Hebrews: Holy

Mr. Estes lived across the street when I was a kid. He was a big man, very broad-shouldered and taller than my dad, who was himself over six feet. Just looking at him told me he was a scary guy. But it was his voice that really terrified me. Deep and loud and gruff. I heard him yell at his dog once and that was all it took for me to stay far away from him.

The writer of Hebrews wanted his readers to remember their history with God. Stop here and read Hebrews 12:18-21. This is referencing the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinia (Exodus 19). God came down to the mountain amid thunder and lightning and fire and smoke and a “very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled” (Ex 19:16). I reckon so. The people were commanded to not touch God’s mountain under penalty of death. Animals were forbidden to approach it.  Even Moses trembled with fear. Why? Because the presence of God made the mountain holy.

We’ve lost the concept of “holy” today. The word is often combined with farm animals and even gross bodily functions and vulgar euphemisms for sex as an expression of surprise or even a curse. This should not be. Holy is not just four letters strung together – holy is God. It is the word the angels declared thrice before His throne: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;” (Is 6:3). “Holy” is His own self-description: “You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own” (Lev 20:26). Even within the church, the word is not held with honor and reverence. This is one of my most fervent frustrations. If you use the word “holy” flippantly, I hope you are convicted and pay attention when it is on the tip of your tongue.

Wherever God goes, whatever He touches becomes holy. Remember Moses and the burning bush? God told him to take off his sandals because the ground surrounding the bush was holy. When God spoke to the Israelites at Mt. Sinia, they begged Him to stop because even His voice was holy. Their sinful ears could not bear to hear it. Whatever is set apart unto God is also holy and anything that touches the consecrated thing was also considered holy.  That includes you. Just a couple of chapters back we learned that “we have been made holy” through Christ (Heb 10:10). If you are in Christ, you are holy – set apart unto God for a relationship that will last forever. That, Beloved, should make you tremble with Joy.

Mirror Image

I’ve been a Bible student for at least thirty years, a Bible teacher for more than twenty, and a Bible writer for ten. I’ve taught, studied, or written about every book in the Bible. I have a bachelor’s degree in Theology and Biblical Studies and have almost completed my master’s. But I’ve barely scratched the surface of biblical truth. I have only a minuscule glimpse of God. There’s far more to discover than my finite middle-aged, deep-southern mind can grasp. Still, I will keep digging until I draw my last breath. And then I will know more.

Paul said that in this life, “we know in part . . .” (1 Cor 13:9). We know fragments of truth, and that makes it hard to believe because there is so much we don’t know. The world thinks of us as fools for trusting in what we cannot see and cannot fully comprehend. Yet. One of the most important things God has been teaching me is to keep an eternal mindset. That’s not a Pollyanna “it’ll all turn out okay in the end” attitude. An eternal mindset isn’t focused on the circumstances, it’s focused on the sovereign King of the universe. The Lord God Almighty. The Creator of all that is.

Here is what I believe is at the heart of an eternal mindset. You and I – and every human that was, is, or is to come – is made in the Imago Dei – the image of God. Before He scooped up the dust of the earth God said, “Let us make man in our own image” (Gen 1:26). And that is what He did. We are walking, talking, breathing expressions of our Creator. But sin separated us from our Creator and marred the perfect image we were meant to bear. It’s what Paul meant in verse 12: Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror . . .” We look at our spiritual reflection, knowing we’re supposed to see God, but we see only ourselves – our sinful human selves.

But one day, because of Jesus, we will see that perfect image. No, we won’t be looking into a divine mirror, we will be looking at the Divine Himself. Paul says, “then we shall see face to face.” We will see God. Face to face. I can’t even imagine. But I long for it. It’s my heart’s highest desire. I hope it’s yours too, Beloved.

All In

A hen and a pig were looking at the farmer’s breakfast plate, with toast, grits, eggs, and bacon. The hen strutted around saying, “Look at the hen’s contribution to this fine breakfast – see those eggs there on the plate!” The pig looked at the hen and said, “You hens make a contribution, but for us pigs, it’s an all-or-nothing commitment.”

“Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). Jesus has very high expectations for His followers. He doesn’t just want contributors, he wants people who will surrender it all to Him. People who will Joyfully “lose their life” for the Kingdom.

What does that really mean? When I study His Word – and look at the world – I realize that Jesus meant exactly what he said. I researched the words Matthew recorded and He said that those who deny Him are more concerned with keeping their earthly lives safe and sound and free from suffering and danger than they are with His Kingdom. (Have you noticed a “suffering” theme in my devotionals lately? That’s not my choice. I believe that God is preparing us for something.) And the life we lose – or destroy according to the Greek – is our souls. When we chose our lives over the Kingdom of God we throw away eternal life with Christ in heaven.

I’ve always heard to lose your life for Christ’s sake means letting go of everything that the world tells us life is all about. Certainly, it’s recognizing that whatever reward this temporal life offers – pleasure, fame, wealth, power, status, or intellect – cannot compare with all Christ offers. But losing our life literally means being willing to die for His Kingdom. We have the examples of the apostles and the martyrs of the faith who died with the name of Jesus on their lips. It’s not only about denying worldly attractions, but it’s being ready to face lions and swords and all manner of suffering – even death. It is trading the small sphere of this world for the much bigger eternal Kingdom of God. So I ask you, Beloved, are you making a contribution to the Kingdom of God or are you all in?

