Hebrews: Do You Need Some Rest?

My sleeping angel, Joy.

I kept my phone close, anticipating a call about a test I had undergone. Cancer took my mom away too soon – and I knew that increased my risk. The call finally came late in the afternoon. “The images were clear. There was no sign of cancer.” Relief filled my heart and that night I got some much-needed rest.  But what if I decided the doctor was wrong? What if I doubted the results? What if I continued to worry and toss and turn at night?

The writer of Hebrews drew from the Psalmist’s recollection of the Israelite’s in the wilderness and God’s declaration that this unbelieving people “Shall never enter my rest” (Psalm 95:11; Hebrews 3:11; 4:3). At the threshold of the Promised Land, Moses sent out twelve spies into Canaan to explore the territory and assess the inhabitants from a military standpoint. They returned with a glowing report of “the land of milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27), and an alarming report of the people they would have to defeat to take the land. They said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are!” (13:31) The people grumbled and wanted to turn back to Egypt – to slavery. Only Joshua and Caleb urged them to trust the Lord and proceed – and only Joshua and Caleb survived God’s judgment.  Because of their unbelief, the whole company would wander for forty years until the last of the unbelieving generation fell in the desert.

The author used them as an example of people who “had the gospel . . . but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Hebrews 4:2).  Faith, as the Bible uses it means belief and trust – with the implication that actions based on that trust will follow. Faith is not just ethereal thoughts – it is acting with confidence in what God has said. The Israelites heard about the Promised Land, but they doubted they could get the victory so they gave up on God’s rest. When the gospel is declared some will have faith and some will not. Some will rest in the promise of salvation and eternal life and some will live in hopelessness and anxiety.  The author adds, “Now we who have believed enter that rest . . .” (4:3a).

Beloved, are you weary? There is rest for those who trust in Jesus. Today and eternally.

Hebrews: Do You Believe God?

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Buckle your seatbelts, because today we’re going to cover five verses: Hebrews 3:15-19 (woohoo!). But we’re going to focus on just one word. Verses 15-19 serve as a commentary 7-11, which recalled Israel’s rebellion and subsequent forty years of desert wandering. The writer of Hebrews, in describing this band of wanderers said that they “rebelled” (v. 16), they “sinned” (v. 17), and they “disobeyed” (v. 18). All of these verbs culminate in one word, see if you can figure it out: “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (v. 19). Rebellion, sin, and disobedience are all symptoms – the deadly disease that killed an entire generation of Israelites was unbelief. Here’s the key: those who believed and those who did not believe heard the same promise from God: “See, I have given you this land” (Deuteronomy 1:8). An entire generation of “bodies fell in the desert” (v. 17).

But they weren’t the first to doubt God. A long, long time ago God told a couple in a garden, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Then along came the serpent who asked, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (3:1). The serpent wasn’t trying to clarify what God had told them. His question went to Adam and Eve’s heart: “Did God really mean what He said?” We see that in verse 8 when he completely and exactly contradicts what they had heard: “You will not surely die.” They took the bait because, in their hearts, they didn’t believe His word was true.

The essence of unbelief is not rejecting God but rather doubting if God is trustworthy. Like Adam and Eve and the Israelites, we act on our unbelief with rebellion, sin, and disobedience. To believe God is to take Him at His Word – that He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do* – and then act on what we heard. That’s what we’ll find in the “Hall of Faith” a few chapters ahead. So the question then is, Beloved, do you believe God?

*From Beth Moore’s study: “Believing God.”

I’ve Seen Jesus!

Doubting Thomas, by Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da, 1571–1610)

Our Ladies Bible study group is studying the Sermon on The Mount and we’ve been in The Beatitudes – the “Blesseds” – for the past couple of weeks. But did you know that there is another “Blessed” from Jesus? It is addressed first to Thomas, and I contend is also for believers of the past two-thousand-plus years.

After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples and showed them His hands and side and imparted the Holy Spirit to them. John said, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (20:20). That is probably an understatement. But Thomas missed the whole thing, and when they told him, “We have seen the Lord,” he didn’t believe it. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (v. 25). Not just “cannot” but “will not” believe. That sums up a lot of attitudes in the world toward the resurrected Jesus. Another week goes by and all of the disciples – including Thomas – are together and Jesus again appears. He called out to the doubter, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (v. 27). And Thomas did. He replied, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). Jesus pointed out that Thomas’ believed only because he could see. Then He pronounced what many have called, “the last and greatest beatitude.” “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).

