Tag Archives: encouragement

What is God revealing?

 

Revealing Hidden Things

As stated last week, secret things belong to God.  Revealed things, however, belong to us and to our children so that we may follow God’s law.  They are truths which God has communicated through the Bible and His Holy Spirit. These also include those things revealed through the whole counsel of God.

This truth, found in Deuteronomy 29:29, falls in the fourth address to the children of Israel by Moses.  It is a summary of the covenant demands and an appeal for covenant obedience (Deut. 29:2-29).

For the Israelites, the secret things of the LORD probably referred to future details that God had not revealed to Moses.  Yet what He had revealed (e.g., future judgment for disobedience, future blessing for obedience, His requirement for holiness, etc.) was enough to encourage the Israelites to follow all the words of the Law.[1]  

Is God’s revealed truth enough to encourage 21st century believers to trust and obey the LORD?  To answer this question, let’s consider four (4) tenets of faith currently revealed by God in His Word and through His Spirit.

These are not meant to be exhaustive, but have proven to anchor one’s faith during tumultuous times (Heb. 6:19).  As we look at our current world situation, it is easy to become weary.  Hopefully, these revealed truths will encourage us not to “lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:16-17).

What has God revealed?

Our Knowledge of Him (2 Pet. 1:3-5).  Jesus came not only to acquire our salvation but to also manifest (reveal) the Father’s name (nature) to His children (John 17:6; 26).  Armed with that knowledge, we believers have access to divine power and precious promises.  God has also provided us with spiritual wisdom and insight through His Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-10).

Our Identity (Eph. 1:3-4). Identity is defined as the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognized or known.   God chose us to be adopted as sons, heirs and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).  Our identity also connects us with other believers in God’s universal Church.  Because of our identity we have access to everything we need to accomplish God’s purpose for our life and His kingdom. (Eph. 2:10)

 Our Salvation (2 Cor. 5:17).  We are new creatures in Christ.  Because of Christ’s substitutional death on the Cross, we have been set free from the penalty and power of sin in our life.  This freedom will be fully experienced once in heaven where we will be delivered from the presence of sin (Rev. 21:4).

Our Hope (Rom. 4:18-21).  Hope is simply defined as the expectation of future good.   “Biblical hope is the anticipation of a favorable outcome under God’s guidance. More specifically, hope is the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future. This contrasts to the world’s definition of hope as a feeling that what is wanted will happen.”[2]

What keeps us from trusting what God has revealed?

One reason we may not trust what God is revealing is because we fail to recognize it.   In the 2020 Barna study, Signs of Decline & Hope Among Key Metrics of Faith”, it is noted that there are fewer “faith engagements” occurring among both believers and non-believers.  These include Bible reading, prayer, and church attendance.  These activities are critical to gaining an understanding of what God has revealed in the past and what God is revealing in the present.

The U.S. population is undergoing major religious, social, demographic and digital change. The rise of digital life, including social media, the economic crisis, changing attitudes about social issues and the emergence of younger generations on the scene are some of the factors that are likely to form undercurrents recalibrating Americans’ connection to faith and to Christianity.

Another reason we may not trust what God is revealing is because we choose not to believe.  One’s disbelief may be tied to the feeling that religion and the Bible are no longer relevant to 21st century living.  Such beliefs are not new.  The Apostle Paul warned the young minister Timothy that the time would come when people would not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3-5).   People are choosing other forms of spirituality that “better accommodate” their chosen life style and worldview.

Finally, we may not trust what God is revealing because we choose not to obey God.  Have you ever noticed that when a person is auguring over a specific teaching from the Bible, it is often connected to a personal obedience challenge they are facing in their life?  Obedience is more than just following the letter of the law.  It is discerning what God would want and then seeking that outcome.

So where do we go from here?

As we discover things revealed (and the list is infinite), we gain access the very mind of God (Rom. 11:33-36).  Things revealed may be answers to those persistent questions concerning God’s purpose for our life.  Our receptivity to things revealed may be our entry to God’s power, presence, and provision.

Our life and the current challenges of 21st century living may seem impossible, but with God’s grace and favor, nothing is impossible.   In the midst of this health pandemic, strained human rights, and cries for human justice, we need only to seek Him in the things revealed.

[1]  The Bible Knowledge Commentary , Old Testament

[2]  Holman Bible Dictionary

What I Learned in 2021

Where to Begin

In past years when I did this exercise, I would go to several sources for input.  This includes my daily journal, and scripture memorization cards.  They were reminders of the paths I walked with Jesus throughout the year.

