Hebrews: Passing on the Blessing

A father’s role is different with every culture and every era. Dads today are more involved with the care and nurturing of their children than they were even in my generation. My Dad was the provider first and he taught my brother about working on vehicles. But the emotional care of my brothers and me was largely left to my Mom. He wasn’t really a disciplinarian either. He usually forgot that he had grounded me after a couple of days. But if Mom grounded me for a week it stuck to the minute. 

Still, some things haven’t changed. Fathers in the days of the patriarchs were also providers, then teachers especially of religion and the family trade. First-century fathers had one other very important role in their family – passing on the blessing. In Hebrews 11:20-21 we see Isaac and Jacob doing just that. “By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” That’s pretty cut-and-dried without any of the drama that surrounded them.

Isaac and Jacob were passing on the promise of God that had been first given to Abraham for a land of their own – Canaan. The author of Hebrews said those blessings were given “by faith” because the land that had been promised was not yet in their possession. Abraham believed God would be faithful to the promise and he passed that confidence and faith to his son and grandson. But it would be many more generations before they would take possession of the Promised Land.

But the promise and the blessing were about more than the land. The “everlasting covenant” the Lord made with Abraham was “to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Gen 17:7). For a season the Jewish people lost possession of the land. From the fall of Babylon in 586 bc until May 14, 1948, Israel was under foreign rule. But she was never without God. Nor are you. In their seasons of disobedience and rebellion, God disciplined them, but He also kept a loving eye on them and brought them back to the land – and to Himself. I find a lot of hope in that. You can too. Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). He meant it Beloved. Every word.

Hebrews: By faith Abraham . . .

“Abraham! Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love . . . and sacrifice him as a burnt offering . . . (Genesis 22:1-2).

As I meditate on Hebrews 11:17-19 (grab your Bible and read it) two questions come to mind: Why would God make such a horrific demand of Abraham and why would Abraham obey it? As I pondered those questions, two points emerge about Abraham and Isaac’s story.

To the first question, the author says that “God tested [Abraham],” (v. 17) and, as He often does, the Spirit whispered in my heart: “what does that mean?” The word “tested” actually has two meanings: to temp or to examine. How can you know which is happening? The difference is in the tester’s purpose: the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and sin; God tests that He might determine and sharpen true character, with no desire of making the believer fail. God was examining Abraham’s willingness to obey Him, even in the most difficult requests.  Sometimes it’s difficult to understand who’s behind the test, but the way through is always the same. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart firmly planted in the Word. In either case, you will emerge with deeper roots of faith and a testimony of God’s power and goodness.

As to Abraham’s part, I never understood how he could willingly sacrifice his son until I studied his story alongside this Hebrews passage and Romans 4:18 – 20: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.”  Did you catch it? Abraham believed the promise because of Who made it. He fully expected that God would still build a nation through Isaac and that meant Isaac would have to live. In his reasoning, he expected God to raise Isaac from the dead after the deed was done. But God stayed his hand at the last moment and provided a replacement sacrifice instead. The point is that Abraham’s faith was not in the promise – it was in the Promise-maker. And so must ours be.

Those are two solid truths you can build your life upon. God will never test you to make you fail and He will never make a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. Abraham is known for his great faith. Beloved, are you? Am I?

You Asked for it – You Got it!

As I was reading the book of Amos an old commercial from the 70s came to mind.  You might remember the jingle: “You asked for it, you got it. Toyota!” Amos was a prophet to Israel just before the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians. God sent him with a message of warning and destruction because Israel had rejected Him. But they told Amos, “Do not prophesy against Israel and stop preaching against the house of Isaac” (7:16). In other words, stop giving us God’s Word.

Well, they asked for it and they got it. The Lord said he was sending a famine – “not of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (8:11). That chills my heart. I do not think I could survive without God’s Word. But the present culture is making the same demands. “Don’t tell us what that antiquated fairy-tale book says! It has no authority over us. It is intolerant, racist, and sexist.” Isn’t it strange that the generation that shouts for “tolerance” is intolerant of the truth?

But let’s flip this. What would our world be like – what would our churches and homes and hearts be like if we sought the Word of God? If we store it up in our hearts (Ps 119:11), rejoice in it (v. 14), and meditate on it (v. 15), What if we delight in and never neglect it (v. 16)? What if we choose the way of truth and set our hearts on the Scriptures (v. 30)? What if we obey it with all our hearts (v. 34)? How might it change us if we love the Word of God (v. 47)? What if we put our hope in God’s Word (v. 81) and let it light our way (v. 105)? What if we stand in awe of the Holy Scriptures (v. 120)? What if we faithfully walk in God’s Word (v. 133)?

My goal as a Bible teacher is to teach myself out of a job. It is to help you see the wonder and beauty and truth in the Scriptures and fall in love with the Bible all on your own. Do you want that kind of passion for God’s Word? Ask Him for it, Beloved. And you’ll get it.

