Tag Archives: Knowing God

Living in Resurrection Power

Living in Resurrection Power

Resurrection Reality

“Christ has risen!” (Matt.28:5)   “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; He is not here” (Mark 16:6).  “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen” (Luke 24:5).  These are the biblical explanations to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection noted in the synoptic Gospels.

But one of the responses by Jesus’ followers (not recorded in the biblical record) might have been, “Ok, but what now?”  They had received the resurrection proclamation from the women who visited the empty tomb early Easter morning. They had personally seen the glorified Christ “behind shut doors” (John 20:19-30).  But, “what now?”

Even after this, the Disciples did not fully comprehend the implications of the resurrection and how it would change their lives forever. The Disciples and the New Testament Church would now face persecution and even death for their belief in Jesus Christ.   They would need to depend on resurrection power to achieve Jesus’ commission (Matt. 28:19-20).

Even now, in the 21st century, we as believers must come to terms with how the reality of Jesus’ resurrection impacts our lives every day.  To successfully navigate the challenges of today, we need resurrection power.

What is resurrection power?

Resurrection power is the supernatural power God used to raise Jesus from the grave (Eph. 1:19-20). It is this same power that has delivered us from sin’s power and penalty (Rom. 6:14).

Sin kept us in our brokenness and our bondage.  It manifested itself in our lives as guilt, shame, and misery.  These led us to dark paths of despair, depression, and feelings of hopelessness. However, as new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), we have access to the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the grave (Rom. 8:11).  Satan has been crushed.  We are free (Col. 2:15).

Although we may be tempted, we are able to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).  Even if we stumble or fall, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:39).  We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, our Guarantee, until we arrive in heaven (Eph. 1:13, 14).

Living in the power of the Resurrection

In the final days of His earthly life, Jesus hinted about this resurrection power.  He assured His disciples, “he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do” (John 14:12).

The Apostle Paul knew how to live in the power of the resurrection.  He wanted to not only “share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” but also, to know Him and the power of His resurrection (Phil. 3:10).  It was through the power of the Holy Spirit that Paul proclaimed the sufficiency of God’s grace through the “power of Christ that would rest on him” (2 Cor. 12:9).

How do 21st century believers live in resurrection power?

The early New Testament church gained its potency through the anointing and indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). Through resurrection power, we too, as 21st century disciples, can gain the same strength to accomplish God’s purpose.  In addition, it is through this power that we can find personal forgiveness, acceptance, and wholeness.

The Holy Spirit is the source of resurrection power.  It is through His presence that we are empowered for service to the Lord (John 16:13-15). The work that has been entrusted to us is destined for success because of the Holy Spirit working within us (Phil. 1:6).

The key to unlocking resurrection power is our willingness to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Cooperation is critical in every endeavor a person may attempt.  If we are to live successfully in resurrection power, we must follow Jesus’ example who practiced obedience and humility.  Although Jesus was God’s son, He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross (Phil 2:8).   We must learn to cooperate with the Holy Spirit.

Opportunities for resurrection power

Easter 2021 is over.  Once again, we have received (through every form of media) the resurrection proclamation. We have personally experienced the glorified Christ through our new life in Him.  The question we must ask ourselves is, “what now?”

As I look around and reflect on the state of our world, it is more evident than ever, “we need supernatural power” to deal with our challenges.  The human needs of the 1st century still exist today.  The resurrection power of Jesus Christ is still as powerful as when He rose on Easter morning.  And we have access to the same resurrection power in 2021.

Let us begin today to access resurrection power on behalf of our families, our communities, and our nation.  Let us courageously intercede on behalf of those experiencing the effects of sin in our world—hate, hurt, and hopelessness (2 Cor. 5:15).  Jesus, teach us how to live in your resurrection power TODAY.

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

What I Learned in 2020

To depict the many challenges we faced in 2020What’s Different

In the past, my annual reflections on “what I learned” were typical for believers in Christ.  They were my experiences and observations as I progressed on my spiritual journey.  They included such things as how I experienced God’s goodness and what I would work harder on in the new year.  I always finished the year hoping I had deepened my relationship with Him.

