and were preparing to rush in and capture Elisha. The prophet’s aide saw the army with its horses and chariots and soldiers and cried to his master “O my Lord, what shall we do?” (v. 15).

Ever been there? Me too. The money won’t stretch. The doctor said there’s nothing more he can do. You just got laid off. You watch your spouse walk away. You hand your rent money over to the mechanic. Your kids are hungry and your pantry is empty. “Oh my God, what am I going to do?”

I’ve walked with God long enough to know that that’s the heart of anxiety: What am I going to do? Like it’s all on your shoulders. Child of God it’s not. Let me suggest a different question: “Oh, my God, what are You going to do?”

Elisha told his aide, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v. 16). Then he called on the Lord to give the man spiritual eyes to see. “The Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (v. 17). He was seeing the army of the Lord that had encircled Elisha and stood between him and the enemy. The man of God – and his aide – were completely safe and secure.

God has promised to care for you – but it requires spiritual eyes to see Him surrounding you. Listen to His own Words: Deuteronomy 31:8 says “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” Isaiah 52:12 says “The God of Israel will be your rear guard.” Psalm 32:10 says, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man [or woman] who trusts in Him.” Beloved, whatever you are facing right now, your Heavenly Father is there with you, before you, behind you, and all around you. Just open your eyes.

The King Has Come!

It is a familiar scene in movies set in medieval times. The battle is fierce and the warriors are weary, many of their comrades have fallen on the blood-soaked field, and the few that remain try to swing their swords with leaden arms.  Then the cry rings out “Look! The king has come!”  Eyes scan the horizon to see a bright flag with the king’s crest lifted high above the ridge.  All is not lost!  Their king has come to aid them in the fight.  With renewed vigor, the men cheer as their sovereign wades into the sea of battle and leads them on to victory.  They did not see him at first; they only saw his standard rising high into the sky – but it was all the assurance they needed.  The king’s banner was the promise of his presence.

You and I fight a battle every day – we are at war against the enemy, satan, the lord of darkness, the devil himself.  He is a fierce foe and he fights dirty.  He has no mercy. My arms are weary, and my energy is spent.  I look over at you and see the same – as if you are my reflection.  There are tears in my eyes that match your own. It seems we’re just about done in. But all is not lost, my friend. Look! Our King has come!  There, on the horizon – don’t you see it?  It is the standard of our Sovereign rising high above the world. Though we do not yet see Him, His banner – a blood-red flag lifted high atop a cross – is our assurance that He is here in the fight.

He is Jehovah Gibbor Milchamah – The Lord Mighty in Battle (Ps 24:8). He is Jehovah Chereb – The Lord . . . The Sword and Jehovah Magen – The Lord . . . The Shield (Deut 33:29). He brings all His mighty angels as Jehovah Tsebaoth – The Lord of Hosts (1 Sam 1:3). The enemy is no match for Jehovah Maginnenu – The Lord our Defense (Ps 89:18).  Renew your strength, Beloved, the victory is sure.  We have seen His standard. His banner over us is love (Song of Songs 2:4).

The Father’s Love

“But his father saw him . . . and he ran to his son (Luke 15:17)

I recently read again the parable of the Lost Son from Luke 15.  You know this kid; he took his Daddy’s money and ran to the big city to waste it on wine, women, and song. When the money ran out, he decided to head back home. You could probably name all the sermon points. But there are some details in this story that often get missed. Let me put this in its bigger context. In the culture of the middle-eastern, first-century world, the son’s request was shocking and rebellious and revealed a lack of love for the father. When the son asked for his share of the inheritance, he was, in essence, telling his father, “I wish you were dead.” He wanted his money and the old man was standing in his way. The father gave the son what he wanted and allowed him to go on his merry way – no doubt brokenhearted as he envisioned the life his son was running toward.

Fast-forward to a hungry, humbled young man shuffling his way back on the road that led home. Here is the beautiful part of this story. When the father saw the boy, “a long way off,” he ran to him. In order to run, the father would have had to lift the skirt of his tunic and robe and tuck them into his belt, exposing his legs. This was just as shocking as the son’s request. Elderly middle-eastern men did not undignify themselves in this way unless it was of the greatest urgency – a matter of life and death. And it was. The son’s return would also be noticed by the townspeople and they would follow the Levitical law which commanded that a rebellious son be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). The father humiliated himself to save his son’s life.

Now, do you see the heart of your heavenly Father? Knowing the punishment due you for your sins, He sent His own Son to be humiliated, stripped, beaten, and killed to save you. Beloved, if you’ve turned away from God and run after the world your story isn’t done. Your Father is scanning the horizon for you, to bring you back to Himself. He loves you, no matter what you’ve done. Won’t you come home to God?

