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.

Tell Them About Jesus

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Paul covered over ten thousand miles on his missionary journeys and spoke about Jesus all along the way. One significant place Paul visited was Athens, Greece. What he discovered there could be said about almost any city in the world today.  He found much curiosity about religion, but no commitment to God. The city was full of idols and temples of worship to pagan gods. All of them. To make sure they didn’t miss any of them they had created an altar with the inscription: “To An Unknown God” (Acts 17:23). Luke said Paul was “greatly distressed” (v. 16) and rightly so because satan had established a powerful stronghold in Athens and people were being seduced away from God. Satan’s hold on the world should distress God’s people. We should love people so much that we hate everything that keeps them from God.

The church today has taken a “live and let live” attitude towards the world. “If they don’t want to believe in God, it’s their life. Let them do whatever they want.” Does that sound like the heart of a God who would send His Son to die for lost souls? Charles Spurgeon said, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”

Paul said, “We are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). The church – that’s you and me – has been called to care about the lost world. No, we can’t save them, but we can share the gospel and pray for them to be saved.

I love serving the Body of Christ but I confess I haven’t been faithful to this ambassadorship. It’s not that I don’t care, but I get caught up in my own life and my own issues, and – honest statement here – I don’t have the sense of urgency that should compel me.  I think that’s true for most of us. So I’m praying for a heart to share Christ with lost souls. Because I once was one, and somebody cared enough about me to tell me about Jesus. Beloved, let’s pass that legacy on.

God Knows Your Heart

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My friend had been trying for 20 minutes to explain why she kept doing something she knew was a sin. She honestly wanted to put this thing behind her, but she kept going back to it like a drug. We’d had this discussion many times over the years.  She stayed in this continuous cycle of sin and defeat. “I guess I’m just weak,” she sighed. “In my heart, I want to do better, isn’t that good enough?” “After all,” she said with a shrug, “God knows my heart.”
I threw out one of those breath-prayers, took her by the hand, and said, “Yes sweet friend, God knows your heart – that’s why He sent you a Savior.”
God does know our hearts. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15). God knows that in its natural state “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). He knows that our hearts are very human and prone to mislead us by our own desires (James 1:14). It’s why we struggle to break away from sins that we cherish (Psalm 66:18).  It’s why the devil has such a grip on the world – because sin, at its core, is not so much a matter of what you and I do but what our hearts desire. Our actions will always follow our hearts. And there’s only room in our hearts for one. If our hearts desire what the world offers, we will not desire God.

But there is hope for the human heart. He is the divine Savior, Jesus. He knows your heart and mine and He came to redeem our hearts through His death on the cross. Covered by the blood of the Son of God our hard, stone hearts can become living flesh again (Ezekiel 36:26).

Beloved, God knows your heart – does your heart know Him?

Not Guilty!

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How foolish would it be for a pardoned prisoner to chose to stay in his jail cell? The warden would tell him, “The judge has pardoned you. You can walk out and go on with your life. You’re free!” His family would implore him, “You don’t have to stay here anymore. Please come home!”

How foolish are we when we have been forgiven by Jesus Christ yet continue to sit in the guilt and shame of our past? We’re like ex-prisoners who refuse to accept release. Perhaps it seems more pious to continue to mourn our sin, but in truth, it is implying that Christ’s work on the cross is insufficient. What sin have you committed that is greater than the blood of Jesus? What failure exceeds the power of God to forgive and restore? Are you listening to the enemy read off your list of pardoned crimes – or will you listen instead to the sweet voice of Jesus say “Forgiven!”? Charles Spurgeon says, “We stand in the sight of God accepted, as though we had never been guilty.” Paul said, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). If you have repented of your sins and received Jesus as your Savior, you are no longer guilty. That abortion? Not guilty! That affair? Not guilty! That time you stole something? Not guilty! That season of addiction? Not guilty! Whatever that thing is that weighs you down with shame – in Christ Jesus you are declared by God “Not guilty!” That ought to be good news to you and me. Beloved, take off that orange jumpsuit and put on the snow-white robe of the redeemed. It is time to come out of the prison of guilt and shame and get on with your new life in Christ.

Why Are You Here?

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What is it you’re here for? What is God’s good plan for your life? I’ve asked myself that many times and my answer changes over the years and seasons. To be a teacher? A writer? A scholar? A grandmother? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. But something inside me always believed there was something more. Oh, a speaker? A published author? Is that even enough?

