Monday, April 28, 2014

Warnings from Hebrews

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. 
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Hebrews 5:11-6:8
     This is a pretty humbling section of the letter, and one that is pertinent to at least the general American church today. It is pertinent also to me. It is probably pertinent to you. Nothing in it is easy to hear, however, it has been my experience that it is not in the slaps on the back that I grow the most (with the exception of my pride), but in the areas where I have failed and must try harder to achieve the goal. When I am lazy, I do not need someone coming alongside me to tell me it is OK, that I deserve it, that we all need a break sometimes. It may be nice to hear, but it does not help me to accomplish what I need to accomplish. It does not help me to grow. No, at those times what I need someone to tell me to get off my rump and get to work!

     I think that one of the greatest misconceptions the modern worldview holds is the belief that anything difficult to hear or that seems harsh is unloving. We must remember, however, that "all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it," a truth written later on in Hebrews chapter 12. As a society, we want to be coddled and we do so enjoy lashing out at those whose ways are not as soothing as we would like, calling them intolerant. Ironically enough, that is, itself, an act of intolerance--a refusal to see another worldview as valid and acceptable.

     However, when I read this letter, I do not see judgmental anger or harshness. I see the desperation of one who is trying to wake loved ones out of a dangerous state of lethargy. My friends, if you snatch me from the path of an oncoming semi--even if I am wounded in the process--I would not say you were in the wrong or unloving. I would be thankful that you tried to save me at all! A broken limb may mend, but that semi may have done irreparable, permanent harm.

     This is the state of the church this letter was written to, and this is largely the state of the American church today. We are being lulled into a lethargy that will soon find us drifting into hazardous waters. We need to be woken up, snatched from danger at al
l costs. Even if we suffer some slights to our pride or damage to our tender sensibilities, even if we must be broken and humbled to recall that God is the Creator and that our opinions really have no bearing on the reality of His nature or His plans, these injuries are temporary and easily mended. They may even be necessary, as a greater wound is often inflicted in a surgery to remove a diseased organ or a cancer. Sometimes damage must be done before healing can begin.

     When we think about tolerance, love, hate, and all the rest, it is important to remember that it is not the state of the brief life we lead in these faulty, leaky, and fragile organisms we now dwell in. These are tents, temporary shelters for the one part of us that will go on--or not. However, if we hope to reach the final, permanent resting place offered through Christ, we must walk in Him. He is the only Way. We cannot afford to redefine this way based on cultural acceptability or soften His teachings to become more palatable. We need loving and firm teachers like the author of Hebrews who care enough to shake us up, to bring to mind the urgency of navigating through the ever-increasing atmosphere of cultural decay. We need to be reminded of the permanence of our spirit, the weight of our sins which He bore, our own terrific need for a Savior. We need to be reminded that belief is not obedience, and obedience is an act of love. We do not just acknowledge Christ as our Savior--we love Him for it and need be willing to throw everything else away for the privilege of spending eternity in the mingled presence of Him and of the Father.

     Or, as the author of Hebrews says, for those of us who are not new believers, we should already know all about repentance and the foundational stuff of discipleship. The doctrine of sin and repentance should not be novel to us, but rather should  by now be a matter of habit borne of diligent practice. We should be growing more like Christ, not more like the world. We do not need to claim some silly, false "repentance" that leads to no change, for as this letter's author wrote, that is akin to sacrificing Christ all over again and holding His death up to contempt. No, repentance should be genuine and lasting. Neither dare we to overlook sin and repentance altogether, for it is to set us free from sin that He gave His life. Let's resolve to grow, to put into practice the pursuit of personal holiness, to move on to solid food, and to ask our Father to keep us safely on the narrow path.

