Wednesday, November 30, 2016

On a Starry Night

For whatever the reason, I can vividly remember as a young child being fascinated with the heavens at night.  My paternal grandmother, Granny Weezie, used to take me outside on bright, moonlit nights and would say, "I see the moon.  The moon sees me.  God bless the moon and God bless me."  The picture at the top of this post is of The Pleiades, otherwise known as The Seven Sisters, one of my favorite constellations.  There is a free app you can get on your mobile device now called "Skyview". When the app is on, you can aim your phone in any direction and the app will, after computing your location, show you what the sky looks like anywhere, even on the other side of our planet!  Amazing.

I imagine the tranquil shepherds "abiding in the fields" were similarly mesmerized by the night sky. Night after night, they watched the crawl of constellations from east to west, as simultaneously, they guarded their sheep flocks.  The ripping of the veil separating Heaven from Earth on the night of Christ's birth was something they never anticipated.

Perhaps some of them gazed up at the stars and wondered the same thing as the little boy who wandered into the school office, only to be met by a very high counter over which he could not see. Stretching his hands up over the edge he asked, "Is anybody up there?"  Do you suppose the shepherds wondered the same?

After the angels' announcement on the night of Jesus' birth, the shepherds had no doubt!  The unavoidable reality of God exploded across the night sky.  Damning the consequences, they hurriedly left their flocks unattended in the fields, in order to go see this miracle which had come to pass.

Have you ever received something you felt you truly didn't deserve?  Perhaps it was a second chance. Perhaps it was someone's favor.  Don't you know those shepherds wondered why an angel, followed by many more messengers from God's angel army, appeared to them?  Why them?

Perhaps the answer is in the angel's message (Luke 2:10 NIV)

10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 

ALL the people....The angels did not appear to a king or even to rich men.  They appeared to those people on the lowest rungs of society's ladder.  Do you think our all-wise God's choice of them was any accident?

We are all equally unworthy of the grace of God, the gift of God, that first Gift of Christmas. Reading the story of the shepherds none of us can say, "Oh, well, God's salvation is only for 'the deserving', the successful, the smart, the wealthy."  His grace was announced to the most lowly so that all of us can know for certain His matchless Gift came for ALL people, even us.

In the New Testament Greek, the beautiful word "euangelizomai" (εὐαγγελίζομαι) is rendered into English as "I bring good news"!

Good news indeed!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Complete Package

On Fire!

An almost-daily, expository, Christian, devotional blog, featuring a 10-minute read and, in early posts, also a 5-10 minute video synopsis.

I blogged recently about a "burning bush" in my neighborhood, a Japanese maple which, as I walked toward it at sunset, appeared to be on fire.  You can read that blog post at the link above if you choose, as it relates to today's post. This morning, I was continuing to study John 1:14, because this is Tozer's 3rd day on that particular verse (a fact which both causes me spiritual consternation but also is a healthy spiritual discipline for this ADD girl).  

Continuing to meditate on and study that magnificent verse I came upon these lines from MacLaren's Exposition (which I found at the website):
"What must be the kindred and likeness between Godhood and manhood when into the frail vehicle of our humanity that wondrous treasure can be poured; when the fire of God can burn in the bush of our human nature, and that nature not be consumed? So it has been. ‘In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily".  (Emphasis mine)

The image of that  neighborhood "burning bush" returned to my mind, and I found that the image and the thought of Moses kneeling in worship, shoes off, at the burning bush of Exodus 3 helped me to better understand the Incarnation.  I was reminded of that burning bush of Moses' in the way of a "type" of the Messiah to come, Jesus Christ.  Moses marveled at how the bush itself, though paltry in comparison to the fire that fully indwelt it, remained an unharmed bush!

In the Day 3 meditation, Tozer focuses on the two words used to describe Jesus Christ in John 1:14.  As the Old Testament bush was "full" of God on that day, so Jesus Christ, in His human body, contained ALL the fullness of God!  He was, and is, the "complete package", all of God.  In his inspired attempt to describe the indescribable, John described Jesus as being full of grace and truth.

Why was He full of grace?  Because in His interactions with all of His creation, God acts with grace.  He IS grace, one of the components of His divine nature.  And, because the fallen creatures to which He came were in such desperate need of nothing more!  That is the starting point of Christian theological truth...that we are thoroughly lost apart from Jesus Christ and in no way capable of cleaning ourselves up to reach God's perfect, holy standard.

And so, He poured Himself into the vessel of a human zygote, embryo, fetus, newborn, infant.  Baby Jesus, Infant King of Kings.  Even as a youngling, earthly shepherds and kings bowed before Him.  The Divine shone forth through His baby flesh to discerning spirit eyes, even then.

How have you benefitted from Jesus Christ's magnanimous grace, that bottomless pit of goodness?

Even the lost and unbelieving benefit to some extent, whether they are conscious of it and give credit where due, or not.  Physical life is a grace.  That it continues from day-to-day is yet another gift of grace.  Another day to find Him or to serve Him is still another...Surely, if you are honest, you don't believe that you have somehow "earned" such blessings, as a result of your own inherent goodness?  As Tozer says, "Let us remember this: everything God does is by grace, for no man, no creature, no being deserves anything.  Salvation is by grace, the creation is by grace - - - all that God does is by grace and every human being has received of His fullness."