Why Should I Choose God?

“Why should I believe in your God? What benefit is it to me?” The young man stood with his hands on his hips and a scowl on his face. I was very young in my faith and I didn’t know how to answer him. I mumbled something about heaven and hell and he laughed at me and walked away. I’m a lot older and a little wiser. I’ve walked through some stuff with God. I’ve seen His power and felt His presence. He has set me free from strong chains. He has healed me, provided for me, comforted me, and brought Joy to my life. He has directed my life in amazing ways. I wish I could tell him all that.

And I also know Scripture better now. I would take him to Psalm 62 and show him how he could benefit from a relationship with God. In this Psalm, David said that his “soul finds rest in God alone” (v. 1, 5) and then he shares all the reasons why. They are true for you and me as well.

God is the source of our salvation (v. 1, 6, 7) through His Son, Jesus we are saved to eternal life. He is our Rock, our Fortress, and our Refuge (v. 2, 6, 7, 8 ) – a sure place of security and safety. He is the source of our hope (v. 5)  and even shares His glory and honor with us (7).  

And David added this wonderful statement: “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that You, O God, are strong and that You, O Lord, are loving” (v. 11, 12).  I love this because it shows the perfect balance of our Father. If God were all strong without love, we would be terrified of Him. If He were all loving without strength, He could only pity us but offer us no help.  But He is both able and willing to save me, protect me, lift me up, and give my life meaning. In His love, He promises to give me eternal life. By His power, He can deliver it.

You may be wondering what life with God means. I think David expressed it perfectly. I don’t know where that young man is today, so I’ll just tell you, Beloved. Life with God is full of power and love. Don’t walk away from it.

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.

Hebrews: Persevere

I’ll be honest, some days I just want to quit. Quit school. Quit writing. Quit trying. Life is full of some precious – but heavy – responsibilities right now. Everything revolves around my granddaughter and her needs right now. I don’t have much time for me and what I need to do. I stay up late doing schoolwork. I get up very early to write. I try to snatch 30 minutes here and there to prepare a Sunday School lesson. I’m tired. But I can’t quit. Not school, writing, or teaching, and certainly not being a grandmother. And so I press on.

The Bible has a lot to say about not giving up; the two words that biblical writers used most frequently in their encouragement were endure and persevere. Both of these words share the same root meaning: “to be in a state that begins and continues, yet may or may not end.” But they each have another word attached that makes all the difference: endure includes the word hypo meaning “under”; while persevere attaches the word epi, which means –“on” or “over.” The writer of Hebrews said, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Heb 10:16).  He is exhorting his readers to overcome the pull to walk away from Jesus in an environment that was hostile to Christians. Not unlike ours is becoming.

His statement begs a question: “What, exactly, is the ‘will of God’?” Jesus spelled it out plainly: “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 6:40). To believe and keep on believing until you receive the eternal life that Jesus promised. Believing – faith – is not a one and done in the Christian life. It’s not some decision you make one day when you walk the aisle and get baptized. It is an every day, moment-by-moment decision you make and continue to make to take one more step with Him and one more and one more.

I am a busy person, but school and teaching and writing and even being a Nana are not God’s will. All the things I’m doing are God’s call on my life, but His will for me is to believe in His Son till He brings me home. And never give up. I know a lot of you are busy like me. Just make sure, Beloved, in all the things you do to serve Him, that you are in His will all the way to the end.

Hebrews: Just Jesus

History is littered with men and women quitting before the victory. Do you remember any of their names? Neither do I. We remember the ones who stuck it out and stayed the course.  The whole premise of the book of Hebrews is about not giving up; a message twenty-first-century believers need as much as first-century believers. The author said, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded” (10:35). That begs a question: Do you have confidence in God? I hear your “Yes!” ringing loudly through the air. So let me press you a little farther. Confidence for what? That He will fix your problems, clean up your messes, open all the right doors, straighten out your kid, and bring world peace? There’s nothing wrong with any of those things; I’m praying for some of them myself. But the author had bigger things in mind. Eternal things.

The people reading this message were being challenged by the writer to put their confidence in one thing: the grace of God through Jesus Christ for eternal life. Remember these folks are largely Jews and for centuries their confidence was in obedience to the Mosaic Law. Something tangible. Something they could do. It was a constant mantra from the cradle to the grave. But they were now expected to believe that one man bore the burden for all of their sins and there was nothing they needed to do to ensure their salvation beyond trust.  Put yourself in their sandals – you only get one shot to make the right decision about the hereafter. How difficult would it be to stake your eternal security on this – on Him?  But this is what the writer was encouraging – even pleading with them to do. It’s what I am encouraging – even pleading with you to do.

