Hebrews: Don’t Turn Back

“I wanna go home!” Joy wailed in my arms.  It was the last day of VBS and everyone was in the “big church” for the grand finale. She wanted no part of it.  I coaxed her into sitting on my lap, but it didn’t last long.  She was trembling when her mommy took her out after just a couple of minutes. It’s not unusual when facing challenges to want to run back to what we know is safe. Even if safe is not God’s will for us.

Hebrews says the heroes of the Bible considered themselves “aliens and strangers” not just in the new lands they settled, but “on earth” because they were “looking for a country of their own” (Heb 11:13b-14). The place of promise. Abraham was given that very promise and he did settle in the land of Canaan, though it was not his possession. The writer added, “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return” (v. 15). They could have gone back home at any time. Case in point:

Abraham realized that he needed a wife for his son, Isaac, but not from the local, pagan women.  He tasked his servant with going back to his hometown to bring back a woman from his own people for his son. The servant asked, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back . . . shall I take your son back to the country you came from? (Gen 24:5). Abraham answered an emphatic “No.” “Make sure that you do not take my son back there,” (v. 6). Why? Because the promise of God was tied to the land of Canaan. If he went back the promise would be lost. Abraham was protecting the promise by his obedience (Gen 24: 6-8).

The writer of Hebrews was addressing Jewish believers whose conversion had caused heartache and struggle. Many abandoned their faith in Christ and returned to the laws and life of Judaism. They returned to a dead end. This world is the domain of the evil one; it will never be home for those who love and follow Christ. But our promised land is coming (more on that later). It’s tempting to take the easy way and return to the world. But the easy way is not the eternal way. “A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.”1. Beloved, you were made for eternity.

  1. John A. Shedd, 1928

Oh, What a Mess!

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Joy loves to play with the box of paper clips on my desk. This morning she grabbed her treasure knocking it off my desk and spilling the paper clips on the floor. “Oh no!” she said dramatically. “It’s okay baby, you just dropped it. Can you pick the paper clips up, please?” All of the sudden my sweet, compliant girl backed away from the mess and shook her head, “No.” I asked her again. She ran to the other corner of the room “No.” She tried to climb in my lap and I said, “Go pick up the paper clips and then you can sit with Nana.” “No, I can’t.” Mommy said, “Joy, pick up the paper clips.” The more we insisted the more she resisted. Instead, she demanded, “I want my cup.” Her sippy cup is her security blanket so I knew that she was getting agitated.

I said, “I think she’s overwhelmed.” Mommy said, “How about we pick the paper clips up together, I’ll help you.”  Immediately her face brightened, she set her cup down and chirped, “Okay!” and the paper clips were picked up in less than a minute. I thought about how many times I’ve told her to pick up her toys and she will lay on the couch and bury her face. Big light bulb moment: the bigger the mess she’s faced with, the more resistant she becomes to cleaning it up. Not because she’s defiant, but because she’s overwhelmed. And then I realized that she is just like me. And probably you too. Big messes make us want to run and hide.

Israel was in a big mess. After a long rebellious state, Isaiah prophesied the judgment of God. He said the Lord was going to send Assyria and Babylon to destroy their cities and take them captive. That’s a huge, overwhelming mess that they could never manage on their own. But then God said, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you . . .” (Is 41:10). God promised to help them out of their mess.

Beloved, I don’t know what kind of mess you are in or how you got there, but I know that you don’t face it alone. “‘Don’t be afraid,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I myself will help you’” (41:14). Until the work is done.

Only Words?

How can we rate our faith in God? Listen to your words when your guard is down. Our truest selves come tumbling out of our mouths in our private moments, when life is hard or when we’re weary, anxious, in pain, or taken by surprise. Our unguarded words reveal a lot about us. Let me give you two examples from the Bible. Raw emotions often speak the truth from the deepest part of our hearts.

God had rescued Israel from Egyptian slavery and was leading them toward the Promised Land. Moses sent out twelve spies to investigate the area. Their report was both encouraging and frightening. The land was very fruitful but it was also inhabited by fierce giants. The people began to grumble asking, “Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword . . . [and] our wives and children [be] taken as plunder?” (Num 14:3). Wait. Did they not just walk through the sea on dry ground!? But their words expressed the fear and lack of faith in their hearts. And God was listening. He said “I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell then, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say.’” (Num 14:27-28). That’s a terrifying statement.

