Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Very Big, Very Bad Deal

Our POTUS (President of the United States) is well-known for the business deals he has made over his adult years.  Those deals have added to his inherited wealth, building for him an "empire".  All of this preceded his ascension to the US presidency.

Have you ever made a bad deal?  There's an expression that goes "made a deal with the Devil". Goodness gracious!  I hope none of you have made a deal like that!

We find deals struck in the Bible, some of them good ones, others not good.  One of them, in fact, the writer of Hebrews calls "unholy".  That deal was not only detrimental to the one who made it; it had long-lasting, far-reaching consequences.

15See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.  
Hebrews 12:15-17 NET

The story can be found in Genesis 25, and though the story won't be reproduced here, do go read it.   The gist of it was this:  Esau had been given by God the privilege of being firstborn of twins.  The Bible records Esau emerged from the womb first, but that his twin brother Jacob came out holding on to Esau's heel!  So, it was "Esau for the win, by a hair", so to speak.

Being the firstborn son was "a huge deal" (pun intended), in Old Testament times.  It carried with it many rights, privileges and wealth not accorded the younger children.  As a young man Esau lacked judgment and was full of pride.  When he made his very bad deal, he did not think it was such a BIG deal (sorry...my "punnishness" is punishing you, I know.)

24When the time came for Rebekah to give birth, there were twins in her womb. 25The first came out reddish all over, like a hairy garment, so they named him Esau. 26When his brother came out with his hand clutching Esau’s heel, they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.
27When the boys grew up, Esau became a skilled hunter, a man of the open fields, but Jacob was an even-tempered man, living in tents. 28Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for fresh game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29Now Jacob cooked some stew, and when Esau came in from the open fields, he was famished. 30So Esau said to Jacob, “Feed me some of the red stuff – yes, this red stuff – because I’m starving!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)
31But Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 32“Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die! What use is the birthright to me?” 33But Jacob said, “Swear an oath to me now.” So Esau swore an oath to him and sold his birthright to Jacob.
34Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew; Esau ate and drank, then got up and went out. So Esau despised his birthright.
Genesis 25:24-34 NET

The Hebrew word "despised" in verse 34 is  way-yi-ḇez and is found in only one other place in the OT Bible (Esther 3:6), where it is applied to Haman.  It is variously translated in Genesis 25:34 as "showed contempt for" or "belittled".  Essentially, Esau believed that he did not need his God-given birthright - - - that he could do just fine without it.  Or, perhaps he believed that his bad bargain with his brother could be undone.  Regardless, all of his reasoning in this life-changing situation was faulty.  He made an unholy deal from an unholy heart, because he did not value the gift God had given him.  And, the course of human history was completely changed, as a result.

As we examine our lives today, Christians, what gift or gifts has God given you that perhaps you have allowed Satan to convince you are worthless?  Satan loves to do that, you know - - - to convince us that our gifts aren't worth spit.  He loves to deceive us into believing we don't matter, that God's calling on us is insignificant.  If he can keep us in that mindset, then we accomplish little for God's kingdom, which makes room for Satan to create more havoc among those in God's kingdom and beyond.  We can look at unholy Esau and "tsk tsk".  But, are we any different when we reject God's calling on our lives?  Not really.  The consequences may or may not be as earth-changing. Remember: Esau did not think selling his birthright was significant either.  After he ate and drank (vs. 34), he "got up and went out" - - - apparently thinking no more of it.

I heard Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, say last week that we need in this country a "guaranteed minimum salary", that is, a minimum salary that is paid to every citizen, regardless of whether they work or how much they work.  What an unbiblical idea!

We tend to think that, if something is not easy, it is then neither holy, nor valuable.  We view opposition, trials and roadblocks as God's "no".  What inaccurate, unholy thinking!  God ministers to us in difficult times.  He grows and matures us then, as long as we don't wiggle out from under his tutelage, choosing an easier path. Difficulty (extreme hunger) compelled Esau to make his very bad deal, after all.  God's grace was available to him in that situation; yet, he chose the easy way out.  