Have you ever seen Jesus with your physical eyes, Beloved? Me neither. But we believe. We believe because we have seen Him through the eyes of faith. And Jesus said that we are blessed. Faith is hard, especially when you can’t look Jesus in the face and hear His actual voice. And especially when the world is telling you that your faith is misplaced, that you’re trusting in a “genie in the sky.” But you and I have “seen” what they don’t see. Not that they can’t, but that they won’t. We know that He is real. We know that He died for our sins. We know that He was raised to life. And we know that He is coming again. Because we have seen Jesus with our hearts.

When You’re a Long Way From Where You Thought You’d Be

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“God, I know you called me to ministry, to teach and share your Word. Why am I fluffing flowers at a grocery store? I thought there would be more to my life than this.”

Facebook memory reminded me today of a dry season in my life. I had felt God’s call more than ten years before but I was toughing it out in seminary and working at a grocery store. Every attempt I made to start Bible studies and discipling fell apart. I was frustrated and disappointed. Had I heard God wrong?

In Acts 23 Paul is under arrest for declaring the name of Jesus, accused by the Romans of inciting riots, and by the Jews of blasphemy. I often wonder if, in that prison, Paul questioned whether he had gotten it wrong too. To understand his call, you have to go back to Acts 9:15, when God declared that Paul would carry His name before Jews, Gentiles, and kings. At this moment, he is a long way from fulfilling his destiny. But then the Lord Jesus came to him in his cell and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify about me in Rome” (Acts 23:11).

Paul endured multiple trials and great persecution, faced a storm at sea, and was shipwrecked and snake-bitten along the way. But Acts 28:14 says, “And so we came to Rome.” God was faithful to His promise to Paul, and he did indeed preach the Gospel and declare the name of Jesus in Rome. But there was a lot of space between the promise and the fulfillment. 

V. Raymond Edman said, “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.”  As I look back at that memory, and consider that today I am working in a seminary, teaching Bible studies, teaching through writing, and continuing to prepare for something more through grad school, I realize God’s call and His faithfulness are just as true for me.

I don’t know what God has spoken over you, nor how long you’ve waited to see it come to fruition. But I do know that His promises never fail and His Word never returns void. Stand firm in the faithful nature of the Lord, Beloved, and believe that what He has declared in the light, will be fulfilled despite the darkness.

“And so we came to . . .”

Did God Really Say . . .?

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“Did God really say . . .” (Gen. 3:1)

Why do I have so much trouble driving the speed limit? The speed limit is 70 MPH – so I go 75 or 80. It’s 55 on my way to work, so I set my cruise for 62. Oh, don’t you judge me – you’re doing it too. Some of you are flying past me like we’re on a NASCAR racetrack. What makes us want to try the boundaries?

I recently wrote a paper on Genesis 3:1-7, the account of the fall of humanity. You know the story, perfectly innocent couple in a perfect garden home enjoying wondrous fruits – until a sneaky, lying snake approaches the woman. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman responded, albeit not entirely truthful and he comes back with, “You will not surely die . . .” (Gen. 3:4). There is an interesting play in the serpent’s words in verses 1 and 4. The word “really” (‘ap) is an adverb that essentially asks the question: “Is it even so that God hath said?”[1] Combined with the serpent’s rejection of the consequences of eating the fruit, it appears that in verse 1 the serpent was not asking Eve, “Did God truly speak these words?” but rather, “Do you think God meant what he said?” That’s why I push the speed limit – I don’t think they are serious about it. One can almost see the serpent wave his hand with a “Pshaw – You will not surely die!” The serpent was casting doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s truthfulness. Does He really mean it? Will He do what He claimed He would do?

That is one of the enemy’s favorite tools – causing us to doubt God’s integrity – whether it is questioning God’s willingness to punish sin or His willingness to save us, protect us, provide for us, and deliver us. And it has infiltrated the church. “No, God won’t punish this wicked desire of yours, He is all love, love, love!” Paul said we must become wise about the devil’s schemes. Beloved, In case you ever wondered – you can absolutely, 100 % trust what God says – about punishment and blessings. The devil is a liar.