My journal included my thoughts during my time of inquiry of the Lord.  Bits and pieces of this and that:  theologian quotes, bible study notes and miscellaneous thoughts about life and the world I live in. Topics that caught my attention, would later become personal studies, WordBytes or Morning Reflections.

My scripture memorization cards, with date recorded at the top, would remind me of how the Spirit renews my mind with God’s Word.  His Word would prove to either strengthen my heart or tell again of God’s inexhaustible grace: grace that covers my human weakness and brokenness.  It most often than not encouraged me to be more patient and longsuffering.

As I reviewed my information, I came to this realization.  It is vital that believers continually develop a personal relationship with God.  Not religion but relationship.  It should be our goal to be “intimately connected” with the Lord.

Relationship with God

God has always desired to be in relationship with man.  Adam was first to experience the joy and freedom of an intimate connection with God.  Imagine daily walking and talking with God about the events of the day, your hopes, and fears, and hearing His plan for your life.  Guess what?  We can experience that in our life right now!

Today we, as believers in Christ, have continuous access to that same intimacy Adam experienced in the Garden but with even greater privilege.  We have His Presence, through the Holy Spirit living within us (John 14:16-17).

As I read God’s Word, pray, and exercise the different spiritual disciplines, I become one with Him.  Jesus invited His disciples to abide in Him (John 15:4).  That invitation is extended to us today.

F.B. Meyer writes about the privilege of being one in Christ and the intimacy that comes with that relationship.

We must be one with Christ: we must be in Him as the sponge is in the ocean.  We must be in Him, not only in our standing, but also in our daily walk.  We must be in Him as the branch is in the vine and the vine-sap in the branch.  This must not only be in theory, but an hourly experience.

My 2021 Epiphany

I became a Christian when I was nine-years old.  I bought the “fire insurance” and knew I wasn’t going to hell.  However, as I grew older, I still didn’t feel the connection I thought believers were supposed to have.  Although I went to church weekly and served in various church functions, something was missing.

I was a carnal Christian until I was 40.  Then something happened.  I rededicated my life to Christ.  No more “hooky pokey” Christian life for me.  What happened?  Why the change?

A student from my Senior High Sunday School class had chosen to become a minister.  We were excited to welcome him back to his home church where he was to bring the Sunday morning message.

This was especially exciting for me in that, as a teenager, he hated to review the lesson on behalf of our class.  He would grumble and groan and swear never to come back to Sunday School if I made him do it.  He eventually agreed to my request.

In his morning sermon, he shared his personal witness of how his intimacy with God led him into ministry.  It had nothing to do with my teaching or my coaxing him to review.  He found what it meant to be IN RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS.  It wasn’t religion.  It was relationship.

That was it for me.  My Sunday School student helped me understand what it meant to have a “personal relationship” with God.  So even today I seek a deeper and closer relationship with Jesus.  And every day with Jesus is “sweeter than the day before”.

Go deeper in 2022

Most interesting about my epiphany is that Jesus just recently revealed this memory to me.  Why now?  I don’t know.  Maybe He felt it was time to share it with you.

Daily we have the opportunity to practice His presence as we daily address the challenges of 21st century living.  In God’s presence we experience His love, power, and wisdom.   As we go deeper in our relationship with God, we can better understand His ways and see with spiritual eyes.

Let us deepen our trust in Him.  When we do, we aren’t shaken by the latest news stories or the challenges we face in 2022 and beyond.  We know whose in control!

As members of God’s family there is nothing that can separate us from His love.  And we have the blessed assurance that our relationship with God will extend into and throughout eternity.

I invite you this year to go deeper in your relationship with God.  Become “like the sponge in the ocean”.  Live and abide in Him.

No extra reading this week so please share with us what you learned in 2021.  Thanks for reading.

A Better New Year’s Resolution, Part 2

A Better New Year's Resolution, Part 2

A better new year

As we shared last week, new year’s resolutions are not the best way to create change in our life.  Strength of character and self-will, often fall short in taking us where we really want to be.  We determined that “the best way” to introduce real change in our lives is through our relationship with Jesus Christ.  We must put on our “new man”.  In Christ we have a new identity.

Embrace our identity in Christ

When I began my Christian walk, the meaning of “in Christ” was a mystery to me.  I tried to understand it based on those things I was familiar with.  For example, I established membership in the local church.  I was in fellowship with its members to serve and glorify God in my life.  But “in Christ”, what did it mean?