So what’s different this year?  Everything is different!  Why?  Because 2020 was very different.  As my pastor said a few weeks ago, “There is no such thing as a ‘new normal’.  There is no normal.  Everything is dynamic.”  Life as we knew it has changed.  We now live in a constant state of change.

What I learned in 2020 requires that I go deeper than I normally would in order to fully express the range of emotions and responses to everything that has been happening around us. It’s been said “life will make you bitter or better”.  With 2020, the jury is still out.

2020 Responses:  We Long for Many Things

Most responses to 2020 have ranged from anger (dumpster burnings of 2020 in effigy) to appreciation for the opportunities presented as a result of the pandemic Stay at Home directives.

The variance in these responses may stem from our ability to accept, absorb, or assimilate the changes that are taking place.

Some people respond by retaliating for what they see as a loss of control or threat to their personal freedom.  Remember the initial responses to the pandemic?  The battle over wearing masks?  We are no longer able to “do what we want to do” without considering the impact of our choices on others.

We now more fully understand “our connectedness” and dependence on each other.  We will need each other to successfully navigate the world as it is in “a state of becoming”.  There is a saying that, “You can’t be a winner in a losing organization.”  That statement is never more true than right now.

A Year of Grieving

2020 has also given us much to grieve over.  The loss of life due to the pandemic is unbelievable.  I pray that we never become comfortable with the rising number of deaths within our nation and the world.  So complacent that we forget that each “number” represents a person, a family, a life no longer present with us.

Let us also continue to pray and support those who serve during these horrific times.  The medical professionals, public employees, and service providers who daily risk their lives for us.

A Year without Relationship

I think we grieve the most over our “disrupted relationships”.  We desperately miss being with our families and friends.   No hugs.  No kisses.  We’re left with Zoom calls, online worship, and elbow bumps, if we’re lucky.

This longing to be with others is evidenced by our nation’s inability to deal effectively with the coronavirus.  We desire to be with one another so much that we are willing to literally die for it (or cause someone else to die).

While we desire to be with family and friends, our relationship with others has suffered in 2020.  We have separated ourselves into tribes based on our political views and class distinctions.  We have set aside the basics we learned in kindergarten–play nice and share.  We are at war with each other!  But why?  Over what?  There will be no winners in the end—-only pain, anger, and resentment.

This is unfortunate especially since we so desperately need each other during these tumultuous times.  It is now that we need “to put on bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering…and love” (Col. 3:12-14).

So what have I learned?

God is faithful (Deut. 7:9; Heb. 10:23)  and is able to see us through whatever problems we face.  Actually that isn’t something new I’ve learned.  However, 2020 revealed God’s faithfulness in a new context.

That context included a deadly pandemic, social injustice, economic upheaval, and civil unrest.  2020 was like a dystopia movie.  A dystoria is an imagined place or state in which everything is bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

But God was everything He said He would be.  He was my provider (Phil. 4:19).  He was my  protector (Ps. 46:1-3).  Jesus was my peace–something we still need in 2021.  God’s presence was my comfort and assurance through all the madness of 2020.

You and I are living proof of God’s faithfulness in that we now stand on the other side of 2020.  And how did we get here?  How did we get to the other side?  God brought us through (Is. 43:2).

God’s Plan of Salvation 

There is so much I have learned (and continue to learn from 2020).  But the most important thing I’ve learned is to see life through the reality of God and His plan of salvation.  

God is purposefully executing His plan of salvation for mankind.   Eternal God is sovereignly exercising His purpose in the midst of our history.  Regardless of today’s  current events or who is currently in leadership, they must all defer to the rule and reign of God (Daniel 2:21).

God’s plan for mankind didn’t end with the arrival of Jesus Christ.  God is still manifesting His plan and we are part of that plan right now.  It is our privilege to join God as He manifests His purpose in the world.