God does not always spare us the consequences of our unfortunate trades, our costly deals with the deceiver.  I am thankful that, on the contrary, sometimes He does.  But, do we really want to play such a game of "Russian Roulette"?

Sacrificing the long-lasting, even the eternal, on the altar of the immediate has ruined millions of precious souls!
A far better mindset and attitude is to keep our hearts as attuned to His as we possibly can, seeking Him in every decision.  How can we know which of our choices will forever change the world? There is one choice which, as long as each of us has breath, can be changed for the better.  If you, like Esau, have persisted in unbelief concerning Jesus Christ, you can, as long as you draw breath in this world, change that terrible decision for the better.

At the heart of Esau's mistake was his unbelief and his brother, Jacob's, belief.  Jacob believed God's promises and esteemed them; Esau did not.  According to the Bible, the grandaddy of bad deals is the "deal with the Devil", because that is a deal which leads to an eternity in Hell.

God's number one gift to you, His number one promise, is that if you call on the name of His Son, Jesus, as your Savior and accept Him as your Lord, you will make the best deal you can ever make. Now, THAT is the deal of a lifetime!

And, if you have already taken advantage of God's offer of salvation, if you have already surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ, search your heart today to find the additional gifts He has given you. Then, believe Him!  Don't despise your gifts!  Embrace them and work them, so that God through you can change the world!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Bum Knee

It isn't often I laugh when I read the next passage I plan highlight here in the blog; but, that happened yesterday morning.

12Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 
Hebrews 12:12-13 ESV

Day before yesterday, in my haste to sit down at my desk I whacked my kneecap against the front panel.  I thought I'd pass out from the pain.  Over the years, due to having extremely long femurs, this has happened often, with the result that when I walk, I creak and pop like the Tin Woodman in the Wizard of Oz.  ("Slide some oil to me!")  Fortunately, it is feeling much better this morning although...no marathons for a while.  {Stop chortling, friends and family!  😆 }

In this verse, the word "therefore" causes us to note what it is "there for", and in this case, it is referring to the passage I blogged about yesterday.  The crux of that was "God's discipline is an expression of His love for us."

So, when we experience the Lord's discipline, we need to allow it to strengthen us, to guide us and to heal us.  Amen.

The next verse is this one:

14Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 
Hebrews 12:14 ESV

Folks, it is no accident that peace and holiness are mentioned in the same sentence.  Nor is it an accident that the theme of God's discipline, peace with others and holiness are mentioned here together.  Let's face it:  many of our sins are relational, that is, sins that come from "unpeaceful" relations with other people.  And, sometimes, we sin in order to "keep the peace".  We take the easy way out.  We give in on points of holiness.  We sin by approving or allowing something we know is unholy or, at best, "marginal".  And, we do it in the name of peace and love!

This reminds me of my pastor's sermon on Sunday.  His text was 1 Peter 1:17-25.  The point he made, which fits well here, is that the sign of having been born again, having accepted Christ as Savior, is how we obey the truth and love one another.  Again, they go hand in hand.  You can't have one without the other, and please God.

22Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;
1 Peter 1:22-23 ESV

Peter is essentially echoing what the writer of Hebrews said in chapter 12 above, with one important distinction.  Peter emphasizes in verse 23 that what occurs in verse 22 is the outworking, the RESULT of a person having been transformed by the saving grace of Jesus Christ, as opposed to a working to earn it.  As I've said so many times you are probably tired of hearing it:  salvation cannot be earned, nor can you "work to keep it".  Both would be equally impossible, according to God's standard of holy perfection.

So, getting back on track here - - - you can't have peace and love without holiness.  Both are indispensable components of the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But the word of the Lord remains forever, and this word is the good news that was preached to you.
1 Peter 1:25 ESV

I was talking with a friend this morning about how our military has been co-opted by non-Christians as an agent for social change in this country.  (The same has been done with our courts and our public schools.)  This has been done in the name of "love" and "fairness" and "compassion", when it is none of those.  To force our military doctors to cater to the mental illness manifesting as sexual perversion, and call that "good" is a stark example of burning holiness at the stake, in the name of "love".

