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.

Hebrews: What’s Slowing You Down?

We’ve spent a lot of time on the “great cloud of witnesses” that are spurring us on. We’ve talked about the Lord Jesus lifting us up in prayer. We have fellow believers walking with us). God has given us His Word and His Spirit to help us. But what is our part in this long journey of faith? I’m glad you asked!

Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” There are two points to make here. First, consider the context and time. Runners now have scientifically designed clothing to help them run faster. There is a whole industry dedicated to creating the fastest running shoes. But for a first-century man running meant shedding what he modestly could and tucking the long skirt of his tunic in his belt to free up his legs. I think you understand the application here. Get rid of everything – like sin – that might get tangled up and slow you down.

But here’s something I discovered that blew my mind, The Greek for “everything that hinders” is a compound phrase that means “skillfully surrounding, to prevent or retard,” and “well or much admired.” Do you see it? The things that hinder us in our spiritual life are often the things that the world – and sometimes the church – thinks well of and greatly admires. Things that satan “skillfully surrounds” us with them to impede our progress. Friend, that should make us sit up and take notice! You and I cannot get bogged down by the things the world is applauding and holding up in admiration. And I’m not just talking about sin here. I’m talking about seemingly harmless distractions – and that’s the problem – they are distracting us from the things of God.

Christians – we’ve got to open our eyes to the work of the devil! We’ve got to look past the attractive mask of shiny things and see the enemy behind them. We must stop letting him hinder us with inane things that are useless for the Kingdom of God. There’s too much at stake here. The mission of the Church is at stake. Souls are at stake. God’s glory is at stake.

What “much admired” thing is the enemy using to slow you down, Beloved? Throw it off and get moving!

Don’t be Afraid

The writer of Hebrews introduced Moses in the Hall of Faith by first mentioning his parents. “By faith, Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Heb 11:23). After Joseph and his family escaped the famine by going to Egypt, their descendants settled in the area and “were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceeding numerous so that the land was filled with them” (Ex 1:7). They were seen as a threat by the king who, in an effort to wipe them out, ordered all newborn males to be killed. A man and woman had a baby boy, whom they hid for three months because God revealed to them something about him that was uniquely special. That baby would lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt and away from their annihilation.

Why would a king want to take out an entire nation? Pharoah was a tool of satan. God had pronounced the devil’s defeat when He declared that One would come who would “crush your head” (Gen 3:15). Satan was determined to eliminate the entire Jewish race through whom his conquerer would come. If Moses’ parents, out of fear of the king’s edict, had obeyed that evil order, the Hebrew people would not survive. After Jesus’ birth, King Herod, The Roman ruler over Palestine, ordered the slaughter of all Hebrew boys under two years of age. Just like Pharoah, he was threatened by a baby. But God preserved His people, His Son, and His promise.

Over and over and over the Bible shows God’s people in impossible situations that were designed by satan to take out the line from which the Savior of the world would come. Over and over and over the Bible shows God victorious over satan. When Jesus died on the cross, the devil thought he had won, but when that stone began to tremble and roll, he knew that God had bested him once again.

I don’t watch or read the news much anymore because they only pronounce doom and gloom. And it’s true, this world is a mess. But this world is still under God’s sovereign authority. Beloved, we don’t have to be afraid of the devil’s edict. His time is short, his days are numbered. God will still have the victory.

Tell Them About Jesus

As I study the Scriptures I see three types of people:

Those who by faith receive Christ and follow Him – the Bible calls these righteous, saints, and children of God.

Those who attempt to live up to a standard of “goodness” but find the load impossible to bear – the Bible calls them lost, burdened, weary souls.

Those who reject all thought of God and every standard of right living. These the Bible calls evil, wicked, lovers of self, and children of the devil.

The first group has found hope in Christ and the promise of eternal life. Their lives are marked by the fruit of the Spirit: “love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). They look at life with eternal vision and they live to serve the Kingdom of God. They show their love for Christ by their obedience. They will gladly give their lives for the name and the gospel of Christ (Rev 12:11).

The second group knows there is a God but they do not know Him. There are weighed down under a constant burden of trying to live up to the traditions of men in a vain attempt to gain God’s favor. Their lives are marked with worry and anxiety (Luke 8:14).  To them, Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Some come and receive His rest. Some do not and never find it.

