Monday, October 31, 2016

Examining your Endurance

Read Hebrews 12.

Because of the plethora of godly examples in the past, now comes the admonition.  "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." (v.1)  This life is like a timed race.  It has a starting line and a finishing line.  But here is the difference: It is not to the pace or the length of our race that counts.  It is how we ran the individualized course that God gave us.

In the English Standard Version, a form of the word endure appears five times in this chapter.  The King James translated verse 1 as "run with patience."  In Hebrew it means to run with "cheerful endurance."  This is not referring to gritting one's teeth and just hanging on when the race gets tough.  Unless it is our sin that caused the hardship, we are to come to a maturity in our faith that embraces no matter what God is good and we are loved by Him.  He has a plan for our lives and He is working that plan for our good and His glory.

That does not diminish the pain.  

Our example of endurance. (v.2)
"...looking to Jesus...who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross..."
The pain and suffering was unimaginable.  But here we are told there was a commitment to endure.  This is a different Hebrew word that means "to stay under or remain."  Jesus finished the course set before Him.  The joy was not found in the moment but in the understanding of where the redemptive plan would lead.  Sin would be paid for once and for all.  And, after that momentary agony, He would be "seated at the right hand of the throne of God."  All pain here is temporary if we are a follower of Christ.  Our joy and hope in not in this life but in the one to come.

Our encouragement of endurance. (v.3)
"Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility..."
The pain and suffering of Jesus was much more than the crucifixion.  Isaiah called the Messiah "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." (Isaiah 53:3)  Being rejected by one's own kinsmen and by the very one's He came to rescue, being called names and having His character questioned was torment for the Son of God.  However, Jesus endured these things with humility while standing firm.  He looked beyond the human mistreatment in order to focus on the eternal plan.  There would be no resurrection and redemption without first enduring the crucifixion.  Remembering the example of the Lord Jesus encourages us to not "grow weary or fainthearted".

Our exhortation of endurance. (v7)
Under pressure, we have tendencies either to give up and quit running our race ("grow weary or fainthearted") or to give in.  A runner must discipline themselves and listen to their coach.  If we fail to discipline ourselves, God will.  Correction is one indicator of His love for us.  His desire for us to finish well may involve some time of discomfort so we will listen and get back on the right track.  The distraction of sin will take us off course.  God "disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness." (v.10)

Our enjoyment of endurance. (v.20)
Imagine standing at the base of Mt. Sinai, seeing the visible presence of God and hearing His voice.  Yet, it was too overpowering for the Israelites.  "For they could not endure..."  The different Hebrew word used means "to bear or to go on".  This is in stark contrast to the open invitation we have as believers in Jesus.  They could not enjoy the presence of God.  But, verses 22-24 explain that we have access to the very throne room of heaven.  "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)

Friday, October 28, 2016

What difference does faith Make?

Read Hebrews 11.

What a cavalcade of Old Testament heroes!  Do not miss the elements that are common to all of these individuals.

All of them endured times of great testing, unthinkable suffering, and some were killed.
All of them looked forward to a time, a place and rewards beyond this life.
All of them pleased God and are commended by Him, though none of them were perfect.

What kept them encouraged in the tough times and what gave them strength to endure was the certainty of their faith in the living God.  They trusted His promises of acceptance, commendation, and an eternal home more than the accumulation of stuff in this life.  At the root of their faith was that everything in this life is temporal and one day every person will leave 100% of it behind.

How can we have that type of faith?
1. Biblical faith recognizes the unseen. (v.13)
The Apostle Paul explained this in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.  We do not understand the things of God with our eyes and ears but God has revealed them to us by the Holy Spirit.  Even though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob died without ever seeing the complete fulfillment of what God promised in Genesis 12, they could see it with the eyes of faith.  Even though none of us were present when God created the heavens and the earth by His spoken command (v.3), by faith we embrace God's word.  If one only places trust in what they can physically see and touch, they will never come to believe spiritual truth.  As opposed to blind faith, true faith says, "Believing is seeing."

2. Biblical faith establishes and maintains a personal relationship with God. (v.16)
Jesus explained this in John 14:1-6.  It is only through personal faith in Him that any person can ever have a relationship with God.  This is the only way one becomes a part of the family of God.  Jesus said that He would go and prepare an eternal place for His followers.  That is repeated here: "for he has prepared for them a city."  That new place is described in Revelation 21-22.  Our real hope is not here but there.