In Christ is the present experience of the risen Christ indwelling the believer’s heart.  By the Holy Spirit we take on the personality of Christ.  It is more than an imitation of the life and teaching of Jesus.  It describes the believer’s union with Christ as a result of the divine action of grace by God.  The result of that action is the believer is transformed into a “new man.”  (2 Cor. 5:17).

Renewed in knowledge

Knowledge is defined as general awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.

However, in Colossians 3:10 knowledge means “precise and correct knowledge”.  It is used in the New Testament of the knowledge of things ethical and divine.  It is this type of knowledge that is needed today to navigate the challenges of our times.

Paul tells the church at Colosse to “put on the new man” who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.  “New man” and “old man” were terms introduced by Paul to contrast the believer’s new versus old behaviors and lifestyle (Rom. 6:6, Eph. 2:15; 4:22-24, Col.3:9-11).

So why did Paul tell the church to put on the new man? Because the new man has access to the “precise and correct” knowledge needed for righteous living (living in right relations with God and with mankind).  This knowledge is provided through the Holy Spirit living within the new man (John 16:13).  This is where transformation takes place.

In addition, this new man’s knowledge is further strengthened as a result of being created in the image of God.  In Christ we possess God’s divine nature—His DNA.  DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms.  It is the unique string of characteristics that make us who we are—physically and mentally.  In Christ, we have been given a new spiritual DNA that equips us for the purpose and plan God has created for our lives.

True Knowledge

In Christ, we not only have renewed knowledge but also “true” knowledge.  Paul describes this in 2 Peter 1:2-4.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Knowledge (of God) protects us against error and deception, regardless of its source.  It helps us discern and use God’s truth to guide our life.  True knowledge sharpens our spiritual eyes to see not only potential dangers but also the possibilities that God has in store for us.

Promise of a better year

If we want a better new year, we must be intentional.  Our aim should not be wasted on things that never work.  Our focus must continue to be on the Person who has the authority and power to “make all things work together for our good.”  (Rom. 8:28).   That person is Almighty God (Ps. 97:1-2).

Our divine truth is this.  Being in Christ and knowledge of God will provide us with everything we need to be successful not only in 2022 but also all the way to glory. Let us diligently seek the Lord more this year than last.  This is the best way to a better new year.

Rethinking Waiting

 

Rethinking Waiting

Living is about waiting

Everybody is waiting for something!  Whether it’s a new job, a favorable outcome, or a different significant other.  We all are waiting.

There are different ways to wait.  Many of us pray.  Some of us worry.  And still others, attempt to lessen the wait time by “helping” move it forward more quickly.  Have you ever been in “standstill” traffic and the person behind you continues to beat on their horn?

21st century waiting

Americans spend roughly 37 billion hours each year waiting in line. The dominant cost of waiting is an emotional one: stress, boredom, that nagging sensation that one’s life is slipping away.

I think it’s comical that this century, that was to be man’s crowning achievement of knowledge and technology, has done little to reduce waiting time.  Of course the pandemic, global warming, and other challenges of this decade have had a major impact on waiting.

Businesses and institutions will continue to make financial decisions that, in most cases, personally increase our wait time for their product.  When are you sending your Christmas cards out this year?

Waiting extends to every area of our life.  Whether it’s service at our favorite restaurant or scheduling a critical appointment with our physician.  This is a season of waiting.

Resistance to waiting

There are many reasons we may have a problem with waiting.  Our resistance often stems from our “flesh-based” needs:  impatience, pride, independence, and stubbornness.

With impatience, “we want what we want now”.  It reflects our inability to control our desire for action (Numbers 20:10-12).  Pride operates with an inflated opinion of what’s the best answer or solution to our problem or situation.  It is the conceited sense of one’s superiority (Hosea 7:8-10).  

Independence cries out, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”  It stems from our need to control our affairs apart from outside influences, even God (Luke 15:12-16).  What can we say about stubbornness?  Who can talk a fool out of his folly? Stubbornness is characterized by our being difficult to handle or overcome (Proverbs 26:3-5).

God and time

If we are waiting for God’s intervention or direction, we will need to reset our watches.  God does not exist in the confines of human time but in eternity where there is no time (Is. 57:15).

Time expresses “duration”.  Our earthly time pieces mark change in duration that indicate the passage of time.  Eternity, in contrast, expresses the concept of something that has no end nor beginning.  God has no beginning or end. He is outside the realm of our time (2 Pet. 3:8).

Reasons for waiting

From a Christian perspective, why should we embrace waiting?

