Hebrews: Be Faithful

The Bible is the perfect, infallible Word of God. It is complete and lacks nothing. But we’re going to add something. Hear me out before you hang me as a heretic.

For several weeks now, we’ve been studying the Hall of Faith in Hebrews, the stories of men and women whom God found faithful. I hope it has been as rich and encouraging to you as it has been to me.  But here’s my question: did faith end with these ancient saints? Is there room for your name and mine on this list?

Maybe we haven’t built a massive boat or nearly sacrificed our children or led two million plus people out of slavery. I suspect none of us have witnessed the seas part or shouted down a stone wall or defeated your nation’s enemy with a sling and a stone. I don’t believe we’ve faced off against hungry lions or walked out of a fiery furnace. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been faithful.

If you’ve trusted God in hard circumstances, you’ve been faithful. If you endured insults for being a Christian, you have been faithful. If you have resisted temptation or been truthful when a lie would have been easier, you have been faithful. If you’ve wept on your knees and got up and pressed on, you, my friend, have been faithful. If you’ve been gentle in the face of anger or loved the one who hated you, or been patient with the grown kid who keeps failing over and over, you have been faithful. If you’ve kept at your calling, even if no one else notices, you are faithful. If you’ve walked into unknown territory because God said go, if you’ve gone the extra mile (or several miles) – you’ve been faithful. If you have looked into an empty pantry or an empty gas tank and said, “God I will trust you to provide” – there’s no doubt you are faithful. If you’ve gotten up early to spend time in the Word and prayer – you have been faithful.

I want you to do something this morning. Open up your Bible to the end of Hebrews 11 and write (yes, it’s okay to write in your Bible) “By faith (your name) . . . ” then ask Him how you have been faithful and how you can be even more so. Beloved, it’s time to add our names to the Hall of Faith and continue the legacy of God’s faithful people.

Just Obey

Joy has a fascination with our cat. Celina does not share the same feelings. She chases her, picks her up, and totes her around the house. All the while we are telling her to “Put that cat down!” It’s not that Joy doesn’t know she shouldn’t aggravate the cat. She has been told countless times to leave her alone. She has sat in her time-out chair multiple times and has taken a couple of swats to the behind over it. And she’s gotten a few scratches from said cat. She knows very well that she is not to harass the cat but she is determined to do it anyway. Joy has trouble obeying.

She is one small example of the human race. Paul said you and I know the reality of God. “What may be known about God is plain to them, because has made it plain to them” (Rom 1:19). And we know God’s law. It has been written on every person’s heart (Rom 2:15). We know what sin is; we are without excuse (Rom 1:20). We know that sin brings death (Rom 6:23). And yet we disobey. And we do so with pride. Why? Because like Joy, we want what we want and we will break every commandment on our way to get it. And we will pay the price for it.

There is a better way, you know. Just obey God’s Word. The Psalmist said, “I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands” (Psalm 119:60). When God handed down the law through Moses he didn’t say, “Here are ten suggestions for a happy life,” He said, “These are my commandments,” meaning they are not optional. Writer and speaker Priscilla Shirer said, “God doesn’t speak to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed.” Believe me, I am preaching to myself here. I know God’s law – I’ve studied it for many years, yet I still have trouble obeying at times. Like Paul, I know what is right, but I still do what is wrong (Rom 7:15-23). And if you’re honest, you will admit the same. There is great blessing in obedience. The Psalmist said, “I run in the path of your commands, for You have set my heart free” (Ps 119:32). Peace. Joy. Freedom. Beloved, let’s walk the path of obedience together.

Six tips for effective Bible Study

If you ask me how to grow spiritually, I will tell you to read your Bible. All of it. I’ll also tell you don’t expect to blossom into a super-Christian overnight, or even after you’ve read it through one time. I’ve been reading my Bible for more than thirty years. (I know – to some of you, I’m a teenager in the Scriptures.) I didn’t understand much after the first time through nor the second. But by the third time through, I started recognizing things and the more laps I completed the more the Bible began to made sense. I still can’t claim super-Christian status, but I know more now than I did when I started. I thought I’d share a few things that transformed my Bible-reading – and me.

The very first step I took into Bible study was chasing down the cross-references in the margins which sparked the passion I still have to connect the Old and New Testaments. That made me hungry for more. Another tip that revolutionized my Bible study is to consider the full context of the Scripture you’re reading. Context is like x-ray vision glasses that help you see deeper into the passage. What happened before your passage? What happened after? How does your passage fit into the whole?

Then the Holy Spirit started sending me on digs for word meanings. Word meanings change from generation to generation. We need to know what the original author was saying, not the 21st century meaning of his words. And writing out Scripture helps me focus on each word.

I also slowed my pace. I learn so much more when I take smaller, deeper bites. I’ve found that consuming the entire Bible in about 3 years is best for me. And I love to read the Bible in chronological order. The events in Scripture didn’t happen in the order in which our modern Bibles place them. Following a chronological reading plan helped me see the overarching story and discern the long-term (aka – eternal) plan of God throughout human history. It helped me to better identify His character and faithfulness as I watched Him consistently work out His plan.

