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?

Why Doesn’t the World Want Jesus?

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I’m mystified as to why people don’t want Jesus. I mean, who doesn’t want joy, peace, hope, and eternal life? Why do people reject the love and grace of God? Why do they refuse to receive the beautiful message of the Gospel? It makes no sense.

Then I read in Exodus, about the Israelites who were enslaved in Egypt. When Moses and Aaron delivered the Lord’s message: “Let my people go” (Ex 5:1), Pharaoh instead made their work even harder. Moses tried to encourage the Israelites, telling them that God would set them free from their bondage, give them a land of their own, and most importantly, He would be their God. The Scripture says, “They did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage” (Ex 6:9).
Why does the world reject God? Because they are under bondage to Satan. They have no hope because they are over-burdened by a cruel taskmaster. They don’t understand the beauty of God’s offer because their minds are numbed by discouragement from the devil. Matthew said, “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36).   Jesus saw the hopelessness of the people and He felt great pity. Not hate, not disgust, not judgment. He felt the weight of their bondage and it broke His heart.
Maybe – just a thought here – but maybe Jesus is showing us the better way to reach the lost world. Maybe compassion rather than pointing fingers is the way to lead people to Christ. I’m not talking about the world’s humanitarian efforts to ease suffering, although caring for physical needs must be part of our ministry in the world. I  am talking about the love of God that cares about the body and the eternal soul. I’m talking about the kind of compassion that gives a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name (Matthew 10:42). Because the lost world is under bondage and they cannot even envision freedom.  Satan continually tells them how helpless they are and how hopeless their situation is. Genuine Christian compassion can loosen their chains so God’s mercy can set them free.

Will you be His conduit of love and grace so that heavy hearts may be open to life without chains?  It was His compassion that saved you, Beloved, will you share that compassion so others might be saved too?

This Is The Way

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A few years ago I needed to drive from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to pick up my husband at the airport. I also had to pick up my son from work on the way. Both required me to drive on I-20 East. I headed to my normal exit – blocked. What? I went to the next exit – blocked. Okay. Drove to a third exit – blocked again. My GPS was stubbornly trying to get me back to the blocked exits and I could not convince her to find another route. We’d only lived there a year and I rarely drove far from home, so I had no idea where another exit was. At this point, a touch of panic began to set in and without thinking I muttered “O Lord, what am I gonna do?” Then I realized what I had said and turned my lament into a prayer: “Lord, what do I need to do here?” The GPS suddenly told me to turn right and I noticed that the road I was on was running parallel to I-20 and in just a few miles I came to another exit – just past the big wreck that had closed the interstate. I breathed a prayer of thanks as I got onto the open exit and headed in the right direction.

I immediately thought about Isaiah 30:21 which says “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

We often get in a panic trying to determine God’s will because we think it’s up to us to find it. But that is the enemy trying to overwhelm and confuse you. God has a definite plan for your life. He does not expect you to blindly stumble along in the hopes that you’ll happen upon it by chance. He has the route mapped out and He will guide you each step of the way – but often only one step at a time, and not always the direct route you expect. If you’re wondering where you’re supposed to be, don’t panic, just ask the Lord, “What do I need to do here?” and follow exactly where he leads.

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.

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?

Wherever You Go

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I am always drawn to the story of Hagar the Egyptian slave girl who served as a handmaiden to the wife of Abram. She was pressed into service as a surrogate mother to bear a child for the barren Sarai. This caused much strife between the two women, as you can imagine. She ran away from her mistress, into the unforgiving wilderness where “The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7. Hagar may have been lost in the wilderness, but she was not lost to God. The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. That means He didn’t go on a seek-and-find mission, He set Himself right where He knew she was going. She was His wounded child and His heart was tender to her.
One of the most precious promises in the Bible to me is “The Lord your God will be with you where you go” (Jos. 1:9). In my almost sixty years, I have found myself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, often of my own making, but I have never been out of my Heavenly Father’s sight. In the margin of my Bible I have written these words that God spoke to my heart in one of those seasons: “Child, there is no place you can go that I will not be.” Whether physical places or emotional pits or spiritual dark caves – God has promised “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5). If He willingly went to the cross, and into the dark grave of death for us, then we can trust that He will never abandon us, no matter where we are.
Beloved, I don’t know where you find yourself today but this I know for sure – you are not lost to God. He knows exactly where you are now and where you are going. He has noted every step you’ve taken, even the ones that took you away from Him. God was there for a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, and He is there with you. There is no place you can go that He will not be.