3. Biblical faith produces a better result. (vv.35 and 40)
If the message of the book of Hebrews were to be reduced to one word, it would have to be the word "better".  It appears no less than thirteen times in these thirteen chapters as it contrasts the Old Covenant with the New and this earthly life with the eternal one to come.  It is far too easy for even the followers of Christ to be caught up in measuring life by the world's standards and missing the "better".  Too many spend all their efforts and resources trying to be successful in this life instead of investing in things that will count eternally.  One is a losing investment.  The other will be paying dividends forever.

Why did these heroes keep the faith despite all adversity?  " that they might rise again to a better life." (v.35)  And, that no one can ever take away.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Living life in 3-D

Read Hebrews 10.

There are people who believe that God is distant, unknowable, and unapproachable.
There are people who believe, yet because of circumstances, they have lost confidence.
There are people who believe that their faith is and should remain private.

Under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, the writer of Hebrews challenged all three of these erroneous views.

As explained in verses 5-10, Jesus came from heaven to be born in the human family.  Having a body of flesh was necessary in order to shed His blood on the cross.  By the will and purpose of God, that onetime offering of Himself paid the sin debt for everyone.  Unlike the priests in the Old Testament who daily offered sacrifices for sin, Jesus "finished" the redemptive plan (John 19:30).  The furniture in the Tabernacle and Temple had no chair.  The work was continuous.  But with the sacrifice of Jesus, He "sat down".

What impact should this have on the daily lives of Christ-followers?  The results are meant to move us into 3-Dimensional living.

1. UPWARD. (v.22)
"Let us draw near" to God.  We have a Savior who loves us and gave Himself for us.  He has opened direct access to the very presence of God.  Several times in this book believers have been urged to come confidently and boldly to Him for help in time of need.

2. INWARD. (v.23)
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering."  While there is joy in Jesus, life is filled with disappointment, confusion, and pain of all kinds.  Those who turn to the Lord in such times find their faith strengthened.  Those who only focus on their difficulties experience a wavering in their faith.

3. OUTWARD. (vv.24-25)
"Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works."  True faith in Jesus is never meant to be a private affair.  We are saved to serve other people.  "For some have no knowledge of God.  I say this to your shame." (1 Corinthians 15:34)  Telling others the Good News that forgiveness is available to them is the primary task of a Christian.  Helping one another in various times of need demonstrates that we are part of the Body of Christ.  The Bible knows nothing of a lone believer.  We meet together in the local Bible teaching church to be encouraged and to encourage one another in the faith.

The absence of any one of these three will result in a distorted picture of what it means to be a follower of Christ.  However, when all three are functioning properly the effects become more vivid than a watching a 3-D movie.  Life comes alive.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

7 truths of life, death, and Eternity

Read Hebrews 9.

This chapter explains and clarifies the confusion found in many false beliefs.

1. The sacrifices under the Old Testament Law never left the worshiper with a clear conscience from sin. (v.9)
During that time, obedience did grant them favor with God but the process had to be repeated again and again.  Each time it reminded the sinner of guilt and the need for ultimate redemption.

2. The Old Testament Law was always meant to be temporary. (v.10)
The plan of God all along was that a time would come when there would be a change to a New Covenant.

3. Jesus Christ was God's Lamb, sacrificed once and for all, "securing our eternal redemption". (v.12)
There is no longer a need for animal sacrifices.  Jesus is not on a cross continuing to bleed.  It was a onetime act.  The debt of the sin of the world has been paid.  Those who accept God's payment in Jesus have life that is guaranteed to last forever.

4. Jesus is alive today to intercede for us in heaven. (v.24)
The Garden Tomb is empty.  He alone is our mediator in prayer (1 Timothy 2:5).  He is our High Priest and urges us to come boldly into the presence of God for help (Hebrews 4:14-16).  And, as believers do sin in this life, "...we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1b).  

5. Humans only die once. (v.27a)
According to the Bible, there is no such thing as reincarnation.  There is no spiritual holding place for second chances after death.  One's eternity depends upon their response to Jesus in this life.

6. Judgment awaits. (v.27b)
Those who have not embraced Jesus in this life will foolishly suffer an eternity of torment for their sin.  In the last paragraph of Revelation 21, the Apostle John describes that day of God's final judgment.  "If anyone's name was not found in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." (Revelation 21:15)  Jesus spoke of hell being a place where sinners will suffer in "the unquenchable fire" (Mark 9:44).

7. Jesus is coming again. (v.28)
He came the first time to pay our sin debt.  He is coming the second time "to save those who are eagerly waiting for him".  This is just as Jesus promised the night before His crucifixion.  "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14:3)  The angels announced it at the ascension of Jesus back to heaven.  "This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11b)  Revelation 19 and 20 provide some detail of the return of Christ and His earthly kingdom.