The third group has no concern for nor belief in God. They don’t need Him nor want Him. They have no thought of eternity. Life ends and that is all there is. They believe themselves wise and think the gospel is for fools. They fail to see that they are deceived by the devil and most to be pitied (Rev 12:9).

Should the first group respond differently to the second and third? No. We respond to everyone in the same way – with the gospel. It is the truth for all mankind. Its message will be a welcome comfort to the lost, but it will be an offense to the wicked. Still, whether it falls on closed ears or receptive hearts, we must tell the world the way to eternal life. Let it land where it may, but never stop proclaiming the beautiful Gospel of Jesus.

How to Make the Devil Run

Is there anything more precious than the “Cherub Choir” – those little preschoolers singing “Jesus Loves Me,” and “This Little Light of Mine” (won’t let Satan blow it out-whoosh!)? Precious to you and me, but a sight and sound that makes satan tremble. That’s why I love these words from the quill of King David: “From the lips of children and infants, you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2).

It is a sweet image with a powerful truth: Praise silences the enemy!

What is the devil’s most powerful weapon against us? Verbal abuse. He throws a constant barrage of words, thoughts, doubts, fear, condemnation, lies, lies, and more lies at us. Jesus said that lies are satan’s “native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) This verse gives us the secret to disarming the devil and shutting down his lies: Praise the Lord! Praising God puts Satan in his place by reminding him that he is a defeated foe and that Jesus will soon return to complete his destruction.

It seems too easy to be real, but it works. Just open your mouth and pour forth praise. Search the scriptures, especially the Psalms where expressions of praise abound. Write them out so they will be handy. Better yet, commit them to memory. Let your praises drown out the lies of Satan. And surround yourself with songs of praise and worship. I know this works because I’ve experienced it in my own life. Several years ago during a deep and serious bout with depression, “After All/Holy” by Crowder came on the radio. I tried to sing, but all I could do was sob until the 2nd verse and slowly words began to replace my cries, and by the end of that song I was singing with full voice and a face full of tears. It was the turning point in my depression. 

When the enemy of your soul is berating you, when he’s pouring condemnation and doubt into your mind,  resist him with songs and words of praise. Not only does it stab at satan’s evil heart, but it refocuses your mind and lifts your own heart.  And the best reason of all to praise God? Because He is worthy. Beloved it’s time to stand on the Name and the Praise of God Almighty and make the devil run!

Saints and Sinners

How should the church respond to the lost world? We seem to go to the extremes of either approving of worldliness and sin or pointing fingers and railing at those who do what we would never do. There’s a better way. Jesus was called “a friend of sinners,” and I believe He bore that title with delight rather than shame. That doesn’t mean that He joined them in their sin, but He loved them out of it. He was tender with wounded souls, gentle with the ones who didn’t understand, and kind to those who had been harassed by the enemy. And He saved His harshest words for the religious crowd who rejected the lost, the poor, the lonely, and the wounded – and Him. They were the self-righteous scholars who diligently studied the Scriptures, but missed the whole point of God’s plan. 

Paul said, “The Lord’s servant must . . . be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful,” (2 Timothy 2:24).  The goal of such kindness – that God will grant the lost repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26). As believers, our character should be the same as Jesus: kind, gentle, helpful, and sympathetic.  Why?  Because unbelievers have been taken captive by the devil.  They have been deceived, led astray, fooled, and fed lies to the point that they can’t recognize the truth.  They are under the influence of satan, and they deserve our compassion rather than our hate.

Christian, you have a call to be “salt and light” in the world.  Salt to make people thirsty for God and light to lead the way to the cross and redemption. Finger-pointing, harsh words, and belittling attitudes will never win anyone to Christ.  But a kind and gentle spirit can.

If you are not a Christian, let me assure you that Jesus does not look at you with hatred or disgust; He does not see you as His enemy – He died so that you could be His friend for eternity.  He loves you with an everlasting love that will never turn you away.  Please come and see for yourself that He is a gentle King and a kind Savior.

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.

Thus Saith the Lord

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This morning I was reading in Proverbs (a great source of practical and spiritual wisdom) and came to this: “Every word of God is flawless, He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him” (Proverbs 30:5). Immediately my mind went to the armor of God in Ephesians 6 and the Shield of Faith, and a light went off in my mind. I’ve always understood that the shield of faith is my confidence, my trust, my determination to stand strong behind my faith in God. Do you see the weak link in that chain – my. It’s all dependant on me. And I am not that strong. My faith is feeble on my best days, and I’ve had some pretty rough days of late.