This kind of thinking is running rampant today, even amongst Christian leaders whom we thought were solidly anchored in the Word of God.  It hurts my soul to see them take a stand against the holiness of God, in order to be "socially relevant".

As noted in the 1 Peter verses, the word of God does.not.change.  Ever.  If something was sinful thousands of years ago, it remains sinful today.  The word of God is living, but it ABIDES.  It is changeless, forever.

If you are confronted with a choice between peace with others and adhering to God's standard of righteousness, you'd better side with God.  While we are exhorted by the writers of the Bible to seek peace, we'd better not seek it at the cost of the gospel.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Discipline Committee

The university I attended and graduated from with a bachelor's degree in music education governed its students (in part) on a demerit system.   Tremendous guidance and exhortation was given in regard to living a holy life (yes, it was a Bible college).  But, if you slipped up or were determined to get kicked out, the administrators had a remedy for you.  It was called the Discipline Committee.

Fortunately, I did not have a great deal of contact with this particular body.  I did have to go stand before the DC on a couple of occasions, though.  I can't remember at this time what it was I did - - - some minor infraction.  The committee was composed of staff members as well as my fellow students.

The university's code of student conduct was codified in a manual called the Student Handbook, which was updated each year.  Students were expected to know its contents and to abide by its rules/regulations.  When an infraction was made (and noted by a monitor - - the long arm of the law), you were "turned in" to the DC.  A summons would soon appear.

The DC met on a regular basis.  Your summons would be at a prescribed time of day.  You had an appointment, that is.  Upon arrival, and you'd better not be late, you'd sit until your name was called. Then, you'd have your private audience.  As I recall, you were not told ahead of time what your particular misstep was.  So, sometimes you could be surprised, and at other times - - - you knew quite well why you were there.  It was all very intimidating.  And, I know this:  I never felt grateful after I left one of those audiences.  Mostly, I felt annoyed.

Well, that system might or might not have worked effectively as one piece of overall student governance.  It is not the point of this post to argue for or against it.  I thought about the DC this morning, and my limited experiences with it, in light of our Hebrews text for today, 12:7-11 (ESV) - - -

7It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

The best discipline is, of course, self-discipline - - - the kind that results when Christians allow the Holy Spirit to empower us to holy living.  This yielding to the Spirit of God is what is meant in Hebrews 12:1 when we are exhorted to "throw off" the sin that so easily entangles us.  The Greek for "throw off" is ἀποθέμενοι (apothemenoi) and is also translated as "laying aside" "putting away" "strip off" or "get rid of".  All of these translations imply strong action on the part of the Christian to, through the power of the Holy Spirit, discipline oneself.

In the event temptation is too strong and we either fall briefly into sin or (God forbid) wallow around in it for a time, God steps in.

The parallel the writer of Hebrews makes is that of a loving earthly parent, who does not allow his or her child to persist in self-destructive behaviors.  A "good" earthly father gives incentives for his child to "walk the straight and narrow".   Some of those "incentives" are more like bribes, and others are swift, decisive punishment.  Still others are merely allowing the child to experience the logical consequences of his or her actions.  All are appropriate, depending on the situation.  A wise, loving earthly parent usually knows when to use which approach to achieve the desired behavior change.

Our heavenly Father is the same.  His discipline, in all its forms, is a hallmark of His love for us.  However, His methods are always perfect, unlike earthly parents or the DC mentioned as an example above.  No one enjoys discipline, but our passage today tells us that we should endure it, as it demonstrates God's ongoing love for us.  He did not merely provide a way of salvation, a "ticket to Heaven", and then leave us to our own devices.  After assuring us of our eternal salvation, He puts His own beloved children through ongoing discipline and training.