That is why Jesus is called Savior.

Monday, October 24, 2016

4 characteristics of the New Covenant

Read Hebrews 8.

The Bible is absolutely clear on all that God wants us to know and believe.  With the first coming of Christ, the Old Covenant of Law given at Mt. Sinai to Moses is "obsolete" and its authority has vanished away (v.13)!  This fact should have come as no surprise to those who knew the prophecy of Jeremiah.  Indeed, the second half of this chapter is quoted from Jeremiah 31.

There are four characteristics and effects of the New Covenant for Israel and Judah.
1. The law of God (His expectations) will be in their minds.
2. His law will be written on their hearts, not tablets of stone.
3. Everyone will know the Lord.
4. "I will remember their sins no more."

So, then the obvious question is: Since the time of Jesus has this ever been true of the Jews as a whole?  No.  Like many prophecies, much more detail is revealed as they are fulfilled.  The Apostle Paul explains this is Romans 9-11.

"Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers; a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved..." (Romans 11:25-26

Two things, then, are at work.
There is future news for the Jews.   
Though individuals may certainly respond to the Gospel, nationally there is a "partial hardening," or spiritual blindness, concerning Jesus being the promised Messiah.  There is coming a day when all the Jews will recognize Jesus for who He is and worship Him as a nation.  Those who believe God has no future for Israel must disregard God's promises to Abraham in Genesis 12, 15 and 17.  Then, they must dismiss all the prophecies that remain unfulfilled describing such a national revival and earthly kingdom.  And, finally, they must discredit the validity of the plain statements in the New Testament.

There is good news for the Gentiles.
Individual non-Jews have always been welcomed to the faith of Israel.  But with the first coming of Jesus, God's plans aggressively moved into what Jesus called "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24).  This change is seen in Acts 10 and in Paul's calling to be the Apostle to the Gentiles.  God's intent is that the entire world would hear and believe in Jesus (Acts 1:8).  As a result, non-Jews may enjoy the blessings under the promises made to Abraham.  "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham offspring, heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 4:29)  That does not turn a Gentile into a Jew, nor does it change God's promises for the future of Israel.  This is a time period "until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in."  At that God-appointed time, He will reveal the next step in the prophecies.  

Our focus is live as a committed follower of Christ today.  "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts..." (Hebrews 3:15)

Friday, October 21, 2016

There has been a Change

Read Hebrews 7.

Under the Old Testament Law, there was a professional priesthood.  Access to the very presence of God in the Tabernacle was restricted.  No work could be done on Saturday (the Sabbath).  Animal sacrifices were continually made to cover personal sin.  But then Jesus came.

A change was made.  Step by step, in these middle chapters of Hebrews, Jesus is presented as the new and forever High Priest of our faith.  "For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessity a change in the law as well." (v.12)

Believers in Jesus are not under the Old Testament Law administered by the Aaronic priesthood.  We live by the grace of God under a New Covenant.  Therefore:
1. With Jesus as the High Priest, every follower of His is a priest of God.
"You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."  (1 Peter 2:5)  Under the New Testament, we have pastors and ministers who serve the local church, not priests at a Temple.

2. With Jesus as the High Priest, we have direct access to God.
At the crucifixion of Christ, God the Father tore the curtain in the Tabernacle that separated direct access to His holy presence.  Now, there is no one, living or dead, who can stand between the believer and throne of grace.  "For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 1:5)  "...a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God." (v.19)  "...he always lives to make intercession for them." (v.25c)  "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)

3. With Jesus as the High Priest, we worship on the first day of the week.
Sabbath is the seventh day, commemorating the completion of creation.  The work was done and a day of rest was established by God.  But, since the resurrection of Jesus on that Sunday morning, believers have historically gathered on Sunday, celebrating the day of resurrection and new beginnings. (1 Corinthians 16:2)

4. With Jesus as the High Priest, we no longer offer sacrifices for sin.
The New Covenant was established by the blood of Christ on the cross 2000 years ago.  "...he did this once for all when he offered up himself." (v.27b)  The atoning sacrifice of God's Lamb has been made.  It is senseless to call upon Him to symbolically bleed again and again, as some do.  Through the personal acceptance of that gift to us, we stand forgiven before God.

5. With Jesus as the High Priest, there will be no more change.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is forever our one and only access.  Jesus said, "...No one comes to the Father, except through me." (John 14:6)  "...the Son of God continues a priest forever." (v.3)  "You are priest forever..." (vv.17 and 21)  "But he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever." (v.24)  "...since he always lives..." (v.25)  "...who has been made perfect forever." (v.28)

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

God's answer to those in Doubt

Read Hebrews 6.