Contrast their words with the words of Job, who suffered more in one day than you and I will suffer in a lifetime. He lost his wealth, his children, and his health. Oh, he was very upset with God and was not shy about expressing it. But despite it all, Job said: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. He said that a day is coming when “I myself will see Him with my own eyes” (Job 19:25,27). Do you hear the heart behind those words? That is faith speaking.

Listen to Jesus’ words about words: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). What you say in those unguarded moments says volumes about what you believe in your heart. And God is listening.  If he did to you the very things He heard you say how would that turn out for you? Beloved, make sure that the “words of [your] mouth and the meditation of [your] heart are pleasing in God’s ears (Ps 19:14).

God Knows

There is much fear in hearts and minds around the world today because of the actions of one wicked man. Who knows how far he wants to take his evil plan? People are suffering horribly because of his thirst for power and disregard for human life. So I asked God what message He wanted to bring you today and  He led me to Luke 12 and the Parable of the Rich Fool. A parable about greed. Thanks, God, that’s gonna be real helpful right now.

But you know that one biblical story taken out of its greater context is missing the whole point. So as I began to look at the surrounding passages and as I realized what God was up to.

Let me set the stage. Jesus tells the story of a rich man who, after a bountiful harvest, decided to hoard up all he had, even though he had more than he needed. Rather than share the blessings with his neighbors, he decided to build bigger barns and stockpile it all for himself. The man would not enjoy his harvest though, for that night he would die. This parable is pretty straightforward: Don’t be greedy. But look at the bigger picture. Before and after this parable, Jesus says over and over: “do not be afraid,” and “do not worry.” (Check out Luke 12:7, 11, 22, 25, 26, 29, 32.) He followed the parable with the famous discourse of the Father providing for the birds and the flowers – “how much more valuable are you than they?” (v. 24).

Worry and fear cause us to “run after” the things the world chases (v. 29-30) or to hoard up what we have in fear of not having enough (v. 16-19). Over the past couple of years, we lived out the illustration of this message as stores have been stripped of basic necessities. Do you remember to great toilet paper shortage of 2020? Yet Jesus tells us not to worry. Why? Because “your Father knows that you need [these things].” And because it delights the Father to provide for His children.

God knows all about what’s happening on the world’s stage. He knows that these are scary times. As His child, He knows what you need. And He says, “Do not be afraid.” Beloved, your Father is the King of Heaven and Earth – what could you possibly have to worry about?

God, Are You Tired of Rescuing Me?

I need God’s help. I have a difficult situation – one that is bigger than I can handle on my own. I need God to rescue me. Again. I’ve had to be rescued more than once because I am prone to foolishness and get myself in trouble constantly. I come by this trait honestly because I am the descendant of two foolish, rebellious people who disobeyed God in a garden.  I often find myself in a pit that is too deep for me to climb out of.  I do the only thing I know to do. I cry out for help. Just as I did today.  I expected Him to be frustrated with me by now – after all so many people have been.  It’s human nature to grow weary of people who are always needing something. I’ve been both the needy one and needed one. Both are exhausting. So I asked Him if He was tired of rescuing me. I expected a deep sigh, followed by – “Child, when will you stop getting into trouble?” But that’s not what He told me.

He sent me searching for the word “rescue,” and highlighted one Scripture in particular, “He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delights in me” (Psalm 18:19). And then His Spirit impressed this thought on my heart – He doesn’t rescue me because I am in trouble, He rescues me because it delights Him to do so.

The enemy would have us imagine God as an exasperated parent, weary of our foolishness, ready for us to grow up and manage our own lives. That is not the God who sent His Son to die on the cross. Ours is a God who delights in rescuing His children. He knows that we will stumble, He knows that we’ll have troubles. He knows we will get in over our heads. And He is always ready and willing to come to our aid. Hear this Beloved – God doesn’t rescue you and me out of a sense of duty, but out of His extraordinary love.

Do you need to be rescued today? Cry out to the One who delights in flexing His muscles on your behalf. Your hero is on the way.

