Putting the Spurs to Each Other

IMG_0966Hebrews 10:24

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds… (NIV). All followers of Christ Jesus need to grasp the core of this responsibility. What is the how of stirring others in your local gathering toward love and good works?

Consider first the general concept. To “spur on” means “to provoke” or “to stir up”. The word used “has a startling sound. Christians are to be roused, provoked, but to love” (Westcott). It seems strange that those who have received God’s love should need to be provoked to love others. But this is a sad fact stemming from the sin that still hinders us. We become lazy at best, and more often self-absorbed and unkind. Something must be done. The NIV translation is picturesque. You can see the rider in the Old West urging his horse on with his spurs. So every one of us has times when we need to be spurred on, some more often, some less. But this is one of the many “one another” encouragements that we need to grow in grace.

Here comes a difficult action. This involves changing from a self-centered to an one another-centered view of the church, which is a gathering of Christ-followers. We simply cannot live godly in Christ Jesus without this mutual action of stirring up each other. Yet too often professing Christians approach a church with a crass materialistic concept. “What can I or my family get out of this church?” This is not something that has happened only recently. Listen to these words from Postmodern Times, by Gene Veith, Jr. and written in 1994. “Christians, like everyone else in today’s economy, are consumers, but they dare not apply consumer values to God. Notice the implications of the phrase ‘church shopping’. Surely, shopping for a church in the same way we shop for a major appliance is dangerous. Instead of looking for a church that teaches the Word of God, we sometimes look for a church that ‘fills our needs.’ The church does not exist to provide its members ‘services’; rather, it should challenge its members to engage in ‘service’ to God and to their fellow human beings. When we think like consumers, we put ourselves first, picking and choosing what best corresponds to our desires” (p. 118-119). To me, that sounds like exploiting or plundering a church. Where is the love of Christ in such an attitude? Whatever happened to “what can I contribute?” or “how can I help?” and especially, “How can I serve God and one another?” To say this another way, the true Christian is not only concerned about his own salvation, but also about the salvation of others (cf. 3:12-13).

But let us move on from general observations to specific applications. Here are ten examples of people who need to be spurred on (listed in alphabetical order)

  • Disabled – those who are physically challenged or shut in or sick
  • Disadvantaged – those with a previous lack of correct teaching (Some think that because they heard an effective communicator that they heard good teaching. But truth is a matter of substance not style.)
  • Disagreeable – those who seem determined to object to something
  • Discarded – those who are no longer welcome in their former place of worship through no fault of their own
  • Discontented – those who are not content in their present situation (because they don’t like their job, etc.)
  • Discouraged – those who are losing hope in their situation
  • Dismayed – those who have fallen into depression, spiritual or otherwise
  • Disorderly – those who are not obeying the will of the Lord Jesus Christ
  • Disregarded – those who people pay little attention to
  • Dissident – those who disagree with the opinion of the majority

I think you will have little problem finding people like this that would benefit from your personal concern and love for them. We have only to open our hearts and eyes to see them.

Are we ready to minister to one another? To serve, we need a servant’s heart, an attitude like Jesus Christ, the Servant of the Lord. Read Philippians 2:1-11. I’m sure you have seen offices—each worker shut up in his or her tiny cubicle. Most people in our postmodern culture have a “cubicle attitude” toward life. They move from one tiny cubicle to another, avoiding contact with other humans as much as possible. Are we willing to reach out of our small life cubicles and interact with other people? This will require a profound change of attitude, but it must be done if we are to fulfill this directive from the Holy Spirit: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds… (NIV).

Grace and peace, David

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A Forgotten Responsibility

IMG_3993Hebrews 10:24

Observe the progression in this passage (Hebrews 10:19-25). The writer moves from the way we live before God to the way we live before people outside the church to the way we live before one another in the church. Sharing life together in the church used to be overlooked almost completely. For example, Jerry Bridges said that his least popular book was True Fellowship. They even tried to increase sales by giving it a new title, The Crisis of Caring, but it didn’t work. Now thankfully, more attention is given to life as a body of believers. Yet there is a long way to go. To paraphrase a comment by the seventeenth century writer John Owen, the Christians of old used to live as spoken of in this text. But now the principles of building one another up have been lost as if the New Testament Scriptures had never presented them. Surely our life before God is crucial and primary. And we must never forget our responsibility to live as a light in the world. However, the restoration of biblical practice in a culture of “me first” needs to be a constant emphasis.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds… (NIV).