Any thinking person will ask serious questions about their faith.  This is especially true when we are shaken by adversity or living under constant stress.  The pressure may cause us to wonder about the validity of our beliefs.  Many followers of Christ have struggled at one time or another with the assurance of their salvation.

The writer of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, sought to encourage extremely stressed believers to get a firm grip on their faith.  Time and again, he presented how superior Jesus is in every way.  He took them from the foundations of their beliefs in the Old Testament to point them to hope in Christ.

Here in chapter 6, he urged them to be "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (v.12).  But how can we be sure those promises are still good?  And, what do God's promises to Abraham have to do with us?

When the God of this book makes a promise it is based upon His nature, His name, and His character.  Humans will offer promises but may not keep them.  Human promises may be documented and publicly announced.  But everyone has experienced the disappointment of broken commitments.  Not so with God.

God's ultimate answer to our doubts is found in verses 17-18.
1.  His promises are unchangeable.
The base of that statement is in God's character.  Malachi 3:6-"For I the LORD do not change."  His promises are announcements fulfilling His eternal plans.  "...even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love he predestined us for the adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will." (Ephesians 1:4-5)  Therefore, the Apostle Paul could write, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

2. His promises are guaranteed.
The LORD not only made promises but He made certain that they were written down and made available to us.  We can read and study what God said.  We can see how hundreds of those promises in the Old Testament came true.  There were four hundred fulfilled in first coming of Christ alone.  "In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire the possession of it, to the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:13-14)

And, if that were not convincing enough, the absolute statement is then made concerning the character of God Himself.  " is impossible for God to lie."  Doubting the love and care of Jesus in our daily lives does not come from God.  Satan is a liar and deceiver.  He will do anything he can to rob of us the certainty of our relationship and fellowship with Jesus.

3. His promises are the anchor for our soul.
Everything in this life is temporal.  All things will change, disappoint, or being gone.  There is only one source of eternal hope.  It is both "sure and steadfast".  Our belief in Jesus is not a "hope so" but a "know so".  This trust in Jesus gives us eternal life now.  Paul wrote concerning the suffering of Christians in Romans 5:3-5.  This "hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

A faith confirming exercise is to read the entire book of 1 John aloud, underlining every time the word "know" appears.  Try and see.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The number one indicator of spiritual Maturity

Read Hebrews 5.

An old adage says, "People know more Bible than they are practicing."  That saying was then used to teach less Scripture and talk more about personal and social issues.  My experience has led me to believe the opposite.  Most people do not know enough Bible to practice.

Such was the case with the original readers of Hebrews.  The writer desired to share even more insights concerning Jesus as the High Priest of our faith, but they could not absorb it (v.11).  The reason had to do with their spiritual immaturity.  Being bombarded, perhaps even enamored, by the culture around them, they proved slow in learning the difference between right and wrong, evil and good (v.14).  They knew more about sin than holiness.

In that state, their need was to be taught the ABC's of the faith all over again.  They had forgotten the spiritual alphabet, if you will; those initial things that every follower of Jesus should know.  The chastisement here is not because they had not been taught these things and more, but they had failed to put them into practice.  Indeed, "by this time you ought to be teachers." (v.12)  The goal of knowing God's word is not for personal information.  It is first so that we may live a changed and transformed life by knowing God and His expectations of us.  Then, we are to communicate with others what we are learning.  The result will be a growing maturity in the faith.

Scriptural information is called the milk of the word.  One's inability to communicate the Scriptures they have been taught reveals this need.   Solid food, or meat, is the practice of the word.  Spiritual maturity does not happen in a class or a study group.  Real life application of God's word requires wisdom and discernment (v.14).  Such opportunities for practice occur throughout each day in our choices of speech and behavior, the use of our time and other resources.  These actions show everyone around us the level of our faith.

In other words, what we do not use we lose.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

2 indispensable human Needs

Read Hebrews 4.

"The unexamined life is not worth living." (Socrates)

The Apostle Paul wrote, "Let a person examine himself...if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged." (1 Corinthians 11:28a, 31)  So, how should one examine their own lives?  What is the universal standard by which we can know right from wrong?  And, when our wrongs are revealed, then what?  Do we live in guilt or is help available?

This chapter in Hebrews continues to encourage followers of Jesus to remain faithful under pressure.  By illustration, the writer refers to multiple rests: past, present, and future.  Hope in Christ looks forward to a time of "rest" when our work here is completed.  The stresses of this life will be over.  It is that future joyful time that inspires endurance.  Those who gave in or gave up are called disobedient.

