Hebrews: And Now, a Word of Encouragement

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Parenting – and grandparenting – is not for the faint of heart or the weak of conviction. My granddaughter is 2 ½ now and is equal parts sweet and sour. She is struggling to learn how to listen and mind.  We often have to put her in “time out” because she ignores us when we tell her to stop or ask her to pick up her toys. I know it is all part and parcel of her age, but I’m pretty sure there is a familial stubborn streak there that is a mile wide and just as deep.  After a time-out session and after she has complied with my requests, I take her in my lap and thank her for (finally) minding me. I always tell her I love her and that she is still Nana’s sweet girl. I think it’s very important to follow discipline with affection and affirmation.

The writer of Hebrews followed a similar pattern. After a difficult discourse on not falling away from Christ he was careful to tell his readers, “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation” (Heb 6:9). “I know you are struggling, but I love you and know you will prove faithful.” Follow the hard words with encouragement. He added, “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (v. 10).  God was well aware of the genuineness of their faith, as evidenced by their faithful work and more so by their love toward Him and fellow believers.

He returned to the theme with which he started as a gentle reminder that endurance in the Christian life requires more than just good thoughts. “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure.  We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (vv. 11-12). Ah, there’s that word again – lazy. If you want to endure to the end, you cannot become lazy and apathetic. A lazy Christian is really an oxymoron. Jesus said, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). If, as Paul said, we are “being transformed into the likeness of His Son, (Rom 8:29), we will always be at work.  That work involves love, diligence, faith, and patience.  But it’s worth it because God has promised us “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Peter 1:4). That, Beloved, is worth hanging onto.

All or Nothing

Reading in Luke 14:25-35 where Jesus talked about the cost of being His disciple. It’s much higher than we imagine. He said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (v. 33). The cost of following Jesus is everything you have and everything you are. It’s every minute of my time. It’s every dollar you have. It’s every thought in my mind and every desire of your heart. It’s my hopes and dreams and it’s your will. It’s my physical body, my abilities, and it’s your identity. “That leaves nothing for me!” you may say. That’s exactly the point.

Jesus said that there is no such thing as half-hearted disciples. You are either all in or you are all out. He said that a builder will determine the cost of a project and whether he can make that investment before he jumps in. A king will determine the strength of his army before engaging in battle. He said you and I are to consider whether we are willing to give up our lives and our very selves to follow Him – and if we are not, then we cannot be His disciple.

We have confused church membership with discipleship. They are not the same. This may be news to some but, church membership doesn’t get you into heaven. The church rolls are not the Lamb’s Book of Life. And this may shock you, but praying “The Sinner’s Prayer,” isn’t the ticket to heaven. Parroting words will not get you eternal life. Wholehearted surrender to the risen Lord – the Son of God is the only thing that will. Jesus said discipleship – the kind that is all-in, all the time, all the way to your last breath – is the mark of a heaven-bound saint.

Is it enough to show up on Sunday, pay your “dues,” sing, stay awake for the sermon and pat the preacher on the back on your way out the door? Not to Jesus. He demands more of His disciples than that. The modern church of lite and comfort is in for a rude awakening. It’s time to decide, Beloved. Are you willing to abandon all you have and all you are to be a disciple of Jesus? Have you counted the cost and deemed Him worthy?

Heaven Awaits

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We had a problem with our copier at work this week and I needed to get the manual out of the little cubby space at the very bottom of the copier cabinet.  I asked my young co-worker for help and she got down on her knees and reached way back in the back and retrieved the manual. I am sixty years old. Things on my body hurt that never hurt before. My energy drains much quicker than it use to and I don’t have the strength to muscle things around anymore. And getting down on my knees on a hard floor is an impossibility. It would require a crane to get me back up again.  I’m trying to be wiser in the things I ask my body – and my brain to do these days.  I know medical science says that brains cells do not die as we naturally age – but I disagree. At least, if they’re not dying they must be getting tired, like the rest of me.  That’s why I am more discerning about what I put in them.  

I just want to know about the things of God. I want to know what He thinks and what He is doing. I want to know His ways and His purposes. I want to know Him. Because He is eternal. I want to fill my mind with His truth and His words because they will last long after The New York Post has ceased publication. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).  And the more I read and study the Bible the more convinced I am that all of life is really about eternity. And you and I need to know eternal things. What will it benefit us to know all about this singer or that actor or the dirty details of our politicians when we stand before God?

What you put in your mind affects your behavior, your words, your actions, your mood, your relationships, and your sense of peace and security.  It determines whether you live with faith or angst. The Bible is a book of wisdom and truth and hope because it is the Living Word of the Living God. It is as eternal as God Himself. Beloved, why would you want to fill your mind with the trivial matters of this world when heaven awaits?

