Hebrews: Faith in God

In June of 1995, British actor Hugh Grant was arrested in Los Angeles, California for hiring a prostitute for a sexual encounter. After a few weeks of hiding out with his PR people, Grant went on an “apology tour,” which famously led to an appearance with Jay Leno who called the actor out. Grant sheepishly said, “I think you know in life, pretty much, what’s a good thing to do and what’s a bad thing. I did a bad thing, and there you have it.” Come to think of it, Grant acknowledged his “bad thing,” but never apologized for it.

It’s one thing to be sorry for our actions. Lots of people have apologized publically and privately for things said and done (or not said and not done). Lots of people have even prayed for forgiveness, but few follow that prayer with “faith in God” (Hebrews 6:1).  In our last Hebrews study, we talked about “repentance from acts that lead to death.”  We defined repentance as a spiritual and moral change of attitude toward God which turns an individual from sin to God.  And we pointed out that true repentance must have both sorrow and turning.  If repentance is turning away, faith in God is turning to. Repentance for the Jewish readers of this message was turning away from the Law as a means of righteousness and turning to God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

But I’m pretty sure the vast majority of you reading this devotional are, like me, not Jewish. We’ve never been a slave to the Mosaic Law. So what does this mean for us?  The same thing. It means we must come to God with both a sincere heart of repentance and faith in God through the work of Christ.  It is saying, my old way of life, my selfish, self-centered, it’s-all-about-me attitude is wrong and the ways of God are right. It’s saying I am a slave to sin and I cannot redeem myself, but I trust that God can through His Son.  And remember, the writer contends that this is an “elementary, foundational teaching.”

I love to expound on things in Scripture, to take you deep into the truth of God’s Word and help you grow, but you and I have to get this right first. Beloved, “today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Have you, will you, turn away from sin and turn to faith in God through Jesus Christ?

I’m Sorry

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We’re trying to teach Joy to apologize when she does something wrong, especially when she hurts someone. She’s picking up that lesson pretty well. Tonight during her bath she was playing with finger paints again (it’s a bribe to get her in the tub) and she started to stick her paint-covered finger in her mouth. I said, “No Joy! Don’t put the paint in your mouth!” She looked up at me and said “Sorry, Nana.” “It’s okay,” I said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. Just don’t put the paint in your mouth – it’s yucky.” That was different from the other night when she got mad at me for taking something away from her that she was misusing. She lashed out – literally – and scratched me with her fingernails (that need trimming). Let me tell you – it hurt! Her mommy took her to time out in the other room and told her she had to tell Nana she was sorry. After a few minutes, I came into the room, and she lifted her tear-streaked face and said, “I sorry Nana.” I scooped her up in my arms and this time I said, “Thank you for saying ‘Sorry’ Joy. Nana loves you.” I didn’t tell her it was okay because what she had done was definitely not okay. It was wrong, and she needed to know it was wrong. But she also needed to know that saying “Sorry” was the right thing to do – and that Nana would always love her no matter what.

You and I have done wrong – we have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). We have broken His laws and offended His holiness. What we have done is not okay. Our actions deserve punishment – much more than a time-out. According to the Bible, we deserve death (Romans 6:23).  But God is gracious to us sinners (Romans 3:24) and that grace cost Him everything – “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

Beloved, of Jesus, when you and I sin, we can look to God and say “I’m sorry,” and know that, while our actions are not okay, our relationship with God is. Because Jesus paid the highest price to make us okay. Because God loves you – no matter what.

Songs of Joy

Since my granddaughter came into this world I’ve been coloring in my Bible. When I read the Scriptures, every time I see the word “joy” I draw a heart around it, capitalize the “J”, and color it in with a pink marker. It’s just a reminder to me to claim Joy for the Lord. This morning I came to Psalm 126. I encourage you to stop and read these six verses. How many times did you find her name? I counted four. As much as I love to see her name there, I love what this Psalm is and says.

This is one of the “Songs of Ascents.” Jews often made pilgrimages back to Jerusalem to worship during certain religious festivals. These Songs of Ascents – Psalm 120—134 – were sung along the way to prepare their hearts to meet with the Lord. Psalm 126 begins, “When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion . . .” (v. 1). It is remembering the Israelite’s return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. No wonder the word “joy” is so prominent! After 70 years of captivity, they had reason to rejoice.

I have three dated notes beside this Psalm: 5/2018 – Home, 9/2018 – BCF, 5/2019 – JOY! After 22 years away, because of job loss and health struggles, God sent us back home. After many months of searching, God opened up the best job I’ve ever had. And exactly a year to the day after we limped our way back home, God sent us Joy. Every word of this Psalm is my story. As if it weren’t perfect enough, three of the four “joys” are “songs of joy” and the most precious moments for me are singing my Joy to sleep. Yes, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with Joy” (v. 3).

Beloved, when there is weeping, please hold on to God’s promise that “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of Joy” (v. 5). This moment of sorrow and pain and heartache is not the end of your story. Joy is coming. Songs of Joy will fill your heart again. This life is a pilgrimage. Joy in the Lord your destination.

Lord, I’m Sorry

repentance“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” Psalm 51:17.

“I’m sorry, but . . .” he began and I realized he wasn’t sorry at all.  Once more he had betrayed my trust and crushed my heart and once more he offered a hollow “apology” that absolved him of the responsibilities of his actions.  There always seemed to be some reason outside of his control that made him do the things he did (or not do the things he said he would do).  But the truth is I’ve made the same kind of apology and I’ll bet you have too.  It’s human nature to want to wriggle out of blame.  It’s as old as the first sin.  Adam blamed Eve – and even blamed God – and Eve blamed the serpent.  Shifting blame is a national pastime.  It doesn’t really change what we’ve done or the harm we’ve caused, it just presses the guilt down a little under a false sense of relief.

Our key verse sits in David’s Psalm of lament after he was confronted with his adulterous sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah.  David does not try to dodge his wickedness nor sweep away his guilt.  He says, “I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me” (v. 3).   He confesses his sin to God and says that the Lord’s judgement against him is right and justified.  He pleads for mercy and cleansing and God graciously gives it.

Our sin breaks the heart of God and if we love God it will break our hearts as well. But forgiveness is possible when we confess our sin and repent.  And true repentance never has a “but,” it is raw and honest before the One who knows it all anyway.  It’s the only way to find real forgiveness and peace.  Paul reminded the Corinthians that “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). 

A dear friend once told me, “God doesn’t forgive excuses, He forgives sins.”  Beloved, we must stop trying to excuse our sin away and come to God in true repentance.  No “buts” about it.