Tozer, A.W. From Heaven. 2016. Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Bridging the Gap - - Advent Day 2

For some reason when I turned on the TV in the bedroom this morning, the channel was set to The Blaze.  This was curious to me because I had not been watching it last night, nor does my husband watch that channel.  The first image was of a very bundled-up-in-coats Glenn Beck in what appeared to be a foreign place.  He went on to explain about how the country of Slovakia is helping those who are unable to help themselves...taking in Christian refugees fleeing Iraq.  When few other places will do so, this tiny country in the European Union is opening its arms to rescue these Christians, who have lost everything except their lives and their faith.  They were willing to lose everything for the sake of their Savior.  And, Slovakia has taken them in, demonstrating the love of God.  Glenn stated that there are families willing to take in these Iraqi Christians here in America, but that our government will not allow it.  This makes me ashamed to be an American.  God will richly bless Slovakia for their care of His own.  Wait and see.

Well, it is Day Two of the Advent Season.  Tozer's(1) meditation today focuses on the amazing mystery of God, the Limitless One, limiting Himself for our sake. Why did God do this?  And, why did He do this for humankind but not for other created beings? He did not do it for fallen angels, after all, and we are told in Hebrews that man is "a little lower than the angels"...  We can neither know the mind of God nor can we fathom the depths of His love.  The apostle John (3:16) tells us that it was because God "so loved" the world that He did this.

If you are a parent or if you become one you know (or will) that one of the most painful things in life is to be at odds with your child.  When I was growing up there was an expression, "the generation gap".  Basically, it referred to the societal difference between the older generations and the younger.  But, at a more fundamental level in the 1960s, it was about a younger generation rejecting the moral code of the older.  If you are part of a family that has not experienced this, then you are highly favored and greatly blessed.  The pain is tremendous and especially so when the children reject the parents' Christian faith.

Essentially, God saw this unbridgeable gap between Himself and his creation, mankind, a gap that the man had caused through his rejection of God's way; and, His pain was unbearable.  Knowing that the only way to reconcile His beloved creatures (us) to Himself was for Him to become one of us and make the supreme blood sacrifice, He did it.  He, who can do anything, did the unthinkable.

As the apostle Paul exclaimed when pondering this truth: "Great is the mystery of godliness!" (1 Timothy 3:16). Here's the full verse:  

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

In closing, let's consider the words of John Calvin in regards to this world-changing event in the history of mankind:

"What is there in us? If we cast our eyes upon God, and then enter into a comparison, alas! shall we come near this highness which surmounteth the heavens? Nay, rather can we have any acquaintance with it? For there is nothing hit rottenness in us; nothing but sin and death. Then let the living God, the well-spring of life, the everlasting glory, and the infinite power, come; and not only approach to us and our miseries, our wretchedness, our frailty, and to this bottomless pit of all iniquity that is in men; let not only the majesty of God come near this, but he joined to it, and made one with it, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ! What is Jesus Christ? God and man! But how God and man? What difference is there between God and man?
We know that there is nothing at all in our nature but wretchedness and misery; nothing but a bottomless pit of stench and infection; and yet in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, we see the glory of God who is worshipped by angels, and likewise the weakness of man; and that He is God and man. Is not this a secret and hidden thing, worthy to be set out with words, and likewise enough to ravish our hearts! The very angels could never have thought upon it, as here observed by St. Paul. Seeing it pleased the Holy Ghost to set forth the goodness of God, and show us for how precious a jewel we ought to esteem it, let us beware on our part that we be not unthankful, and have our minds so shut up, that we will not taste of it, if we cannot thoroughly and perfectly understand it." (2)


(1). Tozer, A.W. From Heaven. 2016. Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL.

{Please forgive the flaws in today's formatting and so forth.  I am blogging via iPad, since my computer died a quite sudden and complete death yesterday evening.}
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Sunday, November 27, 2016

To Dwell Again

I was idly listening to a couple of entertainers on talk radio this afternoon as I drove home from church.  One of them was telling (true or not...) of a lady who had been a vegetarian for most of her life. Then, one day, she decided while at a coffee house, to try a turkey sandwich.  Now, she's enjoying BBQ!  She said that after one taste of that turkey sandwich, she just can't get enough!

That's the way it is for me with the study of the Word of God.  I have been severely deprived of my Bible study these past few days, due to a home/family project of large magnitude.  As a result, I am starving!

So, here we are, on the first Sunday of Advent which, this year, also happens to be the first day of Advent!  As a Baptist, we don't celebrate Advent the way the more "high church" denominations do; and, I think that's a shame, really.  So, since I love my particular denomination, I just choose to add Advent celebration on in my personal study.  Since beginning this blog, I have used two different Advent devotionals the past two Advents.  The first was from John Piper's "Solid Joys", and the last one was from Ann Voskamp's Advent study: "The Greatest Gift".  Both added a wonderful flavor to meditations on this sacred season.

