Hebrews: The Faith of a Harlot

I have a list in my Bible taken from the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel of the most unlikely people God chose to use in Israel’s history. Abraham was a liar, twice putting his wife’s life in danger to save his own skin. Jacob, Abraham’s grandson followed in his footsteps as a liar, a thief, and a cheater. Judah cheated his daughter-in-law Tamar out of her rightful place in the family. Tamar tricked Judah into sleeping with her (which he willingly went along with) and impregnating her with twin sons, one of whom, Perez, is in the lineage of Jesus. There is Ruth, a despised Moabitess (a people of mixed heritage), David, an adulterer and murderer, and Solomon, the product of David’s affair, who was a womanizer and idolator.

And let’s not forget Rahab, whom the author of Hebrews identifies as “the prostitute [who] welcomed the spies” (Heb 11:31). Some have tried to clean up her reputation and claim she was “an innkeeper,” and she may have been, but it was a side gig to her regular job as a prostitute. Why, if we’re talking about the Son of God, would the Bible include such unsavory characters? Because liars and adulterers and thieves, and cheaters, and murderers, and womanizers, and idolators, and – yes, prostitutes need Jesus. Just as drug addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals, abortionists, abusers, war-mongers, and rapists do. So do housewives, company presidents, preachers, police officers, school principals, grandparents, farmers – well I think you get the picture. There’s not a soul alive that doesn’t need Him. And the beauty of it is he will never refuse anyone.  He said, Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). That’s good news for those of us with a “colorful” past – or present.

I think there is another reason for including these people. It’s in the introduction the writer used for every person in this chapter. “By faith  . . .” Rahab was everything God’s Law stood against, but Rahab had faith in God. And faith changes everything. Rahab the prostitute (and Gentile) became the heroine of the Jewish nation and the great-great-grandmother of King David. Faith turns the unlikeliest sinners into saints – even better – into the image-bearers of Christ (Rom 8:29). Rahab assures us that no one is too far gone for God. Not your spouse, neighbor, or hard-headed kid. Not even you, Beloved.  All it takes is faith.

Listen!

She was in trouble and she knew it. She turned her face away from me. “Joy, I need you to listen to Nana so you can get out of time out.” But she refused and stayed in her chair for another minute. I can’t count the times I’ve said: “Listen to me!” How often do you think God says that to us?

Believe it or not, listening to God is not difficult. Everything He wants to say to you and me is written in His Word. So often when we read God’s Word or hear it being read it comes across like the grown-ups in a Charlie Brown special. “Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.” Solomon knew what it meant to listen to God. Grab your Bible and read Proverbs 2:1-5 – I’ll wait for you.

Solomon offered several keys to listening. (Yes, this passage is about wisdom, but the principle applies.) Accept the Bible as the true, authoritative Word of God. That means that the Bible calls the shots. If the world or your flesh says “do this,” but the Bible says “don’t” the Bible wins. Store up Scripture –That memorization. You don’t have to have it word-for-word, but have enough that you can use it when you need it – cause you’re gonna need it. Ask God for insight and understanding. I was not a Bible geek until my 40’s. I got a tiny taste of the depths of the Word and I wanted more. So I asked God to make me hungry. Twenty years later and I’m still ravenous. But I had to decide it was worth it. I had to regard it as a hidden treasure to be mined. I had to invest time and effort in it. I had to get up early and turn off the T.V. I had to put down the phone and pick up The Book.

There’s one other key to listening that comes from Paul who said, “the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). You and I have to shut down every other voice but the voice of truth.

Eve listened to the serpent. Adam listened to Eve. Neither of them listened to God. Beloved, who are you listening to?

When Life is Meaningless

“What is the meaning of life?” I asked the man sitting across the table. I was interviewing him for an assignment in my apologetics course in college. My interviewee shrugged and said, “I don’t think life has meaning. You are born an accident and you do the best you can to not screw anything up before you die.” “That’s pretty sad,” I thought to myself. But his answer made sense because he was an atheist. His whole focus was on the span of time between his date of birth and his date of death. It was all about him. He reminded me of someone in the Bible – King Solomon.

Solomon was the son of King David. The Lord granted him extraordinary wisdom to rule the nation well. His great wisdom made him hungry for knowledge, which is not a bad thing, except he decided to “test [himself] with pleasure to find out what is good” (Ecc 2:1).  He said, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure” (v. 10). And his conclusion? Not as good as we might think. Why? Because everything was all about and for himself.