Hebrews: Broken Promises?

I’ve wrestled with a lot of Scripture in my lifetime. Some have been difficult to understand. Some have been hard to submit to. Some say things that just grate on my nerves. But the passage we’re looking at today has been one of the most challenging. The writer of Hebrews said, “All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance” (Heb 11:13). “But,” you wonder, “I thought you said that the foundation of faith is the faithfulness of God.” I did, I still do, and I always will.

So what are we supposed to do with this seeming contradiction? God is faithful, but these people didn’t receive what they were promised. There are things that I am convinced God has promised to me. Salvation for a lost loved one. A future as a real writer. From my current vantage point, neither seems likely, much less possible. What do I do? I wait. And I hope. How do I keep my hopes up in the waiting? By looking beyond what I can see and looking ahead to what I cannot see.

Abraham was promised a nation of descendants that outnumbered the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the beach. He died with eight sons (Ishmael, Isaac, and the sons Keturah bore to him – see Genesis 25:1-4) – and only one of those was the “promised son.” Not exactly a nation. He was promised land on which his family could settle. Abraham died in a tent owning nothing more than the plot where his wife was buried. Doesn’t sound like God kept His promises, does it?

One reason I struggle with this is because of the western perspective of individuality. In Abraham’s world, the deceased lived on in his descendants. Promises made were not limited to fulfillment in the individual’s life. It would be the sons of the sons of the son of the son of Abraham who would become a nation. It would be many more generations after that before they would take possession of the Promised Land. Abraham didn’t see it happen, but he believed with all of his heart that it would. That’s the kind of faith God can build on. Beloved, is that the kind of faith you have?

Hebrews: Believe God

I was 31 years old when my son was born. I was considered “high-risk” because of my age. It’s not so uncommon now, but thirty years ago it was a cause for concern, for good reason.  He and I both faced several serious health issues before we brought our baby boy home. Old people shouldn’t be having babies. Abraham knew all about that.

Hebrews 11:12 said that “. . .from this one man, and he as good as dead came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” Abraham was seventy-five and childless when God declared that he would become “a great nation” (Gen 12:2,4). Twenty-five years later Sarah bore Abraham, at a hundred years of age, a son. One son. But that one child was enough for God’s promise to be fulfilled. Fast forward several hundred years and Abraham’s descendants were making their escape from Egypt. The Bible says “There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Ex. 12:37). Scholars figure more than two million people made that journey. From one son. From an old man and woman who were “as good as dead.”

In those twenty-five years between the promise given and the promise fulfilled, Abraham had a choice: believe God or give up. He did stumble in his faith when he agreed to Sarah’s plan of surrogacy, but ultimately, “[Abraham] did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:20-21).

As I meditated on that verse just now the Spirit brought another to mind: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38). The word “convinced” is almost identical to the phrase “fully persuaded.”

You and I need something constant upon which we can build our lives. Abraham was persuaded that God is able and faithful to fulfill His promise. Paul was convinced of the unfailing love of God. Beloved, are you?

More Joy

Just in case you somehow missed it, I have a precious granddaughter named Joy. As I read my Bible I mark every time I find “Joy” in the Scriptures. After three years, there are a lot of pink hearts in my Bible. One day she will inherit my Bible with all the notes and pink hearts of Joy. This morning I was reading Psalm 21 and I found two more. I said aloud, “I thought by now I had found them all.” According to Bible Gateway, there are 242 verses with the word “Joy” (in the NIV). That doesn’t count all the “rejoice” references, which have their root in Joy. That’s a lot of Joy. Because Joy has its foundation in God who is our constant source of Joy. The Bible is God’s Word so it’s no wonder that it is full of Joy.

Habakkuk laments the hard season Judah was enduring just before Jerusalem fell to Babylon when the fields failed to produce and the livestock were all gone. He said, “Yet (there’s a whole message in that one word) I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be Joyful in God my Savior” (3:18). When God’s people look to him in hard times there is more Joy.

After they returned from captivity and rebuilt the city wall, Ezra, the scribe, stood for days reading “the Book of the Law of Moses” to the people (Nehemiah chapter 8 ). After Ezra finished reading, they were deeply grieved at how far they had fallen from the Lord. Nehemiah told them, “The Joy of the Lord is your strength” (v. 10). The people had a great celebration and “their Joy was very great” (v. 17 – that’s another one I had missed). When God’s people live in faithful relationship with Him, there will always be more Joy.

Joy (and rejoicing) is scattered throughout the Bible in almost every book from Genesis to Revelation. If you are looking for it, you will surely find it. And even if you’re not really looking for it, Joy will pop up in unexpected places at unexpected times in unexpected ways. My prayer for you today, Beloved, is that you will find more Joy.

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.