One of the great scholars of the Renaissance, Erasmus, told a mythical tale about Jesus’ return to heaven after His time on earth. The angels gathered around Him as Jesus told them of His miracles, His teaching, and then of His death and resurrection.

When He finished, Michael the archangel asked, “But Lord, what happens now?”

Jesus answered, “I have left behind eleven faithful men who will declare my message and express my love. These faithful men will establish and build my church.”

“But,” responded Michael, “what if these men fail? What then?”

And Jesus answered, “I have no other plan.”

This may be a mythical story, but the concept is true – the church – that is you and I – is Jesus’ sole strategy to bring the Plan of the Ages to the world. We are Jesus’ plan A – and He doesn’t have a plan B. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). We have an urgent mission – a Great Commission – to tell His story, bring those who receive Him to the waters of baptism, teach them to walk in obedience to His Word, and train them to be the next generation of Great Commission followers.

Beloved, this morning, when you look at your reflection in the mirror remind yourself: “I’m it.” Then go fulfill your mission.

Good News!

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The truth is I am a sinful woman. I can’t deny it, and I can’t change it. It is my nature – my very human nature. If you don’t believe me, look at the evidence. My life is riddled with sin.

I identify so much with Paul’s statement: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). I would beg to differ with him about who is the worst, but that’s not the point of this verse. The point – the glorious truth that overcomes my sin is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . .” If my family were not still asleep at this early hour, I would be shouting!  I was lost in my sin, condemned to death and hell, and Christ Jesus came to rescue me! What grace! What mercy! What love!

You are also a sinner. You can’t deny it and you can’t change it. It is your very human nature and the evidence is all over your life. And you know it, don’t you? You might even think you could challenge me and Paul for the title of “worst sinner.” Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners — to save you. That’s good news!

Jesus is the Son of God – the same God who created the whole universe, He left the perfection of heaven to die for sinners.  Sinners like you and me. He lived a perfect life, without a single sin. He was falsely accused, beaten, and was crucified on a cross – not for anything he had done, but for every sin you and I ever committed. He paid the price that we owed for our sinful human nature – a price we could never pay. He wants you to be saved.  He wants you to claim His free gift of mercy and grace. He wants you to receive His love.  He has done everything for you – all you have to do is believe and say “Yes, I receive your gift.”

Beloved, whom do you know that needs to hear the gospel: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. You could be God’s instrument of grace in their lives today. Will you share the Good News?

Forgiving Myself

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“Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven” (Luke 7:47).

She is the town tramp with a well-earned, shameful reputation.  Women whisper about her when she walks past and pull their children close lest her degenerate nature somehow infect them.  Men look at her with disdain – on the outside at least – and lust for her on the inside.  No self-respecting religious authority would publicly be seen near her.  Yet here she is kneeling at the feet of Jesus, weeping tears onto His dusty feet, tenderly drying them with her hair and anointing them with expensive perfume – no doubt funded by her illicit acts.  She is a sinful woman.  And Jesus loves her.  He who alone has the authority to judge her, instead forgives her.  The sin she carried into the house is left in a heap at those perfumed feet and she walks out forgiven.  I cannot image that she spent the rest of her life wrapped in a shawl of shame grieving her past.  So why do we?

Through many years of serving in women’s ministry, the most oft-repeated statement I hear is: “I just can’t forgive myself.”  What if I told you forgiveness is not up to you?  Sweet friend, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, your past – regardless of how ugly it is – is covered by the all-sufficient, all-powerful, perfectly-cleansing blood of Jesus.  Hear what the Lord says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12).  If God doesn’t remember your sins, why do you need to?  They are gone. Done. Washed away.  If you continue to carry the weight of your sins around, you are saying that Jesus is not a sufficient Savior and that God is a liar.  He has declared you forgiven through the blood of Jesus – why would He say it if it were not so?  Why would you continue to hold onto something that is no longer there?

Here’s the bottom line Beloved.  God has already forgiven you through Jesus’ sacrifice.  There is nothing left for you to forgive.  Leave your shame at the foot of the cross and claim the new life you have been given.

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:1.