Waiting embraces God’s sovereignty. (Acts 17:28).   God’s sovereignty is defined as His preeminent power and authority.  It is a natural consequence of His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence.  While God has given man “free-will”, it is critical for believers to “choose God” and trust Him unconditionally.

Waiting strengthens our spiritual muscles.  (1 Peter 1:13-15).  Believers in Christ must be able to remain faithful during this postmodern era.  We can expect that our tenets of faith will continue to be under attack.  We must be patient as we listen for God’s instructions on where we are to serve.

Waiting transforms our lives. (1 John 3:3).  While waiting we draw near to God and listen for His voice through prayer and reading His Word.  We taste the wonders of His transforming power and His future rewards.  Therefore, we are willing to accept delays and interruptions rather than demand “instant gratification” based on fleshly lusts and worldly influence.

Time to rethink waiting

The thing about waiting for God is that there is no set or agreed upon time when an answer might be forthcoming.  You can move ahead of God, but you risk missing or delaying the desired purpose God has for your life (Eph. 2:10).

Waiting for God is where our faith comes into play.  We must believe and trust that God loves us and will always do what is best for us.  What we see as a delay is really God’s “best timing” for our life.  Waiting for God is always worth the wait (Lam. 3:26).

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 2

 

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 2

The Believer’s certainty

As we stated last week, certainty is defined as a fact that is definitely true.  It is the state of being reliably true.  As believers our certainty is connected to God.  Our confidence is based not only on Who God is but also on His truth.

We recognize the uncertainties of living in a fallen world.  To live in a fallen world means we struggle with sin daily. We experience heartache and pain. We witness natural disasters and staggering loss. Injustice, inhumanity, and falsehood seem to dominate.  Discord and trouble are commonplace. None of this was God’s original plan for humanity.

It is important, however, that as believers we focus on the certainties of our faith—divine certainties—that enable us to navigate successfully in these difficult times.  What are these divine certainties?  How do they help us in times of uncertainty?

Divine Certainty-God’s Nature

The certainty of our faith begins with our understanding the nature of God.  While there are many attributes of God’s nature, I will focus on two (2):  God’s immutability (He does not change) and God’s veracity (He is truthful).

This is especially important as we discuss the matter of certainty.  This means that whatever God states, in His Word and through His Holy Spirt, can be accepted with certainty—as reliably true.  What God has stated in the historical past is still true in our contemporary present.

The immutability of God expresses the fact that God does not change.  What we are dealing with here is the dependability of God.  He will be the same tomorrow as He is today.  He will act as He has promised.  The believer can rely on Him (Lam. 3:22-23; 1 John 1:9).  God’s immutability is “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”  (Hebrews 6:18-19)

God’s veracity speaks to God’s truthfulness.   God represents things as they really are.  God never lies (Titus 1:2).  It is contrary to His nature.  God is “trustworthy”.  Such truth can either be assuring or fearful, depending on your relationship with the Lord (Numbers 23:19).

Divine Certainty-Our Identity in Christ

Our identity in Christ is another major reason for certainty and assurance of our faith in God.  We have peace during uncertain times because of our relationship with Jesus.

For me, Ephesians 1:3-17, does an extraordinary job outlining the many spiritual blessings and promises found in our New Covenant relationship with Father God.  It details the completed work of Christ as only can be designed by God before the foundation of the earth.

In Christ God makes His superabundant blessing available to His children by faith in Christ so that what Christ has is theirs—including His righteousness, privilege, resources, position, and power.  Believers are now able to draw upon the wealth of Christ to accomplish God’s purpose and His will. This includes our spiritual security as we move from “death to eternal life” (John 5:24).

Divine Certainty-Our Anchor

Our certainty is also connected to our memory.  Let us not forget the faithfulness God has shown us in the past.  The church mothers would often assure us in times of distress: “The Lord didn’t bring us this far to leave us.”  King David shares their belief as he reminds us in Psalm 103:2 to “forget not all God’s benefits.

Our personal history to God’s faithfulness is a testimony of our certainty in God.  We are witnesses to God’s presence, His protection, and His provision.  During times of uncertainty, we can walk confidently in the divine certainty based on our connection with God.

My intent in this writing is to remind believers that during these times of uncertainty and disruption, we have an anchor in the Lord.  Our confidence is based on Him alone.  Our Lord is the only true source of certainty in an uncertain world (Ps. 37:3).

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 1

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 1 What is certainty?

Certainty is defined as a fact that is definitely true or an event that is definitely going to take place.  It is the quality of being reliably true.