This year, here in the blog (because in my personal devos) we will be hearing from A.W. Tozer, an early-to-mid-20th century theologian.  Not a Baptist, Tozer was a pastor in a denomination called the Christian and Missionary Alliance (the C&MA).  He wrote several books, including the famous "The Pursuit of God".

Today's Advent meditation concerns God's interactions with mankind, from the time of Adam and Eve until Jesus' birth.  In the Garden of Eden Genesis 3:8 tells us God walked through the Garden. Clearly, He regularly communed with Adam and Eve there freely, in their sinless states before The Fall. After their catastrophic, cataclysmic choice to believe Satan rather than God, everything changed.  God, for thousands of years, no longer "dwelt among", that is lived among, mankind.  It was not until the birth of Jesus our Savior that God once again was for a prolonged time "with us". "And His name shall be called Immanuel, 'God with us'." (Matthew 1:23)  The gospel writers were adamant about this point.  John too, in his gospel, drove the point home:  "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us..."(John 1:14)

In the intervening years, from The Fall to The Incarnation, God appeared to men from time to time. He manifested Himself as various natural phenomena, such as a recurring, guiding cloud or a column of fire (the Shekinah Glory.)  At other times, He took on the form of man briefly (appearing to Abraham and to Moses, to Gideon, Daniel, Jacob and others).

But, when He put on flesh and revealed Himself as The Son, He came to abide with us, to dwell with us forever.  The Son has declared the Father, the Scriptures say in John 1:18.  In the Person of God the Son, Jesus makes manifest all the fullness of God the Father, whom no man has actually seen. We would be unable to bear such radiant majesty and glory.  We so lack the capacity to absorb His greatness that to actually see the Father would utterly destroy us.

"And we beheld His glory...." (John 1:14b)

When the first century folks saw Jesus with their physical eyes, they were looking at God, though very few realized it.  When we 21st century people "see" Jesus with eyes of the spirit, it is being revealed to us then all there is for us humans to know of God.  Jesus gives us as much of God the Father as we can tolerate in our humanness. And, Jesus does this miracle now through the Third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit.

Yes, today, when we embrace God through the Person of His Son, when we worship Him with the offering of our lives, we are given the Holy Spirit to dwell with us forever.  He seals us as God's own, never more to be separated.  Physical death cannot then separate us from the love of God.  In fact, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38). Nothing has that power. The Holy Spirit marks us permanently, like with a Sharpie permanent marker.  (If you've ever tried to get Sharpie ink off a surface or out of a fabric you can appreciate the analogy!) Even stronger, greater and more final than a Sharpie is the seal of the Holy Spirit on the soul of the believer in Jesus Christ.

He dwells with us who are His, and we will dwell with Him forever.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Milk Drinkers

I love milk.  Actually, I love all dairy products.  They do not "love me", however.  Unfortunately, the lactose in dairy reacts badly with my digestive processes and produces vile odors, better left unmentioned.  As a result, I generally avoid consuming it.

Breast milk, however, is to a baby "perfect food".  In God's amazing design, the milk from the mother is designed especially for her baby.  And, get this - - - the milk changes as the baby grows and changes!  It does not remain constant over time.  Isn't that miraculous? The mother's body reacts to the baby's needs and without any conscious thought on the mother's part, adapts its "formula", if you'll pardon the pun, to the baby's needs.  Amazing!

The Holy Spirit longs to work in believers the same way, and godly preachers/Bible teachers do the same with their flocks.
We are, today, in Hebrews 5.  There are two main themes which deserve our meditation.

The first to consider comes in the latter part of the chapter.  The author of Hebrews is doing what I just described above.  In the first part of the chapter, he has been expounding upon Jesus' role as our high priest in Heaven today, as well as how He got to that position.  Then, after a bit, the author stops and declares that he needs to stop with that line of teaching because of the spiritual immaturity of the hearers.  (I sort of wonder what he would have said if he had gone on....)

11We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Hebrews 5:11-14 ESV

What characterizes the Christian who feeds him or herself solely or mostly on milk?  The writer states that such a person, although certainly "saved" (having a relationship with Jesus Christ) cannot consistently distinguish good from evil.  Once a person receives Jesus as Savior, Satan immediately begins to hinder the Holy Spirit's attempts to train him or her in righteousness. In other words, Satan begins to frustrate the sanctification process.  Part of that involves misleading, deluding, confusing and deceiving the young Christian about what is right and what is wrong, good or evil.

Studying the Bible on one's own and under the teaching of godly teachers is foundational to moving from "milk to solid food".  The world, under Satan's control, presents a whole lot of error disguised as "truth", when it is nothing of the kind.  The Bible is the standard, God's Word.  Anything presented in conflict with the Bible is error and must be rejected.

The author of Hebrews makes it plain here that it is each believer's responsibility to "feed on truth", in order to "train" in the Christian faith under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  The elementary, foundational truths must be embraced first, because they underlie and support the more "meaty" truths.  Christians who fail to do this will become weak and ineffective, susceptible to all kinds of distracting and dangerous error.

Make healthy (spiritual) food choices.  Don't be a Christian who requires swaddling and coddling. God can only use you in ministry to the extent that you let him.  That requires "growing up" in the faith!