As noted in today's passage, God's discipline has two primary purposes:
1.  So that we may share His holiness
2.  So that we may have peace in our lives through righteous living

Holiness that comes from God brings peace to our lives.  We can't achieve our own holiness by following a bunch of man-made rules, with or without the accompanying enforcement groups.  No way!  True holiness is produced IN us BY God's Spirit.  It is a "fruit" that grows in us at His initiative.

Looking at my apple tree this morning, I was delighted to see it bearing immature fruit.  Did I make it grow?  Heck no!  God uses His natural laws to produce earthly fruit just as He uses His spiritual laws to produce the fruit of righteousness in me.  Sometimes, that requires He discipline me in one form or another.

I am grateful that He cares so much about me to intervene in my life in this way.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Briars, Entanglers and The View

I enjoy walking out in nature, enjoying the beauty of God's creation.  When I was young, I explored all through the woods near my home.  However, there were times when I'd step into a bramble, a twisted, thorny patch of foliage that wrapped around my foot and ankle.  The result was two-fold: the briars stopped my forward progress, and they hurt!  I'd have to stop and try to disentangle myself, being careful not to let the briars prick my skin any more than they had already.  After disentangling, and with my ankles stinging, I'd continue on, vowing to watch more carefully for those nasty vines in the future.  Hmmm...but is that the best strategy, to keep our eyes focused on potential pitfalls?

There was nothing alluring about those briar brambles, nothing seductive, nothing lovely.  Still, they were very effective in "tripping me up".  In our lives, in our Christian "walk", though, there are beautiful, shiny sins that trip us up even more effectively.  These are spiritual briars.  We can read about them in Hebrews 12:1.

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us.2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Berean Study Bible

The highlighted phrase in this passage is also translated variously as "the sin which clings so closely", "the sin that so easily ensnares us", "sin that distracts us", or "the closely besetting sin".

It is impossible to walk through this life and avoid contact with spiritual briars.  These are highly individual.  What is a briar to one person may or may not be to another.  We must be careful to recognize that and to have compassion on our brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with something we do not.  One of the most heartbreaking shows I've ever watched on TV is called "Intervention".  I almost cannot watch the stories of folks who have taken one dose of an illegal drug and then become so hopelessly hooked on it (and usually on others) that their lives are ruined.  Years ago, I was much more condescending to folks in that situation.  Then, I realized that my pitfalls, my briars, have just as powerful a hold on me.

It is important to recognize, though, that we Christians are not helpless sheep.  Our own set of briars need not "slaughter" us.  We have choices, specifically choices about where to keep our focus.

First of all, we can watch out for them and do all in our power to avoid them.  If you know a particular situation is a temptation for your particular "briar", avoid going there.

Second, it is important that we not give up.  Today's passage speaks of endurance and perseverance, which are essential to the resplendent walk.  Sometimes, I get so discouraged, feeling so hopelessly caught in the briars, that I want to just give up and give in.  Don't you?  It is crucial that, no matter how many times we find ourselves in the briars, we take ourselves to the Savior for confession, forgiveness and restoration - - - that we keep going.  His forgiveness is a bottomless well.  We must not just give up and give in to wallowing in our pet sins.

Third....Get help. This is not a sign of weakness. God uses others as His agents of liberation, of freedom, of peace. On some of those occasions when I was mired in briars, I needed a companion to help "disentangle me", someone who would bend down to help me get my foot and ankle out without further damage.  There are times that you are so hurt and so paralyzed by your entrapment you can't get out without intensive help.  And, that's ok.  Ask for it.  Get it.

Fourth, and MOST importantly, look unwaveringly at Jesus.  Of all the encouraging examples given in Hebrews 11, His in chapter 12 trumps them all.
1.   Jesus was motivated by "future joy" (the joy that lay before Him) - - that glorification which would be given Him by Father God upon the finishing of His earthly mission.  A similar joy should motivate us!  This temporal world is not all there is!  Joy awaits us, when our race is run, when our time here is done.
2.   Jesus endured a cruel crown of thorns, so much more damaging than the briars that nip at our heels.  He shed His very lifeblood.  As verse 4 above points out, most of us have not resisted our entangling sins to the point of shedding our own blood, have we?