Father God, I am so very thankful that You gave Your Son to be our High Priest.I am so very thankful that You saw fit to spare me the drinking of the cup of Your wrath. Lord,  I ask that You will keep me humble and keep me from drifting away. Wean me  from spiritual milk and help me to learn to walk in the light. Teach me to make a practice of rejecting darkness and agreeing with You on its definition. Help me to move on to maturity in Christ and to be Your building, established on the Rock and no longer tossed about by the changing winds of this world. Help me to walk in joy, peace, love, and patience with others as You have shown great patience with me. Help me also not to presume upon Your patience but to diligently and steadily seek Your face and Your wisdom and will for my life.  I ask in Jesus name, and not for my own sake but for the honor of His name, change me more and more into His image,amen. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 
Hebrews 4:11-16
     Happy Resurrection Sunday! This is my favorite holiday of the entire year. It is the day I look back and remember with reverence and astonishment the work done by my King on the Cross. It is also the day that I look past that with joy to the empty tomb, the fact that He was not defeated either by sin or by death. It is because He lives that I now have an advocate on high, a High Priest who knows more about humanity than He would by only being the Creator. He came and lived as one of His created, sharing in the same frailties of the flesh and enduring every temptation that faces mankind with one important exception: In His fatigue, His hunger, even at His weakest moment, He never fell into sin. He was tempted, but He resisted fully. Because of this, He was the only complete substitution sacrifice to pay for humanity's sins once and for all. Also because of this, the sin curse had no hold on Him, and since death entered through sin, neither did death. He has risen!

     But let's back up a bit...  The opening of today's passage talks again about entering the Sabbath rest that God offers. If we were to read all of Chapter 4, we would see that it is an extension of 3, expanding on the idea of rest after the careful warning of not to harden our hearts. I love that right after all of this talk of hardening of hearts and rest, there is the very poignant description of the Word of God. After all, this is the only tool that we have in truly determining the state of our very selves. It is this Word that exposes the evil desires I carry, the twisted motives, even the pride of self that I harbor in my heart when outwardly doing "Christian" things. It is this Living Word that shows me the depravity of man, myself included, and the desperate need for a Savior.  It reminds me that I may fool myself into thinking I have it all sorted, but ultimately it is to Him that I will someday give an account, not only of my blatant sins but also of my secret wrong motives or my subtle arrogance. I don't know about you, but I need this tool in order to walk humbly with my God. It reminds me of His glory; it reminds me of His Sovereignty. It also reminds me of the fact that even when I am at my very best, I still cannot measure up to this Holy God. It is not my goodness but His power and strength alone that are good enough. I am totally insufficient, but His grace is sufficient for me.

     Now we are back to where we begun: Jesus as the great High Priest who has experienced physical and emotional pain, hunger, distress, and fatigue. Jesus, the Man who experienced the temptations to speak angry words in a moment of weakness or to do a deed for His own glory rather than the Father's, or a myriad of other sneaky temptations that trip me up daily, yet He did not. He did not fail. He endured the temptation until the bitter end and He overcame. This is the One through Whom I have access to the throne of grace. By His steadfastness, the libation of His precious blood, and the complete surrender of His will to the Father's, I am granted mercy and grace. Not for anything I have done, but for what He did for me. How can I not rejoice?

     He is risen!

     He is risen indeed!

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. Mark 16:5-6

Friday, April 18, 2014

Rest and Belief

      Faithfulness and unbelief.  What a fantastic topic for Good Friday. Today is the day we reflect back on the faithfulness of Jesus as He fulfilled the Father's redemption plan for mankind, though it cost Him much pain and suffering. It is a good day to hear again the warning God gave His people and that the author of Hebrews reminded the church of in the New Covenant: "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion..."   
     It is an apt warning for us all today.