So what have you learned in 2020?  I can’t wait to hear from you.

Making the Right Choice

Maing the Right Choice

The warnings included in the letter of Hebrews were written to believers who were being tempted to return to the Jewish religion and traditions.  In their actions, they were not only choosing Judaism but in their choosing they were also rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Such is the case in all decisions we make.  When we say “yes” to one thing we simultaneously are saying “no” to its alternatives. In addition, with each decision there are consequences.  Good or bad.  Right or wrong.  Regardless, there are consequences.

Such is the case with this fourth warning.  The choice to return to Judaism contained dangerous consequences which the author attempts to convey in this fourth exhortation.    

Danger! Danger!

The writer of Hebrews has been diligent to warn of the dangerous behaviors being exhibited by the readers of this letter.  Behaviors that are leading to spiritual erosion. They include neglect, unbelief, and spiritual immaturity.

Hebrews 10:26-39 contains the fourth warning to the readers of this critical epistle.   This exhortation deals specifically with the “danger of drawing back”.

The writer continues this serious discussion which first began in Hebrews 6:4-8 with the danger of “falling away” (from Christianity).[1]   This verb is found only here in the New Testament.  The writer is picturing people who have been numbered among the followers of Christ but now leave that company.

Dangerous behaviors and consequences

The behaviors and consequences of “falling away” and “drawing back” are a real and present danger to believers.  We are to take these warnings seriously.   They highlight our need to remain steadfast and faithful (Heb. 10:38).

Behaviors and consequences (are)

Hebrews 6:4-8 

“Falling away” 

Hebrews 10:26-39 

“Drawing back”

Intentional

“with knowledge”

“Those who have were once enlightened, who tasted…who shared” (vv. 4 and 5)

“If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of truth” (v. 26)

“Recall the former days…after you were enlightened” (v. 32)

Irreversible

“unable to restore”

“It is impossible to renew to repentance” (v. 4)

“no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (v. 26)

Irreverent

“of God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice”

“They are recrucifying the Son of God and holding Him up in contempt” (v. 6)

 

“a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation” (v. 27)

“Trampled the Son of God…the blood counted a common thing…insulted the Spirit of grace.” (v.29)

 Apostasy by any other name

The writer’s admonition begins with calling out the willful sin of the readers (Heb. 10:26).  Our sins are often the result of our deliberate choice to impose our desire over God’s leadership (James 1:13-15).

This warning deals with the sin of apostasy, an intentional falling away, or defection. Apostates are those who move toward Christ, hear and understand his gospel, and are on the verge of saving belief, but then rebel and turn away. This warning against apostasy is one of the most serious warnings in all of scripture.[2] 

The fourth warning is contained in the final verses of this chapter (Hebrews 10:38-39).

Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. 

“The just shall live by faith” is a quotation from Habakkuk 2:1-4.  Who are the “just”?  The just (RSV, my righteous one) in this passage is the person God accepts as righteous who will live by faith. In this verse, the writer is drawing attention to the fact that faith and drawing back are opposed to each other.

To “draw back” means to withdraw self or to shrink from declaring.  It is clear that God is not pleased with the one who draws back (Heb. 10:38). It is important for believers to go forward in the path of faith. To draw back offers the worst consequence–perdition which in some translations is interpreted to mean destruction.  The best choice is to persevere in our faith and be saved.

21st Century Danger

We continually make choices.  Some are simple.  Others may be more complex.  As we make our choices, we, as believers, must also be mindful of potential consequences.  This is especially true of those that affect our spirit man and our walk of faith.  Are we making decisions that cause us to “draw back”?  How are we to respond?

We are to remember when we first came to faith and the gratitude we exhibited in the gift of salvation (Heb. 10:32).  We boldly witnessed the goodness and greatness of God.  We eagerly served and engaged in God’s work (Heb. 10:33).

It is important to know “that we have a better and an enduring possession in heaven” (Heb. 10:34). We should include in our daily routine the reading of Scripture that reminds us of our eternal rewards and destination (Eph. 1:13-14).