Believers are capable to serve another. This might seem obvious, but too many have the wrong opinion that such matters are better left to the professionals, since they have more skill and time. In contrast, the Spirit says through the writer, “Let us consider…” This means that each of us are to pay thoughtful attention to the ways that we can help one another. (The same verb is used in Hebrews 3:1.)

A right approach begins with the correction of a mistaken idea. We can call this the “professional minister” view: the church has a pastor or pastors so that the members can release themselves from any duty to one another. The roots of this view are such concepts as a wrong view of church authority, an idolization of institutional education, a practical lack of spiritual maturity among God’s people, and self-centeredness. The essence of the idea can be stated this way: “We’ve got the pastors; let them do it!” But notice carefully that this text lends no support to such a mistaken idea. The Holy Spirit does not say, “Let the pastor (or the pastors or the church staff) consider how they may….”

In the Bible the Lord stresses the responsibility of each member of every local assembly to help each other spiritually (Romans 14:19; 15:14; Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:11,14-15; Hebrews 3:13). Since the Holy Spirit has been given by Christ to help us (Romans 8:26), and since we have the sufficient Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16), we should never plead incompetence in this manner. The Spirit of God loves to help the ordinary follower of Jesus to build up and strengthen and encourage and care for other believers.

To continue a correct approach, we must launch a new attitude. Our starting point is the reality of all that we are and have by God’s grace. We are right with God and have the position of an adult son in the Father’s family. You have the Holy Spirit as your leader, the Bible, and in many cases years of Biblical training. Since these things are so, each of us need to see ourselves as fellow workers in the job of building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). Brothers and sisters, our time cards are in the rack by the time clock; it’s time to punch in and get to work helping each other. Don’t wait for tomorrow. How much can we do today for the cause of God and truth?

This involves the application of what God has taught us. Certainly first to ourselves and then to others in God’s family. How fervently we ought to pray, “Lord, help me demonstrate the reality of your truth in my life, my family and my church.” But then, we need to stir ourselves to act. This requires more than merely agreeing, “Yes, I need to do something… sometime.” We need to be alert to opportunities to help one another. Find ways to act!

Grace and peace, David

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A Pattern for Leadership in the Church

DSCN00362 Corinthians 1:24

When the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit, he started a new people of God. This one people is made up of many groups of his followers across the world. In regard to many ways of being his people, he has given us freedom to live together, as we keep in step with the Spirit. For example, we are free to sing his praises according to our musical preferences. We are free to order our gatherings for worship. There is no set order of worship in the Bible. All this provides ample topics for discussion. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion on what is the best model, but we must recognize the scriptural idea of liberty within the boundaries of the word of God.

The same is true of the functional leadership of local gatherings. One thing I learned through over forty years of serving as a pastor or pastoral assistant is that every local group or collection of local assemblies has vehement opinions that their structure is biblical, and probably the only one that is acceptable to God. In practice, churches will tolerate much doctrinal error, as long as everyone agrees with their leadership structure. Yes, that truth hurts, but that is the painful reality.

However, in this article the subject is not the structure of leadership but the pattern or paradigm of the way leaders lead. This is not a matter of preference but of clear biblical teaching. Yet structure has always been of greater importance to Christians than the character and attitudes required of leaders. This is one source of much conflict in churches, as sinful pastors, elders, and deacons (and all these are sinners) lead sinful followers of Christ (and all followers are sinful). If the local leadership does not measure up to the expectations of the people, a rebellion of some sort is organized to change the leadership. But here is the problem. The leader or leaders are blamed, and not the paradigm of leadership. People are blamed and not the ideas that perpetuate the problems.

This is a vast subject, and I needed to say all of that to look at our text. We want to see the pattern of leadership that Paul modelled to the church in Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm (NIV).

