Hebrews: Home

My husband, son, and I lived in Florida for almost twenty years. We had jobs, bought a house, became involved in a church, made very dear friends, and my son’s entire school life was in Florida. But – no offense to Floridians in the least – we never felt like we were home. I’m an Alabama girl. Red clay runs through my veins and cotton is my favorite flower. Home is where your heart is, and my heart is in Alabama. To quote that great bespectacled poet, John Denver, “Hey, it’s good to be back home again.”

The writer of Hebrews would understand. He said, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Heb 13:14). We’re looking for a home that will last. We won’t find it here in this world. Not even in Alabama. But that’s by God’s design because we weren’t made for this world. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). “Gentleman” Jim Reeves sang, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.” We are pilgrims here on our way to our heavenly home.

Jesus is at work today, preparing a home for all who will believe and trust in Him.  He made this promise in John 14:2-3: “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you, [and] I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  Jesus is fixing up your room in His Father’s house.  With just the right colors and furnishings, everything will be perfect for you when you arrive.  I hope he hangs His portrait on the wall.  But then again, we won’t need pictures, we will see Him face to face, in all of His glory.  Imagine, all of the great men and women of the Bible, the martyrs, missionaries, servants, those who preached to great audiences of people, and those who lovingly wiped feverish brows in the name of Jesus all together in the great halls of God’s house.  And oh, what wonderful reunions with those who made it home before us!  My mom, dad, and big brother will be there, and dear and precious friends that I miss so much.  We will all share in the joy of God’s house, for Jesus has been working all this time to make everything ready.  No wonder He “apprenticed” as a carpenter for thirty years here on earth. Is this your forever home? Do you know the Carpenter from Nazareth? What do you imagine your place will look like in heaven? Beloved, keep moving toward heaven. When you get Home you can take your boots off and rest. Forever.

Hebrews: Your Cheering Section

When I finally pulled the trigger on college I was blessed with a great support system. My husband was my #1 cheerleader and was so patient with the time I spent on my studies. My best friend covered me in prayer all the way through. But there was one particular friend who was the most helpful because she had just completed the same course of study at the same school. She was a Godsend, full of experience and wise counsel. I called her with a thousand questions and more than a few panic attacks. She knew what I was dealing with and how I could get through it. She shared her wisdom and kept me going when I wanted to quit. I am so grateful to you, Merideth Middleton.

That is the same spirit behind Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” For several weeks we have studied the “greats of the faith” – Enoch, Noah, Moses, Abraham, and even Rahab – a prostitute.  They are all part of the “great cloud of witnesses” who serve as encouragement and inspiration for us today.  Add to that list Peter, James, John, and Paul, plus the martyrs who stood in the face of torture and death and praised the Name above every name. It is indeed a “great cloud” of faithfulness.  They are models and examples to us and they are cheering you and me on in our Christian journey.  They paid the price for being a Christ-follower and they want us to know that it is worth it.

There is another in that great cloud who is particularly watching and encouraging us.  Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures tell us that Jesus is praying for us; He is asking His Father to give us faith that will not fail (Luke 22:31, Romans 8:34).  He is speaking to our hearts through His Spirit.  And when the battle is the hardest and we think we have been forgotten, He who sits at the right hand of the Father stands to bless and encourage us (Acts 7:55, 56).  You have all the saints of the ages cheering you on.  You have brothers and sisters in Christ to support and encourage you.  And you have the very Son of God praying for you. Keep running, Beloved, victory is ahead.

The Journey

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The Spirit brought a verse to my attention this morning. “Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord” (Micah 6:5b). He asked, “What’s so important about Shittim and Gilgal?” And the dig was on.

Shittim is where the Israelite men fell into sexual immorality and idolatry with the Moabite women who worshipped Baal, even bringing one of the women into the camp. This was a slap in God’s face and because of their sin, 24,000 Israelites died at Shittim (see Numbers 25).

Gilgal was the first city the Israelites came to after crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. It was here that the entire nation took a (painful) step of obedience to the Lord by circumcising all the males in the camp. This is where the Lord declared, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (Joshua 5:9). This was the place of a new life for Israel. Gilgal was also where the Israelites celebrated their first Passover in the Promised Land and where the manna they had eaten for forty days finally stopped.