Let us refuse to “cast away our confidence” (Heb. 10:35).  To “cast away” conveys the thought of a reckless rejection of what is valuable. Only Jesus Christ holds the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45-46).

Through Jesus, we have received all spiritual blessings (Ep. 1:3) and great and precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4).  These enable us to endure struggles, reproaches, and tribulations (Heb. 10:32-33).  Because of this, believers can boldly proclaim, “We do not draw back to prediction but are of those who believe to the saving of the soul”.  (v. 39)

 

[1] Such cannot be brought back to repentance. Notice that he does not say cannot be forgiven or cannot be restored to salvation or the like. It is repentance that is in mind, and the writer says that it is impossible for these people to repent. This might mean that the repentance that involves leaving a whole way of life to embrace the Christian way is unique.  It cannot be repeated.  There is no putting the clock back.

[2] The MacArthur Study Bible

 

Time for analysis  

In my past life as a business consultant, I was engaged to help clients develop strategic plans to accomplish their organization’s mission and business goals.  As part of that process we often included an analysis of the “environment” in which the client operated.  It was called a situation analysis.

A situation analysis refers to a collection of methods .  They are used to analyze an organization’s internal and external environment to understand their capabilities, customers, and competition.   These methods of analysis helped to identify not only opportunities but also potential threats to the business.  These analyses often served as informative warnings of potential dangers.

The epistle of Hebrews, a letter to Jewish Christians of that day, includes warnings that are much like a business situation analysis to help its readers see potential threats to their spiritual well-being.

The Audience

The writer of this Hebrews’ letter knew the needs of their intended recipients.  Unlike the recipients of Paul’s letters, they were not a church (Rom. 1:7; Eph. 1:1; Gal. 1:2).  They were a specific group of Jewish Christians–men of some intellectual ability. They had been established for a good many years (Heb. 2:3; 13:7), and had a history of persecution. They should have been mature Christians by this time, capable of teaching others (Heb. 5:11-6:2). Instead they were withdrawn and inward-looking.

The audience was seen as negligent in good deeds (Heb. 13:16).  They were sloppy in their approach to attendance at worship service (Heb.10:23-25).  They showed evidence of “cooling” in their faith.  Most importantly, this group was wavering between Christianity and Judaism. The author of Hebrews needed to rekindle the readers’ commitment to Christ.

Their problem did not involve sin in its most obvious sense. They were not openly and willingly breaking one or several of God’s commandments, like stealing, lying, adultery, or murder. But regardless, they were falling short of the glory of God through wrong attitudes—things that we might consider today as being “matters of the heart.”

The writer of Hebrews’ challenge was to contrast the achievements of Jesus with that of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system.

The Environment

Like the authorship of Hebrews, the exact location of this audience is unknown.  There is no opening salutation typically found in New Testament letters.  No city is identified to indicate where these Jewish Christians resided.

We do, however, get a hint as to where the author of Hebrews was located.  Included in the closing, the writer advises their readers to salute “those that rule over you and all the saints” just as “they of Italy salute you” (Heb. 13:24). Commentaries identify this reference to Italy as possibly pointing to Rome.

Written in Rome (before A.D. 70), Hebrews may provide valuable insight into the “world” these readers may have lived in. It may also help us understand what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ during that time.

The early converts to Christianity in Ancient Rome faced many difficulties. The first converts were usually the poor and slaves as they had a great deal to gain from the Christians being successful. If they were caught, they faced death for failing to worship the emperor. It was not uncommon for emperors to turn the people against the Christians when Rome was faced with difficulties. In AD 64, part of Rome was burned down. Emperor Nero blamed the Christians and the people turned on them. Arrests and executions followed.

The Warnings of Hebrew

The warnings of Hebrews have been the focal point of many commentators and biblical scholars. There are many reasons for this intense scrutiny.  Most importantly, these warnings emphasize behaviors that seriously damage believers’ faith in Jesus Christ.  These warnings are more than indicators of possible problems, or other unpleasant situations but extreme spiritual “dangers”.