     The words that follow are equally poignant: "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God; but encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called 'Today' so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."  When I read this, I wonder at the struggle some seem to have to "make" the Bible relevant today. What could be more relevant than this warning? It is ageless, as true 2000 years ago as it was when first spoken hundreds of years before that. It is a warning that will be necessary as long as the sin nature exists. For it is very much in our nature, each of us, to drift away, to fall away, to harden our hearts and make excuses for our sin. It is very much a part of us that we will justify sin away by calling it something else; dressing it up in a more appealing-sounding package.
      But sin is still sin. And it is for sin that Christ suffered and died, laying down His immaculate life as the final and only price of absolution for all of our sin. Because of Him, and only because of His choice, we now have access to God. We now have an invitation extended to enter into God's Sabbath rest. This is a two-fold word, this rest. It is an invitation to come into the Kingdom, to have a life beyond this life of toil and labor, an eternal life of worship in the presence of the Living God. It is also an invitation to rest from our burdens and anxieties now; to understand that God is Sovereign and that He will carry out His plan. If He did not spare His own Son, do we honestly think He might just drop the ball now at the very point of finishing the game?  We have nothing to be anxious over, but if we are in Christ, we do have everything to be grateful for. I know that His faithfulness did not come easily. Neither will ours. But we can rest in the understanding that if our hearts truly desire Him, He will make us faithful. He has already done the work. We have only to enter the Father's rest--that is, to trust and believe.

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 
John 19:30

Lord, we confess that we have such a small faith.  As we meditate on Jesus' work on the cross today, we long to believe without reserve, holding nothing back. We do believe; help us overcome our unbelief!!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

High Priest

Hebrews 2:5-18

     This passage continues the theme of the supremacy of Christ above the angels that was begun in chapter one, but as I have read it over and over, that is not all I see. I also see a glimpse of the fantastic, tragic, and astonishing nature of the entire redemption story. For if Christ was so much greater than the angels, in fact, if He is God Himself incarnate, then how much more devastating to my pride is it that He would deign to die in my stead?
     If He, the agent of creation, so vastly higher in rank than angels and of a divine and changeless nature, set aside for a time all power and glory to be made, "for a little while lower than the angels" so that I might achieve a victory that I could neither attain nor deserve on my own merits, how can I stand by idly and just accept such a phenomenal gift with a mere shrug of acceptance or a casual, "Thanks," and go about living my life as I please?  Impossible, if I truly believe it happened thus. This perfect example of humility and this selfless sacrifice, this epitome of surrender of human will to the greater will and plan of the Almighty, this stepping down of the King of all things into His creation to save it from it's own choices... how could I not respond in love and gratitude?

     There is another point made in the above passage that stood out in my readings. As it says, though He is sovereign, we do not yet see all things in subjection to Him. It is important to note that this is not due to a lack of power or authority. Rather, it is a demonstration of patience, waiting until the Day that every person who will turn to Christ has turned. He has done the work on the cross, sowing seeds of love, mercy, and grace. He now waits for the fruit to be ripe and ready for the harvest.

      This is the patience spoken of in  2 Peter 3:9: "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."  This is patience for me when I stray. This is patience for you. This is patience to wait on the friends and family who now reject Him or simply do not know. It is patience for the tribal man raised having never heard the word, "Jesus" in any tongue who simply does not yet know his sin is sin nor that there is another way. This is patience that is full of the expectation of life and of better things to come. It is the patience for every soul on earth to have ample opportunity to hear and consider the Gospel; patience that everyone may have a chance to make a decision to either accept or reject the Christ.

     So in this patient, generous God-man, we have not only a Savior, but one who understands us more thoroughly even than we understand ourselves. He has the understanding of a Creator--He knows the stuff we are made of, the peculiar chemical and organic mixture that makes up each individual, and the very number of hairs on our heads. He also understands us in another way, both far more profound considering He is the Author and simultaneously far more basic. He understands what it means to be human because He has been human. He has learned to walk and talk and feed Himself. He has faced temptation, indeed, as C. S. Lewis points out, faced it more completely than any of us for only He has seen how strong temptation can become because only He never gave in to it. He knows the full extent; we only know the point to which we fell.
     This is the risen King we worship on Easter Sunday; the all-powerful Creator who chose to come among His creation as one of us, to live that perfect life, to lay down His life as ransom for our own, and by that act to loose the grip of sin and conquer the fear of death for all who love and obey Him. This is our High Priest--Jesus, whose ministry is tangible, accessible, complete, and incredibly practical.  "Hallelujah, what a Savior! I owe everything to Him!"