  • Paul renounced a certain style of leadership. He did not act as lord over them. The nations of this world love a lordship style of leadership. Too many churches buy into the worldly style that the Lord forbids (Matthew 20:25-28). Leaders seem to love the authority to direct the church according to their preferences, since by virtue of their position they automatically “know what is best for this local church.” But the apostle Paul loved people deeply. (If you don’t think of Paul this way, reread Romans 12:9-21 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 where he gives two of the longest teaching sections about love in the NTS.) He also loved the Lord Christ deeply, and wanted him to be the lord of the church. Real biblically transformed leadership requires genuine love for the people who are served. Though true for many reasons, this kind of leader recognizes that he is also one of Christ’s people and needs to be lead. He is not in love with his position or function but in love with Christ and his people.
  • Paul set forth a correct objective. He worked for the joy of people. Knowing the high importance of joy in the true Christian way of life (Romans 14:17; Galatians 5:22; Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16), he worked hard that others might have the joy of the Lord in their experience. Lack of joy in the Holy Spirit is of great concern to godly leaders. The joy of others requires sacrificial love and labor from those who would develop Christ’s followers.
  • Paul reaffirmed the necessity of faith. Too often, church leaders look for obedience or conformity with the standards or rules of their church. But they forget that obedience is the fruit of faith, not of pressure from the leadership. A thoughtful reading of Hebrews 11 will show how faith produces godly actions or works, as James also teaches (James 2:18-26). But leaders must focus on faith first of all.

So then, there is a pattern for Biblical leadership. Do we desire it? Or are we content with “business” as usual? True godliness is conformity to the God’s word, not to the traditions of people.

Grace and peace, David

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God Reviews His Story

IMG_5248Exodus 5:22-6:12

Our text presents an unsatisfying conversation that the Lord had with Moses. The Lord’s servant presented his complaint to the Lord, and God responded by giving his promise for immediate action. I have no idea what Moses expected the Lord to do, but as the end of the section shows, the answer did not satisfy him. It amazes me how we can act like Moses. For example, people will pray, and God will answer precisely, but doubt lingers, like some still doubted after they saw the risen Christ (Matthew 28:17). Our Father in heaven knows our weaknesses, and he doesn’t stop his plan to wait for us to arrive at full satisfaction about our complaints, questions, or fears. Having answered Moses, God moved on to other matters that Moses needed to learn, so that he could teach others.

Before the lesson, the Lord chose to preface it by setting it in the historical context of the story of his glory. We see two main presentations in the Bible. The first is the narrative of the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ through salvation by judgment. The second is God’s commentary on or explanation of the narrative. Here, God talks to Moses about part of his story that will set the stage for the next step in his plan for his people. You see, God’s plan was not simply to rescue them from something, but to rescue them for something better. People tend to focus on the “from” part, since no sane person likes to suffer. But the Lord not only wants to end the pain but to increase the joy by sharing his glory and goodness with us. People go wrong by the delusion that they can have an incomplete rescue (the “from” part) without friendship with God (the “for something better” part). But rescue apart from God will only fall back into a deeper experience of bondage and pain (cf. Luke 11:24-26). For this reason, they needed more than an immediate rescue from the bondage and pain of Egypt. They needed a relationship of God that would bring them to a better position as his people.

  • The living God provided a new explanation of his identity (6:2-3). He had made himself known to the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) by his name “God Almighty”. It made known the ability of God to the founders of God’s people in contrast to the inability of the gods the people among whom they lived. God used another name, the Lord (Yahweh), which is perhaps a shortened form of the name “I Am Who I Am” to declare his character as faithful and dependable as he enters into a covenant of relationship with the nation of Israel. God would be the covenant Redeemer of his people; they could rely on him as the one who set them free from slavery to belong to him.
  • God reminded them of the covenant that he had made with the Patriarchs, which was the covenant of promise (6:4). The promise covenant, among other matters, involved the plan to give to the people the Promised Land, where the Patriarchs had lived as strangers and foreigners. Their life in the land in this way pointed to something better, as Abraham understood (Hebrews 11:8-16). The covenant that God was about to make would be something that came along (Romans 5:20) as God pursued his plan for the something better. God works out his plans step by step. He still follows this method as his people spread the god news of salvation in Christ to all nations.
  • The Lord reassured Moses that he knew about the suffering of his people (6:5; cf. 2:24-25; 3:7). He was not ignorant of the suffering of the people that caused Moses’ dismay. He also knew their oppressors. Instead, God reaffirmed that he, the covenant making and keeping God, had remembered his covenant, and was about to rescue his people.