Warning1:    Danger of neglect (2:1-4)

Warning 2:   Danger of unbelief (3:7-4:13)

Warning 3:   Danger of spiritual immaturity (5:11-6:20)

Warning 4:   Danger of drawing back (10:26-39)

Warning 5:   Danger of refusing God (12:25-29)

Comparison with today

This series is intended to help us examine where we are in our individual walk of faith.  Are we helping or hindering our journey?  Therefore, I will offer “more questions than answers” for our consideration as we move through the book of Hebrews.

We begin with these.  First, where are we in our current faith walk?   Secondly, what would motivate us to seriously consider the five (5) warnings?  And finally, where does Jesus Christ fit in our life today?

Our examination of these questions will act as the backdrop for this study series.  It is our hope that at the conclusion we will better understand the current threats to our faith and our spiritual growth.  This includes the current 21st century worldview of Jesus Christ and Christianity.

We begin next week with an analysis of the first two warnings–the danger of neglect and the danger of unbelief.

God is speaking

The epistle of Hebrews opens with a grandiose statement expressing how eternal God chose to communicate with man (Heb.1:1).  It sets the stage in teaching the Hebrews why following Jesus Christ was the best choice versus Judaism.  The old ways of communicating were over.  Jesus Christ was the new and better way to convey the mind and the will of God.

God spoke in the Old Testament

When did God speak?  God spoke at sundry times (interpreted as “several parts”).   God spoke as was fitting for that particular Old Testament dispensation or administration of His purpose.

In the opening verse, the writer of Hebrews explains how God communicated to men in the Old Testament.  God used the prophets. These men were chosen and qualified by God.  No man took that honor to himself unless called by God.

How did God speak?  God spoke in divers manners. It was God’s choosing as to the way He would communicate His mind to His prophets. Sometimes God chose to speak through the entrance of his Spirit (Ezek. 2:2), in visions or dreams (Daniel 7:1-14)–even an audible voice.  God even chose to use legal characters under his own hand as when he wrote the Ten Commandments on the tablet of stone.

God Himself gave an account of His different ways to communicate with His prophets in Numbers 12:6-8:

Then He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream.  Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house.  I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD…”

And who did God speak to?   God spoke to the fathers (generator or male ancestors).  They were Old Testament saints who were living within God’s specific administration during their lifetime. God favored and honored them with more understanding and insight as to who He was.  These saints included the patriarchs–Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Others are listed in the “Faith Hall of Fame.” (Hebrews 11)

God speaks through Jesus

God has spoken in these last days to us by His Son (Heb. 1:2).  He has appointed Jesus heir of all things.  No more prophets or priests.  With Jesus’ arrival, God has chosen a better way to not only save man but also, a better way to communicate with man.

Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death, man is now “acceptable in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6) and “reconciled to God” (Col. 1:19-20).  In our new position in Christ, we regain access to the Father, just as we had in the Garden of Eden.  We can come “boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy” (Heb. 4:16) without the need of mediators like the prophets or priests.

Last days, in this text, could be interpreted as either the end to following Judaism by the Hebrews or the end of time as we know it.  While there are several views as to when the last days began, we know that Jesus is Alpha and Omega (Rev.1:8).

Barriers to hearing God speak

Barriers to hearing God speak can be either external or internal.

Externally we are confronted by the “noise” of the 21st century.  The challenges and stresses of everyday living battle for both our time and our attention.  With the advent of the coronavirus, our homes are the new marketplace for live streaming, social media platforms and video gaming.  Technology and innovation are our new distractions.

Internally, we have developed habits of behavior that often hinder our ability to hear God speak.  These include busyness, unbelief, and sin.  For some of us, COVID-19 has interrupted our ability to “assemble together” (Heb. 10:25).  This adds to our difficulty in hearing God clearly.