You and I can believe God for many good things. My hope for my life is in His Word and His Name. You place your kids and your future, your struggles and heartaches, and your needs and desires in His hands and you do well to do so. But the one question that you need to answer Beloved is this: What is your hope for eternal life? If your confidence is in anything or anyone but Jesus, you have no hope and no reward. Only Jesus saves.

I Promise

You stood together at the front of the church and promised to “love, honor and cherish till death do us part.” Yet, here you are alone and hurting. My child promised to come home on time, and two hours later I’m fuming as I hear his key finally turn in the door. They promised advances and promotions when you were hired, but you’re still stuck at entry-level. What happened? Promises were made and then broken. You’ve been on the receiving end, I’m sure. If you’re honest, you may have been on the giving end as well.

Part of our human sinful condition is that we are selfish and self-centered and that often means we will fail to keep our word. We make promises to get our way. We make promises we know we won’t keep. Of course, sometimes we make a promise and something unexpected causes us to break our promise. Whatever the reason someone usually gets hurt. Someone is placed at a disadvantage. Is it any wonder that we find it hard to trust others? Even God.

One thing of which I am certain is that God is faithful to His promises. His Word is as sure as His character, and His character is flawless. He doesn’t make promises based on feelings, so we never have to worry that His feelings will change and His promises will fail. He does not need to make promises to gain an advantage. He always has the advantage. He doesn’t make promises He cannot keep. He is almighty, all-powerful, and able to do everything He says He will do. He never makes a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. God wouldn’t be God if He did not or could not keep His promises.

What has God promised you? If you are in Christ He has promised you salvation and eternal life. He has promised you hope and peace and joy. He has promised His presence, His power, and His protection. He has promised to provide, comfort and care for you. He has promised you victory over sin and death and this world. Elizabeth said of Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:45). Blessed are you, Beloved, when you take God at His Word.

Hebrews: One Life, One Death, One Savior

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If it seems like we’ve been in the tabernacle with the high priest for a long time now, you would be right. The writer of Hebrews has repeatedly contrasted the earthly tabernacle and the human priest with the heavenly tabernacle and the divine great high priest to prove the point that Christ is the better way – the only way – to salvation and eternal life. Don’t forget that he was writing to a people steeped in the traditions of Judaism, the Law, and the sacrificial system. All they had ever known was the yearly atonement and they struggled to accept another way. Every year they watched the high priest going into the holy of holies wearing his ritual garments. On his breastplate, near his heart,  he bore the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex 28). On his shoulders, he also carried the names of the sons of Israel, so that he symbolically  “bore the sins of Israel” on his shoulders before the Lord. Every year he carried the same burden into the holy of holies and repeated the necessary sacrifices because one sacrifice was never enough. Until . . .

When Christ went into the heavenly tabernacle He entered into the literal presence of God and offered Himself for “the sins of many people” (Heb 9:28). He didn’t just carry the names and sins of a single group of people, He carried them all, including the Israelites. But the Jewish believers weren’t sure they could trust their eternal security to a “one and done” Savior. What if His sacrifice wasn’t enough? They would be left with their sins uncovered and would be forever condemned. The choice was to throw their whole life on Christ or turn back to what they had always known. To make the point clearer, he said, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people” (v. 27). Human life is a one-time thing and so is the judgment that follows. But so was Christ’s sacrifice – once was enough. He will come again to take the judge’s seat and render the final verdict for all who trusted in Him: “not guilty.” Beloved, make sure your one life is safe in the nail-scarred hands of Christ.

Saving the Best for Last

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I always eat the least favorite thing on my plate first and save my most favorite thing for last. When I have chores to do I do the hardest one first then do the easiest last. Why? Because I know that if I eat my favorite food or do the easiest chores first, I will give up before I do the rest. It’s a discipline I learned as a kid: “save the best for last.”

I think that is a very simple explanation for Paul’s message to the churches in Rome.  He said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (8:18). Let’s get the truth out on the table – this life is hard. And the Christian life, I believe, makes it harder. Christians are constantly at odds with the culture of the world. Our priorities are very different. Our desires are (or should be) counter-cultural. Our sense of right and wrong rubs against the ever-changing “morals’ of the day. And our worldview is 180 degrees from the ethos of the world. Sometimes we wonder why we continue to swim against the stream and make ourselves a target of the enemy. Wouldn’t it be easier to just go along with the world and save ourselves the struggles and pain? Maybe. But at what cost? “Glory.” The reward for endurance and perseverance is glory. And not just a glory we can see at a distance. Paul said the glory to come is “in us.” He told the church in Corinth that this is “an eternal glory that far outweighs our light and momentary troubles” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Maybe you don’t consider your troubles “light and momentary.” You may have lost a job or a friendship because of your commitment to your faith. You won’t be the first. The history of the church is written in the blood of men and women who died for the name of Christ. It still happens today in certain parts of the world, and I believe it is coming to the Western church soon Paul isn’t dismissing these hard things. But he is saying there is something better coming, something that makes all our difficulties in this life pale in comparison. He said, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). Those are not just fluffy words – they are a rock-solid promise from the heart of God. You and I cannot imagine the glory that is coming. Hang on Beloved, the best is yet to be.