The Bible concordance describes certainty as “absolute truths”.  I find this description ironic as we strive to live in this post-modern society where, supposedly, there are “no absolutes” and even “fewer truths.”

However, as Christians, we do believe in absolute truths that we confidently depend on.  This is the benefit of our faith in Christ.  This gives us “peace that passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

The Certainties of life

The events of 2020 have shifted systems and institutions that once were thought to be secure and indestructible.  As we stand in the shadow of COVID 19 with its many “aftershocks”, we realize our naϊveté.  We now long for the stability and certainty once found in the past.

As youth, we experienced the certainty of family.  Family provided the initial shaping of our values and belief systems.  Family cared for our basic needs—food, clothing, shelter, and love.  Our family validated who we were and provided the foundation we needed for success.  That was the certainty we needed in the beginning.

The assurance found within our familial systems were later extended to our communities.  It included our schools and our churches.  We became the product of our “unique village” with many people teaching us life lessons.  Within the borders of community, we learned self-esteem, confidence, respect, and achievement.  Here we prepared for the rest of our life.

A Hunger for Certainty

We often joke that the certainties of life are death and taxes.  After 2020, we can now add uncertainty to that list.  Uncertainty has always been with us but now it has become more “life affecting.”

Uncertainty has a physiological effect on our lives.  It is neither good nor bad.  It is, however, something that we must address.

A sense of uncertainty about the future generates a strong threat or ‘alert’ response in your limbic (brain) system. Your brain detects something is wrong, and your ability to focus on other issues diminishes. Your brain doesn’t like uncertainty – it’s like a type of pain, something to be avoided. Certainty on the other hand feels rewarding, and we tend to steer toward it, even when it might be better for us to remain uncertain.[1]

Shifts in Certainty

As a nation and as individuals, we were certain that our institutions and systems would always be available to care for us.  We trusted others to protect our best interest and to operate at the highest level of integrity.  But unfortunately, that has not always been the case.

After a year of unprecedented disaster and turbulence – the Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis, the global outcry over systemic racism and political instability – the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world. Adding to this is a failing trust ecosystem unable to confront the rampant infodemic, leaving the four institutions – business, government, NGOs and media – in an environment of information bankruptcy and a mandate to rebuild trust and chart a new path forward.

Reports such as these highlight our need for a dependable source to address the uncertainties of 21st century living.  We need a “sure thing”.  That sure thing is Jesus Christ.  Our faith in Christ is not a weakness nor is it a last resort.  To the contrary, Jesus is the only true source of certainty in an uncertain world (Ps. 37:3).

Our Certainty Connection

As believers our certainty is connected to The Ultimate Source.  We trust in God.  Our confidence is based not only on Who God is but also on the veracity of God—His truth and His truthfulness.

God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Col. 1:17; Rev. 4:11).  He alone can “make good” on all His promises.  God is all powerful, everywhere present and all knowing.

Next week we will continue to discuss certainty in an uncertain world.  We will focus on the certainties of our faith which enable us to live victoriously in these tumultuous times.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-brain-work/200910/hunger-certainty

God is still speaking

 God is still speaking

E.F. Hutton was one of the most respected financial firms in the United States during the latter part of the 20th century.  It was known for being cutting edge and innovative including it’s iconic marketing campaigns. The slogan “when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen,” became a cultural touchstone.  It is even more important for believers that when God speaks, we listen!

The writer of Hebrews opens their letter with the clear declaration that although God spoke to man in the past through His prophets, He was changing His method of communications.  God was doing a new thing.  God would now speak through His Son, Jesus Christ.

This new way was the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  Jesus offered a more excellent, effectual, and eternal way of providing salvation to mankind.  In the progression of Hebrews, the writer proves that Jesus is superior to angels, a High Priest superior to Melchizedek, and the Mediator of a superior covenant (The New Covenant).

Warnings along the way

The warnings through Hebrews 10 attempted to address the spiritual erosion of the believers in receipt of this letter.  Their behaviors constituted real dangers that could seriously damage their ability to serve and remain faithful to Christianity.  They included negligence, unbelief, spiritual immaturity, and drawing back.

Their actions, once viewed as exemplary, were now approaching indifference.  This resulted in several reminders to the readers concerning their ministry responsibilities in outreach (Heb. 13:1-2, 16), teaching (Heb. 5:11-13), and worship (Heb. 10:25).