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

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There is a game I play when I need to give my brain a break from theology. It’s a “bubble-popping” game where I shoot colored balls at colored bubbles to free the little birds trapped within. It’s a mindless distraction that gives my brain a rest. I was playing the game last night and I was on a roll – popping bubbles all over the screen. There were strings of balls that would give me a lot of points. Then I saw him. The last little trapped bird – and one hit would set him free. I remembered that the point of the game was to free the birds, not take out all the bubbles. I took my shot, setting the little guy free.
There are many, many things we espouse in the church that are very important to the faith and should be passed on to every generation. We must teach (and model) holiness, righteousness, faithfulness, goodness, generosity, compassion, and obedience. These are the support structures of the Christian life. But there is only one foundation – one central truth above all else that we need to keep front and center: the Gospel. Paul said, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Did you catch that: “first importance.” It’s the one message the world needs most to hear. Without the Gospel we’re trying to change mankind without letting Jesus save mankind.
Every other message is secondary to this one great truth: “God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That’s the message. That’s the mission. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing.

Left Out in the Rain

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Twice this week, I’ve been stuck outside in the rain. Sunday morning was my turn to pray during the worship service. Not wanting to be disruptive, I exited the building and walked around to the door nearest the prayer room only to find it locked. I knew the sanctuary doors were also locked. I had no way in. I tried to knock on the door to alert my prayer partner, but she couldn’t hear me. Then the sky let loose a torrent of rain. Thankfully, the awning kept me out of the deluge. When the rain slowed a bit, I walked around and happened upon one of the deacons who – glory be – had keys. I slid in for the last few minutes of prayer.

Yesterday, during a heavy storm at my office, our building took a lightning hit that set off the fire alarm. Which is VERY loud. I quickly called the maintenance supervisor and stepped out onto the patio entrance. There was just enough roof overhang to give me shelter from the downpour until the alarm could be silenced.

Jesus told a parable about five wise virgins and five foolish virgins who were all waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. The wise virgins had filled their lamps and prepared extra oil. The foolish virgins had only what was in their lamps. As they waited all the virgins fell asleep, with all their lamps burning. When the bridegroom finally arrived, the wise virgins refilled their lamps and headed out to the celebration. The foolish virgins had to leave in search of more oil. By the time they arrived at the wedding site, the doors were locked, and they were denied entrance. (Matthew 25:1-13) I had a better understanding of that parable this week.

Jesus is coming back to gather His people – those who are ready through faith in Him as their Savior – and bring them to His wedding feast in heaven. For those who do not know Him there will be no last second scramble for salvation. Nor will they be able to “borrow” from the redeemed. If you do not have a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ, you will be shut out. But you don’t have to be. The Gospel is this: Jesus is the Son of God. He came to earth, lived a perfect life, died an undeserved death to pay for your sins and mine. He was buried and after three days, was restored to life. He now sits in heaven, awaiting His Father’s command to return and gather every person who believed on Him for eternal life.

Beloved, I pray that includes you.

Don’t Drift Away from God

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Words fascinate me. The Holy Spirit knows this about me and so often when I am reading my Bible, He will draw my attention to a word and ask me, “What does that mean?” – and I am off on one of my favorite digs. Yesterday I was reading in Hebrews 2 and He did it again in the very first verse: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” The phrase “drift away” became my holy grail. This is one word in the Greek: pararreo – and it means to glide by, to be carried away, and you would use it to say something “slipped my mind.”. We’ve all missed appointments because they slipped our minds. That’s why we jot them down on our calendars or put a reminder in our phone. Likewise, the writer was saying, don’t let the message of the gospel slip from your mind. That’s easy to do when life is hard, when tragedy strikes, when you’re weary, when the whole world is caught in a pandemic. It’s easy to forget about the hope we have in Christ. But this dig continues.

This morning the Spirit highlighted another phrase for me: “careful attention.” These two words perissoteros and prosecho mean in great abundance, above all else and to hold or possess. Simply put, this means above every voice and every worldview, take hold of this gospel and let everything else go. That’s the key to not drifting away.

The message of the first chapter was that Jesus is the Son of God – He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:3). In a world that says there is no God, or that God is whatever you want him to be, we need to get a firm and secure grip on the truth. In a world that is full of evil and darkness, where death runs rampant and people are scared out of their wits, we need to wave the banner of the gospel and the hope of salvation and eternal life.

Beloved, what are you paying careful attention to? The news? Facebook? The opinions of others? These will cause fear, confusion, and doubt. They will cause you to drift away. Let them go. Pay attention to the truth: Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save you and give you eternal life and hope for today. Hold on to that and never let go.