Monday, April 14, 2014


Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. 
Hebrews 2:1-4
     Drift. Neglect. These are not very dangerous-sounding words. There is no violence in them, nothing to that would spur us to the same frantic efforts as would the idea of an alarm signaling an imminent assault, nor do they inspire us to leap into action as urgently as we would for the deliverance of friends or family from a looming menace. Neither do these words reflect a purposeful action as in a rejection or a repelling.  I wonder, however, if the very passivity of the words should not cause us to act as swiftly and decisively as would a more obvious peril.  For I guarantee you that our enemy is just as thrilled with our lull of complacency over the inactivity of drifting away as he is over the more direct and purposeful sins we can commit. Perhaps more so, for he hopes that if he can keep us diverted long enough, we will drift right away from the Father and become lost in his vast, murky kingdom of lies. In cases of drifting or neglect, the method of arrival may be more meandering than in the case of deliberate rebellion, but the destination is equally grim.

     In our culture today, is it not easy to drift? Is it not the simplest matter in the world to "go with the flow," to drift peacefully and effortlessly, allowing the social current to sweep us along? Simple, yes, but ask any ship's captain and you will find that being adrift is neither an ideal nor a useful situation. In a lazy hour with a pleasant sun, drifting may seem almost luxurious. Once a storm rolls in and the waves churn madly, however, to be caught adrift with no certainty of location nor navigational plan will quickly turn a peaceful and gentle rest into a frantic scramble for one's very life. With no clear heading, the aimlessly floating ship is now found lost, off course, but where? Now the ship requires saving, someone from the outside to help the crew gain their bearings. Even then, it will require a mighty force of effort and labor to bring the ship right again.

     Neglect, too, is a passive word. A person does not have to do much--in fact, does not have to do anything--in order to neglect. It is a shirking of duty, inattention to what needs to be done. The effects of neglect, like that of drifting, are not immediate. By neglect, a plant will slowly wither and die, a garden become overrun by weeds, a house rot and collapse, a child starve and pine away, and a sick man fade away to death. Neglect is a silent killer; a slow menace that withholds rather than assaults. It is often done, not intentionally, but but by a mere lapse of attention.

    In these two words, passivity and inattention combine to bring disastrous results. I know from my own experience how easy it is by a momentary forgetfulness, to form a habit of such quiet yet certain death. I do not set out to reject God nor to neglect His Word.  I may even read it daily, but negligently, scanning the beautiful words of life while my mind is shamefully occupied by my task list or by desire of some temporal pleasure. How easy it is to drift away from the Truth, embracing some area or another of wrong thinking because it is commonly viewed as correct; forgetting that my anchor must be firmly established in the Word of God so that the tug of the chain will remind me when I am in danger of being drawn away from His port.

     Oh, Lord, it is my sincere prayer that You will keep me from drifting. Send Your Holy Spirit as my guide and keep me from being lulled into complacency in my spiritual journey with You. Keep me attentive, focused on Your will and desiring You above all else. May I not become passive or inactive, but zealously embracing Your truths and rejecting the subtle lies of the enemy.  Keep me spiritually awake and alert, teach me to take sin seriously and to repent fully, and keep me humble that I may recognize the whisper of Your Spirit in the conviction of sin and of righteousness. Grant me willingness to be hard-working, willing to exert myself on the narrow path and resist the pull of the current seeking to draw me onto the broad path to destruction. 
     May it be not only me that Your Spirit revives in this way, Father, but awaken all of Your people to this quiet danger. Revive us in Your word, wake us up, and teach us to pay closer attention to what we have heard from You. Let us not neglect the incredible salvation You offer us in Christ! Give us the strength, the awareness, and the spiritual discernment we need to navigate in the crazy, conflicting currents of this world. We ask this in Jesus' name and for the sake of Your kingdom, amen.