But if my shield is God’s own words – what a strong and study defense I hold in my hand. If my confidence is in God’s promise to “never leave you nor forsake you” (Jos 1:5) and to “be with you where you go” (v. 9), the enemy cannot penetrate God’s faithfulness.  If I am clinging to His declaration that “You are my servant; I have chosen you and have not rejected you . . . I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Is 41:9-10), I know satan cannot defeat me. And if He said “Remain in me, and I will remain in you” (John 15:4), it’s His hand in my hand that is holding strong to that shield and nothing and no one can break His grip. When Jesus was in the wilderness, what was His response when the devil tried to tempt Him? “It is written . . .” (Matt 4:4, 7, 10).

Just a side note: did you notice the second part of Proverbs 30:5? Go back and read it again – I’ll wait for you. When your faith is crafted from the very Word of God, God Himself takes up the position of defense. He is YHWH Magan – The LORD the Shield. If that Shield of Faith is going to protect you it must be made of something stronger than steel – the mighty Word of the living God. Beloved, if you will put your faith in “Thus saith the Lord” you will see your Shield standing between you and the enemy (see 2 Kings 6:15-17). That’s a position of security and victory.

Job, the Devil, and Me

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“God,” I prayed as I drove home, “every time I think it can’t get much harder, it gets harder. The vice gets tighter. The weight gets heavier.” You get it. I read your posts. I hear your prayer concerns. But as I passed the cotton fields I heard very clearly, “Have you considered my servant Dorcas?” And suddenly I had a glimpse into the unseen world. You probably recognized this as coming from Job, the hard-pressed Old Testament fellow who suffered enormously just to prove satan wrong.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. One day satan came before the Lord who threw down a challenge: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8). To which satan replied, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?” (1:10). He then offered up a challenge: take it all away and the man will curse you to your face. Twice God allowed satan to test Job, first taking away everything he had – including his children – then afflicting him with physical pain and misery. The only thing he left Job was his shrew of a wife and his condescending “friends.” And the Scripture says Job “fell down to the ground in worship (1:20) and adds “In all of this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (2:10).

What if satan is still at it? Isn’t he “the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10).  And what if God really did say, “Have you considered my servant Dorcas” (God speaks to and of me by my given name). Don’t you see?  Satan continues to accuse and press and annoy and abuse God’s people to prove the same point – we only love Him for what He does for us.

And now we understand why that “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) is rooting us on to trust God to our last breath. They are telling us that whatever hardships we face will be worth it in the end. Because our God will never, ever fail us. Oh, Beloved, stand strong with the Lord. Do not curse Him for the hard things you face, but trust in His goodness and faithfulness. Let’s prove the devil wrong to his ugly face.

The Whole Truth

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The joke goes, “How can you tell when a politician is lying?  His lips are moving.” The same punchline applies to the devil. Anytime he opens his mouth or impresses a thought or speaks through the culture, he is lying. Jesus called satan “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Lying is his native tongue. But you may not realize that he is also the father of half-truths that look right and sound right but are not right.

Take his temptation of Jesus. Matthew 4 records this scene as the devil tried to coerce Jesus into sin. He questioned Jesus’ position as the Son of God (v. 3) enticing the Lord to turn stones into bread or jump from the highest point of the temple to “prove” Himself (v. 5). In the temple temptation, Satan actually quoted Scripture to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone'” (v. 6). That’s a good-sounding argument right out of Psalm 91:11-12. Should be a witness to Bible-believing fellow, right? But Satan stopped short of the whole truth in that passage. The very next verse speaks of his own demise: “You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent” (Psalm 91:13). The rest of this Psalm describes how God will rescue, protect, deliver, and honor the one who loves and worships Him alone.

Many of us are on guard against satan’s lies – but we are not always as wise to his half-truths. They come at us from the world who is captive to the devil. They come stealthily from those who have mixed the pure Word of God with cultural whitewash. They come from pulpits and social media and “Christian” podcasts and blogs (yikes!) That is why it is vital to know the whole context of Scripture. The best way to tell a counterfeit bill is to know what the real thing looks like. The best way to discern a lie – or a half-truth – is to know the whole truth. Beloved, “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deut. 32:47).