Ears to hear

Be assured, God continues to speak today!    “Are we listening?”  As we begin this study in Hebrews with its spiritual warnings for 21st century living, let us pray for ears to hear.  Why?

Because of the excellence and superiority of Jesus Christ.   Having received the gospel of salvation, we, like the Hebrews, “ought to give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard (Heb. 2:1).

Time for a New Thing

Is it time to do a new thing?  Can we maintain status quo in the wake of the coronavirus, a shrinking economy, and social unrest?   These realities have changed each of our lives.  This new normal appears to be here for the long haul dictating our daily routine and our future plans.    Is it time to change?

It is human nature to resist change.  Change is hard especially if it is the result of something we had no say in.  As we attempt to move to some sense of normalcy in this nation, we are being asked to do something new.

“Hell no!  We won’t go!”

Local and state mandates have been issued in order to guard public health.  These instructions are not only being challenged but most often totally disregarded.  This is especially true among our young people.  I wonder who they learned that from.  Even when we’re told lives can be saved and the economy restored, we refuse to change.   Is it time to do a new thing?

From the head of this nation to the head of church congregations, resistance is seen as a rallying cry and badge of honor.  But is it?  Or is it really evidence of our inability to accept change?  Is resistance to exercising safe distance, wearing masks, and avoiding large crowds symptomatic of our unwillingness to do a new thing?   

God’s “new thing”

In the Old Testament, the use of “new thing” is cited in only three (3) texts:  Isaiah 43:19, Numbers 16:30, and Jeremiah 31:22.  Here they describe situations where God’s greatness and sovereignty is on display.  God invites man to join Him in accomplishing His divine purpose.

I will not conclude that the challenges we face are part of God’s divine purpose.  I do believe, however, that God throughout man’s history continually exercises His sovereignty and His authority.  This time in history, 2020, was viewed long before today.  God saw it from eternity (Is. 46:9-10).  Pandemics, politics, and problems in this world never catch God by surprise.

In the New Testament this concept of a “new thing” was manifested in the fulfillment of the Messiah who came to save us and to restore man to God’s original purpose. God was unable to fulfill His purpose through families, tribes or kings; through prophets, mediators or priests.  God brought salvation to earth through Jesus Christ—“God’s new thing”.

God’s new thing resulted in:

  •     The Kingdom of God coming to earth. (Matt. 4:17)
  •     Mercy, grace, and truth. (Ps. 85:10)
  •     Man becoming a “new creation”.  (2 Cor. 5:17)
  •     Freedom from the penalty and power of sin.  (Rom. 8:1)

God’s new things always result in our good and His glory.   As we seek stability during these tumultuous times, know that God is more than able to sustain and keep us (Ps. 46:1-3; 7-10).

Things are changing

As we move through the challenges we face as a nation, know that God is still doing new things.  The world we knew a year ago has changed.  The life we cherished 6 months ago will never return.  Our reality this week may be different than it was last week.  Things are changing.  How can we prepare for change—the new thing?

  • Trust God—believe in His ability and willingness to guide us to a new thing.
  • Position yourself to hear God—pray and read His Word.
  • Look for areas needing change in your life—be honest.
  • Identify and confess sin in your life—what’s interfering with God’s new thing?
But God

God is the key to change.  Most importantly, God can do a “new thing” even in the midst of change.  This includes COVID-19, financial downturns, and social injustices.  He invites us to join Him as we do a “new thing.”  When we trust God with our life, we can look forward with purpose and not fear (Jer. 29:11).

Is God really in control? Man’s free will versus God’s sovereignty

Last week we discussed man’s responsibility in light of God’s sovereignty.  I put forth the thought that although God is all powerful, everywhere present, and knowing all things, we are expected to act prudently and biblically responsible (Titus 2:11-12).

We, as believers, are to use the resources available to us to accomplish the purpose and plan of God.  This includes our gifts and talents.  This mindset of acting responsibly begins with the conscious choices we make through our free will (Gal. 6:7-8).