The Bible is not a “one-and-done” kind of book. You can’t just read through it in a year and expect to gain all the wisdom and knowledge you need for life. The most important tip I can give you for effective, transforming Bible study is time and faithfulness. An investment of time- every day – in the Word of God brings huge dividends. Come on, Beloved, let’s dig in!

Hebrews: The Trouble With Sin

Here we are again at another difficult passage. That is, it’s difficult for us, but to God, it’s perfectly plain. We complicate it by looking for loopholes or playing Twister to make it say something less abrasive. Somebody’s not going to like this, but keep in mind, I didn’t say it. God did.

The writer of Hebrews delivers a strongly-worded warning: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (10:26-27). If this sounds familiar, then you were paying attention at 6:4-6.

When Moses presented the Law that would govern the Israelites’ lives, he differentiated between “unintentional sin” and “intentional sin” (or “willful sin”). “Unintentional sin”  is used in the Scriptures eighteen times – all declaring that God offers atonement for unintentional sin. In Numbers 15:22-29 alone you will find it six times. But hear vs. 30-31: “But anyone who sins defiantly . . . blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the Lord’s word and broke His commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.”

The writer of Hebrews calls this “deliberate sin.” It’s not that we stumbled into it,– but we deliberately went looking for it. It’s what Exodus 21:14 describes as “scheming” for sin. We could never tell God, “I didn’t mean to!” because we did.  There is no excuse – or sacrifice – for willful, defiant, intentional sin in a Christian’s life because “we have received the knowledge of the truth.” We know better, and in the words of Maya Angelou, “When you know better, you do better.” The writer echoes Moses’ words when he says there is “no sacrifice for [deliberate] sins.” All that is left is judgment and the fires of hell. That is a pretty clear indication that those who follow a pattern of deliberate sin are not saved. Redeemed people will not face judgment and destruction. But God’s enemies will.

As believers who have “had our hearts sprinkled [with the blood of Jesus] to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” (v. 22), the Bible doesn’t say you cannot sin. It says you won’t – at least not deliberately. And if you do . . . well, I think you get the point.

Believing is Seeing

One reason I love to write out Scripture is because it slows me down and forces me to notice every verse, every phrase, and every word. When I take it like that things jump out at me that I never noticed before. Take Joshua’s story, for example. In Joshua 6:1 we get the casual mention that: “Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.” Why is that so important? Because in the next verse, “The Lord said: “See I have delivered Jericho into your hands . . .” (v. 2). Yet Joshua stood on the outside of the city, shut out by a wall and heavy gates. He did not at that moment literally have possession of Jericho. What he had was a promise and a very strange battle plan. And faith. God said it was a done deal, even when it wasn’t actually done. But Joshua knew God well enough to believe that what God said was so. Not will be. Was.

I want Joshua-sized faith. I want to believe that whatever God says is as good as done. I want to march around the promises of God confident that they are mine – even while the wall is still standing and the gates are still locked. There are things that God has promised to me – things I’m still waiting to see.  I gotta be honest with you, sometimes my faith wavers. Your’s too? Well, I’m glad I’m not the only one. So how do we get Joshua faith when our hope is shakey? I go back to the Word of God and remember what He said. Here is one of those promises: “O Lord, truly I am your servant . . . the son of your maidservant; You have freed me from my chains” (Psalms 116:16). Not “will one day.” “Have.” I’m trusting God to accomplish what He has proclaimed.

If your God is the God of the Bible then you have Someone that can and will fulfill every promise He makes. When He speaks it, He sees the thing as done. You can too. You can believe Him. You can look at that wall and know it will fall and the promise on the other side is already yours. Beloved, you can take Him at His Word.

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.

What Do We Do About Sin?

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Because you trust me as a Bible teacher, I want to tell you that sin is not an issue in my life. I want to tell you that, but it would be a lie. Yes, I belong to Jesus, He has saved me and redeemed me and continues every day to transform me into His image. He has done such a work in my life where sin is concerned. But like every other human being, I was born with a sinful nature and sinful desires – perhaps different from the things that tug at you, but sin is a real and present danger for me just as it is for you.

How do we handle our bent towards sin? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Recognize sin for what it is and don’t make excuses or exceptions for it. (Psalm 51:3)
  2. Keep God’s Word close – in your hands, in your mind, and in your heart. (Psalm 119:11)
  3. Keep God closer. (James 4:7-8)
  4. Keep sin at a distance. Don’t put yourself in positions you know lead you into sin – whether places, events, movies, T.V. shows, websites, or even people. Take the way out. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  5. Repent when you do sin. (Acts 3:19).
  6. Pray. 

The prayer I find myself returning to again and again is: “Lord cause me to love you so much that sin has no appeal to me.” I came to that prayer while meditating on Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.” I realized that if God is my delight, then I will desire only Him and that is a desire He is more than willing to fulfill. And if God is the delight and desire of my heart, I will take no delight in sin and will instead be repulsed by it because I love God with all my heart. And if I love God with all my heart there is no room in my heart to love sin.