Shittim represents the lowest point in Israel’s history when they were captivated by sin and idolatry. Gilgal represents the redemption of God when the Israelites finally submitted to the Lord and received His blessings. This verse is your story and mine. We all have a Shittim, a place in our lives where we were held in the grip of sin. But God’s grace is the way to Gilgal, the place of surrender and obedience and blessing. The place where we find the righteousness of God.

One other word jumps out at me: “journey.” It’s 276 kilometers (170 miles) from Shittim to Gilgal. It took the Israelites 40 years to make that trek. It is a journey from the place of sin to the place of righteousness. We’ve all walked it.  But we don’t walk it alone. From the day they walked out of Egypt to the day they walked on the dry ground of the Jordan, God was with them step-by-step. And He is with you and me.

Where are you on the journey from Shittim to Gilgal, Beloved? Take one more step. And another, and another. God is with you. The saints are cheering you on. You’re going to make it. You have God’s Word on it.

Heroes of the Faith

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The Bible gives us so many people to admire and try to emulate.  I have a few favorites:

God called me to ministry through Ezra.  A scribe and teacher whom God blessed and used powerfully, “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). He has inspired me to devote my life to study the Word, live the Word, and teach the Word.

I love Daniel because he stood firm for the Lord in the face of pressure and oppression.

I love Habakkuk who, despite having bare fields and empty stalls, chose to be “joyful in God my Savior” (Hab. 3:18). He speaks to my heart in this season.

Like many, I love Peter because his rash, impulsive nature means that God can use even a goof-ball like me.

Several women have touched my heart deeply:

I love Ruth for her sweet, humble manner with her bitter mother-in-law. Ruth loved Noami and was willing to work hard to care for her. Her life speaks volumes to me right now.

Dorcas is another one of my heroes, for obvious reasons – we share a name –  but also because Dorcas was a woman who “was full of good works which she did” (Acts 9:36). She inspires me to get up off of my intentions and put them into fruitful action.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, who received Gabriel’s astonishing message with a humble, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

Anna – the first to proclaim the coming of God’s redemption (Luke 2:36-18).

Mary of Bethany – who chose sitting at Jesus’ feet over duty (Luke 10:38-42) – then anointed His feet for burial (John 12:3).

Lydia – the first European convert to Christianity (Acts 16:13-15).

Priscilla – along with her husband Aquila, mentored the young preacher Apollos in the faith (Acts 18:24-26).

Phoebe – a fruitful servant alongside Paul, and a deacon in the early church (Rom. 16: 1-2).

And the woman I admire the most: Mary Magdalene who was the first to see the resurrected Jesus and the first evangelist who proclaimed that the Lord had risen from the dead. A woman who preached the resurrection.

They are all part of that “great cloud of witnesses” who are cheering me – and you – on to perseverance and faithfulness. Beloved, who are your heroes of the faith?

Cheering You On!

cheering

“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses . . .” (Hebrews 12:1)

Facebook can be a curse and a blessing.  I waste more time on FB than I really can afford to lose (I see you nodding your head in agreement).  One quick scroll can turn into 30 minutes of mind-numbing uselessness.  I love to see your precious babies and your memories and I welcome the laughter from the funny things you share.  I’ve been blessed to reconnect with long-lost relatives and friends plus, FB makes birthdays a blast!  But I really don’t have time for this!  Still Facebook, and other social media give me opportunities to reach out with the Word of God to encourage, inspire, and teach more people than I could fit in my living room or a class room at my church.  And the encouragement and inspiration I receive from you is balm to my weary heart.

Hebrews 11 lists what we consider the “greats of the faith” – Like Noah, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and even Rahab – a prostitute no less.  They are all part of the “great cloud of witnesses” who serve as encouragement and inspiration for us today.  Add to that list the apostles like Peter, James, John and Paul, plus those through the centuries who have died for the cause of Christ – men and women who stood in the face of torture and death and praised the Name above every name – and it is indeed a “great cloud” of faithfulness.  They are models and examples to us and they are cheering you and me on in our Christian journey.  They paid the price for being a Christ-follower and they want us to know that it is worth it.