All this information was crucial for the way of life of Moses and Israel through the exodus. All that the Spirit of God has revealed in the Bible is also crucial for our way of life now. Are you in suffering? Listen to God’s word. It is important for you to know how to live with the living God now, while you wait for the day of salvation.

Grace and peace, David

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An Unsatisfying Conversation

IMG_1732Exodus 5:22-6:12

Everyone experiences conversations that do not go as well as we wish. If we evaluate such disappointing talks objectively, which is a difficult task, we might able to realize that our own motives and/or expectations were incorrect concerning the outcome we desired. Usually we are left with less than pleasant thoughts about the other person. We can end up feeling rather dissatisfied.

This passage in the story of God’s glory (the Bible) is about a man who was in a conversation with the Lord God and walked away dissatisfied. I think that it is a fair evaluation, because he ends the discussion with a complaint that ties in with a previous dialogue that wasn’t satisfying to him also. The man was Moses, but not the heroic Moses of the pretend world of “God does nice things for us that make us happy”. Instead, it is the real Moses who was beginning to find out that living God is not someone that we people get to order around. The Lord patiently led Moses through this discovery process.

Moses began the conversation with a complaint that the Lord had let him down. Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (Exodus 5:22-23 NIV). Since Moses is human like us, it might be beneficial to consider how many of our prayers are complaints. (I’m not implying that Moses usually prayed this way, but simply asking a question.) It is a rather doubtful method to build your friendship with God by constantly complaining about something. Do you want to a friend that incessantly complains? Moses had a lot to learn, but he had enough insight to recognize a couple points:

  • He saw that the Lord God was in charge of the unpleasant events. Seeing God as in control of all that happens is almost a prerequisite to prayer. Since God is God, he is sovereign over all.
  • Moses saw that Pharaoh was one of the responsible agents in oppressing God’s people Israel. Everyone is not “nice”, some are very evil and destructive. There is no “spark of goodness” in human hearts. Moses could evaluate Pharaoh and call him out as wicked. Moses was telling the truth at this point.
  • He was disappointed about God’s schedule. If he had listened carefully to the Lord (in Exodus 3-4), Moses would have known that God planned to rescue his people from Pharaoh and Egypt over a period of time. The rescue would be a process, not a single act. God works the story of his glory out in time. We want him to do everything yesterday, naively forgetting that there are plenty of people yet to be rescued today and tomorrow. We need to accept that the Lord works out the rescue or salvation of people from sin to glory over time. We must be willing to wait calmly as the rescue happens.

Next, we hear the first of the Lord’s answers to Moses’ complaint. God didn’t dismiss Moses for his failure, but used it as a teaching opportunity to make more of himself known to Moses and to us. God’s answer is to reveal some of the most important truths about his relationship with his old covenant people, Israel. But first, he decided to answer Moses’ complaint. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country” (Exodus 6:1 NIV).

  • The Lord told Moses that his rescue operation was on time; in fact, now was the time. For his own wise purposes, the sovereign God allows people to reach the full measure of their sins before he steps in (cf. Genesis 15:16). God’s people must be patient during those times. We wait and trust and look for the dawn of salvation.
  • God said that he would act against Pharaoh. He knew the identity of the oppressor and would bring him to justice. The sovereign Lord sees and he will act at his appointed time. Anyone who comprehends this will not dare to oppress other people.
  • God planned to use his mighty hand to accomplish the rescue of his people. As we will see in future articles, the Lord had a good and wise purpose in this method. He used the whole situation to demonstrate his glory.

I don’t know what unsatisfying conversation you might be in with God. But I know that his word, the story of his glory, reveals his ways to us, and that he invites us to be a partner in this great story. You may enter into it through the gate, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 10:9-10). If you are a partner, let God’s story transform the way you look at your life. Let your complaints become humble questions to your Father in heaven.