Wherever You Go

Hagar was an Egyptian slave, serving as handmaiden to the wife of Abram and as a surrogate mother to bear a child for the barren Sarai.  This caused much strife between Sarai and Hagar, as you can imagine and Hagar ran away from her mistress, into the unforgiving wilderness where, “The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7.  The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. That means He didn’t go on a seek-and-find mission, He set Himself right where He knew she was going, because she was His wounded child and His heart was tender to her. 

One of the most precious promises in the Bible to me is “The Lord your God will be with you where you go” (Jos. 1:9).  I have found myself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, often of my own making, but I have never been out of my Heavenly Father’s sight.  In the margin of my Bible I have written these words that God spoke to my heart: “Child, there is no place you can go that I will not be.”  Whether they are physical places or emotional pits or spiritual dark caves – God has promised “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5).  If He willingly went to the cross, and into the dark grave of death for us, then we can trust that He will never abandon us, no matter where we are. 

Beloved, I don’t know where you find yourself today but this I know for sure – God was there for a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, He has been there for me and He is there with you.  The truth is, He was there – waiting for you – before you ever arrived.

Finding My Way Back

“In their distress they turned to the Lord and sought Him and He was found by them” 2 Chronicles 15:4.

Wrong wayI am notorious for getting lost on the road. Well, the truth is, I can get lost in the mall too and I’ve wandered the halls of many of hospital in bewilderment. So, I’m not very good at finding my way around. I was so thankful when my husband got me a GPS. Even if I don’t exactly know where I’m at, I just tell it where I want to go and my little friend sets a route right from where I am and leads me by the hand all the way.

I remember getting lost as I was coming home from a meeting at a church in a part of town I rarely go to. I had been to this same church when a friend drove who knew the area well and she had taken a backroad that bypassed all the heavy traffic. So I thought I would give it a try. Big mistake. I got out of the parking lot okay and onto the exit road, but from there – did she turn left or right? I decided she went left and so I did the same.   I knew there was a turn ahead, but I thought it was sooner than this. Still I kept on driving, looking for the turn and beginning to question myself. Ah, this must be it – blinker on and I turned and drove for a few blocks to find a dead end. Well that couldn’t be the right road so I turned back and kept driving. Eventually, I realized I was lost. I had no clue where I was or what to do – and now it was dark. Mind you, this was before I had a cell phone so I couldn’t call my husband who always knew his way around. Tears started falling as I drove and prayed. “God I’m scared. I made a wrong turn and now I’m lost and it’s dark and I don’t know where I am or how to get home. Please help me.” And as I continued to drive, I followed this sense of “Turn here” and I began to see familiar things – I remember that house, I remember seeing that big oak tree and there’s the church again! Relief and thankfulness flooded my heart as the lights of the main road came into view and I knew I was safely on my way home.

Getting lost doesn’t just happen on the road – or in the mall. We can get lost spiritually too. We set off on our way and everything seems fine. Then we decide to turn left when we should have turned right. We think we know which way to go, but the truth is we’re headed in the wrong direction and we don’t even realize it. We keep getting farther and farther away from where we need to be, taking more wrong turns and going deeper into unknown territory. We hit one dead end after another, trying to turn ourselves around and get back where we belong, but nothing looks familiar, in fact it looks more and more foreboding as the light begins to wane and the night sets in around us. Darkness distorts everything, and fear begins to grip our hearts. We realize we have gone too far and have no idea how to get back to the safety of home.

At this point we have one of two choices – we can either keep going in our stubbornness and pride heading deeper and deeper into darkness, or we can cry out to God from wherever we are and He will come to us and lead us back home. Our God is the rescuer of the lost. His heart is attuned to His children as He strains His ears to hear even the faintest cry and searches us out with tenderness and love. That is the beautiful image we have as Jesus declared Himself “the good shepherd” (John 10:11) – He is the one who “leaves the ninety-nine [sheep] in the open country and goes after the lost sheep until he finds it” (Luke 15:4). And He doesn’t stop looking until “he finds it and joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (Luke 15:5-6). That is His mission, “The Son of Man came to seek and save [the] lost” (Luke 19:10).

Do you find yourself today far from the safety of home?

You may be a believer in Christ who has wandered away from your Shepherd and far from His good pasture. You may not be able to even see the Shepherd, but be assured, His eye has never left you. Stop where you are and call out to Him – “God, I am sorry, I made a wrong turn and now I’m lost and it’s dark and I don’t know where I am or how to get home. Please help me.” Jesus will come to you and lead you back to safety.