Heavenly Father, at this season of thanksgiving, I am thankful for your Holy Word, your revelation to us, the Bible.  For by it, we learn about You.  May we feed on it regularly, "eating a healthy diet".  In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Hold On Tight!

The other night I had a bad fall in the bathroom.  It was truly terrifying.  I'm ok, but bruised.  After finding myself in the floor and screaming for my husband's help, I discovered him there almost immediately.  He was there to rescue me, in my time of need, praise God!  He helped me to stand, but I held on to him for "dear life".  "Honey", I said, "I may pass out on you.  Hold on to me tight."

Now, don't miss this, because it is crucial!
I, for my part, was doing my best to hold on to him and to my wits as well.  If I had lost consciousness, there is no way I could have held on to him myself.  In the final analysis, he was the one holding on to me.

When I consider Hebrews 4:14-16, that incident comes to mind...

14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,f Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

I always need my husband, but I don't know what I'd have done had he not been nearby the other night when I fell.  We always need the Lord, but there are some times when we REALLY need Him, you know what I mean?  Times of injury, times of fear, tempting times, times of deep grief that is unimaginable...

Life is unpredictable and can "turn on a dime", as the expression goes.

When we do encounter something we believe to be bigger than we are, we have the consolation and confidence that, no matter what it is, it is not bigger that He is.  We can reach out and with faith hold tightly to Him, because He will never let us go.  Whatever it is, He's "got this".

He stands ready, with mercy and grace, to walk with us through our heartbreak because He has been a human, lived as a human, while simultaneously and fully retaining His God-ness.  He knows us and knows what it is like ...

  • to be tempted (Matthew 4:1-11)
  • to be in grief  (John 11:35)
  • to be in pain  (John 19:1)
  • to be jeered at (Matthew 27:39-40)
  • to be rejected and hated and even to submit himself to death (Matthew 27)

Because He lived through the worst this life can dish up,
He knows.

For He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.  
Psalm 103:14

Precious Lord, what a comfort You are!  In smooth times, in hard times, You are always near me, and in me, with abundant mercy "at the ready", as soon as I call on Your name.  "Thank-you" does not even begin to cover it... In Jesus' name, amen.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Naked Dream | Naked Truth

Surely, you have had "the naked dream"!  You know....the one where you are out in public somewhere and, inexplicably, you find yourself completely unclothed?  Scandalized and horrified, you seek cover wherever you can find it.  Why do we dream such anxious things as this?  Who knows? I had a psychology prof who claimed that dreaming was God's way of cleaning out our brains, getting rid of the junk so that we could wake refreshed the next morning.  That's as good an explanation as any, I suppose.

The first time we encounter nakedness in the Bible is in the Garden of Eden.  Apparently, before the forbidden fruit incident of disobedience, Adam and Eve were in the Garden unclothed.  They did not realize this to be an issue.  None of the animals wore clothes, and neither did they.  Life was good. Interestingly, in their first interaction with God after sin entered into humanity through them, they hid from God because they were "naked".  God, who already knew what the Serpent had done, asked them rhetorically, "Who told you you were naked?"  The story is found in Genesis 3.

Our verses for today are Hebrews 4:12-13 (ESV) - -

12For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Unbelievers hate the Bible.  That is why when you meet people who have rejected Christ, the first thing they put to you is how the Bible is "just a book" and "who builds his life on a book?"

The Bible testifies of itself here in verse 12.  Now, literally, in the way animals are "alive", the Bible is not a living organism.  However, it is the living Word of God, in the sense that its supernatural words are as relevant and powerful to people today as they have been for the past several thousand years.  It is through the Bible that we learn of our own a race of humans, and as individuals.

The Bible exposes us and our sin.  It removes our ignorance about our sinful condition.  It shines a bright, piercing light on the great gulf between us and a holy God.  Such revelation either drives us toward God or away from Him.  There is no "in-between".

Don't be fooled into Satan's lie of "secret sin".  There is no such thing.  It's not a dream, naked or otherwise.  God sees all.

"Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?" declares the LORD. "Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?" declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 23:24 (NIV)

"It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.
Daniel 2:22 (NIV)

If you are an unbeliever, you can throw all kinds of arguments at me as to why the Bible is "just a book", and I can show you proof after proof to demonstrate to you why it is much, much more!  But, you know what?  That's not the issue.  The issue is sin....favorite sins so cherished they are chosen over a living, eternal relationship with the one, true God.

That is the issue which must be settled, the eternal choice which must be made.
And, that's The Naked Truth.

Dear Holy, Loving Savior, I thank you that the first objective of grace is not to cover our sins but rather to confront us with them.  We cannot repent until we first acknowledge that we are utterly sinful and, simultaneously, helpless to rescue ourselves from sin's bondage.  Open our eyes, Lord, and at the same time, soften our hearts so that your saving, transformative grace can flow in.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

To Rest

Are you rested?

The more analytical of you would respond by answering, "what does she mean by 'rested'?"

In our current day, on the day I'm meditating on these scriptures, many in the USA are very restless. Last night, there were many demonstrations in large cities across the country, to protest the outcome of the landslide presidential election held just two days ago.