He “built houses, made gardens, bought men and women to be slaves, owned huge flocks and herds, amassed riches, had hosts of entertainment, and a thousand women to feed his sexual appetite. All of this was “for myself (v. 4-8).” He also gained a pretty big ego saying, I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me” (v. 9). Yet, when he “surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless” (v. 11).

When life is all about self, life is meaningless. That’s why my friend had such a sad outlook. But when our lives are about the glory of God, we find real meaning and purpose and passion. A life lived for self is wasted. A life lived for God is full and rich. That was what Solomon realized when he said, “Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc 12:13). It was the wisest thing he ever said.

In the age of “selfies” is it any wonder that life feels so meaningless for so many? How about you, Beloved? Is life all about the unholy trinity: me, myself, and I? Maybe it’s time to change your focus.  

Little King

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Solomon was considered one of the greatest kings of Israel. The son of King David, he inherited the kingdom and spread out his rule for many, many miles and amassed an unfathomable amount of wealth. He sat upon an enormous throne of gold and ivory. Silver was inconsequential in Jerusalem during Solomon’s reign because the king and the city were so incredibly wealthy. Solomon was born in a king’s palace and his destiny was the throne. Though he was considered wise and good to his subjects, his own wants and needs always took precedent. He never knew poverty or want and could fulfill his every desire and whim. He was born and bred to be a king.

Paul paints a contrasting picture when he said that “Jesus Christ, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself . . .” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Jesus, the eternal King humbled Himself – “made Himself nothing” – the word used here denotes something hollow, empty, and of no value – to identify with humankind. He never lost sight of who He was, but He did not claim privileges and prosperity as would befit His royal identity. It was an act of His gracious will to do so because it was the only way to save mankind.

Tell me – how many earthly kings do you know of who humbled themselves to be one with their subjects? How many earthly kings, fully aware of their power and authority, choose to live and walk and sleep among the poorest of their people? How many earthly kings would set aside their crown and take up the mantle of suffering to save – not only their own subjects – but those who have set themselves against him? Only One. Only Jesus. Only one King would make himself an empty vessel of no earthly value to rescue and redeem a lost and dying world who has rejected Him outright at every turn. Only one King would humble Himself to the point of servanthood. Only one King would set aside His royal identity to become a helpless infant born to impoverished parents and live a life of struggle and ridicule and persecution. Only Jesus would do all that – and He did it all for you, Beloved.

Love One Another

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As long as I’ve studied the Bible, many verses still make me pause and wonder – what does this mean? 1 Peter 4:8 is one of those: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” The first part of this verse seems pretty clear – love one another. Paul said, “you have been taught by God to love each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:9). Jesus is our Teacher and He taught by example. John said that Jesus “showed [the disciples] the full extent of His love” when He knelt before them with a washbasin and a towel (John 13:1-17). Love drove Him to wash their nasty feet. Then He said, “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Humbly. Sacrificially. Graciously.

But it’s the second part of the verse that I want to understand better: “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”  Peter may be borrowing from Solomon who said, “Love covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:9). Certainly, we know that the love of God “covered over” our sins with the blood of Jesus. But Peter is speaking about loving one another, so this must have practical application for you and me.

Let’s first talk about what “covering over” doesn’t mean. It absolutely does not mean taking abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek safety and help now.  It doesn’t mean sweeping someone’s wrong actions under a rug and pretending nothing has happened. And it doesn’t mean not seeking wise counsel for difficult relationships.

Here’s what I am convinced it means: Love forgives wrongs and does not dwell on them or broadcast them. Here’s where I’m squirming with conviction. I want to talk about it. I want someone to know what this person has done to me. I want them to be just as offended as I am. That isn’t love. That’s ugly human nature.

Yes, we can certainly ask our brothers and sisters for prayer, but we must take care that our prayer requests don’t become a gripe session. Because that isn’t love. This is deeply personal for me and I’m asking the Lord to help me love more and complain less.

Because people need love. A love that is patient, kind, humble, peaceful, forgiving, honest, protective, trusting, hopeful, and enduring (1 Corinthians 13, paraphrased). Beloved, let’s commit to love like Jesus – I believe it will change the world.