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.

Hebrews: Jesus is Enough

I have great respect and appreciation for my pastor. He preaches the Word of God without compromise. He serves his church wholeheartedly. He has been a blessing to my family in times of need. He encourages me and cares about me. But he can’t save me. He can’t take on my sin and declare me righteous. He can’t bear my burdens and weaknesses. He can be my pastor, but he can’t be my high priest. But Jesus can. 

The author of Hebrews said, “we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God . . .” (4:14). That probably doesn’t mean much to us as twenty-first century Protestants, but context is important. The Jewish people, like all people, were a sinful bunch. God made provision for them through the high priest, who, once a year, entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple, the place where God dwelled and presented a sacrifice for the atonement for them. This was repeated every year because, as we’ll see later, the blood of animals was a temporary solution to an eternal problem.

Jesus is our “great high priest” who didn’t just enter the earthly dwelling place of God, but He went right into heaven, into God’s very presence to present Himself as our sacrifice of atonement. Once. But once was enough. He alone could do that for us because He is the Son of God. Remember that the original readers were Jews who depended on the yearly sacrifice and atonement. They needed to hold firmly to their confidence that what Jesus did for them once was enough to make them righteous – and keep them righteous before God.

What does that mean for you and me? The same thing. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, which He presented personally to His Father, we are righteous. We have to hold firmly to that as our defining truth. Not just in an ethereal way, but in practical ways every day. When we face choices we remember that we have been declared righteous, and we choose accordingly. When the flesh craves something ungodly, we remember that we have been declared righteous and we deny our flesh. When we would react out of anger or fear or discouragement we remember that we have been declared righteous and we respond as a child of God – with peace and trust and hope. Jesus did it all for you, Beloved. Now hold firmly to Him. He is enough.

This is The Way

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Ask a group of kids, “Who’s your hero?” and you’ll get as many different answers as you have kids. “Batman.” “Tim Tebow.” “My Dad.” “The police.” I have many heroes, some from the Bible – like Deborah, Ezra, and Stephen,  some from history – Perpetua, Corrie Ten Boom, and Elisabeth Elliott, and some from my own life – my mom, my high-school writing teacher, and Mike Shockley. Then there is Roger Easton, Ivan Getting, Bradford Parkinson, and Dr. Gladys West. Who are these heroes of mine? The creative minds behind the  Global Positioning System. Oh, how I thank God for my GPS.

I am directionally challenged. My mom used to say that you could take me to the backyard, spin me around twice, and I couldn’t find my way back to the house. My husband would agree. His favorite thing to do is take me on unfamiliar roads and ask – “Do you know where you are?” And I never do. I depend on my GPS like a drowning man depends on a life preserver.  No matter where I am, I can punch in where I need to go and this magical device not only shows me the way but tells me what lane to get in and says, “Turn left.” Thank you, Roger, Ivan, Bradford, and Gladys!

Yet there is One who goes even farther to help this lost child. Jesus said, “I am the Way . . .” (John 14:6). He didn’t say I will give you a map so you can find the way. He didn’t say I will point to the way. He didn’t even say I will make a way.

He said, “I AM the Way . . .”

He is the way to the Father.

He is the way to everlasting life.

He is the way to peace.

He is the way to hope.

He is the way to Joy.

He is the way to love.

He is the way to God’s promises.

He is the way to everything that truly matters.

As much as I love my GPS, it can never get me to heaven. But Jesus can. He not only gets me to my destination, He takes me into the throne room of His Father and says, “Abba, Your daughter is home.” I am never lost with Jesus. He is my eternal GPS – God Positioning System.

Hebrews: No Sting in Death

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My mom passed away 34 years ago at the very young age of 57. In her last months, I was able to spend almost every day with her.  We talked about so much – sewing projects and her flower garden and recipes and memories. We talked about my friend who was expecting a baby. But we didn’t talk about heaven or Jesus or eternal life.  There’s no doubt in my mind and heart that my mom was saved and I believe I will see her – and my brother – in heaven someday. But she tried to keep our conversations light and I didn’t have the courage or knowledge to broach deeper subjects with her. After she died, I cleaned out her room – my last act of service from a daughter to her mother, I found a poem she wrote. The only line I remember is: “I looked into the darkness and no tomorrow could I see. . .” There was so much sadness in those words. She knew where she was going, but she also knew what she was leaving behind.