God has made two provisions to help us maintain a life that pleases Him.  The caution for us today is to not take these for granted.  Instead, they are daily indispensable.
1. The word of God. (v.12)
As a sword, the Scriptures penetrate us to the core of our being.  They reveal our true character.  The Bible gives us understanding of ourselves physically, psychologically, and spiritually.  God's word judges our thoughts and even our intentions.  As we read and study the Bible with an open heart, there is no hiding place.  We stand naked and exposed before God.  And, it is He who holds us accountable for our thoughts, our words, and our behaviors.

Apart from the unchanging word of God, we would not know ourselves, nor could we ever be prepared for our final day of judgment.

Our sin compared to God's holiness is humbling and humiliating.  Everyone at that point stands helpless before the Ultimate Judge.  Isaiah cried out, "Woe is me!" (Isaiah 6:5).  Paul wrote, "Wretched man that I am!" (Romans 7:24).  Fortunately, the Lord did not leave us in guilt.  Jesus came for redemption and ever lives to help us.

2. Prayer (v.13)
The admonition is to "hold fast our confession."  The knowledge of our sin causes us to feel weak and unable to handle temptation.  But our Savior in heaven has personally experienced this life with its temptations, stresses, rejections, and persecutions, "yet without sin."  He is our Victor.  He not only hears us, but He will help us.  When we come boldly and confidently before Him in prayer, we will "receive mercy and find grace."

What happens when we do not trust God?

Read Hebrews 3.

A prime message of the book of Hebrews is a warning, an exhortation, to Jewish believers who are living under pressure.  It is a call to endurance and spiritual maturity.

Whenever reading or studying the Bible, one should always ask some key questions.  Among them include: To whom is this originally written?  Why is the writer saying this to them?  Answering these and other contextual questions will prevent one from wrongly applying verses or phrases.

To clarify once and for all, in verse 1 the original readers are called "holy brothers...who share in a heavenly calling".  These were believers in Jesus.   The encouragement is to hold on to the confidence of one's faith while living under extreme stress and/or persecution (vv.6 and 14).  Naturally, some became discouraged and even loosened their grip on the hope that is in Christ.

When adversity arises, needs become overwhelming, prayers go unanswered, bad things happen, or tragedy strikes, the disillusioned will be tempted to think, "Where is God when I need Him?"  Yet, such times are never a test of God.  He does not change.  Indeed, those times only reveal the depth and grounding of one's true faith.   The test is of us!

The illustration is how God test Israel during the wilderness wanderings.  Though God took care of their every need and visibly led them each day, many voiced their dissatisfaction.  Their discontent "provoked" the LORD (v.10).  Their sinful and rebellious attitudes led to hardened hearts.  The root problem was that they did not believe God (vv.12 and 19)).  Over the forty years of the Exodus, that entire generation died without ever enjoying the Promise Land.

Everyone goes through tough times.  God has great things in store for us.  We need each other and we need to encourage one another "every"! (v.13)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

3 unique claims about Jesus

Read Hebrews 2.

In continuing to present the true identity and superiority of Jesus, the Holy Spirit next guided the writer to how this personally affects us all.  After an admonition in the opening verses that "we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard", chapter two moves from the uniqueness of the person of Christ to the uniqueness of His position.

1. Jesus is the Sovereign of the universe. (vv.5-8)
Notice how exclusive these statements are.  To Jesus, God the Father, has "subjected the world to come" (v.5).  "...putting everything in subjection under his feet...he left nothing outside his control." (v.8)  Yet, it is not all future.  Jesus said in present tense, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." (Matthew 28:18)

The point is this:  Jesus Christ is the One in control.  He has all power and authority over everything.  That is why He is called the LORD.  Therefore, He is worthy of our humble submission.

2. Jesus is the Savior of the world. (vv.9)
He did not die a martyr's death on the cross that day.  Jesus was crucified as our substitute.  He died according to the plan and purposes of God.  " that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone."  Because all have sinned (Romans 3:10-11), Christ died for all.  As the writer will go on to clearly explain in later chapters, the blood of Jesus shed on the cross was the one time, full and final payment for all sin.  Therefore, we have forgiveness solely through receiving that gift.

3. Jesus is the Source of belonging to the family of God. (v.10-18)
He is the "one source" (v.11) of being "sanctified" (set apart) from sin to God's holiness.  As Paul wrote concerning those who have placed their eternal faith in Jesus, "He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.  In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:13-14)

Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)  As a result, believers become brothers and sisters in Christ (v.11), members of the praise congregation (v.12), and "the children of God" (v.13).  As the resurrected LORD, He is alive today to help believers live for His glory (v.18).