There are essentially two kinds of rest:  physical rest and spiritual rest, which encompasses emotional rest and peace in the soul.  Of the two, the latter is the more complex.

I have a friend whom I'm constantly enjoining to "get more sleep".  This dude runs on about 4-5 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.  How?  I don't know.  But, he's in his 50s, and still living and breathing.  Others of us humans need around 7.5 or some as much as 9-10.  Further, there are "morning people" and "night people".  I am the former, but don't disparage the latter as my precious husband falls into that category.  Of our two sons, we have one of each type.  Physical rest is pretty uncomplicated.  Get it and you'll be healthier.  Don't, and your health will be adversely affected.

7You have put gladness in my heart,
         More than when their grain and new wine abound.

8In peace I will both lie down and sleep,
         For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.
Psalm 4:7-8 (NET)

Physical rest, although uncomplicated, is impacted by the more complicated concept of spiritual rest. If your soul is at peace, your body will rest better also. So, let's get to that this morning.  Today's main text is Hebrews 4:9 (NET) - - -

Consequently, a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God.

What does this mean?

Those of you familiar with the Ten Commandments will recall that one of them is this:
"Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy."  

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Exodus 20:8-11

These verses are pretty self-explanatory.  The Old Testament Jews took them very seriously.  Jesus demonstrated by picking a few heads of grain as He walked through a grain field that the Jews' many man-made "rules and regs" concerning keeping the Sabbath had become an unbearable burden all on their own. (Mark 2:23, Matthew 12:1).  Jewish rabbis had, down through the centuries, "added to" God's commandment to dedicate the 7th day of the week to rest and to worship Him.  The result was (predictably) a monstrosity.

I do believe that this principle of resting and dedicating one day a week to rest and the worship of our God is valuable, although our rest and worship should certainly not stop there.  It is also, in our day and time, horribly difficult to 100% do, (particularly if you are involved in full-time ministry.  In those cases, your "day of rest" is not Sunday because on that day you absolutely must "work".)  When I was a child it was much easier.  All commerce was closed on Sundays.  After church, you had lunch and then you napped in the afternoon before consuming a simple supper.  Maybe you drove over to visit a friend or loved one.  Simpler times.  Now, it is more challenging.

But, let's get to the larger principle that the writer of Hebrews makes in 4:9.  In prior references with the word "rest", the author of Hebrews uses the Greek word "katapausis", from which we get our English word "pause".  But, in 4:9, he uses a word that is used nowhere else in the New Testament but in this verse: "Sabbatismos".  In this way, the writer of Hebrews is linking and contrasting the "new covenant" of Jesus with the "old covenant" practice of "keeping the Sabbath".

The main purpose of the Sabbath rest in the Old Testament was to allow the people to focus their attention on their relationship with God, to praise and worship Him, as well as to experience physical rest from their labors.  In the new covenant of Jesus Christ, we find the Old Testament Sabbath expanded and fulfilled.  Jesus said this, in Matthew 11:29.

"....I will give you rest for your souls."

Both in the Old Testament and New Testament, the people of God have been invited to enter God's rest the only way God provided, which was by faith.  In the new covenant of Jesus Christ, faith is still the entry mode, but the rest Jesus provides is transformational, all-encompassing.  It is a rest prepared from before creation (vs. 3).  We who know Jesus Christ have a promised "eternal rest" for our souls, which we can experience in the form of supernatural peace today, regardless of circumstances, and will experience ultimately in "eternal rest" in Heaven with our Savior.  It is both a current, local rest for the soul and simultaneously a future rest in Heaven forever.

The heavenly "rest" will be more like a Sabbath celebration as pictured in the Old Testament.  We won't be merely sitting around on clouds "resting".  Instead, freed from the sin nature with which we constantly must contend in this life, we will worship, praise, celebrate our Savior in His "Unshakeable Kingdom" (Heb. 12:22-24).

This is our peace as Christians, an unassailable peace which buoys us up, no matter our present, earthly circumstances ... a supernatural peace that unbelievers cannot know.  As many of us have said in recent days: "no matter the outcome of this presidential election, God is still on His throne".  His promises are eternally secure.  In them, in Him, we have the full gamut of rest ... even better than that of a sleeping baby!

Dear Father, thank you for this teaching about the Sabbath and about Your holy rest provided to us through our Savior, Jesus.  In His name, amen.


2     Cockerill, Gareth Lee. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2012. Kindle edition. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Ultimate Sin

This being Election Day in the USA, some of you, my readers, may think that voting for a candidate who was not YOUR choice could be "the ultimate sin"!  But, that is not what today's post is about.

What do you think of when you consider "the ultimate sin"?  What would it be?  Murder (abortion, homocide, serial killing)?  Sexual assault (rape, child pornography, incest)?  Lying?  Thievery?

As horrific and heinous as all of these sins (and many more) are, they can all be put under the blood of Jesus Christ.  In other words, those sins, if confessed, will be forgiven by God.  There is one sin which will not.