The author of Hebrews highlighted yet another reason why the Father would send His Son to earth to take on human flesh: “ . . . so that He might . . . free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15).  Who it is that fears death? The one who believes that life ends. The one who believes that there is nothing beyond this life. But for the believer, life doesn’t truly end. We simply change addresses – an earthly zip code for a heavenly one. 2 Corinthians 5:8 says “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (KJV).” And in the presence of the Lord is eternal life.  Jesus declared, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Paul asked, “Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).  It has lost its prick in the promise of eternal life. Even though my Mom didn’t want to leave her loved ones, she was not afraid to die. There was sadness in her poem, but the sting of death was gone. She may not have had another earthly tomorrow, but she has an eternity full of them.

Where Did Jesus Go?

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One of Joy’s favorite games is “Where’d it go?” She’ll cover her toes with a blanket and put her hands up in an “I-don’t-know” gesture and say “Where toes go?” She does the same with pictures in a book, or a stuffed animal, or a bean under the edge of her plate. We’ll look around until she reveals the hidden thing then laughs with glee at my surprised face.

Do you suppose God was playing Joy’s game with the devil that Sunday morning: “Where did Jesus go?” He’s not on the cross. He’s not in the tomb. And then the great reveal – “He is not here; He has risen!” (Matthew 28:6). I wonder if He laughed like she does when He saw the shocked and terrified look on satan’s face. He knew the resurrection of Jesus spelled his doom.

It’s Easter Sunday around the world and the Church will gather to celebrate the risen Son of God. Teachers and preachers will tell “the old, old story” of the empty tomb.  Oh, but it’s more than a story and much more than a game. It’s the single most important event since creation that changed everything. The whole world was dark, but the darkness gave way to the Light. Mankind had no hope until Hope walked out of that tomb. Satan saw his plans crumble like dust.

That’s awesome on a cosmic scale, but what does Easter Sunday mean for you? It means eternal life if you have put your faith in Jesus. It means that you have a place in heaven for all eternity. It means no more sickness (no more COVID and no more facemasks!), no more sorrow, no more evil, and no more death. It means being with loved ones who have departed this life. It means you will see your Savior face-to-face in all of His glory and worship Him forever and ever.

“Where did Jesus go?” From heaven to earth to the cross to the tomb to life again. I guess it’s true: You can’t keep a good man down.

Lost Sheep, Lost Coins, Lost Sons

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I was up into the late-night hours last night working on a paper for my grad class. When I hit submit I thought, “I doubt it’s an “A” paper, but it’s a paper.”  I was studying the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-32 Jesus’ story of a father and his two sons. The younger son asked his father for his share of the inheritance of his father’s estate. He took that money and blew it on “wild living” (13) then found himself starving and in the humiliating position of feeding pigs.  He decided to go home and ask to just be a hired hand for his father. “But,” Jesus said, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him” (20). Before the boy could get his repentant speech out, the father had called for the best robe, ring, and sandals for his son. This, he declared was cause for a celebration, so a feast was prepared in the young man’s honor.

If this parable stood alone in the Scriptures the church will still have a wonderful story expressing the heart of God the Father to welcome repentant sinners back into a full relationship. But Jesus added a couple of other stories that broaden the picture.

Jump back to the beginning of chapter 15 – there are the parables of the lost sheep (3-7) and the lost coin (8-10), where a shepherd and a woman search diligently until their lost things are found. Then in both cases, the seekers rejoice and call for a celebration. Jesus ended both parables by stating that heaven also rejoices when one sinner repents.

The point of all three parables is that God the Father values the lost and it delights His heart when they are found. That’s why Jesus came “to seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Beloved, are you lost today? Not geographically, but spiritually – separated from God. The heavenly Father sent His own Son to seek you from the high vantage point of the cross and bring you back. Do you love someone who is lost? Keep praying dear friend, God is actively searching for them, scanning the horizon to bring them home to Himself. God loves and values lost souls. Like you.

Higher Love

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Some of you (at least from my generation) may remember the 1980’s song “Higher Love.”

Think about it, there must be higher love

Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above

Without it, life is wasted time

Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine

Bring me a higher love

Bring me a higher love, oh

Bring me a higher love

Where’s that higher love, I keep thinking of?

In 1986 when this song was released, I wasn’t walking with Christ. I enjoyed the catchy tune – but I didn’t even think about the lyrics. Now, as a Christ-follower, I hear these words and understand a little better the love of God through them.  

I doubt that Steve Winwood realized he was singing about the love of God. But “think about it,” God’s love comes from a place even higher than “the stars above.” It comes from heaven. “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Without God’s love life is wasted time. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). Life is wasted without God. Winwood’s song is the cry of every human heart: “Bring me a higher love.” Solomon said, “What a man desires is unfailing love” (Proverbs 19:22). God set the standard for love, and His love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8)

Yes, Beloved, there is a Higher Love. But it’s not found in your heart or mine. It’s found in the great heart of God who answered our cries from the cross of Jesus Christ. There is no higher love than that.