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Who is the real Jesus?

Read Hebrews 1.

Who was or is Jesus?  Some have called Him a good man.  Some have referred to Him as an example who went about doing good things.  Some admit he was an historical person.  Some claim He was an angel in heaven, a created being.  Some say He was God in the flesh.  Others say He was just a man.  Some have called Him the prophesied Messiah.  Others have rejected Him.  Some have placed their eternal faith in Him and seen their lives radically changed as a result.

So, when a person states they believe in Jesus, it is appropriate to ask what they believe about Him and on what do they base their belief.  Many religious groups will say they believe the Bible, yet their view of Jesus contradicts what is written in the Scriptures.  A quick read of just three chapters in the New Testament clearly defines the Biblical Jesus: John 1, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1.

In verses 2-4 of this chapter of Hebrews, we are given eight characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. He is the heir of all things.
Not only is Jesus the heir, but the Apostle Paul wrote that those who place their faith in Him become "fellow heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17).
2. He is the Creator.
"For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him." (Colossians 1:16)  Therefore, any contrary view of origins is a direct attack on who Jesus is.
3. He is the radiance of the glory of God.
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)
4. He is the exact imprint of the nature of God.
Exact, not a reasonable facsimile or one of many.  "For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily." (Colossians 2:9)
5. He is the upholder of the universe by the word of his power.
"And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:17)  Just as He spoke the creation into existence, in His sovereign control He sustains it in the same way.
6. He is the purifier of sins.
" whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:14)
"...he appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." (Hebrews 9:26b)
7. He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
When Christ cried out on the cross, "It is finished", there remained no need for any further sacrifices.  The work of atonement was done.  Romans 8:34 states that Jesus is there now "interceding for us".   "...who is gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him." (1 Peter 3:22)
8. He is superior to the angels.
Angels are special creatures Jesus created.  "Let all God's angels worship him." (v.6)  And, perhaps, the strongest statement of all comes from the Father concerning Jesus, the Son.  Verse 8 is a quote from Psalm 45:6-7.  Here, in Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, Jesus is directly called God.

"So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:10-11)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Mercy: Pass it On

Read Philemon.

This letter from the Apostle Paul is truly an excuse note.

Onesimus was a Colossian slave.  Evidently, he decided he did not like where he was and what he was doing.  But he had no money to escape.  He, then, stole from his master and ran to Rome.  However, even in the big city he could not avoid being caught.  Roman law supported the slave owners to the limit.  At best, he would be sent back home, severely punished, and serve as a slave again.  At worst, he would be executed as an example to others.

But something happened when he was arrested and put in prison.  In the sovereignty of God, Onesimus came in contact with one of his master's closest friends.  Paul introduced this runaway slave to Jesus.  In Colossians 4:9, Paul referred to Onesimus as "our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you."

Receiving Christ changed the slave's eternity, but it did not change the problems he faced.  Paul faced a dilemma as well.  Onesimus needed to own up to his rebellion and thievery.  Also, it appears that Paul had also led Philemon to Jesus.  These were now two Christian brothers and personal friends.  How can Paul somehow reconcile these men so they both behave in a way that pleases God?

Paul took some practical steps of writing this powerful and personal note of appeal.  Next, he sent Tychicus to personally escort Onesimus home.  This would, perhaps, insure not only a safe arrival but a confirmation of all that Paul wanted done.

The appeal in this letter is based upon the fact that since believers have received the mercy of God through Christ, we should pass that mercy on to others who have wronged us.  Mercy is not receiving what we deserve.  Justice would have demanded a different approach.  "Yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you..." (v.9a)  Maclaren wrote, "Love is the weapon of a strong man who can cast aside the trappings of superiority, and is never loftier than when he descends, no more absolute when he (yields) authority, and appeals with love to love."

Friday, October 7, 2016

7 behaviors of a genuine Christian Life

Read Titus 3.

Consistently, the Apostle Paul urged that sound Christian belief will always show itself in sound Christian behavior.  Profession of faith is to lead to performance of faith.  And, if that performance of a changed behavior is not seen, then it is time to call into question whether or not that person is a genuine believer at all.

As one tire manufacturer used to state in their advertisements, "This is where the rubber meets the road."

In verses 1-2, all those who know Jesus regularly need these seven reminders.
1. We are to be submissive to authorities.
This is a heart attitude of humility and respect for those who are in positions over us.  These would include government leaders, police officers, game referees, or a boss at work.  The same expectation was mentioned in 2:5 and 2:7.