Grace and peace, David

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God’s Faithfulness Is Sufficient to Launch Hope

IMG_1860Hebrews 10:23

God’s faithfulness has been revealed to us in the Scriptures so that we might live in hope (confident expectation). If God made eyes and colors and yet did not make light to see with, then we might properly ask, “Why did he make eyes and colors?” However, God has given us eternal encouragement and good hope (2 Thessalonians 2:16), and he has revealed that he is faithful in order that our faith would have an object to rely on and that our hope would have sufficient reason to confidently anticipate eternal glory in and with Christ.

God’s faithfulness is the ground of hope. All the expectations of good are built on “this is what the Lord says….” Therefore, we need to know the Bible. This does not mean to know the Bible as a collection of facts, but as a way of life. We interpret all events according to the story of God’s glory in Christ and God’s explanation of his story. We make holy choices in the same way. For example, in God’s story he reveals his great patience with his people (Israel in the wilderness). He then expects us to display his patience to people, although we might feel very impatient. To return to the point, if a person could confidently anticipate as firmly and build as strongly on God’s promises as he should, they might do great things. Some years ago, someone invented a new pole to use in the pole vault, instead of the standard wooden pole that was used for years. One man quickly set increasingly higher records because of his strong confidence in what the new pole could do.

God’s faithfulness is the source of hope. That is to say, confident expectation first rises in the soul by some revelation of God’s promises, and then it continues to flow from that same source. One may hear many sermons on the hope of salvation, but a person never hopes until by gospel light he or she sees that God is faithful in saving people through the Lord Jesus Christ. Why is there such variation in true believers from one time to another? One time we look on God’s promise as a steel I-beam and another time as an old, rotten wooden board. Isn’t this true of you? Doesn’t your hope vary? The explanation is that though at all times we have the same word of promise, we do not at all times see the same glory and faithfulness of the God who made the promises. Our hope does not function independently of our whole relationship with God. This is the reason we need the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:17-18).

Some have a problem with God’s faithfulness to his promises, because they do not now see the fullness of blessing that the Scriptures present. The wrong way is to think that God’s faithfulness can be measured by our conception of time. We measure time according to our expected lifespan on this planet, but the eternal God does not measure time that way! Consider an “adult’s” versus a “child’s” concept of time while driving on vacation. This is heard in the expression, “Are we there yet?” To a child a long trip can seem interminable. “Will the rest of my life be spent in the back seat of this car?” Now adults can smile at the limited concepts of their children—they probably don’t amid the whining—but they can understand the child’s point of view. But what if your children begin to question your truthfulness during the long trip? What if their impatience makes them a little nasty? Do we do this to God in our impatience? God’s performance does not usually come soon after the promise is made. Usually we must wait for God’s time to come (Galatians 4:4). The right method is to think about the reality of God’s faithfulness. For example, God promised the resurrection of Christ, and his promise was fulfilled, as Peter capably demonstrated on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:24-32). Now what God did for Christ, he will do for us as well. We, too, will be raised and changed to be like the Lord.  The faithfulness of God is not only the sure foundation of our hope, but it also challenges us to be faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:24; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 Peter 4:19; 1 John 1:9).

Here are some points to ponder:

  • If you want more hope, then strive to know the faithful God better.
  • Failure in an unswerving confession of hope is linked to failure of comprehending the faithfulness of God.
  • Are you convinced of God’s faithfulness? Spiritual commands and exhortations draw their strength from spiritual motives. Don’t try to do this in your own strength. Have faith in God. Ask the Holy Spirit for help.

Grace and peace, David

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Hope Builder’s Diet

IMG_0719Hebrews 10:23

The God who makes promises is the ground of hope (confident expectation). The writer of Hebrews presents God as “he who promised”. The emphasis at this point is not on the content of what God has promised, but it is on the God who makes promises to his people. Remember this idea: We must exalt the One who promises and not the promises in themselves. We do not worship the Bible, but the God who has spoken in the Bible. His faithfulness to his word is the crucial matter. Many people say wedding vows, but it is the character of those who repeat the vows that gives any substance to them.