Boundaries

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We’ve had a gate at the entrance to our living room since Joy became mobile to keep her corralled and safe. It’s also there to keep her contained so that Nana can have some uninterrupted time to study. A couple of weeks ago the gate was removed and there was nothing to stop her from running into my study – which she did constantly. Now, you know, I love her dearly and I will never push her away or shut her out, but sometimes I’ve just got to dig into my books, especially now as I’m coming into the final paper for my graduate class. Last week the gate went back in. And you know what? She’s been a much calmer child. It’s like the gate gives her a measure of comfort and security. Children need boundaries. They actually feel safer when they know where the line is clearly marked for them.  I remember as a little girl standing in an open field saying, “I don’t know how far I can go and that scares me, cause I might go too far and get lost.”

Three things come to mind when I think about boundaries. First is the boundary of self-control, part of the fruit of the Spirit. Self-control is the internal brake that tells us to STOP before we go too far or get in too deep. Solomon said, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” (Prov. 25:28). I know someone with no self-control and he suffers many harsh consequences because of it.

Then there is the Bible. While the Scriptures are about so much more than rules, it is full of healthy boundaries for our lives. Moses told the Israelites: “They are not just idle words for you, they are your life” (Deut. 32:47). The wise man builds his life on the Word of God.

But the most powerful boundary is the Holy Spirit. Paul said that “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). The Spirit will always lead us to what pleases God and will pull back the reigns when we’re headed in the wrong direction.  The combination of the Word of God and the Spirit of God provides a strong boundary for the child of God.

Joy needed the security the gate provided. You and I need the security of boundaries around our lives. Strong walls lead to peace. Beloved, do you need to invest in some boundaries?

Jesus is . . .

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“We’re New Testament people, we don’t need to read the Old Testament.” “I just want to know about Jesus, so I’ll stick with the New Testament.” Ever thought or said anything like that? I’ve heard it many times. As Christians – Christ’s followers – we are focused on only what Jesus did and taught.  But the Old Testament looks ahead to Jesus Christ.  Check it out:

In Genesis, He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan.

In Exodus, He is the Passover Lamb and the one who leads His people out of bondage.

In Leviticus, He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice.

In Deuteronomy, he is the Great Prophet to come.

In Joshua, He is the Captain of the Lord’s host.

In Judges, He is the one who faithfully delivers His people from the cost of sin.

In Ruth, He is our Kinsman Redeemer.

He is the anointed King in the line of David in the books of Samuel.

In the books of the Kings, He is the Spirit filling the Temple.

He is the great Teacher in Ezra and the Restorer of broken walls in Nehemiah.

He is the Interceder for His people in Esther and the coming Redeemer in Job.

He is the Shepherd in Psalms and the Source of all wisdom in Proverbs.

He is the Teacher in Ecclesiastes.

He is the Beloved Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon.

In Isaiah, He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Suffering Servant.

In Jeremiah and Lamentations, He is the Man acquainted with sorrows.

In Ezekiel, He brings life to dry bones.

In Daniel, He is the Ancient of Days.

He is the faithful Husband in Hosea, the Hope of His people in Joel, the Judge of the nations in Amos, and in Obadiah the One who warns of coming judgment.

In Jonah He is the preacher of the Good News, in Micah He is the Ruler from Bethlehem.

In Nahum, He is the judge of His people’s enemy,  the Sovereign Lord in Habakkuk, and in Zephaniah, He is the God who is mighty to save.

In Haggai He is the Glory of the House of God, in Zechariah He is the Royal Priest and in Malachi Jesus is the Son of Righteousness.

Beloved, if you want to know Jesus, read the Old Testament. He is all over the place.  Then read the New Testament with a fresh understanding of Jesus who was and is and is to come.

Hebrews – Jesus is God

In our Hebrews study thus far we have discovered that Jesus is the Son of God, the Word of God, and the exact representation of God. In fact, He is God. And He does what only God can do. In Hebrews 1:3b, the author said, “After He [Jesus] had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

One day, Jesus was teaching to a packed house in Capernaum when four men, determined to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, tore through the roof to get him to the Healer. When we tell this story, we always accentuate the faith of the friends, and rightly so. Most people come to faith in Christ because of the faith of a friend. But there’s an even greater point to this story. Jesus said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). And the teachers of the law reasoned in their hearts, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (v. 7). And that’s the point. Jesus is God. He knew what they were thinking. He healed the paralyzed man as proof that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v. 10). Jesus has the authority, the power, and the means to forgive us of our sins. Because He is God. That’s the argument the author is driving home throughout this letter. Jesus is God.

