Hebrews: Turn Around

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“Turn around. Don’t drown.” “Turn back. Bridge out.” Road signs tell the driver one thing: you need to reverse course. You need to change your direction. You are on a dangerous path. They are signs we would do well to heed. The Bible also puts up signs that call us to make a change in the way we are going. Scripture calls it “repentance” and we would also do well to heed these warnings.

The writer of Hebrews focuses on one aspect of repentance in his discussion of elementary teachings: “Repentance from acts that lead to death” (6:1) Remember that he has been talking to “lazy” believers who are unwilling to grow in the matters of the faith. They are content with surface knowledge – just enough to make sure they escape hell. You know, fire insurance.  Our author says that this is a foundational truth. I wonder if 21st-century Christians understand it at all.

What is repentance? Paul described it like this: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret . . .” (2 Corinthians 7:10). It is a spiritual and moral change of attitude toward God which turns an individual from sin to God. It is recognizing the dangerous road we are on, how we got on it, and turning back to God. Repentance must have both sorrow and turning. We are often sorry for our behavior (well, let’s be honest, we’re sorry we got caught), but that doesn’t mean we turn back to God.  The Prodigal Son is the perfect expression of repentance.

So what does “acts that lead to death” mean? Other translations may say, “dead works.” This is referring to anything man does in an attempt to save himself. Remember that the readers were largely Jewish, and Judaism had 613 commandments – expounded from the original ten commandments that God had given Moses. These – including circumcision – were the Jew’s “gateway” to salvation. Do all the right things in all the right ways and you will be right before God. The problem was, no one could be right before God even if they followed every jot and tittle of those 613 rules. In the same way, non-Jews cannot be right with God by being “good enough.” Because we never will be.  

Salvation has never been about what we do or don’t do. It is always and only about the work that Jesus has done on the cross. Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Christus. Grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Beloved, it’s not too late to turn around. God will always welcome repentant sinners home.

Hebrews: Jesus, Man of Sorrows

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I’ve been told I am a “strong” person. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I appear strong because I do a pretty good job of hiding when I am falling apart, although some of you have learned to read between the lines. Like you, I have cried and yelled and begged God to change certain things in my life. Like you, I have struggled with depression and anxiety and despair.  But you and I are in good company.  Even the strongest person in human history came under the weight of emotional affliction.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death . . .” (Hebrews 5:7). If you didn’t know who Jesus was, you would probably think that this guy went into whatever he was facing kicking and screaming all the way. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Luke said, “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (9:51). Jesus walked toward the cross with determination. But the Scriptures are clear that it was a terrible strain on Him.

Of course, you know that this verse is speaking of His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His arrest. Jesus was “very sorrowful and troubled,” even “to the point of death” (Matt. 26:37, 38). He said, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (John 12:27). Luke said His anguish as He prayed produced “sweat like drops of blood falling to the ground” (22:44).  He pleaded, Abba, Father, everything is possible for you Take this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). I’ve prayed much the same thing, and I am sure you have as well.  The difference is, you and I bear much smaller burdens compared to Jesus, who was feeling the weight of the sin of the entire human race being piled on His shoulders. Isaiah called Him “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). So when the author of Hebrews says that Jesus, our great high priest can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (4:15). it is because He also felt the weight of despair. It was one of the most “human” moments in Jesus’ life.

I’m going to leave you right here, Beloved, in the Garden with Jesus, watching Him cry to His Father. But know that He was not lost to despair, nor are you and I. When we return to Hebrews, we will see that this very human moment is also a moment of divine glory.

Shameless

It never really bothered me if my Mom got angry with me, if she spanked me (she did not spare the rod, and I am better for it), grounded me (she once grounded me for the rest of my life), took away privileges, added chores, or even yelled at me. I was sort of immune to her anger. But oh, let her say she was ashamed of me, and my heart would break. Just writing about it, I can still feel the weight of it.