That last verse really brings the hammer down, doesn't it?  It is a powerful dose of "Hey now!!"
When our eyes are fixed steadfastly on Jesus, our perspective is powerful and righteous.
Out walking on this sunny morning I snapped the picture at the top of this post.  I'm not a huge fan of vultures, but this one, wings outstretched, soaking up the morning sun, surveying the scene from his exalted viewpoint, was striking.  His view was so very different from mine....

Where we keep our focus is our most potent weapon in the battle against our "besetting sins".  I find that, when I sin, it is because my perspective has gotten "off".  I lose sight of the goal.  Instead of re-focusing my eyes on Jesus, I grab the "shiny object" and soon find my feet in the briars.

But, as D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, "If we only spent more of our time in looking at Christ we should soon forget ourselves."

Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me a new heart when you saved me all those years ago.  Please continue to work on my eyes.  Amen.



Saturday, May 13, 2017


Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us,
Hebrews 12:1 (NET)

In some translations, Hebrews 12 begins with the word "therefore".  This word should cause us to look backward to see what preceded the "therefore", because use of this word in the Bible always hearkens back to what just came before.  In this case chapter 11, you will recall, was a recitation of many heroes of faith. All were witnesses to the power and glory of God.  Some became martyrs, dying horrible deaths, because their witness was so unbreakable, their love for God so eternal; others did not, as God did not require that of them.

The Greek word "martyron" ( μαρτύρων) occurs 9 times in the New Testament according to the Englishman's concordance, and one of those 9 is in Hebrews 12:1.  When we look at this word, we naturally think of the English word "martyr".  But, do you know how it is translated almost every time?  It is translated "witnesses".  (The King James translates in "martyrs" in Revelation 17:6, but most translations of that verse do not.)

Hebrews 12:1 states that we are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses".  What does this mean? The author of Hebrews had just listed many faithful followers of God, all of whom were at that time (and are still) dead.  Is it they, to whom the author refers as this "great cloud of witnesses"?  It would certainly seem so.

Because of that pesky word "cloud" some believe that the dead can "see" us, here in this mortal plane, and they use this verse as the basis. Do the dead gather around some giant screen in Heaven, where they cheer us on to godliness, like some sort of multidimensional, spiritual Olympics?  You hear manifestations of this belief in the comments of people who have lost a loved one:  "Mother is watching over me."  While this type of belief may comfort some, I do not believe it to be an accurate interpretation of Scripture.  Although God has allowed (for His eternal purposes) on rare occasions the veil between Heaven (and Hell) and Earth to be pulled aside for a moment1 , there is no indication that the dead view us as we live our mortal lives.

What does it mean then, that we are surrounded by "so great a cloud of witnesses"?

In his epic poem, "Ulysses"2, the poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson says this: "I am a part of all I have met."
No, we did not know personally these great heroes of the Christian faith.  We did not meet them face-to-face, not yet.  We did meet them, though, in the pages of the Holy Bible.  We have read of their exploits, their triumphs, and their horrible failures in some cases.  We have met those who did not respond in faith (Cain, Saul, Pharaoh, Judas, e.g.) and those who did.

These pioneers, these veterans, surround us, in our Christian walk.

When I look in the mirror or when I look at my mother, aunts and uncles, or remember my father and other loved ones who have "gone on", I see how those who went before me have been used by the Holy Spirit to shape me.  Those "witnesses" to the all-surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ, both living and dead, not only inspire me; their examples help to keep me focused in my faith walk.

The word "surrounded" in verse one does not only connote that there are others who are "nearby". The word occurs only a few times in the New Testament.   But, when it does occur it has been translated thus3:  "encompassed about" or "bound with chains" (Acts 28:20) or, even in one instance, "having a stone around the neck" (Luke 17:2).  So, the deeper meaning of that Greek word (perikeimenon)is that the testimonies of these witnesses, these heroes of faith, not only merely "surround" us, they bind us up.  Their examples lift us up.  Such amazing stories of redemption encourage us, spur us on to greater faith in our own lives.