[1]. “Lexicon :: Strong’s H637 – ‘aph,” Blue Letter Bible, Accessed September 19, 2020, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H637&t=NIV

Drowning in a Desert

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“This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters” (v. 16); “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (v. 19).

Some days it feels like I am both drowning and wandering through a desert.  I know, you can’t drown in a desert, but let me explain.  My emotions seem like an overflowing river, thoughts rushing this way and that, pulling me under and threatening to take my very breath.  For a split second, I come up for air – “I believe!”  In the next the waves crash over my head again – “But I am afraid!”  God promises to make a way – a path through the waters of fearful thoughts and discouragement that threaten to drown me.  He promises dry ground to cross over to the other side.

Yet I am also in the desert where nothing grows and all seems lost – walking through a season of drought.  Health issues.  Grief.  Family tension.  Responsibilities that shouldn’t be mine.  Financial struggles.  Too much to do and not enough time to do it. They beat down like the scorching sun as I wander looking for an oasis.  God promises to make a way here too – to provide streams in this wasteland.  Mind you not to drown me like the sea, but to refresh and restore me.

Our Father meets our needs for rescue and refreshing.  He gives us dry ground and cool springs.  He never fails to notice us wherever we are – even when we’re in two places at once.  Oh, my drowning, wandering friend – let me throw you a lifeline of hope.  You don’t have to fear because God hears you, He is with you, He fights for you, He will never leave nor forsake you, and He promises to help you.  He knows where you are right now, and He knows what you need right here.  And He will make a way where there seems to be no way.

God, I have a Question

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Doubt is a dangerous thing for the Christian.  Doubt causes us to distance ourselves from God.  Distance leads to disobedience and soon we loose our desire to witness for Christ.  God wants us to believe without wavering. But we are finite humans and sometimes it is hard to believe, especially when all things seem to point the other way. If anyone should have believed without wavering, it was Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Even in the womb, he recognized the Lord, leaping at the sound of Mary’s voice (Luke 1: 41-45). John’s whole life was for one mission, “to prepare the way for the Lord” (Luke 3:4). He knew Jesus was the Messiah and he declared Him as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” This was confirmed to John at the Lord’s baptism – “I saw the Sprit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” He added emphatically, “I have seen, and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-34). Yet John asked a big question, “Are the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20). What changed? John was in a prison cell after speaking out against the Roman king and his adulterous marriage. John’s circumstances were certainly not what he had expected. He had faithfully proclaimed the coming of God’s Kingdom. He had rebuked the religious elite and the irreligious royals. And rather than blessings, his efforts brought down the wrath of Herod’s wife. He did what God asked of Him and the results were harsh. Can you blame the poor fellow? Haven’t you and I questioned God for less?
With all that he knew, John – weary and discouraged – began to doubt. But Jesus didn’t chastise John. He knew the man’s heart and that those doubts arose from the overwhelming blow he had been dealt. Jesus pointed John back to the evidence. “What do you see, John?” “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). Look beyond your circumstances John. You preached the coming of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 3:1). You spoke of my power (Mark 1: 7). Your own words are being fulfilled in Me. Then He added, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:23).
Questions are not the absence of faith. I have had many, many questions for God, and like John, my questions made me search for answers. And those answers strengthened my faith. God always answers honest questions. Don’t be afraid when questions creep in – take them to Jesus. He will not chasten you. He will give you answers that will ground and strengthen your faith. Ask your questions Beloved, Jesus not only has the answers, He is the answer.

Praying With Faith

“But when He asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6)
 
The old preacher announced from the pulpit – “Come out tonight as we gather to pray for rain to ease this drought.  And bring your umbrella, or don’t bother to come.  We need prayers of faith, not doubt.”
 
What are you praying for today?  Are you believing God will answer – or are your prayers empty petitions?  Oh I’m so guilty of this.  I’m going to be honest here – I have prayed while doubts dug deep ruts through my mind.  “God I ask this of You, but I really don’t expect it.”  Sometimes my doubts were caused by the size of the problem, or the pain of the circumstance.  Sometimes I doubted because it just seemed too much to ask; like I was weighing God’s faithfulness against my failures.  And sometimes my prayers are empty because the enemy has filled my mind with fear.
James calls me “double-minded” and “unstable” (v. 8).   Jesus said it only takes a “mustard-seed” of faith to move the Father’s heart on my behalf (20-21).  Do I believe in God’s goodness – even a mustard seed worth? Has He ever done anything to warrant my doubts?
Beloved, it’s time to put real faith behind our prayers.  I’m praying for some big things from God – for myself, my family and my ministry.  Oh, and I’m gonna grab my umbrella on my way out the door!