Knowledge of the living God is more important than the promises, and it is the basis of our interaction with God’s promises. This is not to disparage the promises but to put them in their proper place. We will not evaluate his promises correctly unless we have a proper estimate of God and his character as God. John 3:16 is a beautiful verse, but it means nothing to the one who knows little or nothing about the God who loves the world. For this reason, seek to gain a greater knowledge of God. It is gained through daily communication with him. Therefore, to strengthen us, let us consider God as the promising God. You can review how God interacted with his people by giving promises:

  • Noah (Genesis 6:11-22)
  • Jacob (Genesis 28:11-15)
  • Elijah (1 Kings 17:2-6)
  • Abraham (Romans 4:16-25)

All this important to grasp, because hope “feeds” on the promises of God. As your body is nourished by physical food, so your hope is sustained and strengthened by God’s promises. The way to an unswerving profession of hope (confident expectation) is to lay hold of God’s promises and to “make them your own”; that is, put them into your world and life view and act accordingly. The inner person of the heart especially needs to be refreshed with God’s promises in the good news of Christ. Think of their incomparable greatness and glory. When we enjoy their fulfillment, then we will be eternally happy.

How are you feeding your hope? If you have a feeling of hopelessness, perhaps you can trace the problem back to an improper diet. Try a “hope builders” spiritual diet (a good diet helps you build strength) for a few weeks. (Yes, it might interrupt your current “Bible reading plan”. I know it’s shocking to suggest such an interruption. But isn’t hope of great value to the true Christian way of life?) Here is a sample that I suggest for people who desperately need to strengthen their confident anticipation in the Lord.

As you pray for God to strengthen your hope, read and think about and then pray based on the following passages:

Read one section from one of the following each day:

  • The Life of Abraham (Genesis 12-22)
  • The Life of Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-50)
  • The Life of David (1 Samuel 16-31; 2 Samuel 1-24)

Read one or two sections from one of the following each day:

  • The Gospel of Mark
  • Romans

Read one of the following each day: [Repeat as necessary]

Psalm 6; Psalm 13; Psalm 23; Psalm 27; Psalm 37; Psalms 42-43; Psalm 73; Psalm 107; 1 Corinthians 15; Hebrews 11; Revelation 1:12-18; Revelation 7:9-17; Revelation 19; Revelation 21:1-22:6

Conclude by thanking God for his word that builds your hope by the power of the Spirit.

We need to arrive at the full confidence that we can depend upon God, the faithful God. We can trust him with our lives now and forever. The Christian life is a walk of active faith. We dare to trust the invisible God in the all too visible challenges that we face. The life of a follower of Jesus is not intended to be a pleasant stroll in the park while you sip on free lemonade. For this reason, we must have confidence in the faithful, promise-making and promise-keeping God.

Grace and peace, David

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Thinking about the Faithful God

Hebrews 10:23IMG_0722

Theology is the study of God; it is the proper study of God’s people. He is the starting point of our world and life view. Since we are in a personal relationship with the Maker and Preserver of all things, we seek to understand what he has told has about himself. As we grasp his majesty, we are capable of making better sense of ourselves and the world he has placed us in. So we can say that the study of God is one of the most practical activities that we can engage in. The writer of Hebrews has told us in this great paragraph to hold fast our profession. The second part of verse twenty-three tells us of the motivating force to obey the command in the first part of this verse. Why should we obey? “For he who promised is faithful”.

Remember some basic ideas about our faithful God. When we talk about the living God with people in our generation, we need to define what we mean by the word “God”. Don’t assume that your neighbor has the same ideas that you have. They will define “God” according to whatever their religious philosophy is—Hindu, Buddhist, Islam, pagan, new age, religious existentialist, etc. Let’s think about two truths concerning the true and living God that relate to our subject.

God is personal. We need to listen carefully to what God has said about his nature and what people say about their “god”. God is not an impersonal force to be manipulated by people. God is a tri-personal being. Yes, he is infinitely greater than we are, but he is personal as we are. We must accept God as he reveals himself. We cannot recast God to conform to our opinions. God tells us that he is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one God in three persons. Certainly this is very difficult to understand, because we know of no other being like him. But our lack of comprehension does not give us the right to reinterpret reality according to our whims. There are many parts of higher mathematics that the average person does not comprehend. That lack of comprehension doesn’t alter the reality of mathematics.