When I was a young parent....well, actually, I was never a YOUNG parent, becoming one at age 35.   But, when I had young children I believed that I would "raise them right".  I knew Jesus then, as now, and knew how principles of godly living were the best prescription out there for success in life.  So, I was excited to "train them up in the way they should go" (Proverbs 22:6).  Around 9th grade, however, they stopped listening to me.  I was completely flummoxed!  I asked God repeatedly, "Why did you give me and my husband these gifts of wisdom, which are being wasted?"  (No, disobeying one's parents is not "the ultimate sin"!)  There are few worse feelings than either wondering if your child has taken your training to heart or, worse, seeing the incontrovertible evidence that they have not.  Still, they are our children; and, we love them.

I guess that is how God felt with the Hebrew children. Finally, with the incident at Kadesh, He removed His hand of blessing from that repeatedly disobedient generation entirely.  I'm pretty sure it is how He feels about us "wayward children" every moment of every day.

Being wayward is one thing.  All of us who love and follow Jesus as Savior make mistakes, wrong choices, say unholy things, think unholy thoughts DAILY as we struggle with our still-present sin natures. We won't be free of that struggle until we die and are face-to-face with Jesus.  When we sin in this manner, there is no doubt that our sin grieves the Holy Spirit who lives within us.  Charles Spurgeon describes this grief as, not anger, but rather, a combination of anger tempered with love.1 When we Christians sin, we "quench the fire" of the Holy Spirit in our lives; this causes Him great sorrow.  The remedy is quick confession of that sin, repentance, forgiveness and restoration.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Ephesians 4:30

The Ultimate Sin is quite another thing entirely, and some of the Hebrews at Kadesh were guilty of it. This sin underlies and gives birth to every other sin. The writer of Hebrews devotes one and a half chapters of his book to it, using the Hebrews in the desert outside Canaan as his "Exhibit A".

The Ultimate Sin is also called in the New Testament "blaspheming the Holy Spirit".  Jesus speaks of it in Matthew 12:22-32 and also in Mark 3:28-30 (given below).  In the Matthew passage, Jesus is performing miracles, which have been seen by a group of Pharisees.  They heard His words of life-saving truth. These men were presented with incontrovertible evidence that Jesus is Messiah.  Yet, they attribute His miracles to Satan.  In fact, they accused Jesus of being possessed by demons.  "Standing before the Light of the World, bathed in His glory, they defiantly closed their eyes and became willfully blind.  Jesus pronounced that sin to be unforgivable."2
Jesus' words in Mark 3 - -

28I tell you the truth, people will be forgiven for all sins, even all the blasphemies they utter. 29But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin” 30(because they said, “He has an unclean spirit”).

Calling God a liar by rejecting Him: this is The Ultimate Sin...the sin with eternal consequences, the sin that will not be forgiven, the sin that sends a person to Hell.  "Unbelief encompasses disobedience, for it is BOTH the refusal (or willing failure) to trust God and the consequent lack of faithfulness TO God."3  It springs from a rebellious heart but becomes real in the concrete act of refusal.  This is fatal unbelief.  Eternally fatal.

In the USA this is Election Day, but it is also "Today".  Hebrews 3:7 - - -

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
"Oh, that today you would listen as He speaks!"

There are some of you reading this who are rejecting God and His pleading for your soul.  You want no part of Him.  I beg you to reconsider.  Jesus made it plain that the person who rejects God and His "one way" to Heaven will NOT end up there, after this physical life ends.  Not a single person is promised on this Earth.  Over the last week, I have learned of two acquaintances who died almost instantly. Death was not on their agendas that day.  One was in her 70s; the other was in his 20s.  Thanking God that, from all I could tell, both knew Jesus Christ as Savior and so, therefore, are rejoicing with Him in Heaven right now.

Surrender to the Lover of your Soul today.  Here's how: (skip down to the ***section)

Lord Jesus, I am so thankful that never, ever again will I have to live one moment apart from You.  I am Yours, and You are mine.  Still, my heart breaks for those who are rejecting You, even as You extend the invitation for rescue, day after day. The enemy has blinded so many.  I pray that Your Holy Spirit will not give up on those we love so dearly.  I plead for them today, Lord God, while they have "Today".  Open their eyes and give them a glimpse of who You really are!  Have patience greater than that of any human's, Lord!  Please draw them to Yourself.  Please save them.  In Jesus' name, amen.


3     Cockerill, Gareth Lee. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2012. Kindle edition. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Jesus Wept, Then and Now

"Hear my prayer, O LORD!
Listen to my cry for help!
Do not ignore my sobbing!
For I am dependent on you, like one residing outside his native land..."
Psalm 39:12 (NET)

Being somewhat dense and obtuse about such matters anyway (my intuition IQ is low), it was not until this morning that I realized a contemporary of my older son had passed away suddenly over the weekend.

22 years old.  Handsome.  Smart.  Kind.  Dead from a massive heart attack.  Sudden death.

What are we supposed to do with that?

The Christian response tends toward the philosophical at such times, whereupon we hear (and spout) such platitudes as:
"It was just his time to go."
"God is in control."

Non-Christians look at us at such times with incredulousness and horror.  And why not?  Our theology has eclipsed our humanity.

Theology, even good theology, is no cure for the broken heart of loved ones who cry out from the depths of devastation, "How can I now go on?!"