Are we experiencing warnings along our Christian walk?  Have we become lax in our commitment to our spiritual giftedness?  Are we sloppy in our worship and praise?  Are we negligent in our service to the Lord, regardless of how small or large it might be?  Has our witness become “silent” for fear of rejection or reprisals?  Are we indifferent to the needs of our community and fellow man?

A Call to Faithfulness and Endurance

In Hebrews 11 the writer exhorts their readers to faithfulness and endurance.  They connect with their audience by sharing the experience of the heroes of Old Testament history.

The writer first spends time sharing the importance of faith.  Its value and worth can be summarized in that faith is:(1) based on confident convictions, (2) certainty about unseen hopes and realities, and (3) is honorable, in that the saints were commended for it.  (Heb. 11:1-2)

Since the readers are presented with “so great a cloud of witnesses” who demonstrated faith and endurance, they can also be expected to do the same (Heb. 12:1).

The final warning

The author concludes the basic argument of this epistle (the excellency of Jesus Christ) with a final admonition and warning (Heb. 12:25-29).  The warning points to the danger of refusing God.

This final warning cautions against apostasy or behaviors which may lead in that direction. This was discussed in earlier warnings to the readers who were in danger of “falling away” (Heb. 6:4-8) and “drawing back” (Heb. 26-39).  Although they had initially accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, they were still in danger of “turning away” (apostrepha) from or rejecting God’s new way of relating to His people.

We are receiving a kingdom

The author, knowing the tendency of their readers to spiritual weakness, uses Old Testament examples and contrasts to warn their readers to “see to it that they do not refuse Him who speaks” (v. 25). The warning is this.  If the Israelites did not escape God’s wrath as He spoke on earth, how much worse the punishment would be as God speaks from heaven?  (Heb. 12:25)

God sent His Son Jesus to speak for Him (Heb. 1:2).  More importantly, Jesus would provide a “more excellent way” to God through His substitutional death and sacrifice.  The power of sin would finally be broken. Jewish sacrifices and offerings were temporary.  They could never offer the promises and privileges of the Gospel. Jesus offered the power of heaven and the permanence of eternity in Mt. Zion (Heb. 12:26-27).

The writer closes this warning with a message of hope.  The message is this–believers were “receiving a kingdom which could not be shaken” (Heb. 12:28).  The verb receiving is in present tense meaning the action is a “fact of reality occurring in actual time”, historically and remaining even into the present.  This meant believers were part of God’s kingdom that would never change and were partakers of His generous grace (Heb. 3:14).

Within this new community “believers are to serve God with reverence and godly fear” (CSB, awe).  A believer who departs from God’s magnificent privileges invites God’s retribution (Heb. 12:29; Heb. 10:29).

The Message of Hebrew for the 21st Century 

The warnings contained in Hebrews are also appropriate for believers today.  Especially if we desire to remain faithful to the gospel and hope to persevere during this period of history when our faith is constantly under fire.

There are many factors which threaten our ability to “hold fast” our profession of faith (Heb. 10:23). Many are “heart-issues”.

    • The hardened heart. Our refusal to accept the teaching and guidance of God’s Word.  “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”  (Heb. 3:15)
    • The darkened heart. Our continuance in sinful behavior although delivered by Jesus Christ.  “If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sin.”  (Heb. 10:26)
    • The misguided heart.  Our lack of wisdom and truth needed to discern right from wrong.  “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:12-13)
    • The divided heart.  Our lack of faithfulness resulting in the choice of the world over God.  “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents.” (Heb. 13:9)

Be not discouraged by the admonitions of Hebrews.  Its writer has also included many promises for believers that desire Christ and choose to serve in the kingdom of God.  These promises are built on the excellency of Jesus Christ–the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).   They are the “more excellent way” (Heb. 5:9; 6:19; 7:19; 7:22; 8:1-2,10).  God is still speaking.  Are we listening?

The Danger of Neglect

 

When we began this series, we expressed the “need to heed” warnings in our lives.  This is especially true of spiritual warnings.  In the book of Hebrews, the author shares with a group of believers five (5) spiritual warnings he saw emerging within their community.  These warnings represented dangers that would ultimately end their faith walk, their witness, and their work.

These five spiritual warnings are still relevant in the 21st century.  Because of its relevance, we share the first of these warnings–the danger of neglect.

What is this thing called neglect?

Neglect is described as the state or fact of being uncared for.  Its origin is from two Latin verbs meaning ‘not’ + ‘choose’.  The Jewish Christians were considering to “not choose” Jesus.  They were at risk of “drifting away” (Heb. 2:1).

In the opening verses of chapter 2, the writer shares with the audience several points to consider before returning to Judaism.  Rejecting the gospel would have definite spiritual consequences.