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.

Under the Sun

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Several years ago we lived in a run-down trailer in a dismal area.  Every day I drove past a very affluent neighborhood filled with fine houses and mini-mansions. By the time I go home, I was so depressed. Then I got to know a woman who lived in one of those grand homes, and she was miserable. It blew me away. She had everything, and it wasn’t enough. She thought she should have more. I thought about her this morning as I read Ecclesiastes 2.

Solomon had it all. The most powerful king in the ancient world, he had women – 700 wives and 300 hundred concubines. He built houses for himself, planted vineyards, made gardens and parks, owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem, amassed silver and gold, acquired slaves and singers – he said, “I denied myself nothing . . .” (2:4-19). He sought wisdom and was considered the wisest ruler in the land. (2:12-15). Yet for all he had and all he did, he surmised, “everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (2:10).

Solomon’s mistake was that he chased after everything “under the sun” (2:11). That means he pursued the world and his own pleasures. There is nothing more meaningless than that. In fact, Solomon uses the phrase, “under the sun,” 27 times – always about some pointless, fruitless, useless activity of man.

God has been driving home one main point for me for several years: it’s all about eternity. This life is a blink, a moment, a flash. Eternity is – well – eternal. It’s forever and ever and ever. It’s the only thing that counts. What does inconvenience mean if someone gains eternal life? What does persecution mean if God is glorified? What does it mean to struggle or be harassed in light of heaven with Christ Jesus? What does a mansion, a Corvette, the latest high fashion, or the best vacations gain you in eternity? Not a thing. But humility, kindness, endurance, patience, love, faithfulness – these have great value in heaven.

I know the world’s glitz and glitter are tempting, and the faithful life in Christ can seem dull in comparison. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Invest your life in eternity Beloved. “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last” (C.T. Studd).

Immanuel – God with Us

 

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“They will call Him Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

One of the most beautiful hymns of Christmas is Emmanuel, Emmanuel:

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,
His name is called Emmanuel.
God with us, revealed in us,
His name is called Emmanuel.[1]

In our modern, New Testament mind the idea of “Immanuel – God with us” is a great comfort as we endure the struggles of life in this fallen world.  To know that God is with us means we are assured of His presence and help.  I am so grateful that God was with us through this difficult year that we experienced.  His presence gave me strength day-by-day and bolstered my faith.

But to truly understand the name and its significance, we have to go back to the Bible.  But don’t stop in Matthew, go back even farther to the book of Exodus, to the most incredible statement by God: “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:9).  In the ancient near east, the pagan gods of the time did not dwell with human beings.  No, the “gods” were far too important to be bothered with mortals and their petty lives.  But the God who created and sustained and ruled over all things wanted to dwell with His people.  So He gave them instructions to build Him a sanctuary where He could be present with them.  When the structure was built, the Lord came and took up residence in the place.  The same was true of the temple Solomon built for the Lord in Jerusalem to replace the tabernacle.  When the temple was completed, and the ark of the covenant was put in place in the Holy of Holies, “the cloud [of the Lord’s presence] filled the temple of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:11).  And the Lord dwelled among His people there.

Until.  Until their idolatry and sin became unbearable.  Until God said, “Enough.”  Approximately four hundred years after He filled the temple, the Lord withdrew His presence.  The prophet Ezekiel records the terrible sight of the cloud drawing up and away from the Holy of Holies and from the temple and from Jerusalem and the nation of Judah.  God was no longer with His people.  Shortly afterward the people were taken into exile and the temple was destroyed.  And though it was rebuilt when the exiles returned to Jerusalem, the Lord’s presence did not return to the second temple.

Until. Until the angel visited a carpenter, betrothed to a young woman and proclaimed the return of Immanuel.  Joseph would instinctively know what this name meant – God with us.     God came to once again dwell among men – this time in the humblest way – as a human baby born to peasant parents and laid in a feeding trough for animals.  The name “Immanuel” recalls the glorious presence of God in the midst of His people.  But not only in the temple.  No, this time Immanuel would walk among them, eat with them, touch them with human hands – and die for them.  God had been absent and silent for hundreds of years, but now He had returned to His people.