When Anxiety is Great Within Me . . .

I’m dealing with some major anxiety this week. Yes, even the Bible teacher gets overwhelmed by life sometimes just as you do. The Spirit led me to Psalm 94:19: When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought Joy to my soul.”  Yep, that’s the verse for me – it’s got anxiety and Joy. This Psalm is a lament; the psalmist is in a hard place because of “the wicked” who trample on God’s people. Hmm, I have something similar going on in my life. He calls on the Lord for help. I found it interesting that he didn’t ask God to remove him from the cause of his anxiety. Sometimes – as in my case – that is not an option. Too much is at stake. So how does he handle his anxiety and the cause of it?

First, he remembers that God is his Avenger (v. 1); he doesn’t have to seek revenge or demand his rights. He noted that even though his enemy doesn’t acknowledge God (v. 7), God knows everything that is happening to him (v. 11). He reminds himself (oh, that’s so important) that God will grant him relief (v. 13), He will not reject or forsake him (v. 14), and will be his Defender (v. 16). The Lord will help him (v. 17). He will hold him up with his love (v. 18). He will bring him comfort and Joy (v. 19) (did you hum that Christmas song?). And the Lord will be his fortress, his rock, and his refuge (v. 22). I don’t know about you, but after all that, my anxiety has decreased to near-manageable levels.

But consider this too. God never chastised him for being anxious. I know, you’re going to ask me why did Jesus say, “Do not be anxious (or worried) (Matt 6:25, 30, 34) .” Context. First, Jesus was teaching in vs. 19-24 about storing up treasures on earth vs. treasures in heaven. He was saying that wealth will not bring peace. But the Father does. In vs. 25-34 Jesus spoke of God’s goodness, care, compassion, and faithfulness. When He said “Do not be anxious,” He wasn’t barking out an order, He was reminding the people that “your Heavenly Father knows” all about the needs of His “little flock” (Luke 12:32). Those are words of tender, fatherly love.

We don’t want to walk around like tight balls of anxiety, but the struggles of this life are unavoidable, and some of them are really hard. The best way to cope is to focus on all God brings to us in our time of need. Hope. Peace. Compassion. Love. “The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I need to know.”

God, I don’t understand

There are many wonderful, hopeful, encouraging verses in the Bible and I love every one of them.  But my eyes fell on one this morning that speaks to my heart so well. The funny thing is, I found it compliments of my granddaughter who was sitting in my chair at my desk last night, thumbing through my Bible.  She left it open at John 13 when we called her to come to supper. It’s the account of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet just before his betrayal, trials, and crucifixion. When the Lord reached Peter with his bowl and towel, Peter protested. It was not right for the Teacher, the One Peter believed to be the Son of God, to wash his filthy feet. But Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7). Those words are like balm to my heart.

“Lord, I don’t understand this.” “God, why You are letting this happen?” “Father, this makes no sense to me.” Sound familiar? From world events to rampant evil in our nation, to job loss, sickness, relational strain, financial crisis, and on and on – it’s a confusing, overwhelming time. And we don’t understand. “God, how can this work together for good?” “Lord, how can this be part of your plan?” And the quiet whisper comes, “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me” (John 14:1)

The hardest thing I’ve ever been called to do is to trust and wait on God when I don’t understand, when the “logical” thing to do is counter to what God has said. When everyone is saying, “You have to do this now!” and God says, “Be still and trust me.” When the situation seems hopeless and I am weary and God says, “In quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

Beloved, I don’t know your situation. I don’t know what hard thing God has permitted in your life, but I imagine your questions are the same as mine. “What are You doing Lord, and why?” And to our questions, the answer comes, “You do not realize what I am doing, but later you will understand. And when all the pieces come together, you will see what this was all about, and you will see My hand in it.” “Trust me.”

Hope in Days of Evil

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Another day, another multi-victim shooting, another child abused, another murder, another robbery, beating, and theft. I remember the day when such things were shocking; now they are commonplace. I read just yesterday of a mother who killed her child and I want to ask, “Why?” But I know the answer. Because Adam and Eve ate the fruit. And their actions ushered in sin that has infected the human race at a far greater pace than COVID 19. It is part of our human make-up. It’s even part of our culture. And the Bible makes it clear that it’s only going to get worse.