God is a communicator. God speaks to us in language we can understand. He could have spoken in a way that no human could understand, but that would not have agreed with his purpose to make himself and the way of salvation known to us. To speak to us clearly, God chose three human languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic) and the thought forms, idioms, and qualities of each of those languages. In doing this, the living God was able to make known the truth about himself and how to know him.

God gives us statements that we can rely on. For example, he has told us that he is eternal, all-powerful, and compassionate. This provides us with confidence in him when we grieve over departed loved ones, feel the weakness of our human flesh, and feel miserable. The Lord God makes promises to us out of his desire to draw us to himself that we might experience the wonder and joy of who he is. For example, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 HCSB). We might feel helpless and hopeless, but Jesus’ words encourage us that he will rescue us from the guilt and punishment due us for our sins.

So then, God’s revelation about his nature, fuels our confidence in the faithful God. If we follow God’s example in talking with our neighbors in this way, then we can share with them the promises that God makes to people who will turn to him and trust in him through Christ.

Grace and peace, David

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Reading with Fresh Eyes

IMG_0694In our Sunday morning gathering, we aim to read through a passage of Scripture together each week. For example, we have read through Colossians five times in a week and the book of Hebrews once. Last week and this, our goal is to read through the Gospel of Matthew together. Although I don’t have a text of Scripture to back up this method, I think it is wise for groups of Christ learners (disciples) to be reading together. It draws our thinking to the same portions of the Scriptures and provides material for discussion or reference.

So then, as I was reading Matthew earlier this week, I came across a paragraph in my “Notemakers” Bible (it has wide margins that are perfect for making notes) that I had not made many notes on. It was in the middle of a well-marked chapter. The paragraph is Matthew 15:29-31. (By the way, do not feel inadequate or a failure, etc if you don’t make notes in your Bible. We are all different, and I find this a useful method for me. There is nothing spiritual about making notes in your Bible.)

Back to our topic. As I read, I began to think about how I had never meditated on this paragraph. I feel no need to analyze myself about the reasons. We all have heard someone say in a Bible study or small group, “Wow, I never read that before!” The more likely explanation is that we weren’t paying attention in our previous times of reading that passage. As I wrote at the end of last year, we might need to slow down as we read the Word, so that we can absorb what were reading. And we should not view some passages as extra material that happens to be in the way of our desire to read our favorite passages.

On a fresh reading, what do I see? First, this event follows his “secret mission” to Gentile territory, where he healed the daughter of a woman who begged Jesus to heal her. Back in Galilee, the large crowds of people bring many to him that had a variety of physical difficulties. This gathering with many in misery must have touched Jesus’ compassionate heart.  He acted with the power of the Spirit and healed them. I thought about the need to show mercy to people with physical and mental difficulties. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7 NIV). Evaluate yourself about how often you show mercy.

Second, Jesus produced a at change in those who were healed. Can you imagine the change in their attitudes when Jesus had restored them to health. Recently, I was at a men’s retreat that my dad had attended almost every year for nearly forty plus years. The retreat center is built on very hilly landscape. You can see it on the above picture. I wondered how he could have walked from the bunkhouse to the dining area. But he did. While there, I saw other older men struggling with the terrain also. Yet they were there. It is easy to talk about one’s pain and weariness in such circumstances. For this reason, imagine the change in attitude after Jesus healed them: from despair to victory.

Third, the people praised the true and living God, the God of Israel. They had great reasons to praise. They could talk and walk and see! Those with arthritis and other crippling diseases were cured! Certainly, it was time to magnify the greatness of God. There are are couple of lessons here:

  • Contrast the concerns and reaction of the healed people and those who brought them with those of the Pharisees and the teachers of religious law (Matthew 15:1-14). One group was intent on religious traditions and looking good before people; the other worshiped God and cared about other people.
  • If we understand what Jesus did, we ought to be amazed, even two thousand years later. Something is wrong with us if we read these words carefully and fail to be amazed. This is true history about real people. To nod your head and move on points out a troubled area in your soul.
  • Who are we trying to bring to Jesus? How are we involved with other people? Our goal in living must be for far more than personal comfort.

Grace and peace, David

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