2. We are to be obedient. 
This is the action of true submission.  Rebellion and disobedience begins in an unsubmissive heart and then acts out in a violation.  A person of integrity shows congruity between one's attitude and actions.

3. We are to be ready for every good work.
This is not referring to just being busy but it is the eagerness to what is right.  In 3:8, Paul instructed Titus "to insist on these things so that those who believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works."

4. We are to speak evil of no one.
To malign someone is the practice of hurting others by slander.  Gossip and slander have split more churches than false teaching.  It is the coward's way of not dealing with real issues.  Jesus, Paul and James warn that God holds everyone accountable for their words.

5. We are not to be quarrelsome.
It is one thing to disagree.  It is quite another to be contentious.  Ephesians 4:2-3 states that our words are to be characterized "with all humility and gentleness with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

6. We are to be gentle.
When problems do arise (and they will) we are to handle those in disagreement and their issues with gentleness.  According to Galatians 5:23, gentleness is a result of the Holy Spirit being in control.

7. We are to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
The bully, the self-centered, the angry person, or the unthinking will only see themselves as important.  As a follower of Christ, when we interact with others, we must be considerate of their feelings and respectful of their viewpoints.  This is especially true when hard decisions must be made.  It means we always want to treat people with kindness.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The key to spiritual Health

Read Titus 2.

"But as for you"

Ignore the chapter division that was added later.  Paul had just finished obliterating false teachers.  Now, in stark contrast, he commands that "sound doctrine" be taught.  The Greek word (translated "sound") means "healthy".  In other words, teaching the Scriptures is what people need for spiritual health.

Next, five categories of people in the congregation are addressed.  If they are to be spiritually healthy, these are the demonstrable behaviors of each.  No matter our age or station in life, followers of Jesus are to model certain qualities of character and responsibility.  " that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior." (v.10b)  Healthy doctrine is not just for our information.  It is intended to change our lives in such a way that others actually see the difference.

The results of putting our healthy spiritual beliefs into practice are signs of the grace of God at work.  There are three of these effects mentioned in verses 11-14.
1. "Bringing salvation for all people."
Personally experiencing God's grace means I am delivered from the PENALTY of sin.  "There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1)  It is the message of Jesus, brought to us by the grace of God, which saves humans from an eternity in hell to eternal life.  That is not merely good news; that is great news!

2. "Training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions."
Personally experiencing God's grace means I am being delivered from the POWER of sin.  Grace is "the divine influence on the heart and its reflection in the life."  In other words, when God does a work on the inside, there will be some noticeable changes on the outside.  Once we truly encounter the grace of God we can never be the same.  His goal is to "purifying for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works" (v.14).

3. "Waiting for our blessed hope."
Personally experiencing God's grace means I will be delivered from the PRESENCE of sin.  A true believer in Jesus does not secure their hope in this life.  This life is temporal at best.  The deterioration of morality and the increasing conflicts in the world, of course, concern us.  But we have read the last chapters of the Book and know how this story will end.  Our hope is in the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.  It is He, the Prince of Peace, who will rule and reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.  It is promise of "the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" that gives us daily hope.

Jesus promised, "I will come again." (John 14:3).  The spiritual health of a church is dependent upon this teaching.  Our personal spiritual health is dependent upon living as if we may see Jesus, one way or another, even today.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Evaluating Leadership

Read Titus 2.

Titus had been a devoted colleague of the Apostle Paul and a faithful man.  Here, Paul referred to him as "my true child in a common faith", which may indicate that Paul led him to Christ.  Titus was sent to Crete to oversee and develop the ministry "in every town".  To say the assignment was difficult may be an understatement.  However, the challenges Titus faced are not unlike what most every godly pastor of a local church faces while serving the people and preaching the truth of God's word.

Two internal items needed immediate attention.
1. To organize the ministry by appointing qualified leaders. (vv.6-9)
Too often, people are asked to serve for reasons other than these godly characteristics. The world wants to separate one's private life from their public life.  Yet, it is the person's character that qualifies, or disqualifies, them as a leader.  When a person separates conduct from character, their leadership will be corrupt 100% of the time.

The instruction from Paul is simple.  There is no organization chart and no job descriptions.  Leaders are to be the number one servers.  Instead, in far too many churches, leaders have followed a secular model of trying to be board members, decision makers, and regulators.  The word elder by definition means older.  These leaders were recognized and to be appointed because of their experience and maturity in the faith.