While mindful of the theological discussions on the relationship between God’s sovereign plan of salvation and man’s free will, they will not be addressed in today’s teaching.  For those interested in pursuing this area further, I have included this reference to begin your personal study and for follow-up discussions with your pastor.

What is free will?

What is free will and how does it fit with God’s exercise of sovereignty?   Free will simply put is having the “freedom to choose”.  When God created man in His own image (Gen. 1:26-27), He empowered him with a gift that no other creature possessed. Man could operate under his own volition (the faculty or power of using one’s will).

Webster defines freedom as not under the control or in the power of another.  It denotes one’s personal sovereignty with the right of self-determination and self-expression.  Will in the Hebrew language is most often used to define the inner man.  It includes the soul—mind, will, and emotions (heart).

Adam and Eve chose to exercise their personal sovereignty and pursued their soul’s desire.  It is here that the core of sin began in the independent use of mind and will to choose what was good and what was evil (Gen. 3:5,22).

It is not surprising (and with intention) that God included these core elements of the soul in His great commandment (Deut. 6:4-5):  “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  Isn’t it remarkable that love for God had to be “commanded”?

Free will—not force

God does not force us to follow Him.  However, God’s plan will be accomplished either with us or without us.  God may even choose to use another means by which to accomplish His plan.  But His plan and purpose will be achieved (Is. 23:9).  Remember the icebergs?

While we are working in the external realm, God is exercising His authority, in both the external and eternal realm to bring into fruition His plan resulting in His glory and our good (Is. 14:27).  As the noted writer and theologian A.W. Tozer noted, “God’s plan will continue on God’s schedule.”

Choice not coercion

God’s placement of His image in man demonstrated His great love for His creature.  Mankind was the apex of His creation.  The result of this unique relationship was to have been God living in unbroken fellowship with man and man loving God.

However, “The God-who-Sees” must have known that with the gift of free will would also come the risk of a “divided heart” (1 Kings 18:21; 1 Sam. 7:3).  Adam and Eve chose “free will” over God.  The reality that began in the Garden is the same reality we must acknowledge in 2020—alignment with God’s sovereign will is really a matter of choice.

Our Free Will-Our Choice

After contrasting man’s free will with God’s sovereignty, my takeaway is to be more intentional and prudent in the choices I make.  My choice—large or small—is a reflection of how much I love and trust God.  It is my acknowledgement of God’s wisdom, love, and sovereignty.

Abdicating my will to God is not based on coercion or fear.  It is “freely given” to the one whose image I bear (1 Cor. 15:49) and who gave His life for me (John 3:16).

As in every area of our life, Jesus is our supreme example of perfect obedience to the will of God without the lessening of personal choice.  Although Jesus was fully aware of His purpose and the outcome of His life, He still prays in Gethsemane, “Father, if thou art willing remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)   Let all the redeemed of the Lord follow Jesus’ example.

Is God really in control? Man’s responsibility versus God’s sovereignty

God's sovereignty vs Man's responsibility

What is man’s responsibility in light of God’s supreme authority and power over everything?  Does God’s predetermined plan and purpose negate man’s responsibility to move forward with his own personal plans?  Where does God’s sovereignty end and man’s responsibility begin?

These are questions that have been debated for centuries among many great theologians and dedicated scholars.  Today we will begin to explore how to better operate (cooperate) within the sovereign rule of God.

Defining man’s Responsibility

How we define our responsibility in light of God‘s sovereignty is often shaped by one of two common views.  One view holds the belief that man has no role and therefore, no responsibility.  This belief contends that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable regardless of what man does.

This is seen as a somewhat fatalistic view with a submissive outlook.  Man is seen as a mere “puppet” in accomplishing God’s sovereign plan and purpose.  If this were true, why then would God created us with free will?  (Next week’s discussion)

Another view of responsibility

Another view is the belief that although God is sovereign, man does retain responsibility for his life.  Through use of our gifts and talents, by our response to trials and tribulation, through the choices we make, we are continually (perhaps unknowingly) participating with the Creator as He executes His plan and purpose.

