Do You Know Where You’re Headed?

I made the right-hand turn onto Dean Road on my way to work yesterday, accelerated to the posted speed limit, and set the cruise control. I tend to be lead-footed so the cruise helps me stay within the law.  I began to think about the things I needed to do when I got to the office. The next thing I know, I reached the end of the road and my next turn. I didn’t remember anything of the road I had traveled. I had mentally drifted. That kind of scared me because my mind was not attuned to the road or any possible danger along the way.

Jeremiah warned the people of Judah (the southern kingdom) of coming disaster. They had “wandered” (Jer 31:22) into idolatry and sin and Babylon was about to deliver God’s judgment. The Lord spoke some very wise advice on the road of life. “Set up road signs; put up guideposts. Take note of the highway, the road you take” (v. 21). In short: Pay attention! Notice everything around you, and everything in you, and the way you are going.

I said this was “wise advice” but it was more than that. It was a command. Read it again. Do you see the directives in this verse? The Lord said “Set up,” and “Put up,” and “Take note.” Each of these phrases means to station, establish, to attend to. There is nothing casual here; this is deliberate and purposeful action. This is a wake-up call. God wanted the people to take note of where they were and how they got there.

You and I will never follow God by accident. We will never stumble into a daily discipline of prayer and reading the Bible. Holy habits require effort on our part. We will never just fall into obedience. We must determine to do so. Every. Single. Day. Many believe that the end of the journey is just where we drifted to. It’s not. It’s where we decided to go. Beloved, Are you paying attention?

Hebrews: Noah and (more than) the Ark

I grew up on Bible stories: Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho (if you’re my age you just sang that one), and Noah and the Ark. Bible stories are great – when you’re a kid, but at some point, we have to grow up. We have to dig deeper into the familiar stories of our childhood and find the treasures under the surface. Noah and the Ark is a good place to start.

The writer of Hebrews placed Noah in this chapter of heroes – not for the ark that he built, but for the reason he built it.  “By faith, Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family” (Heb 11:7). What was the “thing not yet seen?” Rain. Since creation “streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground” (Gen 2:6). So when God comes to Noah and says, “I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights” (Gen 7:4), Noah had no idea what “rain” was. He had to believe in something he had never seen. Noah obeyed because he was sure that God was going to do what He said He would do.

But there’s another phrase in the verse that gets overlooked: “in holy fear.” Wait – Why was he afraid of God? He is all love, love, love. “Holy fear” means Noah reverenced God. He was in awe of His greatness and power. He respected God. That has been lost and it shows. Noah believed when the Lord said, “I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens . . .” (Gen 6:17). He also believed in God’s promise to save him and his family (Gen 6:18). He did what God told him to do because he believed in God’s power and authority to destroy all living creatures and in God’s salvation.

That’s the foundation of the gospel. I know we’re not supposed to re-write the Bible, but I want to tweak John 3:16 just a little: “For God so loved the (sinful, disobedient, condemned) world that He gave His one and only (perfect, holy) Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish (as he deserves to) but have eternal life.” The gospel of love is incomplete without the truth of man’s sin and condemnation. We have to tell people why they need to be saved. Noah believed in both the judgment and the mercy of God. Do you, Beloved?

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.

Hebrews: Don’t Reject the Living God

I really didn’t want to belabor this point any longer in our study of Hebrews, but the author does, and so, then, will we. What point? The danger of rejecting God. And he’s not speaking to the lost world, he’s talking to those who have professed Christ then turned away from Him. This is not exactly a pleasant passage and I’m sure you’re tired of this topic, but it was an important message for first-century Christians and even more so for us in the twenty-first century. The number of “Christians” who are denouncing and “deconstructing” their faith is astonishing – and it’s exactly what the Bible says we can expect as the end draws near.

The writer first pointed back to the law of Moses which was a non-negotiable for God’s people. A Jew who was convicted of rejecting God’s law was subject to death without mercy. Do we think He will be any gentler with those who reject His Son? He asked, “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him?” (Hebrews 10:29). They despised the grace of God in Christ and threw it out as if it was nothing more than dung. As you might imagine, that “insults [or grieves] the Spirit of grace.”

The writer then pointed to the judgment of God. His people will be received into His presence. His enemies will face judgment and wrath. Who is God’s enemy? Anyone who rejects His grace. The author said, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (v. 31). The hand of God can be a soft and gracious thing, or it can be as hard as steel – the choice is yours.  God’s grace is free, but it wasn’t cheap – it cost God His one and only Son. Please, Beloved, don’t throw it all away. Without Jesus, there’s nothing left.

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.