2. To defend against false teachers. (vv.10-16)
Rather than tolerate them or hold a vote on whether to accept them, the Holy Spirit of God had Paul instruct otherwise.
"They must be silenced." (v.11)
"Rebuke them sharply." (v.13)
The failure of pastors and denominations in obeying the Scriptures by taking this action always results in their liberalism and down fall.  They no longer truly represent Jesus and the word of God.

They are characterized in four ways.
A. They teach myths.  Their rituals and made up traditions are taught to the people by routine, instead of the truth.
B. They value popular opinion.  Their cues for belief and behavior come from "the commands of people", rather than the written word of God.
C. They have defiled their thinking.  As these false teachers have rejected the truth, their "minds and consciences" have become desensitized.  Sin, in themselves and others, no longer bothers them.
D. They are hypocrites.  They say certain vocabulary words to sound Christian, but their lives broadcast an opposite message.
E. They are unfit to represent Christ.  Paul called them "detestable, disobedient".
We must know the truth of the God's word in order to evaluate leadership and to be discerning.  We must be sure that we are daily conforming ourselves to God's expectations.  Godliness is not a position in the church but a reflection of our relationship with Christ.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The last words of a faithful Man

Read 2 Timothy 4.

Collections of famous last words have been compiled in books and inscribed on cemetery headstones.  This chapter contains those of the Apostle Paul.

He knew death was near.  Paul likened it to the Old Testament drink offering that the priest poured out on the brazen altar (v.6).  That sacrificial gift to God was part of Israel's worship.  In Romans 12:1, he had written that believers are "to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."  Now, at this point, Paul sensed his last drops were being poured.

He evaluated his life and service for Christ in three statements. (v.7)
1. "I have fought the good fight."
Paul wrote of his sufferings in every chapter of this letter.  Life is not easy.  Following Jesus does not equal peace and tranquility.  "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12)  Contending for the faith (Jude 3) is part of what it means to serve Jesus.  The believer is not to be objectionable but, in this spiritual war, the message will be.

2. "I have finished the race."
Paul knew his assignment.  God called him to take the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles.  He spent his life traveling through the provinces of the Roman Empire winning souls to Christ and planting churches.  He trained and established leaders in each place.  He mentored and commissioned many others to go as well.  Timothy was just one among them.  But, here, he sensed that he had accomplished his life's purpose.  He had finished well.

3. "I have kept the faith."
Life and ministry was never about Paul.  It was always about Jesus.  Through all the hardships, persecutions, rejections, beatings, and perils his faith only grew stronger.  The word of God was the anchor of his soul.

One day, Christ will "judge the living and the dead" (v.1).  In the final analysis, that is the only evaluation of a life that counts.  Jesus told in the parable of the talents that faithful servants were rewarded with a hearty "Well done!"  Paul looked forward to a "crown of righteousness".   He was confident of that award.  But such commendation is not only for the Apostle Pauls of this world.  That crown is for all who live in the light and love of the return of Jesus (v.8).

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Is the Bible really Necessary?

Read 2 Timothy 3.

Cecil Dichard once said, "Give me a Bible and a candle and shut me up in a dungeon and I will tell you what the world is doing."

The opening paragraph of this chapter is as relevant as if it had been penned this morning.  How is that possible?  In 2,000 years human nature has not changed one bit.  The Apostle Paul lists nineteen qualities of bad character.  One would expect such descriptions to be of those who were against religious beliefs.  But the sad truth is Paul refers to some pretenders influencing the church.  "...having an appearance of godliness, but denying its power." (v.5)

These false teachers, who have been cited previously, are counterfeits.  They use some of the same vocabulary but what they communicate is, in fact, not God's word.  Gullible, needy, and vulnerable people become their prey in order to gain a following (v.6).

"BUT AS FOR YOU..." In verse 14, the charge begins.  Genuine followers of Christ are marked by two indispensable characteristics:
1. Belief in Jesus based upon the Scriptures. (v.15)
"The sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

2. Behavior based upon the Scriptures. (vv.16-17)
"All Scripture is breathed out by God"- That statement makes the Bible an inerrant, infallible source of what God wants us to know.  It is the final written authority to which a believer submits.
"...and is profitable"-The benefits in understanding and applying the word of God will be demonstrated in a changed life.  The value of the Bible includes: teaching (for right belief), reproof (for wrong belief), correction (for wrong behavior), training in righteousness (for right behavior).

"SO THAT..."  There are two purposes for God giving us the Scriptures.
1. That a person of God "may be complete".  Without saturating one's life in God's word there will always be a lack in belief and in behavior.
2. That a person of God "may be equipped for every good work."  Without a solid Scriptural foundation our activities will soon lose their God-given mission.  Ministry will become philanthropic at best rather than eternally transformational in the lives we serve.