It seems all my life I’ve carried a heavy load of guilt and shame. I know well the words King David cried out to God, “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear” (Psalm 38:4). From being abused and rejected, making countless foolish mistakes, hurting others, jumping into the pit of sin, and feeling responsible for the actions of my child – every failure left me with eyes cast down so as not to see on the face of God the sorrow my sin has caused Him. Rather than “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” I slink back into the cave of despair because I can’t bear to know that God is ashamed of me. Something tells me that you can relate.

Jesus came into this sinful world to set us free from guilt and shame and the evil that caused it. Listen to His words to Nicodemus, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). Jesus came, not to point to you and me with all our bags and say “I AM ASHAMED OF YOU!” He came to say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Rest from the weight. Rest from the shame. Rest from the guilt.

Do you come to God this morning with a load of guilt and shame? Are you expecting chastisement and rejection? Look up, Beloved. Jesus has stretched out His nail-scarred hand to take your heavy bags of misery. He bids you rise and face the day, forgiven, freed, and radiant in His love.

In the Valley of Sorrow

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My best friend cries at the drop of a hankie. I hardly cry at all – unless I am very overwhelmed. It’s kind of a running joke between us that somehow she got my allotment of tears. I just don’t like to give in to my emotions. Still, there are times when I’m sure I just need a good cry. I guess I’ll just let her handle those times for me.

Tears are not a bad thing. Jesus wept. And we know that whatever Jesus did is right. In fact, emotions are not a bad thing. God is depicted many times in Scripture expressing emotions.

Anger – Psalm 7:11; Deuteronomy 9:22; Romans 1:18

Compassion – Psalm 135:14; Judges 2:18; Deuteronomy 32:36

Grief – Genesis 6:6; Psalm 78:40

Love – 1 John 4:8; John 3:16; Jeremiah 31:3

Hate – Proverbs 6:16; Psalm 5:5; Psalm 11:5

Jealousy – Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:14; Joshua 24:19

Joy – Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 32:41

So really, my refusal to show emotions is rejecting this God-like quality that reflects His own image. Wow!

Tears have their place and can turn into a blessing for others. Psalm 84:6 talks about God’s people on the pilgrimage of our earthly life. The psalmist noted, “As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs.”  The Valley of Baca refers to a place of weeping and deep sorrow. This life is filled with sorrow on top of sorrow. But sorrow has a purpose as this verse shows.

When the tears flow and seem to never stop they collect into springs which become pools of refreshment for those who enter the Valley of Baca after us. How comforting it is to know that our tears are soothing for another weary, weeping pilgrim.

That is a lovely, poetic expression, but how does it translate in real life? Paul said that “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the same comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Sorrow becomes a bridge to another hurting soul, and the pool of our tears becomes a cup of cold water we can share. “I have experienced that same heartache, let me walk through it with you and give you the same comfort that God gave to me.”

So, my beloved, weepy friend, let your tears flow, and I’ll work on mine. Someone needs the refreshment of your tears. It might even be me.

Goodbye (and good riddance) 2020

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The last grains of 2020 sand are slipping through the narrow neck of the hourglass. There’s a collective sigh coming from the world. It’s been a hard year. Who would have guessed this time last year what the world would face in the twelve months that stretched out before us?  We hope that when we turn the calendar we can put it all behind us and move on to brighter days. There’s no guarantee that 2021 will be any better; pandemics and political tensions don’t observe our time boundaries. How can we close this year with any measure of hope for the next? I’d like to offer you a few words of encouragement on the eve of the new year.

“The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all” (Ps 103:19). God is still the ruler of the universe. He has not lost control and none of the events of this year took Him by surprise. Nothing in the coming year will catch Him off guard either.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18). You may have lost someone you love this year. You may have lost your job or business. Your neighborhood may have been rocked by violence and rioting. This year may have broken your heart and for that, I am truly sorry. This horrible year took my big brother. God is near to us dear friend.

“I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand as says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” (Is 41:13). Whatever 2021 holds, God holds your hand and promises to help you through it.

“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11). The Lord’s plans are not altered by pandemics or politics, grief or pain, job loss or financial struggles. These do not deter God’s good plans for you. He will even use them – somehow – to brings His purposes to fruition.