Pay Attention!

The readers were urged “to heed” to what they have heard.  In the past God communicated through the angels.  God’s Son Jesus is now elevated far above the angels to reveal His message of truth and redemption.  If the Jewish Christians respected the angels before, they should be even more attentive to Jesus (Heb. 2:2).  The Message conveys this thought: “If the old message delivered by the angels was valid and nobody got away with anything, do you think we can risk neglecting this latest message, this magnificent salvation?”

Since Jesus Christ is much better than the angels and has received by inheritance a more excellent Name than they (the angels)–since He is both essentially and officially inconceivably superior to these heavenly messengers, His message has paramount claim on our attention, belief, and obedience.[1]

The writer of Hebrews wanted his reader to fully understand the consequence of their behavior.  By rejecting the gospel, they would be “storing up” for themselves the wrath of God: “How shall they escape?”  (Heb. 2:3)

Neglect in the 21st century

Today as I look around at our current world, I wonder if we too are at risk of drifting way.  During the current health pandemic and social upheaval, conversations about “our belief and obedience to Jesus” are, unfortunately, becoming rare.  This is especially true among the generations that will follow the Millennials.

It appears that we, as a nation specifically, are “not choosing” Jesus Christ.  And while the Jewish Christians were in danger of returning to Judaism, what options are people, including Christians, choosing?

What does neglect look like in the 21st century?  A well-known Bible scholar and author, highly regarded within both Christian and Jewish academia, gave the following predictions as to how the world would look if Christianity “drifted away.” We warn you the words shared are very graphic and disturbing.

Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth…these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. [2]

Better Choice

We can learn from the warnings in Hebrews and find new ground on which to stand fast in our faith. (Rom. 15:4) We can avoid the danger of neglect by being intentional in our thinking and our actions.

First and foremost, it is important that we value the gift that we have received as a result of God’s grace (Eph. 1:3-14).  We deserved to die for our sins which separated us from our Creator.  Jesus reconciled us back to God (2 Cor. 5:19).  Having tasted the goodness, the greatness, and the generosity of God through Jesus Christ, how could we ever want to return to our old way of living? (1 Pet. 2:2-3).

Secondarily, we must repent and return to Christ.  Especially if we have begun “to drift” to other options the world would offer.  The Apostle Paul shared with the church at Colosse a similar message concerning the sufficiency of Christ over other things this world may offer (Col. 2:6-10).  In Christ we have everything we need.

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.  For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. 

Lastly, we must listen as God speaks to us through His Son and in His Word.  Be protective of your time and intimacy with Jesus.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern those things that compete for your attention and your time (Matt. 6:33).  Through the practice of spiritual disciplines such as prayer, meditation, and journaling, we can better recognize Jesus’ voice over the noise of the world (John 10:27).

Pay close attention lest you too drift away.  Beware the danger of neglect.  Next week, we will focus on the second warning in Hebrews, the danger of unbelief.

[1]  Dr. Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews

[2]  2 Timothy 3:1-9

Finding our wilderness rest

Finding our wilderness rest

Finding our wilderness rest

Rest.  Who needs rest?  We all do!  Health professionals agree that the need for rest is critical.  It is essential for our overall well-being.  This includes our emotional health and cognitive performance.

But how can we rest?  21st century living has introduced a unique set of challenges that radically impair our ability to rest.  Our current life experiences have resulted in heightened anxiety within our families, our cities, and our nation.

Similarly, rest for believers has always been (and will continue to be) challenging.  This is because we live in a fallen world.  However, the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 4:9-11) offers a “viable solution”.   He invites believers to enter God’s rest—wilderness rest.

Defining rest

Webster defines rest as not only sleep but also as freedom from worry or trouble.   Rest in the Bible is used most frequently in non-theological terms.

However, it takes on spiritual meaning when used in relationship to God and His people.  Most specifically, when used in reference to the Old and New Covenant.

God addresses wilderness rest

In the Old Testament, Sabbath rest is first introduced in Genesis as God ceases from His work of creation (Gen. 2:2-3).  God later commanded Sabbath rest as part of the Mosaic Law (Exod. 31:15).  He knew that all living creatures needed physical renewal.

Canaan rest began with the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt.  Rest was defined as deliverance from slavery.  Canaan rest established protection from and victory over Israel’s enemies as they entered into the Promised Land (Josh. 14:15).  By following God’s commandments, Israel would no longer be threatened by attack from Canaanite inhabitants (Josh. 23:1).  Peace in the land would be their rest.