Jesus said as the time for His return draws near, wickedness will increase, and “the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Love – love for what is good – will die and evil and wickedness will grow at alarming rates.

Paul added, “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:2-5). Can anyone doubt that we are in the last days?

Does that frighten you? It should if you don’t belong to Jesus Christ. But if you are His, if you have surrendered yourself – heart, mind, soul, and strength – to Him, the state of the world should concern you, but not scare you. It should compel you to share the gospel. It should urge you to live in holiness. It should move you to intervene for the innocent. But it shouldn’t frighten you. Because the increase of wickedness means a decrease in our wait for Christ’s return.

Jesus said when the world turns more and more to evil, and the heavens and the earth react to it (because they are also subject to the curse of sin), we need to look up. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky . . . the nations of the earth . . . will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30). And every evil, wicked, sinful thing will be cast out. Yes, these are evil days, and there is likely more to come. But lift up your head, Beloved, that means the Lord is nearer now than ever before.

Giants

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David and Goliath. One of the best-known stories of the Bible.  A story of good versus evil in the face of impossible odds.  We learn so much from David here. Faith. Determination. Confidence. Preparation. Fearlessness. All very good lessons. But I saw something in this story that I’d never noticed before and I think it’s a very powerful lesson we need to learn.

When David visited the battle site he discovered that the Israelite army was at a standstill. They were paralyzed with fear and he soon saw why. “Goliath, the Philistine champion stepped out from the lines and shouted his usual defiance” (1 Samuel 17:23). His usual defiance was to belittle them, challenge them, threaten them, and thoroughly intimidate them. He said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel!” (8-10). They were “dismayed and terrified” (v. 11). I imagine so! Goliath was over nine feet tall, wore 125 pounds of armor, and carried a spear with an iron point that weighed 15 pounds (4-7). “When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear” (v. 24). And this went had gone on for forty days – twice a day (16). The Israelites had given up hope.

David saw the same enemy and heard the same schpiel. But he saw it much differently. David demanded, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (26). He realized that the Israelites 1) forgot whose they were, and 2) they were afraid – of words.

You and I have an enemy who looks like a giant in our eyes and all day long he berates us and accuses us and tells us we are worthless. He tells us we’re going down. And we listen – day-after-day-after-day – until we start to believe it.  Because we forget whose we are – that we are the sons and daughters of God and co-heirs with Christ. Because we are afraid – of words.

Here’s what the Lord impressed on my heart: Giants must be defeated – not feared.

If you are in Christ, satan’s only weapon against you is words. That’s it. But you have the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Stand your ground, Beloved. You are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:38).

Bootstrap Faith

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Do you have bootstrap faith? You know, when you are down and out and others say, “You’ve just got to pick yourself up by your bootstraps!” It was the psychology of my younger years – when life is tough you get tougher. (Modern psychology says your problems are someone else’s fault and you are entitled to compensation while you roll around in self-pity. But I digress.) You have to reach deep down inside yourself and grab on to your fortitude and strength and get on up out of that pit. After all, don’t we admire those who make something out of themselves from nothing but sheer grit and determination?  If you will it hard enough, you can do it!

So what happens when you realize you don’t have any bootstraps and you are all out of strength and fortitude and grit and determination? What do you do when you can’t carry the burdens another step? When your will just won’t anymore?

The Lord declared to His people, “I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). In all my years of reading the Bible from cover to cover, I never once found Him scolding His people for depending on Him too much. But He sure chastised them for pushing Him away and trying to handle life on their own. He doesn’t expect you and me to carry our burdens alone. Those weights become very heavy. Health burdens. Financial burdens. Relational burdens. Burdens of loneliness, depression, fear, failure, responsibility, and we could go on and on. I have mine and you have yours. And God promises to carry us through them all.

The reason you can’t find your bootstraps is because it is God who will lift you up. It is God who will reach down to pull you up out of the pit. It is God’s strength and fortitude that will carry you – and your burdens. It’s time to stop trying to do it all on your own, and let God be your Rescuer and your Strength. He is not only able to carry you, Beloved, it is His delight and Joy.