Perhaps you have never placed yourself under the Shepherd’s care, but you realize that where you are is dark and lonely and foreboding. You want to be in the warmth and joy of God’s light and under the loving care of Jesus. Stop going the wrong way and tell Jesus, “I know that I am lost without You. I cannot find my way. You are the only one who can help me. I am turning to You Jesus, please come and save me.” He will seek you and find you. Luke 15: 6-7 says that He will rejoice over you and all of heaven will celebrate your coming to Jesus.

Today can be the day you go from wandering in the wilderness to the safety of home. Today can be the day you go from lost to found. Today can be a new beginning with a new life and a glorious new future. Please don’t wait another day, another moment. Come to Jesus. Come home.

Jesus, Savior, Good Shepherd, Finder of the lost and weary, we have wandered far from you and the way is hidden in darkness. We are helpless to find our way home without You. Please do what You came to do: seek us and find us and bring us safely home. Amen.

What Are You Searching For?

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.” Isaiah 55:6

 I was studying at my desk when my husband began searching for something.  He looked through cabinets and drawers.  He even cleaned out his van trying to find an important tool. As he came back into the house I asked “Did you find it?” “Nope.” He said, followed quickly by “Yep.”  The tool he was looking for was sitting on his dresser all along.

It occurred to me that we live in a world that is searching.  People are searching for meaning, searching for hope, searching for peace, searching for truth, and searching for love.  Just as my husband spent more than an hour looking for a tool that was in plain sight – all the world’s frantic searching can be resolved by looking to God.

God has been speaking to me lately about what I am looking for-and where I am looking.

In Psalm 27:8 we read, “You have said to my heart, ‘Seek My face.’  Your face Lord I will seek.”  The prophet Jeremiah records my life-verse, “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)  While we are running here and there searching for all that makes life worthwhile, God has issued us a beautiful invitation.  “Seek Me.  I will make Myself available to you.”   He promises in Isaiah 45:19 that He is not calling us to seek Him in vain-Jeremiah 29:14 says: “I will be found by you.”

Psalm 34:10 promises, “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”  God honors those who seek Him.  This is not a casual glance in God’s direction, nor is it only done on Sunday mornings.  Seeking God is a life-long, daily, determined pursuit.  It is making time every day for Bible study, prayer and meditating on Him, His character and His Word.  It is allowing nothing to distract us or disrupt our heart’s mission – to know God.

What will we gain when we seek God?  So much more than you could ever image.

In our society, the pursuit of “success” consumes so many people.  2 Chronicles 26 tells of Uzziah, king of Judah.  Under the ministry of Zechariah, verse 5 says, “As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.”  Seek God and look for Him to bless your efforts.

Are you searching for release from fear?  David said in Psalm 34:4, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.”   The one who seeks God is delivered from fear and anxiety.

Psalm 70:4 says, “May all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You.”  Those who seek the Lord will find joy and gladness. Even in the most trying circumstances, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Perhaps today, you are searching for rest – you are weary and worn out.  The struggles of life have taken their toll on you.  2 Chronicles 14:7 is your promise today – “We have sought the Lord our God; and He has given us rest.”  Rest comes in the presence of God.  Psalm 23:1 & 2 tell us “He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.”  The weary are refreshed with His  living water (John 4:14).

Here is one more beautiful truth about this subject of seeking and I hope it blesses your heart like it blessed mine.  God sought you out.  God pursued you.  Jesus declared in John 19:10 – “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”  Imagine that with me – God; the God of heaven, the Creator of all things, the great and holy I AM, sought you and me to be His own.  Before He called you to seek Him, He had been on a search for you.

Maybe you have wandered from God, and are lost in a wilderness of your own choices.  I’ve been there, and it is a scary place to be.  Jesus promises that, as the Good Shepherd, He will go on a “search and rescue” mission to find you and bring you back.  John 15:4-7 tells the parable of the lost sheep.  Jesus said, “Does [the shepherd] not…go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (vs. 4,5).  My friend, Jesus is not angry with you for wandering off – in His great love, he is seeking you to restore you and bring you back to Himself.  See how he promises to joyfully carry you home on His shoulders?  Don’t try to run and hide from Him any longer.  Seek Him.  Pursue Him.  He will find you, and He will rejoice with you all the way home.

What are you looking for today?  Peace? Joy? Rest? Where are you searching? In busyness, in addiction, a computer screen, or money?  It’s not there.  Your search is only fulfilled when you find Jesus Christ.  He has made Himself available to you – seek Him and know what life can be when your frantic search is over.

 

Holy Father, You have promised that I will find You when I seek You with all my heart.  And You have promised to search for me when I lose my way, and bring me back home.  Lord, I will seek You – and You will find me.  Amen