Remember that he is writing to the Hebrews – people of Jewish heritage who start their day with the Shema – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). In a polytheistic world, they had one God. So the idea that Jesus also claimed to be God seems to contradict the core of their faith. The author is pressing this point because it is the foundation of his entire message. Jesus is God.

You and I may not have the same background, but we need to set our hearts on the same firm underpinning: Jesus is God. That matters because, as the religious leaders pointed out, only God can forgive sins. You need to know that when you cast all your sins on Jesus, He has the authority to make you right, holy, pure, and acceptable. Beloved, you are a sinner. But Jesus has done everything for you to be forgiven. He’s the only one who can save you. Because He is God.

P.S. I promise we’ll pick up the pace in this study and cover more verses in each lesson. But we need this foundation before we do, so hang with me Beloveds – there’s a lot of good stuff ahead!

Why the Old Testament Still Matters

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Reading the Bible is paramount for the believer who wants to live and walk as Jesus did – after all, that is the purpose for our salvation – “to be conformed to the likeness of [God’s] Son” (Romans 8:27). I’ll bet you have started trying to read through the whole Bible and found it to be more challenging than you thought. Especially in the Old Testament – especially in Leviticus! What do all those old rules and sacrifices and rituals have to do with us as New Testament believers? EVERYTHING!

The entire Old Testament looks ahead to Jesus Christ. He fulfills every promise and completes every command. In Genesis He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan. In Exodus, He is the Passover Lamb and the one who leads His people out of bondage .In Leviticus, He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice. In Deuteronomy he is the Great Prophet to come. In Joshua, He is the Captain of the Lord’s host.

In Judges, He is the one who faithfully delivers His people from the cost of the sin. In Ruth, He is our Kinsman Redeemer. He is the anointed King in the line of David in the books of Samuel. In the books of the Kings, He is the Spirit filling the Temple. He is the great Teacher in Ezra and the Rebuilder of broken walls in Nehemiah. He is the Interceder for His people in Esther and the coming Redeemer in Job.

He is the Shepherd in Psalms and the Source of all wisdom in Proverbs. He is the Beloved Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon. In Isaiah He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Suffering Servant. In Jeremiah and Lamentations He is the Man acquainted with sorrows. In Ezekiel He brings life to dry bones. In Daniel He is the Ancient of Days.

He is the faithful Husband in Hosea, the Hope of HIs people in Joel, the Judge of the nations in Amos, and in Obadiah the One who warns of coming judgment. In Jonah He is the preacher of the Good News, in Micah He is the Ruler from Bethlehem. In Nahum, He is the judge of His people’s enemy, the Sovereign Lord in Habakkuk and in Zephaniah He is the God who is mighty to save. In Haggai He is the Glory of the House of God, in Zechariah He is the Royal Priest and in Malachi Jesus is the Son of Righteousness.

When you read the Old Testament, always look for Jesus, He is on every page, in every verse. Then read the New Testament with a fresh understanding of Jesus who was and is and is to come.

What’s your favorite verse? Do you know what it means?

Gloria Preciado sur Twitter : "Deuteronomy 32:47 These instructions are not  empty words--they are your life! By obeying them you will enjoy a long life  in the land you will occupy when

There are many Bible verses that we’ve come to know and love. We mark them in our Bible and post them on our desk or fridge. That’s a good thing. They are also big business for the Christian marketing industry with Scriptures sold as wall art, purses, teapots, decorative pillows, and doormats.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all for surrounding ourselves with God’s Word. But do we really know these verses?  What good are they if we just leave them on the wall?

One that I see often is Psalm 19:14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer.”   Psalm 19 is a song of praise. David says the heavens “declare the glory of God” (v. 1) – this is “general revelation.” It’s what Paul was referring to when he said “what may be known about God is plain . . . because God has made it plain. God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen . . . so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20). David then moves to “special revelation” – God’s Word – which is “perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, enduring, sure, righteous, precious, and sweet” (19:7-11). Now that we know more about God, verses 9-14 are our response to this amazing revelation – turning from sin and living to please the Lord.

When David says, “May the words of my mouth . . .” he is speaking of the evidence of his faith. Jesus said, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). Your words reveal the state of your heart – the place where your faith lives. Ugly, bitter, vile, profane words reveal an ugly, bitter, vile, profane heart. Kind, gracious, loving, gentle words reveal a Christlike heart. “The meditation of my heart” is my private thoughts – it’s what I choose to think about. I don’t know about you but this verse has become very convicting now.

When we know God, our response should be to please Him, on the inside and the outside. Here’s my challenge to you today, Beloved: Take your favorite verse and dig a little deeper. Read around it, chew on it, take it apart and examine the pieces, then put it back together. It will mean more to you than ever before.