It is so very, very easy to believe God and to believe IN God when your children are safe and healthy, when things are rosy all around.  But, when they are not, we humans generally choose one of two paths:

  • We either run to God for supernatural comfort that only He can give.  Or... 
  • We harden our hearts against Him because of our deep pain and walk away.

It is never harder to turn to God than when in our pain because, at some level, we all have to deal with the temptation to "blame Him" for what happened. Our limited minds are unable to make sense of it.  As Martha and Mary said to Jesus, who arrived just a few days after her brother, Lazarus, had died,
"Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!" 
(John 11:20, 32 ESV)  
We, too, are prone to question, like those gathered around Lazarus' tomb, while Jesus stood there and wept with those he loved:
"See how he loved him!"  But, some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?" 
(John 11:36-37 ESV

In our current study of Hebrews we see the negative example of the Hebrew people given in chapters 3 and 4.  When times turned very ugly for them, after leaving Egypt, they questioned God and turned away from Him in unbelief (Numbers 14:33-34).  With every hardship, their hearts became harder against God, until finally, He removed His hand of blessing from them.

What does God long to do in our times of pain?  Punish us by pushing us away?  No.  He longs to gather us to Himself where He can pour out the miraculous comfort that only He is capable of giving. Like when Lazarus died, He knows our pain and weeps with us.  The only bit of theology He imparted on that sorrowful occasion was this beautiful promise:

"I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?"
John 11:25-26 (ESV)

Belief.  Faith.
As His children, Christians, we are the only Jesus that an unbelieving world sees.  No one wants to hear your sanctimonious words of false comfort or your theological platitudes in a time of unimaginable pain.  What is needed is for His true children to represent Him as He would if He were still here on earth, instead of sitting at God's right hand, where He is praying for us, interceding for us every moment.  What is needed is for us to live out Romans 12:15 - - 
"...weep with those who weep."

Father, our hearts are broken over the sudden loss of this precious young man.  We are just stunned, reeling.  We don't understand why this had to be.  Lord, I pray for all who loved him and will go on loving him until the day of their own death.  In this time of deepest grief, be real through us your children, who love you and trust you with all of our lives, the good, the bad and the ugly.  I trust you, Lord, because I know that your ways are perfect.  But, that knowledge is not enough right now.  So, Lord Jesus, weep with us.  I pray your immense love will shine forth, be poured out in abundance over this family and these friends today and in the many days to come.  In Your holy name I pray, amen.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Steadfast to the End

As was mentioned yesterday, it is crucial in Bible study to not interpret passages independently from other Bible passages on the same theme, but rather to "rightly divide the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).  Taken together as a whole, the Bible constitutes "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).
For example, Ephesians 2:8-9 handled so inexpertly could lead to an extreme position of "Grace will cover any evil and faithless behavior; I am able to sin freely without consequence because of grace". The bookend to Ephesians 2:8-9 is James 2:17, which tells us that faith unaccompanied by the good works that distinguish the life of a believer from a non-believer is "false faith" or "dead faith".

This example helps us to frame Hebrews 3 which, at a casual reading, could lead the reader to conclude that it is the believer's perseverance in good works that either creates his eternal salvation OR that "keeps him saved".  In other words, if a person professes Christ and then somewhere along the way begins to be sidetracked through "wilderness wanderings", shall we say, then, that person has blown it, lost his salvation, somehow reverted back into a state of "un-redemption".  Through his actions he has managed to "undo" what the saving grace of God formerly did.

Such a conclusion would be wrong and unsubstantiated through the whole of scripture.  The book of Hebrews itself must be taken all together as a whole in this regard, since in Hebrews 11:6 reminds us ....

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

A vibrant, living, life-changing faith in the One whose grace covers all our sins pleases God and makes us right with Him.  What does it mean, then, this urgent admonition to the Hebrew believers to "persevere" (the opposite of which is to "harden your heart")?

The writer of Hebrews has here given us the example of the Old Testament Hebrew children who obviously did not persevere at Kadesh.  In fact, it was this "final straw" incident which led God to remove His hand of blessing from them.  The consequence of their unbelief/lack of faith was that they did not enjoy God's rest in the Promised Land, but were, instead, relegated to wandering in the desert until their collective generation completely died out.

Did the Hebrew children cease to become God's people?  Did they lose their position as His chosen race?  No, they did not.  However, through their hardened hearts and lack of faith they lost the blessings of God upon their lives.  Obviously, some of those Hebrew children were never true believers in God and His ways at all.  They never possessed saving faith, as modeled by their God-appointed leader, Moses.  (And, even he did not make a perfect model, striking the rock as he did in a rash act of faithlessness.)

The same was true of the New Testament Hebrew believers, and the same is true today.  Not all who claim the name of Jesus Christ are truly His.  Cockerill distinguishes these two groups as "true believers" and "apparent believers".1  Perseverance and steadfastness are always marks of true believers.

According to Paul, that stellar apostle of the message of grace, true believers are to be "unmoveable".
1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV) - -

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

What does this characteristic of steadfastness mean?