Most importantly, Jesus Christ’s arrival and selfless act of atonement introduced us to God’s eternal rest.  This rest surpassed those previously offered beginning with precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4) and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17, 26).  Believer’s eternal rest will culminate with Jesus Christ in eternity.

Accessing God’s rest

Accessing God’s rest is possible through development of an intimate relationship with Him.  Our rest can be found in listening to His voice and obediently acquiescing to His will (John 10:27).  For example, believers should let God’s Word and Spirit guide us.  God has already provided solutions for our problems therefore releasing us from unnecessary anxiety and fear.

On this matter of rest, Lawrence O. Richards, noted theologian writes:  “The struggle Christians are engaged in is not that of finding their way through life but of entering God’s rest.”  That is, believers need to be more responsive to the Lord.

Responding to wilderness rest

We can find rest as we listen for and respond to the Lord’s voice.  We trust the Creator of all rests—Sabbath rest, Canaan rest, and Eternal rest.

Only Sovereign God can create, deliver, and protect.  He gives use victory over the challenges we face (Rom. 8:37).  God knows the end from the beginning and His purpose will stand (Is. 46:8-10).  It is God’s desire that we live more fully as recipients of His gift of rest.  He invites us to draw near.

Wilderness Living

wilderness experience

Are you experiencing wilderness living?   I’m not talking about a survival challenge where one willingly goes into the wilderness to test their mental and physical endurance.  This wilderness experience is usually thought of as a tough time in which a believer endures discomfort and trials. We are unable to enjoy the pleasant things of life.

Similarly, this new decade (2020) is testing both our mental and physical endurance.  The stress and strain on our emotional health is unbelievable.  The combined effect of the health pandemic, racial strife and financial strain is unrelenting.  As a result, we have seen our lives played out like a bad dream repeated on a continuous loop.

I was encouraged when Michelle Obama shared her personal struggle with mild depression.  Her transparency and vulnerability are character strengths we can model during these difficult times.  In the same vein Israel  needed support to help them successfully navigate wilderness living.

God revealed during wilderness living

Captivity was Israel’s “wilderness experience.”  The nation was away from their land, their temple, and most importantly, their God.  Therefore, God, through His prophet Isaiah, sent words of consolation to Israel during their wilderness experience.  He promised to do a new thing (Is. 43:16-19).

New in Hebrew means to renew, rebuild, or repair.  Most certainly,  people today  need these three actions during times of uncertainty and chaos.   Our minds need to be renewed from the the insanity of the world (Rom. 12:1-2).  Our relationships need to be rebuilt and repaired  (Rom. 12:17-18).  We are divided on so many things.  Therefore, Satan uses these differences to further polarize us and  negate Jesus’ mandate to love one another (Matt. 5:43-44).

Because of His love for Israel, God promised He would not only renew, rebuild, and repair what was loss during the exile, but also   do the impossible.  “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring and my blessing on your descendants” (Isaiah 44:3).  In other words,  God would revive Israel physically and spiritually.

Facing wilderness living

Wilderness living is different for everyone. For example, for some people wilderness living may be relational—failed, estranged, or disappointing relationships.  For others the experience may be professional—finding the right vocation or personal significance.  But for some, wilderness living may be experiential—moments of personal loss, loneliness, or misfortune.  No two wildernesses are the same.

Likewise our spirit man may also feel strained.  What is God doing in the world and in our lives?  We may feel alone and isolated.  We may even think God has left us and no longer hears our prayers.  Is God with us in our wilderness?  He answers, “Yes!”  It’s in His Word (Ps. 91:15; Isa.43:2; Isa. 49:15).

Living in the wilderness

Above all, regardless of the type of wilderness experience, we can trust God.  We can relinquish control to God’s sovereign will and His steadfast love.   God is for us and He cares about everything that keeps us awake at night—our family, our provision, and our future.  God will sustain us In short, while we have no forecast as to when and if our world will ever be the same again, we have the blessed assurance that God is with us.  (Ps. 119:116)

After our wilderness experience

Through our wilderness experience God can renew, rebuild, and repair our lives (Ps. 130:5).  As we strengthen our intimacy with Him, we will find true happiness, contentment, and peace (Rev. 21:7).   God can do that for us individually.  Likewise, He can also do that for our nation.

God can do the impossible and bring us back to a healthy, vigorous and flourishing condition (Isa. 40:31).   We may not look the same but because of God, we will be better because of our experience in the wilderness (Job 23:10).