Pointing Fingers

I’m studying Job in two groups right now – I am sure by God’s provident timing. In the first two chapters of Job, satan comes before the Lord twice to give an account of what he’s been up to. I have a note jotted beside satan’s second appearance before God: “last mention of satan.” This is the last time that ugly face is seen in this book. But it’s not the last time satan himself shows up. You can bet he is the impetus behind what comes next in Job’s story.

You know the story. God gives satan permission to take all that Job has – his wealth, his children, and his health – to prove that Job will never curse the Lord. Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to “sympathize with him and comfort him” (v. 11). When they see him sitting on the trash heap, covered in sores and misery, “they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights” and “No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (v. 13). If only they had kept their mouths shut.

I said that satan’s last mention was in chapter two, but he shows up in Job’s “friends” every time they speak. They all condemn Job for what must be grievous sin in his life. Why else would God bring such harsh punishment on him? But they don’t know what God has said about Job: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8; 2:3). Satan didn’t have to show his face, he just let E, B, and Z do his dirty work. If Job’s friends truly wanted to comfort him, they should have reminded him of God’s faithfulness and love. They should have sang songs of hope, not blasted him with condemnation. Rather than comforting their friend, they added to his suffering.

Here’s my takeaway: Never assume you know a person’s heart before God and God’s reason for their situation. We are called to a ministry of “encouraging, comforting, and urging [one another] to live lives worthy of God” (1 Thess 2:12). We are not called to “straighten one another out.” I don’t want to ever be satan’s tool of misery in someone’s life, no matter how “righteous” my reasoning. Beloved, make sure you are God’s messenger of grace, not satan’s sledgehammer.

Hebrews: Judgement’s Coming

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Its earliest origins were in the 1720s in a small Dutch Reformed Church in New Jersey, but the First Great Awakening caught fire in 1741 when Jonathan Edwards preached the sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards’ message revisited the biblical truth of God’s wrath on unbelievers. He reminded his listeners that all men are sinful creatures and under the condemnation of God. ButGod is withholding His righteous wrath so that all may have an opportunity to repent and turn in faith to Christ. Faced with the fearsome wrath of God, people fell trembling and wailing, “What must I do to be saved?” I wonder why people are not asking that question anymore.

The final subject in Hebrew’s “elementary teachings” is “eternal judgment” and I daresay that is even rarer today than it was in Edward’s day. We talked about God’s wrath when we dug into Hebrews 2:2-3 so I won’t belabor the point (I will post a link to that devotional in the comments) because there’s something else I want you to see. 

The writer had previously listed “the resurrection of the dead” as another foundational truth of the faith. The two are intrinsically linked. The church has claimed “resurrection from the dead” as something saved people have to look forward to, and rightly so. But Jesus didn’t teach resurrection as a “saved-only” deal. “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29). The wicked will be raised also, but for the purpose of judgment and eternal punishment. Paul said, Those who do not know God (through Jesus) “will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord . . . on the day He comes to be glorified” (2 Thess. 1:9-10). Yes, God is infinite love, grace, and mercy, but He is also infinite holiness that cannot tolerate wickedness. The world needs to hear the whole gospel.

I ask the same question I’ve asked again and again throughout this section. What does the church know of this today? Very little. I say that because if we did every lost person in the church (yes, there are many) would be trembling and wailing, “What must I do to be saved?” And every saved person would be begging sinners to come to Christ. No one will be left in the grave – everyone has an eternal destiny. Beloved, your family members, neighbors, friends, and coworkers need to know.  Will you tell them?

Wake Up Church!

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“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14).

The book of Jonah is so much more than a good fishing story. The wickedness of Nineveh had gotten on God’s last nerve – and that takes some doing. The Lord ordered His prophet, Jonah, to go there and “preach against them.” God could have just gone into Nineveh and starting blasting, but He wanted to give them a fair warning – and an opportunity to turn themselves around. Lesson 1: God never sends a warning without an invitation to repentance.

Jonah wants no part of this (we’ll see why later) and jumps on a ship, trying to run away from God. That’s never smart and it’s also futile. Lesson 2: You cannot run away from God. A storm breaks out at sea, so severe that the ship and all on board were in danger. The sailors were frantically trying to save their lives, throwing cargo overboard to lighten their load. Meanwhile, Jonah was fast asleep. No really. The ship is going down and Jonah is asleep, comfortably oblivious to the storm and the danger every soul was in. Lesson 3: You can become so comfortable in your sin that you are ignorant of the danger you are in. And the danger of every soul around you.

I see so many parallels to the United States in this.

The wickedness in this place has become a roar in the heavens.

God desires for this nation to repent before His judgment falls.

The messengers who were called to confront the wickedness are running away.

The church has become so comfortable that we are sleeping through the storm.

Souls are in grave danger all around us.

Oh church, wake up before it’s too late.