There is another in that great cloud who is particularly watching and encouraging us.  Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures tell us that Jesus is praying for us; He is asking His Father to give us faith that will not fail (Luke 22:31, Romans 8:34).  He is speaking to our hearts through His Spirit.  And when the battle is the hardest and we think we have been forgotten, He who sits at the right hand of the Father, stands to bless and encourage us (Acts 7:55, 56).  Beloved, you have all the saints of the ages cheering you on.  You have brothers and sisters in Christ to support and encourage you.  And you have the very Son of God praying on your behalf.  With all that – how could you possibly fail?

Don’t Give Up!

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
Giving up is the easiest thing to do and the hardest thing to forget.
I’ve played “what if/if only” far too many times. You know that little game I’m sure. The one that runs an endless loop; “What if I had kept going? If only I had stuck it out. Oh why did I give up?” History is littered with men and women who decided that, for whatever reason, they were not up to the task or challenge before them. Do you remember any of their names? No? Neither do I. We remember the ones who stuck it out and stayed the course.
The Bible has a lot to say about not giving up; the two words that biblical writers used most frequently in their encouragement were persevere and endure. 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.” They are often used interchangeably, and you may recognize them from medical terminology. I believe these two words hold an important key for us, because they represent two vastly different mindsets. The difference is whether we will endure under or persevere over.
Let’s be honest – sometimes our circumstances seem to bury us – we’ve all felt buried under mounds of bills, or the heavy cloak of sorrow. We’ve all felt the weight of responsibilities that seem to crush the life out of us. The burden we bear at times is truly oppressive. Those are the times we endure our struggles by crying out to God and, follow Peter’s words to – “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (2 Pet. 4:7). We look to God for comfort that only He can give. We trust that He will carry us when the weight becomes “far beyond our ability to endure” (2 Cor. 1:8). Jesus understands the burdens we bear. We can trust Him to carry our suffering – and carry us through.
Then there are times when we must look at our difficulties from a different angle, not from under, but from above, and we must determine that we will persevere over our struggles. What situation or challenge has God placed before you? How will you approach it? What will keep you strong till the end? This is when we choose to persevere. Listen to what Scripture tells us we will gain when we persevere:
“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Hebrews 10:36)
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

The crown of life is the reward for persevering and overcoming our struggles and challenges. But wait! There’s more! Hear Jesus’ own words from Revelation 2:19: “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance…” What a testimony that will be when our Savior, our example for persevering, commends us!
How do we gain this ability to persevere? Hebrews 12:1 is the prescription for perseverance: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Who is your great cloud of witnesses? You and I have great witnesses in the men and women who have gone through struggles and trials and challenges – and persevered till they received their reward. Look to the saints of Scripture, those who believed enough to hang on to their faith and their God. My best friend finds great strength in the lives of the martyrs of the faith. Perhaps you can look back to a parent or grandparent who stood strong in the face of adversity and won the crown of life. You might even want to surround yourself with godly friends who will serve as a great cloud of encouragement for you.
What are you allowing to slow you down? In the earliest days of the Greek races, the runners would alter their clothing, or tuck their garments into a belt to keep from getting tangled up in the fabric around their legs. This is the picture the writer was projecting. Don’t allow anything to hinder your progress. Not sin, nor doubt, not fear and not the inevitable stumble. Shut out every voice but the ones that are cheering you on. Learn to listen for God’s voice, for He is surely your truest fan!
Run your race. God has not called me to run the same race He has laid out for you, and vice versa. Don’t look at the other runners and compare yourself, either good or bad. He will enable you to do what He has called you to do, not what He has called the runner in the next lane to.
Then consider, where is your focus? On yourself, your circumstances, or on God? Do you know that God is all-powerful? Do you trust in His love for you? Do you believe that He is sovereign and in control of your life? Are your eyes fixed on Jesus? Do you know how Jesus persevered as He suffered on the cross? By fixing His eyes “on the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2b). What was that joy? The vision of you and me, kneeling and casting before Him our crown of life.
The choice to persevere or give up is one you and I will face every day. Sometimes the consequences seem insignificant, but you will never know the joy of overcoming if you give in to fear and doubt. Let’s commit today to see this thing through, to go the distance, to run the race with our ears attuned to the Father and our eyes on Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Then you and I can kneel down together and cast our crown at the feet of Christ.
Holy, gracious Father, fill me with the power of Your Holy Spirit, the hope of eternity and Your joy to give me strength. I am committed to run the race, because You are committed to see me through. Amen.