As the calendar turns from 2020 to 2021, let us put the past year and the days ahead in the hands of our mighty, sovereign, loving Father. Better yet, put yourself in His hands Beloved and let Him carry you through.

When the Tears Fall

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It’s six o’clock in the morning and my granddaughter is crying. I can hear her from my study. It’s probably just a diaper change – she hates those. But it’s breaking my heart. I’ve gotten up from my desk twice now and started back to see about her and stopped myself. Oh, how I want to comfort her and make whatever is making her cry go away. I think about all the times in her life she will probably cry – all the skinned knees and the times she doesn’t like hearing “No” and the broken hearts and disappointments that are coming. I wish I could protect her from them all. But I can’t. I know that. Still, every time she cries, my heart cries with her.

If I have such a response every time my granddaughter cries, how do you imagine God feels every time you and I cry? I am sure His great heart aches when ours breaks. In Psalm 56:8 David said that the Lord “Puts my tears in Your bottle—are they not in your record?” God is paying attention. When you cry, when the tears drip from your chin, He catches them, one by one. Do you know what that means Beloved? He is very near. He has drawn you into His arms so that He can gather every tear that falls. Your tears are precious to Him.

All is quiet now in Joy’s room. A clean diaper, a fresh cup of milk, and warm snuggles in her mommy’s arms work wonders. Her tears are gone and she is back in dreamland in her soft pink pajamas. My Nana-heart is happy.

Let the tears fall Beloved. God is near, like a good, good Father. Oh, how He loves you.

Lessons from the Master Crafter

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”        Ecclesiastes 3:11

God is the perfect crafter.  We see that when we look around us.  Nature attests to His awesome creative talent, with azure blue skies, majestic mountains, stunning sunsets, colorful birds, brilliant fall leaves, and the beautiful and fragrant flowers.  Wouldn’t you love to see His artist’s palette with all those wonderful colors?

God is also busy crafting the lives of those who love Him.  He is adding light here and shadow there, a splash of joy, broad strokes of wonder, and accents of peace amid dark shades of sorrow and heartache.  All in perfect balance and harmony.  All to create a masterpiece with your life and mine.

Let me offer a memory-lesson from God that might help.  Years ago (when I had more time and better eyesight) I was an avid cross-stitcher.  One day, as I was working on an intricate design-a mixture of dark and light colors and metallics-I needed to finish off a row of stitching, so I flipped the fabric over, and saw the reverse side of my work.  It was a mess of knots and tangles and threads crossing from side to side, looking nothing like the picture that was forming on top.

That is when the Holy Spirit revealed a precious truth to me, which I have kept tucked in my heart since: My life is like that cross-stitch picture.  While I only see the bottom of the fabric, with all my imperfections, sorrows, hurts and questions, God is working on the top, and He sees the beautiful picture He is creating from the master design He has planned.  Where I see tangles and knots, and wonder why there are so many dark colors – God sees light contrasting against dark and how brilliantly the gold and silver threads of His majesty and glory stand out against the dark places in my life. And isn’t that the purpose of my life-to make much of God, to glorify Him and show His beauty to the dark world?

From the Old Testament account of Job’s life comes this lament, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, they come to an end without hope” (Job 7:6).  His words brought to mind a poem my Mother shared with me many years ago:

THE WEAVER

My life is but a weaving, between my God and me,
I do not choose the colors, He worketh steadily.

Ofttimes He weaveth sorrow, and I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper, and I the underside.
Not till the loom is silent, and the shuttles cease to fly,
Will God unroll the canvas, and explain the reasons why
The dark threads are as needful in the skillful weaver’s hand
As threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.

Anonymous

If I could take Job by the hand, I would tell him, as I tell myself and you, that when God is the Weaver, there is always hope.   That season we see as darkness and struggle and pain, in the hands of the Master Weaver, could prove to be the richest season in our lives.  God is working the pattern of your life and of mine according to His will – “His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). Will we trust the design of our lives to the hands of the Perfect Crafter?

 

Master Creator, You have spoken a word to my heart: “Child, if you only knew – the pattern I am using as I craft your life is the image of My Perfect Son. Trust Me beloved.”