1.  First of all, it means to be firmly grounded in the Word of God, so much so that the believer has a correct understanding on which to stand.  It is easy to topple someone who is not standing on a firm foundation, that is, on an unbalanced, incorrect interpretation of the Bible.  So, Bible study is a necessity for the true believer, in order to produce discernment and to grow into a confident steadfastness.  This is not the equivalent of a stubborn "unteachableness".   It does, however, produce a Christian who can evaluate all "teaching" in light of the whole counsel of God, as revealed in the Bible.  This is why we must not shy away from "difficult" teachings in the word of God, but rather embrace them, chew on them, seek other passages on that topic in order to search out the whole of the teaching, as opposed to focusing merely on that one part.  Failure to do so leads often to error.

2.  Secondly, steadfastness means actively cultivating a soft heart.  This is not a spiritual weakness, but rather a spiritual strength.  Elsewhere in scripture we find the admonition to "break up our fallow ground" (Hosea 10:12 NKJV)
Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.
And what IS "fallow ground"?  Well, you can see a lot of it in my area right now!  We have had no rain here in months; therefore, the ground is hard, compacted, largely impenetrable but for the strongest tools.   In order for there to be growth, that ground will need to be softened by rain and broken up by various instruments.  Otherwise, seed planted there will die.  As true Christians, we must invite the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts by illuminating our minds as we study the Word and also to allow Him to change us through the illumination.  It does no good to merely read and learn the truths of God if we harden our hearts against what we learn and continue in unrighteous disobedience.  True faith produces works of righteousness.  James nailed it when he said, "But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."

A soft, submissive, yielded heart is hallowed ground, where the Holy Spirit can produce in us "works of righteousness".  The deeds/actions which follow give evidence of the transformed life, tangible proof of the God who lives within us.  Such obedience produces and enables steadfastness.

The Christian life can be discouraging as we will never reach a Christ-like state of perfection.  Discouragement can chip away at steadfastness by convincing ourselves that we are a "hopeless case" or that holiness is an "impossible standard".  But, in the final analysis, our Savior is (as He is in everything) a perfect model for steadfastness.  He is steadfastly devoted in His love for us.  He is the anchor who holds our salvation safe and secure.  As the old hymn says...

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain,
Will your anchor drift or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior's love.2


1     Cockerill, Gareth Lee. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2012. Kindle edition. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Making Biscuits

I recently completed a Beth Moore Bible study, her latest, "Entrusted"1, and I thank my sisters at First Baptist Canton (the two Barbaras, Tangella, Kathy...and I'm sure I'm forgetting someone...) for their joyful dedication in bringing this study to the north Canton community.  It was a pure joy.

In the study, toward the end, Beth asked her pupils to consider their own ministries and those areas that are the most troublesome.  On Day Three of Section 3, we were examining 2 Timothy 2:15.  I ask you to read it below, as it is pertinent to our study today of Hebrews 3, the main text.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn't need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.

On this topic, here is what I wrote in my workbook the day I was plowing through my Bible study "homework":  "Regardless of the biblical teaching, if we twist the Scriptures in order to remove the power, reality, applicability of them to us today, then we are profaning the Word of God and spreading error."

This is something constantly on my mind as I study and especially as I blog (and vlog).  There are many times in writing a blog post I stop and ask the Spirit if my interpretation is right.  The consequences for being wrong are just too great.

In particular, and extremely relevant to Hebrews 3, is the tendency to crash one truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ into pieces against another.  If I, and others who teach, "correctly teach the word of truth", we won't do that.

So, here is our passage from Hebrews 3 today, ESV translation.  We may spend more than one post here.  We'll see.
1Therefore, holy brothers,a you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’sb house. 3For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4(For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.c
7Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
10Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
11As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
12Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.15As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
16For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
The theme that resonates through this chapter with me is "steadfastness".  Interestingly, when I googled "steadfastness in Christ" the first page was full of Mormon links.  I mention this to point out the potential for erroneous interpretation in this passage.  One of the reliable sources I often visit in blogging, also roped 2 Timothy 2:15 into the study of this topic.  So, you see, it is a delicate one.

The image that comes to mind for me is making biscuits.  I hope to God that I am a better Christian blogger than I am a biscuit-maker!  The trick to making a light and fluffy biscuit is to not "handle" the dough overly much.  The more you handle it, knead it, stir it, the heavier and clunkier your biscuit. You end up serving something no one wants to eat, causing your Southern sisters to cluck and shake their heads!

So, this is what I want you to do.  Read Hebrews 3 here or, if you are really intrigued, in a couple of other translations, and then jot down in a couple of sentences what God seems to be saying here through the author of Hebrews.  And, next time we are together here in cyberspace, I'll try to make some good, fluffy biscuits!

Father, once again, I thank you that Your Word is divine.  We are like ants trying to comprehend a skyscraper.  Without the illumination your Holy Spirit provides, our understanding of the Bible is impossible.  Precious Lord, please protect our souls from error.  We are so prone, as were our spiritual ancestors, the members of the first century church!  If they, then how much more so we?  So, guard our hearts and at the same time illumine them!  Let Your Word be a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path.  In Jesus' name, amen.


1    Moore, B., Moore, M., & Smith, K. (2016). Entrusted: A study of 2 Timothy. Nashville, TN: LifeWay Press.