Did God really say . . .?

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“He who doubts is like is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:6

Satan’s favorite weapon against us is to cause us to doubt God.  I don’t know why we fall for it time after time, it is such an old trick that he used all the way back to the Garden.  Check out Genesis 3, the account of the fall of Adam and Eve which is the fall of all mankind.

Satan, in the form of a serpent, slithered up to Eve with evil in his heart and a question on his lips: “Did God really say…?”  (Genesis 3:1). He was not asking for clarification of the Creator’s words, he was sowing that tiny seed of doubt.  You can almost hear him stress the word really.   He was asking Eve if she thought God meant what He said in pronouncing the inevitability of their death for eating from that one particular tree.  Well Eve took the bait and took a bite and Satan knew then that he has a sure-fire missile to use against God’s beloved creatures.  But the truth of God’s words proved itself, and mankind has suffered death—physically and spiritually ever since.  Oh if only Adam and Eve had believed God, how different it all would have turned out.  They learned the hard way the one thing you can be sure of, God doesn’t mince words.  He says what He means and He means what He says.

He used that same ploy against Jesus in the wilderness: “If you are the son of God… (Matthew 4:3, 6).  He questioned Jesus’ identity, but the Lord did not fall for it, because He knew the truth.  You will recall that the wilderness episode followed immediately on the heels of Jesus baptism.  Do you remember the Father’s words? “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  Right away Satan began to question Jesus’ confidence. That is the enemy’s other favorite dart against us; he plants doubts in our mind about our relationship with God.  “If you really are God’s child, why is He allowing you to suffer so much?”  “You can’t really be a Christian and behave the way you just did!”  Satan tried to cast doubt in Jesus’ mind, but his attempts failed, because Jesus knew exactly who He was; His Father had proclaimed it and Jesus never lost that confirmation.

Friend, Satan still works to cause you and me to doubt God.  He wants us to doubt what His Word says about what is right and what is wrong.  He uses the culture of the day to cast doubt on the reality of sin and the consequences of rejecting Christ.  He even uses the most learned people in society to cast doubt on the existence of God.  In the church he brings in those who twist and misinterpret the Scriptures to say “what their itching ears what to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3).  That is where we have to go back to the only source of truth—the Word of God and refresh our minds with what God really said so that we can stand firm in this evil day.

But I think Satan’s strongest weapon against us is casting doubts in our mind about our identity and about God’s love for us.  When we are unsure about who we are and about our relationship with God everything else gets shaken too.  Hear this loud and clear dear ones, when you received Jesus Christ as your Savior, God spoke the same words over you that He spoke over His own Son: “This is my child, whom I love; with him (or her) I am well pleased.”  How do I know that?  Check out Jesus’ words in His prayer just before His arrest and crucifixion: “My they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23, emphasis added).  God loves those who are in Christ Jesus just as He loves Jesus Himself.  Because of the Son’s sacrifice, you and I are loved—eternally, unreservedly, and completely.  You can be sure of God’s love and of your place in His family.

My friends, don’t give Satan another victory over you.  Every time you and I give way to his words of doubt we stumble and fall in our faith-walk.  God has given His word in His Word to enable us to walk with confidence in the face of doubt.  Don’t let Satan trip you up with his old, tired routine. Trust God to always speak the truth, to speak it clearly through His Word, and to assure you of who you are and Whose you are.

There’s no doubt about it!

Holy Father – yes, You are my Father, and because of Jesus Christ, I am Your child.  Help me today to walk in the assurance and freedom of Your truth and cast aside every whisper and shout of doubt.  I trust in your Word and in You. Amen.