Immanuel was the promise of God’s presence.  And He is still present with His people today.  He is present in the Holy Spirit that dwells in every believer.  He is present in our worship.  He is present when we pray.  He is present when we rustle the pages of the Bible.  He is present when we reach out to touch a suffering soul with His love.  He is present in holy, divine moments and in the everyday events of our lives.  Because He is Immanuel, He is always present. Because He is God with us, we are never alone.

[1] Emmanuel, Emmanuel was written by Bob McGee in 1976 and published by C.A. Music.

A Word of Wisdom

“Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”  1 Kings 3:9

Solomon was known as the wisest ruler in history.   He was the second son of King David and Bathsheba, and though we do not know his chronological age when he took the throne, he described himself to God as “only a little child. (1 Kings 3:7)” Surely after following in the huge footsteps of his father David, Solomon must have been overwhelmed by the responsibility before him.  So when the Lord came to him and said “Ask for whatever you want me to give you,” Solomon made a plea for wisdom.  God granted Solomon’s request in a huge way, “God gave Solomon very great insight and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. (1 Kings 4:29)” Solomon knew that without great wisdom, he could not be the leader that Israel needed.  He also knew there is only one source for true wisdom – the Lord God Almighty.

Humans have desired wisdom since the beginning of creation.  In the account of the first sin, Eve was tempted with the lure of wisdom (Genesis 3:5-6), but it was not the wisdom that God offered to Solomon.  Eve succumbed to the “wisdom” that the Apostle James warned about:  “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such ‘wisdom’ does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:14-15)” You see, when God told Adam that they were not to eat from the tree of “the knowledge of good and evil, (Genesis 2:17)” it was not to keep them from having any intelligent thought; it was to protect them – and us – from the influence of evil.  For God knew that once man was exposed to the concept of evil, we would be consumed by its continual drawing.  The wisdom that the devil and the world offers to us is a selfish, self-seeking, prideful and deceptive wisdom that will always lead us away from God and into the darkness of worldliness and sin.

The wisdom that King Solomon received is also described by James: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:13, 17)” The wisdom from God is a life-giving wisdom.  It fills us with the character of Christ and is the opposite of the false wisdom of the world.  Look at all that this godly wisdom offers to us.  James says we will have understanding – the kind of understanding that will enable us to stand firm in what is right.  Wisdom will be proven by the good life we lead, which means turning ourselves away from sin and wickedness and turning towards what is right, beautiful and excellent.  Humility is always the hallmark of godly wisdom – this humility is shown through the gentleness, kindness and consideration we show to others in Jesus name.  Our hearts and our hands will be pure; and Psalms 119:9 tells us that purity comes from living according to God’s Word (which is one way that He imparts His wisdom to us).

When we read that godly wisdom is peace-loving, we generally think that this is a person who goes to great lengths to establish peace in their relationships, but the original Greek is expressing a personal sense of harmony, tranquility, safety and a lack of strife; it is having freedom from emotional worry and frustration. When godly wisdom is the rule in our lives, we are more apt to make decisions that ensure freedom form worry and frustration.  In essence, we could say this is a person who loves the peaceful life they live.

A gentle, considerate nature and a submissive and compliant attitude will also mark us as people who have been blessed with the wisdom of heaven.  Can you image how your work, home and other relationships will be transformed by these traits?  As we consider the characteristics of mercy and impartiality, we can look again at James words: “Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:13)  Mercy, love and compassion will always have the upper hand over judgment and partiality in the thoughts, words and actions of the godly wise.  James also says that a truly wise person will be sincere.  There is no place for hypocrisy in the life of a Christian; for our Savior Jesus Christ is the Truth of God.  A wise and sincere person does nothing for a prideful show, but rather always turns any honor and glory to Christ.

Do you, like me, desire to be a person filled with godly wisdom?  Then we must go to the same source as King Solomon – we must go to God.  James encourages us to seek wisdom with these words: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  James 1:5) Our wise King Solomon proclaimed the same truth in Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Surely this was the wisdom that Eve could have enjoyed, if she had trusted and obeyed God rather than seeking wisdom on her own.  This wisdom is available to you and me if we will ask God, trust Him to give us what He has promised and obediently walk in the wisdom and ways of the Lord.  Let’s commit to be wise men and women of God.

Holy Father, I come to you with my hands and heart open wide to receive the wisdom that only You can give. Fill me Lord, that the world my see Your perfect wisdom in me.  Amen.