This partnership can be illustrated by how icebergs move.

In the frigid waters around Greenland are countless icebergs, some little and some gigantic. If you’d observe them carefully, you’d notice that sometimes the small ice floes move in one direction while their massive counterparts flow in another. The explanation is simple. Surface winds drive the little ones, whereas the huge masses of ice are carried along by deep ocean currents. When we face trials and tragedies, it’s helpful to see our lives as being subject to two forces—surface winds and ocean currents. The winds represent everything changeable, unpredictable, and distressing. But operating simultaneously with these gusts and gales is another force that’s even more powerful. It is the sure movement of God’s wise and sovereign purposes and the deep flow of His unchanging love.[1]

Sovereignty and Pray

While we may feel incapable of fully understanding God’s plan, He has revealed what we need to know to move forward in our lives.  While the secret things belong to God, the revealed things belong to us—to guide our behaviors and actions (Deut. 29:29).  One of the areas God has revealed to us is our responsibility to pray.

Believers are biblically instructed to pray (Rom. 12:12).  We are even directed for whom we are to pray—our leaders, our enemies, and the unsaved.  We often close our prayer recognizing the sovereignty of God with the pronouncement, “Thy will be done” (Matt. 6:10).

Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God.  If God is not sovereign, we have no assurance that He is able to answer our prayers.  It is in our prayers that we proclaim the power and ability of God to accomplish that which we are praying (1 John 5:14-15).  Prayer is the expression of our trust in God’s sovereignty.  It is our responsibility to pray.

Sovereignty and Prudence

We as believers are also responsible to act with prudence. I never fully appreciated this word until I understood its use in the context of God’s sovereignty.  Though not frequently highlighted in the biblical text, its application is noteworthy in both the Old and New Testament record.

In the framework of God’s sovereignty, prudence is the “use of all legitimate, biblical means at our disposal to avoid harm to ourselves and others AND to bring about what we believe to be the right course of events.”[2]

In the King James translation, prudence is used on three occasions.  Prudence—good sense and insight—is attributed to Solomon for his ability to accomplish the building of the temple in Jerusalem.  (2 Chron. 2:12).  In Proverbs 8:12, wisdom is said to dwell together with prudence—both important for knowledge and discretion.  The Apostle Paul includes prudence—knowledge and holy love of the will of God—as one of the spiritual blessings received by believers as a result of being in Christ (Eph. 1:8).   It is our responsibility to practice prudence.

Do Our Part

Although we recognize the reality that we operate within God’s sovereign purpose and plan, it does not negate our responsibility to “do our part”.  It is with the knowledge of God’s sovereignty that we are to take action with the specific means provided to us to address the situations in our life.   This includes both prayer and prudence.

    • Peter and John though directed by Jesus to “preach to all nations” when threatened by the Jewish Sanhedrin prayed that God would “enable then to speak with boldness” (Acts 4:24, 28-29).
    • Nehemiah saw God sovereignly position Israel to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem, yet he posted guards day and night (Neh. 4:7-9) and insured his workers were armed as they worked (Neh. 4:16-20).
The Bottom-line

As believers, we cannot use the sovereignty of God as an excuse not to actively engage in the challenges and opportunities God presents in our lives. God’s sovereignty by no means negates our responsibility to use every means at our disposal to promote the right outcomes.  Those outcomes should be based on what God reveals to us through His Spirt and His Word.  These are proven principles by which we can align with and serve the purpose of God. 

Lastly, when we feel as though we are drifting without purpose and direction, remember the “icebergs”.  They operate simultaneously with gusts and gales AND with another force that’s even more powerful.  We too operate simultaneously—by God’s sovereign purpose AND by our moral responsibility as He works in the ordinary circumstances of our lives (Rom. 8:28).

[1]   Contributor unknown

[2]  Jerry Bridges, Is God Really in Control:  Trusting God in a World of Hurt