I don't know about you; but, I have people like that in my faith circle today.  Some are family; others might as well be.  Just by spending time with them, I am encouraged and strengthened in my daily walk. And, I thank God for them!  They make me want to BE more for God, to DO more for God, and to similarly exhort and encourage others through my witness, as well.


1    1 Samuel 28, Luke 16:19-31, 2 Corinthians 12:2, and others

2    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45392

3    http://biblehub.com/greek/perikeimenon_4029.htm

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Heart of My Own Heart

I didn't really want to go to church today.  I didn't "feel" like worshipping.
Now, that's honest, isn't it?
The reality is that my family has lost three loved ones in the space of one month - - - first my godmother, then my uncle and just yesterday, my husband's dear friend of over 45 years.
He was less than 3 years older than me and died of a sudden, massive heart attack.

But, like good little Christians, we hauled ourselves out of our heartbreak...and went.
Of course, we received a blessing from being with the people of God, hearing a wonderful sermon titled, "The Blood of Jesus", sharing The Lord's Supper, and ... yes, worshipping in giving tithes and making music.

It was actually the last that ministered to my heart the greatest today, and I say that without a speck of diminishment of the rest of the morning.  One of the songs we sang together in worship was "Be Thou My Vision".  In one of the last verses, the words say this - - -

Heart of my own heart whatever befall
Be Thou my vision, O Ruler of All!

"Heart of my own heart" - - - that phrase has been resonating around in my heart the rest of the day.
Jesus IS that to me.  No matter what comes my way, no matter what death may attempt to steal from me, Satan in all his schemes cannot take HIM away from me.  Never.  He is and will always be "heart of my own heart".

"Whatever befall" - - - it has felt like a whole lot of "whatever befall" has happened to me and my loved ones lately.  After my uncle's death I asked the sweet Lord to give me "a breather".  But, then I saw Nabeel Qureshi's latest blog post, in which he said that the radiation treatment for his very far-gone stomach cancer had little to no effect.  (Not stopping my prayers for that little bro, though, because my God can do anything, even reverse advanced cancer.)
And, then, the next day, our friend dropped dead....

Is my faith strong enough for "whatever befall"?  No.Flippin'.Way!
But, my Savior is strong enough.  Not only is He strong enough...He IS enough, now and forever.

"Be Thou my vision" connotes keeping my eyes fixed on Him.  I think about Peter, seeing Jesus walking across the top of the waves (wave-skimming!) during the horrible storm that had suddenly come up on the Sea of Galilee on that dark night.  Peter impulsively (of course!) asked Jesus if he could walk across the waves to meet Him.  Surprisingly, Jesus said, "yes".

You see, I would have said, "No, Dumbbutt!  Stay in that boat, for God's sake!  What in the WORLD are you thinking?"  But Jesus...oh Jesus is always willing to let us exercise our faith.  That's how it grows stronger, you know, through exercise.  He allowed Peter to exercise his faith in Jesus to carry him through that storm, and as long as Peter kept his eyes firmly fixed on Him, he didn't sink.  He went wave-skimming too....
When we do that, keep our eyes on Him and our hearts near His, we realize how very much He loves us and how He is Sovereign.

"O Ruler of All" - - -

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
Psalm 18:30 (ESV)

The LORD is righteous in all His ways And kind in all His deeds.
Psalm 145:17 (NASB)

His way is perfect.  Perfect! And KIND?!?! ... OH, how hard that is to embrace in times of loss and grief and confusion and, yes, some anger.  Perfect . and . kind.

He is our Shield, because nothing, absolutely NOTHING touches His beloved, without His permission.  Of that, we can be sure.  He is never out of control, never wrong, never careless of us or dismissive.