Give Careful Thought

Tucked away in the latter part of the Old Testament is the tiny book of Haggai. It is only two chapters, a total of 38 verses but it has a lot to say. Rather, God has a lot to say in this little book. Haggai prophesied after the Jews were released from Babylonian captivity. They started returning home after Cyrus’ edict around 538 b.c. They came back to a ruined Jerusalem, and most heartbreaking of all – a destroyed temple. At first, they were devoted to rebuilding the temple but neighboring nations and their personal issues interfered so they abandoned that work and settled for building “paneled houses” (1:4) for themselves.

Isn’t this how it happens for you and me? We start this Christian walk with enthusiasm and determination, but “trouble and persecution” and the “worries of this life” (Matt 13:21-22) cause us to lose our motivation and desire for the things of God. Before long we’re sleeping in on Sundays and turning our focus on ourselves.

Haggai exhorts the Jews to finish the temple work more than twenty years after it was begun. And he gives them the Word of the Lord. A repetitive word. Five times God says” “Give careful thought . . .” (1:5, 7; 2:15, and 18 twice). The word combination has the idea of taking hold of one’s thoughts – not gently – but by force. This reminds me of Paul’s message to the Corinthian church: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

There are a lot of things that we cannot control, but you and I can – and must – control our thoughts. That includes everything from the sinful imagery we replay to angry conversations we imagine to self-exaltation, self-condemnation, and self-pity. It’s all in our hands – or rather in our minds. I’m preaching to myself here – this is one of the hardest battles I face. It is so easy to let my thoughts run my mind and thus my heart. The problem is, they always run me into a ditch of apathy, doubt, discouragement, and fear. So, I’m taking my mind – and my heart – back. I’m going to give careful thought to my thoughts and bring them into submission to Christ. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. What about you, Beloved? Are you ready to take your thoughts – and your life – back?

Hanging by a Thread

I was standing in the kitchen, begging the coffee maker to hurry up when my son walked in to get something to drink. I heard him behind me – “HIC!” “HIC!” “HIC!” He said, “I don’t think there’s anything worse than waking up with the hiccups.”  I answered him, “There is – waking up and being sick to your stomach is worse.” And I playfully growled at him and said, “I know from experience – and it was all your fault!” Of course, I was referring to the morning sickness I endured when I was pregnant with him. But our conversation made me think – what would be the worst thing to wake up to? I could list a lot of things – I’m sure you could too. Waking up to pain or sorrow or loss or violence or loneliness or heartache would be hard to face first thing in the morning. Then I thought, the worst thing to wake up to is hopelessness. That feeling that life is awful and it’s never going to get any better.  I’ve had seasons like that and I know that you have too. You may be there now. When all those hard things feel like permanent fixtures in our lives, we wonder if there’s any point in waking up at all.

A few thousand years ago, a prophet was waking up to the reality that all of his efforts to turn the nation of Israel back to God were useless. Jeremiah watched helplessly as the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem – under God’s judgment. He said, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord . . . my soul is downcast” (Lamentations 3:18, 19). He had hoped to save his people. He had hoped God would stop the invasion. But his hopes were not to be. He wept bitterly for the rebellious children of God.

But he did not give up. He declared “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I HAVE HOPE: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vs. 21-23, emphasis added). He still had a thread of hope that was tied securely to the love, mercy, and faithfulness of God. And that was enough. It’s enough for you too, Beloved. Tie your last thread of hope to the goodness of the Lord. He will never fail you.

Hebrews: The Promise

Joy has a very good memory. She plays a memory game on my phone and can recall where the puppy was that she spotted three turns ago. She remembers that she sleeps with Nana and Poppy the night before she goes to “honey school” (Sunday School). She remembers letters and numbers and all the words to her favorite songs. And let me tell you, she remembers when we make a promise to her. If I say I will take her outside after a nap she will wake up and immediately put her shoes on. This girl doesn’t forget a promise.  And neither should you.

We’re still camped out on Hebrews 10:36 – it’s just such a rich verse. The author said, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.”  So what is it that God has promised? We saw it earlier: an “eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15). What it is we’re inheriting? Hold on to your hat, cause this is so good!

In His discourse on “the sheep and the goats” in Matthew 25, Jesus said, “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (v. 34). What is your inheritance? Only the Kingdom of God. To a people who had lost their beloved Jerusalem to Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, the idea that they would inherit the Kingdom of God was more than comforting, it was extraordinary. They were promised more than a nation. They were promised everything. And so are we.

For every believer, this is a remarkable promise of eternal life and blessings in the Kingdom we can claim as our own. I don’t think we get how huge this is. The kingdom of the God of the Universe, who called light from darkness and a dead man out of the grave is ours. How can we be so sure? Go back a few verses; the writer said, “He who promised is faithful” (v. 23). Go back even further if you need more assurance. Joshua 21:45 says, “Not one of the Lord’s good promises . . . failed; every one was fulfilled.” Every single promise God has ever made is as good as done. Including His promise to save you and bring you home. You can count on it, Beloved – your room is already waiting on you.