I know I have a very long way to go before that is the reality of my life. Sin still beckons to me.  But this is my prayer – and the desire of my heart. Beloved, will it be yours too?

Romans 8:28 – But Wait -There’s More!

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I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve turned to the Bible for encouragement and hope and help and wisdom. The Word of God is the only thing that can soothe my sometimes weary, broken heart. One verse I and many others turn to often is Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” When everything is falling apart around you, that’s a good, solid rock on which to stand.  God works in all things. Good things and bad things. Happy things and painful things. Exciting things and mundane things. There’s great comfort in that. But is that all this verse offers? No my friends, in the words of Billy Mays Hayes, “But wait! There’s more!”

I’m going to skip over the part about “those who love Him” – we’ll pick back up on that in a couple of days. I want us to zero in on the end of this verse: “who have been called according to His purpose.” For me, this is the most hopeful part of this verse because it tells me that my life and all its struggles are not a haphazard crazy quilt of circumstances. There is purpose in everything God does and allows, things that work toward the purpose for which He created and called me. Now there are many things I am called to: wife, mother, grandmother, employee, friend, student, Bible teacher, writer – and all of these are important. But they are not God’s purpose for me. That’s in the next verse.

“For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son . . .” (v. 29). God’s purpose for me – and for you – is to be like Jesus. It’s His purpose for all of His children. There are things we are called to do, but God is most concerned with what we are called to be. The power God exerts in my life is not about making me a good teacher or grandmother or any of the other roles in my life. It’s about making me His daughter. Who looks like His Son. Who looks like His Father. That what “all things” are working toward in my life. And yours too, Beloved.

When it seems like the sky is falling, know that God is perfecting you into the image of His Son. On purpose

What’s Your Favorite Verse?

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Quick! What’s your favorite Bible verse?  John 3:16? Philippians 4:13? The 23rd Psalm? Jeremiah 29:11? Psalm 37:4? Romans 8:28? I love all of those. Why is it your favorite? What does it mean? Do you understand what is God saying? Have you studied it deeply? Have you considered the surrounding context? What is the verse’s setting? Why did God/Jesus speak as He did? My favorite verse is . . . well, I just can’t narrow it down to one.

Many people claim Jeremiah 29:11 as their favorite – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” That is a great verse.  It is a staple at graduations, and rightly so. It shows that God has good plans for His people that they will prosper and always have hope for the future.  But do you know the context? Jeremiah was a prophet to the exiles in Babylon. After many, many years of idolatry and rebellion, God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to invade Jerusalem and take many people to Babylon to serve him and the nation. The Lord sent word through Jeremiah to the exiles and Jeremiah put it all down in a letter. This verse is one part of the whole letter which contained instruction, caution, and hope. In this letter, God took responsibility for their exile but reminded them that He was acting against their disobedience. In fact, half of the letter is rebuke and warning. But in chastisement, God offers this wonderful word of hope. To the weary, heartbroken exiles, God said, “I will bring you back . . .” (v. 14).

One of my favorite verses is part of this letter – “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.” (vv 14-15a) You and I are going to have seasons of pain and suffering and yes, discipline for our actions. Jeremiah 29:11 is God’s promise not to abandon us in our disobedience. It is His assurance of hope for a good future when we turn away from sin and seek Him with our whole hearts. And not just at graduation.

Godly People in an Ungodly World

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“Be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19). Turn on the television, open a newspaper, log onto the internet and you are face-to-face with evil. You don’t even have to look for it; it’s on roadside billboards, flashed in commercials, and reported daily in the news. Satan rules the world – for now. Yet believers are called to live godly lives in an ungodly world. How?

Jesus said, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). I love this verse and the two contrasting words. “Shrewd” means “wise, sensible” and comes from “thinking and understanding.” Simply put, we need to think, then make a wise determination. Let’s be honest – we can become mentally and spiritually lazy – accepting as truth whatever we are told. If you don’t believe me, spend a day on Facebook. We need to be discerning about everything our minds take in. Because we must live in this world, Jesus tells us to “think and come to a sensible conclusion.”

In contrast to being shrewd, Jesus commands us to be innocent which means pure, not mixed with evil. His command here is to not allow ourselves to be mixed up with the world’s philosophies and ideas; to not allow them to be poured into our minds and hearts. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel tried to compromise with the Lord and the world, believing that they could dabble in paganism as long as they continued to also follow the sacrificial Law of God. They “poured” paganism into with their worship of God Almighty, and in their dulled minds, believed they were still being obedient to the Lord. Despite what the bumper sticker claims, God’s people cannot “coexist” with ungodliness. It didn’t work for Israel and it won’t work for you and me.

We must let the Word of God be the determining factor in everything we do and say and think. The world will not tell you the truth. The Word will never tell you a lie. Beloved, be wise – consider everything through the lens of Scripture. It will never steer you wrong. Be innocent – keep your mind and heart pure from the world’s philosophies and attitudes. It might help to turn off the T.V., put down the newspaper, and log off of the internet. That’s how we live “in the world,” but not “of the world” (John 17:15-16).