He is deliberately Sovereign, our Lord, Master, Ruler, whose ways and methods and happenings are all intended for the good of those who love Him and who hide themselves under His wings in times of trouble.

No greater love than this... No greater love than His.



"Be Thou My Vision"

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Seeing is Not Believing

You have probably had an experience similar to this one.  You are out with a friend and the friend sees something amazing.  "Look over there!"  Perhaps the stupendous sight is in the woods.  You hurriedly scan the area with your eyes, but are unable to see what your friend sees.  Instead your eyes and brain are processing, focusing on other distracting things.  And.....you miss it.  Too late.  It's gone.  Sigh!

A similar thing occurs with skeptics of faith.  They focus on the wrong things, namely, "proving" the truths of God.  The whole point is that, even though powerful evidences exist to verify them, God never designed "fact" to take the place of "faith".  He never intended for "seeing" to be the basis of "believing".  You don't need faith when you have all the facts.  You don't need God when you have all the answers.

My last post was about the mark of the Christian: a faith that perseveres.  This echoed the last verse in chapter 10, verse 39.  The writer of Hebrews goes on from there, then, in chapter 11, to list various people from the Old Testament who evidenced that type of faith.  All along, God has proclaimed that it is faith which makes a person right with God - - nothing more, nothing less.  Hebrews 11:2 is just one verse affirming that truth.

2For by it the men of old gained approval.

Whole books have been written on the persons mentioned in Hebrews 11.  I won't attempt that, lol, for which I'm sure you are grateful!  This chapter has been called "the roll call of faith", but I want to mention "the preface" to the roll call, verses 1-3.

Verses 1 and 3 contain one of the best definitions of faith in the Bible.  Let's look at vs. 3 first, because it expounds on verse 1.

3By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (ESV)

What a wonderful model God gave us!  He created our entire "reality" out of nothing, out of things not "visible".  In other words, the very foundations of our world cannot be seen.  Such is the relative unimportance of our powers of "sight".

Unbelieving scientists rely completely on their senses, their "powers of observation" in order to make their scientific findings, which has led, in the past, to some truly bone-headed theories (later enshrined as "facts").

Faith is God's way, the superior way.  Faith is not ignorance; rather, it is a reasoned belief/trust based on the revelations given to us in God's Word.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
(ESV and NASB)

We can trust that what God's Word, the Bible, tells us is true, because it is grounded in the very character of God Himself.  Godly faith is tethered securely and irrevocably to the One and Only, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

To claim we understand all of the Bible's revelation would be, not only foolish, but also contrary to the ways of God.  He desires we NOT understand it all.  If we did, we would misplace some or most of our faith - - putting it in ourselves, rather than in Him.

Faith is the calm assurance, the rock-solid certainty that God will do as He promised.  Whether we can "see" it....is irrelevant.  To Christians, faith is the firm foundation that undergirds our every area of life.  The Message version of Hebrews 11:1 describes faith as "our handle on what we cannot see."

How powerful is godly faith?  Well, it ....

  • makes the unrighteous, the sordid and soiled, clean and in perfect relationship with a holy God (vs. 4)
  • cheats death completely (vs. 5-6)
  • saves entire families....and through the Great Flood, saved the entire human race. (vs. 7)
  • creates missionaries, takes faithful ones to new lands in order to fulfill God's calling on their lives (vs. 8-10)
  • brings about physical miracles in our bodies, supernatural healings (vs. 11-12)
  • creates entire people groups (vs. 11-12)
  • conquers governments (vs. 23-30)
  • makes a harlot a princess (vs. 31), because Rahab married into the royal Messianic line
  • can change the topography of the Earth (Matthew 17:20)
I'll take faith over sight, any day.

In closing, let's meditate on these verses from The Message Translation (vs. 32-28 and 13-16), and follow the examples of those who have gone before us, our exemplary examples.

Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies. Women received their loved ones back from the dead. There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and, yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless—the world didn’t deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.

Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. 

How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.