Remember My Words

“I did tell you, but you did not believe.” John 10:25
Do you remember that annoying kid in school, the expert on every subject who delighted in telling you everything she knew? Do you remember how irritating it was when it turned out she was right? Didn’t you just hate to hear her chortle, “Told you so!” Yes, I remember that kid. Truth is, I was that kid. And I would like to apologize to my brothers and my classmates for being such a brat. But let me just remind you – I was right.
The point of this, and there is a point, is how we often fail to recall what we hear, and specifically what God has said to us. This is the first step in the long fall of doubt, and our enemy is the chief manipulator in twisting our thoughts and raising uncertainty about God’s words.
Let’s look at an account in Scripture with Jesus and His disciples. Please stop and read Mark 4:35-40. This is the familiar story of Jesus calming the storm that threatened their company on the boat in the middle of the sea. The disciples are fighting against the wind and the waves and where is Jesus? Asleep in the boat! How can He sleep when there is a “furious squall, and waves [breaking] over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped” (v. 37)?
The fearful disciples awaken Jesus, and “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (v. 38-39). Now listen as Jesus chastens His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40). Recently a friend asked me about this passage, wondering what Jesus saw in His disciples that caused Him to rebuke their lack of faith. As I meditated on these words, this is what the Lord brought to my mind and heart. Jesus is not chastising the disciples because they doubted His ability to deal with the storm, the issue wasn’t that they were scared. But go back to verse 35. Jesus told them “Let us go over to the other side.” This wasn’t a mere suggestion, but Jesus was giving them an emphatic direction, and He was assuring them that He was with them – notice the words “let us”. And because He was present, their journey was assured. When the storm came up, their fear caused them to doubt that they would survive. But in truth they were expressing a deeper doubt that Jesus could accomplish what He said they would all do, which is “go over to the other side.” They allowed the storm to drown out Jesus’ words, and all they knew is that the wind and waves meant certain death.
This is Satan’s favorite tool, to cause us to doubt and question God’s Word, His promises, His commands and His authority. We can see this clearly in two snippets of Scripture:
Genesis 3:1 – “Did God really say…?” and  Matthew 4:3 & 6 – “If you are…?   In these two brief lines, Satan is casting doubt on what God has said, first to Eve, and in the Matthew passages to Jesus. Satan was causing Eve to question God’s command in the Garden, and cast doubt on the goodness of God’s heart toward them. Notice that when the serpent questioned Eve about God’s command, she began to get confused and twisted the words of God, “God did say ‘You must not eat from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’” (Gen. 3:3, emphasis added). God had commanded they not eat from this tree, but, in her answer to the serpent, Eve added a little bit of her own thoughts, and the doubt was sown. Have you ever wondered “Did God really tell me this, or am I hearing my own voice and my own words?” This was the beginning of the slippery slope of doubt for Eve – Satan knew it, just as he knows it when we have the same doubts – and he uses it to his advantage. He also tried to cause Jesus to doubt His identity and who God had declared Him to be at His baptism – “You are my Son…” (Mark 1:11). Satan succeeded in leading Eve astray, but Jesus knew without a doubt what God had said, and who He was. Matthew notes how Jesus repeatedly refuted the devil by saying “It is written…” for He knew exactly what God’s Words said – He was their Author.
Now, let’s look at one more – John 11:40 – “Did I not tell you…?” This passage comes from the resurrection of Lazarus. Remember that Jesus had told Martha, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life…whoever believe in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25). He even asked her, “Do you believe this?” Now, when Jesus commands that the stone be rolled away from the grave, Martha questioned Him. That is when Jesus said “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40). “Do you remember what I promised you Martha? I am going to fulfill it right before your eyes!” Isn’t it amazing how quickly the warmth of His words cooled in her heart; from the time of Jesus’ speaking until they came to the tomb, Martha had begun to doubt.
God has spoken great and precious promises in His Word, promises for this life and for the life everlasting. He has spoken through the pages of the Bible and He speaks through His Holy Spirit that dwells in every believer. He speaks to give you and me assurance and promise and hope and peace and comfort. He speaks to guide and direct us, leading us into the  “Promised Land” He has ordained for His beloved children. Perhaps God has, at some point, told you that He is going to do something in and through you; and time, circumstances and the enemy are casting doubt on that word. Just as the disciples and Martha forgot what Jesus had said He would do, I wonder if Jesus stands before you and asks “Did I not tell you…?” Perhaps His word to you is right at the cusp of fulfillment. Child of God, will you continue to trust that God will do what He has told you?
Holy Father, when You speak, Your word is fulfilled. Lord, When my mind wanders, when the storms blow, when the enemy tries to cause me to doubt; please help me to hold fast to what You have promised, and to trust You to bring everything You have said to completion. Amen.